One of the best parts of the RV lifestyle is the ability to simply follow warm weather wherever it may lead
While the pandemic increased the appeal of camping and outdoor recreation in the last 18 months, Google Trends data confirms that interest has in fact been growing rapidly for longer than that. Overall search interest in RVing was flat or on a slight decline for most of the 2000s and early 2010s. In more recent years, interest has grown rapidly, reaching an all-time high in 2020. Now, search interest in RVing during the offseason is comparable to peak season search interest from a decade ago.
This interest is also apparent across different demographic groups. The population of older Americans and Canadians—who have long been a major segment of the RV market—is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age. But demand for RVs is also strong among Millennials and Gen Z, 49 percent of whom grew up with RVing and tend to be married, educated, and full-time working parents. Around two in five RV owners are aged 18 to 44, showing that camping and RVing have wide appeal.
While overall interest has increased, camping and outdoor recreational activities still follow seasonal patterns with most campers venturing outdoors during the summer months when temperatures are warmer. However, many states have excellent camping options year-round. Southern states from east to the west offer temperate winter climates, less precipitation, and ample natural attractions and parklands to entice outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
However, there is considerable variance across the Sunbelt states and within each state. For instance in Arizona expect freezing temperatures and snow in Flagstaff and sunny and warm temperatures in Phoenix, Yuma, and Tucson.
While there are many factors to consider when determining the best states for warm winter recreation, I selected average maximum temperature, average minimum temperature, average monthly precipitation, and the total land area allocated to parks and wildlife.
Weather statistics are long-term averages for December–February, sourced from NOAA, and land area statistics are from the USDA. In the event of a tie, the state with the higher average winter maximum temperature was ranked above.
While this model provided useful fodder for further discussion, it yielded both predictable and surprising results. It is no surprise that Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California ranked 1-4, but I had to wonder how North Carolina made the list while South Carolina and Mississippi did not.
As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:
“Spread your tiny wings and fly away
And take the snow back with you
Where it came from on that day
So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go
To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”
Before you even finish this sentence, I’m guessing you can name the number one reason why everyone loves Palm Springs.
The weather! That’s right, Palm Springs averages 350 sunny days per year; its temperate winter climate complements the sunlight to keep you pleasantly warm. The forecast calls for fun, so explore all that Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley have to offer…
Nestled between the mesmerizing San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains and Joshua Tree National Park on either side, the Coachella Valley is like no other place on earth. Some might even say it’s magical. Health-seekers, adventurers, artists, and more have flocked here since the early 1900s in search of inspiration, solitude, and serenity. Here, there’s room to breathe and just be, frolicking among the palm oases and hidden waterfalls beneath sun-kissed skies.
The nine cities in the Coachella Valley—Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella—have distinct histories and personalities. Visit the infamous San Andreas Fault and its twisted desert canyons.
Soak in the healing hot mineral springs, some of the purest in the world. Tee off at a championship golf course where the likes of Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods have played. Or simply bask in the sunshine. Regardless of where your Coachella Valley journey begins, you’re guaranteed to experience that same magic in the air that keeps snowbirds coming back, time and time again.
The desert cities, especially Palm Springs, are particularly well-suited for the outdoor lifestyle that has become requisite within the past year with popular brunch spots along the palm-tree-lined main drag offering sprawling shaded patios perfect for people watching and sipping mimosas.
Palm Springs has been a hideaway for Angelenos since the Rat Pack days and it’s no wonder. This colorful, chic desert escape offers everything you need to unwind and it’s less than a two-hour journey from the city center of L.A.
The main draw for snowbirds is the year-round sunshine, but modern art and architecture buffs are attracted to the works of the architects who put their mark on the town including Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and William Krisel. Frey designed Tramway Gas Station, now the Palm Springs Visitor Center. Given its residents’ penchant for art and design, the area is also home to some of the state’s best vintage shops.
The beautiful San Jacinto Mountains are the backdrop to Palm Springs. You can visit the top of the San Jacinto Mountain via The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It travels up over 2.5 miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon. The weather is about 30 degrees cooler so you can go from warm to cool weather in a 10-minute tram ride. You can go from t-shirt, to coat, back to swimsuit in a fall afternoon. Only in Palm Springs!
Take a hike at one of the convenient trails located near the heart of town. Andreas Canyon is a cradle of cultural finds, showcasing irrigation and artistic achievements of the Cahuilla indigenous people. It’s one of the three canyons in Indian Canyons and offers beautiful views meandering along a natural creek.
For a more challenging hike, consider the trailhead tucked fashionably behind the Palm Springs Art Museum. While you’re there, visit one of the many fascinating design and architecture attractions that make the city famous.
Your hike continues from manmade wonders to natural spectacles. The waterfalls of Tahquitz Canyon are truly astounding, flanked by lush greenery and picturesque wildlife. The crisp water rushing past you tumbles 60 feet from apex to completion.
Will you be in town Thursday night? If not, rearrange those plans! VillageFest rocks Palm Canyon Drive every week with a dazzling array of delightful fare. Fall hours are 6–10 pm. Nosh on finger foods from area restaurants, gaze at visionary pieces by local artists and shop to the max at a bevy of business stands. The only thing missing is you!
