Top 3 Winter Road Trips to Escape the Cold
National Parks, Trip Ideas & Guides, Winter Road Trips
Winter means it’s time to head for warmer temperatures. Get yourself a camper van and take advantage of off-season rates and smaller crowds.
Whether you head west or east, you’ll find great places to camp and enjoy some natural beauty on these three winter road trips.
Winter Road Trip #1 – Southern California
Average Temperature (December to March): 65-73°F high, 38-50°F low
Nearest Escape Depot: Los Angeles
While much of the country prepares for snow in the winter months, the weather in California (outside of the mountains, of course) remains comfortable throughout the season.
North to Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is about 2 hours north of our Los Angeles depot, and there’s a lot to hit along the way. Santa Monica is just 30 minutes up the coast, where you can stroll along the iconic Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade, and the Getty Villa (also a great place to spot celebs!). Head up Pacific Coast Highway 1 through the surf destination of Malibu before you hit Ventura (our namesake for the Ventura model!) and eventually the college town of Santa Barbara.
- Matilija Hot Springs is 30 mins away from Ventura if rustic natural sulfur hot spring pools are your thing.
- Stop by In-N-Out and get the “animal style” burger off the secret menu at some point (or many points!) during your drive.
South to San Diego
San Diego is about 2 hours south of our Los Angeles depot (depending on traffic, of course). This is where you can hit all the famous beaches (Huntington, Venice, Newport, Laguna… old MTV reruns, anyone?). After that, San Clemente is a beautiful little city to explore on the way down. You’ll find plenty of beaches and attractions in the San Diego area, but don’t have too much fun that you keep driving down to Mexico! (It’s not covered under insurance.)
The further south you go, the better the Mexican cuisine will be. Wahoo’s Fish Tacos is a popular one, but don’t forget about the hole-in-the-wall stops.
Cruising down PCH and I-5 is the perfect time to belt out some California road trip classics. A few tunes to get you in the mood:
- “Beverly Hills,” Weezer
- “California,” Dr. Dog
- “California,” Joni Mitchell
- “California Dreamin’,” The Mamas & the Papas
- “California Girls,” The Beach Boys
- “California Gurls,” Katy Perry
- “California Love,” Tupac Shakur
- “California Stars,” Billy Bragg
- “California Sun,” Ramones
- “Californication,” Red Hot Chili Peppers
- “Dani California,” Red Hot Chili Peppers
- “Going Back to Cali,” The Notorious B.I.G.
- “Going to California,” Led Zeppelin
- “Hotel California,” The Eagles
- “I Love L.A.,” Randy Newman
- “L.A.,” Murs
- “L.A. Woman,” The Doors
- “Paradise City,” Guns N’ Roses
- “Santa Monica,” Everclear
- “Welcome to Paradise,” Green Day
East to Death Valley & Joshua Tree
If you’ve had enough of beaches and big city life, it’s time to hit the national parks! Winter is one of the best times of the year to visit Death Valley (about a 5-hour drive from LA), as it’s unbearably hot there in the summer. Alternatively, if you’re in the mood to listen to some Bono, Joshua Tree is just 2.5 hours from LA, has fewer crowds before springtime, and wildflower viewing as early as February. Swing by Palm Springs nearby to come back tan from your trip and make everyone at home in the cold jealous!
- Fill up your gas tank before you head into Death Valley. It’s a long way between filling stations out there.
Winter Road Trip #2 – Arizona
Average Temperature (December to March): 60-70°F high, 33-48°F low
Nearest Escape Depot: Phoenix
There’s never been a better time to explore Arizona! Fly into Phoenix and go round trip or one way to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver… wherever your heart desires. You can read our full American Southwest itinerary for more information, but here are some of the highlights.
Grand Canyon National Park
What would an Arizona road trip be without a stop at the Grand Canyon? One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, the 277-mile-long canyon is a mile deep and 18 miles across at its widest point. If you’re just passing by, you can see the Grand Canyon in all of its glory from the road (time it so you can watch the sunset, if you can). If you have more time to spare, take a multi-day hike from rim-to-rim or to the bottom.
