8 Incredible Winter Road Trips to Plan Right Now
Fewer crowds, less traffic, and lower gas prices are some of the reasons winter is an ideal time to plan a road trip. And whether hot, desert climates or snow-filled ski slopes are your scene, you can find routes that cover either—or both!—this time of year.
New Orleans through Austin to Santa Fe
Take a few days to explore New Orleans—there’s plenty to see beyond party-heavy Bourbon Street including the evening Art Market and jazz cafes along Frenchmen Street, the French Market, and Café Du Monde, with its famous beignets. Next, drive 500 miles west to Austin for shopping on South Congress Avenue and bar-hopping on Rainey Street. Then prepare for colder temperatures, desert vistas, and an all-day drive 700 miles west to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Take a tram up the snowy Sandia Mountains for a 360-degree view of the city and surrounding desert. Finally, drive an hour north to Santa Fe to tour its museums and galleries; don’t miss the Georgie O’Keeffe Museum near the Santa Fe Plaza, or the Museum of International Folk Art on Museum Hill.
You’ll also want to check out these 10 destinations that are even better in winter.
Grand Canyon through Sedona to Phoenix
Dress warmly and hike into the south rim of the Grand Canyon—it’s open year-round, and winter is the least crowded time to visit. Next, head two hours south to Sedona and walk the trails around its famous red rocks (locals say they look pretty with a dusting of snow). From Sedona, drive 150 miles east and go through the Petrified Forest National Park (also the only National Park containing part of the historic Route 66) to see prehistoric petrified trees and the colorful hills of the Painted Desert. Last, drive 200 miles south to Phoenix to explore the state’s biggest city and soak in the warmer temperatures. Meander through the trails at Desert Botanical Garden or hit nearby Scottsdale for shopping.
Take a gander at these 40 breathtaking photos of National Parks covered in snow.
Montana and Wyoming through Yellowstone
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For a trip through the country’s snowy north, start in the small city of Bozeman, Montana and marvel at the snow-capped peaks all around. Drive 80 miles south (or take a shuttle) to the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner and take a guided snowmobile or snowcoach tour of the geysers and hot springs and try to catch a glimpse of the wildlife. (Note that the park is closed to private motorized vehicles in winter). Snowcoaches can also bring visitors to the South Entrance near the famous ski slopes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Pacific Coast Highway, from San Diego to San Francisco
State Route 1 along California’s coast, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway or “PCH,” is one of the most iconic road trip routes in the country. Start in San Diego and visit the beaches of Coronado Island, the trails in Balboa Park, and the Gaslamp Quarter downtown. Then, get on the PCH and drive 120 miles north to Los Angeles. Tour a movie studio and visit a theme park, before continuing 100 miles north to Santa Barbara. Make a stop for wine tasting in Los Olivos 40 minutes inland, then get back on the PCH and continue up the coast through Big Sur, ending 300 miles north in San Francisco, where you can take a ferry Alcatraz Island and tour the infamous prison, ride a cable car to the vibrant Castro District, and check out the interactive Exploratorium science museum.
Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver
For a cross-border trip, start in the funky city of Portland, Oregon and visit a few microbreweries and bookstores, then head north through Washington, stopping in Seattle three hours away. Take a few days to explore Seattle (the home of Starbucks and Amazon), particularly Pike Place Market downtown and neighborhoods like Ballard and Capitol Hill for their independent shops and Queen Anne for the city views. Next, drive about 140 miles north to Vancouver, B.C. and go ice-skating at Robson Square, which is open through the end of February, or visit a nearby ski resort.
Washington D.C. through Virginia to the Carolinas
Take advantage of the free museums and visit the national monuments in Washington, D.C. Next, head an hour and a half southwest to Shenandoah National Park and drive over Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia (the main stretch is open year-round but check for closures), which also has hiking trails and wildlife like black bears. Finally, head 500 miles south through Charlotte and North Carolina, ending in the coastal city of Charleston, S.C. to enjoy the rich food and southern charm (and cheaper winter rates at many hotels).
The Florida Keys
The Sunshine State is one of the most popular winter destinations. But instead of spending the entire vacation on one beach, start in Miami and get on State Route 1, heading south. Stop for a tour of the tropical wetlands (and alligators and crocodiles) in Everglades National Park an hour and a half west of the city, then, get back on Route 1 and drive through the Keys, from Key Largo down to Key West. The drive from Key Largo to Key West only takes about two hours, so plan to stop for conch fritters, key lime pie, and beach exploration along the way.
Vegas to Utah (Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Salt Lake City)
From Las Vegas, prepare for cooler temperatures and drive northeast 160 miles northeast. In Utah, go through Zion National Park and its main scenic drive, which has overlooks onto waterfalls and Zion Canyon. Next, go about 70 miles north to Bryce Canyon National Park and hike around rock arches and hoodoos (beware of ice and closed trails). Finally, drive four hours north to the capital of Salt Lake City; visit the Natural History Museum of Utah and stroll through Liberty Park, hike or ski in Big Cottonwood Canyon, or hit the slopes in Park City, 30 miles southeast.
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