Winter Road Trip Tips

Don’t let summer have all the road trip fun! There’s a whole wintry world out there filled with open roads and chill vibes. Swap the flip flops for cozy slippers, and settle in for some winter road trip tips and inspiration in Oregon and California from GoCamper Nora Phillips.

Nora’s Winter Road Trip Tips

  1. Plan ahead for closures or detours.
  2. Extend your trip to account for shorter daylight hours.
  3. Prepare for all types of winter weather, just in case.
  4. Talk to the locals and get off the beaten path. 
  5. Treat your rig like a chariot.

Plan ahead for closures or detours. 

With the unpredictability of winter weather, a detailed and accurate itinerary can be a little hard to achieve on a 1,548 mile road trip between San Diego and Portland. Therein lies the beauty of “going with the flow,” a mentality needed for a VW road trip.

You can’t put too much emphasis on any one place you HAVE to see, because there’s a chance you won’t be able to access it. This can lead to new and surprising detours, the adventures you were meant to take instead of wanted to take. After a night at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, we ventured off in the Volkswagen Eurovan Camper known as Grande Ronde for a morning stop on our northbound journey. We headed down a pothole-ridden gravel road towards the “natural wonder” I was looking forward to seeing, Fern Canyon. We quickly came to a halt at an impassible river crossing; there was no way Grand Ronde was getting through. Though we weren’t able to make it there this time, I now know to come back in the dry season when Fern Canyon is accessible. 

A little farther north we found ourselves at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitor Center, which has all the woodsy charm you’d hope for. Part museum, souvenir shop, and rest stop, I would highly recommend a stop there on your drive through the Avenue of the Giants. 

If you’re in a pinch after driving into a campsite only to find it’s closed for the season, check out the Hipcamp app and find nearby camping on private land. Even if it’s dark out, the listing owners on Hipcamp are typically very responsive (kind of like you’d expect with Airbnb hosts) and can help you with directions to their property.

Extend your trip to account for shorter daylight hours.

During our 7 day winter road trip, we only had about 8.5 hours of true daylight. And some days 4-5 hours of those were spent driving, so we really only had about 3-4 well lit hours to explore and take photos. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly awesome to have most places to yourself this time of year. You don’t get many campground neighbors. I’d recommend adding a few extra days when adventuring in the winter to compensate for the loss of daylight. We explored Glass Beach in Fort Bragg with nothing but a few flashlights and it was still pretty neat. I’d love to return in the daytime one day!

Prepare for all types of winter weather, just in case.

Though we had a bit of rain on our trip, we were comfortably warm in the van. GoCamp packed cozy warm blankets and comforters for our trip. We didn’t have any campfires on this trip, since it was dark and often rainy by the time we made it to our campsites. But we were well prepared in the van with a full propane tank and heater. When you’re packing your bags, make sure you bring layers and extra socks. Because even though the van will be cozy warm, you’ll still want to explore outdoors, and you don’t want to end up with soggy socks or the wrong jacket!

Pro Tip: Bring some face refreshing wipes or pads to freshen up in the morning. It’s like an instant-face bath, and on chilly mornings it may be nice to hang out in the van a bit longer.

Talk to the locals and get off the beaten path. 

We learned so much on our adventure. Our Hipcamp host in Arroyo Grande, Ruth, told us about the organic garlic shortage in her area and I photographed her hanging “Chesnok Red’s.” We snacked on the pomegranates she gave us and cooked up the hot peppers and fresh garlic into a delicious gluten-free pasta dish in the van. Camping is a great opportunity to try something new! I had my first oysters and mussels from Hama Hama Oysters warmed over hot campfire coals while van camping in the Olympic Peninsula. 

There is something so eye-opening about traveling. I love learning more about the things that are important to others and see how they flourish in their own microcosm of the world. The locals know their region better than anyone and can typically offer an experience or insight that pulls back the curtain on their unique community.

Being gluten-free, I’ll admit I’m very particular when it comes to what I consider to be a good meal. I broadened my culinary horizons on this trip. I was pleasantly surprised at how many places offered gluten-free options, plus there were several roadside stops with hard kombucha (my favorite!). I’d recommend Good Harvest Cafe in Crescent City for their small town vibe, regional native art, and delicious gluten free and vegetarian options. When I got back to my hometown of Bainbridge Island I saw things with a fresh perspective, tried restaurants I hadn’t before, and had a newfound appreciation for the people and things around me.

Treat your rig like a chariot.

Just like any trip, with any vehicle, it’s a great idea to be aware of how to check oil levels, tire pressure, and things of that nature even if you never have to, or have come to rely on roadside service providers like AAA. I like the idea of treating the van and it’s contents as if they were my own, and doing my part in keeping the van nice for future use. There’s something special about the preservation of what once was. Just like any “vintage” vehicle, there’s an appreciation for the little parts that are a little difficult to find now that they’re so old, and the design ingenuity that went into each year of production. I love seeing the 70s VWs that are out on the road today, well loved and cared for, an investment of time (and no doubt money!) that keeps a worthy adventure chariot churning out the miles, and helping other aspiring van-lifers make millions of memories.

Author Bio

Nora Phillips is a tiny home builder, van-lifer, and outdoor enthusiast. She is an Oregon-based photographer with a passion for showcasing the intimate and beautiful details in life, capturing the essence and dedication of small businesses, and the sweeping romance of weddings. See Nora’s full gallery on noraemilyphoto.com.

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