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Skiers ski down the snow covered slopes in front of the lodge on a sunny winter day at the Deer Valley Ski Resort, which is close to Park City and The Canyons, a short drive from Salt Lake City, Utah.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 19 best winter vacations in the US

From family ski trips to romantic hot springs getaways, here are the best winter vacations in the US worth taking this year

Written by
Shoshi Parks
Contributors
Lauren Rothman
&
Sarah Medina
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While summer gets all the popular attention – sun, sand, sea, surf and so on – it's safe to say that winter is underrated. This is the only time of year you can actually wear nice, big, cozy jackets, scarves and woolly hats and curl up in a cabin. But as temperatures rise across the planet and winters get continually milder every year, it's entirely possible that many of our favorite places to go for the festive season suddenly won't be so winter-y. So, seize the season and make a pilgrimage to one of the best winter vacations in the US. 

Want to introduce the kids to the biggest, brightest holiday events? Make your way to New York City for a classic Rockefeller Center Christmas, or give them a full toy-making experience at Kringle's Inventionasium in Cleveland, Ohio. Keen to cultivate a new skill or test your mettle? Try heli-skiing in Telluride, Colorado, or skijoring in Anchorage, Alaska. Hoping to skip the chilly weather and soak up some sunshine instead? Well, we’ve got recommendations for that, too.

Whether you're traveling solo, as a pair on a romantic getaway, or escaping with the kids in tow, the best winter vacations in the US will make this season shine. 

RECOMMENDED: The best ski resorts in the US

Best winter vacations in the US

Best snowboarding resort

Mammoth Mountain is truly the snowy playground that snowboarders dream of – it gets 300 days of sunshine and 400in of snowfall per year. Situated at 11,053ft above sea level, the winter wonderland has 3,500 acres of snowboarding terrain and its season stretches into July (yes, July). Off the snowboard, there’s also plenty more to do like snowmobile rides, gondola rides with offering awe-inspiring views, snowcat tours, bowling and indoor golf.

Vail, CO
Photograph: Courtesy Vail/Chris McLennan

2. Vail, CO

Best family ski trip

This winter wonderland – widely regarded as one of the country’s top ski destinations – is the place go for excellently groomed, powdery trails. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, Vail puts up quite the holiday celebration: think tree-lighting ceremonies, an ice skating rink, brightly lit holiday decorations, a kid's snowmobile track, ski bikes, tubing lanes, and more.

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Washington, DC
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Washington, DC

Best city to see Christmas lights

Our nation’s capital truly comes to life in December when the city lights up to celebrate the holidays. Aside from the official monuments getting the holiday treatment, DC also hosts Enchant Christmas—the world's largest Christmas light maze—at Nationals Park. The event, more than just a dazzling light display, is an exciting journey to help Santa find his reindeer. Once you've saved Christmas, keep the fun going at the ice skating rink, the Christmas market, and the Enchant Cinema which plays exerpts from beloved classics like Elf and A Charlie Brown Christmas

Salt Lake City, UT
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Salt Lake City, UT

Best to try out curling

We mention a number of underratted winter sports on this list – from ice fishing to skiing via helicopter or even dog – but curling may be your most achievable new skill. You'll be a pro on the ice in no time with an intro course at the Utah Olympic Oval, just outside of Salt Lake City. Learn the basics of proper delivery, sweeping, and strategy. And, if you’re keen for more, follow it up with a night of Cosmic Curling (much like its bowling counterpart, it takes place in the glow of neon and black light).

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Jackson, WY
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Jackson, WY

Best romantic getaway

Jackson, located at the base of the spectacular Teton mountains in Wyoming, offers an outdoorsy Christmas escape that’s perfect for nature lovers. During the holiday season, the city’s spectacular town square – marked at each corner with arches made of elk antlers – lights up as each arch is draped and wrapped with plenty of twinkling lights. Check the itineraries of local resorts and ranches to see what’s up for grabs this season: think room-delivered trees, wreaths, eggnog, fresh cookies, and even horse-drawn carriage rides throughout their properties.

Nantucket, MA
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Nantucket, MA

Best secluded destination

While the peaceful coastal town of Nantucket is typically considered a summertime destination, it has a special sparkle at Christmastime when its chilly beaches take on a preternatural calm. It’s a good choice for a quiet holiday getaway, but don’t expect totally silent nights—the town still offers special events, just on a smaller scale. The centerpiece is Nantucket’s annual Christmas Stroll and Nantucket Noel, a local shop initiative which will run from November through the end of the year (Christmas shopping has never been more charming).

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Dunton, CO
Photograph: Courtesy Dunton Hot Springs/JACK RICHMOND

7. Dunton, CO

Best for basking in hot springs

Taking a hot bath in winter is a simple pleasure, but Colorado takes it to the next level – bathe outside with views of snowcapped mountains in hot springs that bubble up all over the state. We like the convenience of Dunton Hot Springs, a glamping destination close to Telluride that turned a once-abandoned mining town into a rustically luxe resort (complete with an Old West saloon and dance hall). In the winter, the resort offers a host of activities from heli-skiing to dog-sledding and ice climbing. But of course, you're here for the outdoor calcium bicarbonate hot spring pools – the perfect place to watch the snow fall.

Naples, FL
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Naples, FL

Best spot to sport a bikini

If you want to skip out on ice skating, snowmen, and parkas this year, head down to Naples, Florida. Here, beaches beckon with average December temperatures that hover around 76 degrees. The city goes all-out to lure Christmas snowbirds, bedecking windows in the historic downtown shopping area and erecting more than a few tall trees. In mid-to-late December, Naples also plays host to multiple boat parades – these twinkling processions of vessels make their way down local waterways and are often accompanied by live music and carolers along the shore. 

