Where Will Unlimited Mileage Take You? 3 Desert Road Trip Destinations for Winter

If you’re hoping to travel more in the new year, you don’t need to wait for winter to melt away before you hit the road! Whether you’re trying to cure cabin fever or you’re in need of some serious sunshine, it’s all just a road trip away. 

With Cabana’s unlimited mileage, the continental US is yours to explore. Here are 3 road trip destinations worth visiting this season.

Planning a winter escape? Read Everything You Need to Know for Your Extended Stay.

1. Moab, Utah

Moab’s national and state parks make it a desired road trip destination year-round. In the winter, you’ll find stunning landscapes and much thinner crowds. 

Delicate Arch Viewpoint (Photo Credit:  Mike van den Bos)

Moab is a 16.5 hour drive from Seattle and about 10 hours from LA, but there are great stops in both directions to break up the drive. If you’re thinking about a Utah trip, read Pixelicious Planet’s 15 day Seattle to Utah itinerary. Moab has an abundance of stunning scenery, but we’ve detailed the destinations you can’t miss.

Arches National Park

As the name suggests, this park is home to over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. In winter, the snow is a beautiful contrast to the red rocks. Most of the park is open year-round, but bring tire chains and trekking poles for icy roads and trails.

Nature photographers, hikers, and anyone who appreciates a great view will have something to do in Arches. Here are a few popular options:

  • Delicate Arch Trail: This 3 mile out and back trail is one of the most popular in the park, which is why off-season is the best time to go! The trail is considered moderate, but keep in mind that it does become slippery after a snowfall.
  • Devil’s Garden: From the Devil’s Garden trailhead, make your way to Landscape Arch, which is a rock structure over a football field in length. The Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop is an almost 8 mile difficult trail with views of 8 magnificent arches along the way.
  • Balanced Rock: This is one of the park’s most iconic sights, and you can get a great view without leaving your vehicle. The Balanced Rock picnic area is also an ideal spot for stargazing in this certified International Dark Sky Park.
Sunrise view of Balanced Rock (Photo Credit: Pixelicious Planet)
Balanced Rock in the winter (Photo Credit: National Park Service)

Suggested Sleeping: Devil’s Garden Campground is first-come first-served in the winter, is only 18 miles from the park entrance, and offers great views.

Canyonland National Park

Canyonlands is the largest National Park in Utah, and although it will be cold, snow doesn’t stick around too long, and the solitude will be worth it. The park is divided into three districts, and traveling between them takes several hours because of the Green and Colorado rivers running through. Island in the Sky is the closest district to Moab, the most accessible by car, and the most popular. Because of its popularity, it’s also the best district to visit outside of peak season.

Prepare with warm layers and crampons for icy trails, and you’ll love your winter experience in Canyonlands! Here are a few popular spots:

  • Mesa Arch: The half-mile loop is an easy walk with an unbelievable view. The sight is especially impactful at sunrise. Even in the winter, you may not have this popular view to yourself.
  • Upheaval Dome: If you find yourself fascinated by unexplained rock formations, check out the hotly debated Upheaval Dome. The 1.7 mile out and back trail is rated as moderate and offers two different overlooks into the geological mystery.
  • Grand View Point: This lookout is at the end of a 15 minute scenic drive from the visitor’s center. The first viewpoint is 100 yards from the parking lot. Here you can see The Needles, White Rim Road, Monument Basin, and more. Hike a mile down to the second viewpoint, but prepare for a slippery trail. 
Sunset at Mesa Arch (Photo Credit: Pixelicious Planet)

Suggested Sleeping: Willow Flat Campground is first-come first-served in the winter. Keep in mind there is no drinking water available during the winter, so pack extra before entering the park.

Cabana Tip: To extend your trip, drive 4.5 hours from Moab to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park before looping back to Seattle.

Bryce Canyon (Photo Credit: Pixelicious Planet)

2. Southern Nevada

A drive to southern Nevada will lead to stunning state parks, and if the 17 hours of driving from Seattle leave you craving a day of city life, what’s better than Las Vegas? Being under 5 hours from LA, southern Nevada is a great first or last stop on a Southwest loop.

Valley of Fire State Park

This Mojave Desert park is filled with red Aztec sandstone, and if you stay for sunset the brilliant red rocks will show you where the park gets its name. Fall and spring are the peak times to visit, as summer temperatures are too hot for daytime activities. Winter, on the other hand, is a quieter time with tolerable temperatures and typically sunny days. Daytime temperatures reach the 50s and 60s in January and February, and nighttime lows hover around the 30s. 

Because the park is best at sunrise and golden hour, it’s worth spending a day and night. Here are a few ways to spend your day:

  • Scenic Byway: The 11 mile road through the park connects the east and west entrances and allows you to see the park’s best sights. Driving through the park just after sunrise or sunset will allow you to see the amazing ways the light changes the rocks. 
  • Rainbow Vista: This 1 mile hiking trail is an easy stop along the scenic byway. This is a great place for photographers but is also a heavily trafficked trail.
  • Mouse’s Tank Hike (Petroglyphs Canyon Trail): Although there are many easy hikes to choose from, this 0.75 mile out-and-back trail offers really unique views. First, there are hundreds of petroglyphs to admire. Then, the trail ends with Mouse’s Tank, a natural rock basin that collects rainwater. 
Valley of Fire (Photo Credit: @finding.jules)

Suggested Sleeping: Arch Rock Campground is a first-come first-served campsite within the park. The campsites are private and offer lovely views of the unique sandstone.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Red Rock Canyon is only 17 miles from the Las Vegas strip and is popular among locals and tourists. As part of the Mojave Desert, the landscape is similar to the Valley of Fire with its red sandstone and Native American petroglyphs. The unique desert plants (including Joshua trees) makes this a special stop.

