15 Best Winter Vacations in the U.S.
It is easy to have a love/hate relationship with winter. It is fickle, unpredictable, and cold, yet the frigid temperatures provide the perfect backdrop for some epic winter vacations in the United States. From unforgettable skiing in Colorado to bobsledding at the Olympic Park in Utah, or mushing through the Alaskan wilderness, winter offers up vacation opportunities unlike any other season.
Some of the best winter vacations in the United States happen by accident when you try fat biking, snowmobiling, or ice fishing for the first time, then they become a part of an annual tradition. Winter is also a perfect time to visit places like New York City or Chicago for cheaper travel rates and fewer tourists. It is easy to bundle up and visit some of America's most iconic landmarks and cultural experiences.
For some travelers, winter vacations mean beaches and not snow, and the U.S. has those kinds of getaways, too. No matter what your preference is to get through the winter months, see our list of the best winter vacations in the U.S.
1. Explore the Winter Trails in Wisconsin
The Northwoods of Wisconsin is a winter playground for outdoor sports enthusiasts, with trails for nearly every activity that you can do in the snow.
The town of Hayward in Sawyer County is home to the largest fleet of snow grooming equipment in the United States. That is because the trails they manicure are prepped each day to accommodate the vast number of outdoor activities that draw visitors to the area throughout the winter.
There are more than 600 miles of snowmobile trails just in this area that connect to a network of other trails throughout the state. There are 200 miles of cross-country ski trails and dozens of miles of snowshoe and hiking trails.
The neighboring town of Cable has 80 miles of fat bike trails. It is easy, even for first-time fat bikers, to work with an outfitter like Howl Adventure Center in Bayfield and learn the basics to enjoy the snowy trails in the woods. Most outfitters in the area rent bikes, skis, and snowshoe equipment to use on the trials.
Cable is also home to North America's largest cross-country ski marathon, the American Birkebeiner. The pro trail is available to cross-country skiers the rest of the winter. Winter warriors can warm up with a BBQ Bowl at the nationally renowned Old Southern BBQ, which started in Hayward; enjoy hot homemade seafood bisque at Birches Roadhouse; or try a traditional fish fry at the Landing on the Chippewa Flowage, where you can also see a replica of the world record muskie that was caught in the lake next to the restaurant.
2. Ski the Colorado Slopes
Colorado has some of the best downhill skiing slopes in the United States, with ski resorts that range from luxury to budget friendly. Areas like Telluride and Steamboat Springs are some of the most popular ski destinations in Colorado, but you can also combine several skiing cities that are within close proximity in one visit for the ultimate Colorado ski vacation.
Aspen Snowmass is regularly rated a top skiing destination, and for good reason, because you can hit multiple slopes in two cities in one trip. The region has four mountains: Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass.
Each offers a unique experience for the skiing enthusiast and ski schools for beginners. Aspen is a Victorian mining town with 80 restaurants and cafes to enjoy after a cold day outside, and Snowmass is just nine miles from Aspen.
Most resorts offer lift tickets that give you access to all four mountains and transportation between them. Many vacationers hit one mountain per day during their getaway. Be sure to enjoy the gondola ride 12,000 feet above the region and soak in the best vantage point to see the 2.8 million acres of wilderness adjacent to the ski areas.
Another potential Colorado ski combo is Breckenridge and Vail. Breckenridge has 187 ski trails that zig-zag across more than 3,000 acres of terrain, with nearly ideal snow conditions most of the time. It surrounds an old Victorian-era mining town, adding a rustic flair to the breathtaking views as you ski the slopes.
Vail slopes are just 40 miles away, so you can spend the other half of your vacation on the notable peaks skiing to the valley between the Sawatch Mountain Range and the Gore Mountain Range.
3. Dogsledding in Alaska
Imagine dashing through the Alaskan wilderness being pulled by a dog sled and experiencing one of the state's most important traditions. The Alaskan Iditarod Sled Dog Race that takes place every March is a 1,150-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.
Taking a vacation to experience mushing with some of the world's most beautiful creatures while being in the open winter elements of Alaska is something you will never forget. Take a dogsledding class and experience what it is like to trek through the Alaskan terrain as you work with the dogs and trainers.
Many tours depart from Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, Girdwood, and Seward. The truly hard-core can choose to go by helicopter to a glacier for their dogsledding experience.
4. Ski America's First Ski Resort in Idaho
While there are plenty of great ski resorts to experience across the United States, one of the best winter ski vacations is in Sun Valley, Idaho, home of the first destination ski resort in the country. The old mining town is surrounded by two rugged mountain peaks and more than 2,000-acres of changing terrain, which attracts skiers of all levels, from ambitious beginners to Olympic athletes.
Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain offer 3,400 feet of vertical snow-packed thrills along dozens of trails. Though Sun Valley attracts hard-core skiers, Dollar Mountain has a variety of ways for newer skiers to get acclimated to the steep terrain. There is even an adventure trail for kids.
5. Shopping in Chicago
The streets of Chicago may not initially come to mind when you're thinking of winter vacation, but there are plenty of reasons to consider a visit here. Shopping along The Magnificent Mile is a fun experience in the winter, as long as you layer up for the chilly lakeshore conditions.
Take your time to peruse the luxury retailers along Michigan Avenue when there are fewer visitors to the city. As you stroll from one store to the next and fill your bags with sale items, enjoy the elaborate window displays and admire the city's architecture on historic buildings like the Water Tower.
Break up the outdoor experiences with indoor plans to visit some of Chicago's museums. The Art Institute of Chicago, The Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry are top places to visit in the city and can split up the days nicely with a balance of indoor and outdoor activities.
Perhaps the best part about visiting Chicago in the winter is needing no excuse to warm up with an authentic deep-dish Chicago-style pizza. There are many top pizza houses in the city, and no one would blame you for trying several during a chilly visit.
Any winter visit to Chicago should include ice-skating at the Millennium Park ice rink, where you can take in the city skyline and frozen Lake Michigan. You will find discounted travel deals on transportation and lodging in the winter months, and this is when Chicago is the least crowded.
6. Bobsled Like an Olympian in Utah
The winter snow conditions in Utah are consistently fabulous for skiers and snowboarders, and you can certainly enjoy those activities during a vacation, but the destination offers something no place else can – the chance to bobsled down the 2002 Olympic Winter Games Sliding Track.
The Winter Bobsled Experience in at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City is an unforgettable way to literally step into Olympic greatness. Experience the G-force as you rocket down the chute with a professional driver on board the Comet Bobsled, along the same track used for bobsled, luge, and skeleton events during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. You must be at least 16-years-old and 100-pounds to ride.
Address: 3419 Olympic Parkway, Park City, Utah
Official site: https://utaholympiclegacy.org/location/utah-olympic-park/
7. Cross-Country Ski in Vermont
Some of the best ski trails are not always the downhill kind, which is why states like Vermont cater to vacationers looking for a top-notch cross-country skiing getaway. There is a wide range of trails and guided cross-country ski opportunities clustered in the northern, central, and southern regions of the state.
Killington, Stowe, and Burlington are some of the key areas where cross-country skiing is popular, but you will find hundreds of trails throughout the state crossing natural and pristine woodlands that you can explore with your own skis or rentals. Many resorts offer ski excursions that include a hot lunch or other perks to complement your day in the snow.
8. Hit the Slopes in Big Sky Montana
Big Sky Montana is home to some of the most spectacular downhill skiing available in the U.S. What makes it great? The more than 30 feet of snowfall the area gets each year in southwestern Montana, making for near perfect winter conditions.
Pick your slope from the towering mountain peak that gives vacationers more than 6,000 acres to ski and 4,300 vertical feet of snow to traverse. There are four mountains and about 300 ski runs to choose from, so you could spend a week in Big Sky and never hit the same trail twice. Warm up in one of the many charming restaurants serving up hearty post-ski meals in the Mountain Village.
9. Ice Fishing on Lake Erie
Ice fishing for perch and walleye on frozen Lake Erie is one of the most exciting winter vacations you can take. Lake Erie is one of the best ice-fishing lakes in Ohio, and while guides can take you out on the ice from the shores of Port Clinton, one of the most memorable ways to experience
Lake Erie ice fishing is on isolated South Bass Island, which only a few locals and anglers inhabit in the winter. For approximately $40 you can take the Island Air Taxi from Port Clinton for a short 10-minute flight to the island and stay at a bed-and-breakfast. A reputable guide service can set you up in a shanty for one or several people for the day and monitor ice conditions.
Wrap up the day at one of the only restaurants open on the island and enjoy a fried walleye basket and cup of hot cocoa by the fireplace as you share fish stories with the locals.
10. Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park
While states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Maine have ideal conditions for snowmobiling, doing it in the heart of Yellowstone National Park in Montana, while bison roam around you, is an epic winter experience. In fact, traveling by snowmobile is the preferred method of transportation in the park in the winter.
