When it's cold outside: Go camping in a cabin

Stephanie Hammel and A. Thomas Crawley are bundled up inside their cabin at Maple Tree Campground.
Stephanie Hammel and A. Thomas Crawley are bundled up inside their cabin at Maple Tree Campground. (Evy Mages For The Washington Post)
Friday, January 22, 2010

More than any other frosty excursion, camping when there's snow on the ground would seem to be an undertaking for only the hardiest of winter warriors, the ones who can chop wood, light fires and wrestle bears.

A trek up I-270 to the Treehouse Camp in Rohrersville, Md., would prove this theory wrong.

There, on the edge of South Mountain, abutting the Appalachian Trail, even as temperatures fell below 20 on New Year's weekend, winter campers arrived with plans only to light fires and spend a quiet night or two talking and playing board games by lantern light. Winter camping doesn't involve tents but cozy stays in one of the handful of rustic, tiny insulated cottages with room for six.

"We kind of came with the plan of getting snowed in," said A. Thomas Crawley, 37, of Arlington, chatting as Stephanie Hammel, 35, got the fire going. "We did try to get more people to come with us," he said, laughing, "but they weren't having it."

"Winter camping . . . it's not everyone's cup of tea," explained Louise Soroko, co-owner of the camp, which opened in 1971 just outside the town of Burkittsville (famed for being the location for "The Blair Witch Project"). "It's a different breed of people who come in the winter. They're people who usually are wanting to enjoy the solitude."

If you decide to venture out, the bare trees afford jaw-dropping views of snowcapped hills. Bugs typical of summer camping are nowhere to be swatted. And no crowds mean you'll see more wildlife.

"Hiking in this weather is good, because you can exert yourself and not worry about heatstroke or getting thirsty," adds Patricia Fankhauser, membership and cabins coordinator for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains 15 rustic public cabins through the winter. "And the stars, this time of year, they are absolutely brilliant."

Treehouse Camp at Maple Tree Campground

The camp site has eight insulated cabins equipped with wood-burning stoves, beds of varying sizes and dining tables. Heated public restrooms are a short walk away. Bring your own lantern, supplies and bedding. $56-$66 a night; two-night minimum on weekends. 301-432-5585 or visit http://www.thetreehousecamp.com.

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club

This organization maintains rustic cabins in remote, hike-in locations from Pennsylvania to the southern tip of the Shenandoah Valley. Among the most popular cabins are Jones Mountain cabin not far from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah, and Bear Spring near Middletown, Md., both primitive, with outhouses. Bring: water to drink, a camp stove and propane, sleeping bags, battery powered lamps or candles, and matches. You can ski on snow-covered trails. $15-$70 a night; two-night minimum on weekends. 703-242-0315 (phones are answered from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursdays, and noon to 2 p.m. Fridays) or visit http://www.potomacappalachian.org.

-- Lavanya Ramanathan

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