National Parks at Their Absolute Best in Winter

All the wonder, none of the crowds

America’s national parks were established as places where we can experience its awesome power, often in isolation. Tell that to the summer crowds clogging the trails of Zion or the campfire troubadours whose open mic-caliber guitar playing echoes off of Joshua Tree’s trippy crags until dawn.

The national parks remain America’s Best Idea and something we all can—and should—enjoy, screaming kids at Old Faithful included. But winter can be the best time to go for those who wish to experience the parks with the same sense of solitude as a pronghorn. The trails are clear of obstacles. Campsites might not require a reservation. And, unlike peak season, you’ll feel like you have everything to yourself. These are the parks that are at their absolute best in the winter.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Spoiler alert: You’re going to see four of Utah’s Mighty Five on this list. And to clarify, I’d include Capitol Reef if I had the space. Even with next-door neighbor Arches showing off Grade A sights when temperatures dip each year, Canyonlands stands out as a banger.

The largest yet least-visited national park in the state, Canyonlands’ snow-dusted spires, arches, mesa tops, and sandstone cliffs are made all the better by the fact that crowds clear out almost completely come winter turning this into a place of spectacular, sweeping solitude. (Just be sure to check for road closures before you head out.)

2. Zion National Park, Utah

In the summertime, Zion is basically Disneyland. It’s crowded. It’s hot. You’re standing in two-hour lines to be able to do the one thing you most want to do that day and they’re often out of turkey legs.

End this madness and go in the wintertime. Just 13 percent of Zion’s visitors, journey to the park between November and March, and a wintertime desert is one of nature’s most glorious settings. Even better, once you’ve had your fill of the park and its legendary trails, you’ll be able to explore all the surrounding (and vastly overlooked) state parks unencumbered.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

When it comes to winter wonderlands few national parks come close to the beauty of Bryce Canyon in the snow. The canyon’s red hoodoos and evergreen trees pop under the smattering of white and the majestic sunrises and sunsets cover the landscapes in ethereal light. For the best views, take the two-mile hike from the visitor center to Bryce Point which ends at the Bryce Amphitheater. This is the most famous overlook in the entire park—the perfect place to snap some photos.

Winter sports enthusiasts should especially plan a trip to Bryce Canyon. The park has many daily activities like ranger-led snowshoe hikes, cross-country skiing, and backpacking. National Park Service (NPS) also offers winter astronomy programs and full moon hikes (weather permitting) letting visitors take in the splendor of the unfiltered night sky.

4. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Often overlooked and under-visited despite its proximity to bustling Tucson, Saguaro’s expanses of cartoonishly contorted cacti and relatively easy hikes are best explored during the winter. In the off-season, the already thin crowds dissipate and you’re free to cavort with owls and gaze at petroglyphs with little interruption and minus the oppressive heat.

Even better, the campsites—a relatively hot commodity numbering a scant 20—are easier to bag allowing you to spend the night under the stars with only coyotes (and maybe roadrunners, given the landscape) as your company.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Less than 1 million people drop by South Dakota’s most gorgeous landscape annually and come winter the place is virtually deserted (December sees a scant 8,400 people while February tops out at 13,400). What a stunning time to go full Dr. Manhattan and have 244,000 acres of Mars virtually to yourself, give or take a few bison.

Snag a campsite under a blanket of stars if you’re hardy or a cozy cabin (and maybe some donuts and buffalo burgers) in nearby Wall (think, Wall Drug). Then strap on snowshoes or skis and get ready to truly know what it’s like to be tiny and gloriously alone in the wild.

6. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park is an International Dark Sky Park and winter is arguably the best time to see stars. Clear nights mean great views of celestial phenomena; however, they can also bring freezing temperatures to the desert so don’t let the southwest Texas location fool you into thinking it’s always hot.

Cool days are conducive to ticking off some of the more challenging hikes like the 6.5-mile Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail which can be dangerous to attempt in the warmer months.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring sight on its own. Now imagine seeing the fiery sandstone and surrounding evergreen trees with a layer of fresh snow. The winter scenery at this Natural Wonder of the World is absolutely magical.

Visiting the South Rim in the off-season means popular hikes like the Bright Angel Trail are blissfully quiet and much more comfortable than in the summer, thanks to cool temperatures. Grand Canyon National Park’s free shuttles run fewer routes in the winter but there are still plenty that stop at the different trailheads and Grand Canyon Village viewpoints.

8. Joshua Tree National Park, California

This boulder- and bush-dotted park straddling the Colorado and Mojave deserts is a serene winter escape from bustling Los Angeles (130 miles away) and Las Vegas (217 miles away).

Winter in Joshua Tree National Park is a mecca for rock climbers who take advantage of bouldering while the granite is cool. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to snag one of the first-come, first-served campsites.

If you’re able to spend the night in the park, you’ll get access to some of the best stargazing the West Coast has to offer.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Time slows to a primeval pace in the sequoia groves that make up Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks where arboreal giants have watched the seasons come and go for more than 2,000 years. In the winter, hike along quiet, snowy trails to the General Sherman Tree among the world’s largest living icons at a height of 275 feet.

These parks are also great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. On free, ranger-led snowshoe walks, shoes are even provided. For something less strenuous, try driving through the wintry landscape though be aware that tire chains are often required during this time of year.

10. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The famous, striking limestone formations at Carlsbad Caverns have often been compared to floating underground jellyfish or alcoves full of goblins and fairies—however you interpret them, they’re otherworldly.

The best part about visiting this New Mexico locale in the winter months (apart from bypassing the crowds) is that the cave stays a balmy 56 degrees Fahrenheit, rain or shine. Ranger-led tours are available year-round or visitors can opt to check out the Natural Entrance and Big Room Trails on their own.

For those looking to check yet another winter-friendly park off their list while in the area, the nearby Guadalupe Mountains feel like an island in the Chihuahuan Desert with vista-rich hiking trails you won’t want to miss.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Getting out in nature during an East Coast winter doesn’t have to mean shivering in a snowstorm for hours on end. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park roughly half the season’s days boast a high temperature in the 50s—perfect for hiking the park’s more than 800 miles of trails.

Start the day by taking in the views at Newfound Gap, nestled on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina then hike to craggy Alum Cave or explore the old-timey wooden structures at Cades Cove. At night, stargaze by the fire at Cades Cove Campground or retreat to an RV park in nearby Sevierville.

12. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches has some of America’s most breathtaking scenes. In winter, white snow contrasts with the red rocks and blue skies to create some stunning sights. While daytime temperatures can rise above 100 degrees in summer expect freezing temperatures in winter. Even scant snowfall can make trails and roads impassable so be sure to plan if you intend to visit this national park in winter.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Winter stretches itself from October through June at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Clear lakes become icy, volcanoes become topped with heavy snow, and steam vents become especially smoky.

For those seeking fun as well as beauty, winter activities are at their peak here with sledding hills that offer mountain views, snowshoeing for beginners and experts, and backcountry skiing that can’t be beaten.

14. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Make winter plans to visit a warmer locale in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park where park-goers can see the Painted Desert, drive past Blue Mesa, and see the Crystal Forest up close. I drove through here a few years ago on a whim, and it was one of the most unique National Parks I’ve ever been to.

The weather may be cooler in winter, but snow is rare. But don’t forget those warm layers for when temps drop at night!

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Open year-round to outdoor enthusiasts, White Sands National Park in New Mexico is one of the best National Parks to visit in the winter for many reasons. For one, since it’s a less-visited park in general, you’re likely to see very few people and can sled down the dunes all by yourself! 

Plus, as soon as you hike a little ways into the dunes, you’re very unlikely to encounter other hikers. New Mexico does get chilly in winter, but it rarely sees a lot of snow this far south.

By the way, I have a series of posts on exploring national parks in winter:

Worth Pondering…

A national park is not a playground; it’s a sanctuary for nature and for humans who will accept nature on nature’s own terms.

—Michael Frome

Don’t Get Stuck in the Cold: RV Winter Driving and Survival Tips

Don’t get stuck in the cold in your RV. Here are ESSENTIAL RV winter driving tips and other helpful information including the link to all the road condition maps for each state.

Winter RVing can be a unique and exciting experience but it also comes with its own set of challenges. Cold temperatures, snowy roads, and limited daylight can all make for a more difficult and dangerous road trip.

