For years the Hiking and Backpacking Committee of the Boston Chapter of the AMC has been organizing a fairly low stress introductory winter backpack as part of its winter program, and individual leaders have also been leading easier backpacks to places like Ethan Pond. This year we wanted to add something easier to encourage those who found even those trips too "scary".
We decided to try a winter car camp. We would drive up to the campsite in daylight, and would be dry as we would not have been hiking. This would avoid two of the potential problems with a real winter backpack: arriving with damp clothing from the strenuous trip and setting up camp in the dark. We would also not be carrying a heavy pack all day. Finally, anyone who "freaked out" in the middle of the night would have the option of getting into the car and driving to a motel (or to Boston). I did not expect anyone to use that option, but its availability might make them more comfortable.
We chose the WMNF Hancock campground in Lincoln as one close to Boston, and to my NH home. The five participants met at my home at 2:30, and we spent some time discussing gear and making up deficiencies. We reached the campground around 3:30, set up tents in daylight, and started melting snow in spite of the fact that the pump was working. Melting snow is an integral part of the real winter camping experience!
By 6 PM we had all had dinner, and we went for a walk around the campground with headlamps, and by 7 PM we started drifting into our tents. Next morning we woke up around 6:30 AM, made breakfast, broke camp, and drove along the Kanc to the logging road that leads to the Mt Potash trail.
All of the participants enjoyed the trip (overnight lows were in the high teens) and all said that they learned a lot in a low stress situation. Think of this as an option when trying to introduce a friend to the joys of winter camping!
Note: The Hancock and Barnes Field campgrounds are fully open, with plowed access roads and plowed sites (easy for cars, not much snow on which to camp). Several other campgrounds are open but unplowed, they include Big Rock and Blackberry Crossing on the Kanc, and Waterville on Tripoli Road shortly after it leaves Rt 49. The unplowed campgrounds are half price in winter. I assume that it is illegal to camp in the closed campgrounds (all others), but have no idea how strictly that is enforced.
This is adapted from an article I wrote for the March 2002 issue of the Charles River Mud, the newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the AMC. I thank the Editor of the Mud and the Chair of the Boston Chapter for permission to use it here.