Will you flock to warmer climates this winter? Or will you chase the first snowfall of the season? The United States is a vast country that caters to both snow bunnies and beach bums. As winter approaches, we’re searching for places to either escape or chase colder weather. To help make the process easier, here is a list of the best places to travel in the US in the winter.
Best Places to Travel in the US in the Winter
Whether you’re team winter wonderland or team summer lovin’, there’s a destination for you. If you prefer chasing fresh powder and slopes, there are many cozy winter getaways in the US. Or if you’d like to forget the cold exists altogether, there are destinations that’ll cure your winter blues. From ski resorts to sunny beaches, this list will inspire you to design the perfect winter vacation.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Look up “winter wonderland” in any dictionary and you’ll see a photo of Yellowstone national park. The winter months are a great time to visit for those seeking fewer crowds, and more solitude. But you won’t be completely alone — you may find yourself surrounded by the local bison, elk, and moose. While bears hibernate for the season, the park is still teeming with wildlife. And if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the Yellowstone wolves from afar.
Exploring Yellowstone national park in the winter gives travelers a unique perspective of the park’s frequented attractions. Take a snowshoe tour around Old Faithfull, walk or ski around the Mammoth Terraces, or get your cameras out for the winter photo safari tour. For winter sports enthusiasts, the park is the perfect location for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. But whatever you choose to do, do not skip out on the famous Yellowstone snowcoach tours.
Big Sky, Montana
Unafraid of braving the cold? Big Sky, Montana, strikes a perfect balance between winter activities and laid back vibes. If you’re a skier, Big Sky is already on your radar. Also known as the “biggest skiing in America,” Big Sky has over 5800 acres of skiable terrain. While skiing is a must, the area also offers a variety of winter activities.
Go dog sledding through the forests, snowshoe in the backcountry, or go on a sleigh ride adventure. Big Sky has plenty of outdoor activities for those who embrace cold, chilly days. And if laying low is your style, take a short road trip to one of Montana’s many hot springs and enjoy a relaxing soak.
Park City, Utah
You can expect most US winter destinations to have great slopes for skiing. Although Park City is no different, they do offer a one-of-a-kind, winter experience. Visit the Utah Olympic Oval, where you can ice skate on the rink that holds more Olympic World Records than anywhere else. And while you’re there, be sure to go snow tubing at Soldier Hollow. But if you’re looking for an activity to escape the cold weather, visit the two free museums at the Utah Olympic Park and learn about Utah’s Olympic history.
Park City also caters to a full range of winter-specific activities. Travelers can go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and snowmobiling. Or try something new and go snow biking through one of the city’s well-maintained trails.
While the days are short and the temperatures frigid, travelers who visit Anchorage in the blustery winter will experience a picture-perfect, Christmas-card landscape. Dash through the Alaskan wilderness on a dog sled, experiencing a slice of the state’s traditions.
Go on a glacier hike at Portage Valley, Spencer Glacier, or Eklutna Glacier. For the more seasoned winter adventurer, go ice climbing at Manatanuska Glacier. But Anchorage isn’t all extreme sports and adrenaline-pumping experiences. The Aurora Winter Train is perfect for travelers who would rather take in the winter scenery from the comfort of a warm, cozy vehicle. The train takes travelers through Alaska’s scenic landscapes, as they observe the state under a thick blanket of powder-white snow. Whatever you choose to do, the one thing you shouldn’t leave Anchorage without is attempting to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Welcome to skiers’ paradise. Sun Valley, Idaho, is home to the United States’ very first destination ski resort. This quaint mountain town is host to notorious guests like Marilyn Monroe and Ernest Hemingway. If you’re up for a great day of skiing or a mellow and cozy night in, consider this overlooked winter destination.
Experience the fresh powder and spend a day skiing down the historic Bald Mountain. As for pro-skiers and daredevils, push your limits and book a Heli ski tour with Sun Vally Heli Ski. Or take in the frost-tipped mountainous terrain from above and go paragliding with Fly Sun Valley. If you’re like me and prefer staying lowkey, wind down by spending a day ice skating and treating yourself to a spa at Zenergy. For adrenaline junkies and winter romantics alike, embrace winter’s magic by booking a horse-drawn sleigh ride right out of a Christmas classic.
Hanover, New Hampshire
No destination embraces winter quite like Hanover, New Hampshire. This New England town’s winter celebration goes beyond Christmas and well into the end of the season. If you’re planning a late-winter vacation, the Dartmouth Winter Carnival is worth checking out. The carnival brings together snow lovers as they create ice sculptures based on a different theme every year. Think of it as the winter version of a sandcastle festival.
Aside from impressive snow structures, Hanover is a great destination for a classic winter getaway. Go ice skating on Occum Pond, snow tube at the Hanover Country Club, or ride a toboggan down Freshman Hill. And of course, there are plenty of skiing opportunities at the Dartmouth Skiway and Northeast Slopes. When you’re ready to wind down and indulge in wintertime treats, go on a hunt for a baked hot chocolate or a cup of rich hot cocoa in town.