However, with proper preparation and knowledge, you can safely navigate the winter roads and enjoy all the beauty and serenity of winter camping.

In this blog post, I share tips on how to prepare your RV for winter months, plan your winter RV trip, and drive safely in cold weather conditions. I also provide tips on staying warm and comfortable in your RV during your winter road trip.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter camping tips

Make your winter campout a lot more enjoyable with these quick five tips. It’s all about staying cozy so you can focus on enjoying the beauty of winter around you. 

  • Cover your windshield to keep heat in and cold out
  • Invest in a battery heater (batteries work less efficiently in the cold)
  • Have a backup heater (i.e., space heater)
  • Put Reflectix on windows
  • Bring your fresh water in jugs and flush your toilet with antifreeze

Preparing your RV for winter

Before hitting the road for a winter RV trip, it’s essential to properly prepare your RV for the colder temperatures and inclement weather. Here are some tips to help you winterize your RV and prepare it to drive and camp in winter conditions.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Insulate your RV

Another important step in preparing your RV for winter is to insulate it against colder temperatures. This can be done by adding insulation to the walls, floor, and ceiling of your RV as well as around windows and doors. You can also use insulated window coverings or thermal curtains to keep the warm air inside and the cold air out.

Winterizing your RV plumbing and water systems

One of the most important steps in preparing your RV for winter is to winterize the plumbing and water systems. This process usually involves draining the water tanks, adding RV-specific antifreeze to the plumbing lines, and protecting any exposed pipes from freezing.

If you’re unsure how to winterize your RV plumbing and water systems, it’s best to consult your RV’s owner’s manual or have a professional do it for you. But, the following articles will help:

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maintain and inspect your RV tires, brakes, and batteries

It’s also crucial to maintain and inspect your RV tires, brakes, and battery before heading out on a winter RV trip. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and have enough tread to handle snowy and icy roads. Check your brakes to ensure they’re in good working condition and consider investing in winter tires or tire chains. Also, make sure your RV battery is fully charged and in good condition as it will have to work harder in the colder temperatures.

Planning your winter RV trip

Once your RV is prepared for winter, it’s time to start planning your trip. Here are some tips to help you plan a safe and enjoyable winter RV adventure.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check weather forecasts and road conditions

Before hitting the road, it’s essential to check the weather forecasts and road conditions for your destination and the route you plan to travel. This will help you prepare for any potential winter weather such as snow, ice, or freezing temperatures.

Know the winter driving restrictions by state

Some states restrict RV driving in certain weather conditions. For instance, Pennsylvania DOT puts motorhomes in Tier 1 (the most restrictive tier) when it comes to “winter weather events.” It’s always a good idea to google “winter driving restrictions in (state)” before you leave. This might spare you from getting stopped at a state border with different restrictions. Also, check out the link to ALL the State Driving road conditions below.

Choose the right route for winter driving

When planning your winter RV trip, it’s best to choose a route that is well-maintained and has lower elevations. This will help you avoid steep and winding roads that can be dangerous in snowy or icy conditions.

Avoid mountain passes and remote areas if possible as they can be more difficult to navigate in the winter. Also, be aware some roads close for the winter.

Many state Department of Transportation have interactive road maps that will show you which ones have ice and snow like this one from the Iowa DOT. The blue lines are roads that are partially covered.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter road conditions for every state

And here is the website link (and phone number) for the latest road conditions for each state.

Always carry an emergency kit for winter travel

It’s also essential to prepare an emergency roadside kit for your winter RV trip. This should include items such as blankets, warm clothing, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and a portable charging device for your phone.

It’s also a good idea to include a small shovel, a bag of sand or kitty litter (for traction), and a bag of salt or de-icer.

Additionally, make sure to have a fully charged cell phone and a way to charge it while on the road.

Know how to properly use snow chains and tire chains

If you’re planning to travel on snowy or icy roads, it’s important to know how to properly use snow chains or tire chains. These devices can be a lifesaver in snowy conditions but they must be used correctly. Make sure to read the instructions carefully and practice putting them on before you hit the road.

If you’re going to be traveling entirely in snowy weather, consider putting snow tires on your motorhome or tow vehicle and travel trailer.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV winter driving tips

Once you’re on the road, it’s important to know how to safely navigate snowy and icy roads. Here are some tips to help you stay safe while winter RVing.

How to safely navigate snowy and icy roads

When driving on snowy or icy roads, patience is the key. Following the 330 Rule will help set a good pace for your trip and the following tips will help keep you safe:

  • Slow down and increase your following distance (it’ll give you extra time to stop)
  • Use your headlights and turn signals (rule of thumb: If your wipers are on, your headlights should be on)
  • Avoid sudden braking or accelerating so you don’t lose traction
  • Steer in the direction of a skid
  • If your RV has anti-lock brakes, press the pedal firmly and consistently
  • If your RV doesn’t have anti-lock brakes, pump the brake pedal gently to help gain traction while slowing down
  • Familiarize yourself with your RV heating and defrosting systems before you drive to keep your RV windows clear
Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to handle skidding and sliding on winter roads

Never take black ice for granted! Just because you can’t see ice on the road doesn’t mean it’s not there. Mentally prepare yourself by imagining what you will do if you start to slide.

If your RV starts to skid or slide on a snowy or icy road the most important thing to do is to stay calm. Steer in the direction of the skid and avoid braking or accelerating.

If your RV has anti-lock brakes, make sure to use them correctly by pressing them consistently and firmly. If your RV does not have anti-lock brakes, pump the brake pedal gently to slow down. (Pumping the brakes helps give you traction.)

What to do if your RV is stranded in winter

If an emergency arises while winter RVing, it’s important to stay calm so you can think clearly. Call for help immediately and stay with your RV if possible. If you must leave your RV make sure to take your phone, emergency kit, warm clothing, water, and a snack with you.

Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • Stay with your RV as it provides shelter and protection from the elements: It’s also much easier to spot an RV from the air than a person on foot.
  • Stay warm: Dress in warm layers, use a good-quality insulated mattress pad or sleeping bag and keep extra blankets in the RV for added warmth. Use a space heater to supplement your RV heating system and make sure to keep your RV furnace or heating system serviced and maintained.
  • Create a signal for help: Place a brightly colored cloth or flag on the roof of your RV or on a nearby tree to signal for help. Keep a small light or lantern on at night (preferably one that is battery-operated and will not drain your battery).
  • Conserve fuel and power: To conserve fuel and power only run essential systems such as the heating system and refrigerator. Turn off all lights and appliances when not in use.
  • Keep yourself hydrated and nourished: ration your food and water to last for at least a few days in case you are stranded for an extended period of time.
  • Keep your phone on but preserve its battery as much as possible. Turn on “battery saver mode” and only use it when trying to contact help.
  • Know How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Your RV to ensure your heating appliances don’t poison you!
Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to stay warm while camping

When you’re not on the road, it’s important to stay warm and comfortable inside your RV. Here are some more tips to help you do just that.

  • Keep windows and doors closed and use insulated window coverings or thermal curtains to keep the warm air inside
  • Use a space heater or portable electric heater to supplement your RV heating system
  • Add weather stripping or door sweeps to your RV doors and windows to prevent drafts
  • Use a generator to power your RV heating system
  • Insulate your RV’s underbelly, pipes, and tanks with heat tape or foam
  • Use an RV skirt to reduce heat loss from under your RV
  • Keep the windows clean to allow maximum sunlight in during the day
  • Use a good-quality insulated mattress pad or sleeping bag to keep you warm during the night
  • Dress in layers and keep extra blankets in the RV for added warmth
  • In severe cold, confine yourself to one room and focus on heating that small space.

Worth Pondering…

And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean

The 15 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

Summer may be high season but these parks are at their best in the colder months

One of the best-kept secrets about America’s national parks is many are even better in winter. Whether you want to feel the satisfying crunch of snow under your boots or escape those chilly temps for a desert ramble, one thing’s for sure: You’ll be able to do so without the crowds that summer brings. Once-crowded trails turn into tranquil getaways. Quiet winter wonderlands showcase nature’s calm beauty. 

And no matter how great the other seasons are for a visit, a visit to your favorite fall foliage or spring wildflower destination is completely different in the depths of winter. Lack of foliage can bring long views.

