10 Amazing Places to RV in December 2023

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in December

Children see magic because they look for it.

—Christopher Moore

In his 2004 book Lamb, acclaimed author Christopher Moore tells the story of Jesus Christ’s childhood through the eyes of Jesus’ fictional boyhood friend Biff. Early on in the story, Biff tells us, “Children see magic because they look for it.”

He recounts how Jesus “shone like a bloom in the desert. But maybe I only saw it, because I was looking for it. To everyone else, he seemed like just another child…”

Because the book is written for adults, this line seems almost like an invitation. We were all children once. Perhaps, as adults, we may still see magic if we look for it. 

It’s December which means that as of today you’re officially allowed to hang up Christmas lights without any judgment from your neighbors. Don’t just take my word for it: A recent survey of ~4,000 US homeowners found that December 1 was the day most people identified as acceptable to put up Christmas lights.

OK, but what day is it acceptable to set out the holiday chili to appease Yeetch, the snow creature, so it doesn’t cut all the powerlines in your neighborhood?

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in October and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2022 and January 2023.

Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. 30 Years of Masa Dreams

The Indio International Tamale Festival taking place every December (30th annual; December 1-3, 2023) is the largest festival in the world dedicated solely to the steamed savory treat. Visitors will see over 300 tamale vendors as well as live entertainment, interactive art spaces, beer gardens, craft stalls, and, of course, the largest-ever tamale. There is also a competition for the best-tasting tamale.

Other bites available at the event include tacos, nachos, carne asada fries, funnel cake, ice cream, and kettle corn. The festival is also known for its carnival rides and—since last year—the World’s Biggest Bounce House for kids and adults alike.

Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Best birding

Arguably among the top birding destinations on the planet, Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park south of Mission, Texas teems with vibrantly hued tropical creatures. You might spot a chachalaca, a great kiskadee, or a green jay, any of which would appear right at home in the Amazon jungle. Climb the two-story hawk observation tower for a spectacular view. Along with more than 360 avian species are bobcats nosing through the brush.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Jungle Gardens

Avery Island is known as the birthplace of Tabasco sauce. It’s also home to lush forests, swamps, and a beautiful spot called Jungle Gardens. Wander through azaleas, camellias, and bamboo as you keep an eye out for alligators, raccoons, and deer. Within Jungle Gardens is a bird sanctuary known as Bird City. The sanctuary is the migration site for thousands of egrets, whose nesting season begins in February as well as herons, roseate spoonbills, ibises, coots, and more. Bird lovers can book a tour while others can simply enjoy the scenery.

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

4. Experience the Great Migration of the Sandhill Cranes as They Return to New Mexico

Celebrate the return of the sandhill cranes at the 34th annual Festival of the Cranes, December 6-9, 2023. Join birding experts from near and far for a chance to learn about Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and many of New Mexico‘s overwintering birds. The Festival offers over seventy creative workshops in the field at Bosque del Apache and indoor workshops at New Mexico Tech.

The festival celebrates the survival and yearly migration of the enigmatic sandhill crane. The sandhill crane is an ancient species of waterfowl that migrates from Canada and the northern U.S. to winter in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.

Both cranes and snow geese begin arriving in smaller numbers at the refuge in late October. By early December, tens of thousands of cranes and snow geese make the Middle Rio Grande Valley their home until they migrate back north in mid-February. 

Sandill cranes can also be seen in large numbers at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico and Whitewater Draw neat Wilcox, Arizona.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Its cool underground

Take a captivating journey to Bisbee, Arizona, a town that once glittered as a copper mining jewel at the turn of the century. Uncover the tale of hidden wealth, chance discoveries, and the rise and fall of this mining community nestled in the Mule Mountains. Explore the depths of the past with the Copper Queen Mine tour where you’ll don a yellow slicker, and a hard hat, and venture into dark, narrow tunnels guided by a former miner sharing gripping stories of Bisbee’s mining heyday.

Beyond the mine, discover Bisbee’s vibrant artistic scene and consider staying at the historic Copper Queen Hotel where history and charm converge.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Newspaper Rock

Bears Ears National Monument includes red rock, juniper forests, a high plateau, and an abundance of early human and Native American historical artifacts. The Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Nation, and other tribes are tied to this land in southeastern Utah.

Native American Indians have been engraving and drawing on Newspaper Rock for more than 2,000 years. Their markings in these ruins tell the stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and mythologies of their lives.

Newspaper Rock is located 15 miles west of U.S. 191 along the 41-mile Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway (S.R. 211) in Bears Ears National Monument now part of the 71,896-acre Indian Creek unit designated December 4, 2017, by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Architectural Digest names Mobile as one of the top 10 winter escapes for snowbirds

Looking at some of the best places for people to travel to avoid the cold, Architectural Digest listed several Alabama cities as among the best little-known places in the country for snowbirds.

