When the cold weather arrives, it brings out different emotions in everyone. Some love the cold, some hate it and for some, it means the holiday season is right around the corner.
Regardless of which category you fall into, you can still treat yourself in the winter months. Whether that be a trip to Central Park and New York City, to the warm beaches on St. John, or ice fishing in the heart of Alaska.
With so many great places to visit in the winter, there are no wrong answers. But to help you out, here’s our guide to the best winter vacations in the US.
Best Cities for a Winter Getaway
With fewer tourists but as stunning as every other time of year, Savannah makes for one of the best winter getaways. The mild winter temperatures see the daily high never drop below the 60s, making it the perfect balance for those that love to rug up but still want to go explore. With your warm scarf wrapped around your neck, enjoy the crisp southern air as you wander down charming cobblestone boulevards, flanked by Antebellum mansions and moss-covered oaks.
During the day, take in the museums and captivating antique stores in the Historic District, visit some of the eerily beautiful cemeteries, or even make the trip to Tybee Island. At night try the selection of fabulous restaurants, embark on a ghost tour, or sample the happening nightlife.
Where to stay: River Street Inn
Asheville, North Carolina
Providing the mountains without the overwhelming snowfall, Asheville, North Carolina, is one of the best winter vacations in the US. The town has boomed in recent years on the back of strong tourism and new residents. Within Asheville, you’ll find an array of activities along the French Broad River, from many local breweries to homegrown galleries in the River Arts District.
Stay cozy and explore the downtown area and such iconic locations like the Biltmore Estate or take advantage of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains for some adventurous outdoor activities. From Asheville, you’ll be able to reach the Smoky Mountains, where waterfalls tumble and the mist rises over the surrounding meadows before kicking back at one of the several beautiful local wineries.
Where to stay: The Inn on Biltmore Estate
Chicago, Illinois for Ice Skating
Becoming a frozen lakeside city in the winter months, Chicago may not be at the forefront of your plans for the winter holidays. But if you can embrace the flaws of Windy City, you’ll begin to see why it’s one of the best places to visit during the holiday season.
There is an air of festivity that can easily warm your chilly bones, with many festivals and events that spread the cheer far and wide. Chicago is home to Winter Wonderfest, an annual winter carnival offering a buffet of fun experiences, along with art, food, and culture. Perhaps the highlight is ice skating in Millenium Park. In front of the incredible city skyline, glide across the surface with hundreds of others enjoying the community spirit that is so fervent at this time of year.
Where to stay: Hotel Audrey
Now if you thought Chicago was cold…
Come the middle of fall, tourism makes like the leaves and well, falls. With a sharp drop in temperature and daylight, Alaska in the winter sounds nuts for many people.
This is exactly why it’s the time to visit. Anchorage sees about five hours of sunlight during the winter season. But you know what that leaves room for, the spectacular Northern Lights. After experiencing that dazzling display, you’ll have your choice of exciting winter activities that you may not usually have the chance to do. Those include heading out to the lakes for ice fishing, joining an unforgettable dog sledding tour, or embarking on some cross-country skiing.
Where to stay: The Lakefront Anchorage
New York City, New York
When the snow falls over the bright lights of New York City, there are few more mesmerizing sights. New York is well designed for a winter visit. The city may feel enormous and never-ending, but all the major sites are just a quick subway ride away. Rug up and begin in Central Park, whose icy lakes glisten under the winter sun. Just like in Chicago, put on the ice skates and skirt around the park under the towering northern red oaks.
From there, experience the best of New York’s museums and galleries from MoMa to the American Museum of Natural History. Later, head to the Rockefeller Center to see the giant Christmas Tree or wait around a few more days to take in the New Year in the heart of Times Square.
Check out our recommendations for the Best Places to stay in New York City.
Top National Parks for a Winter Vacation
Yellowstone National Park, Montana/Wyoming
If the idea of experiencing the cold weather in Alaska on your next winter vacation captured your interest, then you’ll love our next winter destination. Yellowstone National Park is an excellent alternative if Alaska is a bridge too far. For those that have visited in the summer months, Yellowstone National Park is teeming with wildlife. With fewer tourists, you’ll have even more opportunities to stumble upon creatures like a roaming bison or deer.
With many of the roads closed due to the winter weather, you’ll have a harder time getting around, but it only makes the rewards sweeter. Witness the snowmelt against the soaring geysers, travel through blanket white meadows on a snowmobile, or head to the visitor center for ranger-led nature programs and snowshoeing.
Where to stay: Old Faithful Snow Lodge
Joshua Tree National Park, California
A popular winter escape from the nearby cities of San Diego, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, Joshua Tree presents an otherworldly landscape waiting to be explored. From nearby Palm Springs, enjoy a mesmerizing drive through the park. Stop on a whim and journey across unique rock formations, past the quirky Joshua trees and the unique environment of the Mojave Desert.
