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Planning the Ultimate Winter Road Trip: Scenic Routes and Safety Tips

Bonding with friends or family, seeing the sites, playing through your entire college CD collection, and going at your own pace are just some of the epic traits of a quality road trip. But did you know, road trips aren’t just great for summer?

Read on to learn the ins and outs of planning a memorable winter road trip!

Winter Road Trip

Choosing Your Destination

When deciding where to go on your winter road trip, there are several factors to keep in mind.

Points of Interest

First, what are you interested in? Is there a specific landmark you or someone in your party has been dying to visit? Think about activities that appeal to you and to those you’re traveling with to help generate a short list of destinations.

Winter Climate

Next, what kind of climate do you want to experience? Are you hoping to get out of a snowy, icy city for your winter road trip? Or maybe you’re drawn to all the great activities winter can bring, like skiing, tubing, snowshoeing, or ice fishing.

Road Conditions

Once you’ve decided the climate you’d like to visit, think about the roads you’ll need to use to get to potential destinations (and if you’re comfortable traveling them in the winter). Great skiing and snow camping locations, for example, will likely require you to traverse some winding, potentially icy roads. Are you comfortable driving or riding on those? Is your vehicle suitable for such drives?

Of course, if you opt to go someplace with fairer weather on your winter road trip, you’ll probably have to worry a bit less about road conditions, but don’t forget that if you’re fleeing a snowy, icy area for someplace warm, you will have to contend with your local roads first!

Popular Destinations

When you have a basic idea of the conditions you’d like on your winter road trip, start looking into popular winter destinations!

National parks are a great place to consider visiting on your road trip. Overall, these national treasures are far less crowded in the winter than in any other season, and many have great deals on lodging. You could even plan a winter glamping trip around a national park!

Winter Cabin Snow

Of course, many vacationers opt for popular ski and snow sports resorts when planning a winter road trip. Sites like TripAdvisor can help you find your ideal snowsport location and arm you with tips and reviews from people who have been there.

Several hotels and resorts cater to the winter crowd, whether that means offering special off-season discounts or special events, like on-property ice skating rinks. But don’t feel like you have to limit your lodging options! Vacation rentals, like cabins, cottages, tiny houses, and yurts, as well as campgrounds and RV parks, are also appealing to many winter road-trippers.

Another fun destination for a winter road trip is one of the many charming winter-friendly towns across the country! If you’re traveling around Christmas, there’s no shortage of magical holiday towns to visit, too.

For those snowbirds out there looking to escape the cold, nearly every destination in a warm climate will be offering deals and discounts during the off season. Several also boast fantastic holiday celebrations, so you can get that winter-time feeling without the frostbite!

Wherever you choose to stay, try to book well in advance, and make sure you understand the property’s cancellation rules. Winter road-tripping does require even more flexibility than fair-weather travel, so it’s a good idea to look for places with some wiggle room in their reservation system to adjust for unexpected road conditions and delays.

Planning Your Route

Researching your route for your winter road trip is paramount to the trip’s success. Not only will you need to plan for potentially hazardous road conditions, but, if you do it right, you can also add some memory-making stops along the way to your destination!

Look for routes that will take you through scenic winter landscapes, such as those that traverse mountain ranges or swaths of forested land. Consider taking a historic route, if possible, or hitting some unique points of interest along the way.

Preparing Your Vehicle

Now that you’ve chosen a destination and planned your winter road trip route, it’s time for the less exciting—but so important!—step of preparing your car.

Winterizing your Car

Before setting off on any road trip, it’s imperative that you give your vehicle a thorough once (or twice!) over. Have all the vehicle’s systems checked to ensure everything is running optimally. Top off any fluids that are running low. If you plan to use an RV as your road-tripping vessel, be sure to take steps to winterize it, too!

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Next, you’ll need to ensure you have the appropriate tires or tire chains to handle the predicted road conditions. Make sure your vehicle meets all local requirements for winter travel—some areas require snow tires or chains during certain months of the year.

Packing Essentials for a Winter Road Trip

Now that your vehicle is road-ready for a winter road trip, it’s time to make sure you have all you need inside the car to make your journey safe and comfortable.

