Bruce and Kim Scott (Spott) share their winter truck camping advice from staying warm, to driving and towing in winter conditions, to hiking, sledding, and a crock pot.
Truck Camping in the Winter
Kim: I love driving to where the snow is and we both enjoy the outdoors. We have always liked to go sledding and riding snowmobiles.
Our first truck camper was small, and it wasn’t suited for winter camping. When we started to look for our second truck camper, we wanted something we could camp in year round. Our idea was to travel north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the winter to see the sights and play in the snow without the crowds.
Staying Warm in the Truck Camper
Kim: When we go north in the winter, we don’t know if it’s going to be cold or if it’s going to be really cold. Usually the weather is sunny, and it’s really pretty with the snow, but it’s always cold. Rule number one is to dress right.
We layer our clothing. We may even feel overdressed sometimes, but we’re warm. Our layers are typically undershirts, sweatshirts, a winter coat and boots, and then, if we’re snowmobiling or sledding we’ll add bibs and heavier boots. If we start to get warm, we take off a layer or two. Freezing is no fun.
We keep our camper at 70 degrees, so it’s nice and warm inside. We want to be comfortable. Because of how well insulated our Northern Lite is, and with Bruce’s modifications, we are able to be in jeans and t-shirts inside the camper. Since we are on vacation when we are winter camping we want to be relaxed and comfortable. We do not want to worry about how much propane we’re using.
Winter Check Lists and Gear
Bruce: We have a winter checklist for the truck, camper, house, and snowmobiles. In the summer we also have checklists for the dune buggy and boat. We really like our toys, and our lists.
For the house we always turn the water off when we leave. If the house were to freeze, the pipes may still break, but it’s not going to flood.
Kim: The only special items we bring with us are heavy duty boots and snowmobile suits. We have two big duffle bags with our snowmobile helmets, coats, bibs, multiple pairs of gloves, hats, scarves, and other winter clothing items. Everything is always ready to go in the duffles. Then we bring our layering clothes.
Bruce: In the winter, we make sure to keep a snow shovel in the truck. In the past I have used it to get unstuck. I have also used the shovel to level the camper by finding out which wheel is too high and digging a hole to drive into. I don’t like messing with blocks, and don’t use them if I don’t have to.
Driving the Camper In Winter Conditions
Bruce: Michigan is pretty close to flat. We may get some rolling hills here and there, but I haven’t found driving in Michigan’s snow a problem.
In the Upper Peninsula, they don’t plow all of the roads down to the blacktop. The main highways are cleared fairly well, and for a lot of the other roads they plow the top layer of snow off and spread sand for traction. I haven’t been uncomfortable driving in the Upper Peninsula so far. With the camper on the truck, the rig grips the road very well. Of course you definitely want good tread on your tires.
Towing in the Winter
Bruce: I tow a small trailer with snowmobiles. It’s only fifteen feet long, and I don’t really have a lot of weight in it. The camper is quite heavy in the back of the truck, so the trailer really can’t wag the truck.
When I’m driving in winter conditions, I’m glad I have four wheel drive. I wouldn’t go where we go if I had two wheel drive. It’s not uncommon to be driving the back roads and come to a sign that says, “No winter maintenance beyond this point”. Depending on current snowfalls we may take the road anyway. We just have to make sure we can get back out.
Winter Camping In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Kim: Not many people are out exploring the Upper Peninsula in the winter. You practically have the whole place to yourself. It’s untouched nature, and there is so much to do up there.
One of our favorite places is the Thunder Bowl in the Hiawatha National Forest. It was once a small downhill ski area and now it’s open to sledding.
There is a large parking lot so we can always boondock there. People come for the day and then leave for the night. We stay and dry camp.
We also like to go to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. It’s great to see the waterfalls in the winter time. We go to both the upper and lower falls. In between the two falls, there’s the Lower Tahquamenon Falls Campground for $16 a night. In the winter, we are usually the only ones there. You self register and get electricity. The dump stations are not open in the winter, but the bathrooms are.
Hiking, Skiing, Sledding, Tobogganing, Snowmobiling, and Boondocking
Kim: When we go winter camping, the only time we’re in the camper is when we’re done for the day. Basically we’re in the camper to just eat and sleep. All day we are out exploring.
This past trip we hiked a mile to one of the waterfalls. A lot of the paths are just packed down by other visitors, but some aren’t and we wind up hiking in the fresh snow. We have also cross country skied in the past. Tahquamenon Falls has a walking path and a cross country ski path.
We’ll also go sledding and tobogganing. We’ll bring our own sleds. We have a huge wooden toboggan and three to four plastic sleds. And of course there are our snowmobiles.
On one of our trips, we got suited up and we were out for eleven hours on our snowmobiles from Waters to Mackinaw. We put 170 miles on the snowmobiles that day. We stopped for lunch, dinner, snacks, and to fill up with fuel. We really enjoy the snowmobiles and the friends we ride with.
There are maps to follow the snowmobile trails, but our friends have taken these trails many times, so we followed them and just enjoyed the ride. At Tahquamenon Falls Campground the snowmobile trail can be picked up right at the entrance.
We’ll also boondock at trailheads. A lot of people will stay at the local hotel, but with the truck camper we’re right there and ready to go.
Frozen Dump Stations
Bruce: Our first truck camper had dump valves that stuck out the back and would freeze. We went to Florida in that camper one Christmas and on the way back to Michigan the dump valves froze because they were exposed. With our Northern Lite all of the valves are in the heated basement, so that is not an issue now.
On this last trip, I asked the Flying J if their dump station was still open and they said yes. Typically everyone shuts the dump stations down in the winter, so call ahead and make sure you have a plan.
When we’re traveling in the winter we can usually wait to dump until we get home. This last trip was nine days and we still had room in the tanks. We are fortunate to have access to our septic tank and can dump right here at our house, so I don’t worry about it much. If you don’t have a place in mind ahead of time, it could get dicey. After I dump the tanks, I will get a hose out and rinse the tank out several times.
Typically, I don’t worry about winterizing and de-winterizing because I store the camper in our barn. There is heat coming up through the floor from the ground which keeps it above freezing without any heat. I do blow the camper water lines out and put a little pink antifreeze in the traps just in case the barn door is accidentally left open. I wouldn’t want the camper lines to freeze. Since we paid for a camper with a kitchen and bath we’re going to use them.
Crock Pot Tip
Kim: You can cook outside in the winter, but we don’t very often. I like to bring my crock pot. I’ll make beef stew or chili and it will be cooking in the crock pot while we’re out all day having fun. The last thing we worry about is preparing food.
Winter Camping Wrap Up
Kim: Make sure you’re prepared. You need to have enough warm clothes, extra insulation in your camper, and keep it heated so you and your pipes don’t freeze. You don’t always know how cold it’s going to get, especially in the evening. Once you get cold, you’re done, and then you’re not going to have fun.
When we go winter camping we have nature practically to ourselves because a lot of people don’t like to be out in the cold. It’s a gorgeous time of year to travel.