6 Warm Winter Getaways Across the West

Banish the thermals with surreal desert hikes, dude ranch rides, and alfresco hot tubs.

Sunrise lights up the rocks in Red Rock Canyon in Nevada on a winter morning.
Sunrise over Red Rock Canyon in Southern Nevada.
William Ducklow / Shutterstock

If gray skies and biting cold have left you feeling blah, escape to places where “winter wonderland” means sunny skies and hiking through snow-free mountains in shorts. Desert destinations that hibernate in summer come alive this season, while coastal locales bask in crowd-free quietude. 

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

Sure, there’s always Las Vegas with its climate-controlled casinos and attractions, but Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just west of the Strip, surprises visitors with its serene atmosphere, rust-striped mountains, and Seussical flora. Ponder deep time while wandering the 2-mile Moenkopi Loop—featuring Triassic fossils and views of the Wilson Cliffs. Or traipse the 2.2-mile Keystone Thrust trail, where a stark contrast between gray limestone and red and bone–hued sandstone reveals the place where the Pacific Plate crashed into the North American plate 65 million years ago.

A baker holds out a loaf of bread from Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona.
A Locavore loaf from Barrio Bread in Tucson.
Starr Nordgren

Tucson, Arizona

When the temps drop from sweltering to balmy, Tucson’s cultural scene heats up. In December, the Tamal and Heritage Fest celebrates Mexico’s Christmastime tradition of steaming tamales, served with a side of mariachi and folk dance. In January and February, the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase transforms the Old Pueblo into a citywide treasure hunt, with more than 48 gem show locations throughout town. 

Take the chill off the morning with a piping hot jalapeño-cheddar loaf from James Beard award-winning Barrio Bread. Then take advantage of T-shirt weather days and sapphire skies by hiking Tumamoc Hill or the petroglyph-studded trails at Saguaro National Park. At night, curl up in the earthy-chic rooms of downtown’s new Citizen Hotel, which offers complimentary Arizona wine tastings every evening.

Monterey Peninsula, California

In winter, temperatures along this stunning squiggle of California’s coast tend to be mild, and traffic on Scenic Highway 1 is refreshingly light. Meanwhile, the area transforms into a hotspot for wildlife. Thousands of migrating monarch butterflies flutter in the trees of Monterey Peninsula’s Pacific Grove. At nearby Asilomar State Beach, you can amble for miles along the dunes and take a guided tour of the coast and pine forest to meet resident and traveling birds. Starting in December, cruise the bay to spot gray whales journeying to Mexico.

After wildlife watching in brisk ocean breezes, head to Stokes Adobe to get toasty by the outdoor fire pits with a cocktail, or tuck into truffle butter chicken inside the cozy house built in 1833. Marvel at the natural world from the comfort of the Monterey Museum of Art, which hosts exhibitions this winter featuring paintings of flora and fauna, plus an ode to migrations from visual artist and scientific illustrator Jane Kim. A few miles inland, simmer in outdoor thermal pools and steam in the sauna with a day pass to Refuge spa.

A building at Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona.
Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg, Ariona.
An Pham

Arizona Dude Ranches

’Tis the season for ropin’ and ridin’ in the sunny Sonoran Desert. At Tombstone Monument Ranch and Cattle Company, you’ll feel like you’re on the set of a Western. The ranch is modeled after an Old West town like nearby Tombstone, with each room lining a main street. Spend your days trail riding, shooting arrows, and working the ranch (think fixing fences, checking wells, and moving cattle). Come evening, burst dramatically through the saloon’s swinging doors, slam back a whiskey, and play faro—Wyatt Earp’s favorite card game—at the bar.

At Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg, you can live out your fantasy of wrangling stray cows on a cattle drive. Rumble through wilderness on a 4x4 off-road adventure and try your hand at team horse penning, archery, and ax throwing. At the end of the day, soothe your weary muscles in the sauna or jacuzzi, or splash around in the heated pool.

Off-grid wine tasting area at Rune Wines in Sonoita, Arizona at sunset.
Off-grid wine tasting at Rune Wines in Sonoita, Arizona.
Jenelle Bonifield

Sonoita, Arizona

While a rare snowstorm isn’t unheard of in Sonoita, this Southern Arizona wine country is warm enough for the thin-skinned grapes that grow on its grasslands. If you haven’t visited in a while, quite a lot has been fermenting. After years of anticipation, the sleek and artistic Los Milics Vineyards tasting room recently opened. Owner Pavle Milic—who earned two James Beard nominations for Outstanding Beverage Program at Scottsdale’s FnB Restaurant—combines humble hospitality with a curator’s taste for distinctive wines. In addition to the usual grape suspects, wine lovers can sample unusual varietals such as vranac and teroldego.

In December 2020, Twisted Union Wine Company opened in the old Kief Joshua Vineyards villa. Visitors can savor complex wines, groove to live music, and curl up by the fireplace in a suite with views of the mountains or vineyard. In addition, Rune Wines has debuted charcuterie boards and small bites to savor at the alfresco tasting area overlooking the Mustang Mountains. Book their new adobe house casita and stargaze from the outdoor hot tub.

Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

Spanning the Nevada-California border, Death Valley National Park is an otherworldly land of contrasts. Watch the sunrise over Zabriskie Point, reflecting on the irony that, here in the hottest and driest place in North America, the powerful force that carved the crenulations of these beautiful badlands was water. Hike in the Mesquite Flat Dunes, soothed by the sand’s rippling patterns, crescent-shaped curves, and graceful shadows. In the late afternoon light, cruise the 9-mile Artists Drive, where volcanic deposits have turned the rocks turquoise, ochre, mauve, and manganese purple.

Editor’s note: Summer storms caused major flood damage to roads and trails throughout the park. Check conditions before you go. There is currently no park access from the West on Towne Pass (CA-190) or Beatty/NV-374/Daylight Pass. To enter the park, use CA-190 via Death Valley Junction from the east.