Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Winter

Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your winter adventure

For RVers, the colder months provide opportunities to make the most of having a hotel on wheels. Make tracks in the snow to spots blanketed in white, follow fellow snowbirds to warmer shores, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet in places that are usually packed all summer long. Here are the best small towns to visit in your trailer, camper van, or motorhome during the winter.

Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Springs, California

Borrego Springs is completely surrounded by nature, set in the midst of 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails, the park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas of mountains and desert. Anza-Borrego is an International Dark Sky Park, and the town of Borrego Springs is a Dark Sky Community, offering opportunities for exploring the star-filled night sky.

Aransas Pass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aransas Pass, Texas

Aransas Pass offers cool breezes and unique, crystal clear waters, beautiful seagrass, and excellent bay fishing. There are many marinas and boat ramps available with the largest at the historic Conn Brown Harbor. This picturesque harbor setting is a favorite spot for photographers and a preferred location to buy fresh seafood right off the boat. Nearly 500 species of birds pass through Aransas Pass. Some of the best birding is found in the Aransas Pass Nature Park within the 36-acre Aransas Pass Community Park bordering Redfish Bay. This area is a haven for migrating and regional birds. Another favorite site, Newberry Park is a 1.2-acre mall central city park landscaped to attract birds and butterflies.

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek (Out)

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Shangri-La may be a fantasy but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The village was created by a group of hardy souls seeking adventure and being practical, who also wanted a “fair hope of success”. This experimental community has come a long way from those “old days”. It’s still entirely unique and keeps a small-town ambiance with a large and active arts community. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks, and a charming, walkable downtown. With a population of about 17,000, Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.

Ibis at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo, Texas

Alamo’s claim to fame as the “Refuge to the Valley” illustrates its symbiotic relationship with the adjacent Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, an internationally renowned birding destination. The subtropical thorn forest along with the resacas draws birds such as tropical green jays, Altamira orioles, great kiskadee, and chachalacas. After exploring the refuge, check out the Mercadome Flea Market and Alamo Dance Hall which draws thousands of weekend visitors to shop, eat, and move their feet to the sound of accordion-driven conjunto and norteño music.

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo, Arizona

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places. Home to 4,000 people and only one stoplight, Ajo is a place to slow down and enjoy life. You could say it’s a small town with a huge backyard.

Related Article: American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

A small resort community in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is the epitome of cute. Featuring pastel-colored homes and pedestrian-friendly streets, the beach community is tranquil and picturesque. Just how adorable is this place? The fictional town from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was set here. West of the town visit the Grayton Beach State Park for some coastal trails.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek, Arizona

Located in Maricopa County, Cave Creek is conveniently located 27 miles northeast of Phoenix so you’ll never be too far away from a big city even if you’d never know it by the relaxed pace of life here. Not to be confused with the Cave Creek town that is tucked away in the Chiricahua Mountains, this one is said to have been the original town of Cave Creek and therefore has a true claim to the charm of the name. Be sure to bring your walking shoes so you can hike at Cave Creek Regional Park or head out to Bartlett Lake. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and fishing gear for Bartlett. Enjoy getting back to nature without feeling like you’ve spent forever in travel.

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Summer

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port O’Connor, Texas 

Port O’Connor is a small fishing village on the Texas Coast. It is often known as the “Best Kept Secret on the Gulf Coast” for its relaxing, laid-back atmosphere, and numerous fishing and boating venues. The most common activity in Port O’Connor is fishing followed by recreational boating and coastal sightseeing. The Port O’Connor area is an excellent place for birding. Some places to view birds in town are at the Nature Park at Boggy Bayou, King Fisher Beach, the Little Jetties as well as walking the residential areas.

Crystal River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River, Florida

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Crystal River is centered around its pristine waterway, Kings Bay, and is the self-proclaimed “Home of the Manatee”. The small town of approximately 3,200 residents welcomes hundreds of manatees each winter to its many warm springs including the famous Three Sisters Springs. Together with neighboring Homosassa, the Crystal River is the site of the largest gathering of manatees in North America. Located along Florida’s “Nature Coast,” the waters of Crystal River have the only legal “swim-with” Manatee program in the Country meaning visitors can passively observe the mammals in their natural habitat. The springs flow at a constant 72 degrees, making the water attractive to all sorts of swimmers.  

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

Best known as a mecca for Texas artists, Rockport is also home to the Maritime Museum, prime saltwater fishing, and tons of outdoor activities. The area is popular for being a great place for bird-watching due to its small crowds and vibrant natural landscape, and visitors often come from all over the Texas coast to see the flocks of coastal birds that call the region home.  

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Fall

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

10 Amazing Places to RV in November

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

Winter has officially arrived in the northern states and Canada which means getting up and going home in the dark usually in the cold and blowing snow. It is snowbird season, time to head south until the sunlight finally peeps through again around March or April. Happily, San Antonio and other southern cities are basking in a mellow, pre-Christmas glow.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in August, September, and October. Also, check out my recommendations from November 2020.

