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16 Best Winter Destinations in the USA

Tags: winter

Looking for the Best Winter vacation in the US? Do you want to escape the cold and chilly weather or indulge in the winter activities? Then we’ve got you covered with our exhaustive list of best winter destinations in the USA.

US offers a wide spectrum of climatic conditions from chilly winter to warm beaches, from Northern lights to barren desert that can be enjoyed in the beautiful places to visit in winter in USA.

Winter destinations in the USA

Best Winter Vacations in the US

NYC: Winter in New York

Editor’s Pick

New York City aka NYC is one city in the US that has its charm all through the year.

Even though Winter is very chilly, but there are so many activities that can be enjoyed only in winter In this city that never sleeps. New York looks magical when it is covered in a blanket of snow.

Go Ice skating at the iconic Rockefeller Center or at the skating rink in Central Park that has been a part of many movies like Home Alone, Serendipity, and many more.

New York City in winter - Rockefeller ice skating rink

If visiting during Christmas time, a giant Christmas tree is placed at the Rockefeller center annually and is lit in bright lights in a public ceremony that is thronged by many. This is one of the most instagrammable worthy spots. A picture in front of the gold Prometheus statue at the Rockefeller rink or in front of the giant Christmas tree or the spectacular holiday decorations is a must for the memories.

Don’t miss the lightning shows at Saks fifth Avenue facade behind the Rockefeller Center. And how can one forget Macy’s during the holiday season? The Christmas window displays at Macy’s NYC is one among them.

The ball drop at Times Square on New Year eve is a popular event but extremely crowded.

There is no place like NYC during the holiday season, even though it is bustling with people. Keep decked up in warm layers with a hot cup of coffee.

Read our New York 2-day itinerary to plan a wonderful trip.

Fairbanks, Alaska: Things to do in Fairbanks in winter

Recommended by Karen Keathley from Wear I Wandered

With the Northern Lights, dog sledding, hot springs, snowmobiling, and great craft beer Fairbanks, Alaska is an amazing winter destination!

The northern lights are a phenomenon that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetimes. Photos might capture the colors, but seeing them in person allows you to truly appreciate the scale and the movement of these amazing lights in the sky. No doubt Fairbanks is one of the Best places to see Northern Lights around the world.

Magical Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska (Picture © Karen Keathley)

Although dog sled rides are provided for tourists they are not only for tourists. Many of the people in Alaska really do get around in the winter by using dog sleds to get back and forth from their homes in the woods. The dogs are amazing and active and so ready to run! If you take a winter visit to Fairbanks I highly recommend taking a dog sled ride.

Another way that the people of Fairbanks get around is via snowmobile. It is exhilarating to run the snowmobile through the woods on snow-covered paths and across frozen lakes. Truly an exciting and must-do experience.

If you need to warm up you can visit Chena Hot Springs and soak your muscles in the naturally warm water. You can even go late and watch the Northern Lights from the comfort of the springs.

You might be surprised at how good the food is in Fairbanks as well. If you like craft beers you should try Silver Gulch Restaurant. Although it might seem crazy to visit one of the coldest places in the US in the winter you will not be disappointed by all that Fairbanks has to offer.

Insider Tip: Just be sure to bring the appropriate clothing and shoes to keep you warm in weather that is well below zero! It is wonderful to experience all that Fairbanks has to offer in the winter.

Philadelphia, PA: Winter in Philly

Philadelphia, the historic city becomes lively and paints a different picture in winters.

There is so much to do in Philadelphia in winters from Ice skating at the Blue Cross River Rink Winterfest To shopping at the Christmas Village in Center City.

Christmas lighting at Longwood gardens and the exotic flowers and decorations. It gets very busy during the holidays so it is advisable to book your online tickets to Longwood Gardens in advance.

Kids for sure are in for a treat with ample activities during winter. One of the popular highlights is the holiday special video at the world’s largest state of the art wall screen at Comcast Center. Walk-in any time to a house full of people gathered to watch the 15-minute spectacular show.

