Outdoor adventures: Base camp doesn’t always have to include a bed

  • The Stone Hut on Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vt., is a popular overnight option for outdoor adventurers. The historic structure is one of several rustic lodging and camping opportunities across northern New England to try out during the winter months. Vermont State Parks / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Saturday, February 25, 2017

Base camp doesn’t always have to be include indoor condo camping for outside-loving winter adventurers. Downhillers, snowboarders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers and winter hikers looking for something of an al fresco base camp have a wealth of opportunities from a storied stone hut to bringing a tent to a state park.

Thinking of trying a yurt or cabin in the snow for the first time but want some heat? There’s that too from trailside cabins to a mountain-top yurt with morning-first tracks promised.

The venerable Stone Hut on Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vt., is a coveted winter overnight spot. Built as a warming hut in 1936 for the Civilian Conservation Corps cutting ski trails on Vermont’s highest mountain, the stone structure sleeps 12, has no electricity and is heated with firewood.

A 2015 Christmas Eve storm damaged the hut, closing it last season. But aided with donations, including $150,000 from Burton Snowboard founders Jake and Donna Carpenter whose sons and friends rented the hut when the fire occurred, the Stone Hut reopened last November. State fire investigators found the fire was an accident and no charges were filed.

Vermont State Parks uses a lottery system to dole out beds in the fall. After that, there are first-come, first-serve telephone reservations for the winter season which runs until mid-April. Overnighters can take a Stowe Mountain Resort lift to the Mansfield summit.

Vermont State Parks have tent sites and lean-tos that are also available for winter camping, but campers must first submit a request through the park website at least three days in advance, which may be confirmed or denied. There are no services during the winter months, and it’s recommended to bring shovels just in case. Winter camping is free.

There are a couple of primitive options at the base of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park. The popular, at least in summer and fall, Lafayette Place Campground is carry-in, carry-out with self-registration and payment during the offseason.

Over on the north side of Echo Lake, the Cannon RV Park has seven spots available in winter with offseason rates payable at the ticket office in the Notchview Lodge.

Another New Hampshire ski area with under-the-radar winter camping is Gunstock in Gilford. There are winter RV sites available, but the Lakes Region ski area also has a pair of cabins for rent during the winter. The cabins, located near cross-country ski trails, have electricity and heat. Campers also have access to a heated bath house with hot showers and laundry facilities.

Though many cross-country skiers may use them as a spot for rest and nourishment on ski days, three of the four shelters at southern New Hampshire’s Windblown in New Ipswich are available for overnight camping year-round. Many Wapack Trail hikers use the structures during their odyssey, while during winter, they’re available to Nordic skiers and snowshoers with trail passes.

Also in the Monadnock area is Monadnock State Park at the base of 3,165-foot Mount Monadnock. Open year-round, the park consolidates its camping opportunities outside park headquarters with first-come, first-serve opportunities. Outhouses may be available.

The White Mountain National Forest contains a handful of camping opportunities close to ski areas. Near the Peabody River and linked to the well-liked Dolly Copp Campground, Barnes Field in Pinkham Notch is a group camping area that’s open year-round. Close to many hiking trails and backcountry skiing opportunities like Tuckerman Ravine, the campground also has easy access to Wildcat Ski Area and Great Glen Trails cross-country center.

On the west end of the wintry Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln, the Hancock Campground is another rustic spot close to trails. Cross-country ski along the Lincoln Woods trail or use it as base camp for excursions to nearby Loon Mountain and the under-the-radar Kanc Recreation Area owned by the town of Lincoln with its rope tow and night skiing.

Spend the night on the summit of western Maine’s Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, not far from the North Conway area. Poised at the top of the nearly 2,000-foot high ski area is a yurt and a cabin. The Northridge Yurt sleeps four while Tuckerman’s Cabin has room for six. There are basic kitchen utensils, propane fireplaces and potable water. First tracks will never be the same.