The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

Historically, winter RV trips are not the norm—but this year has been anything but normal

At a time when many industries are experiencing record lows and astronomical budget cuts, recreational vehicle sales are up—and not just by a little bit. Year-end totals for 2020 are predicted to hover around 425,000 units—nearly a 5 percent gain from 2019. And, 2021 predictions are looking even brighter with most estimates creeping near a 20 percent increase over 2020.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pandemic has introduced a new audience to the world of RVs, once the province of the baby boomer generation. Younger folks are driving the trend, gravitating toward smaller camper vans and vehicles under 30 feet in length. The new buyers don’t often have experience, either.

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the first time we’re seeing people buy the products sight unseen. They’re paying for the vehicle online, getting it delivered to their home, and getting out there for the first time in their lives.

But there is another significant difference, too: Buyers are interested in extending the travel season. According to a 2020 impact survey conducted by Thor Industries, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they were still planning trips in October and November, a clear indication that consumers are eager to make up for lost time.

Blanco State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter road trips are possible, as long as travelers take the necessary precautions. Plan ahead when looking for places to camp since many designated campgrounds close for the winter. This means many travelers will boondock or camp off-the-grid without connections to power or water sources. If you’ll be adventuring in extremely cold conditions, consider adding additional insulation to holding tank areas and running your thermostat higher to keep the vehicle warmer and avoid frozen water lines. It’s a good idea to take a cold-weather practice run to understand the capabilities of your new RV.

Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get you started in planning a winter journey, check out the five winter RV road trip destinations listed below. Each highlights natural beauty and ample opportunities to get outside for some fresh—and potentially brisk—air.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Big Five, Southern Utah

Named as such by the state of Utah, the Big Five are the five national parks spread throughout the southern half of the state: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. Each park boasts a unique look at the state’s famed geologic formations and scenery ranging from Angel’s Landing (a popular hike in Zion) to the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile wrinkle in the earth’s surface in Capitol Reef. For RVers, this stretch of canyon country is a perfect winter journey thanks to the smaller crowds and ephemeral views of dazzling snow on red sandstone.

White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

New Mexico tends to be a drive-through state for many RV travelers, and that is a shame. RVers should spend a week in Santa Fe before directing their rig toward Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, and nearly 40,000 ducks. Continue south to White Sands National Park, the newest addition to the National Park Service’s lineup after its re-designation from a national monument in late 2019. Tucked away toward the southern border of the state shared with Texas, it is easy to see why White Sands is dubbed “like no place else on Earth.” Stark-white gypsum sand dunes fill a 275-square-mile region that amounts to a veritable (and socially distant) playground for those willing to explore.

Verde Valley near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country. The beautiful red rocks of Sedona, the quirkiness of an old mining town (Jerome), and the mysteries of stone (Montezuma Castle) left by those who once thrived here but have now vanished. Down the hill from Jerome is Clarkdale, an old copper mining company town now best known for the Verde Canyon Wilderness Train that takes you on a four hour tour of the stunning Verde River Canyon. You’ll find all this and more in the Verde Valley, 90 miles north of Phoenix.

Chattahoochee National Forest along Brasstown Bald Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast Georgia Mountains

Northeast Georgia Mountains’ picturesque beauty, countryside, tumbling waterfalls, and gentle-mountains provide an escape away from the bustling city. One of the oldest mountain chains that end in Georgia is the Blue Ridge. Tucked in Chattahoochee National Forest, Blue Ridge offers excellent hiking, scenic drives, and farm-fresh produce. Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains is known to display the season’s first fall colors. Hike to the top for a panoramic 360-degree view and witness the four states from the visitor center. With sublime views and lush forests, Brasstown Bald offers a secluded retreat.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

Characterized by tall, rugged hills of limestone and granite, Texas-sized ranches, and refreshing swimming holes, the Hill Country is an outdoor retreat like no other. Get inspired to relax, explore, and enjoy the great outdoors. Settled by Germans and Eastern Europeans, the Texas Hill Country has a culture all its own. Storybook farms and ranches dot the countryside, and you may even still hear folks speaking German in Fredericksburg, Boerne, and New Braunfels. You’ll also find some of the best barbecue in Texas, antique shops on old-fashioned main streets and celebrations with roots in the Old World.

Worth Pondering…

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

―T.S. Eliot

Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

Visit Arches to discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world

We know COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is impacting RV travel plans right now. For a little inspiration we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.

With towering red rock formations, natural stone arches, and 77,000 acres of land to explore, Arches National Park lives up to its name. The park is minutes from the city of Moab. Deciding what to see can be somewhat overwhelming as the crescent-shaped rocks seem to be everywhere. So far, there are 2,000 confirmed rust-colored natural formations in the park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best times to visit Arches National Park are April-May and September-October. The National Parks Service states on its website that traffic can get congested and parking can be a problem from March through October. However, we visited in late October and the park was not overcrowded, parking was not an issue, and it was cool but comfortable.

