13 Fun Winter Destinations
Although many associate the winter season with endless shoveling of snow and frigid temperatures, winter is also a great time of the year to participate in fun & festive winter themed recreational activities. Instead of thinking of snow as a burden, take advantage of the opportunity to try out a new sport (snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and ice skating to name a few).
Listed below are 13 wonderful destinations for the winter season. Some destinations are urban areas which offer an abundance of winter themed recreation and holiday events, while others are cozy, hidden gems, far away from any civilization. One thing’s for sure – each area offers its’ own unique attractions, activities, and above all, a beautiful, festive winter setting.
Take a look at my featured winter destinations and feel free to share some of your own suggestions in the comments below.
1. The White Mountains of New Hampshire
The White Mountains, part of the northern range of the Appalachians, is the perfect getaway for city dwellers who are craving some much needed peace and quiet. The region is a popular year-round vacation destination due to its’ close proximity to cities like Boston and New York. The area is home to many quaint towns and villages which offer an idyllic setting for winter and holiday visits. Most towns in the mountains get plenty of snow, opening the door for endless seasonal fun. Listed below are a few fun areas and activities to consider on your next White Mountain vacation.
Jackson, New Hampshire
Jackson is a tiny town (population just over 800) in the White Mountains Region area. It is a very popular vacation destination due its’ proximity to great area attractions, abundance of desirable seasonal activities, and secluded location. The beautiful covered bridge as you enter the town is a wonderful photo opportunity, especially during the scenic fall and winter seasons.
Top Winter Activities in Jackson
*Sleigh rides & Ice skating at Nestlenook Farms
Visiting Nestlenook Farms is like taking a walk through a holiday snowglobe. At this snowy 65 acre resort, you will have the opportunity to take a horse drawn carriage ride around the beautiful property, which is surrounded by incredible views of the White Mountains. Wrap yourself in a blanket, grab a hot cocoa, and enjoy the winter wonderland around you.
After your sleigh ride, head over to the 3 acre Victorian Ice Rink for a wonderful afternoon of skating alongside snow capped mountains. Old fashioned chime music, beautiful holiday decorations, and views of the Austrian sleigh rides passing over the bridge create an incomparable wintry setting. Take a break with a warm cup of cocoa by the fireplace in the warming hut.
*Cross country skiing and snowshoeing
With beautiful mountain views, charming architecture, and the sights and sounds of nature all around you, Jackson is the ideal place to embark upon a skiing adventure. Jackson Ski Touring Foundation offers rentals and lessons for beginners.
Bretton Woods is an area of the White Mountains known for its’ great ski resorts. Mount Washington Resort is a popular winter destination due to its’ prime location on the grounds of Bretton Woods Nordic Center, one of the largest cross country skiing destinations in the US. As you enjoy the variety of trails, whether by skis or snowshoes, you will be treated to pristine snowy views of the beautiful White Mountains National Forest.
Bretton Woods is the largest ski area in New Hampshire, with 62 trails and 3 terrain parks. They also offer night skiing, so you can continue on as long as you like.
2. Chicago, Illinois
Although Chicago is a popular tourist destination during the summer months due to the beautiful lakefront path, wonderful museums, and wonderful architecture, there is no shortage of winter fun in store. If you can brave the chilly temps, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the many wonderful seasonal events and activities in and around the city. Check out a few favorites below.
Top winter activities in Chicago
*Ice skating at the McCormick Tribune Rink at Millennium Park
Every winter, Millennium Park is transformed into a winter wonderland with the annual opening of the McCormick Tribune Ice rink and the return of carolers on Friday nights in front of the famous Cloud Gate Sculpture. As you test out your skating skills, you will be treated to views of some of the finest architecture in city.
*Holiday shopping on North Michigan Avenue
A holiday season in Chicago would not be complete without walking along the Magnificent Mile, one of the premier shopping destinations in the country. The season kicks off early in November with the annual Magnificent Mile Light Festival, featuring a parade, live performances, and a special fireworks show.
*Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo, located in the Chicago suburbs, offers one of the best holiday extravaganzas in the area. Along with taking in the sights of over 1 million LED lights, you will also be able to watch live ice carving demonstrations, listen to carolers, enjoy hot treats, take a special holiday tram ride, and visit indoor exhibits.
*Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo
Chicago other zoo, Lincoln Park, is located not too far from downtown. It is much smaller than Brookfield, but has a fantastic holiday light display (better than Brookfield, in my opinion). The annual Zoo Lights festival is truly one of a kind. Grab a spiced wine or hot cocoa and enjoy strolling around while taking in the colorful display – not a single tree is left undecorated! You will also find an amazing synchronized light show, ice carvings, and ice skating on the lineup. Best of all, admission will only set you back 5 bucks!
