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Photograph: Courtesy Dunton Hot Springs/JACK RICHMOND

The 15 best winter vacations in the USA

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

Written by
Shoshi Parks
Contributors
Lauren Rothman
&
Sarah Medina
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When temperatures drop, the best winter vacations in the country turn up the heat. Whether you’re grabbing your skis in search of fresh snow in the mountains, or taking a dip at closer-than-you-think hot springs, adventure abounds all across the country as we bundle up for winter weather ahead.

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 USA will make this season shine—here's where to find them.

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Best winter vacations in U.S.

Best spot to see Santa: Cleveland, OH
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Best spot to see Santa: Cleveland, OH

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.

Discover Cleveland: 
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Cleveland
๐Ÿ›๏ธ The best hotels in Cleveland
๐Ÿด The best restaurants in Cleveland

Best snowboarding resort: Mammoth Mountain, CA
Photograph: Courtesy Mammoth Mountain

2. Best snowboarding resort: Mammoth Mountain, CA

Mammoth Mountain is truly the snowy playground that snowboarders dream of—it gets 300 days of sunshine and 400 inches of snowfall per year. Situated at 11,053 feet 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.

Discover California:  
๐Ÿš—Take this road trip from L.A. to Mammoth Lakes

๐Ÿ“The best things to do in California
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Best city to see Christmas lights: Washington, D.C.
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. 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, 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. Enchant Christmas starts November 26, 2021.

Discover Washington D.C.
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Washington D.C.
๐Ÿ›๏ธ The best hotels in Washington D.C.
๐Ÿด The best restaurants in Washington D.C. 

Best family ski trip: Vail, CO
Photograph: Courtesy Vail/Chris McLennan

4. 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 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: 
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Colorado
๐Ÿ›๏ธ The best hotels in Colorado 
โ„๏ธ The best Colorado ski resorts

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Best secluded destination: Nantucket, MA
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. 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 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 26th through the end of the year (Christmas shopping has never been more charming).

Discover Massachusetts: 
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in 
Massachusetts

Best holiday sightseeing: New York City, NY
Photograph: Courtesy Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Tishman Speyer.

6. 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 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.

Discover New York City: 
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in New York 
๐Ÿ›๏ธ The best hotels in New York 
๐Ÿด Christmas in New York

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Best city to try your hand at curling: Salt Lake City, UT
Photograph: Shutterstock

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

We've mentioned 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).

Discover Salt Lake City:
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Salt Lake City
๐Ÿ›๏ธ The best hotels in Salt Lake City
๐Ÿด The best restaurants in Salt Lake City

Best romantic getaway: Jackson, WY
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Best romantic getaway: Jackson, WY

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.

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Best for basking in some hot springs: Dunton, CO
Photograph: Courtesy Dunton Hot Springs/JACK RICHMOND

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


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.

Discover Colorado: 
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Colorado
๐Ÿ›๏ธ The best hotels in Colorado 
โ„๏ธ The best Colorado ski resorts
Best city to sport a bikini: Naples, FL
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, 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. 

Discover Florida
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Florida
๐Ÿ›๏ธ The best hotels in Florida
๐Ÿด The best restaurants in Florida

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Best hills for tubing: Lake Tahoe, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Best hills for tubing: Lake Tahoe, CA

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 500 feet long and has a 65-foot vertical drop.

Discover California:  
๐Ÿ“The best things to do in South Lake Tahoe

๐Ÿ“The best things to do in California
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Best view from the ice skating rink: Yosemite, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

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

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.

Discover California: 

๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Yosemite 
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Best place to learn skijoring: Anchorage, AK
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. 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—is still tons of fun. 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 suitable for the sport (BYO dog).

Discover Alaska: 
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Anchorage
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Alaska

Best lake to try ice fishing: Lake of the Woods, MN
Photograph: Shutterstock

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

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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๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Minnesota

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Best chance to take a helicopter instead of a ski lift: Silverton Mountain and Telluride, CO
Photograph: Courtesy Telluride/Brett Schreckengost

15. Best 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 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.
 

Discover Colorado: 
๐Ÿ“ The best things to do in Colorado
๐Ÿ›๏ธ The best hotels in Colorado 
โ„๏ธ The best Colorado ski resorts

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