This experience tops other snowmobiling vacations because it combines a visit to Yellowstone and a close-up opportunity to see the wildlife. There are warming huts, restaurants, and restrooms in the park for convenience.
If you are new to snowmobiling or this is a first-time visit to Yellowstone, plan on taking a guided snowmobile tour.
11. Ski in the Finger Lakes, New York
The Finger Lakes region in central New York offers one of the best winter vacations as you hit the slopes carved out by glaciers that make for a 9,000-square-mile area of outdoor ski adventure. Five ski mountains on the edge of the Finger Lakes region each have something unique to offer.
The largest ski resort in Central New York is the family-focused Greek Peak Mountain Resort. The resort operates 56 trails with terrain parks on-site. The resort also has a Nordic Center, offering groomed cross-country trails and snowshoeing trails and a 41,000-square-foot indoor water park.
Another favorite, Song Mountain is one of the easiest ski areas to access in the Finger Lakes because it is located in the village of Tully, just off I-81, with 24 trails. Bristol Mountain is ideal for novice skiers, with most of the 34 trails marked for skill level.
Expert skiers in the Finger Lakes head to Labrador Mountain, with some of its more than 20 trails catering specifically to advanced skiers.
12. Snowshoe in Southern Oregon
A trip to Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon is breathtaking any time of the year, but snowshoeing here is spectacular, as it is one of the snowiest places in the United States. The park offers one- to two-mile guided snowshoe walks every weekend through April.
Snowshoe with a ranger to Crater Lake as you learn about the wildlife and plant life within the park and how it is sustained throughout the winter months, which average 44 feet of snow each year. If you choose to hit one of the snowshoe trails on your own, be sure to stop at the visitor center first to pick up a park map and find out about current weather conditions and warnings.
13. Ice Climbing in Colorado
No awe factor is bigger when it comes to winter vacations than ice climbing at the Ouray Ice Park in Ouray, Colorado. The ice fortress is a man-made climbing park within the Uncompahgre Gorge. There are over 200 ice climbs, including three miles of vertical terrain that are created every November by ice farmers who spray down the canyon walls with excess spring-fed water collected from the city.
The ice park is a winter destination for both ice climbing experts and those who just want to try it once. You can set up home base in the City of Ouray, which is only a 15-minute walk to the entrance of the park.
Address: 280 7thAvenue, Ouray, Colorado
Official site: http://ourayicepark.com
14. Take in Iconic Sites in New York City
A winter vacation in the heart of New York City can be a magical experience and a unique way to see some of the most iconic sites in America. Bundle up in layers and hit the New York streets to visit the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Rockefeller Center.
Plan some indoor time at New York's top museums like the American Museum of Natural History and The National 9/11 Memorial and Museum. For a panoramic view of frozen New York City, head to the top of the Empire State Building or ride to the 102nd floor of the One World Observatory in just 47 seconds.
Be sure to plan some time for ice-skating on the rink in Central Park. You can warm up with some hearty and delicious cuisine in the small restaurants in New York's ethnic neighborhoods, including Polish fare in Greenpoint and Puerto Rican dishes in the Bronx.
It is best to plan your Big Apple vacation after the holidays, when the crowds have left the city. You will find the best travel deals from January through March, when rates will be cheaper for hotels and transportation.
15. Walking Waikiki Beach in Honolulu
Everyone has a different idea of what a perfect winter vacation in the U.S. looks like, and for some, that means escaping the cold weather and walking on a warm, sandy beach in Hawaii. Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is the perfect spot to break up the winter blues and replace them with sunshine, warm breezes, and salty tropical air.
Winter in Hawaii is an ideal time for island hopping to Maui or the Big Island, which you can easily do on the same trip. Late December through early spring is the best time to spot humpback whales from the coast, or you can take a whale-watching tour to see them.
While you hang ten on Waikiki Beach and soak up the sun, you can also take in some of Hawaii's best surfing competitions. Winter months bring competition-worthy ocean swells and draw some of the top experts in the industry. If surf and sand is your ideal getaway, be advised that it is for lots of other travelers, too, so expect larger crowds and more expensive prices for hotels and airfare.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Honolulu: Best Areas & Hotels
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Skiing in the United States: You can find great ski resorts all across the United States. If your plans are taking you out West, see our lists and recommendations for the best ski resorts in Colorado, Utah, Montana, California, and more specifically, ski resorts around Lake Tahoe.
If you are heading to the East, begin by browsing our list of top ski resorts on the East Coast, and then have a more detailed look at skiing in Vermont, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. Budget minded skiers or anyone looking for a deal should see our piece on Cheap Ski Holidays in the US.