Notice all that RV traffic heading south along North America’s highways and Interstates? It means that the migration of the RV snowbirds is well underway. Indeed, the population of the southwestern United States swells significantly as snowbirds set up camp in places like Yuma, Palm Springs and Albuquerque. You may find the biggest residency fluctuation in Quartzsite, Arizona, a town with a summer populace of barely 4,000 that grows to more than one million when the winter snowbirds arrive. Visitors here descend on this expanse of desert on Interstate 10 west of Phoenix for flea markets, gem shows and RV lifestyle events. For many travelers, the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show is the main attraction.
But not everybody wants to camp with the crowds. Some folks may prefer to stray off the beaten path in areas that have lots of friendly locals and fewer long-stay RVers. These travelers prefer a place without the huge throngs lining up for restaurants, golf courses, tourist attractions and other hot spots. These smaller communities, with so many happy-to-help locals and short-stay RV travelers, allow RVers to meet a lot of people.
Here are just a few under-the-radar snowbird destinations where snowbirds truly can spread their wings.
1) Tombstone and surrounding towns, Arizona
Step back in time to 1882 in Tombstone, Arizona, located in southern Arizona near Highway 80. This town earned renown for the famous gunfight at the OK Corral between the Earp brothers, joined by Doc Holliday, and a group of local outlaws. The 30-second shootout is now reenacted daily in the same location. With mock bar fights and gunslingers wandering the streets, the place feels as if it was ripped out of the 1800s. Catch a delicious meal and drink in Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Stroll the worn wooden sidewalks and view the authentic shops with unique souvenirs at very reasonable prices. A short walk to the edge of town leads you to the original Boot Hill Cemetery, where you can spend quite some time touring the actual burial sites of many historic and not-so-lucky gunfighters.
Nearby: Amazing Towns. While the town of Tombstone offers ample Old West charm, it’s also a great basecamp. From here, you can visit the nearby town of Lowell, where you’ll feel that you’ve stepped back in time to the 1950’s. Along Erie Street, the gas station, service shops, automobiles, etc., all harken to a more innocent time. No, you haven’t stepped into a time warp: The town’s residents take pride in preserving that ‘50s feeling.
In the area, you’ll also find Bisbee, a historic town that was abandoned following the closing of the mining in the area many years ago. The town was later discovered by artists who, over time, renovated many of the houses and businesses. Today, it stands as a beautiful community with great photo opportunities and interesting shops. Further south towards Mexico is the town of Sierra Vista, offering wonderful restaurants, shops and a vibrant vineyard scene that serves up fantastic wines. Keep an eye out for the flitting birds that have given the town the nickname, “Hummingbird Capital of the United States.”
A short drive north from Tombstone in the Benson area is a donkey rescue ranch, Forever Home Donkey Ranch. You need to call ahead to visit this fascinating organization. Also in town are two movie sites, Gammons Gulch and Mescal Studios. Once used for the shooting of Western flicks, these spots may look familiar to cinema and TV buffs.
Cooler weather can be expected in Tombstone, as its elevation is 4,550 feet. The coolest daytime high temperatures during the coldest months are normally about 50 degrees.
Stay: Tombstone RV Park, Tombstone
2) Laughlin, Nevada
Laughlin lies on the banks of the Colorado River about 90 miles to the south of Las Vegas. Although it’s home to several large casino hotels, it has a homey, laid-back side that gives it fantastic snowbird appeal. The town lies directly across the river from Bullhead City, Arizona, and visitors to this area generally are short-stay folks that come for the gambling, live shows and nightlife.
A short drive out of town will take you worlds away from the gaming and entertainment glitz. Ample off-roading for both ATVs and four-wheelers is available in the area’s deserts and mountains. Scenery lovers should head to Christmas Tree Pass, situated on a high ridge pass and offering spectacular photo opportunities. Also, Silver Creek Road, which is east of the town of Oatman on the Arizona side, provides 10 miles of a high ground trail run to the north and back to Bullhead City. Sitgreaves Pass Route 66 also is near Oatman and is a must-drive as well.