Philadelphia in winter - Macy’s christmas decoration

Walk up to the City Hall for a huge Christmas tree display or enjoy the holiday decorations at Macy’s. Macy’s has a spectacular Magic Christmas tree lit by about 35000 lights. Apart from the lights, there is Dicken’s Christmas Village that has displays from ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Book Hotels in Philadelphia

Death Valley Winter

Unlike the scary name, the place has intriguing beauty in the dry rocky formations, badlands, or the colors spurting through the dry desert. To enjoy this hottest place in the world, the best time to visit is winter. The temperatures range from mid -60’s in the daytime to lower 40’s in the nighttime.

There is so much to see in Death Valley California. The pleasant weather in winter makes it perfect to hike and walk the trails. The most popular is the Zabriskie point for viewing the colorful rock formations, especially at sunrise and sunset making it magical.

Death valley artist's drive

For the best view of the badlands, Dante’s View peak is the best place to be. The nine-mile long Artist’s Drive gives you an insight into the color palette of nature spread across the rocky soil.

Just driving through the Death Valley with hardly any car in view, it is an experience nowhere to be found. Death Valley easily makes a great day trip from Las Vegas is just 2 hours drive away.

Insider Tip: The network signals are weak, so prefer carrying a physical map. Keep your gas tanks filled up. Also, carry your water bottle all the time.

Washington DC: Things to do in DC in the Winter

DC, the capital of the USA is one of the best places to visit in the USA. Although it is mostly thronged during summer, winter has its own advantage and charm.

There are fewer crowds during winter making it easier to visit popular destinations and enjoy them all to yourself. You can easily get a ticket to the Washington Monument and climb atop a 500-foot observation deck to a spectacular ariel view of the capital. And if it has snowed, then the charm gets doubled.

Washington DC in winter from Washington Monument

Walk the National Mall to witness some iconic monuments like the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the Reflecting pool, World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, US Capitol.

And if you are visiting in December, then don’t forget to see the National Christmas Tree, a large evergreen tree located near the White House. It is a delight to visit during the night to see it glowing with lights of different colors. Festival of Lights is another display of bright lights being celebrated for over 40 years. The kids would love the Zoo Lights at the National Zoo.

District’s holiday boat parade is another event that happens on a weekend in December where multiple brightly lit boats cruise across the Potomac River.

For shopping lovers, the Christmas markets in the park in front of Smithsonian museums is a must-visit. If you love being outdoors then Skating at Georgetown ice rink would be fun. If outdoors is not your type then, head out to the many Smithsonian museums that have free entry.

Book hotels in Washington DC

Key West, Florida: Key West in Winter

Do you want to run away from the chilly winter? Do you yearn for warm sunny weather? Then Key West in Florida is your destination to be. The winters are the busiest times in Key West.

The Florida Keys is an archipelago of islands to the south of Florida. The biggest island is the Key Largo and the last island is Key West.

Key West in Florida Keys

The Keys are famous for many water sports activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing, jet ski, and many more. Florida Keys is home to the coral reef in the US apart from Hawaii, so don’t miss the opportunity to dive into the colorful aquatic world. Book your snorkeling tour or take a dolphin watching tour. There are glass-bottom boat tours also available to explore the coral reef.

Evenings are magical to watch the sunset from the beach or take a dinner cruise. Choose from the many cruise options and activities on the islands that can’t be missed.

Key West is an old historic town that lights up during the holiday season. Walk along the streets of downtown or hop on to the old town trolley that takes you through the city with knowledge about the history and facts. Visit the Key West Buoy – the last point of the US. On a clear day, you might even see Cuba that is 90 miles away.

Read our post about the Scenic Drive from Miami to Key West on the U.S Highway 1 connecting all the Florida Keys and plan a wonderful vacation.

Insider Tip: Book your hotels In Key West or hotels in Key Largo advance here as winters are the busiest time.