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Discover history, culture, and autumn beauty along Georgia’s scenic byways. The 41-mile loop of the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is the only route in the state that’s also designated a National Scenic Byway. Coursing through the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the route traverses several state highways including SR-17/75, SR-180, and SR-348. Panoramic views are plentiful, none more spectacular than the one from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet. Visitors can still walk the roughly half-mile, uphill paved path to the observation tower at the summit.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor activities abound along the route, especially hiking. The Appalachian Trail crosses the byway in two spots, at Unicoi Gap and Hogpen Gap. Parking areas at each trailhead allow day visitors to take out-and-back hikes on the famed 2,190-mile trail connecting Georgia to Maine. Download an interactive map from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at appalachiantrail.org. Other short trails lead to cascading waterfalls such as Raven Cliff Falls, High Shoals Falls, and the impressive double cascade of Anna Ruby Falls.

Related: The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three state parks are on or near the byway. Anglers come to Smithgall Woods State Park to cast a line in the celebrated trout stream of Duke’s Creek. Take a trip through the treetops on the Unicoi Zipline and Aerial Adventure Tour at Unicoi State Park and Lodge. Vogel State Park, one of Georgia’s two original state parks, sits at the base of Blood Mountain near the byway and offers a great view of the mountain from its 20-acre lake with a beach. Accommodations at Vogel and Unicoi include cottages and RV campsites. Smithgall Woods has cottages but no individual campsites.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The closest town to the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is Helen, the small Bavarian-themed town with an array of shopping, dining, and lodging options.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Antonio River Walk

The San Antonio River Walk boasts sightseeing, shopping, dining, and incredibly rich history. This world-renowned 15-mile waterway has been setting the standard for river walks internationally for decades. Visit La Villita Historic Arts Village, a community and home to nearly 30 shops and galleries selling locally made jewelry, pottery, folk art, textiles, and other handcrafted items by local artists. Plus, in the midst of these tree-lined walkways and plazas, enjoy a savory culinary experience at the area restaurants with options ranging from traditional Mexican flavors to steakhouse favorites. Or step into Casa Rio which is the oldest restaurant on the banks of the River Walk.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, visit the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) to learn about the city’s rich cultural heritage. (SAMA) takes you around the world and through five thousand years of art in a complex of buildings that once housed the Lone Star Brewery. SAMA is renowned for the most comprehensive ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art collection in the southern United States.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, trek to visit the four historic missions at the San Antonio’s Missions National Historical Park. Along with the Alamo, the park was named the first World Heritage Site in Texas by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science, and Culture (UNESCO) and includes the city’s four southernmost Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada. In the 18th century, Spanish priests established these five Catholic missions along the San Antonio River. The missions are walled compounds encompassing a church and buildings where the priests and local Native Americans lived.

Related: The 20 Best Road Trips from San Antonio

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico

As an RVer who loves visiting new areas and returning to favorite haunts, I’ve often asked my favorite areas to explore. It’s always interesting to see the confusion on the faces of the questioners when my response is New Mexico.

“But isn’t that just aliens and, like, the desert?”

Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re into alien stuff and the desert, you’ll certainly find them here. But you’ll also find so much more. New Mexico is incredibly diverse. While visiting the Land of Enchantment, I’ve camped in the desert, hiked up huge white sand dunes, and down into deep caverns. I’ve explored diverse craft and farmer’s markets and wandered through some of the most amazing art installations and galleries. New Mexico is where I’ve eaten the best meals, explored pecan and pistachio farms, and watched the most epic sunsets of my life. I’ve met incredibly talented artists along the way and visited historic churches and pueblos.

The aliens of Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What I’m saying is: New Mexico is special. It’s quirky and mystical and down to earth all at once. It’s full of adventure and relaxation and history. It’s also the home to one of the newest designated National Park—White Sands—a truly otherworldly experience. Need more reasons to visit?

Related: Wake Up In New Mexico

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come for the adventure followed by hatch chili cheeseburgers and craft beer!

Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.” I couldn’t agree more.

Forest Center, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Largest Trees in the World

Located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are two separate parks but due to their proximity to one another, they’re often visited together.

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park is home to two notable natural wonders: Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet above sea level, and the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world by volume. Both are impressive sights!

Kings Canyon National Park to the north of Sequoia is also home to giant trees including the largest remaining grove on the planet at Redwood Canyon. The landscape in Kings Canyon rivals that of Yosemite with towering granite canyon walls, lush meadows, and the picturesque King River that flows throughout the park.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While both parks together make up a whopping 865,964 acres, over 90 percent of that land is designated wilderness with no roads or vehicle access. There are numerous opportunities for incredible overnight backpacking trips in the backcountry, though, if you want to plan for that on your California road trip.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

In The Truman Show, Jim Carrey played a guy who unknowingly stars in a reality show, set in an impossibly idyllic beach town. That’s Seaside, and it required very little effort to make Truman’s hometown seem like a paradise of pastel-colored houses and dreamlike beaches. It’s worth a stop if you want to squeal with delight while strolling through town and stopping at landmarks like the famous white post office. When the post office was built just over 30 years ago, it was only the second civic building in Seaside and was established o create the perception that the community was “real” at a time when Seaside and surrounding communities were just beginning to emerge.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the coolest features of Seaside is Airstream Row. A group of restaurants—like Crepes du Soleil and Frost Bites—set up shop in Airstreams along 30A, lending a little funk to the picturesque scenery. If you prefer to sit down with a grand view of the water, grab a table at Bud & Alley’s which serves classic Gulf fare like grilled head-on shrimp and seafood gumbo.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are more than cute eateries and buildings in Seaside. Sundog Books is an absolute must: an independent bookstore that’s been open for 30 years. If you need a beach read, or just want to support a cool local business, this is a worthy stop.

