The Best Winter Destination in Every State
Whether you're looking for fun in the snow or an escape from the cold, find your perfect spot for a winter getaway.
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Alabama: Gulf Shores
Snowbirds head south to Alabama’s sunny coast for the winter, but Gulf Shores and its neighbor Orange Beach offer plenty to do for a family vacation as well. It might be a bit chilly for swimming in the sea, but the miles of pristine coastline is perfect for strolls and picnics. Visitors can also enjoy off-season rates on hotels, many of which offer heated or indoor pools. Mild temperatures also create ideal conditions to enjoy the area’s golfing, fishing, hiking, and kayaking spots. Find the best free tourist attraction in every state.
The Alaskan wilderness seems even more beautiful in the winter. Take the Aurora Winter Train from Anchorage to Fairbanks for gorgeous views of the snow-covered country and the majestic Denali peak. Once in Fairbanks, get ready for the Northern Lights, which are more reliably seen here than in the more southern Alaskan cities. Check out the World Ice Art Championships beginning in February for amazing frozen sculptures, then visit nearby Chena Hot Springs for an outdoor winter soak in this natural thermal spa. Winter activities in Fairbanks, including ice fishing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing, round out your winter excursion. Just make sure you bundle up with a winter coat to keep warm (take a look at these plus-size options, too).
All of Arizona can be beautiful in winter, but the higher elevations and northern areas of the state (including the Grand Canyon) may be colder than you’d expect. Instead, take the opportunity to visit locales that are scorching in summer but comfortable in winter, such as Scottsdale. Outside of Phoenix, the town offers superb golfing and spa resorts for a relaxing mid-winter break. In addition to urban delights like art galleries, boutiques, wine-tasing rooms, and restaurants, venture outside the city for breathtaking desert and mountain landscapes, horseback trips, and hot air balloon rides. Book one of the best last-minute getaways in every state.
Arkansas: Little Rock
Martin Luther King Day (January 21) and Black History Month (February) are the perfect time to explore the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Little Rock. The city also features top-notch museums: The Arkansas Arts Center has a not-to-be-missed collection of drawings as well as paintings and photographs; the Museum of Discovery delves into science and natural history; and the historic Old State House Museum explores Arkansas’ role in the Civil War. Plus, Little Rock’s arts and culture scene thrives in the downtown River Market district, where visitors can grab some yummy eats, listen to music, or wander among the shops. Check out the most extravagant Airbnb listing in every state.
California: Death Valley
From ski resorts to the desert escape of Palm Springs and the sunny beaches of San Diego, California has something for everyone in winter—whatever temperature you prefer. But our pick is the stunning Death Valley, the hottest spot on earth, for the simple reason that it’s the least deadly this time of year. Hiking is actually not even recommended in the lower elevations in summer, and is restricted overall to early morning hours. But winter visitors will be rewarded with ample time to explore the canyons, dunes, and peaks of the park. Plus, beautiful low-angled winter light creates Insta-worthy, no filter photos. For family fun, ranger-led programs are offered throughout the winter months, and opportunities for nighttime stargazing reveal planets and meteor showers. Check out more of the best weekend getaways in every state.
Colorado: Keystone Resort
Pretty much everywhere in Colorado is a snowy paradise—the state was practically made for the winter season. One of the best spots for families is Keystone Resort. It hosts an annual Kidtopia, billed as “ultimate playground for family fun and adventure.” Families can explore a life-size snow fort, indulge in afternoon cookies and hot chocolate, and chill at the Kidtopia headquarters with crafts and games. Kidtopia Festivals throughout the winter, including a culinary celebration in February and a music experience in March. For lodging, check out the newly renovated Ski Tip Lodge. The historic bed and breakfast dates back to the 1860s when it was an original stagecoach stop. Here are the prettiest lakes in every state.
Connecticut: Litchfield County
Nestled among rolling hills, this quaint New England county makes for a romantic winter getaway. Historic downtowns boasts boutiques, antique shops, and restaurants, including the lauded Arethusa al tavolo in Bantam, which sources its dairy products from Arethusa Dairy Farm nearby, and Community Table in Washington, which also procures locally grown ingredients. Enjoy the Litchfield Hills Winter Wine Trail, and splurge at one of the area’s lovely inns, such as the Mayflower Inn in Washington or Rock Hall in Colebrook. For outdoor winter fun, visit the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield. Read about the best Christmas town in every state.
