Historically, winter RV trips are not the norm — but this year has been anything but normal.
At a time when many industries are experiencing record lows and astronomical budget cuts, recreational vehicle (RV) sales are up — and not just by a little bit. Year-end totals for 2020 are predicted to hover around 425,000 units — nearly a 5 percent gain from 2019. And, 2021 predictions are looking even brighter with most estimates creeping near a 20 percent increase over 2020.
“It’s unprecedented,” says Jon Krider, a vice president of Thor Motor Coach, one of 16 RV companies under the Thor Industries umbrella (others include Airstream, Jayco and Dutchmen). Krider says the pandemic has introduced a new audience to the world of RVs, once the province of the baby boomer generation. Younger folks are driving the trend, gravitating toward smaller camper vans and vehicles under 30 feet long. The new buyers don’t often have experience, either.
“This is the first time we’re seeing people buy the products sight unseen,” Krider says. “They’re paying for the vehicle online, getting it delivered to their home, and getting out there for the first time in their lives.”
But there is another significant difference, too: Buyers are interested in extending the travel season. According to a 2020 impact survey conducted by Thor Industries, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they were still planning trips in October, a clear indication that consumers are eager to make up for lost time.
Krider says winter road trips are possible, as long as travelers take the necessary precautions. In particular, he suggests ensuring that your RV or camper van has front-wheel or all-wheel drive since those perform better in inclement weather than rear-wheel vehicles. He also notes that travelers should plan ahead when looking for places to camp since most designated campgrounds close for the winter. This means travelers will probably practice “boondocking,” or camping off-the-grid without connections to power or water sources. If you’ll be adventuring in extremely cold conditions, consider adding additional insulation to holding tank areas and running your thermostat higher to keep the vehicle warmer. Finally, he suggests making a cold-weather practice run so you understand the capabilities of your new RV.
If you still want to tackle a winter journey, check out the five winter RV road trip destinations listed below. Each highlights natural beauty and plenty of opportunities to get outside for some fresh — and potentially brisk — air.
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Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, via the Upper Peninsula Tucked up in the extreme northern portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) along the Canadian border, Sault Ste. Marie is a picturesque community filled with frozen waterfalls and ice-covered lakes. In particular, travel west an hour to Tahquamenon Falls State Park to view unparalleled beauty, and then go just a few hours farther to explore the glittering destination of the Eben Ice Caves. While many believe everything in the UP is closed during the winter, that is not true. In fact, Tahquamenon offers a few campgrounds year-round, including the Lower Falls-Hemlock campground. The park sees plenty of snowshoers, ice fishers and general day visitors scoping out Mother Nature’s icy wonders, making it a great stopover during a UP adventure.
Bend, Oregon, via Central Oregon Most Oregonian visitors envision moss-covered trees and a verdantly green and dense tree canopy that lends itself to rain more than snow. But head east toward Bend in the central part of the state to experience a real winter wonderland. The 30-minute stretch of road north from Bend to Sisters is rife with snowshoeing, sledding and fishing. RVers looking to stretch their legs even more will be happy to stop over at Mount Bachelor (30 minutes west of Bend) for some classic Pacific Northwest skiing. As in most parts of the country, camping options are limited in this region, but RV owners typically have good luck with the Bend-Sunriver Camping Preserve, a 283-acre year-round campground with 80 RV sites.
The Big Five, southern Utah Colloquially named as such by the state of Utah, the Big Five are the five national parks spread throughout the southern half of the state: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands. Each park boasts a unique look at the state’s famed geologic structures and scenery, ranging from Angel’s Landing (a popular hike in Zion) to the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile wrinkle in the earth’s surface in Capitol Reef. For RVers, this stretch of canyon country is a perfect winter journey thanks to the smaller crowds and ephemeral views of dazzling snow on red sandstone. While some campgrounds are closed, quite a few are open all winter, including Willow Wind RV Park in Hurricane, just outside of Zion National Park. With 177 RV sites and daily/weekly/monthly rates, Willow Wind is a good option for RV travelers wanting to post up for a few days to explore the surrounding area before heading on to the next park.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico For some reason, New Mexico tends to be a drive-through state for most RV travelers, and that is a shame. In particular, RVers should nab a few days on skis at Taos Ski Valley before directing their rig through Santa Fe and toward White Sands National Park, the newest addition to the National Park Service’s lineup after its re-designation from a national monument in late 2019. Tucked away toward the southern border of the state shared with Texas, it is easy to see why White Sands is dubbed “like no place else on Earth.” Stark-white gypsum sand dunes fill a 275-square-mile region that amounts to a veritable (and socially distant) playground for those willing to explore. There are no RV-friendly campgrounds within the park boundaries, but the nearby Desert Paradise Mobile Home and RV Park is only 12 miles from White Sands and offers nightly stays at any of its 58 RV pull-through sites.
The Overseas Highway, Florida If you’re really itching for a winter road trip but don’t want to bother with snowflakes or chilly temperatures, head south toward the Sunshine State’s 113-mile Overseas Highway that stretches from mainland Florida all the way through the Keys to the southernmost tip of the contiguous United States. The scenery is spectacular as the route travels over 42 bridges spanning azure waters, but the highlight of the adventure is all of the beach stops along the way in Key Largo and Islamorada. With nearly two dozen RV parks scattered throughout the Keys, it’s easy to find a place to stay. But those with larger RVs may want to call ahead or consider staying in any of the campgrounds in the upper keys closer to the mainland since the lower keys’ campgrounds can’t always accommodate larger (Class A) rigs.
Rochfort is a writer in Carbondale, Colo. Her website is heatherbaloghrochfort.com. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @HeatherRochfort.
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