Winter is here, and that means RVers need to A) stay south to keep warm, B) find ways to keep their RVs cozy and safe through the winter weather, or C) winterize their rigs for the season. Our family always chooses to stay south in order to keep enjoying traveling in our RV, and this year we decided to try out the beginning of the cold season in the Desert Southwest.
Generally, we head to Florida for the cold season, so our time spent in the desert during the winter this time around has been a huge change of pace. That said, we’re having an absolute blast and we 100% recommend it to anyone. Some of our favorite things that we’ve seen so far have been the awesome national parks in the area.
Below are the parks we’ve visited (and plan to visit), as well as what we loved about each.
The first step on our winter trek to the west was Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This place was incredible, and since you are in a cave—where the temperature doesn’t really change much anyway—you can totally visit the park on a cold day, making it a great option if a cold front comes through.
Since we were visiting with an antsy 3-year-old, we chose to take the self-guided tour of the “Big Room.” That said, there are also ranger-guided tours that sound totally awesome. We did have to make a reservation beforehand—yes, even for the self-guided tour—so be sure you do that.
In addition to the amazing cave, this park is also home to some beautiful hiking trails and a great visitor center with tons of displays and information. Make sure you schedule enough time to explore those.
Note: We missed this since we visited during the winter, but if you happen to visit between late May and October, you’ll also want to experience the Bat Flight Program. I hear it’s phenomenal!
Where to Stay
For this part of our trip, we chose to stay on the BLM land right outside of the park. There are also two free established dry campgrounds right by the park. Look for Sunset Reef Campground or Chosa Primitive Campground to find this free camping.
Located not too far from Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park was also well worth visiting. This is an absolutely beautiful mountainous park that is a hiker’s dream come true.
Unfortunately, we are limited when it comes to the kinds of hikes we can take because we have the aforementioned 3-year-old in tow, but we thoroughly enjoyed the mile-long McKittrick Canyon Nature Loop Trail, which gave us some great views and allowed us to get up close and personal with the local flora.
We also spent some time in both the Pine Springs and McKittrick Canyon Visitor Centers. We enjoyed the exhibits in the Pine Springs Location as well as the short video at the McKittrick Canyon center.
Where to Stay
We didn’t move our RV to visit Guadalupe Mountains, National Park. You could absolutely visit this park from either of the free dry campgrounds mentioned above.
Our next stop was Alamogordo, NM, where we visited White Sands, National Park. We first stopped at Walmart to pick up some cheap sand sleds (which they stock year-round) then made a trip to the visitor center to buy sled wax from the gift shop and watch the park video. The kids also really enjoyed the exhibits in this visitor center and we spent some time checking those out.
We didn’t hike while in White Sands. Instead, we headed to the Interdune Boardwalk, chose a place we thought looked nice, and hopped off the trail to do some sand sledding. This was so much fun! The sand was cool to the touch and it was so fine and soft that it made it possible to sled quite fast.
We had a blast sledding the dunes and admiring the beauty of the bright white sand against the bright blue desert sky. We all agreed this was a new favorite park and that we would definitely return to explore more.
Where to Stay
We wanted a break from boondocking, so we stayed at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. The price was right (I think we paid less than $20 a night), we had water and electric hookups, the dump station was clean (albeit with limited hours, so don’t expect to dump as you come in after sunset), and the bathhouses were great.
We wouldn’t hesitate to stay at this state park again, but there was also boondocking available right outside of the park if you prefer a free option.
Next up was Saguaro National Park. This was an absolutely stunning place, and seeing the saguaro cacti in person was just incredible. We went to both the Rincon Mountain and Red Hills visitor centers and enjoyed them both. Each one has a nice video as well as exhibits about the park.
The view from the Red Hills location is spectacular, but we also adored the cactus garden at the Rincon Mountain center. We recommend checking out both locations if you can, but if you have to choose just one, go to the Rincon Mountain Center.
Why do we recommend the Rincon Mountain Center? Because of the amazing drive, we took from that location. This visitor center is home to the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. We did the loop, stopping for short hikes and photos along the way, and absolutely loved it. Definitely a highlight of the trip!
Where to Stay
We ended up boondocking again for this part of our trip. We stayed at the Snyder Hill BLM and it was fine, but not great. The “roads” to find a campsite was really just paths and were very rough. Besides that, it was the most crowded boondocking spot we’ve ever stayed in.
Would we stay there again? Probably for a few days to visit Tucson again, but not for long. If we were staying for more than a few nights, we’d try out The RV Park at Pima County Fairgrounds, which is supposed to be decent.
Last on my list is Joshua Tree National Park. To be honest, we haven’t made it to this park yet this year, but we’ve been before. Our last visit was several years ago, but I remember loving this park and can’t wait to see it again.
One of the things I remember loving most about this park was that it is a dark sky park. This means that if you go out after dark, you are treated to some of the most beautiful night skies you will ever see. We will absolutely be doing this again.
Where to Stay
Our current plan is to stay at Palm Springs RV Resort which is part of our Thousand Trails membership. That said, we happen to know that there is plenty of good boondocking just outside of the park, so if you’re looking for free options, you might want to start there.
About the author: Chelsea Gonzales
Chelsea has the amazing opportunity to take part in full-time RV living and traveling with her tiny tribe. She homeschools her five-year-old son as they travel, and takes full advantage of their unique situation by using the entire world as her son’s classroom. A group of total Disney fanatics, Chelsea and her family often find themselves in the Orlando area in order to visit the Disney parks, but they have also visited over 25 of the 50 states with plans to see many more along the way. No matter where her travels take her, Chelsea enjoys riding bikes, gazing at beautiful sunsets, finding new coffee shops, Irish dancing, and sitting around a campfire with her family.
You can join her adventures through her blog, Wonder Wherever We Wander.
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