32.0280° N, 112.8320° W
ONCE THE WEATHER STARTS TO COOL DOWN AND THE DESERT HEAT BEGINS TO DISSIPATE, IT IS TIME TO HEAD DOWN TO THE BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN SOUTHWEST FOR AN EXCITING WINTER ADVENTURE. THESE 7 SPOTS SHOULD BE HIGH ON YOUR TRAVEL LIST.
Snowbirds have life figured out. That is what we kept realizing as we rumbled down the backroads of Arizona in the middle of winter - under a perfect bluebird sky. Escaping to the Southwest corner of the USA during the winter months is a wonderful, exciting, adventurous idea. And you don’t even need an RV to do it properly (we did it on a motorcycle).
No matter your mode of transportation, heading south for the winter means two things: nice temperatures, and lots of desert adventures. While there are lots of interesting, authentic places to explore we have narrowed it down to 7 of our favorites.
Explore the 7 best American Southwest desert winter adventures below.
1 | Yuma, AZ
During the planning stage of our Southwest Motorcycle Trip we didn’t consider making a pitstop in this desert town. For us, the trip was about getting off the beaten path - meaning not hitting a lot of urban areas. While Yuma isn’t huge (population: 97,908) it has a surprisingly good amount of things to offer - especially for a history buff.
We recommend spending an hour or two checking out the historic Yuma Territorial Prison Park and the Colorado River State Historic Park. Other neat things to see are the Chocolate Mountains, which stand just to the east of the city, and the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, the second biggest wildlife refuge in the state (it is approximately 547,719 acres). Kofa NWR is a great place to explore the desert, and maybe get a glimpse of some interesting wildlife. Including, Gila monsters and bighorn sheep. In fact, protecting the habitat of the bighorn sheep was the reason for establishing Kofa NRW in the first place.
2 | Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Just a bit further east, and quite a bit further south (all the way to the USA-Mexico Border), sits one of the prettiest landscapes in the USA - at least in our opinion. Organ Pipe Cactus NM was one of the key spots we wanted to hit on our road trip through the Southwest. So you can say we had high expectations as we drove further and further south on Highway 85. And don’t worry, we were not underwhelmed once we arrived.
In fact, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument might be one of our favorite places in the whole Western half of the USA. There is just something about the landscape, the overall feeling of the place. We aren’t really into that positive energy vortex kind of stuff, but if we were, we would say Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was definitely one for us. We just felt at ease there, rejuvenated and more clear-headed on our decision to do a motorcycle road trip in the winter (we had been struggling with our decision previously). This is one of those few places that we constantly talk about and always recommend to other travelers if they have even the slightest interest in traveling through the Southwest in the winter.
The best time to visit is in January. Because, according to one of the campers who we met there (and who had been vacationing in Organ Pipe every winter for 15+ years), January is the one month where you don’t have to worry about the creepy-crawlies (aka tarantulas, rattlesnakes, and scorpions). Plus, the weather is PERFECT - sunny, warm but not too hot, and clear, meaning you can go on hikes, bike rides, and runs without having to worry about dying of heat stroke.
3 | Saguaro National Park
Slight disclaimer on this one: we weren’t able to spend as much time in Saguaro National Park as we would have liked due to scheduling issues. But what time we did spend there was absolutely amazing.
There might not be a more emblematic symbol of the American Southwest as the Saguaro cactus. With its tall, proud stature and fun, unique arms, it is the quintessential plant of the desert - and there is no better place to see them than in Saguaro National Park.
While the park is not very big, it does have some good adventures - including hiking to the top of Wasson Peak, the tallest mountain in the Tucson Mountain District of the park. If you want expansive views, and a good opportunity to really get immersed in the desert flora, we highly recommend checking out this hike.
READ MORE | THE TOP 8 NATIONAL PARKS TO VISIT IN THE WINTER
Now if you are looking to not only see the Saguaro cactus but to also learn about the area (human history, geology, biology, etc.) then we highly recommend checking out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, located just next door to the park (the western portion). Spend the day (a whole day is needed) learning about the area, and the Sonoran desert biome in particular. Plus, they have javelina.
4 | Chiricahua National Monument
This was another one of those places that we had no plans to explore, but were so glad we did once we got there (isn’t that the best thing about road trips?!). We learned about this national monument, which is located way off in the southeast corner of Arizona, completely by happenstance.
We were invited by one of our campground neighbors (in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument of all places) to spend the evening drinking some of their wine (they owned a winery in California). Fast forward a couple of hours and all of us were (slightly) toasted and trading stories on some of our favorite adventures. They kept mentioning some place in Arizona with a weird name. After sobering up and doing a bit of Google searching we realized they were talking about Chiricahua National Monument. Safe to say, we quickly spun our compass in that direction and headed off.