For the outdoors enthusiast, Thanksgiving is an especially wonderful gift. The four-day holiday weekend provides the opportunity for friends and family to enjoy a quiet campsite in a normally busy national park, get far into a canyon in red rock country, or perhaps ski to a secluded hut in the Colorado Rockies.
For the past 15 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend almost every Thanksgiving somewhere memorable. Some of these holiday accommodations include a hidden spot under the stars while in Coyote Gulch, enjoying a mixture of sand and snow in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, watching a sunset while camped at Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef, and a memorable holiday spent skiing into a 10th Mountain Division Hut. (See our recommended hikes and trails.)
Here are nine camping tips to make your own backcountry feast:
1. The Egg Solution. Pre-crack some eggs into a water bottle. Then scramble with pepper, salt, and cheese for a savory breakfast or stir them into a hut-altitude carbonara for dinner.
2. Improved Hot Cocoa. Make some hot cocoa as you normally would, but then add some no-bake cheesecake mix for a high-calorie, creamy, and delicious winter smoothie.
3. Pumpkin “Ice Cream.” If you are head out on a snow adventure and want a festive dessert, pack in a can of condensed milk and some dried pumpkin spiced latte mix. Mix the ingredients into a bowl or pot full of snow for a holiday appropriate snow “ice cream.”
4. Chop Before You Go. If you are car camping at a dispersed site, there is almost no limit to what can be done in terms of food. But every minute of daylight is precious in November. Save time by prepping some of the food before you leave. Pre-chop the garlic and onions. Throw some chopped veggies into a re-sealable bag. Perhaps have some gravy in a water bottle ready to go.
5. The Main Course. Speaking of car camping, if a fire is permitted, a traditional dutch oven is wonderful over some coals. Imagine potatoes, carrots, brussel sprouts, with the appropriate seasoning and melted butter slowly cooked over the glowing embers. A full turkey may be difficult, but a roasted chicken is a worthy substitute.
If you don’t have a dutch oven, get one. A cast-iron dutch oven is worth the investment. Get one large enough to use on a two-burner camp stove or a campfire. This versatile piece of cooking “gear” that can be used to fry, bake, or roast. And it works well at home, too. If properly cared for, your dutch oven will outlast you.
6. Eat Your Vegetables. The fact that you are backpacking is no excuse not have some vegetables for Thanksgiving. Various companies now sell freeze-dried or dehydrated vegetables online. Dehydrated vegetables are light, really add a lot of flavor to any meal and are versatile.
7. Mashed Potatoes. Love some creamy mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving? Instant mashed potatoes taste a lot better with the addition of whole milk powder (Nido is a popular brand) and powdered butter. Both items are easily found online.
8. Stuffing. Make some instant stuffing, add a packet of instant gravy, mix in some dried cranberries, and add a pouch of chicken in place of turkey. This recipe is a one-pot delight!
9. Festive Libations. Many people enjoy an after-dinner libation on a holiday. Instant hot chocolate mix, a little cream liqueur (pack it in a small plastic bottle), and some dried mint leaves mixed together make for a nice “adult beverage.” Suitable for backpacking into a remote canyon…or a dispersed campsite off a rough jeep road. A little goes a long way. Cheers!