By Jake McKenzie
While incoming flurries keep many people barricaded in their homes, some winter warriors like to take to the highways and see the country during one of the most beautiful times of year.
Though summertime seems to be the official road-trip season, we know firsthand that great excursions can be taken in the wintertime as well. When you own an RV, you owe it to yourself to get out and see America at its chilliest – or escape your own cold climate for a warmer oasis.
However, you wouldn’t want to take the RV just anywhere. We’ve all heard tales of light snows in Atlanta creating seven-hour delays and the like. And, while it would be easy to chuckle at the winter-driving prowess of the southern states, the fact is many of these places simply don’t have the bandwidth in place for heavy snow removal. After all, 12 inches of snow in Chicago is a lot more drivable than 2 inches in Dallas.
So, you’ve got the RV gassed up and you’re ready to embark on a search for America’s greatest cup of cocoa or to kiss Old Man Winter goodbye in search of the greatest margarita. You’ve just got one question – what destination should you punch into your GPS? Check out this list of the Top 10 small towns to visit on an RV road trip this winter.
Affectionately known as “the last real mountain town,” Jackson, Wyoming, offers a picture perfect snowcapped getaway destination in a nutshell. Nestled in the Jackson Hole valley within the Teton Mountain Range near the southern border of Idaho, Jackson Hole is like something you’d see on the front of a postcard. Arts and culture abound, Jackson also boasts world-class spas and seemingly endless shopping in its historic Gaslight District.
Thrill-seekers visiting Jackson will also enjoy the shooting ranges, skiing, tubing and snowmobiling. This town knows a thing or two about winter conditions, and as a result its streets and sidewalks are always plowed, salted and open for business. Plus, a wide variety of campgrounds and RV parks can be found all over the area.
Seemingly erected overnight in 1878 during the turn-of-the-century gold rush, it’s hard to imagine a better place to take in the crisp mountain air than Telluride, Colorado. Built by Swiss and Italian immigrants, Telluride (with a population just over 2,000) still holds many touches and traditions from its own rich history.
After a day of skiing, the shopping and eating along Telluride’s historic main street will be just what the doctor ordered. When you see it in the snow, you’ll have a hard time thinking of a more picturesque winter getaway destination. And with over 170 designated campsites, you won’t have any trouble finding a place to park the RV.
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Further south, almost near the New Mexico border, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, eagerly awaits your winter arrival.
The natural hot springs this town was built around will be steaming in the brisk winter air and beckoning you to take a dip. These natural, outdoor hot tubs are rich in minerals and known to ease aches and pains – just be sure to have a towel ready for when you finally pull yourself out. If outdoor soaking is not your style, there are also a wealth of indoor spas in this resort town.
Additionally, the craft beer and brewery scene is alive and well in Pagosa Springs. At Pagosa Brewing Company you can even order a piping hot bowl of chili along with your award-winning IPA. Not to mention dog sledding, ice fishing, skating, skiing and sleigh rides – Pagosa Springs was truly built for your winter enjoyment.
North Conway, New Hampshire
Surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest, the breathtaking beauty of North Conway, New Hampshire, rivals anything Bob Ross could have dreamed up. Thirteen different ski resorts populate the immediate area, and Cranmore’s Adventure Center even allows you to go down the mountain by snow tube or roller coaster! Or you could try “Nordic skiing,” which is sort of like hiking with snowshoes (you know, the tennis rackets you strap to your feet).
Rock climbers will appreciate the multiple ice-climbing locations in North Conway, which is considered one of the top ice climbing destinations in the world. Shopping abounds, and like the rest of New Hampshire, you won’t pay a penny in sales tax in North Conway. North Conway is also home to a wide range of snow-kiting programs. This is where you use the power of a kite to propel you across a snow-covered plain. Sounds fun, right?
While many towns and cities go into hibernation themselves in the colder months, winter is when McCall really comes alive. Its annual winter carnival usually spans a few weeks from January to February and draws upward of 60,000 attendants. There you’ll find snow sculptures, warm food, live music, art sales and Mardi Gras parades. If you think Mardi Gras is just for the Gulf Coast, wait till you see it in the Midwestern snow!
