RVers can find the most unforgettable and RV-friendly destinations in the deserts of the American southwest. Far from being a barren wasteland, these areas offer some of the most amazing opportunities to travelers, specifically those in RVs.
Campers are treated to national parks, otherworldly rock formations, and spectacular sunsets. It doesn’t matter if you have a simple travel trailer, a luxurious Class A motorhome, or a fifth-wheel, you should spend some time in one of these three desert destinations.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
A UNESCO world heritage site, the Grand Canyon’s vast size and sublime beauty make it one of the world’s most famous natural landmarks. At Grand Canyon National Park you can look out over the canyon and take in its beauty from several lookout points and hikes throughout the park.
The canyon is nearly a mile deep, and depending on the location around the rim, it spans across anywhere from .3 miles to 18.6 miles! Be sure to catch a sunrise or sunset, and go on a hike or picnic while you’re there.
When To Visit
Believe it or not, summer is a popular time to visit the Grand Canyon and is the busiest season. To avoid crowds, the lesser frequented North Rim is perfect for visiting in the summer. High temperatures typically remain in the 70s. The North Rim’s summer temperatures are lower due to its elevation being 8,000 feet. At 7,000 feet in elevation, the South Rim is a bit warmer with daytime highs in the 80s and nighttime lows in the 40s and 50s.
The temps do heat up as you descend into the canyon, with temperatures possibly reaching the 100s at the river. Still, if you’d like to catch the views from inside the canyon while avoiding exposure to the hotter temperatures, you can hike a short distance and turn back around, rather than completing an entire trail. Be sure to have plenty of water and salty snacks.
Spring and Fall visits will allow you the benefit of milder temperatures and fewer crowds. Highs are typically in the 60s and 50s. Lows will often be below freezing. The spring and fall are drier than the rainy summer, but in the spring snowfall is possible through mid-April.
Grand Canyon National Park is open year-round, but keep in mind the North Rim closes for winter. All roads in the North Rim remain closed from December 1st to May 15th. South Rim temperatures can rise up to the 40s and lows will be in the teens. Road closures, icy trails, and snowy conditions are possible at any time during the winter.
Where To Stay
Many RV road trips include a stop at Grand Canyon National Park. Luckily, it’s very easy to visit by RV. You can boondock nearby on US Forest Road 302––a very popular spot for RVers to park their RVs.
If you want to stay within the National Park in the South Rim, you have 2 options. Mather Campground is reservable, conveniently located in Grand Canyon Village, and offers showers, dump station, and a laundromat. Spaces accommodate a 30-foot max length (including tow vehicle).
No hookups are available. Desert View is a first-come, first-served option. There are no hookups, and max total length is also 30 feet. The campground fills up by noon during the busy season. For full hookups inside the park, you can stay at Trailer Village, just next door to Mather Campground. Trailer Village features paved sites up to 50 feet long.
For hookups outside of the park, check out Grand Canyon Camper Village in Tusayan, where a shuttle can bring you into the park each day.
2. White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Its snow white sands––which remain cool to the touch no matter the season––transport you to another world.
Many visitors choose to go hiking or sled down the dunes. With many covered picnic shelters, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch. While it’s not recommended that you go in your large 5th Wheel or Class A, there is individual parking right up against most of the picnic shelters that will easily fit Class B RVs, small Class Cs, and shorter travel trailers.
Pull-outs along the main road are also very easy to park in. The best part is that a walk on the cool dunes is just mere feet away. The five-mile Alkali Flat Trail is the longest at White Sands. It’s also a great spot to watch the sky seemingly catch fire and glow at sunset.
When To Visit
The best times to visit White Sands National Monument are spring and fall. The windy season at White Sands does run through the spring and can bring windstorms. Don’t hike during a windstorm––remember visibility is limited and you could be easily disoriented. Otherwise, just be sure to pack layers as the weather at White Sands can change from one moment to the next. Also, temperatures drop quickly after sunset.
Summer temperatures at White Sands can climb above 100 degrees F and can fall to a low of 65 degrees F. White Sands is open during the summer months (May through August at White Sands). Be sure to pack plenty of water and food if you visit during summer. Visitors are also warned not to begin any hikes if temperatures are above 85 degrees.
The monsoon season runs from July to September. Thunderstorms and lightning are possible during these months. Visitors can check the weather radar and avoid visiting when a storm is approaching.
The winter months of November through February will see below freezing temperatures at night and early in the morning. Daytime temperatures will range from 30 to 60 degrees F.
Where To Stay
While there isn’t RV camping available inside White Sands National Monument, there are options in Alamogordo and Las Cruces. Alamogordo is only 13 miles away, while Las Cruces is a bit further at 50 miles away.
Oliver Lee State Park just outside of Alamogordo is a pet-friendly option with a few sites that can be reserved online and a few first-come, first-served sites. There are 30 and 50 amp options with water and electric hookups. Developed sites with no electric, but nearby access to water, are also available.
If you want to stay in the city of Alamogordo you can book a site at a private campground.
For those of you who’d like to wild camp or boondock, Holloman Lake just off of US 70 and 5.5 miles northeast of White Sands is a popular choice. In the Las Cruces area, the Sierra Vista Trail between the city and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is great for boondocking against a mountain backdrop.
Both Anza-Borrego State Park and the Borrego Springs area that it surrounds are full of sights to see and discover. For desert star-gazing at its finest look no further than Borrego Springs, which was designated the second International Dark Sky Community in the world.
Within Borrego Springs you’ll also find dinosaurs and dragons rising up out of the desert sands. The mysterious sculptures, created by artist Ricardo Breceda are sprinkled throughout the desert waiting for you to discover them.
Anza-Borrego State Park has slot canyons, cacti, and badlands for you to hike and drive through. Some of it is remote and 4WD only, but there is much you can explore on foot, in your tow vehicle, or even in your small RV.
When To Visit
Winter and early spring are the best times to visit. Winter temperatures are mild and pleasant. Early spring offers you the chance to see the area’s well-known wildflower bloom.
Average highs during the winter are in the 60s and low 70s while the lows average in the 40s. Early spring brings average highs in the 70s and 80s with lows in the 50s.
Where To Stay
While there are plenty of RV parks and campgrounds in the area, free camping or boondocking is a must––even if just for a night. You can camp for free just about anywhere as long as you are no more than the vehicle’s length off the road, you observe Leave No Trace principles, and you camp at least 100 yards away from any water source.
One spot that’s friendly for all rig sizes is off of the south side of Borrego Springs Road. Gaze out at the starry desert sky and take a short hike to some of the metal sculptures.
The wide open spaces of the desert are great for RV camping and exploring year round. What are some of your favorite places to take your RV in the desert?