The mountains are calling. And who are we to ignore them in all their snow-capped glory? Whether you dream of sidling up to a crackling fire with a steamy mug in hand or gliding through glittering powder, nothing beats the holidays at altitude. After all, the perfect winter wonderland delivers a delightful combination of cozy escape and crisp air. Here are eight mountain destinations where you can embrace the season’s magic.
1. Adirondacks, New York
Spanning six million acres, the Adirondacks are the Empire State’s Shangri-La of forest, lakes, and mountains rolled into one. Home to winter carnivals, ice fests, and sled races, the expansive wilderness is packed with adventure, as well as tucked-away cabins for those who would like nothing more than to stick their nose in a book. Snowshoe or glide along miles of Nordic trails, enlist a guide to go deep into the protected parklands to ice climb, or swoosh down the steeps (or bunny slopes) at one of several ski resorts scattered throughout the mountains — most notably Gore and Whiteface.
2. Angel Fire, New Mexico
Located just 23 miles east of Taos in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range, this under-the-radar ski resort and village are simply enchanting. Gorgeous sunsets and sunrises inspired the town’s name, which purportedly originated with Moache Utes, who called it “fire of the gods.” But the vibe of this stunning place is down-to-earth. For a snowy retreat, simply cuddle up and take in the view of the surrounding mountain range. For an outdoorsy fix, there’s plenty to do on skis, sleds, or via horse-drawn sleigh. Cowboy dinners are a thing here too. So, giddy up!
3. Bend, Oregon
With the Cascades as a breathtaking backdrop, ponderosa-scented Bend is a spectacular basecamp for a mountain getaway. Skiers and riders typically beeline for mighty Mt. Bachelor (or Hoodoo). Of course, hunkering down with some Oregon coffee in the shadow of the gorgeous Three Sisters is perfectly acceptable, too. Whether you cozy up to a fire pit for a beer along the Bend Ale Trail, snowshoe through old-growth forests, or pull out a board game for a family night, laid-back Bend makes winter escapes feel both authentic and magical.
4. Brian Head, Utah
Red rock meets snowy peaks at Brian Head Resort, which sits at a base elevation of 9,800 feet and delivers jaw-to-the-floor views from its slopes. Soak in the ambiance at the Lift Bar’s fireplaces or venture deep into the wilderness for a taste of red rock country. The petite town of Brian Head and the resort showcase the incredible surrounding nature. Brian Head’s winter wonderland differs from the typical greeting card landscape, given the distinct desert hues and rock formations. Whether you partake in ski resort fun — tubing included — or venture to nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument, there’s a lot to explore. Consider a cross-country ski at nearby Bryce Canyon National Park (roughly an hour’s drive) or discover the beauty of the world-famous Zion National Park (approximately a 1.5-hour drive) during its quieter off-season.
5. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
A hip gateway town to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg is a southern-flavored mountain escape for folks who lean toward a milder climate — relatively speaking. Here, dramatic mountain splendor is at a premium during the area’s most tranquil time of year, a.k.a. without the summer and fall crowds. For a snow-globe-like taste of winter, ride the tram at Tennessee’s only ski resort, Ober Mountain, or explore the roads and trails of the 520,000-acre national park.
6. Mammoth Lakes, California
Topping out at 11,053 feet, Mammoth is big on fun and even bigger on snow. Whether you hit the slopes or kick back with a hot toddy and try to wrap your head around the geology of the tremendous landscape, the ski town and resort known as Mammoth Mountain has every winter activity you can imagine — from snowmobiling to snowcat tours, alpine skiing to holiday fireworks, Nordic skiing, good ol’ sledding, breweries, and more! The natural hot springs in the area may be a little tricky to navigate in the snowy months, so settle for a view of the jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevadas from your hot tub.
Pro Traveler Tip: Los Angeles weekenders tend to flock to Mammoth, so consider a midweek getaway if you’re able to.
7. Whitefish, Montana
Big Sky country sometimes experiences a cloud layer that is best viewed from above. Enter Whitefish: the once old-school, now world-renowned ski resort has ridiculous, 360-degree views from its peaks and 3,000 acres of terrain to explore. There’s a glassy namesake lake at the mountain’s base and the picturesque village is a trendy combination of cosmopolitan and ol’ west charm. Roughly an hour’s drive from jaw-dropping Glacier National Park, Whitefish is a wintery launching pad for national park exploration.
8. Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Home to the 2010 Olympics, Whistler Blackcomb delivers top-notch vast ski terrain beside a picture-perfect village. If thrill-seeking is on the agenda, check out heli-skiing, zip-lining, and backcountry tours. You can also shift it into low gear with a snowshoe jaunt or a stroll around the gabled shops and eateries of the oh-so-walkable town. To really take it down a notch, soak in the outdoor baths of Scandinave Spa. Or, partake in the après scene, which can get hopping. Oh, Canada!
Cozy Up in a Snowy Wonderland
Discover the perfect cabin getaway at VacationRenter. And wherever you travel for wintery bliss, be sure to consult the experts on outdoor expeditions, adventure safely, and layer up in order to stay toasty.