The Top Hidden Gems for Snowbirds: Find Your New Winter Escape

This study identifies a collection of hidden gem cities—warm places waiting to be discovered by those keen on avoiding the cold and the crowds. Architectural Digest ranked 75 U.S. cities based on various factors to guide you to these notable locales.

Snow and chilly weather aren’t for everyone. Many choose to head to warmer climates during the colder months. If you’re a snowbird seeking a retreat outside popular sun-soaked places this winter, you’ve landed in the right place.

Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key findings

  • The number one hidden gem destination for snowbirds is New Orleans
  • The snowbird destination with the greatest selection of activities is Sedona
  • Mobile, Alabama, has the highest-rated light-traffic outdoor trails
  • Ajo, Arizona, has the most affordable homes on Zillow with an average cost of $161,048; Santa Barbara, California has the most expensive at more than $3.7 million
  • Maui has the best weather score with average daily winter temperatures near 80 degrees Fahrenheit
Ajo, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ranking the best winter escapes

Architectural Digest ranked cities based on housing and lodging availability, Yelp ratings for activities and eateries, home sale prices, and winter weather conditions to determine the best cities for snowbirds. To ensure these destinations are hidden gems, each location boasts establishments with high ratings—between four and five stars on Yelp—but only six to 75 reviews indicating that they are still relatively undiscovered.

Considering these factors, they assigned each of the 75 cities in this study a national ranking from 1 to 75.

Their research uncovered common traits among the top-ranked winter escape cities: pleasant weather throughout the winter months, unique experiences, and highly rated yet lesser-known establishments. These locations also had many homes for sale on Zillow or lodging options on Yelp catering to both seasonal tourists and those seeking a more permanent residence. Below, I explore the distinct qualities that set each of the top five cities apart from one another.

New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Overall rank: First
  • Housing and lodging availability: First
  • Activities and dining: Third

New Orleans scored 86.9 out of 100 points securing the top spot overall and for housing and lodging availability. The city’s blend of French, Spanish, and African cultural heritage coupled with its many festivals, dining, and entertainment options make it a top choice for a winter escape.

Corkscrew Sanctuary near Naples, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naples, Florida

  • Overall rank: Second
  • Housing and lodging availability: Second
  • Activities and dining: Fourteenth

Nestled within the Sunshine State, Naples boasts pristine beaches and an upscale way of life establishing itself as an ideal haven for a sun-soaked seasonal getaway. With a commendable 10th place in the weather category and beautiful Floridian homes widely available, its appeal is undeniable.

Honolulu, Hawaii

  • Overall rank: Third
  • Housing and lodging availability: Eighth
  • Activities and dining: Second

Honolulu is the vibrant heart of Hawaii offering more than just postcard-perfect beaches and swaying palm trees. Located on the southern shore of the island of Oahu, this tropical paradise provides a harmonious blend of natural beauty and urban sophistication. With a high rank in housing and lodging availability, you’ll likely be able to find a luxurious island home here for the winter.

Palm Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

  • Overall Rank: Fourth
  • Housing and lodging availability: Fourth
  • Activities and dining: Fifth

This Sonoran Desert jewel is a hidden gem in the Coachella Valley offering a unique blend of relaxation and midcentury-modern charm. Despite its property costs and weather rankings at 48th and 43rd, respectively, Palm Springs still holds allure as an under-the-radar winter escape with many housing, activity, and dining options.

Riparian Preserve in Gilbert, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gilbert, Arizona

  • Overall Rank: Fifth
  • Housing and lodging availability: 38th
  • Activities and dining: First

Located southeast of Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun, Gilbert is a true hidden gem waiting to be discovered. While its 38th position in housing and lodging might suggest limited availability, it shines brilliantly as the number-one location for activities and dining.

The study as a whole has limited use for RV snowbirds since a key focus of the researchers was housing and lodging availability and cost. As a result, I will focus the remaining portion of this article on factors relevant to RV snowbirds: eateries and walking trails.