Delicate Arch is the most famous and popular arch in the world and is seen on TV and in photographs many times over. People come from all over the world to get a glimpse of this iconic stone. Visitors cannot see the arch from the car, however—there are a couple of viewing points to see the arch without a long walk. If you are hiking to the arch, allow at least two to three hours. At Delicate Arch is a historic homestead from the turn of the 20th century, Wolfe Ranch. On the hike the homestead can be seen, as well as Ute Indian petroglyphs.

The Windows Section of the park is an area where Turret Arch, Double Arch, and North and South Windows are located. These are some of the largest arches in the park.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balanced Rock can be seen from the road and those wanting a short hike can walk around it and get views of the Windows Section.

Devils Garden is home to a variety of arches that are connected by hiking trails. Landscape Arch is located at the end of the Devils Garden Trail. Possibly even more delicate than Delicate Arch, this 290-foot sandstone spiderweb makes you feel like you might be the last person to see it intact. It’s an easy 0.8-mile hike from the Devils Garden Trailhead with numerous other arches you can add on to your hike.

Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers are seen shortly after passing the visitors center and making your way up the steep winding road. The canyon walls of Park Avenue stand tall with the thin, statuesque rocks resembling a big-city street lined with skyscrapers. You can walk among massive monoliths and towering walls and see views of the nearby La Sal Mountains. Beyond the viewpoint, the trail descends steeply into the spectacular canyon and continues one mile to Courthouse Towers.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether your visit is for one day or a week, taking the scenic drive is the best way to see the highlights. Driving all the paved roads in the park would take about 4.5 hours with time to stop at each viewpoint.

If you only have a short time to drive, go as far as you can and it is easy to turn around and go back to town or make your way to the next destination. Maps are available at the visitors’ center.

Hiking opportunities are abundant. Hikers can spend days on the trails which vary in length and skill level ranging from a 50-yard nature trail to a several-hour hike.

Moab offers visitors many places to camp, eat, and play. Outdoor activities include Colorado River rafting, canyoneering, golfing, rock climbing, slick-rock biking, and more.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Moab and Arches visitors can go to Canyonlands National Park. Also close by are Dead Horse Point State Park and Manti-La Sal National Forest.

Worth Pondering…

Time, geologic time, looks out at us from the rocks as from no other objects in the landscape.

—John Burroughs

Do You Hoodoo?

“A hell of a place to lose a cow”

These tall, irregular spires of rock created through erosion usually protrude upward from dry bottomland, and Bryce Canyon National Park offers the most abundant concentration of them in the U.S. Hoodoos range in stature from 6 feet to as tall as a 10-story building, but Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos are being slowly worn away by the same forces of erosion that formed them.

Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who ranched in the area described the canyon that bears his name as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”. But the rest of the world knows the canyon as a vast wonderland of brilliant-colored spires, rising like sentinels into the clear sky above.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.

Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes. Collectively called “hoodoos”, these unique formations are whimsically arranged and tinted with colors too numerous and subtle to name.

Bryce Canyon’s warm days and cold nights result in more than 200 days a year in which accumulated rainwater completes a freeze-thaw cycle. During the day, water seeps into cracks in the rocks, and then at night, it freezes and expands. As this process repeats, it breaks apart weak rock, and over time, chisels the unusual formations.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rim of the canyon is between 8,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level. In summer, daytime temperatures are in the 80s but fall to the 40s by night.

If you’re traveling through southern Utah, you’ll want to visit this land of the hoodoos. The only access to Bryce Canyon is via Scenic Byway 12 (an All-American Road), which is a winding road that climbs to high elevations in spots. The entire highway is paved, well maintained, and kept open year-round.

The best place to begin a tour of the park is at the visitor center. Located just 1.5 miles inside the park, the visitor center provides maps and directions, plus information regarding weather, ranger activities, and the Junior Ranger program. There’s also a 20-minute orientation film and a museum with exhibits that display facets of the park’s geology, flora, fauna, and history.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce is a compact park—just 56 square miles—which makes it easier to explore than many national parks in the West.

Hiking is the best way to experience the stunning mazes. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of distances and elevation change. Most of the park’s trails range from half a mile to 11 miles and take less than a day to complete. Most trails descend into the canyon and wind around the oddly shaped formations. In just a few hours on the trail, you can experience Bryce Canyon’s spectacular scenery.

But a word of caution: Many trails that descend to the bottom are moderate to steep, making the return part of the hike—which is uphill—the most strenuous. Bryce’s high elevation requires extra exertion, so assess your ability and know your limits. Wear hiking boots with good tread and ankle support and carry plenty of drinking water to avoid dehydration.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A prime viewpoint, Bryce Amphitheater is one of the most spectacular viewing areas in the national park system. Bryce Amphitheater is the park’s largest amphitheater and can be viewed from several points—Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise points.

