With the sheer vastness of the United States, there are plenty of varied climates and natural diversity to choose from across the country. This makes the USA ideal for winter vacations, whether you are looking for warm sunshine, or heading to the slopes of the ski resorts. What makes this time of year even better, is that generally speaking, out-of-season travel costs are reduced for many of the popular tourist hotspots. Whether you are opting for winter snow or warmer climes, the following are 22 best winter vacations in the US to choose from.
Key West, Florida
If you live in an area up north that experiences real cold, snow, and sleet, you might want to head south to Florida. The Florida Keys offer pretty much perfect weather, with an average high of 74 degrees Fahrenheit in January. Key West is one of the favorite locations for many visitors. However, it must be borne in mind that winter is the most expensive and busy season in Florida.
When there, you can choose to spend your days lounging on the beach, or enjoying the various water sports in the warm waters. In the evenings, partake of the lively nightlife in Duval Street, where partying is key (excuse the pun).
Alternatively, head to Mallory Square to experience the nightly Sunset Celebration or try out a Key West Sunset Party Cruise, with live music and food. Of course, the many restaurants in town serve up fresh, catch-of-the-day seafood and other delights, making this one of the best winter vacation destinations in the US.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Heading to chillier climes, Utah offers eleven ski resorts within an hour’s drive of the airport. Rightfully dubbed “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” the state offers many excellent resorts. Not only is there plenty of powder, but skiers of every level of experience can take in beautiful red rock views, daubed with pure white snow surrounding them on the slopes.
With so many resorts to choose from, you can have a different skiing experience every winter. Among some of the best resorts to choose, Brighton Ski Resort is set in Big Cottonwood Canyon close to Salt Lake City. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude Mountain Resort or Snowbird are both good choices.
In between, explore all the great things to do in Salt Lake City. The choice is there for the taking.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is great in summer, but it can get crowded. If you want to see the park at its best, winter is the best time. Imagine scenes of snow-capped forests, frozen lakes, and steaming geysers, making the park a magical place. It’s definitely one of the best winter vacations in the US.
It must be borne in mind that many of the roads in the park close to regular traffic early in November. This means many areas of Yellowstone National Park are only accessible to winter-suited modes of transport. These include cross-country skis, a guided snow coach or snowmobile tours. While it might sound problematic, these modes of transport only add to the enjoyment.
Skiing is also available in the area, as well as a lively après-ski experience.
After enjoying a day among the frozen winter beauty, you can travel to Jackson Hole close by. Here you can stay in one of the mountain resorts in a comfortable hotel or cozy log cabin.
While it may sound strange that Minneapolis offers one of the best winter vacations in the US, this Midwestern city is different from other Midwest destinations. Obviously, like all cities in the Midwest, Minneapolis gets pretty cold in winter. What makes it a little different is the way locals embrace winter in an almost Scandinavian way.
The city hosts a series of outdoor events, which form the 10-day Superfest known as the Great Northern. The events include US Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis, family-friendly winter carnivals and the Loppet Ski Festival. The latter sees cross-country skiers heading over the frozen Lake of the Isles, all lit up with lanterns, torches, and candles set in blocks of ice.
For those who prefer to stay warm indoors, the city offers an excellent culinary and arts scene. You can also explore the famous Skyway System, which is a series of climate-controlled pedestrian footbridges, running for 11 miles and connecting many of the downtown buildings.
Magic Mountain Ski Area, Londonderry, Vermont
For a truly charming ski experience, Magic Mountain Ski Area is a throwback to the 1960s and located in Londonderry, Vermont. This small-scale ski resort can be tricky, with its steep slopes that wind through wooded areas. However, for skiers of an intermediate to advanced level, this is truly enjoyable. One special benefit is the smaller crowds of skiers as compared to the large resorts, as well as a ski school for children and beginners.
There are plenty of other things to do in this area of Vermont besides skiing. At the end of a day out on the slopes, head to the tavern to enjoy live music, as well as beautiful views of the mountain outside. Experience true New England hospitality over a good meal and a roaring log fire for one of the best winter vacations in the US.
Port Isabel, Texas
For another warm winter experience, Port Isabel is located right on the Gulf of Mexico and a little north of the US-Mexican border. This small town offers great beaches with many activities and water sports. They also offer a number of historical tours to learn about the rich culture of the area. These include the Port Isabel Historical Museum, with exhibits from wartime to the present.
Another interesting site is the Port Isabel Lighthouse, with its 75 stairs to climb to experience gorgeous, panoramic views. The Sea Life Center in Port Isabel features Dolphin Educational Boat Tours out on the water, which is a truly educational experience. Culture Trip has ranked Port Isabel the “Most Beautiful Place to Visit in Texas” and it also makes for one of the more affordable Texas winter vacations.
