By Sylvia Karcz, Contributing Blogger
Itching to hit the road this winter? We’ve rounded up some of our favorite wintertime road trip destinations for the adventurous and active-at-heart.
Acadia National Park | Maine
Skip the crowded trails, limited parking, and at-capacity campgrounds that come with warm-weather visits to Acadia National Park. For utmost tranquility, a winter road trip to Maine’s coastal gem provides an idyllic New England experience.
Expect the same million-dollar views, mixed with snowy backdrops. For avid hikers, the park’s spruce and pine-lined trails will feel like crossing into a fairytale winterscape- one you’ll have (mostly) to yourself! Find loads of cross-country ski trails and snowshoeing options, too. Or, try ice climbing the park’s frozen oceanside cliffs with a local guiding outfit.
Before arriving to Acadia’s gateway of Bar Harbor, stop in a few of Maine’s other historic harbor towns, like Ogunquit, Boothbay Harbor, and Camden. Winter provides a peaceful saunter through their quirky shops, quaint mom-and-pop eateries, and secluded beaches.
Moab | Utah
From hiking and mountain biking, to canyoneering, rock climbing, skiing and off-roading, Moab in the winter makes for an action-packed trip. I love that you can be on a backcountry ski tours in the La Sal Mountains one day, and winding through sandstone arches on thigh-burning trails the next.
Definitely make time for a drive to Castle Valley, where you can hike up to some of the most famous desert towers in the world. The Indian Creek Recreation Area, about an hour from Moab, is another worthwhile outing. There, you’ll find ancient petroglyphs and unique sandstone cracks that make it a mecca for traditional rock climbing.
Off-season also means it’s an ideal time to explore Arches National Park and neighboring Canyonlands. Especially after a snowfall, the contrast of white powder drifts and vibrant rock makes for an unforgettable sight.
Leavenworth | Washington
Craving a winter vacation abroad but don’t want to leave home soil? A road trip to the picturesque, Bavarian-inspired town of Leavenworth will transport you to central Europe without the fuss of flying. You’ll find festive holiday lights and decorated buildings all season long, charming eateries with traditional German dishes, and plenty to keep you engaged in the winter-wonderland of the Central Cascade Mountains.
From snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to snowmobile tours, Leavenworth has something for everyone. There’s plenty of sledding and snow-tubing for family fun with younger ones, too. Downhill skiing and snowboarding more your speed? You can hop on the beginner-friendly, groomed slopes of the Leavenworth Ski Hill just minutes from downtown. Or, head to Stevens Pass for more advanced terrain and backcountry riding.
I wouldn’t miss the 30-minute drive to Lake Wenatchee State Park, either. During winter, the 500-acre park turns into a sprawling adventureland for snow-fueled activities.
Palm Springs | California
Palm Springs is more than midcentury architecture, luxurious spa hotels, and downtown pomp. From Sonoran desert trails within earshot of the city to snowy, high-elevation jaunts in the San Jacinto Mountains –easily accessible with the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway!– there’s a myriad of exciting outdoor outings to be had in the Desert Empire, especially during winter.
Imagine this: you can hike the valley floor at sunrise, be on skis near Mount Saint Jacinto come early afternoon, and climbing amongst Joshua Trees on billion-year-old boulders for sunset!
Besides checking off Joshua Tree National Park for some inspiring vistas, I recommend a stroll through the artsy shops and galleries of neighboring Yucca Valley. A scenic detour to the old-west community of Pioneertown, where you’ll time-travel to an 1870s mining town, is equally warranted. And for some off-kilter sightseeing just a tad south, don’t miss the roadside art installation of Salvation Mountain, a trip to the eerie Salton Sea, and a drive through the fringe community of Slab City.
Silverton | Colorado
Sitting in a remote valley of the San Juan Mountains at about 9,000 feet, Colorado’s historic mountain town of Silverton is as wild of a winter escapade as it gets. If its snow, ice, challenge and adrenaline you crave, a Silverton road trip will deliver.
Although you’ll need nerves of steel to get there - the drive itself gets your heart rate up!- it’s worth it. Sledding and ice skating? Check. Ice climbing and fat-tire snow biking? Yep. Cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails? You bet. Skiing and snowboarding? Let’s just say that Silverton offers the highest and steepest ski area in the country.