Located in Coachella Valley, Desert Hot Springs is known internationally for its vast underground aquifers of pure cold water and soothing natural hot mineral water. Situated high overlooking the Palm Springs area, the hotels and spas are known for natural, healing, hot mineral waters.
Not only can you soak in the water; you can drink it too. That’s because the underground cold water springs are just as pure as the hot water springs. Think of it as hot and cold running water. Instead of turning a faucet, though, the water is pumped directly out of the earth.
Hot or cold, the mineral water is unique. It has no smell, unlike lots of other mineral waters. It’s crystal clear too, never discolored like many other waters.
In the Sand to Snow National Monument, outdoor enthusiasts will find creosote-strewn hillsides at Mission Creek Preserve or can opt for a hike into the diverse Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. Once a Native American village and later a cattle ranch, this preserve is a serene oasis around a natural spring generated by snowmelt from the surrounding mountains. Big Morongo attracts all manner of birds and animals to riparian woodland filled with cottonwoods and willows.
For a slice of history, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a marvel of engineering and design made from recycled desert materials. The home was built beginning in 1941. The Hopi-inspired building is hand-made and created from reclaimed and found materials from throughout the Coachella Valley. The Pueblo has four stories, is 5,000 square feet, and includes 35 rooms, 150 windows, 30 rooflines, and 65 doors.
Situated in the heart of Coachella Valley, Palm Desert has metamorphosed from a sandy cove at the foot of the Santa Rosas into a sprawling shopping, entertainment, and recreation mecca.
Catch a show at the McCallum Theatre, a state-of-the-art performance venue that has hosted some of the world’s top entertainers and touring Broadway acts. Feed a giraffe at the wonderfully wild Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, ranked one of the top zoos in the country.
Let inspiration strike while exploring public art along the city’s famed shopping district, El Paseo. Kick it into high gear on the Bump and Grind Trail (the 1,000-foot elevation gain pays off in breathtaking panoramic views) or play a round on an award-winning golf course.
One of the most unique places in the Coachella Valley is the Coachella Valley Preserve. The 17,000-acre site has 25 miles of hiking trails and several palm oases including the biggie: the Thousand Palm Oasis. These stay full of water thanks to water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault. The hike from the visitor center to the McCallum Pond at the Thousand Palms Oasis is a fairly easy one, mostly flat, and about a mile.
Though home to its fair share of lush country clubs and exceptional hotels, Cathedral City shines as a haven for the arts. Thanks to a recent Public Arts Initiative, visitors can discover several works on display throughout the city including the whimsical, mosaic-tiled Fountain of Lifestatue that proudly claims the heart of downtown. Feel free to splash around in the cooling waters … we won’t judge.
Get to know local talent by attending a gallery opening on Perez Road, the city’s art and design district, or hunt for one-of-a-kind treasures and vintage furniture finds in the district’s eclectic warehouse-style shops.
A luxurious lifestyle meets a playful landscape in Rancho Mirage. Several past U.S. Presidents, including Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, have unplugged here, finding peace amid the palm trees and earning the city the nickname “playground of presidents.”
Families can shop, dine, and catch a flick all in the same day at Greater Palm Springs’ only waterfront shopping and entertainment hub, The River.
Stroll the historic 200-acre estate at Sunnylands Gardens and marvel at the 70-some odd species of arid-adapted plants suited to the desertscape or wander labyrinths and gaze in reflecting pools.
This “gem in the desert” embraces the outdoors and the arts. Spend the day romanticizing and wandering through Old Town, La Quinta’s main street with cobblestone sidewalks, whitewashed adobe walls, and bougainvillea galore. The quaint thoroughfare provides the perfect storybook-like setting for an afternoon of shopping and alfresco dining.
Sip on a seasonal IPA at La Quinta Brewing Company (their outdoor patio is great for people-watching). Browse local artists’ wares, ranging from paintings to ceramics to jewelry during Art on Main Street, held on select Saturdays throughout the year. Shop for fresh fare and flowers at the Old Town Farmers Market.
Experience art and learn a new skill at Old Town Artisan Studios. Or rent a beach cruiser through Old Town Peddler to explore more of the surrounding cottage-filled neighborhoods that make up La Quinta Cove where hikers enjoy easy access to trails that traverse beautiful desert mountains and canyons.
Dubbed the City of Festivals, Indio has become a favorite destination for foodies and music lovers attracting nearly 1.4 million people each year for its multiple mainstream events including the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival (April 15-17 and 22-24, 2022) and Stagecoach Country Music Festival (April 29-May 1, 2022).
For an authentic taste of the valley, don’t miss the Indio International Tamale Festival (29th annual; December 4-5, 2021) where dozens of homemade tamales with creative flavors (hello pumpkin, vegan green chile, and chocolate cherry!) delight.
And of course, there’s the date shake. Many local eateries serve up creamy, ice-cold shakes made with the Coachella Valley’s favorite fruit—our preferred way to chill on a warm desert day. Sip yours while strolling through the date groves and citrus trees at Shields Date Garden & Café, an Indio mainstay since 1924.
Color comes alive in the City of Eternal Sunshine whose rich Hispanic heritage shines through in community events like Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and authentic Mexican cuisine you won’t find anywhere else in Coachella Valley. Choices range from Jalisco, a landmark Coachella restaurant that has been a favorite of many since 1980 to El Tranvia, owned by Oscar Ventura, whose grandparents once sold tacos out of a pushcart in their native Zamora, Mexico.
