The Best Winter Staycations in Every State
Stay safe and happy this winter by being a tourist in your own town.
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Have fun close to home in the winter months
The outdoors saved summer during the pandemic, but what happens when winter comes? Don’t worry, there’s still plenty to do during the colder months without having to travel outside your home state or break COVID restrictions. We rounded up the best staycation opportunities and things to do close to home that will still be available (and fun) in every state, even when it’s cold and snowy. While you’re planning ahead, check out the best fall activity in every state.
Ever wondered where the birds go when they fly south for the winter? The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is 35,000 acres of wintering waterfowl. It’s most famous for the thousands of sand cranes but it’s also home to 12 more endangered species. Locals can enjoy games, treats, tours, and activities for the whole family at the Festival of The Cranes, January 9 to 10, 2021. If you prefer to stay in the comfort of your car, try one of the 15 best national park road trips to take all year long.
Dog mushing is Alaska’s state sport and winter is the perfect time to take advantage of it. Book a guided dog tour and you can sit warm and cozy while enjoying the grandeur and beauty of the Alaskan scenery. But of course getting to see the playful, huskies in their natural element is the best part!
The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Arizona in the summer but insiders say that winter may actually be the best time to check out this natural wonder. There are fewer crowds, cooler temps, and the views are every bit as gorgeous. Hiking and camping are open year-round or if you want a more leisurely tour, take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. The Grand Canyon is a biggie but do you know these practically secret national parks you should visit?
Arkansas is the gateway to the Ozarks. Moderate weather year-round means you can enjoy them by hiking the stunning mountains via one of the hundreds of trails, ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert. Or for a different perspective, check the Ozarks out from underneath with a visit to the Blanchard Spring Caverns, a unique cave system that has a spring and waterfall.
Beautiful beaches, fresh seafood, skiing at Lake Tahoe, Disneyland (without the crowds!)—there is no shortage of winter fun to be had in California. But if you’d like to see something you can only get in winter, check out Pacific Grove. Between November and March, hundreds of thousands of brightly colored monarch butterflies come to winter. See them up close at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in the early afternoon.
The epic powdery snow on the Rocky Mountains in Colorado make it a top winter destination for ski tourists from all over the world. Those mountains are also home to some of the grandest natural hot springs in the country. Get the best of both worlds—hit the slopes during the day and soak under the stars at night—by heading to Glenwood Springs. The local ski resort, Sunlight Mountain, has much shorter lines and more affordable prices than the big name resorts that attract all the out-of-towners. Check out the most gorgeous hot springs in the world.
Hammonasset Beach State Park is packed during the summertime but Connecticut’s largest beach can be even more fun in the winter. (Not to mention the parking is free!) Without the crowds, you can take in the breathtaking views, hunt for seashells, or get up close and personal with sea life at the Meigs Point Nature Center. The landmark Clam Castle restaurant also stays open through the winter if you’d like to warm up with a cup of lobster bisque, one of the state’s specialties.
For a romantic and authentic weekend getaway, book a night at the historic Inn at Montchanin Villiage. The quaint town is a throwback to the early days of the country and everything from the gardens to the furnishings to the museums will give you a feel for what it was like in the days of the 13 colonies. Check out these 30 stunning photos of natural parks in full bloom.
With an average winter temperature around 70° F, Florida is where people go for winter vacations when they want to forget the cold and snow. Key West is a chain of islands that is hugely popular with tourists in the summertime, making winter an ideal time for locals to hit up the white sand beaches. From museums to deep-sea fishing, to one-of-a-kind restaurants, there’s plenty to fill a day or a weekend. Start at the Dry Tortugas National Park to get your nature fix and end by visiting the Hemmingway House, a cultural icon. Discover more of the best Florida beaches locals want to keep secret.
The Ponce City Market in Atlanta is a historic building turned into a paradise for foodies, shoppers, and thrill-seekers. If the weather is cool, stay indoors and enjoy the boutique stores and the food court filled with unique dishes you won’t find anywhere else. If the sun is out, head up to the rooftop theme park which is turned into a winter wonderland for the season. In addition to rides, you can relax in warm bubble igloos or go ice skating.
There’s no bad season in Hawaii but if you’re a surfer then winter turns the state into your playground. Oahu’s North Shore is known for its big winter waves. Locals interested in watching the world’s best surfers get the best views at the Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach and Waimea Beach. Bonus: From late October through December, you can catch events from the Van’s Triple Crown of Surfing. It’s a show like no other! These are the best beaches in Hawaii to visit in your lifetime.