With excellent to searing hot year-round temperatures, Joshua Tree is a brilliant spot to visit in winter. Enjoy moderate temperatures and a blazing night sky as you camp under the stars.
Where to stay: Pioneertown Motel
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
At any time of year, the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. The immense canyon dwarfs you, creating spectacular views whichever way you look. The dense orange landscape is a burst of color against the bright blue sky, allowing for exceptional photography. Now combine those two things and add a dusting of snow, like sugar sprinkles on a mud cake. That’s the Grand Canyon in the winter.
Not all the park is accessible during the winter, and as the snow suggests, it doesn’t remain warm. However, the shuttles to viewpoints carry on and some scenic trails stay open.
Where to stay: Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins
Death Valley National Park, California
The names of trails in Death Valley are predictably morbid. With such trails as Coffin Peak and the Devil’s Golf Course, two examples. Those that visit in the summer will understand why. It is, after all, the hottest and desolate point on earth. Now as a happy, don’t-want-to-fry kind of guy, that sounds like all the more reason to visit this one-of-a-kind destination in the winter.
Drive through the valley, which has recorded a high of 134 degrees, in pleasant 60+ temperatures and embark on the short hiking trails without the risk of imminent dehydration. Pair this with a visit to the nearby Yosemite National Park for a best of both worlds type winter vacation.
Where to stay: The Inn at Death Valley
Crater Lake National Park
In beautiful southern Oregon, Crater Lake brings in adventurers and tourists alike in the summer months. The enchanting hiking trails around the lake, fed only by snow and rain, provide breathtaking scenery. But without the packed carparks, Crater Lake is one of those magical winter vacation spots.
With an average of 43ft of snow each winter, the park is a wonderland for snow sports. Trails open for free guided snowshoeing tours, including the picturesque 4-mile Discover Point Trail, with the opportunity to venture further on to Klamath Falls. Visitors can also embark on a captivating 9-mile snowmobile adventure.
Where to stay: Sun Mountain Ranch BunkHouse
Best Ski Resorts
The king of American ski resorts and one of the best places to visit in the winter, Vail, Colorado has over 200 trails and 30 well-placed lifts ready for your epic ski vacation.
If you’re a snowboarder, then not to worry. Vail was the first mountain to embrace what was once a revolutionary movement. Vail’s Back Bowls are legendary and a place where skiing and snowboarding meet art. With such open plains, you can use the slopes like a canvass as you meander your way down the mountain. After a few days on the hill, enjoy a change of scenery with interchangeable tickets that allow you to visit places like Breckenridge, just 45 minutes away.
Where to stay: Christiania Lodge
Big Sky, Montana
With an average snow dump of over 30 feet, Big Sky is as epic as its name suggests. The ski resort in southwest Montana is a winter wonderland with some of the best downhill skiing in the United States.
With over 4000 feet of vertical elevation to cover, you’ll have your work cut out experiencing every part of the stunning terrain. In total, there are four mountains covering 6000 acres and 300 runs to choose between. While the charming Mountain Village awaits for some après-ski to reward your tired legs.
Where to stay: Lone Mountain Ranch
With 12 ski resorts at both Lake Tahoe South and North, this US winter destination is a playground to the stars. Host of the 1960 Winter Olympics you can be sure to experience excellent runs. Heavenly is the most popular and highest vertical drop in California. Located on South Lake Tahoe, it sees a lot of crowds, but because it is so massive, you can get away from it all. Sugarbowl is the closest to San Francisco and Sacramento making it a favorite among locals. It has that old school feel with the highest amount of snowfall in the region. North Star has some of the best views of Lake Tahoe and is a complete family resort with a village and our personal favorite the
But Lake Tahoe isn’t just about skiing, it has beautiful scenery at Emerald Bay, snowshoe trails around the lake, Casinos in Nevada’s Lake Tahoe South and it hosts the annual Lake Tahoe Snowfest with 10 unfilled days of winter fun. Read more Things to do in Lake Tahoe in Winter
Where to Stay: Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Park City, Utah
As the former home of the Winter Olympics, there is more to Park City than unforgettable slopes. In fact, it’s a year-round destination in its own right. Visitors can enjoy the adventure parks, embark on a hair-raising bobsleigh ride or enjoy the hiking and mountain biking trails.
But it’s the winter sports that put Park City on the map. The consistent powder makes it a lock for great skiing and snowboarding. Plus, it has a large number of bluebird days while being the largest ski resort in the nation. The nightlife in town is another highlight thanks to a pumping live music scene.
Where to stay: Park City Peaks
The icy weather on Vermont’s ski slopes may not make it as popular as the slopes in Utah and Colorado, but the state has some of the best cross-country ski trails in the USA.