It is said that the tacos here will change your life. Take a trip down the street and you’ll find Las Tres Conchitas, Coachella’s very first bakery where you can purchase authentic Mexican sweet bread and baked goods.
Die-hard foodies can even book an agri-tour to get an up-close look at the fields of brightly hued fruits and vegetables that surround the city. Learn how growers cultivate their crops, many of which end up on your plate at some of the area’s finest restaurants.
Equally colorful—and perhaps one of the area’s best-kept secrets—is the Coachella Walls, beautiful murals painted by local artists throughout downtown that celebrate the city’s people and history. Stroll the historic sidewalks with a self-guided tour and admire their artistry.
You don’t go to Palm Springs in the summer unless you’re building a golf course.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recently announced that fully vaccinated Canadian travelers will be permitted to enter the United States via the land border for non-essential purposes effective November 8, 2021. When entering the United States for tourism purposes, travelers will be required to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, such as their provincial vaccine receipt or QR code.
It has been confirmed by the Biden Administration that international visitors who received a full course of any WHO-approved vaccine such as Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca will be recognized as fully vaccinated. Further, the U.S. government will also recognize travelers who received mixed doses of any WHO-approved vaccines as fully inoculated against COVID-19.
Canadian entering the United States at a land crossing will not be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. However, all air passengers arriving in the U.S. from a foreign country are required to get tested for COVID-19 with a viral test no more than 3 days before their flight departs and must present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight.
After a winter spent away from sunnier climates, many fully vaccinated Canadian snowbirds are set to make the trip south this year. But with the Delta variant surging in different parts of North America, some snowbirds are weighing their options as to the best way forward especially with the U.S. land border reopening to Canadians on November 8.
A survey conducted in June by Snowbird Advisor found that 91 percent of snowbirds intend to travel south this winter and two-thirds of them plan to spend more than three months outside of Canada. (A similar survey conducted last November found that only 30 percent of snowbirds had definite travel plans last winter.)
This eagerness to travel to warmer climates in the winter is evident but there’s an element of the snowbird population that’s taking a “wait-and-see” approach as well as some who are planning for a more uncertain future.
Arizona and Florida are the ultimate destinations for Canadian Snowbirds. Arizona has become home to many snowbirds during the winter season. Canadians have contributed to Arizona’s economic growth with billions of dollars from tourism and snowbirds.
In 2020 there was a significant decrease from 1 million snowbirds to 200,000. Now that U.S. borders will open up to Canada in November, Arizona is hoping to see that rise again.
“We’re hoping and praying that they come back but it’s not a given. So we keep telling everyone in Arizona I hope you’re marketing to the Canadian tourists and snowbirds because they have choices,” said Glenn Williamson is the CEO and founder of Canada Arizona Business Council.
As I ponder what it means to be a Canadian snowbird in the time of the COVID pandemic, my mind goes to Anne Murray and her famous song, Snowbird.
In the summer of 1970, Anne Murray released Gene MacLellan’s song, Bidin’ My Time. A DJ at a radio station in Cleveland flipped the single and played the B-side, another song by MacLellan called, Snowbird. The track quickly became popular with local listeners and eventually went on to become a surprise hit worldwide. The song sold over one million copies in the United States making Anne Murray the first Canadian female artist to receive a gold record in that country and establishing the careers of both Murray and MacLellan.
Located in Springhill, Nova Scotia, the Anne Murray Centre had hoped to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that remarkable accomplishment last year with a live event, but COVID put those plans on hold.
With the pandemic still affecting travel and live events, the center decided to present an online celebration—50+ Years of Snowbird—on its Facebook page.
Anne was a big fan of MacLellan’s songwriting and would end up covering more than half a dozen of his songs. In her book, All of Me, Murray said, “Gene was not only a hugely gifted songwriter but also one of the most naturally soulful singers I’ve ever heard. He was a sweet, shy man of uncommon humanity, with a wonderful sense of humor.”
Gene’s daughter, Catherine MacLellan, took part in this online event.
“It’s a beautiful, broken-hearted love song,” said MacLellan. “It’s a really simple song that for some reason just keeps living on. No matter where I’ve been in the world, from Australia to the U.K. and Europe, people remember and love that song. It fascinates me. It took off in a way no one expected.”
The song symbolizes the relationship between her father and Murray, she said, and it’s one she believes her late father was very proud of. She said he was pleased to see Murray receive international acclaim which helped open the lucrative international market to Canadian singers and songwriters.
“Anne was really the first Canadian music superstar that made it big across the world,” said MacLellan who is an accomplished singer/songwriter in her own right having released seven full-length albums.
She has won multiple East Coast Awards, Canadian Folk Music Awards, and P.E.I. Music Awards as well as a Juno in 2015 for her album, The Raven’s Sun.
In 2017, Catherine released If It’s Alright With You, a tribute album to her father, and created a stage show by the same name. She also produced an award-winning documentary about him called The Song and the Sorrow.
She will be interviewed by author Charlie Rhindress who has written best-selling books about Rita MacNeil and Stompin’ Tom Connors and is currently working on a book about Nova Scotia’s most accomplished female singers, including Murray.