Snowsports are hugely popular in Idaho during the winter but people looking for a relaxing break from skiing and snowboarding will love Lava Hot Springs. There are five pools, ranging in temperature from 102° F to 112° F, that are constantly replenished by bubbling natural underground springs. But perhaps the best part is that they contain no sulfur, the compound that gives most hot springs that “rotten egg” smell. Admission also includes the indoor aquatic center, a kiddie pool playground, diving platforms, and slides. It’s one of the 15 best hot springs you can find in the country.
Take a trip back in time and learn about the pioneer history of Illinois while participating in a variety of fun family activities with a visit to the historic town of Nauvoo. Take a tour in an ox-drawn cart, watch period reenactments, sample the vineyard, watch traditional artisans work, or visit one of the many museums. This is a great option for families on a budget as most activities are free. These 20 small towns also look like they were frozen in time.
Regardless of the snowfall, adventure seekers can take a ride on the refrigerated Toboggan Run in Pokagon State Park, near the town of Angola. The ride starts atop a 30-foot tower and speeds through dips and valleys. This isn’t your average sled run: The total vertical drop is 90 feet over the course of a quarter mile and the top recorded speed is 42 mph. If you’re looking for a more gentle experience, you can rent cross-country skis or snowshoes in the park as well. Make sure you know these 12 things you shouldn’t do in newly reopened state parks.
Make the most of the winter snow by heading to Cone Park in Sioux City. Kids and adults will love the 700-foot snow tubing hill, complete with a “magic carpet” to take you back to the top. At night, you can go “snow glo” tubing as hill is lit up for an exciting glow-in-the-dark ride. The park also has an ice skating rink, outdoor fire pit, and a day lodge for warming, rentals, and concessions. Find out about 11 destinations that are even better in winter.
Wichita hosts over 30 museums, a winter wonderland botanical garden, and many other fun things to do in the cold months but perhaps the most intriguing is Chicken N Pickle. It has ten pickleball courts with courtside service of healthy, local chicken fare. If pickleball doesn’t feel like an appropriate pairing to go with your wings, they also have bocce ball, cornhole, lifesize Jenga, ping pong, and a skating rink for curling, hockey, and ice dancing.
The Waverly Hills Sanitorium used to be a hospital for tuberculosis patients and thanks to that fraught history is now known as one of the most haunted places in America. Whether you are into paranormal excursions, love a jump scare, or just enjoy a good ghost tale, the tours and haunted house will give you the best kind of goosebumps.
Lafayette was named the “happiest city in America” by the Wall Street Journal and with good reason: It’s packed with an international selection of restaurants, live music, and family activities. Get a taste for what life was like in the area back in the 19th century with a tour of Vermillionville a 23-acre village with recreated buildings.
Kennebunkport is a town that many locals have learned to avoid as it’s a tourist magnet, particularly during cruise ship season. But come winter you can have the historic seaside town to yourself. Stay at the historic 1802 house, just a jaunt from Dock Square, Cape Porpoise, and the Seashore Trolley. Winner, winner, lobster dinner! It’s also a great place to kick off your Atlantic coast road trip.
What is a mountain coaster? Head to the Wisp Resort in McHenry, Maryland, to take a ride on the “hybrid alpine slide roller coaster” and find out! The resort also offers tons of winter activities, including tubing, skiing, skating, and escape games. For a little visual inspiration, check out these 30 stunning pics of national parks covered in snow.
The “dreamlike” Berkshires with their snow “frosting” were immortalized in the famous James Taylor song and countless Norman Rockwell paintings. This winter you can see for yourself that they live up to all the hype. Art and literature fans can tour the Rockwell museum and Herman Melville’s home, both in Stockbridge, while architecture and gardening buffs will love Wheatleigh, a 19th-century Italianate mansion turned boutique hotel set on 22 acres of manicured gardens. And of course, there are plenty of outdoor hiking and biking trails for nature lovers. Discover the most beautiful mansion in every state.
Since trips to Germany (or any international destination) are off the table this year, get your travel fix by heading Frankenmuth, a traditional Bavarian village in the heart of the Midwest. In addition to enjoying traditional German foods, arts, and music, you can stop by during one of the many festivals, visit the brewery, or take the kids to an indoor waterpark. Discover more towns in America that will make you feel like you’re in Europe.
The Naniboujou Lodge and Restaurant is nestled near Grand Marais on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to its unique domed ceilings covered with colorful designs in a Cree Indian pattern and a 20-foot-high stone fireplace. While on the North Shore, why not try out ice fishing? You can rent a heated hut and equipment and see if you can catch a walleye, one of the state’s specialties. Walleye may sound odd but it has nothing on these weirdest animals in each state.
History and nature lovers will get their fix at Dunn’s Falls, a beautiful 65-foot waterfall, created in the mid-1850s. It powers a working water wheel and grist mill that’s been there since 1857. The pools below are kept stocked with catfish for fishermen, young and old. Stroll down one of the many nature trails to catch a glimpse of the wild turkeys and other wildlife.