*Chriskindlmarket in downtown Chicago
This seasonal outdoor market in Chicago is a popular annual event, with guests coming from around the world. Here you will find many vendors, including several offering the most beautiful German ornaments, along with a selection of German food and drinks.
*Macy’s Holiday windows and shopping on State Street
One of Chicago’s most timeless holiday activities is a visit to State Street to view the festive Macy’s holiday windows. Each year a new story is told. Be sure to stop by for lunch at The Walnut Room, located on the 7th floor of Macy’s, for a holiday lunch next to the grand 45 foot tall tree.
3. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a year-round recreational paradise, from cruises and spectacular hikes in the summer months, to world class skiing and festive ice skating in the winter months. A winter visit would not be complete without a visit to one of the region’s 7 ski resorts. Throw in seasonal sleigh rides, ice skating, snowshoeing, and seasonal shows at the Stateline casinos, and you have an action packed winter vacation waiting your arrival!
Top winter activities in Lake Tahoe
*Skiing and ice skating at Squaw Valley
Squaw Valley, home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, is one of the best ski resorts in Tahoe. This North Lake Tahoe resort is home to 42 lifts, 270 trails, and a very long ski season due to the abundance of yearly snow (450 inches on average!). After your day on the slopes, check out The Shops at Squaw Valley, a scenic mountain side shopping, dining & entertainment village. Warm up at the outdoor firepits with a warm drink as you take in the beautiful holiday decor of this quaint shopping destination.
Non skiers can enjoy a scenic aerial tram ride up 2000 feet to base camp, where you can enjoy a host of activities including: ice skating alongside fantastic mountain views, browsing the Olympic Museum, and soaking in the incredible views! Other options for winter fun include: tubing, snowshoeing and cross country skiing on the resort’s trails, and taking a guided dog sled tour.
*Skiing, shopping, & dining at Heavenly Village
Heavenly Mountain Resort, conveniently located within walking distance from the casino resorts, is another great skiing and entertainment destination. Skiers will enjoy the variety of terrain, while non-skiers will enjoy the abundance of other winter activities (ice skating, tubing, and sleigh rides).
4. Southern Idaho
Wintertime in Southern Idaho is the perfect opportunity to take a step back and enjoy the season in a quieter setting. Although the ski resorts are nowhere near as spectacular as those found in more popular ski destinations, rates are cheaper and crowds are pretty much non existent. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tubing, and ice fishing are a few of the popular winter pastimes amongst locals and visitors. Take a look at a few of your options for winter fun in this diverse region.
Top winter activities in Southern Idaho
*Cross country skiing at national parks
Harriman State Park is a great choice for anyone seeking an affordable way to enjoy the outdoors. Trails vary from beginner to advanced and rates are only $5 to use the groomed trails. A wonderful setting with incredible peaceful views of the forests awaits you at Harriman.
*Snowshoeing at Craters of the Moon
Craters of the Moon National Monument transforms into a winter playground as soon as the snow begins to fall. The park maintains a 1.5 mile snowshoeing trail and several miles of cross country skiing trails during the season. During January and February , the preserve hosts free weekend guided snowshoe journeys. During the winter season, entrance to this magnificent historical sight is free, so be sure to take advantage of this great opportunity.
*Skiing at Kelly Canyon Ski Resort
This small resort, located 30 miles north of Idaho Falls, offers beginner through advanced trails. It’s very popular with locals due to the convenient access and attractive night skiing option (most ski runs are open until 9:30pm).
*Soaking in a rejuvenating mineral pool at Lava Hot Springs
What better way to warm up this winter season than a visit to a relaxing hot springs? These natural mineral enriched springs (temps range from 102-112), contain beneficial minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. No chemicals are used, so there is no worry about absorbing unwanted elements.
*Enjoy winter activities at Bogus Basin
Bogus Basin, a premier mountain resorted located just north of Boise, offers 35km of Nordic Trails (including 7km of night lit trails), 5km of snowshoe trails, and 53 alpine ski trails suited for all different levels.
5. Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, the capital of Rhode Island and one of America’s oldest cities, has much to offer during the winter season. Although the area is lacking in skiing opportunities, you will find an assortment of great cultural events and activities to partake in all season long. Here’s a brief overview of some of the fun to be had this winter season.