“I have spent most of my career telling Atlantic Canadian stories and celebrating people from the region, so I am thrilled to talk to Catherine about her father and Snowbird,” Rhindress said. “The year Snowbird swept the Juno Awards, Anne jokingly referred to herself, Gene, and her producer, Brian Ahern, as the Maritime Mafia. That song was instrumental in putting the east coast of Canada on the map as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry.”
The two will discuss the relationship between Anne and Gene as well as the history of Snowbird and some of Gene’s other songs which were covered by Anne including Put Your Hand in the Hand, The Call, and Bidin’ My Time. MacLellan will also discuss her father’s musical legacy and perform some of those songs which Murray recorded.
The Anne Murray Centre was not able to open in 2020 due to COVID-19 and had a shortened season this year. To stay connected with its supporters, the center has hosted a series of online events over the past year.
Beneath this snowy mantle cold and clean The unborn grass lies waiting For its coat to turn to green The snowbird sings the song he always sings And speaks to me of flowers That will bloom again in spring When I was young My heart was young then, too Anything that it would tell me That’s the thing that I would do But now I feel such emptiness within For the thing that I want most in life’s The thing that I can’t win Spread your tiny wings and fly away And take the snow back with you Where it came from on that day The one I love forever is untrue And if I could you know that I would Fly away with you The breeze along the river seems to say That he’ll only break my heart again Should I decide to stay So, little snowbird Take me with you when you go To that land of gentle breezes Where the peaceful waters flow Spread your tiny wings and fly away And take the snow back with you Where it came from on that day The one I love forever is untrue And if I could you know that I would Fly away with you Yeah, if I could you know that I would Fl-y-y-y-y away with you
The onset of winter doesn’t automatically mean that sunny days in the great outdoors are over
Arrival of winter means a reduction of tourists— and traffic—in many popular destinations so it can be the ideal season to explore America’s open roads. With a little extra research and creativity, winter can be a fantastic season to go camping whether that’s a sunny desert escape or a swampy wonderland.
As always during the pandemic, locations mentioned are subject to alter their hours and operations at any time, so check with attractions and food joints before hitting the road. Likewise, it’s a good idea to read up on state travel restrictions prior to commencing a trip.
Hug-the-Coast Highway, Texas
Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico. This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia. Route 35 steers you straight toward Matagorda Bay and the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen. Grab a fishing pole and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales. Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax.
You can keep on RVing toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down. Heading toward Corpus Christi, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving.
Creole Nature Trail All American Road, Louisiana
Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail is a network of roads where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, 28 species of mammals, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Part of America’s Byway’s system, the Creole Nature Trail is known for its distinct waters and pristine blue skies. The marshland, bayous, prairies, and coastal shores along the Gulf of Mexico teem with wildlife. Although the Creole Nature Trail is primarily a driving route, there are numerous stops where you can take advantage of a nature walk. Each of these excursion areas provides excellent wildlife and birding photography opportunities.
Also called “America’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail, an All American Road, takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s back roads. The scenic byway features four wildlife refuges, three national and one state: Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge. Take a side trip down to Sabine Lake or drive onto a ferry that takes visitors across Calcasieu Pass. Throughout the trip, expect to see exotic birds; this area is part of the migratory Mississippi Flyway.
Highway 60 through the Salt River Canyon, Arizona
In the middle of the 32,000 acres that are the Salt River Canyon Wilderness, U.S. Route 60 is a narrow ribbon buckling through the harsh terrain. By starting in Apache Junction you’ll traverse the 1,200-foot-long Queen Creek Tunnel cutting through the mountain at a 6 percent upward grade. Then you’ll climb 4,000 feet via tight bends, S-curves, and three consecutive switchbacks plunging into the canyon. The first half of this trip twists through the Tonto National Forest with views of the Superstition Mountains—the second half winds through the more brutal terrain of the Fort Apache Reservation where you’ll chase the Salt River for a while. Here, the canyon dictates the road. There shouldn’t be a lot of traffic, so it’s good for a scenic drive.
Spend time exploring Superior, Miami-Globe, and Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park before continuing onto San Carlos Reservation with stops at Apache Gold Casino and RV Park and Peridot Mesa, a broad hump of land often ablaze with poppy fields starting in late February and carrying on through March. Just past mile marker 268 on U.S.-60, turn left on a dirt road marked by a cattle guard framed by two white H-shaped poles. Drive a half-mile down this road, park, and walk around to see poppies, lupines, globemellows, desert marigolds, phacelia, and numerous other flowers along the road and sweeping down hillsides. It’s an amazing sight.
Panguitch to Torrey, Utah
Scenic Byway 12 winds and climbs and twists and turns and descends as it snakes its way through memorable landscapes ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats. Deservedly recognized as an All-American Road, the 123 miles of Scenic Byway 12 highlight Utah’s sheer diversity of natural wonders. Additionally, there are nine communities along Scenic Byway 12, each with a character all its own. Settled by Mormon families who established homes and ranches in the area, the towns proudly display their unique heritage and invite you to visit.
Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of Panguitch. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park. Shortly after entering the southwestern terminus at Highway 89, the scenic byway passes through U.S. Forest Service’s Red Canyon and two short tunnels in bright red rock masses. Other major attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Hell’s Backbone, Hole-in-the-Rock, Cottonwood Canyon, Burr Trail, Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, and The Hogsback, a narrow ridge barely wider than the two-lane roadway with cliffs falling away on either side.
