8 Destinations for Winter Texans

January 4, 2024

As one of the largest, and most geographically diverse, states in the country, there’s no shortage of destinations to explore in Texas, no matter the season. In winter, the state’s vast landscapes take on entirely new personalities, from snow-capped peaks out west to serene farmland back east, desert tranquility in Big Bend and beachy beauty down south. Here are seven destinations for winter Texans to check out this season.

What is a Winter Texan?

Sometimes referred to as snowbirds, winter Texans – often retired – spend a portion or all of the winter months in Texas while spending warmer months in northern climates. Many winter Texans spend their time in Texas living full-time in RVs, making the most of warmer weather than they would experience at home.

Where Should Winter Texans Travel? Try These Destinations for Winter Texans!

A wood pier at Lake Tyler on a cloudy day.

1. Tyler

For those of you who need a floral reprieve during the winter months, head to the rosy city of Tyler in East Texas — a mid-sized city that’s particularly regarded as an epicenter of rose cultivation. While the famed Tyler Rose Garden may not be in bloom for the season, the Tyler Rose Museum is a gorgeous homage to the lustrous flower, and its role in the history of Tyler, particularly its Texas Rose Festival. Beyond flowers, this city — and this region of the state — is a place that feels especially lush, leisurely, and relaxed, teeming with nature and rolling hills, despite being under two hours from Dallas. The Goodman-LeGrand House Museum, located in a 19th-century mansion, is filled with Civil War-era artifacts, the Earth and Space Science Center offers edutainment for all ages, and Faulkner Park is lined with scenic nature trails. A little east of Tyler, be sure and check out High Hill Farm, a stunning resort community with its own winery, a destination-worthy farm-to-table restaurant — Côte — and in-the-works amenities like a driving range, pickle ball courts, and a makeshift beach.

Nearby KOAs:
Rusk KOA Holiday

Dramatic sky over the horizon at dawn in Port as the sun rises over the Gulf of Mexico in Aransas, Texas.

2. Port Aransas and Matagorda Bay

Lined with barrier islands and hundreds of miles of beachfront along the Gulf, Texas is low-key one of the best states for a coastal getaway, even in winter. The touristy town of Galveston gets a lot of the fanfare, but for a refreshing escape a bit further out, trek to the city of Port Aransas. Located on Mustang Island, the cultured community is anchored by pristine sandy beaches, quaint cottages, adrenaline-pumping activities, and some of the freshest seafood restaurants on the coast. Once frequented by Jean Lafitte, nowadays Port Aransas is a haven for family-friendly fun. On the island’s northern end, visitors can drive their cars right on the sand, or embark on a jet ski tour through pods of dolphins. Being such a small, comparatively quiet city, this is ultimately an ideal place for a chill seaside escape, complete with amazing seafood restaurants and margarita bars, like Lisabella’s, a beachy bistro with crab cakes, pancetta-wrapped shrimp, red snapper belle Meuniere, seafood enchiladas, and “Mermaid Soup,” aka lobster-coconut broth with shrimp and curry.

Just a few miles north, the charming small town of Port Lavaca is a welcoming spot on Matagorda Bay. While the sandy shores might draw you in, fascinating historical sites, a performing arts theater and a variety of museums can be found in this Texas coastal retreat. History buffs will want to make stops at the Calhoun County Museum and the Half Moon Reef Lighthouse, originally built in 1858. For a unique beach-going experience, make a stop at Magnolia Beach – the only natural shell beach on the Texas coast.

Nearby KOAs:
Rockport KOA Holiday
Port Lavaca/Matagorda Bay KOA Holiday

Sunrise coming over mountains behind a field of tall grass taken on the last day before the time changed in the Texas Hill Country.

3. Texas Hill Country

Sandwiched between Austin and San Antonio, the sprawling Texas Hill Country offers a rural respite without much of a drive. Conveniently located and accessible, it’s a vast region filled with state parks, national park sites, fertile farmland, iconic barbecue institutions, festivals, breweries, and everything in between — and best of all, the summer traffic is but a distant memory. There’s Lockhart, the “Barbecue Capital of Texas,” home to age-old institutions like Kreuz Market and Black’s Barbecue. There’s Dripping Springs, an Austin-adjacent community of rolling hills lined with lauded breweries like Jester King and distilleries like Treaty Oak. There’s Pedernales Falls State Park, a lush landscape of mesquite trees and waterways. There’s Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, where the Texas White House and ranch tell a fascinating tale of Presidential lore. Throughout Hill Country, be it for a scenic drive or a week-long stint of eating and exploration, this is a region that abounds with all-seasons adventure.

Nearby KOAs:
Austin East KOA Holiday

Salt basin dunes are made of Gypsum grains which are bright-white dunes in the western part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The dunes cover 2,000 acres and vary in size from three feet on the southern part to sixty feet in the northern part of the dune field which contains very little vegetation. Guadalupe Mountains present a very dramatic backdrop to the gypsum dune field.

4. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

For the ultimate winter solitude this season, drive out into far west Texas to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Among the lesser-known and least-visited national parks, this is a place of sheer desert majesty, where the tallest peaks in the state loom over white gypsum sand dunes, fossilized Permian reef, and gnarly tree-lined canyons. While it can certainly get cold, and somewhat snowy here, the lower elevation of the mountains keeps them accessible all winter-long, meaning hearty hikers can take full advantage of the park’s 80 miles’ worth of trails. Guadalupe Peak, in particular, is a bucket list-worthy outing that rises to the tallest point in Texas, over the course of an 8.5-mile round trip trail and some 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Be sure and visit nearby Carlsbad, New Mexico, where once you’re done ascending the mountains, you can descend into the caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Nearby KOAs:
Carlsbad KOA Holiday

5. Marfa

In the middle of the high desert of Trans-Pecos, out in the remote wilds of western Texas, Marfa is a surprising wellspring of art and culture. A true weekend destination, surrounded by hundreds of miles of near-nothingness, the tiny town boasts a staggering amount of boutique shops, businesses, restaurants, bars, and galleries considering its diminutive size. Well-regarded as a haven for artists and creatives, the town is home to myriad galleries and museums like Art Blocks, the Chinati Foundation, Greasewood Gallery, and the inde/jacobs gallery, while food and drink attractions run the gamut from Alta Marfa Winery and Big Buddha Bakery, to Convenience West for barbecue, Do Your Thing for coffee and toast, and Cochineal for ever-changing seasonal tasting menus.

Sunset at Sotol Vista Overlook, Big Bend National Park.

6. Big Bend National Park

The most iconic national park in Texas, and an expansive desert wonderland in its own right, Big Bend National Park is a remote wilderness along the Rio Grande that’s unsurprisingly growing in popularity. Home to epic and rugged natural beauty, sprawled across 1,200-sq.-mi. of arid mountains and jagged canyons, this is a place where the wildlife, the adventure, and the overall environment lend themselves to a sense of unparalleled discovery unlike anything else in Texas. Here, you’ll find hundreds of miles of hiking trails through the Chisos Mountains, the only range in the U.S. contained entirely within a national park, including the breathtaking valley views from the apex of the Lost Mine Trail. Along the way, look out for animals like roadrunners, tarantulas, javelinas, and coyotes. Elsewhere, rent a kayak or float a raft down the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena Canyon, the tallest in the park, and relax in natural hot springs right on the river at the end of Hot Springs Road. At night, it’s worth it to stay up late to gaze at the night sky — Big Bend is designated one of the best places in the country for stargazing. And just outside of the park, visit the Terlingua ghost town for dusty lore and a real-deal Tex-Mex meal at the Starlight Theatre.

7. South Padre Island

A 34-mile-long tropical paradise located on the southern Gulf Coast of Texas, South Padre Island is consistently ranked as a top beach destination by travelers across the globe. This barrier island provides stunning views of Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and is one of the only truly tropical destinations in Texas. Get your fill of wildlife at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, South Padre Island Dolphin Research & Sealife Nature Center, or even pet a sea turtle at Sea Turtle, Inc. rescue and rehabilitation center. Looking to get your steps in? The boardwalk of the Laguna Madre Nature Trail traverses nearly four acres of pristine salt marshland with its diverse flora and fauna. For anglers, consider a group fishing tour, or book a private fishing excursion for a truly first-class experience. An island also known for its nightlife and eats, you’ll have no shortage of spots to try for a quick bite or yummy beach cocktail. Stop in at Clayton’s, billed as the biggest beach bar in Texas, or grab a classic pizza from Gabriella’s Italian Grill.

Nearby KOAs:
South Padre Island KOA Holiday

8. New Orleans

For a completely different kind of culture and cuisine, you need only cross the state border. New Orleans is an easily accessible drive directly east of Houston, and although it’s barely a five-hour drive, it feels like another country. An ideal winter escape, the historic city is rightfully famed for its distinct architecture (especially in the French Quarter), its world-class restaurants, its festivals, and its lore, both famous and infamous. Simply strolling through the French Quarter, and nearby neighborhoods like the Marigny and the Bywater, you’re never far from a good meal, a good view, and a good time. Grab to-go drinks at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, allegedly the oldest tavern in the country, and watch the dueling pianos at Pat O’Brien’s. Enjoy some gumbo and boudin at Napoleon House, or drink in an extravagant jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace. Immerse yourself in New Orleans’ art and music at JAMNOLA, an experiential art gallery/museum filled with sights and sounds created by local artists. Line up for beignets at Cafe du Monde, then head out to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve to hike the boardwalk trails and watch for alligators. With infinite things to do, see, and eat in New Orleans, it’s impossible to cram it into a weekend or a week, but you’ll surely be tempted to come back.

Nearby KOAs:
New Orleans KOA Holiday

Born and raised in New Hampshire, Matt Kirouac grew up with a love for camping and the outdoors. Though he’s lived in Chicago since 2006, he’s always on the lookout for new adventures. He writes about travel and food for outlets like TripExpert, Money Inc, Upventur, DiningOut, Food Fanatics magazine, Plate Magazine and Zagat, and he currently serves as Chicago editor for What Should We Do?! He’s the author of The Hunt Guides: Chicago (2016) and Unique Eats & Eateries of Chicago (2017).

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