Saguaro National Park
The giant saguaro is the symbol of the American Southwest and the state flower–and you’ll find plenty of them here. Stop at the visitor center for facts about saguaro (like how they can grow to be 60 feet tall!), then drive the Cactus Desert Scenic Loop Drive.
Petrified Forest National Park
The best location in the US to see petrified wood is found here in a particularly beautiful range of bright colors. There are fossils, badlands, buttes and mesas, ancient petroglyphs, wildlife and wildflowers, and vast vistas for more than a hundred miles.
You may not be in the middle of nowhere while visiting this place, but you can definitely see it from there. Located on Highway 163 between the towns of Kayenta and Mexican Hat (make sure you stop over and get a Navajo Taco), this is the land that time forgot. For a $5 fee—paid to the Navajo Nation—you can drive the 17-mile loop taking you on a meandering path around the Monuments.
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
This remote and unspoiled 294,000-acre monument is a geologic treasure, containing Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes and Paria Canyon. Keep in mind that the most popular areas, like Coyote Butte, require hiking permits no matter what time of year you visit.
Havasu Canyon Trail
This strenuous 8-mile hike takes you to five beautiful blue-green waterfalls. A dirt trail will take you over two small bridges to turquoise swimming holes and waterfalls that reach up to 200 feet high. Make sure you get a permit months in advance!
Seligman, Route 66
If you want a feel of what Route 66 used to be back in the days of Kerouac, this is your place. Pull over, grab a chili dog and chocolate malt at the Snow Cap and wander around town.
This is one of the most iconic roadside stops in all of Arizona—a “must-see-to-believe” sort of geologic formation at Lake Powell.
Located minutes from Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon is easily the most photographed slot canyon in the world. You’ll need a guide for this trip, so try to sign up in advance.
Winter Road Trip # 3 – Florida
Average Temperature (December to March): mid-70s F high, 53-66°F low
Nearest Escape Depot: Orlando
With the warmest temperatures on our list, Florida is the ideal destination for a winter road trip. It also happens to be one of the best times of the year to visit the area, so take advantage of it!
Here, you’ll find diverse cultures, a thriving arts scene, delicious food, pristine ocean beaches… and plenty of nightlife. Walk through the bustling streets past historic homes with Spanish words and Caribbean music floating into your ears—a unique experience you don’t often get to have anywhere else in the US.
- Art Basel is an international modern and contemporary art fair with three shows staged annually in Basel, Switzerland; Miami Beach, Florida; and Hong Kong. It comes to Miami in December.
- Little Havana is Miami’s vibrant Cuban hub. Cafes sell Cuban coffee to cigar-smoking patrons. On Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street), locals discuss politics over dominoes at Maximo Gomez Park. The historic Tower Theater screens independent and revival films, while the area’s clubs host live Latin music.
Everglades National Park
The largest subtropical wilderness area in North America, the Everglades makes the top of many Escapee to do lists. While the winter dry season is by far the most crowded time of year here, it’s also the most enjoyable (tolerable temperatures and fewer bugs make a big difference). The park protects the largest habitat in the world of rare and endangered species like the manatee, the Florida panther and the American crocodile. We’ve still yet to see a panther, but we have high hopes for a sighting one day.
Make sure you head east/west on I-73 for a few miles west of the Everglades National Park. Known as Alligator Alley, this is a world-class drive by any standard.
The archipelago is created by 1700 islands, and 42 bridges connect them along this 113-mile (181 km) section of US Highway 1. The epic trip starts just south of Miami and dead ends at the world famous community of Key West. While the area is known as a party destination, it’s also a great place to enjoy outdoor pursuits like kayaking in Bahia Honda State Park and see beautiful Victorian homes, art galleries, and beaches.
Ready to Take Your Winter Road Trip?
Note that while temperatures are mild during the winter, it’s still important to pay attention to driving conditions. Some mountain passes and towns at higher elevations may be snowy, so it’s always a good idea to bring along a basic winter survival kit. We offer snow chains and ice scrapers for rent, as well as heaters and extra blankets for free.
If you’re ready to escape the cold with a winter road trip, then go ahead and make your camper van reservation. Whether you visit Southern California, Arizona or Florida, you’re sure to have a great time and beat the winter blues.