Vail, Colorado: Vail in winter

Recommended by Nikki from Attractions of America

The arrival of winter offers a new possibility to enjoy the pleasure of snow. One such beautiful place in the USA that offers maximum outdoor fun in the winter in Vail. The charm of its natural sceneries and the quality of its slopes make Vail the ideal destination for skiing.

Vail, located in Colorado, is a skiing paradise on earth, although it has many other things to offer, making it one of the ideal places to spend the winter holidays. During winter, this town is covered with endless white landscapes, which has earned it to distinguish itself as one of the world’s largest ski resorts.

Below are the some of the winter activities to do when visiting this magical destination:

* Skiing
With more than 5,000 acres of ski terrain, skiing is the town’s favorite activity. For thrill-seekers, terrain parks are available with a vertical drop of more than a mile in length, and for the first time skiers, lessons are provided at the appropriate slopes according to the skill level.

* Snowmobiling
Nothing like exploring nature and taking Snowmobile Mountain rides. There are several places where it is possible to rent them and get all the necessary equipment to enjoy the speed without suffering from the cold.

Ice skating at Vail Colarado
Image Source

Where to Stay :

The Lodge at Vail‘ is the first hotel in the place and a great choice to stay, offering a homey atmosphere combined with a 4-star resort’s luxuries. Its rooms with kitchenette, balcony, and fireplace make it perfect to go as a couple or with the whole family.

Book hotels in Vail, CO

These are the activities that cannot be missed when visiting Vail. However, within the resort and in the surrounding towns, there is much more to do, such as climbing, river rafting, or even spending some time relaxing in one of the spas available in practically all of the resorts.

Lake Tahoe

Recommended by Kristel and Gabriel Glasier from Chef Travel Guide

Picture crystal clear cobalt blue waters, snow-capped mountains, and pine-tree engulfed forests, this is the beauty that awaits you when visiting Lake Tahoe in the winter. About a 3.5 hour drive from San Francisco, this snowy winter wonderland straddles on the California-Nevada border and receives millions of visitors each year.

Adrenaline-pumping winter activities are the top reasons adventure seekers come to Lake Tahoe as it is home to several world-class ski resorts such as Squaw Valley, which once hosted the Winter Olympics.

Imagine carving up some fluffy white stuff as you’re taking in jaw-dropping panoramas of the lake and gorgeous mountain scenery. This area receives over 500 inches of snowfall each year which makes it the ultimate winter destination for skiing, snowboarding and so much more.

Winter destination in USA Lake Tahoe
Picture © Kristel

If you don’t ski or snowboard, you can try snow tubing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and even dog sledding for more leisurely snow-related activities.

Stop by the Village at Northstar to visit some cute boutique shops after gliding a few laps on the 9000-square foot ice skating rink. To finish your adventure-filled day, gather around a fire pit for some warmth while sipping on a mug of hot chocolate or a locally crafted beer.

No trip to Lake Tahoe is complete without taking a gondola ride at Heavenly Resort to get a bird’s eye view of the majestic scenery.

Insider Tip: When visiting in the winter, the weather conditions can change abruptly leaving the roads covered in snow. To be prepared, make sure to have chains for your car or rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle as there are checkpoints to ensure drivers’ safety.

Book hotels in Lake Tahoe

Denver, Colorado: Denver in Winter

Recommended by Kara from Destination: Live Life

When it comes to the best winter destinations in the USA, Colorado is often near the top of the pack. The incredible Rocky Mountains brings a wealth of incredible winter (and really year-round) outdoor recreational opportunities. But there is so much more to explore outside of the mountains! Therefore, if you want to get the best of both worlds – incredible outdoor recreation with all the benefits of city living – then make sure and consider Denver.

Denver in winter

When you stay in Denver in the winter, there are a few activities you cannot miss. One popular annual attraction is the Denver Christkindl Market, which typically runs the month leading up to Christmas.

Here they have an artisan marketplace, live music, beverages (adult and otherwise), incredible authentic German food, and more.

Another beloved holiday event is the Parade of Lights, typically held at the
beginning of December. This free event includes more than 40 illuminated floats, marching bands, giant inflated balloons, horses, and more.