Below, find the best national parks to visit in winter from the red hoodoos of Bryce Canyon to the stunning desertscape of Saguaro. Be sure to pack a few extra layers and remember to always double-check trail and road conditions before heading out. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Although the Grand Canyon is a southern park, its ridges are still blessed with snow in winter. Fog is typical in the early morning hours but afternoons are sunny. The canyon’s North Rim is closed to visitors but the South Rim is open year-round and is less crowded during this season.

Visitors can take a cell phone audio tour or use a GPS device for the park’s EarthCache program. EarthCaches are a type of geocache that provide participants with a learning experience in geosciences. By participating in the program, you will embark on an exploration of the unique geologic story that provides insights into the Grand Canyon.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Joshua Tree National Park, California

With the average temps exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, outdoor enthusiasts who love national parks but hate the heat will love the cooler climate of Joshua Tree during the winter. Temperatures can reach 60 degrees making it the opportune time to visit the otherwise-sweltering Joshua Tree. Just be aware that while daytime temps here are generally mild in the winter, nighttime temps in the desert can drop below freezing.

The park is a mecca for world-class rock climbers but it also offers scenic drives and family-friendly hiking trails that any visitor can enjoy. After perusing the Cholla Cactus Garden and scrambling up the enormous, monzogranite boulders along Arch Rock Nature Trail, settle in for some epic stargazing at one of the 500 campsites in Joshua Tree National Park.

Plan your visit here during the cooler months for comfortable hiking temps and incredible stargazing without the huge crowds.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Joshua Tree National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The famous, striking limestone formations at Carlsbad Caverns have often been compared to floating underground jellyfish or alcoves full of goblins and fairies—however you interpret them, they’re otherworldly. The best part about visiting this New Mexico locale in the winter months (apart from bypassing the crowds) is that the cave stays a balmy 56 degrees Fahrenheit, rain or shine. Ranger-led tours are available year-round or visitors can opt to check out the Natural Entrance and Big Room Trails on their own.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

While it may be hard to imagine, Bryce Canyon’s earthly spires are even more spectacular when dusted in snow. Bryce Canyon National Park also has ideal stargazing skies and the cold, dry air makes them all the more amazing. Saturday astronomy programs and full moon snowshoe adventures are a couple of the several incredible programs offered here during the winter season. Don your microspikes or snowshoes (available for rent at Ruby’s Inn) and travel between the two points on the Rim Trail then warm up on a views-for-days drive to Rainbow Point—elevation 9,115 feet.

Since the Park is situated at 8,000-9,000 feet, some of the roads and trails are closed due to snow and ice but there are still plenty of things to do especially if you time your visit with the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival (February 18-20, 2023). Just be sure to pack warm clothes and be prepared for winter conditions.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Make winter plans to visit a warmer locale in Arizona’s Petrified National Park where park-goers can see the Painted Desert, drive past Blue Mesa, and see the Crystal Forest up close.  The weather may be cold in winter but snow is rare. Don’t forget those warm layers for when temps drop at night.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Getting out in nature during an East Coast winter doesn’t have to mean shivering in a snowstorm for hours on end. America’s most visited park still gets attention after all its gorgeous leaves have dropped. The barren trees become fortresses of ice and snow—a true winter wonderland. Be aware that the main roads should remain clear but secondary ones may be closed. At night, stargaze by the fire at Cades Cove Campground.

Many people use Clingmans Dome Road (closed to vehicles December 1-March 31) for walking and cross-country skiing. The road starts 0.1 mile south of Newfound Gap.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion’s famous sandstone walls are often eclipsed by tourist throngs from spring through fall with 4.5 million people rushing into the 15-mile-long canyon each year. But with a light dusting of snow, the rust-colored cliffs visible from the Pa’rus Trail take on a magical quality and oft-crowded spots like Canyon Overlook are generally mob-free. Zion’s main road is normally closed to vehicles and serviced by a shuttle but in January, February, and parts of December you can drive your car through Zion Canyon. 

Temperatures are generally mild during the day which makes for lovely hiking. Best of all? Winter travelers can savor slow mornings, sipping coffee in a cozy western cabin at centrally located Zion Lodge. And Watchman Campground remains open all winter.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Big Bend National Park, Texas

One of America’s hottest parks (at least in terms of temperature), Big Bend is perfect for a winter visit. You can enjoy hikes into the Chisos Mountains, paddles along the Rio Grande, and some of the best star-gazing conditions in the U.S. While Big Bend’s high season is in winter—from October to April—this park is remote and doesn’t see a huge number of visitors, so you’ll still find plenty of solitude.

A natural wonder (especially in the mostly-flat Lone Star State), this park is named after a massive bend in the Rio Grande River that separates Texas from Mexico—and the far-flung locale has enough scenic diversity for a week-long journey or more.

Stay at the Chisos Mountains Lodge and marvel at high-elevation vistas of the craggy Window Formation as you hike through madrone trees and fragrant junipers. Then, soak your tired bones in the park’s historic hot springs, ideally as the sunset turns the famous Santa Elena Canyon into a hundred shades of amber.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Big Bend National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Enjoy the stunning desert landscape of Saguaro National Park at Tucson where visitors can experience the beauty of the largest cactus in the United States—the giant Saguaro cacti which can grow to be more than 45 feet tall and age over 200 years. Winter is the perfect time to visit Saguaro because the temperatures are mild with an average high of 65 degrees and the light gives the desert a golden glow—this is one of the warmest national parks to visit in winter. There are a variety of hiking options within the park.

And there are even more stunners in the area from the Sonora Desert Museum and Sabino Canyon to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park has some of America’s most breathtaking scenes. In winter, white snow contrasts with the red rocks and blue skies to create some stunning sights. While daytime temperatures often rise above 90 degrees in summer expect freezing temperatures in winter. Even scant snowfall can make trails and off-roads impassable so be sure to plan ahead. Stop at the Arches Visitor Center to check the conditions and get an orientation so you’re prepared for winter conditions.

For winter camping and hiking, the Devils Garden Campground is open year-round with 51 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis between November 1 and February 28 including restrooms and drinking water at the campground.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Open year-round to outdoor enthusiasts, White Sands National Park in New Mexico is one of the best National Parks to visit in the winter for many reasons. For one, it’s a less-visited park in general so you’re likely to see very few people so you can sled down the dunes all by yourself. Plus, as soon as you hike a little ways into the dunes, you’re unlikely to encounter other hikers. New Mexico does get chilly in winter, but it rarely sees a lot of snow this far south.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to White Sands National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Explore the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeast at Congaree National Park. South Carolina’s summers are hot and humid and the riverside habitat that makes up Congaree National Park is a favorite spot for mosquitoes. Visit in the cooler months, generally November to April, for mild temperatures and minimal mosquito levels. This is an ideal season to paddle, hike, or fish at the park.

Flooding is most frequent at this time of the year and can happen with little or no warning. It does not have to rain at Congaree for flooding to take place. Laying in a watershed the size of the state of Maryland, any significant rain in the upstate of South Carolina can cause a rise in water levels. Check the river gauges and the weather before you go.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Congaree National Park

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Pinnacles National Park, California

A relatively small park, Pinnacles still packs a punch—especially in the winter. The landscape features shaded, oak woodlands and exposed chaparral. There are canyon bottoms and talus caves you hike inside leaving the other side at the foot of tall rock spires.

You’ll find 15 different hiking options in the park. To check out the caves start at Chapparal (West Pinnacles) and take either the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop (easy), the Juniper Canyon Loop (hard) or the High Peaks to Balconies Cave Loop (hard).

You can have an excellent time at Pinnacles any time of year though winter is one of the best times to visit. From late spring to mid-autumn this region can be very hot making longer hikes difficult. The temperatures are much more pleasant in late autumn through winter and early spring.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Winter stretches itself from October through June at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Clear lakes become icy and volcanoes become topped with heavy snow and steam vents become especially smoky. For those seeking fun as well as beauty, winter activities are at their peak with sledding hills that offer mountain views, snowshoeing for beginners and experts, and backcountry skiing that can’t be beat.