Wilmington’s sparkling Riverfront walk looks lovely in the winter months, as visitors flock to its restaurants and shopping spots as well as to the Horizon Services Riverfront Rink for ice-skating. Wilmington also offers indoor arts and culture activities at the Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Children’s Museum, and the Delaware Contemporary. Visitors also shouldn’t miss the city’s historic DuPont family mansions, including the Hagley Museum and Library, Nemours Estate, and Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library. These are the places you can visit where it’s summer right now.
Florida: Key West
Winter is peak travel time in Key West, the southernmost point in the continental United States, for a reason. Warm weather, sun, and a swimmable ocean (for northerners anyway; Floridians might think the 70-degree water is too cold) make it a top destination to get away from frigid temps. In addition to water activities like sailing, snorkeling, and diving, on cooler days visitors can check out historic sites like the Harry S. Truman Little White House, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, and the Audubon House. Winter visitors can also enjoy the culinary delights of the 12th annual Key West Food and Wine Festival in late January. Here are more of the best warm-weather destinations to escape the cold.
Georgia: Golden Isles
The four barrier “Golden Isles” of St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Jekyll, and Sea Island offer mild weather, low hotel rates, and fewer crowds in the winter season. With temperatures in the mid-60s, a light jacket is all visitors need for long walks on the beach and marshland explorations. Winter is a great time for bird watching as feathered friends come south for the season; lucky visitors may spot the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale on its winter migration as well. Plus, visit Jekyll Island in January or February for its Island Treasures event, in which hand-worked glass globes are hidden all over the island for visitors to find—and keep as a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
Hawaii: Oahu’s North Shore
There is really no bad time to visit Hawaii, and no undesirable winter destination in the state—no matter where you go, you’ll get warm air and water temperatures. It does rain a bit more in the winter (often overnight and not usually enough to derail activities), which only serves to make the islands lusher and the waterfalls run stronger. Oahu’s seven-mile North Shore’s claim to fame, though, is its myriad winter surf competitions, which benefit from huge seasonal waves. Events are open to the public, but bring binoculars! (And don’t try to surf the huge waves yourself.) Winter is also prime whale-watching season, with humpback whales on their annual migration often visible in the waters off the North Shore. Check out the best beaches in Hawaii.
McCall and the surrounding area has everything visitors could want in a snowy winter escape. Brundage Mountain ski resort caters to all experience levels, from an extensive beginners’ area all the way up to “cat skiing”—guided trips to back-country fresh powder via Snow Cat vehicles. For a unique dining experience, Brundage also offers “Bears Den Dinner After a Dark,” a rustic culinary outpost also reached by Snow Cat. McCall features amazing scenery over Payette Lake, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing through Ponderosa State Park, relaxing hot springs, and winter “glamping” at covered (and warm) tents called yurts. Top it off with the McCall Winter Festival starting January 25, with snow sculptures, a torchlight parades, snow bike races, and more. Here are the things you won’t be able to do on cruises anymore.
OK, so winter in The Windy City is really cold—but bundle up and you’ll see the town come alive indoors and out. The number one must-do? Flying along the “Skating Ribbon” in Maggie Daley Park: a quarter-mile loop that will have you feel like you’re skating on a river in the shadow of the skyline. Next up? Warm up at one of Chicago’s many outstanding museums, like The Art Institute of Chicago, The Adler Planetarium, The Garfield Park Conservatory, and The Field Museum of Natural History. If you want to brave the cold again, Millennium Park, home of the famous sculpture lovingly referred to as “the bean,” and Navy Pier are both open for wintertime strolling. Then, cozy up with a gourmet dinner during Chicago Restaurant Week (starting January 25) and a discounted show during Chicago Theater Week (starting February 7). Read about more destinations that are even better in winter.
Stroll along Indy’s lovely Canal Walk, then head inside to one of the city’s many cultural attractions, such as the Indiana State Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, ranked the best family museum in the country. Starting January 21, enjoy three-course, value-priced menus at over 200 restaurants with the city’s Devour Indy event. For a more unusual dining experience, venture just outside the city to the living history museum Conner Prairie for their Hearthside Suppers, which invites guests to help prepare an authentic meal circa 1836, before feasting on it.
