With people flocking to wild destinations across Maine as the pandemic persists – including a record number of campers at Maine state parks – some in the coming months may want to consider winter camping.

Before you balk – consider the easiest, warmest introduction to winter camping: cabins and yurts. 

These primitive dwellings found across Maine can put you deep in the woods, away from people, and – best of all – warm and dry by a wood stove that, with a bit of practice, even a novice can learn to keep cranked up. 

Cabins and yurts in the winter also can be a great way to try winter camping close to civilization before going off on a true wilderness adventure. Cost generally ranges from $50 to $140 a night. 

But camping novices be warned: Mistakes and missteps can hurt the environment, the property, your camping group, or yourself.

A campfire site adds to the outdoor experience of staying in a yurt, such as the one above at Frost Mountain Yurts in Brownfield. But don’t use trash to start a fire. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

“It’s ignorance. But it’s real,” Forest Mountain Yurts owner Scott Moulton said of guests dumping on his 57 acre mountain property in Brownfield during the pandemic.

“Lately we’ve seen a lot of people who are camping for the first time. We see those who use their phones for flashlights. There’s a better way. I send out a one-page email on how to be prepared. But people don’t read instructions a whole lot.” 

Jen Deraspe, owner of Nurture Through Nature in Denmark, recently has noticed more guests trekking to her yurts and cabins in footwear that’s not appropriate in the snow or ice. 

Rangers at the Camden Hills State Park cabin have seen people trying to burn trash in the fire pits – including cans, plastic bottles and diapers. And Moulton recently observed a guest trying to start a fire with just three logs.

If any of that sounds perfectly fine, then read on for smart and helpful winter camping tips.

Pack wisely: Some yurts and cabins, even those at commercial campgrounds, require a hike to get to – anywhere from a few hundred yards to a few miles. Guests are required to carry their gear in on a backpack or, if there is snow, ski or snowshoe in with a pulk sled

Whatever the case – embrace the minimalist concept. 

Breaking down the food supply into Ziploc bags and smaller portions to minimize bulk makes the trip easier. It also helps minimize on the trash you pack out – which is your responsibility.

“Any time you have to physically get yourself in, whether skiing or snowshoeing or hiking, you want to plan the trip by wisely repacking things, like food,” said Rex Turner, the outdoor recreation planner at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Camden Hills State Park’s ski shelter is available for park users to stay overnight and open to the public during the day. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In addition, pack warm dry layers, and bring a few so you have a back-up if you get sweaty on the journey in, or find yourself stepping in a creek. 

Other essentials recommended by Courtney Turcotte with the Appalachian Mountain Club include a map of the area, headlamp – with backup batteries – and multiple fire starters in case things go awry. 

Layer up: Deraspe recommends three must-haves for a winter camping trip: really good winter boots, a boot-traction device, and a mummy-style synthetic sleeping bag (not cotton or flannel, which takes forever to dry) that is at least rated for 20-degrees.

Good boots mean ones that are insulated or lined with a thick tread and room for thick socks.

“People show up in some really silly footwear – like summer (L.L.) Bean boots that are only good for summer and fall. And they have really thin socks. Then they’re freezing,” Deraspe said.

She offers one more key suggestion to her guests – especially the novice campers she’s met during COVID-19: “Don’t run from the elements. Don’t run from rain or snow. Get outside. Expose yourself and be a part of it.”

Mind the stove: Whether using a wood stove or fire pit outside, tips from the experts are often included at huts and yurts. Read the instructions or ask for direction from your host. It could prevent you from going near hypothermic if you’re just in from a hike and can’t get the stove lit.

If you’re hell bent on getting the fire going yourself, remember to leave the dampers open to increase the air flow, which will help. 

Burn wood, not trash, in a stove or fire pit when winter camping. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

For starting a fire, Turcotte’s favorite method is the log-cabin approach. “I start with two larger logs placed in parallel about 6 inches apart and then lay some crumpled newspaper in between. I put a few pieces of kindling across the top, perpendicular to the bottom logs. I then light the newspaper and let the kindling catch before placing another large log across the top of the kindling. It’s important to leave some space between the wood pieces so air is able to flow through. Airflow is essential.”

Remember even the most sage, experienced wilderness traveler will get stumped by some unseasoned, water-logged wood, or other mishaps.

“Be prepared for an old, cranky stove,” Turner said. “If you’re not familiar with managing a fire, be able to manage your clothes and don’t rely on having a fire when you get there to keep you warm. Get out of sweaty layers and have a dry layer.”

Take. Your. Trash: All hosts will expect you to pack in and pack out – also known as leave no trace. 

To learn how to travel through and stay in the wilderness, go to lnt.org to learn about how to leave no trace.

A partial list of huts and yurts:

Moose Point Cabin, Greenville region: Part of the the Appalachian Mountain Club’s three sporting camps outside Greenville, but self contained. Call 603-466-2727. 

Frost Mountain Yurts, Brownfield: Offers six yurts with wood stoves and bunk beds and decks on a 57-acre property that offers views of Mt. Washington in places. Call 802-233-7010.

Hidden Valley Nature Center, Jefferson: Within the Midcoast Conservancy, this preserve offers one yurt and four huts across 25 miles of trails in a 1,000-acre forest. Call 207-389-5150.

Megunticook Cabin, Camden. Located in Camden Hills State Park about 2.5 or 3.3 miles in from two different parking areas. Call 207-236-0849. 

Maine Forest Yurts, Durham: The 100-acre campground is on Runaround Pond within five minutes of Bradbury Mountain State Park. Call 207-400-5956. 

Nature Through Nurture, Denmark: Offers two cabins and two yurts at a 33-acre eco-retreat with access to a circular sauna hut in the woods of western Maine. Call  855-207-7387

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.