The Northwoods, Wisconsin
This area of the USA is a true winter playground, offering trails for virtually all types of snow activity. Heading to Hayward, the town boasts the largest fleet of snow-grooming equipment in the country that manicures the many trails to make them suitable for a large choice of outdoor activities during the winter months.
Cross-country skiers are treated to over 200 miles of trails, as well as many miles of hiking and snowshoe trails. Snowmobile trails run for more than 600 miles in an area that interconnects with other trails throughout the state.
For even more fun, the town of Cable offers around 80 miles of fat bike trails. Even amateurs will soon get used to riding a fat bike and take it out on the snowy trails. Suitable equipment for all types of snow sport is readily available in the area for rental. Northwoods deserves a spot on the list of best winter vacations in the US.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans bears the nickname the “Big Easy,” for its bubbly live-music scene, fizzling nightlife and unique, spicy cuisine. All these reflect the city’s history as a melting pot of African, American and French cultures. One of the most famous events is Mardi Gras, the raucous, late-winter carnival, held each year on the day before Ash Wednesday.
The street parties see fabulous costumes, happy people and live music heading down Bourbon Street. You are warned, however, that town gets packed with people. Good to note, other weeks during January and February are great for visiting the historic, jazz neighborhoods like Treme and Marigny, as well as touring the iconic French Quarter.
Best of all, temperatures are much more comfortable than the scorching heat of summer.
This is a truly beautiful state to visit during the winter months. Among the many things to do in Alaska is dog sledding through the beautiful scenery. Dog sledding classes are readily available to learn how to handle the terrain while working and mushing the dogs. A number of tours head out from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Girdwood, Seward, and Denali.
For those ready for a more daring adventure, there is also the opportunity to head to a glacier by helicopter for an exciting dog sledding experience. Of interest to note, the Alaskan Iditarod Sled Dog Race is held here each March. This heads out over a 1,150-mile distance between Anchorage and Nome.
Once a small gold mining town, Beckenbridge grew into a popular ski resort. However, the town managed to keep a lot of its 19th-century atmosphere, with downtown restaurants and shops set in beautiful Victorian buildings.
Breckenridge Ski Resort is one of the most popular in the US for winter sports. The slopes have something for every level of experience. They are a good choice for families, with almost half the trails allocated for beginners to intermediate skiers. Even better, with a multi-resort ski pass, you can easily tour the other ski locations in the Rocky Mountains close by, including Vail and Keystone.
Lake Erie, Ohio
For those who prefer to catch their own dinner, Lake Erie in Ohio is a popular ice-fishing destination. Visitors can head out with fellow anglers onto the ice from Port Clinton with a guide, discovering the best spots to drop their line. South Bass Island is another great fishing location, which is virtually uninhabited during the winter months.
Both options allow you to fish for delicious walleye or perch. Evenings can be enjoyed in one of the restaurants, sharing stories of the fish that got away with the locals in front of a roaring fire with a mug of hot chocolate. Nights can be spent at one of the excellent hotels in Port Clinton.
Ouray, Colorado is one of the best places for a winter adventure vacation in the US. The man-made Ouray Ice Park is an ice fortress, set in the Uncompahgre Gorge. It offers more than 200 ice climbs on its three-mile vertical terrain. The ice park is created each year in November by farmers spraying the walls of the canyon with excess water from the city. The ice climbing experience is ideal for beginners or experts.
During January each year, visitors can enjoy the Ouray Ice Festival, with various events, including live music, locally brewed craft beer, outdoor gear expos, ice climbing competition and more. There is a good range of hotels in Ouray city, all within easy access to the park.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
Even Florida cools down a bit during the winter months, including the Gulf of Mexico. As the gulf cools, hundreds of manatees head to Kings Bay, around 80 miles from Tampa, Florida. In this area, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is a great destination for (land or marine) animal lovers. This is the only refuge of its kind in the US dedicated to protecting the fascinating manatees.
It isn’t always easy to spot these gentle giants in the river, but a visit between November and April almost guarantees sightings. One of the best spots to relax and watch the lovable herbivorous marine mammals is the Three Sisters Springs boardwalk. Alternatively, options are available for diving and swimming with the manatees.
The area has other interesting locations to visit, including what could be the oldest prehistoric human settlement in the US. Nature lovers and birders can explore the tidal creeks and marshes in the area.
Asheville, North Carolina
For those looking for a winter outdoor activity sports getaway in the mountains, Asheville, North Carolina is an excellent choice. The city nestles in the Blue Ridge Mountains, surrounded by outdoor adventures 365 days of the year. Exploring the hiking trails to the peaks, waterfalls or meadows, mountain biking, climbing or bird watching, with winter views is equally scenic, but with fewer crowds than in summer.