Last month, the magazine compiled its list putting Mobile at No. 10 among 75 of the hidden gems in the U.S. for snowbirds or people who travel to warmer parts of the country during the winter.

After Mobile, Huntsville, and Birmingham ranked 23rd and 24th respectively. Rounding out the final three Alabama spots on the list were Montgomery (31st), Tuscaloosa (33rd), and Gulf Shores (38th).

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The Lady from Twentynine Palms

If this city’s strange name sounds familiar, you might be remembering the Andrew Sisters 1947 tune about a bold young lady who called it home. But although it’s small and far more remote than other popular southern California destinations, Twentynine Palms has a lot to offer.

It’s a gateway city for legendary Joshua Tree National Park whose twisted namesake flora and star-studded night sky are stunners. It’s also just an hour from Palm Springs, of summer film festival fame, a mecca of recreational activities from horseback riding to golf.

Plus it’s deliciously warm and dry in the wintertime although it will cool off at night. (It’s in a desert, after all!)

The Twentynine Palms RV Resort offers 168 full-hookup RV sites as well as a sauna, fitness room, and pool. And according to its website, hardly a day goes by during winter when there isn’t something fun going on in the Clubhouse from ice cream socials to live music.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Grand Canyon

Although tourists flock to Grand Canyon National Park in droves from spring through fall every year, the winter and Christmas seasons are some of the best times to visit this famous landmark attraction. With fewer crowds and cooler temperatures in December, you won’t have to worry about cars clogging the most popular destinations or the sweltering heat of Arizona’s summers.

RV camping is available year-round at the Trailer Village RV Park which is located in Grand Canyon Village on the south rim of the South Rim.

The Grand Canyon Railway which is also located in the Grand Canyon Village is a must for anyone visiting the park any time of year but it gets even better at Christmas when it’s temporarily transformed into the Polar Express.

Swim with the manatees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Swim with the manatees

When the Gulf of Mexico cools down each winter, hundreds of manatees make for the perpetually 72-degree springs of Kings Bay on Florida’s western coast about 80 miles north of Tampa. The area’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only spot in the U.S. dedicated entirely to protecting the distinctively corpulent creatures. Although a few can usually be found swimming through the preserve no matter the season you’re pretty much guaranteed to see dozens if you visit between November and April.

Tours that let people swim with manatees have grown increasingly popular here but if you’re worried about disturbing these gentle giants, you can watch them from the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs. Marshes, tidal creeks, and the remains of a prehistoric human settlement—possibly the country’s oldest—are worth checking out, too.

 Worth Pondering…

Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.

—Dave Barry, Christmas Shopping: A Survivor’s Guide

Tabasco Hot Pepper Sauce is Produced on Avery Island

Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce

Avery Island, the birthplace of Tabasco Brand Products including TABASCO pepper sauce, has been owned for over 180 years by the interrelated Marsh, Avery, and McIlhenny families. Lush subtropical flora and live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five islands rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2,200-acre tract sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Although covered with a layer of fertile soil, salt springs may have attracted prehistoric settlers to the island as early as 12,000 years ago. Fossils suggest that early inhabitants shared the land with mastodons and mammoths, giant sloths, saber-toothed tigers, and three-toed horses.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A salt production industry dates back to about 1000 AD, judging from recovered basket fragments, polished stone implements, and shards of pottery left by American Indians. Although these early dwellers remained on the Island at least as late as the 1600s, they had mysteriously disappeared by the time white settlers first discovered the briny springs at the end of the next century.

Related Article: The Fiery Appeal of Hot Chile Peppers

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the Civil War, former New Orleans banker E. McIlhenny met a traveler recently arrived from Mexico who gave McIlhenny a handful of pepper pods, advising him to season his meals with them. McIlhenny saved some of the pods and planted them in his in-laws’ garden on Avery Island; he delighted in the peppers’ piquant flavor which added excitement to the monotonous food of the Reconstruction-era South.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around 1866 McIlhenny experimented with making a hot sauce from these peppers, hitting upon a formula that called for crushing the reddest, ripest peppers, stirring in Avery Island salt, and aging the concoction he then added French white wine vinegar, hand-stirring it regularly to blend the flavors. After straining, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles, which he corked and sealed in green wax.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes” proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to market it, growing his first commercial crop in 1868. The next year he sent out 658 bottles of sauce at one dollar per bottle wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. The public responded positively and soon McIlhenny had introduced Tabasco sauce to consumers in major markets across the United States. By the end of the 1870s, McIlhenny was exporting Tabasco sauce to Europe. So began the fiery condiment that is now a global cultural and culinary icon.

Related Article: I’m going to Cajun Country!

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Avery Island remains the home of the Tabasco Factory, as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City waterfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open to the public.

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the original red pepper sauce, other hot sauces available for purchase in the TABASCO Country Store include green jalapeño, chipotle pepper, cayenne garlic, habanero pepper, scorpion, sriracha, sweet & spicy, and buffalo style. TABASCO hot sauces can also be purchased online.

