While there are many national parks that are great to visit in the winter, this list is focused on the parks that are generally warm and perfect for exploring
As shorter days and cooler temperatures descend on North America, it’s time to look for the next great outdoor adventure. We encourage visiting a National Park Service site at any time of the year, but winter is a unique time to explore. Smaller crowds at some of the more popular parks are just one of the benefits.
November to March provide some of the most beautiful, peaceful, and picturesque landscapes, and parks that can be relatively inhospitable during the height of summer become havens during the cold months. Here are the best national parks to visit this winter.
Usually, this desert monument turned National Park is almost too hot to enjoy during the summer months. But during the winter, daytime temperatures hover in the upper 60s making it the perfect season for exploring. Joshua Tree is named for a unique, tentacle-like tree that blankets the desert floor, filling in gaps between amazing rock formations.
Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails. The Tucson Mountain District (West) also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails, including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park is named after a stretch of 118 miles of Rio Grande River, part of which forms a large bend in the river. Big Bend offers a variety of activities for the outdoor enthusiasts, including backpacking, river trips, horseback riding, mountain biking, and camping. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, and 56 species of reptiles.
Only a fraction of the park’s 5 million annual visitors come during the winter months. At over 277-miles long and up to a mile deep, this natural wonder was created over millions of years as the Colorado River wound its way through the canyon. While temperatures can hover in the 30s and 40s along the rim, milder temps can be found along the river at the bottom of the canyon. The South Rim is open year-round and winter is an ideal time to enjoy the park’s trails and avoid the crowds that dominate the park during the summer.
Congaree National Park preserves the largest remnant of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent. In addition to being a designated Wilderness Area, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Globally Important Bird Area, and a National Natural Landmark, Congaree is home to a exhibit area within the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, a 2.4 mile boardwalk loop trail, and canoe paddling trails.
The hiking in Zion National Park is world famous. Hikers of all abilities will find trails that lead to sweeping vistas, clear pools, natural arches, and narrow canyons. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive follows the North Fork of the Virgin River upstream through some of Zion’s most outstanding scenery. This road is closed to vehicle traffic from April to October, but regularly scheduled shuttle busses provide a great way to relax and enjoy the scenery or stop to take a hike.
Formed by volcanoes 23 million years ago, Pinnacles National Park is located in central California near the Salinas Valley. The park covers more than 26,000 acres and hosted 230,000 visitors in 2017. By comparison, its neighbor Yosemite National Park welcomed more than four million visitors.
28 species of cactus can be found in the park including the namesake organ pipe. Unlike the stately saguaro that rises in a single trunk, the organ pipe is a furious clutter of segments shooting up from the base, a cactus forever in celebratory mode—throwing its arms in the air like it just doesn’t care. A striking resemblance to the pipes of a church organ prompted its moniker.
There is a peculiar pleasure in riding out into the unknown—a pleasure which no second journey on the same trail ever affords.
Every destination has a story, no matter how small
When compared to lush tropical forests or sweeping grasslands, deserts may not seem like the most welcoming habitat to plan a trip around. However, a closer study of these vast expanses of earth and sand reveals a world of boundless opportunity with activities to suit any traveler. For those who wish to trek amidst remarkable rock formations, observe some of nature’s hardiest creatures, and gaze skyward towards a brilliant mosaic of stars and planets, the vast deserts of the southwestern U.S. are a paradise on earth.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in the remote reaches of southern Utah near the town of Bryce (convenient, eh?). Weather-wise, Bryce Canyon makes the mercury mercurial, with big temp shifts from season to season and even day to day. This is due to Bryce’s dizzying elevation—a cool 8,000–9,000 feet—and makes it a much cooler park than nearby Zion.