Top winter activities in Providence
*Ice skating at Kennedy Plaza
Each season a rink double the size of Rockefeller opens in the heart of downtown Providence. This amazing rink is beautifully decorated, always playing festive music, and surrounded by gorgeous views of the Providence skyline. Special live performances throughout the season add to the excitement.
*Holiday parade at the Roger Williams Park Zoo
At the end of November each year, Providence’s fantastic Roger Williams Park Zoo holds an annual holiday celebration, complete with a festive parade and visits from Santa.
*Cross country skiing/snowshoeing
Many area parks & trails such as the Blackstone Blvd. Walking Path (Providence) and Lincoln Woods State Park (Lincoln) offer flat trails and roads for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
6. Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman, most well-known for being home to Montana State University, is a small, friendly Western town to consider for a laid-back winter vacation. If winter sports are your thing, then you are in luck as Bozeman has no shortage of winter recreation or snow (90 inches on average)!
Various snowshoe and cross country ski trails will keep you busy during your trip. If you prefer downhill skiing, you have plenty of options both in and around Bozeman. Bridger Bowl, located in Bozeman, offers 75 trails ranging from beginner to advanced. A day trip to Yellowstone is another great option as the town lies a mere 2 hours away from the entrance. Guided snowmobile and snow coach tours are a few of your options for seeing the park during the snowy, closed to public vehicles winter season.
7. The Smoky Mountains
With so many wonderful year-round activities, beautiful cabin rentals, and convenient access from many major metro areas, it’s no wonder that the Smoky Mountains is the most visited of all national parks. From summertime hikes to winter skiing at Ober Gatlinburg, the Smokies area is an ideal place to plan a getaway, no matter the season. Here’s a look at some of the fun events and activities you can incorporate into a winter visit.
Top winter activities in the Smokies
*Luxury Cabin rentals in the mountains
Timber Tops offers hundreds of luxury cabin rentals within the Smoky Mountain National Forest. Each is loaded with fantastic amenities, such as: outdoor hot tubs, fireplaces, indoor pools, and game rooms. Many offer a secluded setting and panoramic views of the mountains and/or city of Gatlinburg. A vacation to the Smokies would not be complete without staying at a rustic cabin in the woods.
*Skiing, ice skating & tubing at Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg is Tennessee’s only ski resort. 9 trails are available, including an option for beginners. Skiing not your style? Check out the massive year-round ice rink or the seasonal snow tubing hills.
*Hiking the Smokies
There are endless trails available within the Great Smokies. Laurel Falls pictured above is a wonderful paved 1.5 mile trail to a 60 foot waterfall. It’s one of the park’s most popular and beautiful trails. If you are up for a brisk walk, it’s definitely a must-see.
*Shopping for holiday decor at the South’s largest Christmas store
The Incredible Christmas Place is the largest Christmas store in the South, and one of the most beautiful I have ever set foot upon. Simply walking through the store is an experience in itself, with over 50 beautiful trees decorated for the holidays, Singing Santa performances, and gorgeous miniature holiday village displays.
*Running the Santa Hustle Half Marathon
A half marathon like no other, the Santa Hustle Half Marathon series is a must for any runner who also happens to love Christmas as much as running! This festive themed race travels through the town of Pigeon Forge and ends at the Wilderness at the Smokies Resort. Cookie stations along the way, holiday decor, an adorable holiday themed race shirt, and catchy holiday tunes to motivate you along place this spirited race high above the rest!
Christmas at the Smoky Mountain Opry
The Smoky Mountain Opry offers a special annual Christmas at the Smoky Mountain Opry spectacular, a big budget production filled with the usual top notch singers and performers, along with the added bonus of all the wonders of the season.
Winter Trolley of Lights
Each year downtown Gatlinburg comes alive with over a million sparkling LED lights. A festive trolley ride takes locals and visitors on an entertaining ride around town. A Christmas visit to the Smokies would not be complete without a ride upon this charming trolley!
Each year Dollywood, a large Tennessee theme park owned by Dolly Parton, hosts a special Smoky Mountain Christmas event. This festive event, which has been the recipient of many awards, features millions of lights, special holiday performances, and a holiday parade.
8. West Dover, Vermont
West Dover, Vermont, a tiny town in Southern Vermont, is home to Mt. Snow Ski Resort. The town is most famous for being the hometown of 2 Gold medalists, Devin Logan (won a silver medal at the 2014 Olympic Games in Women’s Freestyle Skiing) and Kelly Clark (won the gold medal in Women’s Snowboarding at the 2002 Olympic Games).
