While the pandemic increased the appeal of camping and outdoor recreation in the last 18 months, Google Trends data confirms that interest has in fact been growing rapidly for longer than that. Overall search interest in RVing was flat or on a slight decline for most of the 2000s and early 2010s. In more recent years, interest has grown rapidly, reaching an all-time high in 2020. Now, search interest in RVing during the offseason is comparable to peak season search interest from a decade ago.
This interest is also apparent across different demographic groups. The population of older Americans and Canadians—who have long been a major segment of the RV market—is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age. But demand for RVs is also strong among Millennials and Gen Z, 49 percent of whom grew up with RVing and tend to be married, educated, and full-time working parents. Around two in five RV owners are aged 18 to 44, showing that camping and RVing have wide appeal.
While overall interest has increased, camping and outdoor recreational activities still follow seasonal patterns with most campers venturing outdoors during the summer months when temperatures are warmer. However, many states have excellent camping options year-round. Southern states from east to the west offer temperate winter climates, less precipitation, and ample natural attractions and parklands to entice outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
However, there is considerable variance across the Sunbelt states and within each state. For instance in Arizona expect freezing temperatures and snow in Flagstaff and sunny and warm temperatures in Phoenix, Yuma, and Tucson.
While there are many factors to consider when determining the best states for warm winter recreation, I selected average maximum temperature, average minimum temperature, average monthly precipitation, and the total land area allocated to parks and wildlife.
Weather statistics are long-term averages for December–February, sourced from NOAA, and land area statistics are from the USDA. In the event of a tie, the state with the higher average winter maximum temperature was ranked above.
Based on the above model, here are the 10 best states for warm winter camping.
Composite index: 62.6
Average maximum temperature: 57.7
Average minimum temperature: 35.3
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.2
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 548,000
Composite index: 67.5
Average maximum temperature: 58.6
Average minimum temperature: 35.9
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 4.3
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 747,000
8. North Carolina
Composite index: 67.8
Average maximum temperature: 51.9
Average minimum temperature: 30.3
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.8
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,575,000
7. New Mexico
Composite index: 69.9
Average maximum temperature: 49.3
Average minimum temperature: 21.2
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 0.7
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 2,720,000
Composite index: 70.5
Average maximum temperature: 42.8
Average minimum temperature: 20.7
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.1
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 6,580,000
Composite index: 74.5
Average maximum temperature: 61.4
Average minimum temperature: 40.4
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.1
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,276,000
Composite index: 79.3
Average maximum temperature: 53.5
Average minimum temperature: 33.6
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.9
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 19,623,000
Composite index: 83.3
Average maximum temperature: 59.7
Average minimum temperature: 34.9
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.6
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,167,000
Composite index: 85.7
Average maximum temperature: 54.9
Average minimum temperature: 29.7
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.2
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 7,704,000
Composite index: 87.5
Average maximum temperature: 69.9
Average minimum temperature: 47.4
Average monthly precipitation (inches): 2.9
Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,920,000
While this model provided useful fodder for further discussion, it yielded both predictable and surprising results. It is no surprise that Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California ranked 1-4, but I had to wonder how North Carolina made the list while South Carolina and Mississippi did not.
As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:
“Spread your tiny wings and fly away
And take the snow back with you
Where it came from on that day
So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go
To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”