More than half of the year Lassen is blanketed in snow. Although the park highway closes to through traffic during the winter months, the Southwest and Manzanita Lake areas remain accessible year-round. Visit the park’s year-round Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and enjoy the steep slopes in the Southwest Area or explore the gentler terrain in the Manzanita Lake area.

The old Lassen Ski Area located above the present-day Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center closed in 1994. The area is still used by backcountry skier and snowboarders.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Is there a more sublime snow experience than skiing or snowshoeing through the giant trees found in these two parks? Trails can be found in both the Giant Forest of Sequoia and Grant Grove in Kings Canyon.

According to park staff, many trails are suitable for snowshoeing when there’s adequate snow. You can rent snowshoes or bring your own. Purchase a map of ski trails at any visitor center and look for reflective markers on trees that show popular paths. When snowshoeing, stay clear of ski tracks. Check the park newspaper’s winter safety tips.

Rangers lead snowshoe hikes when conditions allow. The park provides the snowshoes; you bring warm layered clothing, waterproof boots, gloves, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, and a snack. The walks are moderately strenuous. Waterproof shoes are required. Walks last 1.5-2 hours and range from 1.5-2 miles in length.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Worth Pondering…

Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter.

—Henry David Thoreau

Campspot Outdoor Almanac: Outlook on 2023 Road Travel and Camping Trends

The biannual Campspot Outdoor Almanac reveals that 2023 will be another big year for outdoor travel and highlights where to go and what to expect while enjoying the open road

As the seasons change and we move into the quieter half of the year, we often have more time to reflect and take stock. Which is nice! Really, it is. But when the holiday lights are stored away and the cold creeps into our bones, even the most winter-obsessed of us can start to feel a little cooped up.

Driving Red Rock Scenic Byway, Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And that is why planning ahead is important. Just as gardeners plant seeds and are bolstered by the promise of what is to come, so too can RVers make plans for what is ahead. Whether you arrange a short winter getaway in the mountains or the desert or work out the finer details of a family reunion at a camp resort, that plan is how we’re able to look forward to the good times ahead.

In a chaotic and stressful world, plans are our reprieve—the daydreams that get us through. Because when we’re planning, we’re invested in tomorrow. In the road ahead and the time we get to spend together. And when we’re packing up—when we’re camping—we realize what it is we really need. The essentials! What you can fit in the available space of the RV?

The Springs at Anza-Borrego RV Resort & Golf Course, Borrego Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we’re camping, we’re getting back to the basics. We’re retreating from the din of society and finding safe haven in the great outdoors and the campgrounds offering tucked-away corners, epic adventures, stunning scenery, and even luxury RV resorts.

Whether you’re planning for your cross-country RV trip, snowbird escape, hiking adventure with Fido, or next summer’s trip to a camp resort, the Campspot Outdoor Almanac provides information for plotting out the ultimate road trips and retreats—no matter the season.

Readers can access top destinations for camping in 2023 along with inspiration for top road trips and scenic drives, recommendations for road trips for each season, helpful statistics and data about national and state parks that are trending, and demographic information about road travelers.

Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some top insights from travelers planning trips include:

  • Budget-friendly trips: Continued increased interest in shorter road trips is expected in 2023 as travelers discover their home states and local region
  • Average road trip route distance: 1,223 miles with a 20.5 hour driving duration
  • Top national parks: Grand Canyon, Arches, and Zion
  • Percentage of campers who are traveling as a couple: 67 percent
  • Top camping destinations: Moab (Utah), Sedona (Arizona), Florida Keys
Tent camping in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The latest camping trends

Types of campers:

  • RV (61 percent)
  • Tent (19 percent)
  • Glamper (12 percent)
  • Cabin (4 percent)
  • Car Camper (3 percent)
  • Boondocker/dispersed (1 percent)

Camping and work-life balance:

  • 43 percent of campers take 2-4 weeks off from work annually
  • 36 percent of campers take 4-6 camping trips annually, 19 percent take 7-10 annually
  • 18 percent go camping for major winter holidays and 23 percent are interested in doing so
Newfound
Driving Newfound Gap Road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 2023 camping goals:

  • Travel to new places to camp (69 percent)
  • Go camping more often (53 percent)
  • Explore more national and state parks (47 percent)
  • Spend more time in nature (37 percent)
  • Spend more time outside with family (30 percent)

Top regions campers are most excited to visit in 2023:

  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • Alaska
  • Yosemite National Park
Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top states campers are most interested in visiting in 2023:

  • Colorado
  • Montana
  • Tennessee
  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • Wyoming
  • California
  • Michigan
  • Oregon
  • Utah
The Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top destinations for RVers:

  • Grand Canyon
  • Las Vegas
  • The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, Florida
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Ginnie Springs, Florida
  • Zion National Park
  • Daytona International Speedway
  • Campland on the Bay in San Diego
  • Okeechobee, Florida
  • Moab
Along the Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road trips and scenic drives

Road trip trends:

  • 37 percent are willing to travel any distance on a road trip if they have time while 26 percent prefer trips that are 6 to 10 hours in length
  • After private campgrounds, public lands and hotels were the next most popular accommodation types for road trips

How far do roadtrippers travel?

  • Average route distance: 1,223 miles
  • Average driving duration: 20.5 hours
White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top national parks where travelers planned road trips:

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

Top state parks where travelers planned road trips:

  • South Yuba River State Park, California
  • Maquoketa Caves State Park, Iowa
  • Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky
  • Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina
  • Watkins Glen State Park, New York
  • Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
  • Niagara Falls State Park, New York
  • Letchworth State Park, New York
  • Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
  • Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Florida
  • Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Illinois
  • Custer State Park, South Dakota
Fredericksburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A road trip for every season

Take inspiration from these road trips and scenic drives to plan your 2023 adventures.

Spring

New Orleans, LA, to Fredericksburg, TX

Distance: 469 miles

With pit stops in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Beaumont, Houston, and Austin, this route is a Cajun food-lover’s dream. Be sure to drive the Willow City Loop just north of Fredericksburg for wildflowers galore.

Where to stay:

  • Sun Outdoors New Orleans North Shore, Ponchatoula, Louisiana
  • The Retreat RV and Camping Resort, Huffman, Texas
  • Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, Texas
Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer

Blue Ridge Parkway

An epic drive filled with stunning vistas of the Appalachian Highlands, this route is known as America’s Favorite Drive for a reason.

Where to stay:

  • Montebello Camping and Fishing Resort, Montebello, Virginia
  • Halesford Harbor Resort, Moneta, Virginia
  • Catawba Falls Campground, North Carolina
Covered Bridge Tour near Terre Haute, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall

Covered Bridge Tour in Indiana

Distance: 35+ miles

Indiana has 31 covered bridges that are super quaint and historic. According to locals, Sim Smith Bridge is even haunted.

Where to stay:

  • Turkey Run Canoe and Camping, Bloomingdale
  • Peaceful Water Campground, Bloomingdale
  • Hawthorn Park, Terry Haute
Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter

Florida East Coast

Distance: 470 miles

Whether you start in the northern or southern part of the state, a drive along the east coast is a perfect way to say goodbye to the winter blues.

Where to stay:

  • Ocean Groove RV Resort, St. Augustine
  • Indian River RV Park, Titusville
  • Sun Outdoors Key Largo, Key Largo

Worth Pondering…

Road trips have beginnings and ends but it’s what’s in between that counts.

Winter Can Be a Great Season to Explore National Parks

Don’t wait until summertime to explore these National Parks

Even the best preparations and the most insulated RV may not be enough to survive harsh winter conditions. Anything can happen and anyone hell-bent to visit a remote destination in cold weather will do well to follow a few common sense winter RV camping guidelines.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why go RVing to National Parks in winter?

Summer is by far the best and easiest time to learn how to go RVing to National Park Service (NPS) sites. Whether you travel in a motorhome coach or a teardrop trailer, as long as you pack a little food, adequate water, and your favorite creature comforts, even the most novice RVers have everything needed for a successful visit. But all this easy camping comes at a cost—less campsite availability, crowded facilities and trails, road traffic, and an ongoing din of humanity.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter RVing to national parks is an entirely different experience. Visitors brave enough to set up camp during colder days and even chillier nights are treated to an authentic experience with scarce crowds, more wildlife, and maximum solitude. It’s worth the effort but just don’t go in with that same laid-back approach you might take during summer. Winter RV camping in national parks requires more prep work and common sense—especially when heading to isolated destinations without cellular coverage. 