Charleston to Savannah
Lined with massive oak trees that drip with Spanish moss and elegant antebellum plantations, the two-hour drive between two of America’s favorite southern cities make for a fantastic road trip. With a rich 300 year history, Charleston is America’s most beautifully preserved architectural and historical treasure. The best way to see this town is by foot. Around every corner visitors can discover another hidden garden, great restaurants, historic houses, quaint shops, and friendly people. Stroll the charming cobblestone streets and wander past secluded gardens and historic buildings that boast intricate iron wrought balconies.
Walk down the cobblestone streets of Georgia’s first city, a place filled with southern charm. Steeped in history and architectural treasures, Savannah begs to be explored by trolley and on foot. Much of Savannah’s charm lies in meandering through the Historic District’s lovely shaded squares draped in feathery Spanish moss—all 22 of them. Shop and indulge in the regional cuisine on River Street where historic cotton warehouses have been converted into trendy boutiques and restaurants making sure to sample fried green tomatoes and hearty plates of shrimp and grits.
Our wish to you is this: drive a little slower, take the backroads sometimes, and stay a little longer. Enjoy, learn, relax, and then…plan your next RV journey.
While there are many national parks that are great to visit in the winter, this list is focused on the parks that are generally warm and perfect for exploring
As shorter days and cooler temperatures descend on North America, it’s time to look for the next great outdoor adventure. We encourage visiting a National Park Service site at any time of the year, but winter is a unique time to explore. Smaller crowds at some of the more popular parks are just one of the benefits.
November to March provide some of the most beautiful, peaceful, and picturesque landscapes, and parks that can be relatively inhospitable during the height of summer become havens during the cold months. Here are the best national parks to visit this winter.
Usually, this desert monument turned National Park is almost too hot to enjoy during the summer months. But during the winter, daytime temperatures hover in the upper 60s making it the perfect season for exploring. Joshua Tree is named for a unique, tentacle-like tree that blankets the desert floor, filling in gaps between amazing rock formations.
Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails. The Tucson Mountain District (West) also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails, including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park is named after a stretch of 118 miles of Rio Grande River, part of which forms a large bend in the river. Big Bend offers a variety of activities for the outdoor enthusiasts, including backpacking, river trips, horseback riding, mountain biking, and camping. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, and 56 species of reptiles.
Only a fraction of the park’s 5 million annual visitors come during the winter months. At over 277-miles long and up to a mile deep, this natural wonder was created over millions of years as the Colorado River wound its way through the canyon. While temperatures can hover in the 30s and 40s along the rim, milder temps can be found along the river at the bottom of the canyon. The South Rim is open year-round and winter is an ideal time to enjoy the park’s trails and avoid the crowds that dominate the park during the summer.
Congaree National Park preserves the largest remnant of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent. In addition to being a designated Wilderness Area, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Globally Important Bird Area, and a National Natural Landmark, Congaree is home to a exhibit area within the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, a 2.4 mile boardwalk loop trail, and canoe paddling trails.
The hiking in Zion National Park is world famous. Hikers of all abilities will find trails that lead to sweeping vistas, clear pools, natural arches, and narrow canyons. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive follows the North Fork of the Virgin River upstream through some of Zion’s most outstanding scenery. This road is closed to vehicle traffic from April to October, but regularly scheduled shuttle busses provide a great way to relax and enjoy the scenery or stop to take a hike.
Formed by volcanoes 23 million years ago, Pinnacles National Park is located in central California near the Salinas Valley. The park covers more than 26,000 acres and hosted 230,000 visitors in 2017. By comparison, its neighbor Yosemite National Park welcomed more than four million visitors.
28 species of cactus can be found in the park including the namesake organ pipe. Unlike the stately saguaro that rises in a single trunk, the organ pipe is a furious clutter of segments shooting up from the base, a cactus forever in celebratory mode—throwing its arms in the air like it just doesn’t care. A striking resemblance to the pipes of a church organ prompted its moniker.
There is a peculiar pleasure in riding out into the unknown—a pleasure which no second journey on the same trail ever affords.
It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.
Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!
Thanks to the madness of 2020, Thanksgiving came and went with a whimper this year. It’s a bummer, for sure, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still take part in outdoor activities.
It’s been said for months that 2020 is not a typical year. No surprise there! RVers know so firsthand. Canadians have had to cancel their annual U.S. migrations, thwarted by border closures. Folks who normally spend short-sleeve time with friends at resorts and rallies in the South have had to reschedule thanks to cancellations and other safety measures.
These are volatile, uncertain, and complex times but with wide-scale vaccinations we are looking forward to a brighter, more social tomorrow. RVing will continue to be a safe means of travel where self-contained environments ensure security and flexibility.
But despite 2020’s impact on traveling, socializing, dining, and more, we still can make the best of the situation. Folks whose RVs are nestled all snug in their, er, storage areas can embrace the world outside their door and view a pristine snowfall. Inside our RVs, we can start a new hobby, catch up on our reading, or reconnect with other household members. And plan a future road trip!
As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.
May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.
May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!
Forget sugar plums!