And finally, make sure you make a visit to Denver’s famous 16th street mall, where you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride. They’re available year-round, but the views are especially pretty in winter. And don’t worry if it’s cold! Blankets are provided for your comfort.

All these attractions are located within downtown Denver. Avoid the hassle of needing to drive and park (which can be difficult downtown) by staying in this area.

There are many incredible Denver Airbnb options, and most major hotel chains are represented as well! If traveling with kids, then Four Seasons Denver is best with so many amenities targeting the kids. But if looking for a budget option, then Homewood Suites by Hilton is a great choice with a full kitchen and hot breakfast included.

View the best Airbnb’s in Denver

Insider tip: Denver’s weather is very unpredictable. It can be a blizzard and 10 degrees one day, and 55 degrees and sunny the next. Make sure to plan accordingly so you don’t find yourself uncomfortable dressed for whatever elements you may encounter!

Midway, Utah

Recommended by Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

Midway, Utah is a dreamy winter destination reminiscent of a Swiss village. With its European-like architecture, cute locally-owned cafes, and his quiet town nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains is charming any time of year.

But in winter, Midway’s appeal is elevated by a popular attraction that is only around during the months of January and February. Ice Castles is a unique and Instagram-worthy attraction made entirely from ice.

The acre-sized frozen wonderland is built one icicle at a time. But it isn’t just a backdrop for beautiful photos. Ice Castles is a winter playground complete with ice slides, caves, slot canyons, and crawl tunnels to explore. At night, the attraction is illuminated with color-changing lights which create a magical atmosphere.

Ice Castles at Midway Utah as Winter destination
Picture © Melissa

But Ice Castles isn’t the only winter attraction in Midway. The small town of just over 5,000 residents also boasts a world-class nordic center. The Soldier Hollow Nordic Center is a great place to snowshoe or go snow tubing which are great activities for the whole family.

When visitors are done playing in the ice and snow, they can head over to the Homestead Crater, a natural geothermal hot spring inside of a limestone cave. At the Homestead Crater, you can swim, snorkel, or even scuba dive in the warm water.

Because Midway is just 30 minutes away from some of Utah’s most popular mountain resorts like Park City and Deer Valley, a trip to Midway can easily be combined with a day of skiing or snowboarding on Utah’s famous champagne snow.

The Finger Lakes, New York: Finger lakes in winter

Recommended by Lucile from Lucile HR

The Finger Lakes, located in upstate New York, is a perfect winter destination for those who love the snow and the cabin life. Rent out a secluded cabin on Airbnb or head over to a cute bed and breakfast. The Naples, NY area is a good choice if you intend to visit wineries after.

The Finger Lakes are particularly well known for being an awesome wine region. There are many different wines produced there, but the one you need to try is ice wine. Ice wine is made with grapes that have been harvested during winter, at freezing temperatures, the grape being frozen directly on the vine. This produces a very sweet and flavorful dessert wine, that tastes like nothing you’ve ever tried before. Check out Ravines Wine Cellars or visit several wineries on the Seneca Lake wine trail.

If you’re not into alcoholic drinks, you should try out the apple juice at Red Jacket Orchards, as the region is also known for its tasty apples.

Finger lakes Taughannock falls in winter

This is a great destination for you if you like winter sports but hate crowds as you’ll be able to go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the wilderness. If you go to Cumming Nature Center, you can rent out skis and show-shoes before exploring nature. If you prefer downhill skiing or snowboarding, head over to Bristol Mountain, you’ll enjoy the high-speed slopes.

Whether you prefer reading a good book in a cabin, are looking for a cozy place to work remotely, getting moving with winter sports, or going for a tasty experience with local wine and apple juice, you will love the finger lakes!

Read more: Where to stay near Watkins Glen State Park for the best recommendations

Grand Teton, Wyoming

Recommended by Megan from Red Around the World

Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park in winter feel like an entirely different experience than a summer visit to the same place.  While it may be a little busy, it pales in comparison to the number of summer visitors thanks to the cold and amount of snow the area gets in winter.