A trip to West Dover is an ideal quick weekend ski option for those traveling from many large cities in New England. Here’s a few of the winter activities you will be able to enjoy on your Vermont vacation.
*Skiing and winter fun at Mt. Snow Ski Resort
Activities include: skiing, snowshoeing, dog sled tours, sleigh rides, snowmobile tours, and cross country skiing.
*Timber Creek Cross Country skiing
Timber Creek offers miles of groomed cross country skiing and snowshoe trails in a beautiful secluded setting. Lessons are available for beginners.
9. Boston, Massachusetts
Although the thought of spending the holidays in a busy city may seem unattractive, Boston surprisingly offers a more laid-back setting than many other major metro areas. Most tourists tend to skip winter visits in favor of the warmer summer months and college students are on holiday break, leading to a much more peaceful downtown setting.
Numerous seasonal winter activities present themselves during this time. If you tire of the cold, you can always take a break at one of Boston’s highly regarded cultural attractions (New England Aquarium, Museum of Fine Arts). Below are a few activities and attractions to add to your Boston winter to do list!
Top winter activities in and near Boston
*Ice skating at Frog Pond
Frog Pond in historic Boston Common is transformed into a beautiful ice rink each winter season. Skating while enjoying the stunning old architecture, all while taking in the holiday lights, is a truly memorable experience.
*Zoo lights at Stone Zoo
The Zoo’s annual festival of lights includes sparkling light displays, visits from Santa, and reindeer photo opportunities. Stoneham is located a mere 20 minutes from the city, enabling both locals and tourists to take part in the festivities.
*Weston Cross Country Skiing Track
Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are available on both the 9 miles of natural trails and the 1.5 miles of snowmaking trails. In addition, the trails are lit at night for those who can’t make it out there during the day. Skiing and snowshoeing lessons are available.
*Blue Hills Ski Area
Located just 20 minutes from the city in charming Milton, Blue Hills offers 90% snowmaking on its trails (there are 12 total). Highlights at this local resort include night skiing and special promotions throughout the season. Blue Hills is a great alternative for those who can’t make it all the way up to the bigger resorts in Vermont every single weekend.
Boston Ballet Nutcracker
The timeless classic returns every winter season to the Boston Opera House. Nothing starts the winter season quite like seeing a festive live production of The Nutcracker. After your show, there are plenty of fantastic restaurants to check out.
*Annual Christmas Tree Lighting
Boston’s Annual tree lighting ceremony kicks off the holiday season each year with a festive lineup, including: the lighting of the grand tree (an annual gift from Nova Scotia as a thanks for the emergency help provided in the Halifax explosion of 1917) and smaller trees around Boston Common, special celebrity live performances, and visits by Santa.
Winter in Yellowstone offers visitors the opportunity to experience the park in a whole new setting. Although bears will be hibernating, you will have the chance to spot many diverse forms of wildlife including wolves and bison. Winter is one of the best times for wildlife sightings as the park is much quieter, and thus, animals are more likely to be out. Only a handful of hotels operate during the winter season (Old Faithful Snow Lodge is one option), however, there are plenty of choices in the nearby towns of West Yellowstone, Rexburg, and Idaho Falls. Here’s a look at some of your best options for winter fun in Yellowstone. Note that vehicles are not permitted in the park at this time – only snowcoaches and snowmobiles.
Winter activities in Yellowstone
*Snowshoeing and cross country skiing
The majority of Yellowstone’s roads close to vehicles during the winter season (typically beginning in November), however, unplowed roads are open to cross country skiers and snowshoers. This is a great opportunity to explore the park in a pristine, snowy setting, and provides ample opportunities for wildlife sightings. Several area companies, including Yellowstone Expeditions, offer cross country and snowshoe tours.
Snowcoach Yellowstone offers Old Faithful and Grand Caynon of Yellowstone tours during the winter season. As you sit back and relax in a luxury snowcoach, a narrator will point out all the magnificent sights in the park. Taking a snowcoach tour gives you the opportunity to see the park in a way that is normally closed to the public.
Two Tops provides guided tours to Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Bison, elk, and wolves may be spotted along the way, in addition to the majestic views of snowy mountains, frozen waterfalls, and beautiful canyons.
Cross country skiing in West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone is an adventure seekers paradise during the winter months. You will likely see more people out skiing and snowshoeing than driving cars. Rendevous Ski Trails offers 21+ miles of groomed trails through pristine pine forests.