When you drift off to sleep tonight,
I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,
Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks
Sweet dreams and happy holidays!
Cranky as an RV space heater,
I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,
Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing
Reveille to my numb mind.
Shuffling around the RV Park,
Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,
Cackling like contented
Chickens under the hot Texas sun.
A grateful respite from grueling
Gray cold fronts of International Falls,
Winnipeg, and Green Bay.
Amid chants of Go Packers Go!
A time of celebration and decorations
Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,
Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer
A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,
Fifth wheel trailers and old converted buses.
Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather
In the clubhouse by the artificial tree
Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times
Speaking of children in childish voices.
Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!
Whatever seasonal celebrations you take part in—and for the unexpected downtime you may have—we wish you joy and happiness. We’ll be right alongside you in January as we usher in a brand-new year!
Sing it with us: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!
With some communities in rebooted lockdown conditions and movement restricted everywhere else, we’re bored, listless, afraid, and uncertain. We get distracted by social media, yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. These conditions generate a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate. Social distancing limits physical contact. Lockdown constricts physical space and movement. Working from home or having lost work entirely both upend routines and habits.
The best part of December 2020 will no doubt take place at 11:59 p.m. on the 31st when all of humanity toasts a new year and welcomes 2021 with something resembling hope.
But until then, here are some ideas for holiday getaways so you can leave 2020 on a high note. Ski slopes are open, holiday lights are twinkling, and road trips are still up for the taking. Trick out the RV and carpe the diem… 2020 is on its way out.
Chill out in Vermont
For a place that’s likely covered with a thick layer of powder as you’re reading this, Vermont in the winter sure gives off a lot of cozy vibes: think glittering icicles on historic covered bridges and mom-and-pop general stores. We’re eyeballing friendly Stowe is an ideal place to visit this winter where you can hit the slopes and fall in love with Vermont.
A winter camping trip offers the opportunity to see another side of Vermont’s beautiful outdoors. Make your home in the snow and bed down for the night amid the silence and serenity of the season. Luckily for winter camping enthusiasts, Vermont State Parks never close and make a great spot to set up camp. The winter months mean the least number of visitors to the parks, which just means more space for you.
Or warm way up in Arizona
Arizona is straight-up gorgeous! Winter is a fantastic time to visit Arizona whether you want to take advantage of all-season camping in its vast wildernesses which includes the Grand Canyon and the criminally under-visited Organ Pipe National Monument. Stop off in lively Phoenix or artsy Tucson or outdoor adventure in Sedona and you might find yourself considering a move. Find yourself in the desert
Speaking of deserts, those expanses are looking extra appealing right now. Maybe it’s time to load up the RV and jaunt through West Texas to see the Marfa lights. Cruise Nevada to gawk at psychedelic geysers that look like they were made by aliens. See art both prehistoric and wildly hallucinogenic in New Mexico. And while California is on lockdown right now, the wide-open outdoor gallery that is the Greater Palm Springs area will still be there. Meanwhile, there’s the Anza Borrego Sculptures like something straight out of a movie. While driving near Borrego Springs you’ll gawk at 130 full-sized metal sculptures out in the middle of nowhere. It really is fun to find yourself among creatures that roamed the desert millions of years ago— real and imagined. There are prehistoric mammals, fanciful dinosaurs, and a 350-foot-long serpent/dragon. Great chance for night photography!
Get a whole national park to yourself
While some national parks close up for the winter, others are at their absolute best when the season changes. And it’s not just cold places like Mount Rainier, Bryce, and Denali, either. You’ll find crowds way, way down at Arches and Joshua Tree, too. And there’s no better time to visit White Sands and Congaree.
Get holly and jolly across the US
The holidays are going to be a slog this year even while the pandemic gives you a solid excuse not to listen to your uncle bloviate over dinner. But there’s still cheer to be had. St. Petersburg, Florida is leaning into the North Pole-with-palm-trees vibe on its new pier and beyond offering up multiple holiday markets, a boat parade, and more. Celebrate the season on the Alabama Gulf Coast with the North Pole Express and Holly Days at the Wharf in Orange Beach. Or head to the festive Bavarian mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington or any number of small towns that go full Clark Griswold with holiday displays.
Go outside and look up
Unless you’re living in Argentina or Chile you’re unlikely to see the total eclipse of the sun. But the skies this month are filled with cosmic action. The Geminid and Ursid meteor shower will peak. Saturn and Jupiter are having close encounters. To experience them, you don’t need to head to a certified Dark Sky site. But it wouldn’t hurt. Try Utah: There are currently 16 designated Dark Sky sites across the state with plans to reach 20 in the very near future. Between national parks, state parks, and national monuments, that means more than any other state in the country.
Or, you could just stay home and pretend you’re somewhere else.
And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.
Arizona is a land of endless beauty from desert to mountain peaks
It’s that time of year when we look back and ponder the year we leave behind. In 2020, that feels like a challenge. This has been a year of pandemic and interrupted travel. Lives have been disrupted. Stress levels seem to be at an all-time high. Yet ultimately none of the trials and tribulations of these past months alter one very significant fact.
It’s the old real estate mantra: location, location, location. This is a land of endless beauty and staggering diversity. That’s not something to be taken for granted. Here are some of the things I love about living the RV dream in Arizona.