Back in town, a visit to the historic Biltmore Estate. Built for George Washington in the 19th century, the estate is always interesting with its museum and grounds to explore. Asheville also features plenty of art galleries, craft shops, gastropubs, coffee shops, and live music venues.
With its tropical climate, Hawaii is a great place to visit all year round, but heading to this green and lovely isle in winter is a real bonus. Whether searching for hidden beaches, trekking through the rainforests or visiting Na Pali Coast State Park, there are always plenty of things to do in Kauai.
Important to note, one particular activity is only available in the winter months, and that is the arrival of migrating humpback whales from December through March. The only potential drawback of a visit to Kauai in winter is that it is the rainy season. Fear not, the downpours may be heavy, but the rains are short and sweet, rarely interfering with your plans.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Sante Fe is a popular destination all year round but is particularly magical during winter. The beautiful, historic adobe buildings in the city are enhanced by a dusting of snow, while a lovely scent of burning cedar permeates the air. There are active ski and snowboarding communities in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for those who love the snow.
Santa Fe has a particular draw for artists and art lovers, and the cooler months are perfect for exploring the art galleries in Canyon Road. A visit can also be made to the artists’ colony in Taos, close by. The Southwestern cuisine of the state, including Native American traditional food, is particularly good in winter. Chili peppers and chocolate are the taste of the season.
Big sky, Montana
Big Sky Montana hosts an amazing 300 ski runs over four mountains and offers some of the best downhill skiing in the United States. This is due to the heavy snowfall each winter which makes for perfect ski conditions. Besides skiing, vacationers can experience an adventure or nature zipline, snowshoe tours, Sno-Go Bike rentals, and bungee jumping.
The Mountain Village is also home to several excellent restaurants, making for an ideal après-ski dinner experience. Visitors can soak and relax away from the stress of daily living at the Solace Spa & Salon.
St. John, US Virgin Islands
When experiencing polar blasts at home in the Midwest or other areas of the US, the Caribbean offers a definite draw. A suggestion for one of the best US winter vacations is to head to St. John, the smallest US Virgin Island. St. John is relatively untouched as compared to other Caribbean destinations. The island features a beautiful national park to hike and explore, with tropical flowers, as well as exotic birds and turtles.
The beaches here are pristine, especially Trunk Bay, and overlook crystal clear turquoise water, ideal for swimming and snorkeling. The only potential drawback is that the island has no airport or cruise ship mooring available. This means travel to St. John is normally via ferry from St. Thomas.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Nestled along the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a series of striking, multicolored sandstone cliffs. While beautiful in summer, winter transforms the area into a wonderland of ice and snow. Caves in the cliffs are draped with icicles, while the waterfalls freeze. This tempts adventurers to get out their cleats and picks and go ice climbing.
The best time to visit in winter is during the annual Michigan Ice Fest in February. The event features ice climbing and visitors can either watch from the wings or attend free lessons for all skill levels of the sport. Beauty and fun combine to make this one of the best winter vacations in the US.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon is wonderfully scenic all year round. The park is named for Crater Lake, which was formed by a collapsed volcano and features Wizard Island, a cinder cone, out in the lake. While it’s pretty in summer, winter sees the arrival of plenty of snow, making it the perfect location for snowshoeing.
The national park offers a series of guided snowshoe walks each weekend throughout winter, covering distances of one or two miles. Along the way, visitors can learn about the various plant life and wildlife in the park, while enjoying the views.
For those who wish to head off alone on the snowshoe trails, make sure you obtain a map of the park from the visitor center to avoid getting lost. Also, check up on the latest weather conditions and any warnings before heading out on the snow.
Winter camping in the park is not an option, so its ideal to stay over in the city of Bend and take a Crater Lake day trip out to the park.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is a popular destination for its casinos and shows all year round. However, once the New Year holiday is over, the city gets quieter, while flights and hotels drop their rates.
While most visitors spend time on the casino floor or enjoying the shows, others enjoy a visit to the city’s offbeat museums. These include the Neon Museum, Zak Bagan’s Haunted Museum or the Burlesque Hall of Fame. The Ice Rink at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is also plenty of fun.
Outdoor activities are also on offer, including snowboarding on Mount Charleston or hiking in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area or the Springs Preserve.
Hanover, New Hampshire
Each winter, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire holds its annual winter carnival. This has been happening since 1911. Basically, the New England school’s campus is taken over for three days each February for a series of fun events. Among these, visitors can enjoy an ice sculpture contest, a polar bear swim, and ski races.
Besides the February event, ice skating is available on Occom Pond, while the Dartmouth Skiway is perfect for those wishing to get out on the slopes. After a day in the chilly air, visit the many excellent restaurants in town or enjoy a show at the Hopkins Center of the Art. Hanover surely qualifies as one of the best winter vacations in the US.