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Winter Shminter! For hiking and backpacking enthusiasts, colder temperatures can’t stand in the way of our desire to get out on the trails. But if you’re looking to do a long-distance hike or backcountry camping trip during the winter, it’s probably best to stick to an area that isn’t going to be snowed in.

In fact, some National Parks even close down partially in over winter since the snow and ice can make exploring near impossible. Luckily, there are still plenty of places in the US to do some backcountry hiking and overnight backpacking during the colder months. From California to Florida and other options in between, read on to see the best places to go backpacking in winter around the US.

Backpacking Treks in Winter

Carrying everything you need on your back, pitching a tent, and living 100% in the great outdoors is the call of the wild for many backpackers. But in winter, it’s important to have a high level of respect for the natural elements.

Below-freezing temperatures, snowed-in trails, and icy conditions can mean that some places are just not possible to hike in winter, even if you have the most advanced winter gear.

To make your life easier (and your pack lighter), stick to these places in the US where you can through-hike and camp overnight, even during the winter.

Santa Catalina, California

Catalina Island is a great place to go backpacking in winter

Most of California enjoys moderate weather year-round. Other than in the mountains, it rarely drops below freezing, so if you’re looking for the perfect place to go backpacking in winter, California is a perfect option. 

Santa Catalina is an island off the coast of southern California, which allows hikers year-round. The winter months are prime whale-watching season along the California Coast, so keep an eye out as you take in the sweeping views over the Pacific Ocean.

The Trans-Catalina hiking trail spans 38.5 miles and typically takes 4 days. You’ll hike across Catalina Island, explore its interior, and camp at stops along pristine beaches. Ferry tickets to Catalina Island are around $75 and camping fees vary by season.

Because Catalina is a fairly small island, you’ll get your bearings quickly, and it’s a great place to experience an overnight camping and winter backpacking trip in California once the colder weather sets in.

Henry Coe State Park, California

Backpacking in Henry Coe State Park

Henry Coe State Park is a vast wilderness in Northern California where you can easily do a multi-day winter backpacking trip. As the largest state park in Northern California, Henry Coe has 80,000 acres of wilderness areas.

Spring is the busy season, when many visitors come to hike the Henry Coe trails among an abundance of wildflowers. So if you’re looking for more solitude, try this California backpacking spot in the winter months. The hills surrounding Henry Coe experience mild weather year-round, and like many places in California, it rarely dips below freezing even in winter.

The Lost Coast Trail, California

Hiking the Lost Coast Trail in California

This region is called The Lost Coast because the rugged terrain made it impossible to build Highway 1 through here. The highway just, stops. Good news for backcountry hikers, there is a well-maintained network of trails along The Lost Coast.

Backpacking this California area in winter is completely doable, but keep in mind that you may face wet conditions. Be sure to bring waterproof gear and a resilient spirit.

Other places for backpacking in winter in California:

Kalalau Trail on the Na’Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Free Things to Do in Kauai

If you’re trying to beat the winter blues, why not make the leap and head to the Hawaiian Islands? Hawaii is popular year-round, but you’ll be dealing with fewer tourists if you visit in winter. We recommend heading to Kauai (The Garden Isle) and doing one of the many hikes along the coast.

The Na’Pali Coast in particular is one of the most famous hikes in Hawaii. The Kalalau Trail takes you on a 3-day hike along rocky ridges with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. 

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Backpacking in Winter in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park covers a large area in Southern Texas including the Chisos Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert. Winter is the ideal time to go backpacking in Big Bend since you’re likely to experience clear skies with daytime temperatures in the mid-70s or higher.

There are plenty of overnight hiking trails around Boot Canyon, Emory Peak, and the South Rim, but keep in mind that a backcountry use permit is required. There are also plenty of half-day and day hikes if you’re thinking of visiting Big Bend for a weekend. 

Pinhoti Trail, Alabama

Flagg Mountain on the Pinhoti Trail

Flagg Mountain on the Pinhoti Trail

The Pinhoti Trail spans 335-mile, which means you can go hiking for a few days or go backpacking for as long as you want. This Alabama region is a great option for backpacking in the winter for both beginners and experienced hikers.

The Pinhoti Trail can get snowy in winter, but considerably less so compared to the popular long-distance hiking trails like the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail. It’s also very easy to break the Pinhoti Trail into sections so that you can go for as short or as long as you want.

The best time to hike the Pinhoti Trail is anytime between March and April, when some other popular backpacking spots are still thawing from the winter freeze.

Other places for backpacking in winter in Alabama:

  • Sipsey Wilderness Area, Alabama

The Florida Trail, Florida

Backpacking The Florida Trail in Winter

Florida’s prime hiking and backpacking season is from December through March. So when the rest of the country is facing snowstorms and below-freezing temperatures, you can head south when Florida experiences ideal weather.

There are a growing number of through-hikers who spend their winters on The Florida Trail as an alternative to the Appalachian Trail. The entire Florida Trail is 1,500 miles, so take a look here at the different parts of the trail that are recommended for a multi-day hike.

Keep in mind that the conditions in Florida might be different from other places you’ve hiked. Think soggy feet, mosquitos, and tropical surroundings. Luckily these issues are less severe when the weather cools, so if you want to experience backcountry camping Florida’s unique ecosystem, the winter months are the best time to go backpacking.

