Snowbird Essential: Planning Your North-South Travel Route

Exploring the popular north-to-south Snowbird RV travel routes

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the American Northwest and Western Canada tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest and Central Canada flock to Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast and Eastern Canada head for Florida.

A successful—and stress free—trip requires a little homework before you leave. Regardless of your journey, factor in the drive times and travel expenses.

Bellingham (Washington) RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier post we discussed keys to planning a successful and stress-free snowbird RV route with tips for traveling the two most popular East Coast routes—Interstates 95 and 75. In today’s post we explore the main routes for snowbird RV travel from the Northwest.

Snowbirds who RV south for the winter from the northwest have a choice of several routes with most opting for I-5 or 1-15 for a major portion of the journey.

La Conner, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main West Coast highway, Interstate 5, runs all the way from the British Columbia-Washington border at the Peace Arch south of Vancouver to southern California. It connects most of the major cities from Seattle and Portland to Los Angeles and San Diego. It largely parallels Highway 101 and California Route 1, or more famously known as the Pacific Coast Highway.

Columbia River RV Park, off I-5 in southern Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two major sight-seeing destinations are only short side trips from Interstate 5 in Washington. Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another interesting side trip from I-5 would be a visit to Mount St. Helens…or what’s left of it, I should say! To me, it was intriguing to see half of a mountain standing in a spot where a WHOLE mountain should have been. You’ll find an attractive visitor’s center in which you may view interpretive exhibits and see a film about the volcanic explosion at Mount St Helens.

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joining the intermountain west with the desert southwest, Interstate 15 provides a major link between the interior of Canada, several transcontinental east-west corridors, Southern California, and Mexico. Travelers westbound on Interstates 40, 70 and 80 may easily transition to southbound I-15 to connect to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Between these destinations, I-15 is an extremely busy highway, frequently backing up on holiday weekends in the Mojave Desert.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between San Diego and Temecula, Interstate 15 replaced U.S. 395. U.S. 395 largely still exists today as a busy expressway route from Spokane, Washington south to Reno, Mammoth Lakes and Hesperia.

Ambassador RV Park, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But many RVers ask, “Isn’t there a better route?” That seems to be a common question on RV forums.

Although friends have shared little short-cuts with us (such as leaving I-15 at Dillon and going 41/55 to Whitehall and 69 into Boulder, avoiding the big climb to Butte), the result of our conversations and research have shown few strong alternatives to the I-15.

Helena, Montana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its winter, we’re not interested in the icy scenery and we just want to get out of the cold. Getting there is not half the fun. All of this points to the I-15 as the best Snowbird path south from Alberta, Montana, and eastern Idaho.

Snowbirds from the Midwest often use Interstate 35 and a combination of several other interstates and secondary highways to reach their Sunbelt roost.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plotting a route using mapping software or relying exclusively on a GPS generally produces the fastest or shortest route, which isn’t necessarily the best winter driving route for RVs.

7 Feathers Casino RV Resort, off I-5 in Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch the weather and road reports. Leave when you have a three-day window of good weather and clear roads. Mountain driving, with its steep grades and hairpin turns, can be scary enough in the summer especially for those accustomed to gunbarrel-straight highways. However, it’s really the ice and snow that are the big concern.

Durango RV Resort in Red Bluff, off I-5 in northern California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you get caught in a winter storm, wait it out and give the road crews time to clear the highway. Drive carefully leaving extra room between vehicles and allow extra time to stop.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the weather looks like it will be getting bad, or becomes terrible overnight, then stay put. Much better to spend an extra day in a campground than in a cold RV stranded on a snow-bound highway.

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?

Not All Snowbirds Have Wings

As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year

For many, snowbirding isn’t just about having fun—it’s about avoiding the miseries of a northern winter. With the challenge of icy roads, shoveling snow, the cold, and being stormbound, is it any wonder so many of us like to escape winter?

Texas Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More and more snowbirds are now choosing RVing to the Sunbelt over flying to a rented or owned vacation home. RV snowbirding gives you the freedom to travel to different destinations, to leave and return when you want, and to enjoy the comfort of having your own stuff with you all the time. It’s your vacation home on wheels—how great is that?

Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Preparing your home for an extended absence requires thorough thought and planning. Before heading south for the season, snowbirds must take steps to secure and winterize their homes. A key aspect of this preparation is making sure your home appears occupied.

Bella Terra of Gulf Shores, Gulf Shores, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re new to the snowbird lifestyle or an experienced RVer, creating your own customized checklist is a great way to keep track of your seasonal preparations.

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO? (And how will you get there?)

Selecting a balmy snowbird roost is when all the fun begins. Choice is in rich supply.

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the Northwest tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest flock to TexasMississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast head for Florida.

Rio Bend Golf and RV Resort, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you planning on heading directly south from your home location? Or will you cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude?

Clermont Golf and RV Resort, Clermont, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choice of route is subject to your own inclinations. Do you want to visit friends or sightsee along the way, or—as might be the case in mid-winter—do you prefer to go hell-bent-for- leather to the Sunbelt?

Lakeside RV Resort, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maybe your plan is to head to a single destination, park there, and treat your RV like a cottage; taking day trips and excursions from one home base. Or maybe your plan is to visit several destinations, spending a few weeks or even a month at each. This is ideal if you’re attending festivals and events, or checking off a bucket list, like your top 10 national parks or roadside attractions.

Tom Sawyer RV Park, West Memphis, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Either way, experienced RVers know that your first step—after you’re comfortable driving the RV, of course—should be to plan your route and research your overnight stops.

