Best Winter Road Trips

4 Winter Escapes to Beat the 4 Season Blues

Don’t let winter put a chill on your outdoor adventuring. The so-called “off-season“ might be the best time to visit these Western hot-spots.

death valley dunes

Death Valley

Highlights: best time to visit, mild temperatures, hot springs.

Temperatures this time of year range from 40 to 70 degrees on average, with a monthly precipitation of .5 inches.

With temps topping 120, it's practically impossible to visit much of Death Valley in the Summer months, making winter trips ideal. Temperatures this time of year are almost perfect for camping. And with more mild temperatures, activities like hiking the dramatic, Eureka Dunes (above) and more remote overlanding can finally be done safely. And if you're still a bit skittish about the cold, a great way to cut the early morning chill or relax into an evening's stargazing is to visit the Saline Valley, where numerous hot springs offer a warm, welcomed oasis.

Big Sur ridge camping

Big Sur

Highlights: less crowded, milder weather, available camping, hot springs.

Temperatures this time of year range from 40 to 60 degrees on average, with a monthly precipitation of 9 inches.

Big Sur is know for its spectacular coastline and dramatic display of land and sea, but it's also known to be notoriously difficult to book a campsite. Luckily the winter months can offer a chance at reserving some of the finer spots, like Kirk Creek, Plaskett Creek, and Ventana campgrounds. And even if things still look tight, a passing rainstorm may keep many campers from honoring their reservations, offering up last minute spots to the intrepid and well outfitted. Also, make sure to check out Esalen and Sykes Hot Springs for some winter-time warmth.

yosemite waterfall winter.jpg

Yosemite

Highlights: less crowded, streaming waterfalls, seeing the valley covered in snow.

Temperatures this time of year range from 27 to 50 degrees on average, with a monthly precipitation of 6 inches.

With annual visitorship climbing to over 6 million, Yosemite’s popularity can be felt acutely. And while the warmer months bring the crowds, winter offers a rare opportunity to see the Valley in its raw and natural form. Head to the Park to see the waterfalls in full stream or the valley floor blanketed in a cloak of white. Nothing animates Yosemite’s towering granite walls and spires better than a passing storm, so if you’re up for a little precipitation and a lot of 'wow' moments, then winter is your season. We recommend visiting during the second half of February to catch the annual "firefall" from Horsetail Falls, where the setting sun appears to ignite the falling water as it cascades to the valley floor. Read more about when best to visit and where to camp in Yosemite

eastern sierra hot creek camping

Eastern Sierra

Highlights: Alabama Hills, Mount Whitney, remote hot springs, skiing Mammoth Mountain, bouldering the Buttermilks.

Temperatures this time of year range from 25 to 55 degrees on average, with a monthly precipitation of 1-4 inches.

With so much great stuff to explore in California, it's no wonder the Eastern Sierra is overlooked. Its unsung status as a vacation spot belies its sheer splendor and unique pleasures. There's world-class skiing, rare winter rock climbing, tons of dispersed camping, and sweeping views of the Sierra Nevada's rise from the Owens Valley up to the highest point in the lower 48 at Mount Whitney. We suggest you grab a beer cozy and head to one of the many backcountry hot springs, where even in the middle of January these naturally heated pools can hover around 104 degrees. Picture the face of Japanese Snow Monkey as it bathes in its snowy, mountain spring and you’ll get a pretty good sense of how good this feels. Looking to explore the Eastern Sierra backcountry? Read more about Dispersed Camping below.