Best Winter Vacations United States

Carole Stephens
• Wednesday, 11 November, 2020
• 8 min read

Most park roads are closed to regular traffic starting in early November, leaving many areas accessible only to “over snow” modes of transit such as cross-country skis or guided snowmobile and slowcoach tours. Smaller crowds than in summer and scenes of frozen lakes, white-frosted forests, and steaming geysers are worth the extra effort (which also involves braving frigid temps).

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After a snowshoe trek or ranger-led nature program at Yellowstone, head to nearby Jackson Hole to hit the slopes at one of three mountain resorts, sample a lively après-ski scene, and find lodgings ranging from cozy log cabins to four-star hotels. But that means you can experience the party atmosphere when it’s at its height on lively, quirky Duval Street (pictured) and during the nightly Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square.

More laid-back pursuits include dining on fresh seafood, catching sight of the famous six-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, and simply lounging on sandy beaches. While it’s true that this bafflingly underrated Midwestern metropolis gets frigid in the wintertime, Minnesotans embrace the season in a way that would make many a Scandinavian forbear proud.

The highlight of the latter is the magical Luminary Poppet (pictured above), when cross-country skiers traverse a frozen Lake of the Isles illuminated by torches, lanterns, candles encased in blocks of ice, and the occasional fire dancer. Among Minneapolis’s many indoor delights: thriving arts and culinary scenes as well as the Skyway System, 11 miles of climate-controlled pedestrian footbridges connecting dozens of buildings downtown.

Slightly less hectic weeks in January and February are also good times to visit the French Quarter and jazz-rich historic neighborhoods like the Marine and Theme. There are a slew of ways to explore your frosty surroundings in Anchorage, from glacier hikes to dog sledding tours (the famous Iditarod race kicks off here every March).

Take a ride further inland aboard the Aurora Winter Train, chugging through a Christmas-card landscape characterized by heavy snow and the occasional moose, to reach Fairbanks. Here you can learn all about Alaska's human and natural history at the Museum of the North, and feast your eyes on the Northern Lights, which are often visible between September and March.

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Day trippers as well as overnights are treated to turquoise waters great for snorkeling, pristine beaches such as Trunk Bay, emerald peaks, verdant groves with hiking trails, and close-up views of tropical flowers, pelicans, turtles, and other denizens of paradise. Caves covered in icicles feel like crystal ballrooms, while enormous frozen waterfalls and towers of ice prove irresistible to climbers equipped with picks and cleats.

While lightweights elsewhere nurse holiday hangovers, Sin City’s shows, gaming floors, offbeat museums, and thrill rides keep going all year round. Michelle Callahan / Flickr Crystal River, Floridan the Gulf of Mexico cools down each winter, hundreds of manatees make for the perpetually 72-degree springs of Kings Bay on Florida’s western coast about 80 miles north of Tampa.

Tours that let people swim with manatees have grown increasingly popular here, but if you’re worried about disturbing these gentle giants, you can watch them from the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs. In addition to birding tours on foot and bus, participants at these and other festivals can attend informational sessions, watch Native American demonstrations, and look at photo exhibits, all centered on celebrating the national symbol.

The park certainly has some stunning sights, from the expansive salt flats of Bad water Basin (at 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America) to far-reaching mountaintop vistas overlooking sand dunes and badlands in shades of red and gold. VALERIE ESCAPE MODERN & SPORTIVE PARIS Hanover, New HampshireStarted in 1911, Dartmouth College’s annual winter carnival is now the country’s oldest university-affiliated festival of its kind.

For three days in February the school’s campus in Hanover, New Hampshire, plays host to ski races, an ice sculpture contest, a polar bear swim, and other forms of wintry fun. Those not content to confine their cold-weather recreation to one weekend can hit the slopes at any point in the season at the Dartmouth Ski way or go ice skating on Occam Pond.

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Warm up by catching a show at the Hopkins Center for the Arts or trying one of several noteworthy restaurants in Hanover, a quaint New England town with a dash of Ivy League sophistication. Back in town, Asheville punches above its weight class when it comes to arts and culinary offerings, with tons of galleries, Appalachian crafts exhibits, live music venues, gastropods, and coffee shops.

Dramatic views of snow-covered 11,000-foot peaks come standard with zippy trips down the notoriously steep slopes once known as Moonlight Basin (which merged with Big Sky in 2013) as well as gentler runs used in the resort’s acclaimed program of lessons and activities for kids. Adults and youngsters not interested in shredding and schussing can opt for zip line tours, sleigh rides, and ice skating, or head southeast for the wintry wonders of Yellowstone National Park (about an hour away by car).

Hawaii’s lush “Garden Isle” is blessed with pleasant year-round temps and a tropical climate ideal for trekking through rainforests and the colorful Aimed Canyon, marveling at the seaside bluffs at Na Pale Coast State Park, and discovering hidden golden-sand beaches. If you need to make the case for a winter visit, point to the migrating humpback whales (they show up from mid-December through March) and a need to reconnect with nature after the stresses of the holidays.

Though bargains in the Big Apple are never easy to come by, room rates can decrease significantly from January through March (this does not hold true, however, during crowded special events like Fashion Week in February). The theater season is still at its height in winter, and with less competition from other tourists for tickets, there’s a better chance of snagging seats at hit Broadway plays and musicals.

Martha Marks / Shutterstock Santa Fe Winter is quiet in New Mexico’s dreamy capital city but every bit as enchanting as in the rest of the year. A dusting of snow adorns historic adobe buildings, diva fireplaces glow, and the scent of cedar wafts through the high desert air.