Nearby: Oatman. The century-old ghost town of Oatman is located on the Oatman Highway, formerly Route 66, southeast of Bullhead City in the Black Mountains. Once a mining camp that struck $10 million in gold in 1915, the town’s economic fortunes took a downturn, compelling almost everybody to leave by the mid-1930s. Today, with a population of 128, Oatman attracts visitors to stroll its wooden sidewalks and to see its wild burros. Once employed for work, the mammals were abandoned years ago and they now outnumber the locals. The braying creatures roam the town freely and are very entertaining to watch and fun to feed. Don’t miss a drink or lunch at the historic Oatman Hotel. There are surprises inside.
Not a fan of burros? Check out the more traditional snowbird pursuits in the area:
Good Golfing – The area is rich in lush, green golf courses that contrast with the desert terrain. You’ll find them both in Nevada and Arizona, and all are within a short drive.
Boat Rentals – There are boats and jet ski rentals to explore the river, just 20 minutes west of Oatman. Discover the many beautiful beaches to be discovered along the shorelines.
Day Trips – There are many activities that can be found to the south in the Lake Havasu area and the north at Lake Mead.
Stay: Vista Del Sol RV Resort, Bullhead City, Arizona
3) Pismo Beach, California
Pismo Beach is a seaside town in San Luis Obispo County in California’s beautiful central coast. The town has about 8,500 residents and is part of a cluster of five cities. Here, you can enjoy all that a vibrant beach community can deliver. For the angler, a 1,200-foot pier offers the perfect perch to hook a big catch. If you’re after the really big ones, boat rentals or fishing charters are readily available throughout the region.
For the active family, surfing is extremely popular here, drawing people from all over the state. If non-surfers wish to learn, surf lessons are widely available. It should be noted that because of the cold-water temperatures, a wetsuit is a necessity for such water activities. Jet ski rentals can also deliver that wet-and-wild ocean experience.
But for the landlubbers, there are plenty of activities and entertainment venues to enjoy. The Pismo Dunes also are a popular site. ATV rentals here can get your adrenaline going as you glide over the desert-like terrain. There also are beaches in the area that is accessible by car. It’s a great way to find the perfect spot for an oceanside picnic.
There are many scenic places to hike or bike throughout the region, all within easy reach. A wide choice of challenging lush courses await the avid golfer. Quaint shops and unique dining can be found in the downtown area. Although Pismo is a bit more chilly than it’s counterparts to the south, it nonetheless delivers the quintessential California beach town atmosphere.
Nearby: Morro Bay. Travelers can enjoy the Pismo Beach area as a hub that’s well within striking distance of several attractions. Morro Bay, home to the iconic Morro Rock, is only about 25 miles drive from Pismo Beach. Wine touring can also be found in the region and offers both a tasty and educational experience.
Stay: Pismo Coast Village RV Resort, Pismo Beach
4) Monterey, California
Because of its location more than 235 miles north of Santa Barbara, Monterey may be considered to be a bit chilly for snowbird travel. But that means fewer crowds and more opportunities for fun. In fact, the year 2020 is going to be an exciting time to be in Monterey, with ongoing celebrations of the town’s 250th year birthday. There are so many exciting things to do and see in this region, and the historic Cannery Row is a great place to start. It is the original fish canning area that today features world-class restaurants, fancy boutiques and galleries. American author John Steinbeck wrote lovingly of this region in books like “Cannery Row” and “Sweet Thursday.” The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located here and offers a wealth of sea creatures on display in compelling habitats.
While in the area, check out Mission San Carlos Borromio. Monterey is home to several interesting shops as well as more than 100 art galleries in one square mile. The Basilica of Mission San Carlos Borromeo Del Rio Carmelo, dating back to 1770, is the crown jewel of this historic town. Mission Ranch, nearby, is also a great example of early Spanish architecture. This, along with downtown Hog’s Breath Inn Restaurant and Bar, is owned by the one time mayor of Carmel and the famous film start Clint Eastwood, who is a resident.
Nearby: Carmel-By-The-Sea. There are many world-class links here, with Pebble Beach Golf Course serving as the home of world-class tournaments. Need we say more! There are scooter rentals (not the Bird kind) available throughout the region, and these offer a great way to tour the coastal communities and picturesque coastline. Hiking and bicycling also are popular. Using Monterey as your base, you are located well for a host of day trips to additional attractions and events. However, during the 2020 celebrations, the hottest tickets may be right in town.