11. Newport, Rhode Island
With a beautiful coastline, gorgeous old architecture, and a charming downtown, Newport is easily one of Rhode Island’s finest cities. Most of the attractions found here can be enjoyed year round, although there is that extra something special in the air during the winter season. Check out a few of the winter/holiday activities you can incorporate into your Rhode Island winter vacation.
Top winter activities in Newport
*Jane Pickens Theater
This beautiful historic theater in downtown Newport screens a different holiday classic each year. The setting is classic and romantic. Recent selections have included A Christmas Story and White Christmas.
*The Nutcracker at Rosecliff Mansion
One of Newport’s beautiful historical mansions, Rosecliff, offers a special annual performance of The Nutcracker each year. This is a wonderful experience for anyone visiting the area during the holiday season.
Newport Winter Festival
This annual tradition in Rhode Island’s most beautiful city features 10 days of seasonal inspired fun.
Newport Ice Rink
This seasonal ice skating rink is conveniently located in the middle of downtown, within walking distance to Newport’s great shops and restaurants. It’s larger than NYC’s Rockefeller Center ice rink and offers fantastic views of the city’s charming architecture.
12. Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole is an absolute dream during the winter season. You have beautiful snowy mountain ranges, plenty of winter recreation, gorgeous resorts and cabin rentals, and great seasonal attractions. Even if you are not a skier, there are plenty of other winter attractions to take advantage of, namely the beautiful National Elk Refuge, home to the largest elk herd in the world. Listed below are a few of the seasonal activities you can incorporate into your Jackson Hole winter getaway.
Top winter activities in Jackson Hole
*The National Elk Refuge
The National Elk Refuge provides a winter habitat for elk and other endangered species. Each winter season, thousands of elk migrate down for the food supply. The refuge offers sleigh rides (wagon rides in the absence of snow) to take visitors around the picturesque refuge.
*Jackson Mountain Resort
Jackson Hole is a winter wonderland as there are more than enough opportunities for fun winter recreation and an abundance of hefty snow all season long. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and scenic aerial tram rides are available.
2 great snow tubing parks provide the ideal alternative for non skier. Grand Targhee and Snow King Ski area provide hours of safe, wintry fun for families.
Cross country ski tours
Teton Pines Cross Country skiing provides tours at the base of the Teton Mountain Range in Jackson Hole. Both group and private lessons can be arranged. The trails are ideal for beginners as there are no steep hills. Both beginners and advanced skiers will appreciate the majestic views along the way.
Downtown Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole’s quaint downtown area is the perfect place to stroll around on a wintry day. You have local restaurants, shops, and a beautiful mountain backdrop. Pictured above is one of the elk antler arches, which are made out of the antlers shed (naturally) by the elk from the refuge.
13. Southcoast Massachusetts & Cape Cod
The Southcoast of Massachusetts typically refers to the towns found in Plymouth and Bristol counties. This area includes the Fall River and Plymouth metro areas. Although the area is home to many dense urban areas, there are plenty of pockets of beautiful natural recreation scattered about.
*Snowshoeing and cross country skiing at Myles Standish State Forest
Myles Standish is the biggest recreation acre in Southeast Massachusetts. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful and secluded parks in the area. Conveniently located just a short drive from Plymouth, this year-round wonder provides hours of entertainment for locals and tourists. After a big snowstorm, be sure to head over to the park’s trails for miles and miles of snowshoeing and/or cross country skiing. The setting is so quiet and wonderful.
*Edaville Festival of Lights
Sit back and relax as you take a comfortable train ride through a beautiful light display.
*Festival of lights at La Salette
La Salette Shrine in Attleboro offers an amazing, free holiday light show, complete with almost a million lights and a must-see synchronized show. 2014 marks the 61st anniversary of the event.
*Christmas on the Cape
Christmas on the Cape is a monthly festival of everything Christmas (parades, light festivals, holiday promotions, and more) in various towns throughout Barnstable County. Each town on The Cape puts forth its’ own unique decorations and traditions, many of them capturing the magic of Christmas of the past.
As you stroll around the various old-fashioned downtowns, you can treat yourself to a holiday shopping experience at unique, local businesses as opposed to stuffy, overcrowded malls. Special events include: the Hyannis holiday stroll, Holiday on Cape Cod by the Cape Symphony, and the lighting of the Provincetown monument.
*Cape Cod Central Railroad Holiday ride
A special holiday themed ride on the Cape Cod Central Railraod in Hyannis includes a visit by Santa, cookies and hot chocolate, and Christmas carols.
Have you visited any of the winter destinations listed above? What are some of your favorite seasonal vacation spots?