A stay in a Camper Cabin was on my Winter Bucket List this year. Jay Cooke really delivered on the winter wonderland/cozy cabin feel for the weekend. Not knowing what to expect for our first Camper Cabin stay, we were truly impressed with this experience and will absolutely be seeking out more adventures like this one from our State Parks in Minnesota.
Our choice of park was Jay Cooke State Park. 29 of the 66 state parks in Minnesota have camper cabins. Not all are available year round, this excellent map from the DNR website shows which parks have camper cabins specific to the time of year. With all of these locations to choose from, you’re bound to find one at a park that suits your family and the adventure you’re looking for. The DNR website is an amazing resource and has a map of all parks offering cabins here.
We landed on Jay Cooke for two reasons. First, I was a little late in the game to reserve a cabin and most were take already. Jay Cooke had just one cabin left. Second, the close proximity to Duluth for the Cold Front Winter Festival and site seeing along Lake Superior. For more on Jay Cooke in the winter check out our Winter at Jay Cooke post.
Campground Winter Accommodations
Majority of the campground accommodations are shutdown for the winter, including water, showers, and restrooms. There are still a few things available in the area for winter campers and cabin guests.
Frost Proof Spigot: The park provides a frost proof spigot for water that is available for cooking and drinking water year round. This is close to the cabins and campsites that remains open for the winter.
Vault Style Toilets: These ‘restrooms’ remain open year-round. They are surprisingly more pungent in the winter than in the summer. I would image the reason for this is the lack of microorganisms breaking down the waste. Toilet paper is available and not lacking in supply in the restrooms.
**Warning: Vault style toilets in winter are chilly on the buns. If you’re camping with kids, use the restroom first to save their little buns from a frosty shock.
Inside Gabbro Cabin
We stayed in the Gabbro Cabin. This cabin sleeps 6 people comfortably. There are two sets of bunks. A single sleeper on the top bunk with a double on the bottom. The mattresses are surprisingly comfortable. Bring your own bedding, the mattresses do not have sheets on them. We brought our sleeping bags, worked like a charm and made it feel more like camping.
The cabin contains a small breakfast nook. It works great for meals, organizing the daypack and play cards late at night.
Cooking is not allowed inside the cabin. That’s no problem as there is a nicely placed picnic table outside that works great for a cooking surface. It’s perfectly level for a camp stove. We made our morning coffee outside and enjoyed our thermal mugs of liquid energy inside the cabin.
Firewood can be purchased at the Park Office upon check-in. They also have fire starters available. I recommend purchasing two of these fire starters as the wood takes a bit of effort to catch. We had a heck of a time getting the kiln dried wood to start, as usual. Thankfully, I had a fire starter in my Winter Emergency Kit that I keep in my vehicle. Collecting firewood from around the campground area is not allowed.
Fire rings are not shoveled out by the park service. If you intent to have a campfire during your stay in the winter, plan to bring a shovel to clear the snow.
**S’mores Tip: Eat your s’more fast or you’ll be holding it over the fire to thaw the chocolate before you’re finished.
The cabins at Jay Cooke have electricity and heat. Our cabin was kept at a comfortable 65 degrees during our stay, though it is requested that campers turn the temperature down to 60 when leaving camp.
A simple clean up is the responsibility of cabin guests. The park doesn’t ask for much from the campers. A broom and shovel are in the porch for guest use. Clean up is a snap as there are boot mats and rugs inside the cabins.
- Wipe down surfaces.
- Sweep cabin floor (mops available at park office if needed).
- Pack out trash, larger trash bins are located inside the campground.
What to Bring
Sleeping Bags/Pillows: The cabin is equipped with bunks and mattresses but campers will need to supply their own bedding.
Camp Stove/Cookware: There is no kitchen inside the cabin. Plan to cook just as you would for outdoor camping or bring along food that doesn’t require cooking.
Eating Utensils/Dishes: No kitchen also means no utensils or dishes. Treat this just like a camping situation and bring your own dishes for making meals, eating, and cleaning up.
Headlamp: The vault toilet is conveniently close but it lacks light. Our stay was during a full moon so the path to the restroom was well lit. Inside the shack, it was quite dim and a headlight was required at night.
Cards/Games: It gets dark early in the winter. Bring some cards or other family favorites for entertainment inside the cabin at night. My daughter whooped my butt several times in Uno. Good times.
Water Jug & Dispenser: There is a spigot available, this one is not essential. But it sure does make things easier. I love having this along on all trips that we’ll be having the vehicle along or nearby. It’s great for filling water bottles and cooking at camp.
Shovel: If you are intending to have a campfire, bring a small shovel to dig out the fire ring. There was a shovel in the cabin porch, but it wasn’t the right shovel for the job.
Add this winter adventure to your Winter Bucket List and experience the snowy wonderland of the Minnesota State Parks.