The Union Station in Kansas City is a cultural hub of the Midwest with museums, attractions, and food that will delight people of all ages. Stargaze at the planetarium, explore the natural world at Science City, or geek out over the model train experience. Here’s what every state in America is best—and worst—at.
Watching the trees change, shed their leaves, and take on a new form in the snow is a favorite fall and winter pastime—and what better way to do that than by staying in the trees themselves? This luxury treehouse in Whitefish is a far cry from the treehouse you built as a child. You can relax in comfort and when you’re ready to explore, head to nearby Glacier National Park or Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort. Find out more about the best places to spot fall foliage in America.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Outdoor Recreation Center is a dream for outdoorsy people (who also like to escape the cold indoors). It offers indoor and outdoor archery and shooting ranges, along with clubs and camps to help you hone your skills. While you’re there, hit up nearby Lincoln for the quirky Germans From Russia museum or a tour of Robber’s Cave.
Ever wanted to visit Death Valley? Winter is the best (and least-lethal) time to take in the world-famous heat trap. Summer temps can get up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit but wintertime is a balmy 60 to 70 degrees. In a contrast of extremes, as you hike through the alien landscape of the desert floor you can see snow-capped mountains. Or you can take the scenic drive through or check out the visitor’s center.
The best possible use of winter ice is creating lifesize magical, fairytale Ice Castles in the town of Woodstock. This display uses hundreds of thousands of hand-placed icicles to create a winter wonderland. Children and adults will be enchanted with all the amazing things that can be built out of frozen water. The Ice Castles appear in six states each winter and New Hampshire is the only location back East. Check out the coolest secret place in every state.
If you’re looking to splurge on lavish winter staycation, it doesn’t get much more luxurious than the Grand Cascades Lodge in Hamburg. During the winter, you can swim in the tropical biosphere pool complex, play in the indoor recreation and fitness center, get a massage at the spa, or eat at any of the fine dining restaurants on the property. If you want to be reminded that it’s really winter, take in some skiing at nearby Mountain Creek.
Albuquerque offers a range of cultural and outdoor activities but for a truly unique winter staycation, take the Breaking Bad RV Tour. Ride a replica of the famous RV around to all the iconic spots from the award-winning show. The three-hour tour is hosted by guides who actually worked on the show and is chock-full of trivia and tidbits to keep you talking for years afterward. These are more of the most iconic movie sets you can visit in real life.
What can’t you find in New York? But if you’re looking for ideas for a fun winter break, warm up with a cooking class and tour at Eataly, an Italian dining location and market with two locations in New York City. You get hands-on experience learning something new and you get to eat what you make. You also get to see how the food is made from farm to table. They offer classes for all different interest levels, for adults interested in wine pairings to kid-friendly meals.
Waterfalls in winter? North Carolina not only says yes, but they have hundreds for you to choose from. Take a trip down Waterfall Byway (US Highway 64) to get access to more than 250 different, gorgeous cascades. Popular stops include Rainbow Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Linville Falls, and Looking Glass Falls. Just make sure to wear good boots as the ground gets wet and slippery. Add this to your all-American bucket list!
Thanks to the combination of its northern latitude and relative lack of artificial lights, North Dakota is one of the best places in the United States for stargazing. And we’re not just talking about trying to find the Big Dipper. You’ve never seen stars until you’ve seen them without light pollution. In the backcountry you can see the full glory of the Milky Way, stretching from horizon to horizon, and you may even catch the northern lights aurora borealis. It’s something everyone should see at once in their lives and the quiet winter is the perfect time.
Anyone with a sweet tooth for baked goods will love taking the “Donut Trail” in Butler County. Taste-test your way through nearly 20 local bakeries for a mind-blowing variety of doughnuts and other treats. When you’ve had your fill, head over to the ice rink at Beckett Park to burn off a few of those delicious calories. Try these 5 decadent ways to eat doughnuts.
Learn something new about the old Wild West. Visit the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah or the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur to take a peek into the rich Native American culture and history of not just Oklahoma but also the country. You can also check out the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Before you go, brush up on these 13 facts you didn’t learn about Native Americans in history class.
Bend is full of winter activities, from skiing to snowmobiling to hiking, but one of the most iconic events is the Bend Ale Trail. Walk or bike (or, on second thought, take an Uber) your way through 22 local breweries and get your passport stamped for each beer you try, and earn prizes as you go. Discover the best craft beer in your state.
For people who want to celebrate, not hibernate, during the winter, there’s no better staycation spot than in the Poconos! They have the usual skiing, snowboarding, and sledding, but you can also do snowmobiling, sleigh rides, dog sledding, and horseback riding. When you get chilly, head into the indoor waterpark and lodge—we’re partial to Great Wolf Lodge.
