Arrival of winter means a reduction of tourists— and traffic—in many popular destinations so it can be the ideal season to explore America’s open roads. With a little extra research and creativity, winter can be a fantastic season to go camping whether that’s a sunny desert escape or a swampy wonderland.
I’ve compiled a list of our winter-specific favorites with a little something for everyone—from outdoor enthusiasts to bird watchers and history lovers to national park collectors. They’re all across the country, too, so wherever you are, a great winter road trip route isn’t far. Read on for five of our favorite winter road trips, from Arizona to Texas and beyond.
As always during the pandemic, locations mentioned are subject to alter their hours and operations at any time, so check with attractions and food joints before hitting the road. Likewise, it’s a good idea to read up on state travel restrictions prior to commencing a trip.
Hug-the-Coast Highway, Texas
Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico. This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia. Route 35 steers you straight toward Matagorda Bay and the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen. Grab a fishing pole and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales. Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax.
You can keep on RVing toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down. Heading toward Corpus Christi, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving.
Creole Nature Trail All American Road, Louisiana
Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail is a network of roads where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, 28 species of mammals, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Part of America’s Byway’s system, the Creole Nature Trail is known for its distinct waters and pristine blue skies. The marshland, bayous, prairies, and coastal shores along the Gulf of Mexico teem with wildlife. Although the Creole Nature Trail is primarily a driving route, there are numerous stops where you can take advantage of a nature walk. Each of these excursion areas provides excellent wildlife and birding photography opportunities.
Also called “America’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail, an All American Road, takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s back roads. The scenic byway features four wildlife refuges, three national and one state: Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge. Take a side trip down to Sabine Lake or drive onto a ferry that takes visitors across Calcasieu Pass. Throughout the trip, expect to see exotic birds; this area is part of the migratory Mississippi Flyway.
Highway 60 through the Salt River Canyon, Arizona
In the middle of the 32,000 acres that are the Salt River Canyon Wilderness, U.S. Route 60 is a narrow ribbon buckling through the harsh terrain. By starting in Apache Junction you’ll traverse the 1,200-foot-long Queen Creek Tunnel cutting through the mountain at a 6 percent upward grade. Then you’ll climb 4,000 feet via tight bends, S-curves, and three consecutive switchbacks plunging into the canyon. The first half of this trip twists through the Tonto National Forest with views of the Superstition Mountains—the second half winds through the more brutal terrain of the Fort Apache Reservation where you’ll chase the Salt River for a while. Here, the canyon dictates the road. There shouldn’t be a lot of traffic, so it’s good for a scenic drive.
Spend time exploring Superior, Miami-Globe, and Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park before continuing onto San Carlos Reservation with stops at Apache Gold Casino and RV Park and Peridot Mesa, a broad hump of land often ablaze with poppy fields starting in late February and carrying on through March. Just past mile marker 268 on U.S.-60, turn left on a dirt road marked by a cattle guard framed by two white H-shaped poles. Drive a half-mile down this road, park, and walk around to see poppies, lupines, globemellows, desert marigolds, phacelia, and numerous other flowers along the road and sweeping down hillsides. It’s an amazing sight.
Panguitch to Torrey, Utah
Scenic Byway 12 winds and climbs and twists and turns and descends as it snakes its way through memorable landscapes ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats. Deservedly recognized as an All-American Road, the 123 miles of Scenic Byway 12 highlight Utah’s sheer diversity of natural wonders. Additionally, there are nine communities along Scenic Byway 12, each with a character all its own. Settled by Mormon families who established homes and ranches in the area, the towns proudly display their unique heritage and invite you to visit.
Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of Panguitch. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park. Shortly after entering the southwestern terminus at Highway 89, the scenic byway passes through U.S. Forest Service’s Red Canyon and two short tunnels in bright red rock masses. Other major attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Hell’s Backbone, Hole-in-the-Rock, Cottonwood Canyon, Burr Trail, Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, and The Hogsback, a narrow ridge barely wider than the two-lane roadway with cliffs falling away on either side.
Charleston to Savannah
Lined with massive oak trees that drip with Spanish moss and elegant antebellum plantations, the two-hour drive between two of America’s favorite southern cities make for a fantastic road trip. With a rich 300 year history, Charleston is America’s most beautifully preserved architectural and historical treasure. The best way to see this town is by foot. Around every corner visitors can discover another hidden garden, great restaurants, historic houses, quaint shops, and friendly people. Stroll the charming cobblestone streets and wander past secluded gardens and historic buildings that boast intricate iron wrought balconies.
Walk down the cobblestone streets of Georgia’s first city, a place filled with southern charm. Steeped in history and architectural treasures, Savannah begs to be explored by trolley and on foot. Much of Savannah’s charm lies in meandering through the Historic District’s lovely shaded squares draped in feathery Spanish moss—all 22 of them. Shop and indulge in the regional cuisine on River Street where historic cotton warehouses have been converted into trendy boutiques and restaurants making sure to sample fried green tomatoes and hearty plates of shrimp and grits.
Our wish to you is this: drive a little slower, take the backroads sometimes, and stay a little longer. Enjoy, learn, relax, and then…plan your next RV journey.