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

The 15 best winter vacations in the USA

Whether you're planning a family ski trip or a romantic getaway with hot springs, these are the best winter vacations in the U.S.

By Sarah Medina and Lauren Rothman
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Why should summer have all the fun? The best winter vacations in the U.S. rival any getaway you had in the warmer months. Don't belive us? There are plenty of extreme outdoor adventures to be had in the winter. Or, if you'd rather get cozy, there are plenty of romantic getaways where you can cuddle by the fire. Hate the cold? We know a few warm weather destinations where you can sport a bikini in December. So get planning and get ready to have the best winter ever.

Note: If you are planning a trip this winter, make sure to follow local guidelines, practice social distancing and wear a mask. And you might want to check which states require you to quarantine or present a negative test when visiting before you go. 

 

Best winter vacations in U.S.

Vail
Vail
Photograph: Courtesy Vail/Chris McLennan

1. Best family ski trip: Vail, CO

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 the 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. 

Discover Colorado: 
📍 The best things to do in Colorado
🛏️ The best hotels in Colorado 
❄️ The best Colorado ski resorts

Washington DC Christmas lights
Washington DC Christmas lights
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Best city to see Christmas lights: Washington, D.C.

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, Georgetown Glow, located in the tranquil university town, has brought world-class light installations to town, designed by local and international artists alike, for the last six years. Running from December 4th to January 10th this year, it’s not to be missed.

Discover Washington D.C.
📍 The best things to do in Washington D.C.
🛏️ The best hotels in Washington D.C.
🍴 The best restaurants in Washington D.C. 

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Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Best secluded destination: Nantucket, MA

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 the town still offers special events for revelers. The centerpiece is usually Nantucket’s annual Christmas Stroll, but this year it's been replaced with a virtual event, Nantucket Noel, a local shop initiative which will run from November 27th through the end of the year. 

Discover Massachusetts: 
📍 The best things to do in 
Massachusetts

Mammoth Mountain
Mammoth Mountain
Photograph: Courtesy Mammoth Mountain

4. Best snowboarding resort: Mammoth Mountain, CA

With 300 days of sunshine and 400 inches of snowfall per year, Mammoth Mountain is truly the snowy playground that snowboarders dream of. Situated at 11,053 feet above sea level, the winter wonderland has 3,500 acres of snowboarding terrain and a season stretches into July (yup, July!). Off the snowboard, there’s tons to do here, including fun snowmobile rides, gondola rides offering awe-inspiring views, snowcat tours, bowling and indoor golf.

Discover California:  
🚗Take this road trip from L.A. to Mammoth Lakes

📍The best things to do in California
🛏️The best hotels in California 

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2019 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting
2019 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting
Photograph: Courtesy Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Tishman Speyer.

5. Best holiday sightseeing: New York City, NY

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. This year, the 11-ton, 75-foot-tall, 45-foot-diameter Norway Spruce hailed from Oneonta, NY and will be decorated with over 50,000 multi-colored, energy-efficient LED lights and topped with a gorgeous Swarovski star for good measure. While in town to admire it, enjoy other fab holiday attractions like skating on the rink located right below the tree and carriage rides in nearby Central Park.

Discover New York City: 
📍 The best things to do in New York 
🛏️ The best hotels in New York 
🍴 Christmas in New York

Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Best romantic getaway: Jackson, WY

Located at the base of the spectacular Teton mountains, Jackson, Wyoming offers an outdoorsy Christmas 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, each arch getting draped and wrapped in plenty of twinkling lights. Check the itineraries of local resorts and ranches, which present guests with plenty of seasonal fun: think room-delivered trees, wreathes, eggnog and fresh cookies and horse-drawn carriage rides throughout their properties.