Sunset Point begins the trailhead for the popular 1.3-mile Navajo Loop which descends through Wall Street. There, hikers travel between the narrow 200-foot canyon cliffs, and along the way pass by a miracle of nature—two 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs that have managed to grow from the narrow slot canyon floor to reach the sliver of sunlight at the top.

But if hiking isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the landscape from the overlooks on the main park road, which heads 18 miles along a winding corridor through forests and meadows to the park’s southern end.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

Utah Runneth Over With National Parks

America’s southwest is home to lots of jaw-dropping scenery—how do you decide where to go and what to see?

The days are getting warmer, there’s more daylight hours, and school will soon be out. A great formula for a summer vacation, for sure.

BUT, where to go and what to do?

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you enjoy wide open spaces, room to stretch your legs, and unlimited opportunities to observe Mother Nature at its finest—consider UTAH.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a state that is 13th in area, Utah has an amazing number of locations managed by the National Park Service. These parks include seven national monuments, two national recreation areas, one national historical site, and five national parks. It is these “crown jewels,” the BIG FIVE, we’ll briefly describe in today’s post.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the southwest corner of Utah is magnificent Zion National Park. Highway access is prime at this incredible park, as I-15 rims the park on its western edge. SR-9 runs through the southern portion of the park, and 12 miles east is the community of Mt. Carmel Junction.

Located at the park’s southern entrance, Springdale offers numerous visitor facilities.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV camping is available inside the park at South Campground (117 sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites) near the south entrance of Springdale. Reservations are strongly suggested as both campgrounds are full every night during the reservation season. Several private RV parks are available a short drive from the park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To help ease traffic congestion, a shuttle service runs from early March through October. There are two shuttle loops. The Zion Canyon Shuttle connects the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to stops at nine locations on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Springdale Shuttle has nine stops in the town of Springdale. The Springdale Shuttle will take you to the park’s Pedestrian Entrance near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is all about hiking, and the beauty of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This famous drive runs from the visitor center to the famous Temple of Sinawava.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is located northeast of Zion.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon is not a single canyon, but a series of natural amphitheaters or bowls, carved into the edge of a high plateau. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheater (pictured above), which is filled with irregularly eroded spires of rocks called hoodoos (odd-shaped pillars of rock left standing from the forces of erosion). Their colors vary, giving the area unusual hues during the changing daylight hours. The largest collection of hoodoos in the world is found in Bryce. Descriptions fail. Bring your sense of wonder and imagination when visiting Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds, North (99 sites) and Sunset (100 sites), located in close proximity to the visitor center, Bryce Canyon Lodge, and Bryce Amphitheater. Sites fill by early afternoon during the busy summer months.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive to Rainbow Point (18 miles one way) and stop at the 13 viewpoints on your return trip. Hiking trails are numerous. Since park elevations reach over 9,000 feet, even mild exertion may leave you feeling light-headed and nauseated.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park preserves 337,598 acres of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires in the heart of southeast Utah’s high desert. Water and gravity have been the prime architects of this land, sculpting layers of rock into the rugged landscape you see today.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands preserves the natural beauty and human history throughout its four districts (Islands in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, Horseshoe Canyon) which are divided by the Green and Colorado rivers. While the districts share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character and offers different opportunities for exploration and adventure.

Island in the Sky is the most accessible district, offering expansive views from many overlooks along the paved scenic drive, several hikes of varying length and a moderate four-wheel-drive route called the White Rim Road.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is available in the Islands of the Sky District at Willow Flat (12 sites) and Needles District at Needles Campground (27 sites).

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Almost next door, is smaller, unusual, Arches National Park. It is located 5 miles northwest of Moab. Visitor services including several RV parks.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile scenic road passes the many outstanding natural features. Parking is limited at all destinations, and popular trailheads like Delicate Arch and Devils Garden may fill for hours at a time, especially on weekends and holidays. Tent and RV camping is available at Devils Garden Campground (51 sites), 18 miles from the park entrance.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s main driving tours include the paved Scenic Drive and two long, mainly unpaved, loop tours through the park’s Cathedral and Waterpocket Districts. The Scenic Drive starts at the park Visitor Center and provides access to Grand Wash Road, Capitol Gorge Road, Pleasant Creek Road, and South Draw Road. The Scenic Drive is a 7.9 mile paved road with dirt spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 71-site Fruita campground is the only developed campground in the park, located south of the visitor center in the Fruita Historic District.

Utah national parks bring superlative sights like no other state. It’s one of the few where someone can look at a picture and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s Utah.”.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?