Lake Erie, Ohio
Colorful ice fishing cabins perched atop a frozen lake gives me serious Scandinavian vibes. Even if you aren’t into ice fishing, catching a glimpse of this winter activity will be a treat for those with an artistic and photographic eye.
Lake Erie’s winter activities ranging from snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and sledding. But for travelers who are looking to explore hiking trails, Lake Erie is the perfect spot for you. Hike through the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and keep your eyes out for the rare Bald Eagle. Or visit the East Harbor State Park, where you’ll find well-marked hiking trails open for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Looking for a dramatic snowy landscape? Visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. Winter stops time in its tracks at this park, allowing guests to stand under an arch of frozen water. The water that flows through these rock formations form curtains of blue, white, or yellow ice in the winter. Accessing some of these ice formations can be tricky and dangerous, so be sure to stick to marked paths.
If you’re planning to make a weekend out of your visit, the park offers many activities to fill your itinerary. Don your snowshoes and explore the pristine winter beauty, go cross-country skiing or explore the park on a snowmobile. And for true winter lovers, camp out in the backcountry and enjoy the peace and quiet.
The big debate amongst Coloradans is this: Aspen or Vail? These two rival ski destinations have been duking it out for a long time. Traditionally speaking, Vail seems to be the preferred choice. But celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Sandra Bullock choose Aspen for their winter getaway. Best of all, Aspen caters to all winter travel styles, including those who have no interest in outdoor activities.
Aspen puts on a rotating concert series, treating travelers to free live music every winter. For history buffs, Aspen offers walking tours of their historic mining town. And foodies, listen up! Aspen is the mecca of Colorado’s food scene. Famous chefs are often spotted dining around town during the winter. So treat yourself to a delicious meal at restaurants like Ajax Tavern — which serves a long list of celebrity chefs clientele apres-ski.
New York City, New York
Love the snow but don’t care for winter sports? New York City is the best place for you. The city transforms into an urban winter wonderland around the holidays, as stores go all out with the Christmas decor. It’s easy to get in the holiday spirit strolling down 5th Avenue seeing the window displays.
Stop by Rockefeller Center to catch the enormous Christmas tree and iconic skating rink. But instead of skating there, head to Central Park’s Wollman Rink or Bryant Park to avoid the tourist crowds. For a little shopping, peruse the kiosks at the Union Square Holiday Market. And for a real holiday treat, get tickets to the New York City Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” When you’re done with the cold weather, pop into one of the city’s trendiest cafes and warm up with some piping hot coffee. Although winter in the city can be quite romantic, fresh snow often turns into puddles of slush in a matter of hours — so pack accordingly.
Palm Springs, California
Don’t fare well in freezing temperatures? Head to Palm Springs, California. Palm Springs is one of the best winter destinations for those who hate the cold but love the outdoors. Although it’s a popular summer destination, the best time to visit is in the winter where temperatures range from the low to high 70s.
Take advantage of the warmth and sunshine by exploring the town by biking. Or if you prefer exploring by foot, go hiking in Indian Canyons — the world’s largest native palm oasis. And for a touch of culture, immerse yourself in fine art at the Palm Springs Art Museum. But if you’re ready to immerse yourself in the local art scene, reserve your tickets for the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Let’s be real — there isn’t a bad time to visit Hawaii. If you’re looking to seek refuge in the sunshine, Kauai is the place to be. Nicknamed “the Garden Isle,” winter escapees can enjoy pleasant temperatures all year long. Spend a winter day chilling on golden-sand beaches, or go on a hike through the lush Waimea Canyon.
One of the main attractions of Kauai in the winter months is whale watching. From December through March, travelers can observe the migrating humpback whales in its prime. If there is one selling point to convince any snow lover to spend a winter in Hawaii, this would be it. But for the rest of you beach bums, Kauai’s tropical climate allows for year-round snorkeling, surfing, and water sports.
Key West, Florida
Thinking about heading south for the winter? Chances are Key West crossed your mind. Key West is the southernmost point of the United States and a whopping 90 miles away from Cuba. In other words, travelers will spend plenty of time outdoors basking in the sunshine. Planning on traveling for the holidays? Get ready to experience a nautical Christmas, Key West style. Buildings around town sport ocean-themed Christmas ornaments. And the Lighted Boat Parade will kick-off the holiday season.
It’s no secret that winter is Key West’s busiest season. Because it sees more tourists this time of year, there’s more to experience. Join the nightly Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square, visit the Dry Tortugas National Park, and plan a trip to Ernest Hemingway’s Home & Museum. Key West will cater to all your anti-winter needs, turning those cold, frigid days into a distant memory.
Las Vegas, Nevada
The best time to visit Las Vegas is in the winter. Not only will you beat the hoards of party-goers that summer attracts, but you’ll stay far away from the hot desert heat. Vegas’ temperatures are mild and comfortable in the winter, making it perfect for outdoor activities off the strip.
Visit the Neon Boneyard, a graveyard for neon signs of Las Vegas’ past. Or spend an afternoon hiking at Red Rock Canyon. If you’re up for a little day trip, visit the Valley Of Fire which boasts intense red rock formations that make you feel like you’ve landed on Mars. And last but not least, don’t forget to eat your way through the city. Enjoy the luxurious restaurants on the strip, or venture out and explore the local restaurants of Vegas’ Chinatown.
