6 Camping Destinations That Are Better in Winter
Pitch a tent on these beach or desert campgrounds
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With winter fast approaching, many people are putting away their camping gear until next summer. (Need tips on how to do that properly? We’ve got those.) But what if you’re not ready to be done with camping just yet? This holiday season, you can still pitch a tent on the beach or among red-rock deserts. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite spots to do just that.
Harris Beach State Park, Oregon
During the winter months, the campsites at Harris Beach State Park (from $35), just north of the Oregon-California border and outside the town of Brookings, are available on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s not exactly balmy on these northern shores of the Pacific in December, but it is peaceful and quiet. Just bring extra layers and your warmest sleeping bag. From the beach—which is steps from the tent sites—you can explore tide pools, spot migrating gray whales, and bird-watch for species like the tufted puffin flying above Goat Island, a closed-to-the-public national wildlife sanctuary and the largest island off the state’s coast, visible from camp.
Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana
Two hours south of New Orleans, Grand Isle State Park has 14 tent-camping sites (from $14) smack on the beach facing the Gulf of Mexico, as well as 45 paved, pull-through sites set back from the water that are more suitable for vans or RVs. Mild winter temperatures, with highs in the sixties and lows in the fifties, make beach camping here midwinter totally doable. The park has three miles of hiking trails, a 400-foot-long pier where you can fish for speckled trout, and great bird-watching.
Gaviota State Park, California
The 39 campsites (from $45) at Gaviota State Park, 30 miles west of Santa Barbara, are just steps away from a secluded beach. During the winter, this site is only open on weekends and by reservation, so you won’t see the same crowds that the park draws come summer. The regional company 101 RV Rentals will deliver a loaner RV to your site for you (from $750 for three nights). From camp, hike the six-mile round-trip trail to 2,458-foot Gaviota Peak in the Santa Ynez Mountains, or ramble the half-mile from the main trailhead for a soak in Gaviota Hot Springs.
Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
You can pitch a tent or book a yurt year-round at Dead Horse Point State Park, 32 miles outside Moab, Utah. It’s chilly there in the winter, with daytime highs in the forties and lows in the twenties, but also way less crowded. The park has extensive hiking and mountain-biking trails and 52 sites (from $40) spread between two campgrounds, as well as an array of yurts that opened in 2018. Recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, the stargazing here is stellar. The Colorado River cuts through the park’s massive canyon and feels like a mini Grand Canyon—minus the throngs. Moab’s endless trails, as well as the adjacent Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, are a short drive away.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas
Most folks come for the day to visit Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, 18 miles north of Fredericksburg. The main attraction is a massive pink granite dome that gave this state park its name. But staying overnight is well worth it. The park offers 55 campsites (from $14); some are accessed via an 100-foot walk, and others require hiking in a mile or two, making this a good option for anyone interested in a relatively easy-to-reach backpacking destination. The area, which encompasses 1,600 acres of desert landscape, has nine miles of hiking trails, plus rock-climbing routes and bouldering on the dome. Texas Climbing Adventures leads climbing trips and courses here (from $85).
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
At the sunny southern edge of the state, you’ll find Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an uncrowded expanse near the Mexican border and two hours from Phoenix. Two campgrounds (from $12) reopened here in mid-October after a COVID closure. Alamo Campground has just four first-come, first-served tent sites in a rustic, remote setting, while Twin Peaks Campground has over 200 RV-friendly sites and requires reservations. There are also backcountry sites a few miles in. Hiking trails that wander through the cacti-studded landscape leave right from the camps.