Really, Arizona has it all
Jump in your RV or car in the morning and by afternoon you can…
Peer into the Grand Canyon. Kayak on a lake. Cruise down Historic Route 66. Walk across London Bridge. Tour a cave. Explore a ghost town. Search for wild horses along the Salt River. Hike among the red rocks of Sedona. Feed the burros that wander into Oatman. Watch a gunfight in Tombstone. Picnic in the desert. Ski down a mountainside. Sit on a sandy beach.
It’s just a matter of deciding which direction to drive and what clothes you need for that day. How many other states offer such a delicious range of options so easily accessible?
Hiking trails are practically at your RV site
Here’s a detail I just made up but I’m sure it’s true. Wherever you choose to RV in Arizona you’re within 15 minutes of a trailhead. For snowbirds like us who travel from city to small towns, national parks to state parks, and wildlife refuges to county parks, trails are even closer.
Abundance of open space and moderate winter temperatures pulls us outdoors where the scenery soothes us. This is where we can relax, refresh, and breathe a little deeper. Every minute spent hiking or biking on an Arizona trail is an investment in health and happiness.
Flowers bloom every month of the year
Such a small thing but such a wonderful thing!
Arizona is loaded with mountains
The Grand Canyon State is rugged and snowy and surprisingly vertical. Arizona has 3,928 mountain summits and peaks poking holes in its azure skies. There are 26 peaks that top out above 10,000 feet. That’s a lot of cool hiking opportunities in summer as well as winter.
Autumn brings a luxurious leafy display
Dead Horse Ranch is a beautiful state park for camping and hiking all year long. But something truly special happens starting in late October. The cottonwoods and willows that provide such welcome shade during summer turn golden. When it comes to fall colors, cottonwood trees are not as consistent as aspens, maples, and other showboats of the forest. Yet some years they are absolutely dazzling. It’s as if someone flipped a cosmic switch and the riparian corridor that lines the Verde River bursts into shimmering yellow hues.
I love all of Arizona’s rich and storied history. But some of my favorite tales are the small and odd ones. For example:
The longest poker game in history took place downstairs at the Birdcage Theatre in Tombstone. It started in 1881 and despite the $1,000 buy-in the action ran continuously for eight years, five months, and three days when the Birdcage closed. Plenty of famous names handled the cards during the marathon session including Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, Adolph Busch, George Randolph Hearst, and Doc Holliday.
Criminals in Wickenburg once were sentenced to sit outside in the shade. From 1868 to 1890, legend says Wickenburg scofflaws were chained to a mesquite tree that served as the town hoosegow.
Arizona has its own Bigfoot. The reclusive creature said to stand over 7 feet tall was first reported in a 1903 edition of the Arizona Republican in which I.W. Stevens said he encountered the hirsute humanoid near the Grand Canyon. He discovered it drinking the blood of two young cougars it had killed. Sightings continue and today it is known as the Mogollon Monster.
The open road calls to us
It’s hard to imagine a place more perfectly designed for road trips than Arizona. It’s a big state, the sixth largest in the US covering nearly 114,000 square miles. Most of the population centers are clustered in bunches leaving vast tracts of backcountry to explore. Arizona is sprinkled with just the right number of small towns to keep travelers gassed up and well fed.
There are 27 officially designated scenic and historic roads rambling across Arizona including five national scenic byways. They include classics like Apache Trail, Patagonia-Sonoita Scenic Road, Organ Pipe Cactus Parkway, Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road, Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, and Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway.
Dare to be grape
There are more than 100 wineries producing some 22 varietals of wine in Arizona. Cheers!
Winter is here
That sounds ominous in a weird way! As those of us who live elsewhere know how bleak and soul-draining those dark and cold months can be. Not so in Arizona where much of winter is spent under a clear sky. During winter the sun is “candy-sweet” and most welcome to locals and snowbirds alike.
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.
Experience the Louisiana Outback along the Creole Nature Trail
One place in Southwest Louisiana that never ceases to amaze is the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-miles-long scenic byway where natural wonderlands abound. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s Last Great Wildernesses.
Part of America’s Byway’s system, the Creole Nature Trail is known for its distinct waters, pristine blue skies, and stops along the drive adorned with plenty of wildlife and bird watching that can either fill an entire weekend, or simply a day trip. Featuring stops of picturesque landscapes beyond transcription, the Creole Nature Trail, an All American Road, sees hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, all passing through this delicate ecosystem.
The marshland, bayous, prairies, and coastal shores along the Gulf of Mexico teem with wildlife including alligators and birds. These lands and waters support 28 species of mammals, more than 400 species of birds, millions of monarch butterflies, 35 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 132 species of fish.
We used A+ Motel & RV Park in Sulphur as our home base while driving the Creole Nature Trail and exploring the area. New in 2008, A+ is big rig friendly with 28 pull-through and back-in sites and conveniently located 30/50-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections, and cable TV.
While there are five entrances to the Creole Nature Trail, the most popular entrances are off I-10 in Sulphur (Exit 20) and just east of Lake Charles at Louisiana Highway 397 (Exit 36).
The trail loops through 180 miles of bayous and marshlands and along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico before once again heading north. The remaining entrances are located on Louisiana Highway 82 at the Texas state line in the west and the Vermilion Parish line on the east; exit 36 from Interstate 10; and exit 6A on I-210 just north of the Lake Charles Regional Airport on Louisiana Highway 385.
