There are plenty of winter destinations worth the trip in the U.S. – even if you don’t plan to hit the slopes.
Whether you’re into skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, dog sledding, or simply perfecting your hot cocoa recipe, we wanted to know which U.S. cities are best for all types of winter travelers. We asked over 1,000 people about their favorite places for winter vacations. See below for the best overall destinations for winter travel, as well as the top 4 locations that cater well to the snow-bunnies and less athletically inclined.
The 4 Best U.S. Cities for a Winter Vacation
- Vail, Colorado – Known for its slopes with over 5,289 skiable acres, Vail has some of the best skiing and snowboarding opportunities on the planet. It also has a wide array of other winter activities, including dog sled tours and dips in the hot springs. Perfect for families or friends travelling with skiing die-hards, Vail offers a wide range of winter classes – from beginners in skiing or snowboarding to learning Italian and cooking a winter meal like a gourmet chef.
For the more adventurous, Vail has guided backcountry tours you can take on a dog sled or experience by snowshoeing with a certified guide. In less than an hour drive, travelers can soak at the Iron Mountain Hot Springs (good for sore post-skiing muscles or just some RnR). Colorado also experiences 300 days of sunshine each year on average – that’s more sunshine than San Diego and Miami Beach, so don’t forget to bring a bottle of sunscreen.
- Anchorage, Alaska – Alaska offers unforgettable views, and Anchorage is no exception. The city sits at sea level with towering mountaintops and a wildly diverse landscape. Wildlife tours help you get close to animals like moose, bears, eagles and whales during the daytime. When the sun goes down, the Anchorage sky is painted in vibrant blues, pinks, greens, and yellows from the Northern Lights. It’s unpredictable when they’ll show, so make sure you plan enough days in your trip to fit in a few different nights of viewing.
For a truly special adventure, head to Girdwood for New Year’s Eve to catch the Torchlight Parade, where local skiers and snowboarders descend the Alyeska mountain with torches in hand. This ‘parade of lights’ is followed by a fireworks show from the mountaintop. The Anchorage winter has eight hours of sunshine (versus 16 in April!), so you can peek at the stars and cap off a beautiful day with a full night’s sleep.
- San Antonio, Texas – Trying to skip the snow? Head to San Antonio, where the coldest temperature you’ll find is in the low 60s. It’s the best time to visit Texas as well, full of great activities for the holiday season that offer comfortable outdoor winter events – and less tourists than the summer. The city’s most iconic neighborhood, the River Walk, hangs over 100,000 lights to guide visitors down the San Antonio river from dawn until dusk through the holiday season. While you float down the river, you can listen to carols from one of the over 185 groups that will perform live through Ford Holiday Boat Caroling.
Foodies can make their own tamales at La Gran Tamalada in San Antonio’s colorful Historic Market Square or attend Dulce, a night of desserts and decadence at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Swing by on December 31 to experience Texas’ biggest New Year’s Eve celebration, full of fireworks, three different stages of live music, carnival games, and delicious food. It’s their tricentennial celebration this year (300th!), so it’s worth the trip.
- Minneapolis, Minnesota – In the twin cities, you can go see the Vikings play in U.S. Bank Stadium, complete with a full size Viking ship right outside. You can visit Whitewater State Park, which hosts guided snowshoe tours on Saturdays twice each month, or experience ice climbing, ice fishing, or dog sledding. You can even tour an impressive list of over 100 breweries and taprooms, or try curling for the first time. And, to warm up at the end of the day, track down one of the many places in Minneapolis that offers a Swedish sauna.
Looking for something you can’t find anywhere else? The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is the oldest winter festival in the United States. Since 1886, downtown Saint Paul transforms itself into a winter wonderland with ice sculptures, parades, and live music in Rice Park. Visit Minneapolis’ twin in the twin cities, and you’ll get a front seat to how the Midwest celebrates winter.
4 Best Ski Towns for Snow Bunnies (Non-Skiers and Non-Snowboarders)
It’s easy to find the best locations for skiing and snowboarding. What’s trickier is filling the days with fun when your friends are on the mountain – and you’re not. Here are the best skiing and snowboarding destinations cities for folks who don’t hit the slopes:
- Aspen, Colorado – Aspen’s off-the-slopes activities range from snowshoe tours and spa days to live music and great food. Aspen is home to more than 100 restaurants with an international reputation for excellence, including some surprisingly good seafood. Nervous about eating fish in a landlocked state? Their local airport flies in fresh seafood daily.
Drop off the kids at the Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center, a childcare center full of huge Colorado-themed play rooms and supervised activities, go grab a glass of wine at element 47, a five-star Aspen restaurant, and catch a show at one of Aspen’s live music venues. Or, if you’re in the mood for a more adventurous meal, you can enjoy your dinner at a cabin on the mountain. Once the lifts close, snowcats will escort you to the Lynn Britt Cabin where an executive chef will serve you four courses of delicious cuisine to the sounds of live music throughout the evening.
- Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Jackson Hole is a beautiful slice of Wyoming wilderness. While your friends hit the slopes, you can take a winter tour through the nearby Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, or the National Elk Refuge – and enjoy it all from the comfort of a heated snow coach. These tours offer some of the most beautiful natural views out there, full of vistas, geological wonders, and wildlife. Lots of wildlife.
If you’re looking for an experience away from the snow, Jackson Hole has The National Museum of Wildlife Art, which sits in a cliff overlooking the National Elk Refuge. And if wildlife art just doesn’t quite do it, you can pair up with a team of Alaskan sled dogs, which will pull you through the vast wilderness. Choose from a half day or a full day journey with a stop at the Granite Hot Springs for a warm, relaxing soak.
- Park City, Utah – For tubing aficionados, Gorgoza Park offer seven specially-designed tubing lanes that range from beginner to adventure-friendly. You can even tube after dark under the lights. Historic Main Street offers shopping at one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries, and the Park City Museum: a place where you can learn about the city’s fascinating mining and ski history. The street is also covered in award-winning restaurants you can brag about to your ski friends who over-payed for an underwhelming burger on the mountain. Utah Olympic Park and the Eccles 2002 Winter Games Museum offer unforgettable experiences for the whole group, including a bobsled ride.
- Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid, New York – Whiteface Mountain lives in the Adirondack Park, full of beautiful forested mountains and swirling rapids. In the winter, skiers and snowboarders flock to Whiteface Mountain for great skiing and snowboarding that includes the longest single intermediate run in the Northeast. If your friends drag you along, don’t worry – there are amazing ways to fill your days in the area. The Lake Placid Bobsled Experience gives you a chance to relive Cool Runnings. When you’ve caught your breath from barreling downhill, you can cross country ski to drink in the beauty of the Adirondacks through over 30 miles of Nordic trails – views that are guaranteed to take your breath away. When you’ve caught it a second time, you can take a drive up the Veterans’ Memorial Highway to the summit of Whiteface Mountain and enjoy views that reach as far as Vermont and Canada.
Whether or not you strap on skis this winter, enjoy a trip to any of these locations with the help of VacationRenter to find the perfect place to stay.