Every January for the past 5-6 years, my friend, Tina, and I have loaded up whatever kids we have handy (hers, mine, other people’s) and headed to a state park where it’s likely we can see some snow. Cabin camping gives us the opportunity to go to a park, enjoy all the great things there are to do there, and we still get to sleep in a real bed out of the weather, away from the bears. It’s a win-win in my book. In the past, park cabins have often been steeply discounted in the off-season months, and this last year they instituted a state resident discount. There are also discounts available for active duty and retired military, and state employees. We have enjoyed snow at both Standing Stone State Park and Cumberland Mountain State Park in various years. This past year we took the last two kids we have at home between us and went further east to Norris Dam State Park (where I was inspired to start this whole project.) Here are some other cabin camping trips I’ve taken over the years.
All three girls and I went to Natchez Trace State Park one year that it was 105° and thunderstorms kept popping up and we wanted to camp, but tent camping was out of the question. They have Camping Cabins that are essentially 2 sets of bunk beds, and an air conditioner, with a charcoal grill and picnic table outside. You’ve probably seen this style of cabins at a KOA at some point (those are fun places to stay too!). It’s still camping if you have to walk to the bathroom in the campground in my book.
The girls and I all went to Pickett State Park on a last minute midweek discount one summer. The fresh bear poop on the trail and the bear proof trash cans convinced the girls they had done the right thing by refusing to sleep in a tent there. It also poured at the end of the trip, further justifying their “no tent” stance, but in the middle we did some great boating and hiking, and once it rained we painted canvases we had brought along.
We all stayed at a cabin at Chickasaw State Park to be close to a friend’s wedding one year, Montgomery Bell for my oldest daughter’s 16th birthday -it snows on her birthday every year, that year didn’t disappoint- and Standing Stone for a different birthday. We also stayed in a cabin at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park for one of our middle daughter’s birthdays, with her less than outdoorsy best friend in tow. She was a great sport about our version of outdoors weird.
Finally, I’ve already written about how my youngest and I just stayed at Standing Stone again for her spring break. Looking back, I realize this is the park we have cabin camped at most often, though we’ve also tent camped, and taken our pop-up there as well. What can I say? It’s a great park!
Now, to celebrate being fully vaccinated and our upcoming second 23rd anniversary, my husband and I are planning a park hopping adventure in east TN in the next few weeks. We’ve chosen to cabin camp because it’s been three years since we went away anywhere by ourselves, and it feels like a fun way to explore some parks (in bear country) that we’ve not visited together before. I’m going to use my planning for this trip as an example for what I pack on a cabin camping trip in mild weather, and when we get back, I’ll share with you where we went and what we did!
In my next few camping posts I’ll share my standard packing list and the logic behind it, and what we like to plan for menus, since they can be a little fancier than at the campground since we will have a full kitchen available. One year, Tina really upped the game by bringing a pasta maker and having all the kids help hang homemade fettuccine all over the cabin; on chairs, utensils, the faucet, the stove handle, from the light fixtures… It was fantastic! I’ll also talk about the easy way we divide up chores when we camp as friends, because it works flawlessly every time. I’ll also share more about what I keep in my daypack, in my truck box, and in my camping box.
One thing I already mentioned was taking canvases with us to paint. I always try to have some activity planned, usually based on what the weather will be like. In the past we’ve made cookies, baked birthday cakes, had birthday parties, done scavenger hunts, held our own winter Olympics, attended junior ranger programs, hiking, boating, swimming, ranger led nature walks and activities, visited nature centers, painted our toenails, gone to flea markets, done puzzles, and we always bring a few games with us. Our family’s favorite games are travel Scrabble, Yahtzee, Banana-grams, UNO, and good old fashioned card games. Of course we don’t do all of these things every time, but I usually at least have scrabble, UNO, and a deck of cards with me.
So maybe you are a diehard minimalist backpacker, and these posts may not be for you, but you never know, maybe you’ll get some ideas for new menu items (flatbread pizza?) or new activities. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a camper at all, and would rather stay in-town at a fancy hotel. Stick around, you might learn just how nice state park cabins are these days, and may find that this kind of camping just might work for you after all. Either way, I hope you’ll come back and read more about the way we camp, and where we go along the way. There’s no right or wrong way to camp, the point is to get out there and enjoy these wonderful public spaces that belong to all of us, and contain some of the most beautiful landscapes in America. It’s a big wide world beyond the city limits- maybe I’ll see you out there.