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Advice for a Winter trip across the US.

Hi folks,

I will be returning to the US in December and will be driving from the East Coast to the West Coast and camping along the way.  Initially, I had planned to come back in September but COVID-19 stopped that as my airline ticket from Bangkok (where I live) got cancelled.  So I am now set for December.  


So, I'd like some advice from folks as to where you suggest I go.  I won't be dealing with snow so the northern route so those lovely mountains - the Rockies, GT, the Sierras will be missed on this trip but I plan to visit and camp and hike (short 2 or 3 day stays) as I work myself westward.  I am looking at Big Bend National Park, Lincoln National Forest, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Joshua Tree for starters.  I will work my way up the West Coast as far as Seattle so will take a peek at Olympic National Park, again, avoiding snow.

Any other suggestions?  I'm open to all kinds of snow free ideas.  I will have 6 or 7 weeks so not in any hurry..





7 Replies

@DwightET here's a few ideas...

Southern UTAH has Moab and surrounds including, Arches, also Capitol Reef, Zion and Bryce lots of other stuff. There is sometimes snow but I don't think it hangs about.  You should check of course.   Once you are through Death Valley, 395 up the eastern Sierra is open in the winter. Lone Pine and Mt Whitney (lights up at sunrise) , Mammoth, Bodie ghost town (can be snow), Virginia City (more touristy Ghost town havn't been in a while) and you can reliably cross on Highway 80 past Lake Tahoe.  You are suppose to carry chains and you may need to use them but it is function of money...generally there are chain installers and I think they rent chains...not sure how that works since I always had my own but you can probably time it for when the road is dry if you are not in a hurry.  Generally the road around Tahoe and Highway 50 to the west are also open and often dry with the same chain requirement but it closes first if there is snow and chain installers may be less reliable.  You can always come around the southern end. Josuha Trees and Palm Springs could be interesting although I have never been there.  Or the Sierra crossing that goes via Lake Isabella is nice.  If the road is not washed or on fire,  Highway 1 up from Pismo beach but really starting at San Luis Obisbo/ Morro Bay is a nice drive.  San Francisco and wine country.  Going north out of Ca into Or there is Shasta, Lava beds, Crater Lake. Columbia River Gorge for a more central route using 5.. or you can go coastal up 101 and or 1 through the Redwoods.  If you have time  you can do a bit of both.

Grand Canyon and the Lincoln NF may very well may have snow by December; it varies from year to year.   The amount and likelihood of snow will depend upon the altitude; above 7000 feet, snow is common by December.Again, it varies from year to year, so pay attention to the weather report.

I would recommend the Gila Wilderness (Gila NF), the Chiricahua Mountains in S Arizona (at least the lower reaches).  


The West is a wonderland, full of interesting and intriguing locations, whatever your tastes may be.  You can spend your life here and never see it all (spaking from experience!!)

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@DwightET How exciting! As @hikermor already stated, the Grand Canyon often has snow in December (I normally live in Arizona, so I can attest to this). I would recommend a slightly more southern route, closer to Tucson, AZ. Mount Lemmon, located just outside of Tucson, is surrounded by the Coronado National Forest and offers outdoor activities year-round (summit activities in the summer, lower mountain activities in the winter). The wilderness area offers a scenic drive for site-seers, a vast network of hiking/backpacking trails (including part of the AZ Trail!), hundreds of crags for climbers, many free established campsites (as well as free camping on the national forest land), as well as many mountain-biking paths. In this area you will also find the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park. Although the nights get a bit chilly, Mt. Lemmon's lower mountain and the general Tucson area (including the museum and National Park) offer wonderful temperatures for winter adventures (and no snow! - Although you can see the snow that we often get on the upper mountain close to Mt. Lemmon's summit!). If this area interests you, I can tell you more about where to stay / what to do, depending on what you're looking for.

Eastern New Mexico also has White Sands National Monument, which is a beautiful place to visit, although I am not sure about their operating hours/weather conditions in the winter.

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Thanks, bryndsharp!  I guess I want to see the Grand Canyon (even just to peek into it) as I have never seen it.  I went to high school in Riverside, CA and then off to UCLA many years ago but never went to see the Grand Canyon.  Unbelievable...  Any information about the trip I have proposed will greatly appreciated.  I was looking at Saguaro and put their map in my REI wish list.  It's nice that I have pretty much retired and I am free to do as I please these days.  I do plan to return to Thailand in March, probably to tie of a multitude of loose ends before returning to North Carolina (where I ended up in 1973).  


Again, thanks!


@DwightET Totally understandable! As you will be visiting the Grand Canyon in the off season, be sure to call the park and talk to one of the rangers about the conditions that time of year, hiking/viewing availability, and camping (if you plan to camp, otherwise this question is not important). Also, if I remember right their shuttles that take you along the South Rim (which is where you're going to want to go, especially if trying to avoid as much snow as possible) do not run in the off-season, so be sure to take this into account.

If you end up going to the Grand Canyon, take the short drive down to Sedona, AZ - there are some beautiful views and rock formations in this area. Sedona is also known to have snow at times in the winter, however, so be sure to do your research about this prior to going.

If you want a good place to see the stars, Saguaro National Park (Personally I'd recommend the East park over the West park - the park is divided into two locations) and Mt. Lemmon are two great options for places to camp snow-free and see the stars in winter.

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As lonng as we are discussing Arizona locations, this old desert rat waants to weigh in.... Talking about Grand Canyon and Sdona, etc. be aware that you will probably go through Flagstaff.  As the saying goes, there is nothing between Flag and the North Pol excerpt a barbed wire fence....

The leading attraction around Tucson (for me, anyway) is Baboquivari Peak, most readily viewed in the distance (40 miles or so) from th Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  It is an engrossing climb - the easiest route requires a rope, but it is  lot of fun.  To the Tohono O'dam (sp?), whose reservation it borders, it is the center of the universe (and they gor that right!!).  Like all high elevations in December conditions can be highly variable and possibly snowy.

For that matter, I recall a storm in 1958 that left 5 inches of snow on the ground in Tucson and a whole lot more at higher elevations. 

Do mind the weather report......

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@hikermor haha yes, upon occasion we'll get snow in Tucson. It's a fun surprise and treat! And yes, Baboquivari Peak and Flagstaff are other great locations!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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