Northern Iowa’s “Great Lakes,” five glacial lakes including Okoboji, are a summertime recreation destination—but they’re spectacular in winter, too. Ice-fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling are popular cold-weather pastimes here. Plus, visitors can enjoy the annual University of Okoboji Winter Games starting January 28, which feature tongue-in-cheek competitions like snow softball, a “Freeze Your Fanny” bike ride, a polar bear plunge, and “glacial golf.” Family activities, music and entertainment, fireworks, and food including a chili cook-off add to the fun. (If you’re wondering what the University of Okoboji is, that’s part of the joke: It’s a fake college!)
This Midwestern gem is chock-full of museums and cultural exploration to fill a winter getaway. Visitors should check out the Museum of World Treasures, the Wichita Art Museum, and the Kansas Aviation Museum. Architecture buffs can tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House, as well as see the stunning design of Exploration Place science museum. Wichita usually doesn’t get super cold, so visitors may be able to comfortably explore outdoor sights, too—the Sedgwick Zoo is less crowded in winter; Botanica the Wichita Gardens, historic Old Cowtown Museum, and the Great Plains Nature Center are open year-round. Walking the illuminated pedestrian bridge leading to the Keeper of the Plains statue, lit by a ring of fire at 7 p.m. in winter, is a can’t miss Kansas experience.
Kentucky: Mammoth Cave
In summer, Kentucky’s cave systems can get really crowded—but did you know that the caves are actually the same temperature year-round, around 55 degrees? Winter visitors benefit from way fewer people at Mammoth Cave National Park, which means more time for cave exploration and a calmer, quieter atmosphere. Venturing to the surface, the park’s hiking and back-country trails are also more serene in winter without summer’s crowds, and no leaves on trees means visitors can view the landscape and wildlife even better. The Lodge at Mammoth Cave offers on-site, cozy accommodations. Check out more iconic adventures for each of the 50 states.
Louisiana: New Orleans
Visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras (this year, March 5) can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience—but it can also be out-of-control and super crowded. What most visitors don’t know is that the Carnival season actually kicks off on Twelfth Night of Christmas, January 5, with parades put on by groups called “krewes” leading all the way up to Fat Tuesday. To experience the season without the mayhem, head to NOLA in January or February before Mardi Gras. Plus, hotel rates may be lower. For a kid-friendly Carnival experience, visit during Family Gras, this year in late February.
They don’t shy away from the winter in Maine—they embrace it. Get out there and have some fun in the cold at Camden Snow Bowl, the only ski area on the east coast where you can actually see the ocean. Besides downhill skiing, visitors can also experience snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, “fat” biking (off-road bikes with big wheels), and tobogganing. The Snow Bowl is home to the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, this year beginning February 8, and the town of Camden gets into the fun in the week leading up to the championships with its Winterfest, featuring ice carving, a polar bear plunge, music, and food. Find out more of the best-kept secrets in every state.
Maryland: Deep Creek Lake
Yep, there are mountains and snow—lots of it—in Maryland. This lake in the western part of the state hits a “sweet spot” for weather conditions that let it snow, all winter long. The area is home to Maryland’s only ski resort, Wisp. But there’s a lot more than just skiing in Deep Creek. Visitors searching for outdoor fun can try dog sledding, sleigh riding, or ice fishing; intrepid adventure seekers can even go winter hiking or snowshoeing in Swallow Falls State Park to see several frozen waterfalls. If indoor delights are more your speed, cozy up by the fire with a book and a glass of wine at Savage River Lodge.
Massachusetts: The Berkshires
The rural area of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts is known not only for its ski resorts and outdoor winter activities, but for cozy bed and breakfasts, top-notch restaurants, picturesque villages, and its focus and art and music. In mid-February, the 10×10 UpStreet Arts and Music festival comes to Pittsfield; before then, visitors can check out a performance at The Colonial Theatre, and view masterpieces at the Clark Art Institute or the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Foodies can dine at the historic stagecoach stop The Old Inn on the Green or newer hot spot Alta.