In spite of the name, there’s no single canyon in Bryce “Canyon”—the region is actually made up of multiple natural amphitheatres, many of which are rife with thin stone spires referred to as “hoodoos”. The park is packed with trails suited for amateur and experienced hikers alike. Even if you’re not keen on exploring the great outdoors, make sure to stop at Sunrise Point—this overlook provides an all-encompassing view of the park in all its glory.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Roughly 250 million years ago, the state we now know as New Mexico was covered in a shallow expanse of water known as the Permian Sea with layer upon layer of dissolved gypsum sinking to the sea floor over the years. Fast-forward to the modern era and this prehistoric sea has dried up leaving the largest gypsum dunefield on earth in its wake.
Though the 145,000-acre expanse of pillowy sand is the main attraction around here, be sure to make a pitstop at the park’s visitor center for an introduction to the inner workings of the harsh desert ecosystem. A surprising amount of nocturnal insects, reptiles, and mammals call the park home today, but some of the most fascinating beasts in the area died out millions of years ago. Though you can’t see them in person, keep a close eye on the sand around you—fossilized footprints of giant ground sloths, dire wolves, and saber-toothed cats have been discovered buried just below the earth.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
While many national parks around the country are home to vast forests this particular preserve in eastern Arizona comes with a twist—the trees here have all been dead for hundreds of millions of years transmuted into colorful slabs of stone through a process called “permineralization”. Jasper Forest and Crystal Forest are two popular sites for encountering masses of petrified wood, but the park has more to offer than just former trees.
A broad region of rocky badlands encompassing more than 93,500 acres, the Painted Desert is a vast landscape that features rocks in every hue—from deep lavenders and rich grays to reds, oranges, and pinks. It’s like you’ve been transported into a painting. The park is also a fascinating destination for archeology buffs with multiple sites containing relics from bygone indigenous civilizations that once thrived here.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Encompassing portions of both the Colorado and Mojave deserts, this world-famous preserve consists of over 790,000 acres making it larger than the state of Rhode Island. While the park earned its name thanks to an abundance of spiky Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), there are hundreds of desert species that call the area home ranging from tiny toads to roadrunners to bobcats.
The park is home to a wide array of hiking trails for daytime visitors but overnight campers are in for a special treat—Joshua Tree’s location in the remote reaches of interior California ensures an incredible view of the stars on a clear night.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Yearning to see towering, giant saguaros in their native environment? Saguaro National Park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor near Tucson. Unique to the Sonoran Desert, the park’s giant saguaros reach as high as 50 feet and can live longer than 200 years.
In addition to a broad expanse of desert, Saguaro National Park features mountainous regions—some reaching more than 8,000 feet above sea level. These varied landscapes provide ideal habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna including wildlife such as javelina, coyote, quail, and desert tortoise in the lower elevations and black bear, deer, and Mexican spotted owl in the upper elevations
We use the word wilderness, but perhaps we mean wildness. Isn’t that why I’ve come here? In wilderness I seek the wildness in myself and in so doing come on the wildness everywhere around me. Because, after all, being part of nature I’m cut from the same cloth.
Summer will always be the most popular time to visit national parks. For generations, families have flocked to these precious natural wonderlands to commune with nature—and to crowd hiking trails, overtake campsites, and transform peaceful naturescapes into theme parks. But sometimes you long to experience the natural sounds of nature without the discordant noise of humanity. And to do that may involve packing warm clothes.
Winter is a magical time for many of the parks. The trails clear. The campsites are less likely to be serenaded by a guitar-picking yodeler. Fire danger is down. And, unlike peak season, you’ll feel like you have it mostly to yourself. These are the parks that are at their absolute best in winter.
Zion National Park, Utah
In the summertime, Zion is basically Disneyland. It’s crowded. It’s hot. You’re standing in two-hour lines just to board the tram. End this madness and go during winter. Just 13 percent of Zion visitors journey to the park between November and March for a wintertime visit in 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.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
With average summer highs of 99 degrees, Joshua Tree is just too hot to enjoy for much of the year. However, a great time to visit is in the winter. During January, February, and much of March, Joshua Tree will treat you to mild temperatures and relative quiet. See this strange beauty before the mercury rises and the Coachella Valley Music Festival and spring break crowds arrive. Joshua Tree is not only a national park where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge but also the name of the funky little town outside the park. Give yourself time explore the park as well as the shops and curiosities along the main drag on Twentynine Palms Highway (State Route 62).
