4. Little America Holiday Lights
The beloved annual tradition of lighting more than 1 million colorful LED lights across the pine covered grounds of the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff is one of the most visited holiday attractions in the state. The picturesque ponderosa pine loaded grounds and super cold winter temperatures (temps are often below freezing at night in Dec.) creates a drastically different setting than that you would find at a Christmas event in Phoenix, just 2 hours south.
Most of the time the grounds will even be covered with snow, as Flagstaff is one of the country’s snowiest cities with 100+ inches on average each season. Flagstaff is a small city in the Northern portion of the state known for its’ dramatic 4 season climate, pretty pine & mountain scenery, and big ski resort. If you are looking for the traditional feeling and scenery of a Christmas event, driving up from Phoenix to attend this event should give you the traditional holiday feeling you are seeking.
I recommend stopping by local roaster Late for the Train (located downtown) for a tasty seasonal drink (try out the Polar Express mocha) to accompany you as you stroll around the dazzling light display of Northern Arizona’s biggest holiday event. Be sure to bundle up as Flagstaff temperatures are often brutal in winter. After your walk, warm up with a nice dinner at Silver Pines, where you can continue to gaze out to the beautiful display from the large windows. And be sure to stop by for a few holiday knick knacks at the cute little on-site gift shop, featuring many local products.
Flagstaff is a nice winter getaway destination as the small city is home to the state’s best ski resort, a wonderful Nordic center, a snow play area, and lots of hiking trails which double as amazing snowsheoing and cross country skiing trails. The weather is cold and often snowy, there are almost always snow capped mountains in the background. Lots of local businesses are scattered around town so you can skip the standard chains. And, there are numerous small town annual events to enjoy. There really is not anywhere else in Arizona where you can enjoy this weather, the beautiful mountain scenery, winter recreation, and an abundance of holiday events, all in the same month.
Departing from the hotel is the very popular North Pole Experience, a trolley ride which takes visitors to Santa’s Workshop. Not a great value in my opinion, however, many tourists are pleased with the event. I recommend solely taking in the fantastic light display and saving your money for the more magic Polar Express train ride in Williams, a tiny town about 40 minutes to the West.
Location: 2515 E Butler Ave, Flagstaff, AZ 86004
Dates: November 18th-Janaury 7th, Dusk -11pm
5. Nestlenook Farms
Nestlenook Farms is a beautiful Victorian estate on the banks of the Elks River in the picturesque New England town of Jackson, New Hampshire. The resort is especially wonderful in the winter season with the stunning snow capped white mountains in the background. Add in several winter recreational activities in an idyllic winter wonderland setting, and Nestlenook is one of the most magical places in New England to visit during the holiday season. With stunning scenery, a Victorian ice rink, miles of snowshoeing trails, and Austrian sleigh rides, a trip here really is as close as you could possibly get to stepping inside a winter snowglobe. While many destinations now offer sleigh rides and ice skating, Nestlenook offers a picture perfect, old-fashioned setting that we just do not find much today.
A day out at Nestlenook Farms it the perfect pre-Christmas activity: an absolutely magical experience that will definitely put you into the holiday spirit, if you are not already. The perfect day at Nestlenook Farms goes something like this…You can start your day off ice skating on a gigantic Victorian style rink with snowy views of the pines and White Mountains making up the background. As you glide along, you will hear nothing but old-fashioned chime music and the sound of the Austrian sleigh making its’ way on the arched bridge above the rink. After an hour or so of skating, rent some snowshoes and enjoy this fun (and calorie burning) winter activity in a breathtaking setting. Trails range from beginner to advanced, so even newbies can enjoy the fun.
After skating and snowshoeing, you are going to be pretty worn out, so take this time to enjoy a relaxing, scenic sleigh ride. The Austrian horse drawn sleigh makes its’ way through the snowy grounds, as you watch the skaters glide by, enjoy the picturesque mountain & pine scenery, and relax with the quaint scenery of the river. For an extra special occasion, you can rent a private sleigh for 2, complete with a cozy blankets and champagne!
Nestlenook offers a variety of packages, the best being an ice skating, snowshoeing, and sleigh rides with rentals included for under $50 a person. If you have ever dreamed of the perfect winter activity, an old-fashioned, stress-free day of holiday fun minus the crowds, malls, and traffic, then Nestlenook Farms will more than please.
Jackson, New Hampshire is a gorgeous New England Village which offers charming old time architecture (you will pass a historic covered bridge on your way), cute little B&Bs, and endless outdoor recreation as it is located within the heart of the White Mountains. Although opportunities for scenic outdoor fun exists year-round, nothing really tops a winter visit. Be sure to check out the wonderful cross country skiing trails at Bretton Woods: one of the largest Nordic centers in the country!
Location: 310 Mt. Washington Hotel Road Bretton Woods, NH 03575
Dates: Opening date is 11/25. Hours vary based on activity/date. Check the Nestlenook Farms website for details.
Admission: Pricing varies based on package. The best deal includes a Sleigh Ride, Ice Skating and Snow Shoeing plus skate and snow shoe rentals for $41.50.
6. Bearizona Wild Wonderland
Bearizona is a top rated drive-thru wildlife park in Williams, a tiny Northern Arizona community known as “the gateway to the Grand Canyon.” The park offers a beautiful holiday lights extravaganza known as Wild Wonderland. The drive-thru portion of the park is closed and you will not see many animals in the walk-thru as it is pretty dark, however, this park is more than worthy of a visit for the spectacular holiday display, which is one of the most well designed in all of Arizona. It may not be the biggest, but it is one of the most attractive. Beautiful tall pines decorate the grounds for a truly wintry setting. And unlike the southern portion of the state, Williams is a 4 season city with lots of snow and very cold temps in the winter. Bundle, grab a hot cocoa, and enjoy the wintry air!
Why should you plan a visit to Williams in the winter? Because it is just an hour away from the Grand Canyon! A winter visit to the Grand Canyon is the perfect time to schedule your trip due to the dramatic drop in crowds & gorgeous photo opportunities. Staying in quiet Williams is a nice alternative to the more congested & popular Flagstaff. While you are here, you can enjoy Wild Wonderland, and other holiday activities such as The Polar Express train ride. The Williams downtown decorates pretty heavily for a small town, and is probably one of the most festive displays in the state!
The highlight of a visit to Wild Wonderland is an amazing synchronized light and music show featuring many of your favorite holiday tunes like Hot Chocolate from The Polar Express and the great music of Trans Siberian Orchestra.
Cute photo opps exist throughout the park, thus making Bearizona the perfect place to create your holiday greeting card. Other holiday activities include photos with Santa, enjoying special holiday goodies, and holiday shopping at the great gift shop where you can find Northern Arizona & Native American specialties.
Wild Wonderland is a fun & affordable event that you really cannot miss out on if you happen to be staying in Williams or any nearby town in December.
Location: 1500 Historic Rte 66, Williams, AZ 86046
Dates: Weekends only in Dec. until the 9th, then every night until Dec. 31st. Closed Christmas Eve & Day. Hours are 5:30-7:30pm.
Admission: $12 per person