If you feel like avoiding the long lift lines, and crowds in general, then a cross-country ski trip is the way to unlock a winter paradise away from it all. In the woods around Stowe, you’ll find dozens of trails with just enough use to make them smooth and easy to navigate. Pack a lunch and some hot chocolate and meander through the forests with the sun shining through the canopy, causing the snow to sparkle.
Where to stay: Trapp Family Lodge
Best Warm Winter Vacations USA
New Orleans, Lousiana
Looking for places to visit to have a warm winter vacation? Ready to get out of the blistering cold and enjoy a never-ending summer? Then New Orleans sounds like the place for you.
Sure, the temps drop to (a pleasant) 65 but the vibe keeps on trucking. The Big Easy is one place that never slows down, winter or not. Settle in on the downtown streets to make the most of the mouthwatering Creole and Cajun cuisines, or venture out to Magazine Street for shopping, haunted cemeteries, and spacious public parks. As the sun falls, reminisce about the bitter winter back north as you traipse along Bourbon Street with a hurricane in your hand.
Where to stay: Royal Sonesta
Key West, Florida
With the average high never dropping below 75, Key West is an amazing, warm winter getaway. In fact, you could make the case that there’s no better time to visit the southernmost point in the contiguous USA.
Bid adieu to the winter blues and enjoy the Florida sun without the stifling heat that floats in during the summer. Spend your days jumping between shops and bars on Duval Street, swimming in Dry Tortugas, and visiting the Hemingway Home and Museum. All before sitting down in Mallory Square and watching the amazing sunset alongside street performers and an adoring crowd.
Where to stay: Courtney’s Place Historic Cottages and Inns
When it comes to warm winter destinations that are packed with outdoor adventures, Sedona, Arizona, is one place that springs to mind. Have a chance to explore the amazing scenery of the Arizona Desert and the Verde Valley.
For much of the year, Sedona is teeming with tourists who come from all over to hike along the famous local trails. But in winter, with a light dusting of snow on the desert peaks, you’ll enjoy quieter hikes to places like Cathedral Rock and Devil’s Bridge. Before exploring the beautiful Sedona Desert Botanical Garden in soothing 60-degree weather. In the evenings, enjoy a charming downtown area or cozy up by the fire with your loved one.
Where to stay: Whispering Creek Bed & Breakfast
Maui, one of the top destinations in Hawaii, combines gorgeous weather with a series of pristine white sand beaches backed by swaying palms. It’s the stuff dreams are made of and all the more reason to visit in the winter. After escaping the cold, you can choose between spending your days lazing by the beach sipping on tropical cocktails or venturing inland to experience one of the many amazing hiking trails.
Another reason to visit at this time of year is for whale watching. From November to May, whales migrate to the Hawaiian waters with numbers reaching their peak in February.
These are our recommendations for Where to Stay in Maui.
St. John, US Virgin Islands
With two-thirds of St. John being a national park, visitors get to enjoy gorgeous white sand beaches away from civilization. After flying down to St. Thomas, catch the ferry to St. John with Cruz Bay being your first destination.
After settling into your accommodation, head back down to the bay and jump in the open-air taxis that drive around the entire island. Along the way, you’ll drive by a series of impeccable white sand beaches, from Hawksnest to Maho Bay, with Trunk Bay being the best of the lot.
You could spend a day at each beach and still have more to see after a week. Along with the mouthwatering tacos at Limeout, a floating restaurant, there’s no reason to say no to this balmy experience.
Where to stay: Gallows Point Resort
The capital of Texas, Austin is a live music city that has few rivals. With moderate winter temperatures, it’s the perfect time of year to explore the downtown offering a flurry of museums, galleries, delectable eats, and vibrant nightlife.
Beyond the downtown, you’ll find plenty to do when the sun is shining. Kayak or walk around Lady Bird Lake, make your way to Barton Springs, or further out to the stunning Lake Travis. Later return for a sunset hike on Mount Bonnell for an epic golden hour.
Where to stay: Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt
San Diego, California
Like Austin above, San Diego has an exciting nightlife that doesn’t let up when the temperatures drop. Not that it drops by much, visitors can enjoy mild weather with pleasant 60 degree temps all winter long as they venture between the storied coastline and the happening downtown.
Although the water can be chilly, when the sun is out on the sand is the place to be. Experience Coronado, Pacific Beach, or Ocean Beach, the latter home to the best burgers in Southern California at Hodads. At night, have your choice of the bougie La Jolla, the Old Town for even more amazing food, and the gorgeous Gaslamp District for date night and dim-lit bars.
Make sure you check out our guide of Where to Stay in San Diego!
There’s no better time to experience the diverse geography and climates in the United States than in the winter. The best winter vacations on offer include everything from epic ski resorts, national parks, desert towns, and beachside communities.
Whether you want to embrace the cold or chase warm weather, the options are excitingly endless. So when the temperature drops, you’ll know exactly what to do.