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce is beautiful at any time of year, but if you’ve never seen those famous spires and hoodoos dusted with snow then you owe it to yourself to do so. The entire park is an embarrassment of riches come wintertime. There’s cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and a winter festival. The drier air this time of year makes the desert skies unparalleled for stargazing; you’ll find regularly scheduled astronomy programs including full-moon snowshoe hikes at the newly designated International Dark Sky Park. Nowhere else on Earth will you get as vivid a look at Mars overhead while feeling like you’re standing on the Red Planet.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
You may have been curious about Congaree National Park but it wasn’t a place you wanted to visit in summer because the area gets so hot and muggy. Winter, it turns out, is a great time to explore without contending against the park’s dreaded “Mosquito Meter.” The park is a cypress swamp intersected with creeks and lakes. The cypress trees grow with the bases of their trunks underwater. The simplest path for new visitors is the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Trail. Its raised planks are less likely to be washed out than the muddy trails on the ground. Also, this is not a park I’d visit in midsummer, as the bugs are unbearable. Autumn, winter, and early spring (before the bugs come out) are the most enjoyable times of year to visit.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
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 cactus wrens and gaze at petroglyphs with little interruption and minus the oppressive heat. Even better, the backcountry 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.
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park is famous for the approximately 2,000 arches located throughout the park. Driving from the park entrance to the end of the road at Devil’s Garden is a total of 18 miles, one-way. There are numerous spots to pull out and take in the sights of the park. Crowds? No way. Heat stroke? Not very likely! Traffic jams? Nope. Winter is off-season at Arches which means it’s the perfect time to visit. Snow certainly falls in Arches but it rarely sticks around for more than two or three days. It’s a photographic jackpot: one day you’ll get the contrast of snow on the red rock landscapes and the next day the sun will shine, melt the snow, and blue skies will complement the park’s sandstone formations. Basically, winter in Arches is a win-win.
Pinnacles National Park, California
Located along the San Andreas Fault in central California, Pinnacles National Park is of geological significance and is known for its beautiful and diverse habitats that range from spectacular wildflowers to oak woodlands and chaparral scrub, caves, and rock spires. The giant boulders you see at Pinnacles today were formed as a result of volcanic activity that occurred over 23 million years ago. Enjoy hiking trails, rock climbing, exploring caves, star gazing, camping, and bird watching. Boasting a Mediterranean climate, the Park enjoys mild winters with moderate precipitation.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
The largest protected area of Texas, Big Bend is most appealing in winter. Temperatures hover in the 60s, perfect for taking on the park’s nearly 200 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails which span desert, riverside, and mountain terrain. The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. Elevation in the park ranges from 1,800 feet along the river to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures can vary by 20 degrees between the two. Summers are hot; the desert floor is often above 100 degrees. Winter is pleasantly mild and usually sunny. Snow is rare and generally light. Winter visitors should be prepared for any weather; temperatures vary from below freezing to above 80 degrees.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Colder temperatures, shorter days, and snow bring a slower pace to one of the nation’s most visited national parks. After the December holidays, winter visitors find paths less traveled throughout the park. Dramatic winter storms bringing several inches of snow are contrasted with sunny days. Crisp air and a dusting of snow bring a new perspective to the temples and buttes emerging from the canyon floor and provide a perfect backdrop to view the canyon’s flora and fauna. The South Rim of the park is open year round. Winter solitude blankets the North Rim of Grand Canyon which is closed to vehicle traffic during the winter. Pack your jacket and winter gloves, avoid the crowds, and come experience a Grand Canyon winter wonderland!
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Glistening white slopes extend as far as the eye can see. A ski resort in the dead of winter? Hardly! Those white slopes are glistening with grains of sand, not snowflakes. Black-diamond trails drift and shift with the wind. Cars inch forward on a hard-packed white surface. The black-diamond signs refer to the difficulty of navigating gypsum dunes rather than groomed ski trails. And even though the road may look freshly plowed, it is packed sand, not snow that forms the white surface.
Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes the fashioning hand.
With some communities in rebooted lockdown conditions and movement restricted everywhere else, we’re bored, listless, afraid, and uncertain. We get distracted by social media, yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. These conditions generate a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate. Social distancing limits physical contact. Lockdown constricts physical space and movement. Working from home or having lost work entirely both upend routines and habits.
The best part of December 2020 will no doubt take place at 11:59 p.m. on the 31st when all of humanity toasts a new year and welcomes 2021 with something resembling hope.
But until then, here are some ideas for holiday getaways so you can leave 2020 on a high note. Ski slopes are open, holiday lights are twinkling, and road trips are still up for the taking. Trick out the RV and carpe the diem… 2020 is on its way out.
Chill out in Vermont
For a place that’s likely covered with a thick layer of powder as you’re reading this, Vermont in the winter sure gives off a lot of cozy vibes: think glittering icicles on historic covered bridges and mom-and-pop general stores. We’re eyeballing friendly Stowe is an ideal place to visit this winter where you can hit the slopes and fall in love with Vermont.
A winter camping trip offers the opportunity to see another side of Vermont’s beautiful outdoors. Make your home in the snow and bed down for the night amid the silence and serenity of the season. Luckily for winter camping enthusiasts, Vermont State Parks never close and make a great spot to set up camp. The winter months mean the least number of visitors to the parks, which just means more space for you.
Or warm way up in Arizona
Arizona is straight-up gorgeous! Winter is a fantastic time to visit Arizona whether you want to take advantage of all-season camping in its vast wildernesses which includes the Grand Canyon and the criminally under-visited Organ Pipe National Monument. Stop off in lively Phoenix or artsy Tucson or outdoor adventure in Sedona and you might find yourself considering a move. Find yourself in the desert
Speaking of deserts, those expanses are looking extra appealing right now. Maybe it’s time to load up the RV and jaunt through West Texas to see the Marfa lights. Cruise Nevada to gawk at psychedelic geysers that look like they were made by aliens. See art both prehistoric and wildly hallucinogenic in New Mexico. And while California is on lockdown right now, the wide-open outdoor gallery that is the Greater Palm Springs area will still be there. Meanwhile, there’s the Anza Borrego Sculptures like something straight out of a movie. While driving near Borrego Springs you’ll gawk at 130 full-sized metal sculptures out in the middle of nowhere. It really is fun to find yourself among creatures that roamed the desert millions of years ago— real and imagined. There are prehistoric mammals, fanciful dinosaurs, and a 350-foot-long serpent/dragon. Great chance for night photography!
Get a whole national park to yourself
While some national parks close up for the winter, others are at their absolute best when the season changes. And it’s not just cold places like Mount Rainier, Bryce, and Denali, either. You’ll find crowds way, way down at Arches and Joshua Tree, too. And there’s no better time to visit White Sands and Congaree.
Get holly and jolly across the US
The holidays are going to be a slog this year even while the pandemic gives you a solid excuse not to listen to your uncle bloviate over dinner. But there’s still cheer to be had. St. Petersburg, Florida is leaning into the North Pole-with-palm-trees vibe on its new pier and beyond offering up multiple holiday markets, a boat parade, and more. Celebrate the season on the Alabama Gulf Coast with the North Pole Express and Holly Days at the Wharf in Orange Beach. Or head to the festive Bavarian mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington or any number of small towns that go full Clark Griswold with holiday displays.
Go outside and look up
Unless you’re living in Argentina or Chile you’re unlikely to see the total eclipse of the sun. But the skies this month are filled with cosmic action. The Geminid and Ursid meteor shower will peak. Saturn and Jupiter are having close encounters. To experience them, you don’t need to head to a certified Dark Sky site. But it wouldn’t hurt. Try Utah: There are currently 16 designated Dark Sky sites across the state with plans to reach 20 in the very near future. Between national parks, state parks, and national monuments, that means more than any other state in the country.
Or, you could just stay home and pretend you’re somewhere else.
And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.