The big draw for visiting the Tetons and Jackson Hole in winter is skiing and snowboarding.  It’s some of the best in the country, but don’t worry.  If you’re not interested in hitting the slopes there is still plenty to do and see to keep you busy.

Some of the best things to do are snowshoeing in Grand Teton National Park or up by Flagg Ranch, driving around to see wildlife (or joining a wildlife safari if you want someone else to drive and show you around), snow tubing at Snow King, doing a slight ride in the National Elk Refuge, and wandering around town, warming up in all the shops and galleries.

Grand Teton National Park as Winter destination in USA
Picture © Megan

This is such a great place to visit in with with the Tetons covered in snow and moose lounging in the icy Gros Ventre River, it makes for a very unique experience that you can’t find anywhere else.

Insider Tip: Just make sure you pack those hand warmers and foot warmers if you’re going to be doing much of anything outside!

Milwaukee, Wisconsin : Milwaukee in winter

Recommended by Kat from Worldwide Honeymoon

With chilly weather and ample snowfall, Milwaukee doesn’t always come top of mind for people looking for a winter getaway in the USA. However, there is nothing like visiting Milwaukee around the holiday season. With crisp winter air, soft snowfall, and so many Christmas events throughout December, it is the most charming city to be in during the holidays.

First of all, Milwaukee has the most adorable Christkindlmarkt located on Fiserv Forum. It is full of the loveliest wooden huts serving locally made treats like pretzels and gluhwein as well as several handcrafted goods.

Christmas Market at Milwaukee USA in Winter
Christmas Market (Picture © Kat)

If you want even more of a Christmas market fix, a nearby village called Oconomowoc also has a lovely Christmas market!

Also, throughout the month of December, there are several Christmas events like Christmas in the Ward in the popular Third Ward neighborhood with fireworks and tree lighting, the Holiday Lights festival downtown, a Jingle Bus Ride to see the best Christmas lights in the city, and, probably the coolest thing: the Christmas Around Milwaukee Bakery Bus. Yup, you can take a 3-hour tour around the best bakeries in Milwaukee for holiday treats.

Insider Tip: Some events like Christmas in the Ward or the Oconomowoc Christmas market are on a weekend in late November/early December, so visiting around the weekend during that time is a good idea!

Milwaukee is the winter destination you didn’t know you needed to visit. With stunning light displays to cozy markets, this mid-western city brings out all the charm around the holidays.

Book hotels in Milwaukee

Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Recommended by Monica from This Rare Earth

Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California is an incredible destination to visit in the USA in winter. This desert is very near and dear to my heart, and I have visited many times, across every season.  Because of the hot desert climate, summer can be pretty brutal for outdoor activities in the park.  Winter offers cooler temperatures, making November through February much more enjoyable for hiking.

The Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert meet in the middle of the park, meaning you will see two very different landscapes depending on where you are in the park. The Mojave Desert, toward the north, is home to the famous Joshua Tree – a tall and spindly yucca – as well as giant boulders popular with climbers and hikers. The majority of the park’s hiking trails are found in this region.  Whether you intend to visit for one perfect day in Joshua Tree National Park, or plan to stay a week or more, there is a lot to see here and you will never be bored.

Joshua Tree national park in winter

One of my most memorable hiking moments in the park was on the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail, found in the Mojave portion of the park.  This trail is a moderate 3-mile hike over rocky peaks covered with cacti, leading to a natural oasis. In the winter, when rain is more common, the plant life surrounding the pool will be extra green and lush, with giant palm trees towering over the water.  It’s a quiet and beautiful experience, very peaceful and comfortable in the winter temperatures.

Remember that the sun will set earlier in the winter, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Joshua Tree National Park is a designated Dark Sky Park, perfect for stargazing and well outside the bright light of the city.

Joshua Tree is roughly 2.5 hours outside of Los Angeles and can be done as a day trip as well.