Michigan: Pictured Rocks
The stunning ice formations of Pictured Rocks Natural Lakeshore on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are like something out of Frozen. Water that seeps out of the sandstone cliffs freezes into dramatic curtains and columns that can appear blue, yellow, or white. Plus, annual snowfall totals approach 200 inches, turning everything into a true winter wonderland. Trek to ice caves and frozen waterfalls—the hardy can even try winter camping or ice climbing. To see experienced ice climbers in action, check out Michigan Ice Fest in mid-February. Here are more of the most scenic nature getaways in every state.
Minnesota: Minneapolis-St. Paul
Minnesotans revel in their cold weather—if anyone knows how to celebrate winter, it’s them! Far from the bundling indoors you might expect, the Twin Cities come alive with outdoor festivals and events to celebrate the season. Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Great Northern Festival encompasses several winter happenings: Visits can check out the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival, with cross-country ski racing and activities that culminate in Luminary Loppet, a magical nighttime ski across frozen lakes lit by fire. At the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, visitors can see why there’s nothing like playing ice hockey outdoors. St. Paul’s Winter Carnival features parades, snow carving, snow sliding, a beer “dabbler,” and lots more. And with a thriving theater and music scene, the Twin Cities offer plenty for those who love to be indoors, too.
Mississippi: Ocean Springs
Just east of Biloxi along the Gulf coast visitors will find this small beach town that’s big on winter activities. It won’t be as scorching hot as summer, so guests can enjoy comfortable weather for golfing, biking, bird watching, and nature treks through Gulf Islands National Seashore. But besides the outdoor activities, the charming, historic downtown of Ocean Springs features a flourishing arts scene, with tons of galleries and shops to find unique treasures. Plus, choose from over 100 restaurants, including Murky Waters BBQ and Vestige, for delicious seafood and southern-style eats.
Missouri: St. Louis
It does get a bit chilly in the Gateway City in winter, but luckily there are lots of indoor offerings, as well as a burgeoning food scene. The Gateway Arch Museum, at the foot of the famous landmark, recently reopened after a five-year renovation (visitors also shouldn’t miss the tram to the top). Other notable museums include the City Museum, the Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Science Center, and The Magic House children’s museum. For outdoor fun, visitor’s can go skating at Steinberg Rink in Forest Park—and if you’re lucky enough to get some snow, go sledding on the park’s Art Hill, a popular pastime since the World’s Fair of 1904.
This mountain town in northwest Montana is just minutes from Whitefish Mountain Resort, one of the country’s top ski areas, and the majestic Glacier National Park. Enjoy the town’s Winter Carnival throughout January, with music and entertainment, snow sculpting, and a penguin plunge. Up on the mountain, take advantage of their moonlight dine and ski: Ride the lift to Summit restaurant for a meal with 360-degree views, then night-ski back down. In Glacier National Park, visitors can take a guided snowshoe walk, or the brave can winter camp by building their own igloos on multi-day excursions with adventure outfitters.
This pioneer city offers many fun and educational indoor activities for a cold winter on the plains. The Lauritzen Gardens are now a year-round destination thanks to the addition of the Marjorie K. Daugherty conservatory in 2014, which features 17,500 square feet of warm gardens under glass. Considered one of the best in the world, the Henry Doorly Zoo has seven acres of indoor exhibits including the Lied Rainforest, Kingdoms of the Night, Hubbard Gorilla Valley, Scott Aquarium, and Desert Dome. The zoo’s outdoor areas are open as well. Omaha boasts other wonderful museums such as the Durham Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, and outside the city, the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum. Visitors should also take a winter jaunt through the shops, galleries, and restaurants of the historic Old Market district; and check out Omaha’s growing craft beer scene with breweries throughout the city.
Nevada: Lake Tahoe
Las Vegas is actually colder than you’d think in winter, so instead, visitors can embrace a true winter destination in Lake Tahoe, which borders California and Nevada. Many of the ski resorts are on the California side, but Nevada’s are much easier to get to when flying into Reno, the closest airport. Diamond Peak ski resort offers amazing views of the lake; at 8,260 feet, Mt. Rose offers the highest base elevation of any Tahoe ski area (California or Nevada); and the huge Heavenly resort straddles both states with countless trails to choose from. Heavenly also offers non-ski options like snow tubing, UTV rides, sleigh rides, gondola rides, and even casinos. Here are more of the best places to ski in the United States this winter.