If you’re traveling to—or through—cold weather, it’s a good idea to have some basic emergency supplies in the car with you. Make sure you have plenty of fresh water and some high-energy snacks, like protein bars, on hand, just in case you get stuck.

You should also have a warm blanket or two, and consider packing some emergency blankets, as well. Hand warmers and foot warmers can come in handy, and your vehicle should always have a basic first aid kit.

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A few other important safety supplies can be lifesaving, as well. Make sure you have a durable flashlight and extra batteries, as well as an emergency signal light with you on your winter road trip. A small shovel multitool is a nice piece of equipment, too.

When traveling through and to nicer weather, hand warmers and blankets aren’t as essential, but do make sure you have lots of water and sunscreen in the car.

For either kind of winter road trip, you’ll want to have a paper map of the area on hand, in addition to any GPS or navigation device you may be using. Pack a few fully charged power banks, as well.

General Safety

Preparing for Emergencies

It’s always a good idea to create a general travel itinerary when planning a winter road trip, and then sharing that itinerary with someone who isn’t going along. Tell someone at home about your timeline, potential pit stops, route, and possible lodging plans before you go.

Always pack the emergency gear discussed above, and make sure it’s all in good working order.

Tips for Navigating Snowy and Icy Roads

Driving on snowy and icy roads can be intimidating, especially if you’re not used to doing it. Pay attention to road closures and stay informed about weather conditions along your route. Don’t hesitate to put on your tire chains if roads get slippery.

Most importantly, drive slowly and cautiously. Limit (or entirely avoid) any potential distractions, like loud music, animated conversations, and, above all else, personal electronic devices (except when being used for navigation).

All-Weather Safety

Regardless of the weather you anticipate experiencing on your winter road trip, remember the basics of safe driving to ensure you reach your destination safely.

Be sure to get plenty of rest before heading out on the road. Fatigue is a major contributor to highway crashes in the United States, and it’s 100-percent preventable. If you can’t change up drivers during a long road trip, plan for shorter days on the road and don’t be afraid to catch a power nap at a rest stop or to take frequent breaks to get out of the car and move a bit.

Taking a Break

Similarly, distraction is a huge contributor to roadway crashes and the resulting injuries they cause. Despite what we may think, humans are bad at multitasking. Stay off your phone while driving, except to use the device’s GPS feature. No text or call is worth a life.

And, of course, never drink or do drugs before getting behind the wheel. Humans are poor judges of their own sobriety, especially when they’ve been drinking or drugging. It’s always best to choose to drink or drive, not both; however, if you do find yourself having to get on the road after a drink, a portable breathalyzer can help you determine when it’s safe to get back behind the wheel.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of activities can I do during a winter road trip?

Winter road trips are your gateway to all sorts of activities! If you’re looking for snow, head to a destination with skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or other winter sports.

Many ski towns are full of things for non-skiers to do, too, so there’s something for everyone in your party. You can also often find well-maintained hiking trails near world-class ski slopes for those who prefer to take in nature at a slower speed.

Winter festivals and cultural experiences are also great ways to spend a winter road trip, and these can be found in warm and cold climates in the winter.

And don’t forget about all the things you can do during the drive! Besides binging podcasts and reminiscing over classic tunes, whip out some road trip games to pass the time!

What should I wear—and pack—on a winter road trip?

If you’re headed through or to a cold destination, make sure to dress and pack appropriately. Layer your clothing so you can stay comfortable in the car but also stay warm and dry at any roadside attractions you may stop at.

Make good use of your car’s heater and defroster, but remember that people have different preferences when it comes to car rides. Everyone in your party should be prepared to adjust to max out their personal comfort. Keep coats and blankets handy if you’re someone who likes to be nice and warm in the car.

Maximize the Winter Wanderlust

With these tips, you’re ready to set out on your winter road trip adventure! Enjoy the beauty of the season and avoid the crowds at locations you’ve been dying to visit. With a little planning and some smart packing, you can have a truly delightful winter road trip!

Learn more about all the fun ways you can enjoy nature during the winter months by reading 10 Winter Camping Tips Every Adventurer Needs to Know!