Farmers markets are a summertime staple but the Farm Fresh Winter Market in Providence puts a fun twist on it. Scout out the best local eggs, cheese, bread, cider, winter vegetables, seafood, herbs, meat, and crafts in a custom-built facility so the weather won’t be an issue. You don’t have to wait until you get home to enjoy the goodies either, with vendors making fresh crepes, doughnuts, popcorn, and other goodies while you wait.
There’s cross-country skiing and then there’s the type of extreme cross-country skiing they do in the Black Hills. In the mid-1980s, local skiing enthusiasts developed the Eagle Cliff Trails in the Black Hills National Forest for a true nordic experience, eventually drawing skiers from all over the world to participate in classic country and skate skiing. With 21 intertwining loop and dead-end trails, ranging in difficulty from beginner to extreme, you can create your ideal trail. Local clubs groom many loops regularly.
Dollywood, in Gatlinburg, has all the fun of a modern theme park plus all the charm of a small Southern town. You can ride the Tennessee Tornado, the only spiro-looping roller coaster, see a replica of Dolly Parton’s childhood home, and then check out the Dolly Parton stampede, an exciting live show that combines daredevil horseback riding and stage theatrics. Can you guess the nicest town in Tennessee?
Outside of Hawaii, beaches aren’t a typical winter destination in the United States, but South Padre Island aims to change that. For starters, it’s the sandcastle capital of the world. In addition to the beautiful beaches, (human) birders from all over the country flock to see the (avian) flocks that winter on the island. Check out more local sea life at Sea Turtles, Inc. See these pictures of the 13 strangest sea creatures.
South Carolina’s history is the nation’s history. Founded in 1676, the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens is the nation’s oldest public garden. Thanks to the temperate climate there are plenty of beautiful blooms on display—some 20,000 pink, white, and green camellias—during the winter months. Make time for its 45-minute “Slavery to Freedom Tour” where you’ll see five former slave dwellings that date back to the 1850s and learn more about this dark period in American history. Round out your colonial experience by going next door to check out the gardens and architecture at Middleton Place, founded in 1705.
Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 winter Olympics and now non-professional athletes can use the state-of-the-art facilities too. Take a tour, check out the visitor’s center, or, if you’re feeling a need for speed, you can do an actual bobsled ride down the Olympic track. The park also puts on professional shows with world-class athletes in figure skating, trick skiing, and other winter sports. Find out more about the best places to ski this winter.
Vermont’s famous maple syrup production actually starts in the winter. Tapping the trees starts in February and sugarhouses run year-round. Green’s Sugarhouse in Poultney is a local favorite, selling not just maple syrup but also maple jam, cotton candy, doughnuts, sugars, cream, and candies. You can also buy raw sap and try your hand at making your own syrup and traditional candies. Discover the one food you have to try in every state.
Winter is migration season for the humpback, fin, and minke whales as they head to warmer waters. Take a winter wildlife boat tour from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach to see these majestic sea creatures as well as brown pelicans, northern gannets, and double-crested cormorants. Finish up with a sail past the historic Cape Henry Lighthouse.
The Olympic Peninsula is home to the Hoh Rainforest, part of one of the largest temperate rainforest ecosystems. It’s found within the Olympic National Park and is particularly spectacular in winter thanks to the Olympic mountains and miles of coastline. Snowshoe one of the many popular trails within the park then head to the rocky shoreline of the Dungeness spit for dramatic ocean views and delicious Dungeness crab. Add to the fun by taking the Edmonds ferry to Kingston, where you can often spot jellyfish floating by.
West Virginia is famous for its picturesque backcountry and a fun way to explore a part of it is with an excursion to the Backcountry Hut. It’s a secluded mountain cabin restaurant that you can only reach via a two-mile RZR or off-roading vehicle ride along the Cheat Mountain Ridge at the Snowshoe Mountain Resort. They let you choose whether you want to drive or ride! They offer delicious local dishes and wines, all served in a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. To get the full experience, sign up for the overnight backcountry package which includes food, a tour, and rustic accommodations.
The Dells, an entire resort town filled with waterparks, is a popular summer destination for tourists from all over the country but it has plenty of fun to offer in the winter months—and far fewer crowds to fight through to get to it. There are several gigantic indoor water parks, including the Wilderness Resort, plus a haunted upside-down white house, a virtual reality arcade, a magical Wizard Quest, and other one-of-a-kind attractions.
Thermopolis is the gateway to Yellowstone National Park and is home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs. Blow off some winter steam by soaking in the indoor and outdoor pools, natural steam rooms, and spas. When you’re all warmed up, head out to see the Legend Rock petroglyphs or take advantage of the many snowmobile trails. Next, read on to discover the best day trip in every state.