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New York City, NY
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. New York City, NY

Best holiday sightseeing

Few places are as synonymous with Christmas as Rockefeller Center in New York City, where, each winter, one of the world’s tallest Christmas trees is erected. Last year, the 12-ton, 79-foot-tall, 46-foot-diameter tree hails from Elkton, Maryland, and will be decorated with over 50,000 multi-colored, energy-efficient LED lights (oh, and it’s topped with a gorgeous Swarovski star for good measure). While in town to admire the studded spectacle, enjoy other fab holiday attractions like skating on the ice rink located right below the tree or carriage rides in nearby Central Park.

Lake Tahoe, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Lake Tahoe, CA

Best hills for tubing

If you’re looking to hit some serious hills, there's no place like Northstar after a snowfall. You’ll find slopes for tubing around the resort’s mid-mountain mark (near the express lift). Here, a 200-yard-long, J-shaped tube slide features three whole whoops. But if one hill isn't enough to satiate you, try Heavenly's epic tubing area—it's 500ft long and has a 65ft vertical drop.

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Anchorage, AK
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Anchorage, AK

Best place to learn skijoring

It’s not an Olympic event anymore, but skijoring – in which cross-country skiers are tethered to an animal (usually a dog, though sometimes a horse), a snowmobile, or even a motorcycle and pulled for extra speed – is still tons of fun. The Anchorage Skijoring Club offers clinics, tours, and other events for beginners, as well as 5km and 10km races for more advanced practitioners. For a less formally organized outing, the Anchorage trail system has more than 40 miles of dedicated skijoring trails, plus a plethora of multi-use trails suitable for the sport (BYO dog).

Cleveland, OH
Photograph: Shutterstock/f11photo

12. Cleveland, OH

Best spot to see Santa

If you want your kids to have a hand in their Christmas presents, head to Kringle's Inventionasium in Cleveland, Ohio, where children invent their own toys inside Santa's workshop. 'Guest inventors' don white coats to come up with new toy ideas for the season as they learn to make 'snow.' Afterwards, they'll get to meet Mr. Kringle himself—sounds like Christmas magic, if you ask us.

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Yosemite, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. Yosemite, CA

Best view from the ice rink

Sure, you can ice skate in the center of almost every city in the USA, or you can skate in the middle of one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world—seems like an easy choice, don’t you think? Head to Curry Village in Yosemite National Park for scenic ice skating with views of Half Dome and Glacier Cliff. 

Silverton Mountain, CO
Photograph: Courtesy Telluride/Brett Schreckengost

14. Silverton Mountain, CO

Best for heli-skiing

If you have the money, this is probably one of the most badass stunts you can pull off this winter. Heli-skiing involves dropping from a chopper onto pristine, untouched powder—obviously, this isn’t for beginners. Head to Colorado where you can choose a single drop, a day pass, or a custom booking at Silverton Mountain Ski Area, or you can book a trip with Telluride Helitrax for helicopter-assisted backcountry tours of the San Juan Mountains.

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Hunter Mountain, NY
Photograph: Courtesy Hunter Mountain

15. Hunter Mountain, NY

Best small ski resort

Don't hesitate: This little-known locale is onlky getting more popular. Hunter Mountain is not huge, it's certainly not as challenging as an Alpine black run, or even as ridiculously wide as the runs at somewhere like Mammoth, but it's cozy, fun and if you stay at the Hunter Mountain Sanctuary, you can kick your boots off, enjoy a roaring open fire and gently sup a whisky or mulled wine, looking back at the mountain and the very runs you've just raced down. 

 

16. Crab Cooker Hot Spring, CA

Best star gazing 

Crab Cooker Hot Spring is a man-made rock tub with water piped in from a nearby mineral spring about 30 feet away. Make sure to go at night: not only is it hilarious fun to make your way over from the gravel space that doubles as a car park, but once you've exchanged pleasantries with those already present, stripped and got wet... the lack of light pollution here presents an unprecedented view of our own galaxy. It truly has to be seen to be believed. 

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Deer Valley, UT
Photograph: Shutterstock

17. Deer Valley, UT

Best après-ski

If you've ever skied in Europe, you'll know what an essential element après-ski is to the day's affairs. A pint of French lager, pasta, fondue and finally a few shots of limoncello. They are all equally as important as the snow itself. While US lager has a long way to go before it can compete with the French, if you're a cheese lover, Deer Valley in Utah, offers handcrafted cheese produced in the kitchens of Silver Lake Lodge by cheesemaker Corinne Cornet-Coniglio.

Lake of the Woods, MN
Photograph: Shutterstock

18. Lake of the Woods, MN

Best to try ice fishing

Don't turn up your nose at ice fishing – believe it or not, it can actually be quite thrilling. Try it at Lake of the Woods in Minnesota, one of the best ice fishing spots in the USA. Stake your spot with other die-hards on the frozen lake, cut a hole, and keep your eyes peeled for northern pike, saugers, walleyes, crappies, and more. In terms of gear, all you really need is an auger, a sled, an ice scoop, some ice rods, and a handful of jigs. Plenty of places in town are ready and willing to sell you some, so get ready to break some ice!

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Fairbanks, AK
Photograph: Shutterstock

19. Fairbanks, AK

Best for the aurora borealis

The aurora borealis, or northern lights, are caused when energized particles emitted from the sun crash into the Earth's magnetic field, to put it simply. The rotation of the Earth, together with the movement of the molten metal core of the planet creates a magnetetic field...and that's what protects us from deadly — yes, deadly — solar radiation. And that's what we see when the aurora borealis dances in the night sky. Without this maganetic field, very little life would survive.

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