Camping, cabins and RV parks are a-plenty in McCall and being just a couple of hours south of Boise, the drive isn’t bad at all. Plus, the food is great. Midwestern fare done right can be found all over this town, but a gourmet foodie and wine aficionado will be right at home as well. And anytime you’re in Idaho, don’t forget to eat plenty of potatoes.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
If the hot springs sounded nice, but the cold Colorado air did not, then Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, is your destination. This warmer southwestern town also boasts a wide variety of spas and natural hot springs. In fact, the city itself used to be called Hot Springs, that is until the NBC game show Truth or Consequences offered to host a special taping in any city that would rename itself “Truth or Consequences.” The rest is history.
Though you’ve missed the game show taping by about nearly 70 years, you can still try your luck in Truth or Consequences this year. If warm winter weather is your desire, you’re sure to come out on top. The name of the town isn’t it’s only ties to television either, you can also visit media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner’s Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa.
When Spanish explorers first laid eyes on Carmel-by-the-Sea in the 1500s, they knew they had found something special. Since then, this warm winter getaway has been a staple for writers and artists who admire the warmth and beauty of this picture-perfect seaside town. With more than 15 wine tasting rooms, the vineyards and wine cellars of Carmel-by-the-Sea will be a dream come true for the wine connoisseur and novice alike.
While Carmel-by-the-Sea stays temperate year around, it does tend to cool down to the fifties or sixties in the heart of winter. Still, this weather is nicer than much of the country will be, and the chance to enjoy the quaint cottages, shopping and restaurants this town has to offer without the crowds of summertime vacationers is an opportunity you won’t want to miss. Plus, a cool morning stroll along a deserted Carmel Beach will make you feel like the king of the world.
San Luis Obispo, California
Another Golden State addition to the list is San Luis Obispo, California. Referred to as “SLO” by its local citizens, this entertainment hub is anything but slow. An outdoor attitude whirls through this entire town which fills its winter with film festivals, beer festivals, car shows, and more. The laid-back vibe of SLO makes it a common celebrity vacation spot, famous regular visitors range from Willie Nelson to Snoop Dogg.
The warm Mediterranean climate of San Luis Obispo will be a welcomed change of pace in the middle of a grueling winter. It will also provide the perfect weather to walk and observe the beautiful 18th century Spanish architecture. Many consider SLO to be one of the last bastions of 18th century Spanish-built structures.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
When you think of Alabama, you probably don’t think of sunny beaches and the salty surf. Maybe that explains why Gulf Shores, Alabama, has remained such a well-kept secret. This sunny and secluded beach town rivals any other beach in the country – with half the crowds, especially in the winter months. Still, even in January these bright and shiny beaches are stunningly beautiful, and totally swimmable.
Plus, live jazz, unique shopping and unbelievably good Cajun cuisine are around every corner. After all, you are in the heart of the Gulf Coast. Best of all, Gulf Shores is a RV driver’s dream! Wide roads, ample parking and RV parks every which-way – this is the winter beach getaway you could be going on year after year.
Last but not least, you can’t forget Reno, Nevada. “The Biggest Little City in the World” is sure to warm up your winter travels – not just with its warm desert climate, but with its bright lights as well. Reno offers the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, without the need to pilot your RV into such heavy traffic. And there is so much more than gambling – world-class restaurants, museums and entertainment are all just steps away from Reno’s centralized RV parks.
Plus, Reno is absolutely surrounded by the beautiful Nevada landscapes that most people never see. Hiking, rock climbing and rafting are all easily accessible not far from city limits, and the scenic drive-in is almost worth the trip itself. In fact, beautiful North Lake Tahoe is just a short drive away, and the sights are incredible!
We hope this list has been helpful in providing ideas for your next winter road trip. Your RV is the perfect vehicle to take you somewhere where you can really enjoy the winter, or pretend winter doesn’t exist. Wherever you end up, just remember to drive safe – and stay warm!
Jake McKenzie is the content manager for Snow Plows Direct, a fast-growing online retailer of commercial and personal snow plows and salt spreaders