But if you plan to stay in the Joshua park area for hiking and star gazing then Sacred Sands is an exceptional accommodation in the middle of the natural setting with views of the desert. The nearest hotels outside the park are Holiday Inn Express & Suites and Fairfield Inn & Suites are great choices.

Boston, Massachusetts

Recommended by Tegan & Alex from Why not Walk

Many dismiss Boston as too cold in the winter for a visit, not knowing that its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean makes it much more temperate than the rest of the state and region in the wintertime, while still receiving several gorgeous, fluffy snowfalls each year. The truth is, Boston is bursting with fun things to do all year, but we would argue the wintertime is extra special.

Start your morning out with a visit to Copley Square, where you can window-shop along Newbury Street and perhaps stop at Stephanie’s or other classic brunch establishments for a bite to eat.

Boston’s best museums– the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner, are conveniently located very close to each other in the Fenway area, which isn’t too far away. From there, check out the iconic Fenway Baseball Stadium, which has hourly tours year-round and almost no tourists in the winter.

In the afternoon, you can’t miss outdoor ice skating at the Frog Pond, located in the middle of the idyllic Boston Common, followed by a piping hot cup of Mexican hot cocoa at Ogawa Coffee House nearby.

Boston in winters

If you visit near the December holidays, the Common is aglow with twinkling lights and a huge Christmas tree, too.

Take a stroll around the North End, Boston’s traditional Italian neighborhood, and stake your claim in the epic cannoli rivalry: Mike’s Pastry versus Modern Pastry. Which will you choose? You can stay in the North End for dinner, with its wealth of traditional Italian restaurants and pizzerias, or make your way back downtown to Chinatown, for delicious dumplings, dim sum, and more.

If you’re ready for a nightcap before ending your day, check out Yvonne’s or the Marliave downtown, or Lolita’s in the Back Bay. If you visit during a snowfall, consider going out of town a bit to Brookline or Chestnut Hill to see beautiful historic Victorian architecture covered in snow– a real winter treat.

Insider tip: Built in 1888, the Boston Public Library is one of Boston’s most beautiful buildings, and super-Instagrammable. Don’t miss the Bates Room’s super elegant, old-school study vibes, or the outdoor courtyard in the middle of the building. Located in Copley Square, the BPL is always our insider tip for those visiting Boston for the first time.

For more Boston and Boston-area tips for any time of year, check out Why Not Walk’s Boston-area landing page here.

Chicago, Illinois

Recommended by Yukti Agrawal from Travel With Me 24 * 7

Chicago is a vibrant destination with lots of things to do in all seasons. This city’s unique charm can be felt in all seasons.  As Chicago has chilly winters and lots of wind due to its location in the mid-west, this city has wonderful winter with snowy parks, festivals, and many opportunities to have the best food and theater shows during winter months.

Winters of Chicago are cold and freezing and therefore there are a lot many things to do which are related to snow – like the ice-skating in Millenium Park, indoor museums and shows, festive light shows, and lots of warm food.

Chicago skyline in winter

Chicago is also famous as a winter destination in the USA for its ice-skating and that too in the mid of the city with the backdrop of a beautiful skyline. A huge 16,000 square foot of snowy rink with the famous Cloud Gate (Bean) sculpture and Crown fountain and many sculptures as a backdrop attracts tourists of all ages.

Even there are special events like Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo which has a free entrance and so it is the one only in the country with free entry. Many other interesting events like snow sculpting, restaurant week, Chicago Winterfest, Chicago Bulls game, and many art shows are held here in winter months.

Also having the view of the snow-capped city with a beautiful skyline from the tallest tower of the city – Willis Tower is the favorite thing to do in Chicago.

Staying close to where all the action makes it easier and saves time in Chicago. There are many hotels suitable for families, but our recommendations would be Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown, Intercontinental Chicago, and the Omni hotel that is popular especially with kids.

Have you experienced the magical winters at any one of these Winter destinations in the USA? Do share which one is your favorite. Do share if we missed one of your favorite winter vacations in the US.

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16 Best Winter Destinations in the USA


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