Photo by: Kate Koch-Sundquist

Winter Cabin Camping With The Kids

Photo by: Kate Koch-Sundquist

It Will Be Dark

We arrived on Friday late in the afternoon, as a gentle snow was just settling in a bit heavier than forecast. The roads were slick and narrow, the woods dense and dark. We found our cabin tucked deep in the pines at the distant end of a winding road that didn’t seem like it led anywhere until we spotted the tiny sign hung crookedly on a tree. The boys, having been strapped into carseats for three hours, spilled out onto the fresh snow, sliding clumsily as they scooted their toy trucks around on their knees. The Captain set to work immediately, opening the cabin and working on a fire in the wood stove straight away. I carried load after load from the minivan to the cabin. We were racing against the sun.

But inside the cabin it was already dark. The cabin. It wasn’t quite what we had expected. It was tiny, smaller than our kitchen, smaller than the cabin in the pictures. Two sets of bunkbeds were kitty-cornered taking up most of the floor space. Across from them was an unfinished wooden slab, presumably a counter space of sorts, and then a small wobbly table with two even wobblier chairs. There was a thin chain hanging from the ceiling which we hung our lantern from, but it only cast a harsh light across the top of the cabin ceiling and somehow made it even harder to see in the shadowed spaces below. I took deep breaths. I told myself, this will be worth it.

It Will Be Dirty

Then there was the dirt. I’d come prepared with a broom and dust pan, paper towels, and cleaning spray. But this was a different kind of dirt. It was ground into the unfinished wood floor so deeply that there could have just as easily been no floor at all. It was a deep, deep dirt ground into everything. As snow was inevitably tracked across the floor, despite the admonitions to TAKE OFF YOUR BOOTS, it turned to mud and smeared easily and everywhere. It was filthy and beyond cleanable. I took deep breaths. I told myself, this will be worth it.

Just When You Start to Relax, Something Will Go Wrong

After dinner, we tucked a pair of dirty exhausted boys into their sleeping bags and dimmed the lantern. The Captain and I sat at the table, whispering and passing a bottle of something strong by the flickering light of the wood stove. The cabin was finally warm and as our drinks seeped in, so were we. I thought this might be the moment when it was worth it. It thought we were in the clear. And then we saw a mouse scurry over to a chocolate bar and start digging in. Back to work, we packed everything into rubbermaid bins and tupperware. We fell asleep late, with chills on our shoulders as we imagined the mouse running across the foot of our sleeping bags as we slept. I tossed and turned for an hour and fell into a restless sleep, broken by a winter’s wind that snuck between the cabin’s logs and crept into my sleeping bag.

Don’t Lose Hope; A New Day Will Dawn.

The advantage to a dark cabin is that dawn holds off just a little longer. We all slept past six, almost until seven, with the exception of a few wakings to feed the stove during the night. The boys woke excited and we all clamored out of bed, us for hot coffee and them for mugs of warm milk. I made sausage and potatoes and eggs on the wood stove. We filled our stomachs and then geared up.

Outside the new snow left everything fresh. We walked up the road to scout sledding hills, then browsed the trail map and headed through the woods to the frozen pond. Junior, having had a cold during the week, was not his usual self but he perked up after a snack by the pond and the promise of a chance to walk on the ice. Later, there was sledding and a chance to use his new “monster” snow shoes. (Totally nonfunctional as snow shoes, by the way. But fun for him nonetheless.)

After a morning outside, the boys devoured some grilled cheese sandwiches and then fell into a deep, long nap. While they napped, we lit a fire in the fire pit outside and swapped big talk about the adventures we’d have here if the boys were a little older.

When giggles and squeals began to drift out from the cabin, we got the boys dressed again and headed back for a walk around the frozen pond. This time we found beaver dens and watched the sun descend.

Later we stoked the fire and the boys perched on the edge of the cooler, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. We poked at the hot coals and watched the stars come out. Pudgy sun-kissed cheeks, smeared with grease and sugar, shimmered in the firelight. It was still early but the fresh air made their eyelids heavy. They leaned gently on one another.

Now we knew why we’d come here in the first place.

The Price You Paid Will Be Worth It

We aren’t the sort of people who routinely drop big money on vacations or experiences. In fact, we tend to do things on a pretty tight budget. Our cabin rental was a negligible expense, probably only marginally more than the gas we’d spent getting there.

The real price we pay for experiences like this with our kids is the hardship. It is not always comfortable. It is not easy. If comfort and ease are your goal, it’s definitely better to stay home.

Adventures are risky. They are hard. They are work.

The packing alone was hours of planning and preparation. There were hours more spent in the car. It was dark. It was dirty. For two nights, we shared our space with a mouse.

But then there was this. And years later when we laugh about the dark, and the dirt and the mouse, it will be this that we remember most.

Childhood is short. Let’s pay the price to fill it with moments like this.

Kate Koch-Sundquist is a writer, adventurer and mother to two boys. After living at sea for four years, she and her husband settled in the Boston area where Kate founded 365Outside, a movement that encourages outdoor play for everyone, 365 days a year. When she’s not outside, Kate can be found writing, drinking coffee and cleaning up messes she didn’t make. You can also follow Kate on Facebook and Instagram.

Editors Note: All images contained within this article were taken by Kate Koch-Sundquist

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