Note: When planning your trip to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, take note that there is also a Red Rock Canyon State Park not too far from there in California. It's easy to mix up the sights and campgrounds online.

The winter is a great time to enjoy the southern Nevada sunshine. Here are a few Red Rock Canyon sights to choose from:

  • Calico Hills Trail: These red rocks are the area’s staple. The 6.4 mile trail is rated as difficult, but if you’re up it, the view from the top will be worth it.
  • Turtlehead Peak: The panoramic view at the top of this 4.6 mile out and back trail is a great reward for experienced hikers.
  • Scenic Drive: The 13 mile scenic drive through the area currently requires a reservation. The viewpoints and trailheads along the way make this an easy way to explore the red rocks.
Red Rock Canyon scenic loop drive (Photo Credit: Peregrine Photography)

Suggested Sleeping: Make a reservation for Red Rock Canyon Campground to stay in the conservation area overnight, or use Campendium to find an ideal Las Vegas RV park.

Las Vegas Strip

If you’re feeling the need to re-enter civilization after your days on the road, enjoy the sunshine on the Las Vegas strip. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but we have restaurant recommendations in our LA to Arizona itinerary.

If this is your first time in Las Vegas, the Bellagio fountains and seasonal botanical garden are must-sees. Up-to-date information on what’s available in Las Vegas can be found here.

Suggested Sleeping: To spend the night on the strip, Circus Circus RV park is your spot.

Cabana Tip: If you’ve come this far, don’t pass up an opportunity to see one of the 7 natural wonders of the world! The Grand Canyon’s south rim is a surreal setting in the winter, and it’s only 4.5 hours from Las Vegas.

3. Southern California Deserts

A road trip down the west coast will lead to adventure and awe-inspiring views. For obvious reasons, winter is the best time to visit the hottest place in the world. Spend the days in sunny 60 degree weather, but make sure to pack layers for the nighttime temperature drops.

Death Valley Mesquite Flat sand dunes (Photo Credit: @finding.jules)

Joshua Tree

Sunrise, sunset, and stargazing are all can’t-miss experiences in this desert park. The park is most popular in the spring, but winter is an excellent time to enjoy the views and hiking trails throughout the park. 

Iconic Joshua Tree views

For more detailed information about this otherworldly destination, read our LA to Joshua Tree Weekend Itinerary. Here are some park highlights: 

  • Barker Dam Nature Trail: This 1.3 mile easy loop is a short hike with up-close views of the iconic Joshua trees and other fascinating desert plant and animal life. Near the dam, an optional quick rock scramble will lead to an amazing spot to watch the sunrise. If you’re hiking before sunrise, plan on wearing layers. 
  • Cholla Cactus Garden: There’s no hiking required to enjoy the enchanting cholla cacti. This is a very popular spot in the park, but the crowd doesn’t take away from the experience. This is an easy spot to stop and watch the explosion of color in the sky at sunset.
  • Stargazing: Joshua Tree National Park goes to great efforts to protect their dark sky. Travel to the eastern side of the expansive desert for the least light pollution.
Cholla Cactus Garden (Photo Credit: Breana Panaguiton)

Suggested Sleeping: Use Hipcamp to choose from the numerous unique overnight options around Joshua Tree.

Death Valley

Death Valley is more than the hottest place in the world, the lowest place in the US, and the biggest National Park in the continental US. It’s a landscape like no other, with strange and astonishing terrain. It’s underrated and not over-visited, so even in the ideal winter weather, you won’t run into a touristy crowd.

Read Bettina and Talia's perfect 4-day road trip to Death Valley from Los Angeles to really inspire your travels. Here are a few of the most memorable things to do in the park:

  • Badwater Basin: This salt flat is 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America. Take advantage of the winter weather by walking out to see the salt polygons.
  • Golden Canyon: Trails through Golden Canyon vary in length and difficulty. Part of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was filmed here (before protections against commercial filming were put in place), and it’s clear why! The canyons feel like they belong on a far-off planet.
  • Zabriskie Point: This is one of the most popular viewpoints in the park. A brief incline will take you from the parking lot to the lookout, or there is a trail from Golden Canyon to the lookout. The spot is especially stunning at sunset.
  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: Although there are many sand dunes in Death Valley, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the most accessible and most expansive. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to experience the dunes. The glow as the sun comes up is a nature photographer’s dream.
  • Stargazing: Death Valley is a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, which is the highest ranking of darkness. Like Joshua Tree, it will be worth entering the park at night to find the best spots for viewing the night sky.
Badwater Basin (Photo Credit: @finding.jules)

Suggested Sleeping: Most campsites within Death Valley are first-come first-served, but they are rarely full. Outside of the park, you'll find plenty of pulloffs where you can stay in your Cabana.

Cabana Tip: Death Valley is only 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, so you can easily connect your California desert trip to the Southern Nevada guide above.

Enjoying the views (Photo Credit: @finding.jules)

So pick up your Cabana and start heading south! Unlimited adventure is waiting for you in the desert.

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