During any given winter, about 38 NPS sites have campgrounds that stay open for off-season RV camping. If you think you’re up to the challenge of winter RV camping in national parks, here’s what you need to know to make the most of the experience.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dos and don’ts of winter RV camping in National Parks

It doesn’t matter what type of RV you drive, the same basic winter camping rules apply to anyone heading to a NPS destination.

DO keep an eye on the weather: Having a roof over your head at night can give you a false sense of security when you’re RV camping. Our cozy homes on wheels make it easy to forget that chilly weather is about more than wearing bulky layers of clothing. Winter storms and cold winter weather generates a host of problems specific to RVs like frozen plumbing lines and bitter cold blowing through slide-out openings.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you are lucky enough to have an electrical hookup at a campground, cold-weather RV challenges still happen. Don’t go into a national park RV destination without keeping a close tab on the short and long-term forecast. And if your camping destination lacks internet, take a daily walk to find the latest forecast posted at the entrance kiosk. Don’t let the weather surprise you and be ready for anything.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

DON’T expect camping conveniences: Many national parks with winter RV camping technically are open but that doesn’t mean the usual camper services will be available. In most cases, essential facilities like RV dump stations, bathrooms, water spigots, and campsite utility hookups (where available) get shut off before the first hard freeze. Conveniences like camp stores and even gas stations may also be closed. Amenities like visitor centers and laundromats are likely to be shut down too. Come with all the food and provisions you need and check the park’s website to see what’s open before heading out.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

DO arrive with camping essentials and working RV systems: Don’t leave home without allowing enough time to conduct a thorough check on your rig such as checking your RV propane levels and fuel reserves. Verify that your solar electric power system and generator work as expected and get your RV engine fully inspected and ready to roll on good tires. That way if sudden, severe weather moves in and you need to depart, your RV has everything it takes to roll away without issues.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

DON’T forget to bring cold-weather RVing gear: The downside of cold-weather RVing in national parks is the need to carry bulky items to keep you and your RV warm. The upside is that if ominous weather is on the horizon, you’ll be ready for anything. Essential cold-weather RVing gear includes things like:

  • Pre-cut squares of Reflectix foil insulation to keep cold air from seeping through windows, ceiling vents, and other drafty areas
  • Heated water hose (or water hose heat tape or a length of foam insulation hose to wrap around your water hose and prevent freezing)
  • Full tank of fresh water in case hookups are shut off for the season
  • Adequate battery jump system strong enough to start your RV
  • Cold-weather clothing and footwear for you and your dog if you travel with one
Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t let all of this preparation scare you. Cold weather camping in national parks can be a blast if you’re fully prepared. Create a thorough RV travel plan filled with contingencies for alternative places to camp, fuel up, and find groceries. Let people know where you are headed and when you’ll return. Do all that and you’ll be well-prepared for anything that might happen.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Parks open for winter RV camping

Searching for the best winter RV camping national park destination with cold, sometimes snowy weather? Here’s an abbreviated list of national parks with at least one campground open for winter RV camping. 

Note that in several of the following parks (Big Bend, Pinnacles, and Organ Pipe Cactus, for example) you can expect warmer weather and will not require the above cold weather preparation.

Keep in mind that campground status can change depending on weather.

Worth Pondering…

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Groundhog Day: A Break from the Freeze?

Why do we put our faith in these furry little forecasters once a year?

There will be six more weeks of winter, Punxsutawney Phil predicted as he emerged from his burrow this morning to perform his Groundhog Day duties.

It was 30 years ago when the movie Groundhog Day came out, yet it must seem like yesterday for the die-hards who anxiously await this annual prognosticator.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 20,000 visitors gathered at Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania—about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburg—as members of Punxsutawney Phil’s inner circle summoned him from his tree stump at dawn to learn if he had seen his shadow, a message they said Phil communicated in groundhogese. After Phil’s prediction was announced, the crowd repeatedly chanted six more weeks!

According to folklore, spring would come early if he didn’t see it.

Winter lovers can rejoice as the legendary Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on this Groundhog Day which means spring won’t be arriving early in 2023. And while it may seem silly to take Phil’s word for it, it turns out the majority of Americans are more likely to trust a rodent than their local meteorologist.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s according to a recent OnePoll survey of 2,000 U.S. adults which reveals that 58 percent agree that whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Groundhog Day determines if there will be six more weeks of winter. Moreover, more than one in four Americans “strongly agree” with this statement. Three in five believe Phil more than meteorologists, hmm.

Since COVID-19 has changed the world so drastically over the last three years, maybe it’s okay to have this one nice thing to enjoy every year—unless you hate winter, too!

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions date back to 1887. Of course, since the average lifespan of a groundhog is about six years, the name is really attached to a monolithic organization of different groundhogs that trot out once a year in Gobbler’s Knob to perform their duty.

In the words of Phil Connors from Harold Ramis’ 1993 movie Groundhog Day, “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anyway, Phil did see his shadow this morning—which means he was scared of his shadow and has run back inside his den and pronounced six more weeks of winter.

Punxsutawney Phil may be the most famous groundhog seer but he’s certainly not the only one. Groundhog Day celebrations are major events in other parts of North America.

In Canada, similar celebrations are held with Ontario’s clairvoyant rodent Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam, and Quebec’s designated oracle groundhog Fred la Marmotte. Willie is the successor to the original Wiarton Willy who died in 2018.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fred made his prediction in Val-d’Espoir, Quebec, on the eastern edge of the Gaspé Peninsula. This Fred is still new to predicting—organizers call him Fred Junior. The previous Fred has retired.

The Groundhog Day ritual may have something to do with February 2 landing midway between winter solstice and spring equinox, but no one knows for sure.

The annual event may have its origin in a German legend about a furry rodent. Some say the tradition can be traced to Greek mythology or it could have started with Candlemas, a Christian custom named for the lighting of candles during the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One Scottish couplet summed up the superstition: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”

In medieval Europe, farmers believed that if hedgehogs emerged from their burrows to catch insects, it was a sure sign of an early spring.

However, when Europeans settled in eastern North America, the groundhog was substituted for the hedgehog.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Canada’s West Coast in British Columbia, they now call on marmots like Van Island Violet who lives on Mount Washington. Like groundhogs, marmots are a type of large ground squirrel. But, like the yellow-bellied marmots of Vernon, Violet tends to be asleep on February 2; therefore, she cannot see her shadow.

This makes sense of course and highlights a danger of asking a groundhog in the first place. More winter just means a sleep-in for the marmots and who doesn’t like to sleep in?

In general, rodents don’t have a great track record when it comes to long-term forecasting.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In his book, The Day Niagara Falls Ran Dry, climatologist David Phillips cites a survey of 40 years of weather data from 13 Canadian cities which concluded that there were an equal number of cloudy and sunny days on February 2. During that time, the groundhogs’ predictions were right only 37 per cent of the time.

There are other pseudo Phils: Manitoba’s Merv is a puppet while Alberta’s Balzac Billy is a six-foot tall sunglass wearing mascot who uses his thumb to check for a shadow. Known as the Prairie Prognosticator, the groundhog signals a thumbs down if he sees his shadow or thumbs up for no shadow and an early spring.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg Wyn is a fortune-telling ambassador groundhog at Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Instead of watching to see if Wyn sees her shadow, the rehabilitation centre said it bases its prediction on her behavior which is a more reliable indicator.

A break from the freeze? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether it’s about giving us hope or really just celebrating an animal that we don’t celebrate very often, I think it’s wonderful. And, if it gets people outside for just a few minutes then that’s awesome!

Worth Pondering…

Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter.

—Henry David Thoreau

Winter 2022-23: 10 Best Things to Do in America

While summer gets all the popular attention—sun, sand, sea, surf, and so on—it’s safe to say that winter is underrated

From fishing and camping to a taste bud tour, RVing with Rex reveals unique and unusual picks for the 10 best things to do in the US this winter. Your RV bucket list just got (a lot) longer.

The best things to do this winter include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-trued staples too. But, as is my style at RVing with Rex, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this winter.