Average winter daily temperatures and UV index were of limited use since the top three locations were Maui, Honolulu, and Key West. But how practical is it to get your RV there?

I’ve identified hidden gem cities for snowbirds based on several key factors all determining whether a city is an ideal escape during the winter months. I’ve spotlighted each category below to further explain how cities fared across the rankings. The key factors/categories I’ve selected—eateries, activities, and trails—are relevant for most RV snowbirds.

Number of highly-rated hidden gem eateries and bars:

  • Gilbert, Arizona (150)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (107)
  • Palm Springs, California (86)

Number of highly-rated hidden gem activies:

  • Sedona, Arizona (109)
  • Honolulu, Hawaii (97)
  • Santa Barbara, California (29)

Percentage of total walking trails with high ratings and low traffic on AllTrails

  • Mobile, Alabama (68 percent)
  • Yuma, Arizona (62 percent)
  • Idyllwild, California (60 percent)

Other categories including the number of homes for sale in Zillow and the number of highly rated hidden gem lodging options were also included in the rating but unrelated to RV snowbirds and thus omitted  in this article,

Where to Go to Escape the Snow

Planning for a future RV snowbird road trip? Need to know where it doesn’t snow? Here are the top six states with the least snow to get you started on your plans.

Keep reading…

The Best RV Driving Routes for Snowbirds

Snowbirds migrate from the northern reaches of the continent to the Sun Belt when the weather starts to get cold and snowy just like millions of actual birds that migrate back and forth every year. And just like the flocks of birds that follow familiar routes, RV snowbirds tend to make this journey on a few well-traveled arterials.

Keep reading…

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12 of the Best State Parks for Snowbirds

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

Keep reading…

Worth Pondering…

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida but they turned sixty and that’s the law.

—Jerry Steinfeld

55 + RV Parks: VIP Treatment

Have you heard of 55+ RV parks? If not, they’re very popular in Arizona and Florida—two states known for active retirement communities and beautiful weather.

RV life is perfect for the active retiree and 55+ RV parks cater to the growing Boomer-retiree demographic who have found they no longer want to camp with children running around. Or at least not all of the time!

Today I’m diving deep into these parks and why the majority of RVers appreciate this option.

Let’s dive right in!

Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona, a 55+ RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are 55+ RV parks all about?

The name says it all. The mission of 55+ parks is to create a mature environment for active seniors who enjoy a social lifestyle.

What states have the most 55 and older RV campgrounds? 

While every state has 55 and older RV campgrounds, two states take the cake in that category. Not surprisingly, they are Arizona and Florida

There are several reasons that these two states attract the most retirees. 

First, Arizona and Florida have beautiful weather. They can get pretty hot in the summer months but they are a great place to find a temperate winter climate. 

Both states are also tax-friendly for retirees appealing to many folks. 

Yuma, Arizona, is home to the most 55 and older RV campgrounds in the United States. Out of the top 25 parks in the city, 40 percent of them are age-restrictive.

Other popular cities in Arizona featuring 55+ parks are Tucson, Mesa, and Apache Junction. 

Speaking of Arizona, here are 21 Arizona RV Parks You Must Visit.

Since I’m talking about Arizona, here’s a related article: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Golden Village Palms RV Resort in Hemet, California, a 55+ RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why do people love 55+ RV parks? 

In short, folks are drawn to these 55 and older RV campgrounds for their age-appropriate activities. Most parks have excellent amenities that encourage a sense of community and outdoor recreation. 

Most places offer pools, tennis, and pickleball courts and even golf courses. Many parks also have a recreation center that hosts bingo nights, dinners, live music, dancing, arts and crafts, games and cards, and other hobby workshops. 

While each park is different you can expect to find some activities available to residents. Many also offer a meeting place for snowbird clubs to meet. These outside organizations have their events and are excellent places for people to meet peers and make friends while camping.

Common activities at 55+ RV parks

The active lifestyle of 55+ parks is a huge attraction for baby boomers. These parks usually have great amenities that encourage outdoor activities. Pools, pickleball courts, tennis courts, and golf courses are common features.