So whether you want to take a chair lift into an alpine environment, tour in the backcountry, or splurge on a day of heli-skiing or cat-skiing, Silverton is a thrill-seeker’s snowy paradise.
Key West | Florida
Dreaming of the hot, sun-drenched tropics during winter months? A Key West road trip will provide enough sun, sea, sand and water-fueled adventures to keep you charged up through the rest of winter. From snorkeling and scuba diving, to kayaking, paddle boarding, and gentle hikes under subtropical canopies, there are boundless ways to stay active as you make your way through the Florida Keys.
The drive offers sights you won’t soon forget, either. Sweeping views of the Atlantic in every shade of blue imaginable are a highlight as you traverse the archipelago’s connecting bridges. I suggest taking it slow, and visiting Bahia Honda State Park and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on the way. And when you’ve landed in Key West, soak in the relaxed island vibes, waterfront tiki bars, and eat all the key lime pies you can. If time allows, visiting Dry Tortugas National Park –only accessible by water or plane- makes for a unique (albeit pricey) day excursion or overnight.
Big Bend | Texas
The Big Bend region of southwestern Texas is as remote of a road trip as it gets, but that’s part of the allure. It’s one of the most biodiverse and expansive wild areas of the nation, and winter provides ideal daytime temps for the most active pursuits.
Terlingua is the official entryway to Big Bend National Park, where you’ll find everything from higher-elevation trails in the Chisos Mountains to riverside walks along the Mexican border. And don’t forget about neighboring Big Bend State Park -dubbed “The Other Side of Nowhere.” The fifty-mile stretch of the park’s main road, “El Camino Del Rio,” is toted one of the most scenic drives in the entire country.
En route to Big Bend, the charming towns of Alpine and Marfa make for excellent stopovers to stretch your legs. A stargazing party at the McDonald Observatory is a pretty neat detour, too.
Fairbanks | Alaska
Is viewing the northern lights on your perennial wish list? Perhaps a road trip to the quintessential Alaskan city of Fairbanks is in order! During the darker winter months, you’ll be treated to dancing Aurora Borealis displays nearly every night. It’s, by far, your best shot at seeing northern lights without leaving the country. Better yet, you can see them from the comfort of 100-degree geothermal pools at nearby Chena Hot Springs.
En route, stop in Denali State Park and Denali National Park, and take in views of the highest peak in North America. A short detour to the quirky town of Talkeetna –a hub for mountaineers preparing for climbing expeditions– is a good midway point to stop and enjoy some snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or a flight tour into the Alaska Range.
Las Vegas | Nevada
A Las Vegas road trip…for the nature? It sounds odd, but perhaps it’s the city’s best kept secret. The surrounding landscapes offer some of the most varying and impressive geological features of the region. And Vegas’ strategic location and mild winter temperatures make it perfect for road-tripping during the colder months.
I’d start with the awe-inspiring sandstone vistas of Red Rock Canyon Natural Conservation Area. Although some just do the 13-mile scenic drive, it’s worth hiking amid the sculptural rock formations of the park. Red Rock is also a world-renown rock climbing destination, and winter provides an excellent opportunity to hone skills without the throngs of the Fall season.
Other notable Vegas adventures include a drive up toward Mount Charleston, where you can be skiing, snowboarding or sledding at Lee Canyon during the day and still make it back to The Strip by evening. Heading to Lake Mead for some kayaking, off-roading, cycling or even scuba diving will also leave an impression, as will a trip to Valley of Fire State Park.
Yosemite National Park | California
Even if you’ve experienced Yosemite National Park during warmer seasons, a road trip to the famous valley during the winter months is a glimpse into a whole different world. Especially if you value tranquility, it’ll be a much-welcomed respite from the usual crowds.
Although some roads and entrances may be closed, the Yosemite Valley remains a central hub, and hikes in the area offer some pretty enchanted winter vistas. Iconic monoliths like El Capitan and Half Dome blanketed in snow? There’s nothing like it. It’s a perfect time of year to meander through the giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove, too.
For those looking for a bit more activity, Yosemite’s alpine ski area at Badger Pass offers a bounty of downhill riding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails for every ability. The ice rink at Curry Village is another great way to stay warm, and the view of the Yosemite Valley is unmatched.