PS: Don’t forget to pack your winter coats. Those seeking snow will find it at Mt. Charleston, about an hour’s drive from the strip.
Los Angeles, California
There aren’t many places in North America where you can snowboard at sunrise, and surf at sunset. Los Angeles offers travelers the best of both worlds as a winter destination. Caught between snow and sunshine? Los Angeles is the perfect spot for winter sports by day, and beach bonfires by night.
Visit Mt. Pinos for some Nordic skiing, or drive 2-hours to Big Bear for a winter cabin weekend. And once you’re all snowed out, head towards Malibu for some surf, fine-dining, and stunning ocean views. If you’re visiting during the holiday season, be sure to stop by the Americana to get in the Christmas spirit. While you’re there, grab a table at Din Tai Fung — a popular Taiwanese restaurant best known for their scrumptious soup dumplings. In short, Los Angeles is the perfect winter getaway for travelers who need to have it all.
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Craving a Caribbean getaway? Head to St. Thomas for the winter. There, you’ll spend your days soaking in the sun, laying on white sandy beaches, or diving into the turquoise blue ocean. St. Thomas is the perfect winter destination for those who are ready to disconnect and set their email autoresponders to vacay mode.
The main draw of St. Thomas is Megan’s Bay Beach, voted one of the world’s best beaches by magazines such as Condé Nast and National Geographic. Besides swimming and sunbathing, travelers can rent kayaks, paddleboats, or sailboats. St. Thomas’ crystal clear water makes it the perfect place for snorkeling and scuba diving. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, feel free to rent an underwater submersible scooter and explore the ocean like you never have before.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is the perfect destination for those who enjoy being in the mountains minus the heavy snowfall. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has an array of options for winter activities ranging from hiking trails to live music. Since winter is generally an undiscovered season here, travelers will get to enjoy exploring the area free from crowds.
Explore the many winter hiking trails in the area, such as the Bearwallow Mountain, Moore Cove Falls, and Lover’s Leap Loop Trails. And if you’re traveling with your partner, make reservations at Asheville’s most romantic restaurants like the Omni Grove Park Inn. Or enjoy a candlelit dinner at the historic Biltmore. If you’d like to dance the night away, stop by a music hall and experience the live music, dance culture, and nightlife scene. Best of all? You can book a cozy cabin getaway without suffering through freezing cold temperatures.
Imagine the contrast of Sedona’s red rocks blanketed in a light dust of snow. This stunning backdrop is one of the reasons why Sedona makes for a great winter destination. Winter in Sedona sees fewer crowds and cheaper hotel prices, so treat yourself to a luxurious getaway.
Once there, experience Sedona’s mystical charm by exploring the great outdoors. Take off on one of the many hiking trails, book a Jeep tour, or explore the area from up high with a hot air balloon ride. As for couples, Sedona is one of Travel + Leisure’s most romantic winter destinations. Surprise your partner with a romantic couples spa, where you’ll both be pampered with soothing massages, aromatherapy, and wine. As for lovers of culture and arts, plan your trip around local events like the Sedona International Film Festival and Workshop.
Death Valley, California and Nevada
If you know one thing about Death Valley, it’s that it is fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot in the summer months. That fact alone can scare any traveler out of visiting Death Valley during that time of year. The solution? Plan to visit in the winter!
During the winter, daytime temperatures range between mid-60s to low 70s, perfect for a comfortable day outdoors. Plan a full day of hiking and visit spots like Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, and Artist’s Palette. As for astrophotographers, the clear winter’s night sky makes it the perfect setting to shoot the cosmos. But temperatures at night could drop as low as 30 degrees, so don’t forget to pack warm clothing if you plan on stargazing. And if you happen to visit Death Valley on the cusp between winter and spring, you’ll experience the colorful desert superbloom.
New Orleans, Louisiana
No one does winter quite like New Orleans. The temperature is moderate so ditch your puffy winter coats and head down south for the season. The winter weather beats the humid summers by far, so take a stroll down French Quarter and immerse yourself in the city’s jazz-rich history.
Not a week goes by without a festival or two in New Orleans. If you’re planning a winter vacation, be sure to join in the festivities with the Celebration in The Oaks Holiday Lights Festival. This 2.25 driving tour will have you ooh-ing and ah-ing at North America’s most spectacular holiday light display. And if that isn’t wild enough for you, push your winter vacation into the new year and head to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Take in the parades, pageantry, beads, and booze, but don’t forget to save room for dessert.
Snow or Sun? Choose Your Winter Adventure!
Thanks to the sheer size of the United States, there are options that please both pro-snow and pro-surf travelers. The naturally diverse and varied climates of the country allow us to travel through seasons that suit our tastes. These 20 places are sure to inspire your next great winter getaway. Not to mention, some of these destinations have incredibly unique accommodations. But the only question I have is this: will you be donning snowshoes or slathering on sunscreen come winter?