The rain is starting, the cold is settling in, and worst of all: it’s getting dark at 5:30 pm. But rather than hibernate, we just want to hit the road. Here are a couple of our favorite spots to escape the long winter nights.
Anza Borrego, CA
Bow Willow Campground is a small campground inside of Anza Borrego State Park. Located in the low elevation Colorado desert, the air will stay bright and fresh, and it’ll stay warm during the winter – well, warmer, you’ll still need to bundle up at night. Plus if there’s been any rain in the area, you might get lucky and see some flowering Ocotillo plants. Located right near Sombrero Peak, a trip to Bow Willow really isn’t complete without taking advantage of the beautiful canyon walks in that area.
Salton Sea / Orocopia
Mountains Imperial Valley, CA
Imperial Valley is just rife with great spots to camp and hike, and with summer temperatures hitting 115 F on a good day, winter is the best time to take advantage. Twelve thousand years ago this area was a giant inland sea, and you can see traces of that in the Orocopia Mountains, which is just packed with caves and slot canyons that were carved out during the Pleistocene Era. The hiking through this alien landscape is gorgeous, but claustrophobes need not apply.
For a dose of weirdness, head over to Salton Sea State Recreation Area. The result of a colossal engineering failure that let the Colorado River spill into the desert basin, the Salton Sea had a serious vogue in the 1950s and 60s. Hotels and restaurants popped up, eager to make it a popular vacation spot for the wealthy and famous. But when the “sea” evaporated, the resorts dried up with it, turning the whole area into this fantastically seedy, abandoned badland. Explore the salt flats, the bone-encrusted shores, or head over to Slab City, where Chris McCandless spent time in Into the Wild.
Saline Valley Hot Springs
Death Valley National Park, CA
Our favorite place to camp in Death Valley, Saline Valley Hot Springs is one of those places that we’re almost loathe to tell you about for fear of crowding the joint. Sitting in the middle of Death Valley National Park, the 50+ mile drive into the hot springs is known locally as the anti-bullshit filter ( seriously, bring an off-road vehicle), but if you can hack it it’s oh-so worth it. In the off-season, the hot springs only host 100-150 people at most, and the facilities are all set up like some crazy hippie art project. Families beware: clothing optional isn’t a suggestion, it’s a mandate.
Andrew Molera State Park
Big Sur, CA
Andrew Molera isn’t just one of the best walk-in campgrounds; it’s one of the best campgrounds, bar-none. Situated right near the ocean and a whole host of beautiful beaches, it’s impossible to reserve any of these 24 spots in advance, so get there early to secure a spot. Big Sur can get a bit rainy in the winter, but with the drought on it’s more than possible that you’ll only have to deal with fog, gorgeous blue skies, and a bit of wind. Such a hardship.