New Hampshire: North Conway
Nestled into the state’s White Mountains, the New England town of North Conway brings winter vacationers to an old-fashioned main street bustling with modern shopping and restaurants. In the shadow of Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in the northeast, North Conway is surrounded by an area of natural and historic beauty, with covered bridges, farms, and Wildcat ski area. Although the auto road to the top of Mt. Washington is closed to cars in winter, intrepid mountaineers can venture up the mountain via guided Snowcat tours. Visitors can retire to cozy bed and breakfasts and inns such as White Birch Inn and Farm by the River. Here are more mountain towns that are storybook paradises.
New Jersey: Lambertville
Just a few miles north of the spot where George Washington crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey on December 25, 1776, Lambertville offers visitors a quaint village for their own winter travels. Antiquing, dining, art galleries, historic buildings, and country inns await guests of one of the prettiest towns in the country. In late January, visitors can also enjoy the Lambertville-New Hope Winter Festival (not happening in 2020), put on with its Pennsylvanian sister city across the river, featuring a concert, Inn to Inn Dinner and House Tour, Taste of WinterFest event, chili cook-off, and other music and food events.
New Mexico: Santa Fe
Santa Fe enjoys 300 days of sun a year, but in the nearby mountains, snow is plentiful—over 200 inches annually. For those looking for outdoor adventure, Ski Santa Fe offers some of the best skiing in the country with a base elevation of more than 10,000 feet. But for those searching for culture, Santa Fe also can’t be beat, with an impressive array of artistic and culinary experiences for visitors. Check out the city’s over 300 galleries, and meet creators at the city’s winter Artists in Residence event. Art lovers should also go to the Georgie O’Keefe Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and the Museum of Indian Art and Culture. Visitors can experience Native American culture first-hand at Pueblo winter feast days (just be sure to follow proper guidelines for attending, like no photography). Santa Fe’s more than 200 restaurants invite guests to savor Southwestern as well as international cuisine; February also brings Santa Fe restaurant week.
New York: Saranac Lake
This charming town in the Adirondacks got its start in the 19th century as a place to convalesce in the curative mountain air. Today, the area boasts skiing and other outdoor activities, as well as a creative atmosphere of artists’ galleries, live music, and cosmopolitan restaurants in its postcard-worthy downtown. In early February, Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival promises visitors an ice castle and other ice sculptures, curling, logging demonstration, arctic golf, and winter sports competitions. The town’s healing traditions continue with a variety of wellness activities, including winter forest bathing.
North Carolina: Asheville
Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the “Paris of the South” is home to America’s Downtown Abbey-like mansion, the grand Biltmore Estate. Winter visitors won’t face the historic home’s summer crowds, and can experience the exhibit A Vanderbilt House Party. Downtown Asheville, known for its art, music, food, and beer scene, also makes for a lively winter getaway. After browsing the many shops and galleries, visitors have their pick of great restaurants like 12 Bones Smokehouse or Cúrate. Surprisingly, Ashville itself gets very little snow, but ski resorts in snow-covered mountains are less than an hour away.
North Dakota: Medora
This frontier town that’s one of North Dakota’s top tourist destinations has a rustic charm in winter. Bully Pulpit Golf Course, one of the top in the country, turns into a skier’s paradise with miles of groomed cross-country trails that can also be used for snowshoeing and fat-biking. Visitors can also venture to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the U.S. president hunted and ranched, to see the colorful layers of North Dakota’s badlands topped with snow. Then, head back to downtown Medora, which looks like the set of a Hollywood western.
Ohio: Hocking Hills
The Hocking Hills region of Ohio is marked by the natural beauty of its landscape, as seen in the cliffs, waterfalls, caves, and gorges of its namesake state park. In winter, Hocking Hills State Park’s ice formations and frozen falls attract outdoor enthusiasts to its annual six-mile Winter Hike, now in its 56th year, on January 14. Lake Logan also offers ice-skating and ice fishing. If ice isn’t your thing, take the Comfort Food Cruise, offered weekends throughout the winter, featuring stops at 12 different restaurants.
This city on the Arkansas River offers indoor cultural attractions, such as the Woody Guthrie Center, the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, the Gilcrease Museum, and the Philbrook Museum of Art, housed in a historic Italianate Villa. Architecture buffs will also enjoy Tulsa’s Deco District, which features one of the biggest collections of Art Deco buildings in the country.