Daytona Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cruise the Atlantic Coast of Florida

Location: Jacksonville to Key West, Florida

Stretching along Florida’s Atlantic Coast from Fernandina Beach to Key West is the iconic A1A highway. The famous route passes through historic towns like St. Augustine before making its way through hotspots like Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Then, stay a few days in Miami before continuing south on the Overseas Highway, a scenic 130-mile stretch of roadway connecting Key Largo to Key West in the Florida Keys.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Discover Outer Space at Kennedy Space Center

Location: Kennedy Space Center Complex, Merritt Island, Florida

Visiting Kennedy Space Center allows you to live out the dream of being an astronaut. You can see the space shuttle Atlantis, meet an astronaut, and watch a space movie in the IMAX movie theater. For true space travel enthusiasts, consider booking one of the add-on enhancements such as the Special Interest Bus Tour or the Astronaut Training Experience. 

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Wander through Mount Dora

Location: Mount Dora, Florida

Time slows down in this quaint Florida town filled with unique shops and delicious eateries.  Located approximately 45 minutes north of Disney World, Mount Dora is like a real-life Main Street U.S.A. This small town is known for its boutique stores and the downtown area is filled with eateries, tasty coffee, and ice cream shops. Cruise on Lake Dora, sip on a signature cocktail while enjoying the spectacular sunset, and slow down and take in the relaxing atmosphere. 

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Feel the warm desert air in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Location: Ajo, Arizona

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals including its namesake. The park lies near Ajo, 43 miles south of Gila Bend on Interstate 8. This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. With its multiple stems, the cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ. There are 28 different species of cacti in the park ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Fish and camp at Goose Island State Park

Location: Rockport-Fulton, Texas

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast! Goose Island offers camping, fishing, and birding along St. Charles and Aransas bays. Camp, fish, hike, geocache, go boating and observe and take photos of wildlife, especially birds. Fish from shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot-long fishing pier. Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries and has withstood several major hurricanes.

>> Get more tips for visiting Goose Island State Park

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Sample the South in Savannah’s Historic District

Location: Savannah, Georgia

Few US city centers match the charm and style of Savannah’s Historic District. Every corner reveals an 18th-century home somehow more picturesque than the last. The area is perfect for strolling aimlessly and stopping for treats (and shade) along the way. Wander down River Street to sample the famous southern pralines at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen or indulge in a Bourbon Pecan Pie martini at Jen’s & Friends. If you’re somehow still hungry, choose from over 100 eclectic restaurants. Then, burn it all off by dancing the night away in Savannah’s buzzing nightlife scene. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Experience the magic of the Sonoran Desert at Usery Mountain Regional Park

Location: Mesa, Arizona

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along with the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

>> Get more tips for visiting Usery Mountain Regional Park

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Experience the quaint, seaside town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Location: Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

It’s no secret that the farther west you travel along the Mississippi coast, the stronger you’ll hear the call of New Orleans. Once you hit the waterfront in Old Town Bay St. Louis, you might as well be in the French Quarter. Many locals here have New Orleans roots and this little burg is all about letting those bons temps rouler. Its artsy, funky, and quirky yet still peaceful and relaxing, with the unhurried, y’all-come-on-in attitude of a small Southern town: NOLA, meets Mayberry.

In 2010 Bay St. Louis was listed as one of the Top 10 Beach Communities in the U.S. by Coastal Living MagazineBudget Travel magazine named it one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” in 2013 and Southern Living magazine named Bay St. Louis one of their 50 Best Places in the South in 2016.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bay St. Louis

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Experience Southern Coastal Charm in Fairhope, Alabama

Location: Fairhope, Alabama

Wiry trees draped with Spanish moss frame pastel-painted bungalows in this small Alabama town. Fairhope is perched atop bluffs overlooking Mobile Bay. You can bike oak-lined sidewalks, watch watercolor sunsets, and browse inspiring shops including Page & Palette bookstore and other businesses in the town’s French Quarter near the water.

Explore the piers and meander the parks and beaches—if you’re lucky, you’ll witness the summer jubilee when sea creatures wash up on the beaches by the bucketful. Once you watch a sunset from the Tiki Bar at the American Legion Post 199, you’ll understand Fairhope nostalgia and wonder why anybody would want to live anywhere else.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Discover the Crawfish Capital of the World

Location: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

A tiny bayou town just a short hop from Lafayette, Breaux Bridge is not only the “Crawfish Capital of the World” per the Louisiana legislature but lays claim to having invented crawfish etouffee. It’s in the heart of Acadian Louisiana with all the fantastic food and music that entails. Cajun dancers have been two-stepping and waltzing around the beautiful old dance floor at La Poussiere since 1955. On Saturdays, Café des Amis serves a Zydeco breakfast with live music downtown.

Breaux Bridge is one cool little Louisiana town where locally-owned shops, Cajun eateries, French music, bayou country, and crawfish all come together. The walkable downtown hub is studded with antique shops, restaurants, and homey cafes. And if you love fishing and boating, you’ll be right at home thanks to the town’s quick access to Lake Martin. For art lovers on a budget, the Teche Center for the Arts has regularly scheduled workshops and musical programming that typically clock in under $10.

>> Get more tips for visiting Breaux Bridge

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai

The Best Stops for a Winter Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Fort Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma, Arizona

The Fort Yuma Territorial Prison which operated from 1876 to 1909 was hellish in many respects but it also had more modern amenities than many homes in Yuma at the time including electricity, plumbing, a large library, and even a band. Several of the inmates were Mormons who were convicted of polygamy. Today, the site of the hilltop prison is an Arizona state park with some surviving original features such as the cellblock and other features reconstructed. It’s now a historical museum that not only is open for tours but stages special events such as gunfights and ghost hunts.

>> Get more tips for visiting Fort Yuma Territorial Prison

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, Merritt Island, Florida

This privately owned center provides educational exhibits and activities about NASA’s mission at the center as well as tours to other facilities nearby. You’ll see a “rocket garden,” an outdoor exhibit of an extensive assortment of rockets, capsules, and engines that have been used for actual space missions.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs, California

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. Yerxa’s pueblo is a four-story, 5,000-square-foot structure. It has 160 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

The Valley of the Sun is home to many great attractions, and it can be difficult for visitors and locals alike to pick their favorites. It’s easy to get caught up in the legend surrounding attractions like the world-famous Lost Dutchman State Park, but sometimes you want to take a break from history and explore Phoenix’s more modern side. 

Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden is also one of the world’s largest collections of desert plants and flowers. It features more than 50 miles of pathways crisscrossing over a dozen outdoor gardens, including the special Children’s Garden, which has a walled maze, garden swings, and plenty of other activities designed especially for the little ones. 

Visitors can also see art installations, take a guided tour or enjoy live music during their visit to the outdoor attractions.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

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

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, Arizona

There are several good reasons for paying a visit to this 110-acre park. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a short hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching. The picnic and playground areas are imaginatively and artistically designed and laid out. And perhaps most noteworthy of all, there is an observatory that is open to the public to do some star gazing on Friday and Saturday nights.

>> Get more tips for visiting Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

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

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is one of the best places in the country for bird-watching. People come just for the birds. Bentsen’s wetland, scrub brush, riparian, and woodland habitats make it a world-class destination to observe birds and wildlife commonly found in the subtropics of northern Mexico.
One of the most spectacular convergences of birds on Earth, more than 530 species have been documented in the Rio Grande Valley (including about 20 species found nowhere else in the U.S.) and 365 species at Bentsen itself. Bentsen’s bird-feeding stations are stocked in the winter months making it one of the best and easiest times to view a wide variety of birds from Green jays to Altamira orioles and Plain chachalacas to Great kiskadees.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

Hi Jolly Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hi Jolly Monument, Quartzsite, Arizona

Hi Jolly was the Americanized name of Hadji Ali, a Greek/Syrian immigrant who was one of several Middle Eastern men hired by the U.S. Army in 1857 (by Secretary Of War Jefferson Davis) to drive camels laden with cargo across the desert. The experiment was discontinued after a short time but it was still much more successful than people often believe. In any case, Hi Jolly stuck around until he died in 1902. A colorful and beloved character, he became a bit of a legend and was honored with this pyramid-shaped monument constructed in 1903 and embellished later. The monument stands in a cemetery with many monuments to military men. You’ll spot the camel motif cropping up in other places in Quartzsite, an interesting little town that is known as a haven for RV boondockers as well as rock and mineral lovers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Quartzsite

Tabasco Factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island Louisiana

While the marshes and bayous of this region make Avery Island worth a visit in its own right, it is the fact that this is the home of the Tabasco pepper sauce that attracts most people. Visitor attractions include a short but informative factory tour where you’ll learn the history of this family owned company and see how this world famous product is created; an excellent country store packed with sauces, souvenirs and gifts; and the Jungle Gardens, 170 acres full of exotic plants and native wildlife including alligators and deer. When you visit the country store, do make sure you try the Tabasco ice cream; it’s more enjoyable than it sounds.

