15 Least-Crowded Winter Destinations in the United States
Looking for a winter vacation destination where you won't be plagued by crowds? Try these cities and towns on for size.
Solitude Mountain Resort, Utah
Solitude Mountain is the place to go if you love skiing powder but hate waiting on lift lines. Oh, and loving a bargain doesn’t hurt either, since the accommodations here are less expensive than at nearby and more well-known Park City, Alta, and Snowbird. A mere 40 minutes by car from Salt Lake City, Solitude nevertheless lives up to its name as one of Utah’s most intimate winter ski resorts. Learn about more mountain towns that are a storybook paradise in winter.
Key West, Florida (in March)
The crowds taper and the prices dip in Key West in late winter, despite the fact that the weather is essentially the same as in the more crowded, more expensive early- and mid-winter months here (upper 70s, low 80s). Why you should go: the southernmost point in the United States, Key West has a remote, romantic feel that has inspired poetry (think: Wallace Stevens’s The Idea of Order In Key West), drawn such literary greats as Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, and will inspire you to literally celebrate the sun. (Seriously; there are nightly sunset celebrations!) Word of caution: Key West does attract a spring break college crowd, but it’s not on par with what you would find in Cancun.
Estes Park, Colorado
If you want to participate in high-altitude winter activities but don’t want to brave the crowds of a major city like Denver or a major ski destination like Vail, head on over to Estes Park for fantastic sledding, snowshoeing, and skating, advises Travel + Leisure. Estes Park also has magnificent views of the Rocky Mountains, which you can see right as you’re walking down the main strip. You also might see some moose crossing the street.
San Francisco is a wonderful big-city alternative to New York City in the wintertime when the East Coast city is crawling with tourists intent on seeing the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. San Francisco is not only less crowded but warmer, and it’s not lacking in its holiday displays and activities—from holiday ice-skating at Embarcadero Center to the tree lighting ceremony at Pier 39 to the Great Dickens Holiday Fair, according to MiniTime, a family travel site.
Taos, New Mexico
Taos, New Mexico is a popular winter ski resort, but if you’re not a skier, you’ll want to head there anytime between Thanksgiving and April because that’s actually the least-crowded time of year there, according to When To Be Where. The temperatures average in the mid-40s during these months, and you’ll still be able to soak up all the culture and sights, including the thousand-year-old Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark.
Philly isn’t exactly a warm-weather destination in winter, but it’s still a draw thanks to its historic sites including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, as well as its quirkier family-friendly must-sees (such as the Please Touch Museum) What it won’t have is crowds. Go for the famous Philly cheese steaks and the less-famous barbecue ribs. Stick around at New Year’s and you’ll get to see the “fabulously flamboyant” Mummers Parade. Find out 15 more of the best American cities for history buffs.
Big Sky, Montana
Another wonderfully uncrowded winter ski destination is Big Sky, Montana, which boasts more than 5,800 acres of skiable terrain spread across four mountains, 4,350 vertical feet, as well as 85 km of Nordic trails. Many people think of Montana as a place to go in the summer for fly-fishing, bison chasing, and sheep-spotting, but head to Big Sky for the fantastic skiing and what’s been called “the least crowded resort ever.” You’ll also want to check out these other amazing places to ski in the United States.
Charleston, South Carolina (except on Valentine’s Day)
Winter time in Charleston, South Carolina is “chilly enough for your favorite scarf and sweater, but still mild enough to soak up the quaint antebellum atmosphere,” explains Travel +Leisure. That said, you might want to steer clear around Valentine’s Day because Charleston, with its renowned romantic reputation, does attract crowds then.
Savannah (yes to Valentine’s Day!)
While Valentine’s Day is also a big draw in Savannah, overall, winter is the slow season in this “history-rich” city says Travel +Leisure. That means smaller crowds and lower prices. Plus this fun fact: Savannah’s “open-container” laws are fairly loose, which means if you head there for New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll see outdoor imbibing like you’ve most likely never seen before.
Memphis (but not on Elvis’s birthday)
Winter is the off-peak season in Memphis, according to Travel +Leisure, so you’ll avoid the crowds while still getting to enjoy the live music and world-famous barbecue fare. You might want to stay away the week surrounding January 8, however, because despite being off-season, the crowds come for the quintessentially-Memphis celebration of the birthdate of Elvis Presley.
New York City (after Christmas season)
If you don’t want to brave the crowds but you want to visit the Big Apple, then wait until after New Year’s Day because things definitely quiet down in New York City starting in January and continuing through February. Lots of folks get out of the city, heading for warmer venues around President’s Day weekend, so you may even find yourself some deals. Be sure to check out these 11 hidden NYC gems that even most locals don’t know about.
Tucson (pronounced “too-sawn”) is a culturally rich, super-fun alternative to the more-on-the-beaten-path Scottsdale in the winter months. “Set in a flat valley hemmed in by snaggletoothed mountains and swaths of saguaro, Arizona’s second-largest city smoothly blends American Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo traditions,” gushes Lonely Planet. Steeped in honest-to-goodness Southwestern tradition, Tuscon also boasts beautiful night skies and true desert beauty year-round.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
You won’t be escaping the winter chill, but in Minnesota, you’ll learn to embrace it. More than 350 resorts throughout Minnesota are open in winter, and almost a third of them have on-site access to cross-country ski trails, snow-shoeing, and snowmobiling. At the same time, Minnesota resorts know how to bring the “cozy” and the “warmth” with fireplaces, saunas, whirlpools, and belly-busting dinners. Consider one of Lake Superior’s resorts, such as the historic Naniboujou Lodge, which actually specializes in deep-winter fun. Check out these vacations for people who love the winter.
Nashoba Valley Ski Resort, Massachusetts
You don’t have to like skiing to love Nashoba Valley, which is just 45 minutes from Boston and is known as one of New England’s top tubing destinations. Never been tubing? It’s like sledding but in a soft, comfy inner tube, and if you’ve ever wanted to explore the ski trails without actually having to get up on skis, tubing is your sweet spot. Don’t miss these 10 other destinations that are even better in the winter, too.
Hocking Hills, Ohio
Never heard of Hocking Hills, Ohio? That’s just one of the reasons you’re going to love it if you’re looking for a winter wonderland without the crowds. If you love a good winter’s hike, you won’t want to miss the Old Man’s Cave which is part of Ohio’s Buckeye Trail as well as part of two national systems (the North Country Scenic Trail and America’s Discovery Trail). You’ll also find plenty of ice skating, Nordic skiing, and sledding, and when it’s time to get warm, some truly luxurious spa accommodations, particularly at the Spa at Cedar Falls. Next, find out the best warm weather destinations to escape the cold.
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