While Portland and the coast is experiencing cold and rainy weather, just east of the Cascades, visitors will find the sunny high-desert climate of Bend. Although those who aren’t fans of snow will find plenty of precipitation-free hiking and biking opportunities, those hankering for the white stuff can find some of the driest powder around at Mt. Bachelor ski area, which gets over 300 inches of snow a year (compared to 30 inches in town). For a unique mountain experience, enjoy an evening Bonfire on the Snow. Those looking for indoor experiences can explore the area’s breweries on the Bend Ale Trail, or sample the restaurants and shopping of downtown Bend.
Although outdoor destinations are plentiful in the Pennsylvania countryside—the Poconos, the Laurel Highlands, and Pennsylvania Dutch Country to name a few—winter is also a great time to visit the City of Brotherly Love. The Blue Cross Riverrink Winterfest runs through the season, with ice skating, cozy lodges and warming cabins, and magical lighting overlooking the Delaware River and Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Philadelphia’s indoor historic and cultural sights are a welcome respite from the cold—visitors shouldn’t miss Independence Hall, Liberty Bell Center, Franklin Institute, and the Philadelphia Art Museum. Visit more of the most historic landmarks in every state.
Rhode Island: Newport
Recalling the elegance of a bygone era, Rhode Island’s top destination is wonderful all year round. But traveling to Newport in winter’s off-season gives visitors the opportunity of experiencing the town’s beauty without the summer crowds. Many of Newport’s Gilded Age mansions are open for winter tours; then enjoy easier restaurant bookings and reduced rates at splurge-worthy hotels. Newport Wellness Week in January features yoga, meditation, nutritional cooking, and more; the city’s Winter Festival in February offers food, music, and events to celebrate the season. Foodies may also enjoy Newport’s Burger Bender contest in February as well.
South Carolina: Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head, one of South Carolina’s Lowcountry barrier islands, makes for a mild, relaxing winter getaway without the summer crowds or scorching heat. Take advantage of comfortable temperatures for active outdoor pursuits like golf, hiking, biking, and tennis. Visit in February for the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival, featuring celebrity guest chefs, culinary demonstrations, wine and brew masters, barbecue, and of course seafood—winter is oyster season after all! In addition, throughout the winter visitors can enjoy the Public Art Exhibition, 20 sculptures along a one-mile walking path at the Coastal Discovery Museum.
South Dakota: The Black Hills
The Black Hills in western South Dakota might be famous for Mt. Rushmore (open year-round), but the mountains also offer lots to do for winter enthusiasts. A five-foot snow pack and 350 miles of groomed trails make the area one of the best snowmobiling spots in the country. Head to Terry Peak Ski Area and Deer Mountain for skiing and snow tubing; Spearfish Canyon’s rugged landscape and frozen waterfalls make for exciting snowshoeing. Then, take a break from the winter wonderland and head to the Old West with a stop at the legendary city of Deadwood.
This city in east Tennessee near the Great Smoky Mountains is perfect for those who want a little city and a little country. Knoxville offers arts and culture like the Knoxville Museum of Art and the historic Tennessee Theater. Take a free ride to the top of the Sunsphere, the amber globe that dominates the skyline and offers 360 degrees views. For those craving outdoor adventures, Knoxville is an hour away from Tennessee’s only ski resort, Ober Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains, where visitors can experience winter hiking and spectacular (leaf-free) views.
Texas: South Padre Island
Before the spring breakers descend on this Gulf beach town in Texas’ southern tip, take advantage of bargain hotel rates and have the beach all to yourself. Although South Padre Island is a popular destination for snowbirds, there are still far fewer people in the off-season. With temperatures around 70 degrees, it may be a bit chilly to take a dip, but it’s perfect for sailing, dolphin watching, fishing, horseback riding, and long walks on misty mornings. Visitors can also stop before the causeway to the island to climb historic Port Isabel lighthouse, which is often very hot inside in summer but more comfortable in winter. Find out more warm winter getaways for families that won’t break the bank.
Utah: Park City
Park City has two things going for it in winter: amazing skiing, and the world-renowned Sundance Film Festival, which takes place here every January. With over 7,300 acres, 17 peaks and nearly 350 trails, Park City Mountain is the largest ski and snowboard resort in the United States. There’s also more skiing down the road at Deer Valley. Those interested in the area’s cultural offerings can get tickets to Oscar-worthy films (and maybe even spot some Hollywood stars) during Sundance, with venues in Park City’s historic Main Street and other locations around town.
The hills are alive in this picture-perfect Vermont village, complete with white steepled church, covered bridge, and one-room schoolhouse. But Stowe’s historic downtown, which also offers top-notch restaurants, shopping, and galleries, is only the prelude to Stowe Mountain, one of the top ski resorts in the east. Intrepid outdoors-people can also try ice climbing in the famous Smugglers Notch, a narrow mountain pass near Stowe. For cinema buffs, Stowe features the Trapp Family Lodge, where the real Von Trapps eventually settled after fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria as fictionalized in The Sound of Music. The Von Trapps still own this Alpine-style resort, where sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, and family history tours are offered. Stowe is also one of America’s prettiest winter towns.
This central Virginia city has plenty of indoor things to do, but is close enough to outdoor winter fun in the Blue Ridge Mountains as well. History buffs can delve into the life of Charlottesville’s favorite son, Thomas Jefferson, at his home at Monticello and the gorgeous University of Virginia campus, which he founded and designed. Visitors can discover more presidential history at James Monroe’s home, Highland. Stroll Charlottesville’s pedestrian Downtown Mall, a brick-paved walkway with restaurants, shops, and music venues. For outdoor activities, two Virginia ski resorts, Wintergreen and Massanutten, as well as Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway (open in winter), are all within an hour’s drive.
Washington: Methow Valley
Soggy Seattle is in the middle of its rainy season, but on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, the Methow Valley delights in a winter wonderland. Although visitors can find downhill and back-country skiing as well, the area boasts the largest Nordic ski trail system in the country, with 120 miles of groomed paths to explore. For an upscale version of camping, stay in the modern, glass-fronted Rolling Huts, or the simple comfort of the Rendezvous Huts. Visitors can also enjoy ice-skating, sledding, snowmobiling, fat biking, and snowshoeing. For a break from all the snow-filled activity, the town of Winthrop offers an Old West-style main drag of shops, restaurants, and a saloon.
West Virginia: Canaan Valley
Tucked into the Allegheny Mountains, this area offers visitors a cozy Appalachian retreat. Downhill skiing and other winter activities can be found at Canaan Valley Resort and Timberline Four Seasons Resort; cross-country skiers can also enjoy the 50 miles of trails at White Grass Ski Center. For more adrenaline-inducing outdoor fun, Blackwater Falls State Park has the longest sled run in the east (over a quarter mile). Aprés ski, the small town of Thomas is one of the hottest new tourist spots in the country, with restaurants, galleries, and the eclectic live music venue The Purple Fiddle.
Wisconsin: Door County
This narrow peninsula sticking into Lake Michigan is known as a summer destination, with miles of shoreline and parks, cute villages, and fabulous views over the water—but “the Cape Code of the Midwest” is also a stunning spot to visit in winter. Door County’s five state parks are all open for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling; it’s also one of the top destinations in the country for ice fishing over the bays and inland lakes. For more cold weather fun, attend one of the many winter festivals and events on the peninsula, including the Fish Creek Festival, Fire and Ice Festival in Sturgeon Bay, and Door County Pond Hockey Tournament. Visitors shouldn’t miss Door County famous sunsets, bathed in soft winter light.
Jackson Hole may be one of the top ski resorts in the country, but an even more exciting experience awaits in the winter wilderness of Yellowstone National Park. Most roads are closed to regular traffic, which makes even getting there an adventure: Visitors enter through the northeast gate, then are transported by snowmobile or snow coach; two lodges (but only one is available for overnight guests this season) and warming huts remain open in winter. Although guests are few, the undaunted are rewarded with once-in-a-lifetime views of animals in the snow—which also makes them easier to spot—and steam rising from geyser basins. Guests can even take a winter dip in the natural hot springs of Boiling River. Explore the park via cross-country skis, snowshoes, snow coach, or snowmobile. Taking a trip during winter to any of these destinations is a great way to practice the Norwegian concept of koselig—embracing happy living during the season.