Pro Tips:

Arizona Oasis RV Park, Ehrenberg, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be realistic about how many hours you can drive in a day.

Reserve your RV parks in advance, based on your route. This guarantees you’ll have a spot to stop each night.

New Green Acres RV Park, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure the park can accommodate the size of your rig. Plan to get there while it’s still daylight so you can park and set up and have time to relax.

Take holidays and long weekends into account: this will affect availability of camping sites.

Is Rover Roving with You?

Blake Ranch RV Park, Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Furry friends have their own needs when traveling, too.

Make sure your dog is trained, fit, and healthy for the type of travel you plan. Take into account the type of transportation, activities, and living situation. Ensure your dog responds to recall and “leave it” commands for everyone’s safety.

Hill Top RV Park, Fort Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure your dog is vaccinated.

Worth Pondering…

We have chosen to be reasonably warm year-round, so we are snowbirds. Every year when I hear the honks of the Canada geese overhead at our home in Alberta, something in my genes starts pulling my inner-compass to the South. And an inner voice whispers: “Surely you’re as smart as a goose.” Feeling that I am at least as smart as a silly goose, I line up the motorhome with that compass pointer and head for the Sun Belt.

Planning Your North-South Snowbird RV Route

Exploring the popular north-to-south Snowbird RV travel routes

Snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year.

Selecting a balmy snowbird roost is when all the fun begins. Choice is in rich supply.

Tennessee Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the American Northwest and Western Canada tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest and Central Canada flock to Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast and Eastern Canada head for Florida.

Are you planning on heading directly south from your home location? Or will you cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude?

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choice of route is also subject to your own inclinations. Do you want to sightsee along the way, or—as might be the case in mid-winter—do you prefer to go hell-bent-for- leather to the Sunbelt?

A successful—and stress free—trip requires a little homework before you leave. Regardless of your journey, factor in the drive times and travel expenses.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While you’re at it, be sure to account for the changing weather conditions you’ll encounter on your travels. If you haven’t given yourself enough time to avoid the first winter storm, plan accordingly. Allow yourself sufficient time for cold-weather driving, and bring ample warm-weather clothes to get you through the journey.

Since the Interstate highways in America are generally well-maintained and have priority for snow clearing and sanding, they’re a good bet for safe winter travel.

Kentucky Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With many Interstate highways, the price you pay for fast speed convenience is a lack of variation in the scenery along the route. North-south Interstates are different, partly because they are north-south routes and therefore pass through varying climatic conditions and elevation changes.

I-75 passes near numerous BBQ joints © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interstates 95 and 75 are the two preferred north-south travel routes from the northeast to Florida because they are direct and provide a wide range of service facilities.

“Along Interstate-95” and “Along Interstate-75” are two popular spiral-bound mile-by-mile guidebooks with practical information on these two major north-south routes.

I-75 passes near numerous BBQ joints © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I-95 is the longest north-south interstate in the US, traveling through 15 states. It is the main highway on the East Coast of the U. S., paralleling the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Florida and serving some of the best-known cities in the country including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Miami.

Every year, I-75 leads millions of snowbirds from Canada and the U.S. Midwest to the warmer South.

I-75 passes near numerous BBQ joints © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I-75 is a perfect sample of America. It starts right at the Canadian border in Sault Ste. Marie, then down to Detroit and into the heart of the Midwest through Michigan and Ohio. From there, it makes its way through Kentucky and Tennessee, stopping near and in cities like Lexington, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, before entering Georgia. I-75 is a main route to Atlanta, and from Atlanta, it continues into Florida.

I-75 passes through Chattanooga, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you cruise the route past Tampa, take some time to enjoy the brief East-West stretch through the Everglades that’s known as Alligator Alley before ending just north of Miami. Whether you’re looking for the fastest route from the Midwest to Florida, or you happen to be enjoying the ride between some of America’s coolest cities, I-75 is loaded with plenty to see and do along the way.

I-75 passes through Kentucky Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along I-75, you can see Civil War, American Indian, and civil rights history. You can sample Southern BBQ and peach cobbler. You pass through crowded cities and shaded valleys, miles of tacky billboards, and pristine horse country.

I-75 passes through Kentucky Bourbon Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky is best known for two things: horse-racing and bourbon. I-75 passes near some distilleries, but if you don’t have the time to spend fully exploring the Bourbon Trail, you can get some classic Kentucky vibes at the Kentucky Horse Park. A ticket gets you access to two super thoroughbred museums (including the Smithsonian’s International Museum of the Horse) and admission to their horse shows throughout the day, some of which feature retired racehorses. You can go for a horseback ride, tour the barns, and visit various halls of fame. Or, just stop in to enjoy the atmosphere and check out the statues of Man O’ War and other famous horses and jockeys.

I-75 passes near Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park protects the land that saw some of the bloodiest, hardest-fought battles that turned the tide of the Civil War. In 1863, the Union and the Confederacy were fighting for control of Chattanooga, a railroad center that was known as the Gateway to the South. The Union Army suffered devastating losses at Chickamauga in Georgia, but ultimately defeated the Confederates and seized control of Chattanooga shortly after.

I-75 passes near Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the location of the Chickamauga battlefield (all of the battlefields in the area are operated as various units in one park by the National Park Service). The visitor center is at the north end of the battlefield and contains the bookstore, museum exhibits, films, and visitor info that will guide you during your visit.

Worth Pondering…

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carrol