Winter backpacking and cabin camping with a baby and toddler

lake maria winter beauty

There is a moment every year on our annual backpack-into-a-cabin-in-the-woods trip where I am utterly miserable. Typically the moment involves a wailing baby and an overtired me. But then the moment passes, and the memory fades, and I vow to do it again next year — but for more nights.

This year had the moments of greatest misery yet, but it was also the most fun.

If you haven’t read about our previous two trips (Backpacking with a toddler, when Bee was 1.75 years and I was 8 months pregnant with Blythe, and Packing in a pack-n-play: Winter camping with a baby, when Bee was 9 months old) here’s how the trip works. We reserve a camper cabin with no electricity in Lake Maria State Park. We have to hike in to get to the cabin, so we carry all of our belongings in packs or on a sled. The distance isn’t far — around a mile — but it takes a lot longer than you’d think, with the snowy trails and kids. Once you get there the cabin has a nice wood stove and a good stock of wood, so you get a fire going and warm the cabin, and either hang out there or play around outside.

After two years of hiking in the dark (because we are poor planners and don’t reserve until all of the lovely Saturdays are booked up and we’re squeezing it in on Friday night) we finally had a Saturday reservation and were hiking in during the day! It was warm (20s) and sunny, and the snowfall the day before made everything gorgeous (albeit rough going for a 2.75 year old).

We had, between us: two large heavy backpacks, one big duffel filled with bedding, Blythe in a child carrier, one toddler-sized backpack, and an infant sled.

I wasn’t sure how we were going to use the sled, but Bee soon helped us out with that.

Lake Maria hike in sled toddler


Lake Maria hike in toddler pulling sled

Even though we are pro parents by now (haha), I still had to stop and remind myself that the hike in is about the journey, not just the destination. Yes, it was going to take twice as long, but that’s OK, because it’s beautiful out. The heavy pack on my back (and Blythe on front) said otherwise, but hey, at least we could count it as physical activity.

We arrived with plenty of time to relax and unpack, and headed out again to play.

lake maria playtime

Because that sky!

lake maria sky

lake maria snow angel

Making snow angels while wearing Blythe.

We were all having a grand time, except our little Blythe, who was under the weather with a cold/fever.

lake maria cabin c1

I was a little nervous to hike in 45 minutes with a sick baby, but she was in decent spirits, and we thought the fresh air and cabin cuddle time would be good for her.

lake maria fire

Every year we get a few more things right.

This year, our first improvement was making a fire and having a cooked dinner. When it was the two of us this was just a chore, but Bee was into it and it was a nice day, and it was good to get a little mom and Beatrice time. Also: playing with fire!

The second improvement was buying a double sleeping bag. When we camped this summer the girls got really cold and we realized how hard it is to co-sleep in backpacking sleeping bags. So we bought the double sleeping bag, thinking it’d be a good family bed-like option for the next few years (and ultimately a cozy option for just me and Adam.) And that leads me to our point of misery: sleeping.

I don’t know if it was Blythe’s fever returning that evening, or the unfamiliar surroundings, or her being cold after the fever broke, but she woke up at 8:40 pm, 11 pm, and 1:15 am howling inconsolably. The first time I nursed her for what felt like hours, the second and third times I cuddled and comforted her and listening to her cry until she settled down and went back to sleep. It was awful. Her fever had abated by the second wake-up so I wasn’t worried about her being ill, only just desperate for her to stop and for us both to sleep.

We slept in until 8 am, which helped, but it was our third improvement that saved the day: packing in espresso for the morning. (Adam made it before we left in an Aeropress). A couple of sips helped my surliness slip away.

lake maria cabin

We were sad to pack up and leave but we had a first birthday party to get to — Blythe’s! Even with the terrible sleep I wanted to stay an extra day. We’d barely gotten settled and it would have been fun to play around all day.

Lake Maria me and baby

My big one-year-old! What a great way to kick of her birthday. 

I’m super psyched because we already have next year reserved, and we’re taking it up a notch! We have three nights booked in December at Tettegouche State Park, on the north shore of Lake Superior. They have a group of historic cabins that are supposed to be amazing. It’s a much longer hike in (an easy 3.5 mile or a shorter but steeper 1.7 mile hike) but once you get there the cabins have electricity and a basic kitchen, so it’s easy to cook meals. We’re also following the important lesson that we learned on our first camping trip with kids: always camp with another family. Two of our good friends (who are Tettegouche camp pros) will be joining us along with their baby, who is due soon and will be around nine months old in December.

P.S. Blythe was an equally poor sleeper on the days following our trip. We took her into the doc on Monday but everything check out, so just run-of-the-mill cold plus teething, we guess.

Read about our last two trips here:

Backpacking with a toddler
Packing in a pack-n-play: Winter camping with a baby 

The posts make me laugh — I thought I was such a hero backpacking pregnant! Or with a baby! Now it doesn’t seem all that hard. But maybe that is the daylight talking, and the espresso.

Do you want to get started on camping with your young kids? The book Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping & Boating with Babies and Young Children by Jennifer Aist is an incredible resource. Aist covers everything from remote backpacking trips to car and RV camping and her helpful and encouraging style puts you at ease. One of her tips that we used on this trip was that stacking cubes make a great camping toy since they have so many uses (putting found treasures in them, building snow sculptures or playing with water, etc.)

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