Voyager RV Resort in Tucson is a popular 55+ RV resorts in southern Arizona. Here’s what they offer their 55+ community:

  • Arts & crafts
  • Dancing
  • Live music
  • Games & cards
  • Hobby workshops
Gold Canyon RV Resort in Gold Canyon, Arizona, a 55+ RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are 55+ parks more expensive than normal RV parks?  

The answer to this question is that there is no answer. It depends on the park. 

Some 55 and older RV parks are much more affordable than others. You will pay for the amenities you receive, so parks that offer more will cost more. 

There are some ways to save money, however. Consider joining a camping club like Escapees which includes many places to stay. Escapees is perfect for every age camper not just those over 55. With your membership, they combine Escapees and Xcapers RV Club. 

When you stay at 55+ parks you will find other like-minded campers. You often become friends and find that you see each other at different places throughout the year. 

Can people younger than 55 stay? 

Again, you have to look at each park to answer this question. Some 55 and older RV parks will allow folks younger than 55 to stay. At the same time, others adhere to a strict age policy. 

The bottom line is that these 55 and older RV campgrounds want respectful people who will be aware of those around them. If younger people are approved and follow the rules, there should be no issue staying there. 

Also, be aware that the retirees in many age-restrictive parks want a quiet environment. It is not the place to bring young children. While us older folks love the sounds of children’s laughter there is a time and place that we want to hear it. 

Most parks do not have an issue allowing those younger than 55 to stay for a short period if they have the availability. 

How do you find 55+ RV Park?

One way is to just Google “over 55 RV campgrounds near me” or check your membership clubs.

Luxury RV resorts for those 55 and older

These 55-and-older RV parks are dedicated to seniors and they have some fabulous amenities.

Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona, a 55+ RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona

Located mid-way between Phoenix and Tucson, Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort is minutes from Interstate 10. They have over 2,200 RV sites, park homes, and activities to keep you busy all winter.

You can play pickleball, tennis, billiards, or a round of golf on their 18-hole course. Afterward, cool off in one of their three swimming pools or Jacuzzis and soak in the mountain views. They also have card games, lawn bowling, and special events planned every week.

Tropic Winds RV Resort, Harlingen, Texas

Tropic Winds RV Resort is less than an hour from South Padre Island on the Gulf Coast. The resort includes over 500+ RV sites along with a swimming pool and spa, fitness center, and a clubhouse. The RV Park is open all year with daily, weekly, and monthly sites available. 

Water’s Edge RV Resort, Punta Gorda, Florida

No matter the time of year, Florida is always an excellent option for RVers looking for a warm climate. All RV sites at Water’s Edge have full hookups and RV guests have access to the laundry room, restrooms, pool, and the fishing lake. This resort has options for full-time ownership or short-term stays so it’s possible to stay for a few days or a few months. If you visit during the peak season and want something to do expect a packed calendar of events to keep you busy every day.

Caliente Springs Resort, Desert Hot Springs, California

RVers who want an active lifestyle resort will love the amenities at Caliente Springs Resort. Caliente Springs has pickleball, water sports, golf, tennis, and more. A bonus? This park is located minutes away from Palm Springs and less than an hour from Joshua Tree National Park. This park serves the 55-and-older crowd and has RV sites for different size rigs whether big or small. 

81 Palms Senior RV Resort, Deming, New Mexico

You don’t have to venture far off I-10 to reach 81 Palms Resort in Deming. The senior resort has 106 long pull-thru sites with full hookups and access to their community amenities. They have spotless restrooms and hot showers, an indoor heated swimming pool, coin-operated laundry, and a pet run.

Gold Canyon RV Resort in Gold Canyon, Arizona, a 55+ RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold Canyon RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona

Stay near where the action takes place when you park your RV at Gold Canyon RV Resort. Gold Canyon is a planned active lifestyle community with everything from park model homes to large pull-through sites with large patios and full hookups. This senior RV resort is also a golf resort and the social and service amenities are unbeatable. Since Gold Canyon is located just east of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, RVers will find entertainment, shopping, and access to adventure, all within an hour’s drive.