Stay: Coyote Valley RV Resort
5) Apache Junction, Arizona
Apache Junction is a small town about 35 miles east of Phoenix and is an ideal basecamp. To the east lies the rugged and historic Superstitious mountains, with ghost towns, abandoned mines and picture-perfect sites to explore. This area is rich with historic sites and offers many fascinating things to see and do. On the outskirts of town, Goldfield Ghost Town takes visitors back to the early days of the gold rush. Here, visitors will find the last remaining narrow-gauge railroad in Arizona, which is still operational today. For those looking for some hands-on fun, a zipline can take you far above the town for a scenic view of the area. To the west, the greater city of Phoenix sprawls for miles offering every type of service imaginable, from unique exclusive boutiques to glittering luxurious shopping malls.
Nearby: Desert Wonders. A visit to the Lost Dutchman State Park, located in the mountains to the east, is a wonderful way to experience the rugged beauty of Arizona. Here, you can enjoy a most scenic hike through the region known for a fabled lost gold mine. You can also take a tour on the Dolly Steamboat, which navigates Canyon Lake. There are many group day tours offering a variety of interesting and entertaining venues.
The Apache Junction area can deliver a great lifestyle for RV snowbirds seeking a new destination for next year’s winter season.
Stay: Sunrise RV Resort, Apache Junction
6) Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
To learn the origins of the name, Truth or Consequences, you’ll have to go back to the heyday of radio. In 1950, Ralph Edwards, host of the “Truth or Consequences” gameshow, announced that he’d air his show from the first town that adopted the name of his program. Hot Springs, New Mexico, jumped at the chance for notoriety, and the town has since then taken pride in its quirky name.
With a population of some 6,500 residents, this small resort town of Truth or Consequences offers a wonderful glimpse into years past. Quaint shops and retro restaurants that transport you back to the 80s can be found throughout the downtown area. You can still enjoy the hot mineral waters that served the community decades earlier.
Five miles northwest, Elephant Butte Lake State Park is an outdoor destination with postcard-worthy scenery and an abundance of recreational opportunities. Whether you want to kayak across the calm water or launch a sailboat into the sunset, Elephant Butte satisfies outdoors enthusiasts of all types.
Motorized and nonmotorized boating is permitted on the lake, as are personal watercraft, canoes and kayaks. Fish from a boat on the lake or the pier, and take advantage of a knowledgeable guide to help you find the best spots for catching walleye, crappie, white and black bass, and stripers.
There are many attractions to be seen in and around the town. Geronimo Springs Museum is well worth the visit. It covers a broad time span from prehistoric to the current era.
Looking toward the future is Spaceport America, the first such facility in the country. Resembling an architecturally modern aircraft hanger, it is a vertical-craft takeoff base supporting the likes of Virgin Galactic in its reach to future galaxy travel. Tours of this site may be limited.
Stay: Elephant Butte Lake RV Resort, Elephant Butte
7) Las Cruces, New Mexico
Las Cruces is the second-largest city in New Mexico and the home of New Mexico State University. Visitors will find an abundance of local attractions here, with 12 museums scattered throughout the city. The Museum of Natural Science studies nature and the animals that live in the region. There are live feedings of the resident creatures daily. You need only to bring your curiosity to enjoy this entertaining and educational venue.
For those that enjoy learning about the early railway, the Railway Museum is sure to please. It can be found right next door to the Natural Science site.
On a 47-acre property a short drive away, the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum can be found. This venue offers live demonstrations and hands-on experiences of life on a ranch. There are historical displays and much more. This is an all-day event that is both entertaining and educational that will appeal to all ages.
The Old Village of Mesilla is a wonderful place to visit. Highlighted by the historic San Albino Church, the interesting shops, and canteens, one is drawn back to the old west life. There are excellent photo opportunities of the Mexican architecture found throughout the village.
There are also many day trips that can be done from Las Cruces. About 20 miles east is the famous White Sands Missile Range. This facility sits on 3,200 square miles and is open for visitors. Here you can view military equipment and sample ordnance. You can see the range set-up and sheer size. Photos are permitted with the exclusion of downrange. When I was last there, and possibly still so, you were restricted from aiming a camera downrange and asked only to photograph back toward the ordnance launch area.
Hikers will delight in the many trails that wind through the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, which loom in the east. Intrepid hikers should hoof it up to the starkly beautiful Needles at 9,000 feet above sea level.
Stay: Sunny Acres RV Park, Las Cruces