There’s more to the Grand Canyon State than its namesake
Arizona is brimming with surprisingly underrated and unique cities and towns and southwestern dining guaranteed to take your taste buds for a ride. So grab your camera, hiking boots, and sense of adventure and hit the back roads of the Wild West for an unforgettable journey.
Enveloped by the vast Sonoran Desert, Tucson is a vibrant and colorful southwestern city. Barrio Viejo, meaning old neighborhood in Spanish, is an area near downtown Tucson that is an important, historical part of the community. The original Barrio neighborhood built between 1880 and 1920 using traditional Mexican Village architecture, houses were built of thick-walled adobe with a flat roof, wood beams, and ocotillo, or saguaro cactus ribs, coverings.
At nearby Saguaro National Park witness the towering saguaro cactus—crowned king of the Sonoran Desert—in its native environment. Then, hike to the pinnacle of Mount Lemmon—just north of Tucson, it’s the highest point in the Catalina Mountains.
Just under two hours from Tucson and a 20-minute drive from Phoenix, Scottsdale is a balmy retreat stationed on the edge of the Valley of the Sun. Here, you’ll find high-end shopping, world-renowned spas, and a variety of hiking adventures.
Route 179 is the most scenic between the two destinations. It passes by Casa Grande Ruins, one of the largest prehistoric structures on the continent. Additional outdoor attractions in Scottsdale include the Desert Botanical Garden and Camelback Mountain. See an abundance of cacti, succulents, and colorful wildflowers at the gardens before a four-hour climb to the top of the mountain for 360-degree views of Scottsdale and neighboring Phoenix.
Two hours north is Sedona, a destination for spa enthusiasts, art connoisseurs, and outdoor adventurers alike. This mystical retreat is flanked by red-rock buttes, steep canyons, and pine forests shaping an otherworldly environment that’s equal parts Wild West and understated luxury.
Get there by continuing along Highway 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Break for dessert along the way at Rock Springs Cafe. This landmark, famous for its award-winning pies, was established in 1918. Its close proximity to the highway makes it convenient for road-trippers. Indulge in a seasonal treat like the strawberry rhubarb crumb pie or try its best-selling Jack Daniel’s pecan pie.
A beautiful two-hour drive from Sedona, the magic of the Grand Canyon awaits. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is the cherry on top of an Arizona road trip experience. Take 89A out of the Sedona. Break at Midgley Bridge on the outskirts of Sedona for a quick hike down Oak Creek Canyon.
Check out El Tovar Hotel. This historic property opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for the past 100 plus years. Mere steps from the Grand Canyon’s edge, El Tovar is both elegant and rustic with breathtaking views from every window. The resort’s Dining Room is as close to the canyon as you can get and the authentic cuisine is almost as memorable as the views from the tables closest to the windows.
Experts say the South and North Rims are the best places from which to behold the scale of the natural landmark. The South Rim, right outside El Tovar’s doors, is accessible year-round. Look forward to hikes of varying lengths that cater to explorers of every skill level. Plan a hike at sunrise and bring along a breakfast picnic.
Page, a water sports lover’s paradise, is another three-hour drive north. Continue along 89A toward Utah and reserve several hours for a tour of Antelope Canyon. Weave through the winding walls of this sandstone formation with a camera in hand; the wave-like structures and light that breaks through the canyon’s slots are straight out of a photographer’s fantasy.
Lake Powell is located in northern Arizona and stretches into southern Utah. It’s part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, endless sunshine, warm water, perfect weather, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the west, Lake Powell is the ultimate playground. Rent a houseboat, stay at the campground, or enjoy the lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.
In Page, check into Wahweep RV Park or adjacent Lake Powell Resort. This serene and peaceful property nestled in the heart of the desert boasts old-fashioned allure and modern comforts.
The magic of Horseshoe Bend is a mere stone’s throw south of Page. One of the most iconic venues in Arizona, this unusually shaped bend in the Colorado River is best enjoyed from an overlook that towers 4,000-plus feet above sea level. The easy hike from the parking lot to the overlook is less than a mile.
Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area. Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”. There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.
The seven best destinations for RV travel this December from Southern California to the Sunshine State
September, October, November, and December are where the names that derive from gods as people end and numeric-naming conventions begin. Thanks to the Roman rearranging the numeric names don’t correspond when the actual month appears on the calendar. Decem is Latin for the tenth month.
But in 46 B.C., the beginning of the Julian calendar bumped each of those months backward to create the calendar we all know and use today. Good thing the Roman Empire fell so they could stop moving months around.
Forget summertime: December just might be the best time of year to travel. There are the Christmas classics.
Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September, October, and November. Also check out our recommendations from December 2019.
The Grand Canyon State is a place where you’re amply rewarded for looking beyond the obvious. You’ll find dramatic geology beyond the Grand, rivers beyond the Colorado, and ancient ruins that you’ve probably never heard of. You may equate Arizona with desert but much of the state is mountainous and its home to six national forests. You won’t want to miss the mighty canyon in the state’s far north, but venture farther afield and you’ll find gentler canyon country near Sedona, mountain hiking near Phoenix and Tucson, and some ancient dwellings that are still inhabited.
You’re picturing white sandy beaches, and you’re not wrong: Florida has endless miles of picturesque sand. But it also has countless opportunities for adventure and discovery of Florida’s natural wonders. Everglades National Park, on the southern tip of the state, is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. and an absolutely otherworldly landscape full of rare plants, alligators, and birds. The Keys are paradise for wreck diving while the interior of the state is full of crystal-clear springs ready for swimming and hiking and biking trails that meander through cypress forests.
Texas is divided into numerous climatic zones. Each zone has its own weather patterns. During the winter, most RV travelers choose the Texas Gulf Coast, Central Texas, or South Texas. The Gulf Coast and Central Texas typically have daytime highs in the 60s during the winter months, while highs average around 70 in the southernmost parts of the state. Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi have RV parks that are open year round. From Brownsville to Mission the Rio Grande Valley welcome thousands of Winter Texans looking for a warm winter home.
Well-known for weather that remains balmy year round, Southern California is an ideal winter destination for RV travelers. Temperatures in San Diego and Los Angeles rarely drop much below 70 degrees and precipitation is minimal. The beaches are open, as are all of the region’s attractions. Note that Southern California is a popular winter destination for travelers of all types, not just those in RVs. Expect crowds and high prices throughout the winter season.
Alabama Gulf Coast
The Alabama Gulf Coast is warmed by sunshine, history, culture, and unspoiled natural beauty. You’ll find 32 miles of sugar-white sand beaches made almost entirely of fine, quartz grains washed down from the Appalachian Mountains thousands of years ago. Once you visit the Gulf Coast area of Baldwin County, you quickly realize these are some of the finest beaches in the world and one of America’s hidden gem locations. You’ll yearn to return year after year to feel the sand between your toes, splash around in the turquoise water, smell the salty air and admire the jaw-dropping sunsets of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Tucson is a city set in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The city is surrounded by several mountain ranges, such as the Santa Catalinas. You’ll find a strong historical heritage here with a number of restored historic mansions in the El Presidio and Barrio Historic Districts. The University of Arizona is based here and the area around campus has many unique shops, a variety of nightclubs, and quality restaurants. Saguaro National Park is easily accessible and offers stunning desert vistas with saguaro cacti. Winter is somewhat busy in Tucson with mild temperatures compared to much of the year.
Eat your way through the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Lockhart is home to three of Texas’ most legendary barbecue joints: Kreuz Market (go for the sausage, stay for the smoky pork chops), Black’s BBQ (dinosaur beef rib, anyone?), and Smitty’s Market (lines form for a taste of its shoulder clod, brisket, hot links, and pork ribs). Why not try all three in a day? If you are a Texas BBQ enthusiast, all roads should go through Lockhart.
Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.