>> Get more tips for visiting Avery Island

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake, Arizona

Located just off State Route 88 east of Phoenix, Saguaro Lake has a marina with rentals for everything from stand-up paddleboards to kayaks and canoes. The lake even has a few desert islands where boaters can stop for a picnic lunch or a quick swim. Visitors also come to Saguaro Lake to camp at nearby facilities or fish along its banks for bass, catfish, and carp. Hikers and campers also enjoy visiting the lake which has over 25 miles of trails that wind around it.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an “internally drained valley” called the Tularosa Basin. Dunes Drive, an eight-mile scenic drive, leads from the visitor center into the heart of the gypsum dunefield. The 16-mile round-trip drive takes approximately 45 minutes. However, you may want to allow additional time for taking walks in the white sand, photography, or learning about the natural and cultural history.

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo Mountain Drive, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

This 21-mile drive, accessible by any vehicles up to 25 feet, is the most popular way to explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Pick up the guidebook from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and allow at least two hours to drive the loop which includes 18 stops of interest. As well as the distinctive cactus from which the park takes its name, you will also see examples of the many other plants that flourish in the Sonoran Desert including saguaro, prickly pear, jojoba, mesquite, cholla, and ocotillo.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe National Monument

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spoetzal Brewery, Shiner, Texas

Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

>> Get more tips for visiting Shiner

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

If rugged scenery, hiking, and wilderness are what you are looking for, then put Joshua Tree on your list of road trip stops. Located in the southern end of California, this park is known for its distinctive trees and its craggy and rocky landscape filled with desert flora and fauna.

Plenty of daytime activities are available inside the park and the most popular is hiking (with one paved trail that is accessible). There is climbing, birding, biking, horseback riding, and a driving tour you can take. There are 93 miles of paved roads. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Rayne frog mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne, Louisiana

In a small town in the middle of Louisiana’s Cajun prairie is a town called Rayne where frogs have gained iconic stature. Frogs and Rayne have a relatively long history that dates back to the 1880s when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling juicy, delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants. Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil Brothers from France who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants. For years, world-renowned restaurants boasted of offering frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana. Rayne no longer exports frogs but their frog identity is bigger than ever because of a unique array of frog murals.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

The All-time Coldest Temperatures Ever Recorded in Each State

Record-breaking cold, life-threatening wind chills plunge 150 million Americans into deep freeze

A bitter and potentially deadly blast of arctic air is continuing to charge its way across the U.S., dropping wind chills to as low as between negative 50 and negative 70 degrees across the northern Plains and 30 below zero in the Midwest triggering rare Hard Freeze Warnings along the Gulf Coast and helping to fuel a monster blizzard that will bring those frigid temperature across the Great Lakes and into the Northeast.

The dangerously cold arctic air began its week-long journey by surging to the south out of Canada last weekend dropping low temperatures Monday morning to negative 20 degrees and lower across northern Montana.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the arctic blast brings bitterly cold temperatures to much of the U.S. through Christmas weekend, you might be wondering how low the temperature has ever gone in your state.

All but one of the 50 states has documented a temperature below zero with Hawaii being the sole outlier having only dipped as low as 12 degrees. Nearly a dozen states have plunged to minus 50 degrees or colder.

January and February comprise the coldest time of the year for the majority of the U.S. so it should come as no surprise that’s when most of the records were achieved. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule.

Five states set their low-temperature records in late December including Nebraska, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s all-time record low wasn’t even achieved during the winter. The Mauna Kea Observatory at an elevation of 13,796 feet on the Big Island of Hawaii dipped to 12 degrees on May 17, 1979.

The lowest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. was minus 80 degrees in Prospect Creek, Alaska, north of Fairbanks, on January 23, 1971.

In the Lower 48, Montana holds the record for the all-time coldest temperature at minus 70 degrees, set at Rogers Pass—on the Continental Divide at 5,610 feet above sea level—on January 20, 1954.

Illinois is the most recent state to reach its lowest temperature on record. Mount Carroll, in the northwestern corner of the state plunged to minus 38 degrees on January 31, 2019.

Mount Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The longest-standing record in the U.S. is held by Mount Washington, New Hampshire, the highest mountain in the Northeast where the temperature bottomed out at minus 50 degrees nearly 140 years ago on January 22, 1885.

In the Northeast, New York can claim the coldest temperature ever recorded in the region with an all-time record low of minus 52 degrees set in Old Forge on February 18, 1979. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine all share the same record of minus 50 degrees.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All-time records in the South might be colder than you think. Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina have all dipped into the teens below zero while Alabama has been as cold as minus 27 degrees and Tennessee as low as minus 32 degrees.

The Midwest has a large range of low-temperature records with North Dakota and Minnesota claiming minus 60 degrees as their all-time record lows but states south of the Great Lakes such as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio have only dropped into the minus 30s due to winds off the lakes keeping temperatures relatively higher.

Most of the all-time record lows in the Western states were documented in the higher elevations. California’s record of minus 45 degrees was set in the heart of the Sierra Nevada in Boca at an elevation of 5,528 feet above sea level on January 20, 1937. The record low in Arizona was achieved at Hawley Lake where the temperature plunged to minus 40 degrees at 8,200 feet on January 7, 1971.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The chart below shows the all-time record low in each state according to data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

State               Minimum Temperature         Date                            Location

Alabama          -27 degrees F                          January 30, 1966        New Market

Alaska             -80 degrees F                          January 23, 1971        Prospect Creek Camp

Arizona           -50 degrees F                          January 7, 1971          Hawley Lake

Arkansas         -29 degrees F                          February 13, 1905      Gravett

California       -45 degrees F                          January 20, 1937        Boca

Colorado         -61 degrees F                          February 1, 1985        Maybell

Connecitut      -32 degrees F                          February 16, 1943      Falls Village

Delaware         -17 degrees F                          January 17, 1893        Millsboro

Florida                -2 degrees F                   February 13, 1899      Tallahassee

Georgia           -17 degrees F                          January 27, 1940        Beatum

Hawaii            12 degrees F                           May 17, 1979              Mauna Kea

Idaho               -60 degrees F                          January 18, 1943        Island Park Dam

Illinois            -38 degrees F                          January 31, 2019        Mt. Carroll

Indiana           -36 degrees F                          January 19, 1994        New Whiteland

Iowa                -47 degrees F                          January 12, 1912        Washta

Kansas            -40 degrees F                          February 13, 1905      Lebanon

Kentucky        -37 degrees F                          January 19, 1994        Shelbyville

Louisiana        -16 degrees F                          February 13, 1899      Minden

Maine              -50 degrees F                          January 16, 2009        Big Black River

Maryland        -40 degrees F                          January 13, 1912        Oakland

Massachusetts -35 degrees F                      January 5, 1904          Tauton

Michigan        -51 degrees F                          February 19, 1934      Vanderbilt

Minnesota       -60 degrees F                        February 2, 1996        Tower

Mississippi     -19 degrees F                          January 30, 1966        Corrinth

Missouri         -40 degrees F                          February 13, 1905      Warsaw

Montana          -70 degrees F                          January 20, 1954        Rogers Pass

Nebraska         -47 degrees F                          February 12, 1899      Bridgeport

Nevada            -50 degrees F                          January 8, 1937          San Jacinto

New Hampshire -50 degrees F                   January 22, 1985        Mount Washington

New Jersey     -34 degrees F                          January 5, 1902          River Vale

New Mexico   -50 degrees F                          February 1, 1951        Gavilan

New York       -52 degrees F                          February 18, 1879      Old Forge

North Carolina -34 degrees F                      January 21, 1985        Mount Mitchell

