Van Life Guide to Winter Road Trips in a Campervan
The best way to see the majesty and history of the United States of America is on a road trip in a multi-purpose campervan. While summer may be the busiest travel season since the kids are out of school and families take advantage, winter is equally phenomenal, and less active, time to travel.
If you’re feeling a mix of both wander and winter-lust, then this guide is for you! We cover A LOT about campervanning in the winter- what you need, where to go, what to do- all of it!
Winter is the most dramatic season of the year in terms of changing landscapes. If you’ve seen a landmark in the summer or fall, odds are it’s going to be an entirely new experience in the winter. The snow-capped mountains, the beautiful trees sprinkled in white, the tranquil camping spots – the beauty is endless.
And I don’t know about you, but I prefer to put on a sweater to brave the brisk as opposed to sweltering heat and humidity. Traveling in the winter is just more comfortable for a lot of people.
Not to mention, an entirely new set of activities become available in the winter like skiing, sledding/tubing, snowshoeing, snowboarding-and cozying up to a warm campfire with some hot cocoa. It’s just an exceptional time of year.
If you prefer not to be so crowded that you can barely enjoy a sightseeing venture, then winter is the time for you to travel! As we stated earlier, fewer people are road-tripping during this time of year, so it’s a great time if you want a little peace and quiet!
Don’t get us wrong! There are always ways to avoid the crowds in any season. However, there is just something about the solitude of winter travel that makes it so unique. It’s like, you (and your traveling companions) are the only ones in the world. It makes you appreciate the moment.
Not to mention the convenience! Often, you can wander at your whim and not have to worry about making campsite reservations for every place you go. However, the cautious traveler in me wants to warn you to go ahead and plan whenever possible.
Off-Season = Cheaper
It’s no big secret that prices go up when more tourists are expected to visit. It’s a simple supply and demand theory. It’s safe to assume that when traveling in the offseason, prices will naturally go down for just about everything you do. This assumption is true except for activities directly related to the winter, like ski resorts.
So if you’re a budget traveler, like me, winter means cost-savings or being able to spend a little more in other areas to get the most for your budget.
Where to Campervan in the Winter
We’re glad you asked! We love to travel, and we love the winter season- so we have a lot to say on the subject. For starters, go check out our recent post on the best national parks for a campervan winter getaway. Also, here are some of our favorite regions to travel through in the winter.
Washington’s Cascade Range
Traveling through this part of the country, you will see some of the most incredible portions of America. Particularly the Columbia River Gorge- a 4,000-foot canyon that stretches over 80 miles through the Cascades and forms the boundary between Washington and Oregon. Here’s one of our favorite Washington itineraries that takes you through this magnificent region.
California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains
The Sierra Nevada mountains of California are stunning in the winter. Stop off at Lake Tahoe – an enormous alpine lake, near the Nevada border of California. This region of California is probably the best place to encounter the winter season in this state. Here’s one of our favorite Californian itineraries.
Nevada’s Mojave Desert
Ok, we admit, you’re not going to see much snow here if any at all. The Mojave desert is one of the driest portions of the United States. As such, the conditions aren’t optimal for snow. However, we include it because the desert is a bucket-list travel stop, and in the summer, it can be nearly impossible- and even dangerous- to explore. So we recommend giving it a try in the winter when temperatures are a bit more tolerable. Here’s one of our favorite Nevada itineraries.
Colorado’s Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains of Colorado are so serenely beautiful. Under a layer of snow, they are even more so. I feel the mountainous wilderness regions are the best to visit in the winter. There’s just a very frontier vibe about it. Not to mention, there will be lots of awesome winter activities to partake in, in this part of the country. Here’s one of our favorite Colorado itineraries.
What to Pack to Campervan in the Winter
Has the overwhelm of packing for your winter voyage got you down? We’ve got you covered! And hey, if you forget something or need something extra, it’s not the end of the world to buy it on the road. That’s one of the perks of voyaging in your Travellers Autobarn campervan!
You don’t need our help to pack the basics, like clothes, toiletries, and travel documents, but here are the additional items you’ll want to include.
While you’ve likely already thought to pack clothes, travelers who aren’t used to the colder temperatures often pack the wrong types of clothing. You’ll want to stick to heavy fabrics for top layers and thinner materials for your bottom layers. Smart layering also makes it easier to put on or remove as the weather changes throughout the day.
Just a reminder to pack some extra bedding and blankets for extra chilly nights!
You can rent sleeping bags from Travellers Autobarn for your campervan road trip, but keep in mind these are designed for year-round travel. If you are heading somewhere particularly cold, it might be a good idea to bring your own winter sleeping bag – or even a heated sleeping bag – if you have one!
Portable Space Heater
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you won’t need one. Just in case, get one and be sure to bring it to keep you and your companions warm at night. Keep in mind, electric heaters will only work when you are plugged in at a powered campsite.
An Extension Cord
You might need it for your space heater to get close enough to be effective.
A lot of resorts, national park visitor centers, and even nearby stores will have rentals or options to purchase items like skis and snowshoes. However, you may want to invest in gear of your own before you travel. Not only can you save money this way, but it’s always nice to be prepared and not have to go out of your way to get what you need. If this is an unusual activity for you, renting is probably best.
Snow Chains are sometimes necessary in certain conditions where heavy snow or icy roads might prove dangerous. You may or may not need them depending on where you plan to take your campervan. These chains go around your tires to provide maximum traction when driving through snow and ice.
Food & Drink
Make sure not just to pack your food and drink, but to pack that which you can prepare. Luckily, our rentals include a sink, gas cooker, fridge, and microwave. Bring along a thermal bottle or cup and warm yourself from the inside with lots of hot beverages
In case you find yourself in an area without electricity or wifi, or you don’t want to be on devices constantly, plan to pack a good book, board games, or music. It’s a great way to pass the time, especially if the weather gets a bit too extreme to be outside.
First Aid & Bug Spray
Last, but certainly not least, you’ll want to make sure to include a first aid kit and insect repellant. Make sure the first aid kit contains bandages, antiseptic/antibiotic ointment, pain reliever, stomach and antihistamine medications, and bite/itch/rash cream. Bug spray or wipes are also useful in certain areas where mosquitoes and the like are an issue. They’re less common in the winter, but just in case, you’ll be glad you have it.
How to Drive a Campervan in the Winter
Driving in winter can be more hazardous in certain parts of the United States, especially in regions more prone to icy conditions resulting in slippery roads. You might need snow chains (mentioned above) in areas that are more remote and get less travel or aren’t snow-plowed during the winter.
Be sure to check for any necessary precautions in the area you’ll be traveling through either on a local AM advisory station or by keeping an eye out for any signs posted. You should never be distracted while you’re driving, but especially on slick roads, keep both hands on the wheel and give the road your undivided attention. It’s best to research your route in before you hit the open road, so you’re aware of road closures, winter advisories, gas station locations, etc.
We hope you have the winter adventure of a lifetime and that this guide has helped you to feel prepared and get excited about your campervan trip. Make the most of it by traveling in a Travellers Autobarn campervan which comes with unlimited miles, maps, and 24/7 roadside assistance. Be sure to tell us all about it when you get back! Happy trails.
Here are a few other Winter Road Trip blogs you might find helpful:
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