Winter camping is a breath of fresh air for year-round outdoor enthusiasts like Ruth and Jim Olson of Rocky Point.

Ruth, a Three Village School District teacher assistant, and Jim, a retired diesel mechanic, who are both in their 60s, most recently camped out in mid-November at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead. They hooked their heated 31-foot camper trailer up to one of 37 sites, took nature hikes and toasted s’mores by the fire before turning in each night around 7.

“There’s nothing nicer than going out after your second cup of coffee and sitting at a fire,” says Olson. “It’s like a mini-vacation.”

Winter camping is popular among Long Islanders who enjoy spending a night or two in a wilderness not far from home. If you enjoy communing with nature, sleeping in a camper trailer, and warming up around a campfire, you’ll have company at Indian Island and at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island, which are both open for offseason camping through April 1.

Emily R. Lauri, community relations director for Suffolk County Parks, says that last year, 387 campsite reservations were made during the offseason. You probably won’t need a reservation this time of year because “most campers are walk-ins,” Lauri says.


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Cold-weather camping also appeals to George Petritsch, 45, of Stony Brook, a construction equipment mechanic. Petritsch and his sons, Timothy, 14, and Zachary, 13, camp out every month, including winters when the temperature has fallen to 8 degrees. They stay overnight in heavy-duty Outfitter tents with Setauket’s Boy Scouts Troop 70 at Cathedral Pines and Indian Island. (Only Boy Scouts are permitted to camp in tents during the county parks’ offseason, Lauri says.)

Petritsch and his sons brave the cold wearing winter underwear, jackets and gloves, and camping three or four to a tent in sleeping bags rated for 20 degrees below zero.

“We keep ourselves busy with activities like collecting wood, building fires and Scouting skills,” he says. “We have plenty of hot chocolate and hot soup at the end of the day,” he adds.

And if it snows? Says Petritsch: “Waking up with the fresh snow falling on top of your tent, surrounded by a blanket of snow with no footprints, is beautiful.”

Winter camping is a bit trickier at Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness but well worth the challenge if you’re seeking solitude.

“This is not the same as a traditional campground but is instead a more primitive camping experience,” says Elizabeth Rogers, public affairs specialist at the Fire Island National Seashore.

Jordan Raphael, 34, of East Patchogue, a park biologist at the Fire Island National Seashore, camps in Fire Island’s wilderness year-round and says you need to carry in everything you need, including a tent and supplies.

“I love winter camping,” he says. “You don’t have to deal with mosquitoes, and you see the stars better at night. If it’s a clear day, you can sit on top of the dune at night and see ships from afar.”