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

7. Best for basking in some hot springs: Dunton, CO

Taking a hot bath in winter is a simple pleasure, and in Colorado you can do that outside with views of snowcapped mountains via the hot springs that bubble all over the state. We like the convenience of Dunton Hot Springs, a glamping destination close to Telluride. The once-abandoned mining town has been restored, complete with an Old West saloon and dance hall, and in 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. 
Telluride
Telluride
Photograph: Courtesy Telluride/Brett Schreckengost

8. Best (and only) chance to take a helicopter instead of a ski lift: Silverton Mountain and Telluride, CO

If you have the money, this is probably one of the most badass stunts you can pull this winter. Heli-skiing involves dropping from a chopper onto pristine, untouched powder, and in Colorado, there are not one, but two options to achieve this epic adventure. Choose from a single drop, a day pass, or a custom booking at Silverton Mountain, or a trip with Telluride Helitrax, where you can opt for a single or multi-day package or a helicopter-assisted backcountry tour of the San Juan Mountains.  

Discover Colorado: 
📍 The best things to do in Colorado
🛏️ The best hotels in Colorado 
❄️ The best Colorado ski resorts

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Lake Tahoe, CA
Lake Tahoe, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Best hills for tubing: Lake Tahoe, CA

There's no place like Northstar after a snowfall if you’re looking to hit some serious hills. The tubing goes down about mid-mountain (near the express lift) and features 200-yard-long groomed tube slide that is J-shaped with three whoops. Tubers are taken by a tow lift to the top of the hill, so there's no hiking back up. Didn't get your fill? Try Heavenly's epic tubing area—500 feet long and a 65-foot vertical drop—next. 

Discover California:  
📍The best things to do in South Lake Tahoe

📍The best things to do in California
🛏️The best hotels in California 

Naples, Florida
Naples, Florida
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Best city to sport a bikini: Naples, FL

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

Discover Florida
📍 The best things to do in Florida
🛏️ The best hotels in Florida
🍴 The best restaurants in Florida

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ANCHORAGE
ANCHORAGE
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Best place to learn skijoring: Anchorage, AK

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—featured as a demonstration back in 1928, and there’s a push to get it reinstated for future games. In the meantime, the Anchorage Skijoring Club offers clinics, tours, and other events for beginners as well as 5k and 10k 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 that are suitable for the sport as well. (BYO dog.)

Discover Alaska: 
📍 The best things to do in Anchorage
📍 The best things to do in Alaska

Yosemite in Winter
Yosemite in Winter
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Best view from the ice skating rink: Yosemite, CA

Sure you could ice skate in the center of almost every city in the U.S., or you can ice skate in the middle of one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Curry Village in Yosemite National Park offers ice skating as well as a fire pit and views of Half Dome and Glacier Cliff. 

Discover California: 
📍 The best things to do in Yosemite 
🌲 The best national parks in California
🌲 The best national forests in California 

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Ice fishing Minnesota
Ice fishing Minnesota
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. Best lake to try ice fishing: Lake of the Woods, MN

Don't turn your nose at ice fishing; It can actually be quite thrilling and Lake of the Woods in Minnesota is one of the best ice fishing spots in the U.S. Stake your spot with the 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 and there are plenty of places in town willing to sell you some. 

Discover Minnesota: 
📍 The best things to do in Minnesota

santa claus
santa claus
Photograph: Shutterstock

14. Best spot to see Santa: Cleveland, OH

If you want your kids to have a hand in their Christmas presents, head to the Inventionasium in Cleveland, where children are asked to invent their own toys inside Santa's workshop. "Guest inventors" don white coats to come up with new toy ideas for the season and will even learn to make "snow." Afterwards, they'll get to meet Mr. Kringle himself. While the experience has gone virtual this year, the kids will probably love a Zoom session with Santa too.  

Discover Cleveland: 
📍 The best things to do in Cleveland
🛏️ The best hotels in Cleveland
🍴 The best restaurants in Cleveland

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Echo Park Lake
Echo Park Lake
Photograph: Shutterstock

15. Best city to try your hand at curling: Salt Lake City, UT

We've mention a number of underratted winter sports on this list—from ice fishing to skiing via helicopter or dog—but curling may be your most doable new skill. You'll be a pro on the ice in no time with the intro course at the Utah Olympic Oval, just outside of Salt Lake City, where you’ll learn the basics of proper delivery, sweeping, and strategy, and follow it up with a night of Cosmic Curling, which, much like its bowling counterpart, takes place in the glow of neon and black light. 

Discover Salt Lake City:
📍 The best things to do in Salt Lake City
🛏️ The best hotels in Salt Lake City
🍴 The best restaurants in Salt Lake City

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