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the history and production of the world-famous hot sauce during your visit to Avery Island. The Avery Island Fan Experience includes a self-guided tour of the TABASCO Museum, Pepper Greenhouse, Barrel Warehouse, Avery Island Conservation, Salt Mine diorama, TABASCO Country Store, TABASCO Restaurant 1868! and the 170-acre natural beauty of Jungle Gardens. Admission is $12.50 with a 10 percent seniors and veterans discount.

The Buddha, Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens

E.A. McIlhenny created a 170-acre garden, in 1935 he opened it to the public to enjoy his collection of camellias, azaleas, and other imported plants. You may see wildlife such as alligators, bears, bobcats, deer, and other wildlife as you walk or drive along man-made lagoons that trail Bayou Petit Anse. The over 900-year-old Buddha sits in the Temple he created. And visit “Bird City”, home to thousands of egrets, herons, and other birds!

Related Article: History and Culture along Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway

Bird City, Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directions

US 90 Exit 128A on LA 14 toward New Iberia approximately three-quarter-mile then right on LA 329, 7 miles to Avery Island

Read Next: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo
Cause tonight Im gonna see my machez a mio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.

Avery Island: Touring Tabasco & Jungle Gardens

Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce

Avery Island is the home of Louisiana’s iconic hot sauce: Tabasco. See how it’s made during a factory tour, pick up a few souvenirs at the Tabasco Country Store, and tour the island’s Jungle Gardens.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Touring food factories can be a hit or miss venture. Sometimes you get a really hands on tour that gets you up close and personal to the action which can be fun and tasty. Other times you’re stuck sitting in a room watching animated characters tell the company’s history circa 1987.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve taken a tour of the Tabasco Factory and then explored Avery Island on two occasions; it is worth the drive and your time.

When planning your visit to tour the Tabasco factory be aware that there are three distinct attractions to check out. If you want to do everything, plan on a half day visit or longer.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first part of our Tabasco Tour adventure began with the requisite factory tour. The tour is free and takes about 30 minutes. The tour guide takes you through a few different production areas, relating interesting facts and details about the operation and its history.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pepper sauce that Edmund McIlhenny created in 1868 on Avery Island is much the same that is produced today, on that very same site. The basic recipe, the process by which it’s made, and the ingredients remain virtually unchanged. And five generations of McIlhennys and employees have dedicated themselves to preserving its legacy.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edmund McIlhenny was given seeds of Capsicum frutescens peppers that came from Central America, and he first planted them on Avery Island over 140 years ago. Today, just as then, when the peppers reach the perfect shade of deep red and are at their juiciest, they are carefully picked by hand. (Young peppers are green and then turn yellow, orange and, finally, deep red as they age.)

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When in doubt, pickers can gauge the color by comparing it to a small wooden dowel, “le petit bâton rouge,” painted the preferred hue of TABASCO red.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pepper mash is placed in white oak barrels, and the wooden tops of the barrels are then covered with more Avery Island salt, which acts as a natural barrier to protect the barrels’ contents. The mash is allowed to ferment and then aged for up to three years in the McIlhenny warehouse.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After going through the tour you finish up with a short video presentation that gives you history of the McIhenny Family and their five generations of Tabasco sauce making experience. The best part? They give you numerous mini-bottles of Tabasco at the end of the tour.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you aren’t into factory tours, you can skip it and head right over to the Tabasco Factory Store. Here you will find all the Tabasco merchandise that any shopper could desire. You can also sample every sauce flavor available here along with super delicious Tabasco Ice Cream.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While touring the factory and wandering the store is cool, a favorite part of touring Avery Island is a visit to the Jungle Gardens.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island is one of five salt dome islands rising above the flat Louisiana Gulf Coast. These islands formed over the eons when alluvial sediment covered a vast plain of salt left behind by an ancient saltwater ocean. Surrounded by low-lying swamps and marshes, Avery Island stands 163 feet above mean sea level. The Tabasco Factory was built on one such salt dome island that is home to North America’s first ever salt rock mine in 1862.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens is a 170-acre garden with semitropical foliage, abundant wildlife, and a centuries-old Buddha statue. The garden’s rolling landscape stretches along Bayou Petite Anse on the northwest side of the Island.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens is home to a large collection of camellias. Thousands of plants represent some 600 varieties, including imports from Japan and France as well as varieties that McIlhenny developed on Avery Island.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You might even spy some alligators, deer, and raccoons that live in the hills and marshes around the gardens. And then there are thousands of snowy egrets that nest on the island each spring on specially built, pier-like structures in a pond nicknamed “Bird City.”

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can stroll the gardens along a path covered by gnarled oaks laced with Spanish moss and stand at the shrine that houses a centuries-old Buddha—a gift to E. A. McIlhenny in 1936.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo
Cause tonight Im gonna see my machez a mio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.