Although the Creole Nature Trail is primarily a driving route, there are numerous stops where you can take advantage of a nature walk. Each of these excursion areas provides excellent wildlife and birding photography opportunities.
The Creole Nature Trail features four wildlife refuges, three national and one state: Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge.
Sabine National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 and is the largest coastal marsh refuge on the Gulf of Mexico. The primary management objective of the refuge is to preserve a large area of coastal wetlands for wintering and migrating waterfowl from both the Mississippi and Central Flyways. This refuge is a major nursery area for many estuarine-dependent marine species as well as home to alligators and other reptiles, mammals, and numerous wading, water, and marsh birds.
Numerous recreational opportunities are available year round. Hiking, wildlife observation, and photography are popular at the Wetland Walkway and Blue Goose Trail. The Wetland Walkway is a 1.5 mile walking trail including a section of boardwalk across a freshwater marsh, an observation tower with viewing scopes, five trail rest shelters with benches, interpretive signs, and a restroom facility.
The Blue Goose Trail is a one mile foot path that leads through a brackish marsh community to the edge of Calcasieu Lake. The area includes an observation tower, restroom, and numerous interpretive signs about the area.
Located at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center features exhibits about Sabine, Cameron Prairie, Lacassine, and Shell Keys National Wildlife Refuges, and their coastal habitats and inhabitants. Exhibits include a diorama theater with Cajun animatronic characters, a scale model of a water control structure for hands-on learning about marsh management, natural habitat dioramas, impressive alligator displays, an interactive computer, and a fiber-optic migration exhibit.
On your next adventure out, consider a scenic drive on the Creole Nature Trail; you never know what may be waiting to be seen.
Confessions that stem from 23+ years of living the Snowbird Lifestyle
I have a confession to make. Actually seven of them. Seven confessions about our lifestyle as a snowbird. Seven confessions about how I view my snowbird lifestyle and the things I enjoy doing.
This is not a how-to article, nor does it contain wisdom pertaining to snowbirding and the RV lifestyle. You won’t find bits of advice on sharing a condo-on-wheels with your spouse, successfully dumping your black tank without gagging, or backing into a campsite that is clearly too small for your RV.
What you will find are my heartfelt confessions that stem from 23+ years of snowbird living and traveling in a variety of RVs including a smallish fifth wheel trailer to our present 38-foot diesel pusher.
1. This is Not
Our version of snowbirding is not camping—it’s living. In
other words, we don’t consider our snowbird lifestyle to be one big camping
trip. We don’t eat s’mores every night, nor do we sit around the
campfire or the picnic table playing board games by lantern. (Although now that
I think about it, s’mores every night does sound good).
Yes, we live in a campground, but not the same one for six months, and for the most part we are not camping.
2. We Find Weekends, Especially Holiday Weekends, a Drag
As anyone who has ever visited a campground on a weekend and especially on a holiday weekend knows, this is prime camping time. Which makes it a complete drag for those of us who rely on campgrounds as a place to live for a month or more.
While I’m pleased to see so many families enjoying nature
and each other’s company, an overflowing campground jam-packed with kids on
bikes and billows of campfire smoke floating in my windows is not my
idea of a fun time.
3. We Always Prefer
Our Condo-On-Wheels Over Your Guest Bedroom
When we park in your driveway (which is really appreciated), we will say thanks but no thanks when you offer up your guest room. You see, the thing is that our motorhome with our cozy bed has everything we need within reach.
We travel in an RV because we enjoy the convenience of always having our motorhome with us. So it’s not that we don’t appreciate the offer, but we really would prefer to sleep in our own bed.
4. This is Not a Permanent Vacation
This is a hard one for non-snowbirds to grasp. So you
live in an RV and you get to travel to any warm place you want, yet you don’t
consider yourself to be on vacation? No, not even a little bit.
We don’t consider this a vacation because we are retired and maintain a regular routine. For us, snowbirding in an RV is a lifestyle choice, not a vacation.
5. I Sometimes Forget
That I’m Not “Normal”
I sometimes forget that our chosen lifestyle is considered
out of the ordinary. Especially when spending months at a time in the Sunbelt with other
snowbirds who view living in a tiny house on wheels as
commonplace. It usually takes an encounter with the “normal” folks to
remind me that how we live is fascinating and envy-worthy.
6. We Have No Idea
When We’ll “Be Done” Snowbirding
Why would we willingly choose an end a lifestyle that brings
us joy and happiness and takes us away from a frigid and snowy northern winter?
Why would I want to be done with all that?
7. We Will Never See
We could travel round and round the country for a lifetime
and still not see everything. There is always more to see.
And we love that! We love discovering more things to do, to
see, and to explore than we could possibly hope to accomplish in any amount of
time. We love that America is incredibly diverse and filled with such an array
of landscapes, communities, and people that even if we traveled for many more decades
could never see, do, or explore it all.
So there you have it. Seven confessions of a snowbird living
and enjoying the RV lifestyle! Agree or disagree, these are the realities of our
life. A life that we love and couldn’t imagine changing in any way!
What a life. Today, it’s New Mexico, yesterday it was Utah,
and shortly before that we were in South Carolina. Soon it will be Georgia.