North Dakota  -60 degrees F                       February 15, 1936      Parshall

Ohio                -39 degrees F                          February 10, 1899      Milligan

Oklahoma       -31 degrees F                          February 10, 1911      Nowata

Oregon              -54 degrees F                          February 9, 1933        Ukiah

Pennsylvania  -42 degrees F                          January 5, 1904          Smethport

Rhode Island   -28 degrees F                          January 11, 1942        Wood River Junction

South Carolina -19 degrees F                         January 21, 1985        Caesar’s Head

South Dakota  -58 degrees F                          February 17, 1936      McIntosh

Tennessee       -32 degrees F                          December 30, 1917     Mountain City

Texas              -23 degrees F                          February 8, 1933        Seminole

Utah                -50 degrees F                          January 5, 1913          Strawberry Tunnel

Vermont          -50 degrees F                          December 30, 1933     Bloomfield

Virginia          -30 degrees F                          January 21, 1985        Mountain Lake

Washington    -48 degrees F                          December 30, 1968     Mazama and Winthrop

West Virginia -37 degrees F                          December 30, 1917     Lewisburg

Wisconsin       -55 degrees F                          February 2, 1996        Couderay

Wyoming        -66 degrees F                          February 9, 1933        Yellowstone NP

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What about the Great White North, you ask?

The following is a list of the all-time low temperatures ever recorded in Canada’s 10 provinces.

Alberta                 -78 degrees F (-61.1 C)    January 11, 1911        Fort Vermillion           

British Columbia -74 degrees F (-58.9 C)     January 31, 1947        Smith River

Manitoba        -63 degrees F (-52.8 C)          January 9, 1899          Norway House

New Brunswick -52 degrees F (-46.7 C)       January 18, 1925        Chipman

Newfoundland -60 degrees F (-55.1 C)         February 17, 1972      Esker

Nova Scotia    -42 degrees F (-41.1 C)          January 31, 1920        Upper Stewlacke

Ontario            -73 degrees F (-58.3 C)          January 23, 1935        Iroquois Falls

Prince Edward Island -35 degrees F (-37.2 C) January 26, 1884      South Kildare

Quebec            -66 degrees F (-54.4 C)          February 5, 1923        Douset

Saskatchewan -70 degrees F (-56.7 C)          February1, 1893         Prince Albert

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A careful study of the above chart reveals that the lowest temperature ever recorded in the United States (-80 degrees F in Alaska) is colder than the all-time low in Canada (-61 degrees in Alberta). But, how can that be?

In addition to the above 10 provinces Canada also has two far-north Territories—Northwest Territories and Yukon. The all-time low temperature recorded in Yukon was -81 degrees F (-63.0 C), 1 degree F colder than Alaska’s all-time low of -80 degrees F.

Record breaking cold and snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merry Christmas! May your days be filled with peace, hope, and joy this holiday season as we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child!

Worth Pondering…

Christmas is the day that holds all time together.

—Alexander Smith

I’ve never gotten used to winter and never will.

—Jamaica Kincaid

Winter Solstice 2022: What it Is, Why it Occurs, and How it is Observed

The Northern Hemisphere experiences its shortest day and longest night of the year today as the sun reaches its most southerly point in the sky

Good morning and welcome to winter. Not to get all dark at the beginning of the article but it is the shortest day of the year, meaning if you began watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy just before sunrise, it will be dark again by the end of the third movie.

Let us beat a hasty retreat. Jump into a hole, down to a cozy warren, deep below the surface.

Winter is as much about going deep, as it is about finding our way back out the other side.

Welcome to the first day of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The astronomical metaphor to keep in mind during these dark and chilling times is that starting the day after the winter solstice each day gets a bit longer. It’s only by two or three minutes—too incremental to notice—and yet brightness is accumulating every day as the season progresses.

Norwegians—among the happiest people on earth despite living in such extended periods of darkness—have a word that snugly wraps up this winter philosophy: “koselig” (pronounced “koosh-lee”). It’s a combination of coziness and a connection to nature and others.

Welcome to the first day of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the past six months, the days have grown shorter and the nights have grown longer in the Northern Hemisphere. But that’s about to reverse itself.

Winter solstice 2022, the shortest day of year and the official first day of winter, is on Wednesday, December 21. How it all works has fascinated people for thousands of years.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide for Winter Camping

First we’ll look at the science and precise timing behind the solstice. Then we’ll explore some ancient traditions and celebrations around the world.

Welcome to the first day of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Solstices happen every June and December, though the exact dates vary by a day or two each year.

The word solstice comes from the Latin words sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to stop—which reflects our host star’s seemingly brief pause in the sky on the solstice before reversing direction. 

The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere when the sun appears at its most southerly position, directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn.

Welcome to the first day of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The situation is the reverse in the Southern Hemisphere. There, the December solstice marks the longest day of the year—and the beginning of summer in places such as Australia, Chile, and South Africa.

The solstice usually—but not always—takes place on December 21. The time that the solstice occurs shifts every year because the solar year (the time it takes for the sun to reappear in the same spot as seen from Earth) doesn’t exactly match up to our calendar year.

If you want to be super-precise in your observations, the exact time of the 2022 winter solstice will be 16:48 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on Tuesday, according to EarthSky.org and Farmers’ Almanac.

Welcome to the first day of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Daylight decreases dramatically the closer you are to the North Pole. Residents of Nome, Alaska, will be sunlight deprived with just three hours, 54 minutes, and 31 seconds of very weak daylight on Tuesday. But that’s downright generous compared with Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. It sits inside the Arctic Circle and won’t see a single ray of sunshine.

The equinoxes, both spring and fall, occur when the sun’s rays are directly over the equator. On those two days, everyone has an equal length of day and night. The summer solstice is when the sun’s rays are farthest north over the Tropic of Cancer giving us our longest day and the official start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Welcome to the first day of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s no surprise many cultures and religions celebrate a holiday—whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, or pagan festivals—that coincides with the return of longer days.

Since long before recorded history, the winter solstice and the subsequent “return” of the sun have inspired celebrations and rituals in various societies around the world.

Related article: Winter Listicle: Experience Winter Wonderlands in National Parks

Ancient peoples whose survival depended on a precise knowledge of seasonal cycles marked this first day of winter with elaborate ceremonies and celebrations. Spiritually, these celebrations symbolize the opportunity for renewal, a shedding of bad habits and negative feelings and an embracing of hope amid darkness as the days once again begin to grow longer.

Welcome to the first day of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the ancient symbolsand ceremonies of the winter solstice live on today or have been incorporated into newer traditions.

For the Zuni, one of the Native American Pueblo peoples in western New Mexico, the winter solstice signifies the beginning of the year and is marked with a ceremonial dance called Shalako. After fasting, prayer, and observing the rising and setting of the sun for several days before the solstice, the Pekwin, or “Sun Priest” traditionally announces the exact moment of itiwanna, the rebirth of the sun, with a long, mournful call.

Welcome to the first day of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With that signal, the rejoicing and dancing begin, as 12 kachina clowns in elaborate masks dance along with the Shalako themselves—12-foot-high effigies with bird heads, seen as messengers from the gods. After four days of dancing, new dancers are chosen for the following year and the yearly cycle begins again.

Like the Zuni, the Hopi of northern Arizona are believed to be among the descendants of the Anasazi people, ancient Native Americans who flourished beginning in 200 B.C. As the Anasazi left no written records, we can only speculate about their winter solstice rites but the placement of stones and structures in their ruins such as New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon and Aztec Ruins indicate they took a keen interest in the sun’s movement. In the Hopi solstice celebration of Soyal, the Sun Chief takes on the duties of the Zuni Pekwin, announcing the setting of the sun on the solstice.

Welcome to the first day of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An all-night ceremony then begins including kindling fires, dancing, and sometimes gift-giving. Traditionally, the Hopi sun-watcher was not only important to the winter solstice tradition as his observation of the sun also governed the planting of crops and the observance of Hopi ceremonies and rituals all year long.

Related article: Winter RV Camping: What You Need to Know

The UK’s most famous site for solstice celebrations is Stonehenge. On the winter solstice, visitors traditionally have had opportunity to enter the towering, mysterious stone circle for a sunrise ceremony run by local pagan and druid groups.

Worth Pondering…

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden