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We don’t get a lot of traditional winter in the southeastern United States. At least, there’s rarely snow, which is what the word “winter” often brings to mind. It might get cold. It might even, occasionally, drop to freezing, but southerners worry more about black ice than we ever truly think of snow. In fact, when it does snow, the world often shuts down. We don’t exactly have snow tires.
We’re not fully prepared for snowy days, and black ice is a real danger here. So, schools close, kids run out with unbridled enthusiasm to build snowmen and throw snowballs, and even parents might be seen dropping into position to make a snow angel.
I grew up in Tennessee in a place where we did, sometimes, see snow. I have memories of sledding and building snowmen, more so than my children do. So, when it comes to planning a wintery vacation, I’m not going to give you tropical destinations to escape the actual winter. You can find plenty of suggestions for that elsewhere. What I will do is give you some of my fantasy winter vacation destinations.
As a single parent, right now, they remain fantasies for me — although I’ve visited a few of them in other seasons in the past. But these are the destinations sure to meet all your wintery dreams. I’ll tell you why I picked them, and why you might want to shelve that beach vacation for a cozy winter getaway.
19 Unique Places to Visit in Winter in the U.S.
I have a long bucket list with destinations around the world that I’d love to see, but what I don’t want to do is overlook the many impressive destinations right here in the U.S. of A. I’m going to give you 19 unique places to visit in the winter in the United States. It’s hardly a comprehensive list, but it just might get those wheels turning on another kind of vacation entirely.
If you live in a destination that gets plenty of winter, please grant me the freedom to romanticize what, to you, is likely normal winter weather. For some of us, we get most of our winter dreams satisfied in Hallmark and Christmas movies. Indulge me for just a while as we embark on a journey through winter destinations.
1. Asheville, North Carolina
I love the city of Asheville, North Carolina. It’s not too far of a drive from me in Georgia, but it’s easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in the South. I’ve only been during the fall, but I’ve heard a lot about winter in Asheville over the years. It’s a prime foodie destination year-round, and the Blue Ridge Parkway has some of the most spectacular views you’ll see. But one of the most popular places to visit in the winter here is the Biltmore Estate.
While I visited in the fall, they were already setting up for Christmas. They really go all out on seasonal decorations. There are numerous trees set up in The Biltmore and lights all around. Although this isn’t the most affordable destination in Asheville, it’s certainly an interesting one to visit any time of year, but don’t miss out on the holiday decor in the wintertime.
You can also see Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum and check out the Omni Hotel’s National Gingerbread House Competition. It doesn’t usually snow in the winter in Asheville, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer plenty of holiday and wintertime fun. There’s so much to see and do, and if you love winter sports, you’ll be a short drive to the slopes in North Carolina’s Beech Mountain.
2. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is another winter vacation destination you might want to add to your list. Honestly, it had me at “oldest bookstore in the United States” (pictured above), but there are many reasons to visit in the winter.
This charming Lehigh Valley town is best known for its holiday charm. Since 1937, it’s been known as Christmas City USA. You’ll want to visit the local markets. The Christmas Huts on Main can be found all along Bethlehem’s city streets, and you don’t want to miss Christkindlmarkt, one of the most notable Christmas markets in the country.
But that’s not all you can do on your winter vacation. There’s an actual Live Advent Calendar every night in December on Main Street. You can take a Christmas City Stroll with guides in period dress or opt for horse-drawn carriage ride. There are great restaurants here, and did I mention that there’s a book-themed speakeasy? I’m surprised you aren’t booking this trip right now.
3. Breckenridge, Colorado
I have never been to anything in Colorado but the airport in Denver. So, this is me offering one of my winter vacation fantasies. You’re welcome.
Breckenridge, Colorado, is a perfect place to spend a wintry vacation in the United States. You can go skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, sledding, snowmobiling, dog sledding, biking, and shopping. There are snow cat tours and sleigh rides, historic tour, mine tours, and even ghost tours if that’s your thing.
In fact, the city boasts hundreds of things you can do there in the winter. If you’re not into winter sports, you’re sure to find something to do on this list to make your perfect winter vacation in Breckenridge.
4. Camden, Maine
Camden is a charming coastal town in Maine that you may not have considered for your winter holiday vacation. But maybe you should. Camden has plenty to see and do in the winter. You can go ice skating, skiing, or even ride a toboggan shoot. If you love outdoor winter sports, you can even go ice hiking or climbing.
If all of that sounds cold and a little too active, you can always snuggle up indoors with a cup of hot chocolate and watch all the adventurers enjoy their crazy, cold outdoor workout. Camden’s not quite as busy in the winter, so you’ll find fewer crowds but all the advantages of a beautiful winter vacation.
5. Dunton, Colorado
Colorado is such a beautiful state that it made the list more than once. Let’s talk about a winter vacation in Dunton. You’ll find all the usual winter activities — skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, dog sledding, ice climbing, and more.
It truly is a winter wonderland and offers an alternative to other Colorado vacation destinations. If you don’t want to do all the winter sports, consider a cozy sleigh ride and then warm up with hot chocolate in your cabin, hotel, or resort. Your winter vacation is whatever you make of it, but this destination should have plenty of snow to gaze out on from either the icy slopes or from the fireside.
6. Fairbanks, Alaska
Excuse me while I clear away the hearts in my eyes long enough to tell you why Fairbanks, Alaska, is an absolute bucket list winter vacation destination. First, you get the chance to see the aurora borealis in person. That’s a huge experience for those of us who live nowhere near a place where we can see it. But the adventure just starts there!
You can also sit in a warm and cozy ice hut and go ice fishing. You’ll be near enough to the North Pole to pay a visit, and you might even see real, live reindeer. You can watch artists make ice sculptures, visit a glacier cave, soak in a natural hot spring, rent a snowmobile, go dog sledding, or take a guided snowshoe tour. Are you getting goosebumps yet? Before you start packing your bags, you might want to make a few reservations to this awe-inspiring winter vacation destination in Alaska.
7. Frankenmuth, Michigan
Have you ever been on a winter vacation in Frankenmuth, Michigan? Neither have I, but here’s why you’ll want to consider it. Frankenmuth is Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Take a carriage right through a charming Bavarian village, visit the German ChristKindlMarkt, and stop to ice skate at Frankenmuth Ice Rink.
This picturesque town goes all out for the holidays, and you don’t want to overlook all there is to see and do on a winter vacation here. If you visit during January, you’ll want to check out Zehnder’s Snowfest to see ice sculptures and participate in winter activities.
8. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
You might have overlooked the winter vacation possibilities in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. But don’t. Did you know you can go skiing, ice-skating, and snow tubing at Ober Mountain Ski Area and Amusement Park? You’ll also find the Winter Magic Celebration in Gatlinburg with lights and decorations through mid-February. You can be a lumberjack for a day at Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud Show and Adventure Park.
Go see frozen waterfalls and wintry hikes at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you get tired of snowbird activities, you can go indoors and visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies or the Hollywood Star Cars Museum.
Plus, there are tons of cabin rentals in the area if your idea of a winter vacation involves a cozy fire in the fireplace while you curl up with a good book with a snowy vista just out your window.
9. Jackson, Wyoming
You’ll find the charming town of Jackson in a valley inside Grand Teton National Park. This is just one of the ultimate winter vacation destinations in the United States. Not only are you surrounded by the spectacular park views, but you can also do things like check out a National Elk Refuge or visit Old Faithful from the heated comfort of a snowcoach.
You can take Iditarod dog sled tours, take a sleigh ride, rent a snowmobile, visit The National Museum of Wildlife Art, or even take an Aerial Tram up 10,450 feet to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain. If you aren’t already dreaming of a cozy winter vacation, I can’t help you. Jackson, Wyoming, is a peak winter destination.
10. Lake Placid, New York
Picture it: Lake Placid, New York. It’s winter, and you’re curled up by the fireplace with a glass of wine to sip or perhaps a cup of hot cocoa warming your hands. Outside, you have views of a frozen lake and majestic mountains.
If you choose, you can go ski those mountains or take part in a cross-country snowshoeing adventure. You can go ice skating on Mirror Lake, ride an Olympic bobsled, or even take a dog sled ride. There’s ice climbing and toboggan rides, and you can hop in a sleigh ride and simply enjoy the views.
11. Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
Lake Tahoe spans from California to Nevada, and it’s another unique winter destination for vacationers in the United States. You can take a gondola ride up Heavenly Mountain. You can explore Emerald Bay on a heated, scenic cruise. Enjoy the beer trail on South Lake Tahoe or enjoy the firepits at Lone Eagle Grille.
Plus, Lake Tahoe is enormous and has plenty of ski resorts to choose from in the area. You can do all the winter activities we’ve already mentioned and more in the Lake Tahoe area — including just curl up in a cabin by a fire.
12. Leavenworth, Washington
Leavenworth, Washington, is a charming Bavarian village in Washington that’s perfect to see during the winter. It’s one of the best snowmobile destinations in the world. You can visit one of the best collections of nutcrackers around at Nutcracker Museum. You can even go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at Lake Wenatchee State Park or the Icicle River Trail. Even if all you want to do is shop, eat, and admire holiday lights, Leavenworth is your perfect winter getaway.
13. Mammoth Lake, California
You might not think “winter vacation” in the same sentence as “California”, but don’t neglect to consider the beauty of northern California in the winter. We’ve already covered some of the foremost skiing destinations, and Mammoth Lake does offer skiing, but this blogger found 12 other non-skiing things to do in Mammoth Lake.
Of these activities, some of the most notable include fly fishing, a snowcat ride, snowshoeing, and several hot springs. Honestly, she had me at hot springs. Snowy mountain views and a hot spring to relax in? Yes, please!
14. Mystic, Connecticut
Did you know that Country Living declared Mystic, Connecticut, as one of the prettiest winter towns in the United States? I didn’t either until I started researching winter vacation destinations. Architectural Digest also called it one of the most beautiful small towns in America. If you’re in town when it happens, you don’t want to miss the Holiday Lighted Boat Parade.
There are so many things to do in Mystic, but you can keep it simple by enjoying the coastal views, incredible food, and great shopping in the downtown area. There are so many unique shops and points of interest that it’s impossible to list them all. It sounds like you’ll just have to visit for yourself.
15. New York City, New York
It doesn’t matter if you love small towns and nature and think New York City is not for you. New York City is for everyone. I adore nature, and yet, I fell in love with New York the first time I visited. Frankly, I fell in love in New York, but that’s a story for another day. Maybe that’s one reason the city shines for me, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. There’s just something magical about New York in the winter.
Yes, it’s freezing. You’ll want to bundle up. But there’s nothing like ice skating at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, or in the Winter Village at the Bryant Park Rink. If you want to warm up, you can go over to the New York Public Library or walk over to browse books at The Strand. You’ll want to play tourist and walk down Fifth Avenue to see the incredible shop windows there, and you don’t want to miss the iconic Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show.
I took my children to New York City last winter, and it started snowing on our walk in Central Park. Snow wasn’t forecast, and it was truly a magical moment. We went to a Broadway show but seeing the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular in New York City remains high on my bucket list. Ice skating in the city was an experience all its own, and although we didn’t get any more snow on that visit, we did make plenty of winter memories.
16. Stowe, Vermont
If you’ve never heard of Stowe, Vermont, drop everything and add it to your travel list. This gorgeous town in Northern Vermont has Mount Mansfield and all the winter activities of your dreams. From skiing to ice skating, to snowboarding, there are plenty of snowy outdoor adventures to satisfy all your winter wonderland cravings. If that’s not your travel vibe, there are also spas, shopping, and plenty of dining options for your vacation — all with spectacular mountain views.
17. Sun Valley, Idaho
You might not know that Sun Valley is a ski resort town in Idaho. In fact, it’s a premier skiing destination. Even if you don’t ski, you can learn to snowshoe or ice skate, and you can always enjoy the novelty of a sleigh ride through the snow. You can even visit Trail Creek Cabin, which once hosted the likes of literary legend Ernest Hemingway. It doesn’t matter if all you want to do is sit by a cozy fire, Sun Valley will give you some epic views while you sit with your thoughts.
18. Washington, DC
I was fortunate to visit Washington, D.C., a few winters ago, and it was such a wonderful winter vacation. To be honest, we didn’t get snow and were all disappointed, but we did get plenty of other magical wintry experiences. For instance, we ice skated in a sculpture garden at the Capitol. It was my children’s first time on the ice, and seeing their joy filled up my cup.
We also saw the White House — from the gates — and we walked through Georgetown to look at Christmas decorations. There are so many museums to see in the area that we barely managed a fraction of them, but they were perfect places to explore while staying out of the cold.
19. Whitefish, Montana
While I’ve never been to Whitefish, Montana, there’s a reason it makes this notable list of unique winter vacations. Whitefish Outfitters organizes cross-country skiing and snowshoeing through Glacier National Park, and you can go on an ice climbing adventure with Whitefish Vertical Adventures. Honestly, that sounds too cold for me.
I’m more likely to be found riding the Big Mountain Express chair lift at Whitefish Mountain Resort or going on a sleigh ride with hot chocolate and cookies at Bar W Guest Ranch. I might even be tempted to rent a bike and try Winter Fat Biking. After hitting the slopes or trails, the charming town of Whitefish awaits to welcome you with good food, interesting shops, and cozy accommodations.
Sometimes, I find myself defaulting to a beach vacation. I already have swimsuits, beach wagons, and everything I need to enjoy a fun trip to a warm locale. If I planned a winter vacation, I would need warm clothes and boots that I don’t necessarily have while living in the Peach State. I might need to research more of what I’ll need and take a risk that I might try skiing and hate it. But then I wonder just what adventures we miss out on when we take the safe and familiar roads.
Maybe I find out that I hate skiing but love to be cozied up in a cabin with my family and snowy mountain views. Or maybe I fall in love with snowshoeing or get to make memories with my children as we toboggan our way down wintry slopes. I won’t know until I give it a try. Neither will you.