Golden Village Palms RV Resort in Hemet, California, a 55+ RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Village Palms RV Resort; Hemet, California

While this park isn’t exclusive to 55+ folks it is tailored to the active adult lifestyle. The park features 1,000 full hook-up sites available for rent on a daily, monthly, seasonal, or annual basis. The amenities are top notch including a tournament level shuffleboard complex, regulation sand volleyball courts, championship billiards tables, a library and business center, pickleball courts as well as three pools and spas, modern laundry facilities, and a professional gym.

We RVers may wander far and wide but it’s true for most of us that we end up with some favorite Go-To places—places that draw us back again and again.

Arizona is one of those places for us. And we know it is for many RVers looking to get away and explore during the winter. 

Worth Pondering…

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.

—Les Brown

Wonderful Winter Day Hikes in Arizona

Natural areas for wintertime hiking

With more mountains than Switzerland—we swear!—and millions of acres of protected land, the number of hiking trails in Arizona is mind-boggling.

The only thing more impressive than the sheer amount of hiking opportunities is the variety of scenery hikers can enjoy including desert, alpine, urban, remote, rocky, sandy, and grassy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because we couldn’t possibly cover all of this in one article, here are a collection of hikes perfect for Arizona’s balmy winter months. From Tucson’s Sabino Canyon to Thumb Butte in Prescott, explore these six natural areas for a perfect wintertime trek.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 3.2-mile (round trip) Wind Cave Trail makes a great family hike in the Pass Mountain. Although the “cave” is more of a shallow arch than a gaping, mysterious, bat-infested hole, the sweeping views to the north and west and the interesting array of plants growing from the “ceiling” make it worth a visit.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to pack a picnic lunch. The shade at the mouth of the cave creates a nice spot for an alfresco meal.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Tucson

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast of Tucson, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the lush Sabino Canyon Recreation Area offers visitors open-air shuttle rides.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can hike the area without the use of the trams (which cost $8 for adults and $4 for kids), but they do help you see more—and save some sweating—on your Sabino Canyon hike. (As of November 2018, tram service is temporarily suspended while a new provider is determined.)

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bear Canyon Tram goes directly to the trailhead for this 2.5-mile walk to picturesque Seven Falls, which includes several stream crossings.

The Sabino Canyon Tram makes numerous stops along its 45-minute route. Several hikes of varying difficulty start along the bus path.

Thumb Butte, Prescott

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy to spot from nearly everywhere in Prescott, Thumb Butte offers a nearly two-mile hiking loop, part of which is paved, that goes almost to its summit.

Upon reaching the loop’s high point several hundred feet below the summit, look for a spur trail that takes you to an interpretative sign and bird’s-eye views.

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sign gives you the names of each of the mountains in the Bradshaw Range you’ll see before you. On a clear day, you can even see north all the way to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, although there’s no interpretative sign naming those mountains.

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A winter warning: The steeper side of the loop, which is partially paved, doesn’t see too much sun this part of the year and can sometimes be a little icy.

East Wetlands, Yuma

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just steps from downtown, you can explore the Yuma East Wetlands, where nearly 500 acres of what was a trash-strewn jungle of non-native vegetation has been transformed into a beautiful wetlands area. Just past the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, take an unpaved trail about ½-mile to a raised overlook, or circle the East Wetlands on a three-mile loop. Or for a bird’s-eye wetlands view, walk the paved path along the levee.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a more extended hike, follow the paved path heading west from Gateway Park. This route stays close to the Colorado River and is dotted with city parks.

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, bird watching, and hiking.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2.3-mile Canyon Loop Trail is an easy hike through the foothills that begins and ends at the Trailhead parking lot. The loop is created by a link connecting the Romero Canyon Trail and the Sutherland Trail. The trail is relatively flat, but about halfway around there is a slope with approximately 90 stairs. The Canyon Loop Trail crosses a wash several times, so seasonal stream flow may result in wet feet.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.