The USA covers a huge area that is often underestimated. Perhaps because of the vast distance, the country lacks the train and bus infrastructure that is found in many other parts of the world, so the intrepid traveller is usually left with the option of renting a car to get around. Why not go a step beyond and rent portable accommodation as well? By taking an RV across America, you have flexibility, everything you need in a self-contained vehicle, and you will have experiences that wouldn’t be possible by just renting a car. Imagine enjoying the national parks once the daytime tourists have gone home.

Travel the US by RV and enjoy the US National Parks after the crowds go home

Enjoy the US National Parks after the crowds go home

What’s more, the benefits of travelling with an RV across America are not only great for camping and visiting National Parks. Road tripping and city hopping with an RV in the USA is sometimes the most practical way of exploring certain regions.

This article walks you through everything you need to know about RV travel in the USA, as well as some of the greatest road trips in the country.

Driver’s License Requirements for Renting an RV

You do not need a special class of license to rent an RV to travel across America. However, you must be at least 25 years old and your license must be valid for 12 months beyond the date that your rental contract starts.

Renting a Camper for your RV Trip

To rent an RV in the USA, you have a few choices. Cruise America is the most well-known company– if you’ve travelled in the USA you’ve surely seen these vehicles on the road. You can’t miss their branding. There is also a site called RVshare which functions as a sort of Airbnb for RVs. RV owners list their own vehicles for rent, which means you’ll have a large variety, often with cheaper options than renting directly from a large company.

How to Make Reservations for Campsites in the USA

Especially during the summer high season, it’s best to plan your overnight stops as far ahead as possible. In popular national parks, campsites are sometimes reserved a year in advance. If you dream of sleeping overnight in Joshua Tree or Yosemite, plan as far ahead as possible. Nowadays, you can easily book campsites using booking.com. You can filter by amenities, check out reviews from other campers, and reserve most places with free-cancellation policies. Or, you can visit the homepage of the National Park where you’d like to stay.

In the off-season and in the lesser-known national parks you should generally be ok with just showing up.

For city trips, it’s not impossible with an RV but once you get closer to the compact downtown you may have problems finding parking. It’s best to park in the outskirts of the city and then rely on public transportation. You can usually find RV-friendly parking lots like shopping malls or a subway station.

How to Plan your Budget for an RV Across America

Costs during your RV road trip adventure will come down to the RV rental costs, campsite fees, fuel, National Park fees, and food/drink. However, there are some tricks of the trade to keep your expenses low.

  1. Use your RV kitchen! Even when on the road, try to limit your restaurant pit stops.
  2. If you plan to visit at least 3 national parks (entrance fees cost about $30 per car), it’s worth investing in a national park pass. With it, you get a year of access to national parks for $80.
  3. Learn to love ‘dry camping’ aka parking for free wherever it’s legal. You won’t have hookups for water or electricity, but your water tank and generator should be enough for a night. Park on a friend’s property, on National Forest land, or in any Walmart parking lot– they allow parking overnight for free, as long as you ask the store manager’s permission.

4 Itineraries for RVing Across America

USA RV Itinerary #1: California Highlights (plus Las Vegas)

With this RV itinerary, you’ll hit the best national parks and major cities in California, plus take a small detour to Las Vegas. The camping sites along this RV itinerary range from forest sites to beach-side camping. This is a circular route, so you could start from any point.

Highlights: San Francisco – Monterey – Santa Barbara – Los Angeles – San Diego – Joshua Tree – Las Vegas – Yosemite Valley – Lake Tahoe – Napa

USA RV Itinerary #2: Iconic American Southwest

The American Southwest is full of National Parks where red sandstone has been carved by wind, water, and tectonic activity. These are some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the entire world. Even with all the major highlights, this RV route is surprisingly compact — most people choose to combine it with RV Itinerary #1 so that they can do California plus these desert landscapes in one trip.

Highlights: Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, The Wave, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park

RV camping near Monument Valley, Arizona, USA

RV camping near Monument Valley, Arizona

USA RV Itinerary #3 New England (plus some Canada)

The states are smaller in the Northeast, which means you can visit some world-famous cities and National Parks all in one trip. Plus, it’s not too far to drive to the French-Canadian cities of Montreal and Quebec City.

During half of this itinerary, you’ll be surrounded by pristine nature, but you can also visit major metropolitan areas like Boston, Manhattan, and Washington D.C.

Rather than navigate the busy cities in your RV, it’s best to park at a Subway station in the outskirts, and take public transportation into the center.

Highlights: Manhattan, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. Niagara Falls, Finger Lakes, Montreal, Quebec, Acadia National Park, Boston

 

USA RV Itinerary #4: The South

Camping in the South is a different type of trip. The focus of this RV itinerary is not national parks, but we think this region is best seen with a road trip. This region of the USA has a uniqueness that some of the larger cities in the rest of the USA have lost long ago. It feels like a completely different country from what you would experience on the West Coast or in New England.

Highlights: New Orleans – Memphis – Nashville – Charlotte – Miami – Key West

So there you have it, the essential information you need to plan your RV across America camping experience, as well as some great itineraries to explore. Last but not least, here are some websites you can use to plan your trip and make reservations online as you go:

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How to travel USA in RV

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