bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

Tucson for Christmas Trip: Retrospective

We were on the road from 12/10/23 to 1/14/24 for our Christmas trip to Tucson.

We had some lofty goals this trip: obviously we were going to spend a solid chunk of time in Tucson for Christmas with family, but we also wanted to get all the way out to Death Valley, and hit Austin and New Orleans on the way home, and stuff all of that into about five weeks. It was too much. Most places, we only stayed one night, and we only camped in three national/state/regional parks. While we had a wonderful trip overall and saw some amazing places, we learned that we’re happier slowing down and focusing more on camping in parks.

Final itinerary

Tucson for Xmas route map

Our final itinerary wasn’t wildly different from our initial brainstorm. In total, we parked the Airstream in 23 locations in 12 states across 36 nights:

  • Knoxville, TN for a night – a fun stopover and easy alternative to Nashville
  • Bowling Green, KY for a night to visit Mammoth Cave NP
  • Memphis, TN for a night – one of our favorite campgrounds, right on the Mississippi!
  • Tulsa, OK for a night – a super stopover with great camping, eating, drinking, and running
  • Amarillo, TX for a night – it’s convenient, but doesn’t have many other positives that we saw
  • Albuquerque, NM for a night – it’s huge and trafficky but convenient and full of interesting places; we’d stay there again but keep around-town driving to a minimum
  • Flagstaff, AZ for a night – always a fun place to stop
  • Boulder City, NV for a night – adorable town next to Hoover Dam with awesome camping
  • Death Valley NP, CA for three nights – LOVED it
  • Las Vegas, NV for a night – we kind of went only because it we found it hilarious to take the RV there
  • Waddell, AZ for a night – we saw nothing of Waddell, we went only for the fantastic White Tank Mountain Regional Park
  • Tucson, AZ for five nights – the centerpiece of our trip! We met family there for Christmas and did all the hiking and eating and drinking
  • Catalina State Park, AZ for two nights – sure, we could have driven up for day hikes from Tucson, but we really love camping there
  • Prescott, AZ for two nights – cute town, great hiking
  • Tucson, AZ for two nights – yes, we went back; this visit didn’t get its own post, we just combined the seven nights into one post
  • Las Cruces, NM for one night – just passing through but the KOA there is very nice
  • Fredericksburg, TX for one night – a reliably fun destination and a spur of the moment decision when choosing a stopover between Las Cruces and Austin
  • Austin, TX for three nights – we really love Austin, with its perfectly-located campground and super running/eating/drinking/live music opportunities
  • Lafayette, LA for one night – a neat college town but we specifically went for a certain brewery
  • New Orleans, LA for three nights – another city we love Airstreaming to, also with super running/eating/drinking/live music opportunities
  • Tuscaloosa, AL for one night – a new spot for us between New Orleans and Atlanta and we liked it!
  • Atlanta, GA for one night – a favorite stopover to see our cousins
  • Asheville, NC for one night – a must-visit for us on any trip south or west!


Rather than trying to rank our favorites in each category, these are all in chronological order, because it’s too hard otherwise. Except I can confidently say that my favorite beer was the blueberry cinnamon sour at New Origin!

Best campgrounds

hanging at our campsite at FQRV
FQRV in New Orleans

Our favorite cities to Airstream to are our favorites because they have campgrounds that are fantastically located, not just in town, but in great in-town neighborhoods. We repeatedly return to these big-city campgrounds:

hanging at the Airstream at sunset
our campsite in Death Valley… doesn’t get much better than that

So those are old news, but we love them. Let’s talk about best campgrounds for scenery this trip. We camped in a national park, in a state park, in a regional park, by a lakeshore, next to the Mississippi, and next to a wild jumble of granite boulders; those six campgrounds were our favorites for scenery.

Winner for the most random and unique campground goes to the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, a parking garage close to downtown Knoxville. It’s no-frills, but it’s a great place to spend a night!

Best eating

enjoying the patio at Desi Dhaba
we love Desi Dhaba!!!

Oh man we ate some good food this trip. Here are the best dishes we ate on this trip, grouped by city:

Best drinking

beers at Parish Brewing
J’s favorite beer was at Parish

We hit 26 breweries in 15 cities, with six in Arizona, four in Texas, and four in Tennessee. Knoxville, Tulsa, and Austin tied for the win with three breweries each. These were our favorites (I am a sour girl and J is a hazy IPA boy):

Best hiking

Romero Pools
sunrise at Romero Pools in Catalina State Park

We hiked 110 miles across 24 hikes in five states, with Arizona winning with fourteen hikes and just over 61 miles, and California next with seven hikes and almost 34 miles. Our other hikes were in Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Our favorite hikes were, no surprise, in Arizona and California:

  • Basically everything we did in Death Valley, especially Golden Canyon, Willow Canyon, Dante’s View, and Desolation Canyon
  • Yetman-Rock Wren in Tucson Mountain Park in Tucson
  • Canyon Loop Trail and Romero Pass in Catalina State Park
  • Watson Lake from our campground in Prescott
  • Hutch’s Pool in Sabino Canyon when we returned to Tucson after New Years

Best running

view of the Arkansas River from the River Parks trail
running along the Arkansas River on the Big River Trail in Tulsa

When we can’t hike, we like to run! There’s great running in a few of the places we stopped, notably:

  • River Parks East trail from the campground in West Memphis (which goes on to cross the Big River Crossing into downtown Memphis, a favorite run of mine that I didn’t do this trip)
  • Big River Trail in Tulsa, adjacent to the campground with lots of different options branching around town
  • Butler Trail in Austin, an extensive loop system around Lady Bird Lake easily accessible from the campground
  • Lafitte Greenway in New Orleans, running past the campground and into the French Quarter in one direction and up to City Park in the other

(not counting the running we did on the longer hiking trails to get back to Bugsy faster!)

License plate game results

Everyone’s favorite category! We did not see these license plates: DC, DE, HI, RI. No big surprises there!

see ya later alligators!

Whew! And that’s a wrap on our Tucson for Christmas trip! What’s next for our Airstream? We’ll pick it up from the repair shop in a couple weeks and we’re already working on our next trip plan…


3 responses to “Tucson for Christmas Trip: Retrospective”

  1. Richard Stahl Avatar
    Richard Stahl

    The Tucson trip sounds wonderful, and my wife and I enjoyed reading your adventures aloud to each other (whoever wasn’t driving) during our own road trips. Currently we are in South Padres Island, TX for a work meeting for my wife – just along for the time together for me! Wanted to stop at Desi Dhaba on our way, but alas the timing wasn’t right (got there before they opened) on the way out. Hoping we can time it better on our way back in a couple of days. Looking forward to your next road trip – and ours. Still strongly considering the Airstream purchase after retirement, which is getting closer!

    1. bugsy Avatar

      What a lovely note, thank you! Sounds like a fun road trip, especially if you make it to Desi Dhaba–I’m thrilled it made it onto your itinerary! Safe travels!

  2. […] Airstream just came home from the shop–you may recall from the end of our last trip that we had a nonfunctioning hot water heater bypass, damage from the exploded tire, and a missing […]

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