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Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure. In other locales, it’s high season with prices to match, but worth every dollar to travelers who want to escape to a warm, sunny place.

Some want to ski or at least savor all that goes with a snowy environment, like cozy fireplaces, hot cocoa, mulled wine, crisp air, and mountains draped in white. Please note that some events and offerings may have changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, so check before planning your trip.

Visitors can ride a tram to the top of the Gateway Arch, the tallest man made monument in the United States at 630 feet, for a spectacular view of the city. A four-hour scenic drive or short flight from Salt Lake City, St. George offers mild winters and a desert climate with daytime temperatures in the 50s and cooler nights.

Nearby spectacular Zion National Park is open all year, with hiking and mountain biking trails. Set on the Ohio River along the Indiana border, the city offers many unique attractions based on its claims to fame.

The Kentucky Derby Museum explores the history of the annual thoroughbred horse race. The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory will appeal to baseball fans, and bourbon lovers will want to check out nearby distilleries.

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About two hours east of Los Angeles, this desert city enjoys comfortable daytime temperatures in winter, golf courses, spas, casinos, and nearby hot springs. The Aerial Tramway provides a fun ride, spectacular views, snow, and cold temperatures for anyone seeking a wintry environment for a day.

Joshua Tree National Park is less than two hours away, with extraordinary rock formations, cacti, and starry night skies. A four-hour drive from Miami, the trip takes visitors across 42 bridges to Florida’s southernmost point.

Diving and snorkeling among its coral reefs are popular during the day, and in the evening, lively Duval Street’s restaurants and bars feature Caribbean-style ambiance. Ski resorts include Stowe, Smugglers’ Notch, Bolton Valley, and more, with slopes for skiers of all levels.

Its appealing downtown boasts shops, restaurants, micro-breweries, live music venues, and charming Church Street Marketplace. The town boasts a range of dining spots, live music venues, and coffee shops.

Set on three rivers with over 400 bridges throughout the city, Pittsburgh in winter is best suited for indoor activities, and there are many to put on a visitor’s itinerary. Pittsburgh’s dining scene is growing with dozens of restaurants, cafés, breweries, and new food halls to enjoy.

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Local favorites like pierogies, kielbasa, and a sandwich from Prim anti Brothers should be on the food agenda. With temperatures in the 60s, winter is pleasant for outdoor activities on this small barrier island off the southern coast of Texas.

Boating, fishing, and kite boarding are popular, and fresh local seafood includes oysters, red snapper, and flounder. Winters are mild in this city located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina.

Ski slopes are nearby for those seeking winter sports, and hiking trails are accessible throughout the season. Learn about the city on the downtown Asheville Urban Trail, a 1.7-mile walk featuring bronze sculptures depicting historical figures and events.

Sunshine, beaches, warm temperatures, brilliant sunsets, and graceful palm trees beckon travelers to Hawaii during winter. Snorkeling among brightly colored fish, surfing the big winter waves, or just relaxing on the beach or poolside make Hawaii a perfect destination.

Watch landscapes drenched in ivory, sapphire blue skies, and wild moose glide past your large windows from the warmth of the Aurora Winter Train. Spend a night in Fairbanks under the emerald glow of the aurora borealis, or get your adrenaline going in Anchorage with endless options for ice climbing, cross-country skiing, and dog sledding.

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One of Oregon’s Seven Wonders, this 363-mile stretch of coastline is punctuated by moody landscapes, towering waves, craggy headlands, and spectacular winter storms. MUST-SEE : The nine-mile stretch of coast in Cola State Park offers stunning views of stacked coastal mountains, sweeping shorelines, and crashing waves.

FUN FACT : Astoria, the launching point for your four-wheeled journey, is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Starting at the end of November, millions of twinkling lights illuminate the San Antonio River Walk in a dazzling display.

Riverboats carrying an eclectic mix of bell choirs, folk groups, and Latino ensembles fill the air with carols every evening from November 30 to December 18. WHAT TO EAT: Indulge in San Antonio’s famous Tex-Mex cuisine, savor a charcuterie plate at Cured, or splurge on a whopping 10-course culinary adventure at Mitzi Mexican Culinary.

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, will be sworn into office on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and there’s no better place to watch this historic event than Washington, D.C. FUN FACT : William McKinley’s 1897 inauguration was the first recorded by a motion picture camera, and in 1997, Bill Clinton’s was the first to be broadcast live on the Internet.

Even if you don’t manage to snag highly coveted movie passes, Park City offers plenty to do. Stargaze for celebrities in the lively bars, quaint shops, and eclectic galleries lining the historic Main Street, or get lost in the gorgeous mountains with some exhilarating winter sports.

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WHAT TO EAT : Stop at the kitschy dive bar No Name Saloon and Grill on Main Street for a game of shuffleboard and some buffalo sliders. At the end of the day of activity, loosen up your muscles in soothing geothermal mineral springs, or indulge in Native American-inspired spa treatments.

MUST-SEE : Just 45 minutes north of Jo is Tao's Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark. Between December and May humpback whales migrate to the Hawaiian islands, where they breed and nurse their young in the warm, shallow waters.

Visit the majestic canyons of the Navajo National Monument, where prehistoric sandstone villages are carved into the alcoves and decorated with rock art. Head southeast to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, one of the largest archaeological preserves in the U.S., to see Indian ruins dating from 2500 B.C.

On New Year's Day, thousands of brightly costumed revelers take to the streets of Philadelphia for the annual, the oldest continuous folk parade in the United States. FUN FACT : During the 17th and 18th centuries, people carried their muskets and pistols to the parade and fired them into the air during the mummers' celebration.

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