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lots of Nuts Inside

Two of the largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand and Eagle Ranch are destinations that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo they are easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound throughout the area. 

Eagle Ranch Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes.  There are numerous wineries and nut farms where you can enjoy delicious wine and nut tastings and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains.

Eagle Ranch pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery. Experience their motorized farm tour, take your photo with the World’s Largest Pistachio, shop inside their country store, sit on the porch with views of the mountains, try their free samples at the pistachio bar, enjoy the wine tasting room, and grab a sweet treat in PistachioLand ice cream parlor.

Free samples at McGinn’s Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle Ranch is the home of New Mexico’s largest producing pistachio groves with approximately 13,000 trees. Wines were added to the product line in 2002. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcase how pistachios are grown and processed. A second store is conveniently located in the historic village of Mesilla.

St. Mary’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Mary’s, Georgia

Many folks pass through St. Mary’s on their way to Cumberland Island. But this seaside gem is more than just a place to kill a few hours between ferries. Shops and eateries cluster around the picturesque waterfront. (Swing by Lang’s Marina Restaurant for mouthwatering crab cakes.) The St. Mary’s Submarine Museum entices visitors with an extensive collection of memorabilia and photographs. And you’d probably be surprised to learn this postcard-worthy port can lay claim to the oldest continuously operating church in Georgia.

Kemah Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, Texas

Kemah is a city on Galveston Bay and a place I think doesn’t get enough hype. Many people pass right by, heading for the island. But, only 20 miles from downtown Houston right on the bay sits Kemah Boardwalk with entertainment galore for the whole family. It offers an amusement park with fun and exciting rides, waterfront dining, festivals, and seaside shows. Shopping and dining are a huge part of the boardwalk.

Kemah Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We went on a cool day in November to walk around the bay and noticed that some rides and attractions were not operating plus it was a bit chilly but we were still entertained by the sights, sounds, and dining options. There are also other dining alternatives in the nearby Kemah Lighthouse District. Kemah Boardwalk is open year-round.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

Although Montezuma Castle National Monument is a small site, its history runs deep. Located in the Verde Valley 25 miles south of Sedona, it was established in 1906 to preserve Indigenous American culture. The compact site almost feels like a diorama of an ancient village built by the Sinagua people who inhabited the valley as far back as 650. A short pathway lined with sycamores and catclaw mimosa trees leads to the limestone cliff where a 20-room building peeks out from above.

Beaver Creek at Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built by the Sinagua people around 1050, the castle is a well-preserved example of architectural ingenuity. The placement of rooms on the south-facing cliff helps regulate summer and winter temperatures. Its elevated location provides protection from Beaver Creek’s annual flooding, plus it functions as a lookout. 

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well which is part of the national monument. Along with the limestone sinkhole, cliff dwellings and irrigation channels are characteristic of the prehistoric people who have lived in the area dating back to 11,000. The water in the well which is 386 feet across has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals but it still supports endemic species such as water scorpions, snails, mud turtles, and leeches.

Olive tree along the Tehama Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tehama Trail, California

The Tehama Trail is a surprisingly fertile area—a prime place for farms and ranches. Many invite visitors to stop in and buy fresh produce, artisanal olive oils, and other local food products.

Lucero Olive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trail links together nearly two dozen vineyards, orchards, grass-fed beef ranchers, and other specialty meat producers. Hop onto the route at any point but the driving tour technically begins in Corning, a town known for olives. Stop by the iconic Olive Pit for samples of traditional olives, or try more exotic options, like herb-and-garlic-cheese-stuffed Sicilian olives. Head over to Lucero Olive Oil to sample artisanal olive oils and vinegar and shop for gifts.

Lucero Olive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue along the trail to sample and buy heirloom tomatoes, juice-down-your-chin peaches and plums, and berries as well as fresh pies and honey. Swing by New Clairvaux Vineyard in tiny Vina, just south of Redding where Trappist monks invite you to sample their Barbera, Pinot Grigio, and other varietals in a large tasting room on the monastery grounds.

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

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Established in 1939 to protect migrating waterfowl, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is home to more than 350 species of birds. Tens of thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Crane winter in the refuge as well as Ross’s Geese and many species of duck. Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge host a Festival of the Cranes in November (weekend before Thanksgiving) that includes events, classes, and even a photography contest. A 12-mile auto tour and numerous hiking trails are the primary means of exploring the refuge.

Related: The Mind-Blowing Enchantment of New Mexico: San Antonio & Bosque del Apache

Worth Pondering…

Days decrease,

And autumn grows, autumn in everything.

―Robert Browning