If you ask what there is to do between Los Angeles and Phoenix off Interstate 10 in Arizona, Shanana Rain Golden-Bear, editor of the Desert Messenger, will tell you to visit Quartzsite—and stay for a while. “This town is a little quirky, but that’s what makes it so much fun to park an RV here,” she says.
Quartzsite is a popular wintertime destination for snowbirds, a regular stop for RVers on one of the major cross-country freeways in the U.S., and a filming location for 2020’s Nomadland. The town boasts more RV slots than houses; RV parks line Main Street east and west, and U.S. 95 north and south of Main. The season in Quartzsite unofficially starts in September and ends on July 31—even locals close up shop in the August heat.
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“We’ve got people here who already made their reservations for next year,” says Judy Willis, the Holiday Palms RV Park manager. “We’re full up already for the season.”
For those not wanting to park in a developed campground, the Bureau of Land Management field office allows up to 7 months of camping on the thousands of acres of public land that make up the desert surrounding Quartzsite in the La Posa Long Term Visitor Area. The long-term permit is $180 and the 14-day permit is $40. Permits are good for any BLM long-term visitor area.
“We’re like an island,” says Golden-Bear, speaking from the Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce building on Main Street. “Except instead of water, we’re surrounded by the desert and our beautiful mountains.”
January and February
Quartzsite is known for its huge swap meets, attracting vendors and buyers from across the West.
“People ask, ‘When is the Quartzsite gem show?’ But there isn’t just one show,” says Golden-Bear. January and February are the peak months in Quartzsite for rock hounds, jewelry artisans, and collectors with one of the largest collections of vendors set up in one spot. Three major shows anchor the town’s reputation and represent its name: the Quartzsite Improvement Association Pow Wow, with more than 500 vendors; the Desert Gold Craft Show; and the Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show.
The RV show, in late January, is snowbird heaven. It offers free parking, no admission fee, and is dog-friendly. It’s one of the biggest draws in the western states for RVers looking to gear up their rigs, with nearly 300 vendors who are consumer-oriented and include aftermarket equipment, customization gear, and services.
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“My dad threw up the biggest tent he could find in the middle of the desert 40 years ago, filled it with RV gear, and the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation, & RV Show was born,” says Kymmy King, CEO of the “The Big Tent,” as locals call it. This year, King says the show is adding “seminars and the latest and greatest do-it-yourself training.” The 2023 show takes place from January 21 to 29.
February to May
In the spring, activities move out of town with several off-road and ATV events slated. This is the busiest time of the year for folks traveling the Peace Trail, and swap meets continue.
The 675-mile off-road Peace Trail has a gateway in Quartzsite and slogs its way north to Historic Route 66 at Bullhead City, then zigs and zags to Oatman and through the Hualapai Mountains and Alamo Lake State Park, and weaves in and around the Harquahala Mountains before crossing the desert to Yuma.
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Nearly every month, the Arizona SunRiders OHV Club has meet-and-greets in Quartzsite, where members and area visitors gather to talk ATVs, OHVs, and the many backcountry routes in the Sonoran Desert.
For western art and music, Buck Connors Western Days and its Branding Iron Art Show are set for March.
April to July
Snowbirds start rolling out of the desert by mid-April with a few hanging on. The spring and early summer activities in Quartzsite focus on swap meets and craft shows, with celebrations around the holidays, including a large annual fireworks festival on July 4 that just about closes things for the Arizona summer.
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November through April
During the famous Arizona winters, Quartzsite is filled with parades and music. Festivities start in November with live music put on by the town and the Quartzsite Improvement Association. Between opening Santa’s workshop and local arts and crafts boutiques, the Christmas season kicks off with the Christmas Light Parade in early December and ends with a New Year’s Eve street dance.