Historically, winter RV trips are not the norm—but this year has been anything but normal
At a time when many industries are experiencing record lows and astronomical budget cuts, recreational vehicle sales are up—and not just by a little bit. Year-end totals for 2020 are predicted to hover around 425,000 units—nearly a 5 percent gain from 2019. And, 2021 predictions are looking even brighter with most estimates creeping near a 20 percent increase over 2020.
The pandemic has introduced a new audience to the world of RVs, once the province of the baby boomer generation. Younger folks are driving the trend, gravitating toward smaller camper vans and vehicles under 30 feet in length. The new buyers don’t often have experience, either.
For the first time we’re seeing people buy the products sight unseen. They’re paying for the vehicle online, getting it delivered to their home, and getting out there for the first time in their lives.
But there is another significant difference, too: Buyers are interested in extending the travel season. According to a 2020 impact survey conducted by Thor Industries, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they were still planning trips in October and November, a clear indication that consumers are eager to make up for lost time.
Winter road trips are possible, as long as travelers take the necessary precautions. Plan ahead when looking for places to camp since many designated campgrounds close for the winter. This means many travelers will boondock or camp off-the-grid without connections to power or water sources. If you’ll be adventuring in extremely cold conditions, consider adding additional insulation to holding tank areas and running your thermostat higher to keep the vehicle warmer and avoid frozen water lines. It’s a good idea to take a cold-weather practice run to understand the capabilities of your new RV.
To get you started in planning a winter journey, check out the five winter RV road trip destinations listed below. Each highlights natural beauty and ample opportunities to get outside for some fresh—and potentially brisk—air.
The Big Five, Southern Utah
Named as such by the state of Utah, the Big Five are the five national parks spread throughout the southern half of the state: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. Each park boasts a unique look at the state’s famed geologic formations and scenery ranging from Angel’s Landing (a popular hike in Zion) to the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile wrinkle in the earth’s surface in Capitol Reef. For RVers, this stretch of canyon country is a perfect winter journey thanks to the smaller crowds and ephemeral views of dazzling snow on red sandstone.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
New Mexico tends to be a drive-through state for many RV travelers, and that is a shame. RVers should spend a week in Santa Fe before directing their rig toward Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, and nearly 40,000 ducks. Continue south to White Sands National Park, the newest addition to the National Park Service’s lineup after its re-designation from a national monument in late 2019. Tucked away toward the southern border of the state shared with Texas, it is easy to see why White Sands is dubbed “like no place else on Earth.” Stark-white gypsum sand dunes fill a 275-square-mile region that amounts to a veritable (and socially distant) playground for those willing to explore.
Verde Valley, Arizona
Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country. The beautiful red rocks of Sedona, the quirkiness of an old mining town (Jerome), and the mysteries of stone (Montezuma Castle) left by those who once thrived here but have now vanished. Down the hill from Jerome is Clarkdale, an old copper mining company town now best known for the Verde Canyon Wilderness Train that takes you on a four hour tour of the stunning Verde River Canyon. You’ll find all this and more in the Verde Valley, 90 miles north of Phoenix.
Northeast Georgia Mountains
Northeast Georgia Mountains’ picturesque beauty, countryside, tumbling waterfalls, and gentle-mountains provide an escape away from the bustling city. One of the oldest mountain chains that end in Georgia is the Blue Ridge. Tucked in Chattahoochee National Forest, Blue Ridge offers excellent hiking, scenic drives, and farm-fresh produce. Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains is known to display the season’s first fall colors. Hike to the top for a panoramic 360-degree view and witness the four states from the visitor center. With sublime views and lush forests, Brasstown Bald offers a secluded retreat.
Texas Hill Country
Characterized by tall, rugged hills of limestone and granite, Texas-sized ranches, and refreshing swimming holes, the Hill Country is an outdoor retreat like no other. Get inspired to relax, explore, and enjoy the great outdoors. Settled by Germans and Eastern Europeans, the Texas Hill Country has a culture all its own. Storybook farms and ranches dot the countryside, and you may even still hear folks speaking German in Fredericksburg, Boerne, and New Braunfels. You’ll also find some of the best barbecue in Texas, antique shops on old-fashioned main streets and celebrations with roots in the Old World.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.