cover

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 are less athletically inclined. Come find some fun things to do this winter! If you’re traveling with a partner, check out our romantic winter getaway guide.

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 traveling 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.  

vail-winter-skiing-big-sky-basin

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’s 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. If Vail has you yearning to explore more of what Colorado has to offer, check out our comprehensive Colorado travel guide!

Where to Stay in Vail

Your top priority when choosing where to stay in Vail should be the proximity to the slopes. With just a 7 minute walk down heated streets, Vail Village is the perfect location to recharge after a long day on the mountain. It’s got multiple boutique hotels, all offering world-class spa facilities.

Pro traveler tip: Vail is notoriously expensive even for a ski resort town. If you’re trying to save money while still hitting the powder, consider bringing your own gear to skip the rental fees.

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.

alaska-train-cook-inlet-zander-buteux

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.

Where to Stay in Anchorage

Anchorage is a city that offers wildly different experiences depending what you’re looking for. Looking for the perfect place to stay can be a dilemma. You have to ask yourself whether you want to completely embrace the natural splendor, or if you want a more civilized home base to head back to after a day of adventuring.

Downtown Anchorage has all the shops, restaurants, and engaging nightlife you’d want from a big city. If you want the best of both worlds, look for places to stay in the heart of the city. Trying to get a more authentic Alaskan experience, there are plenty of cabin style rentals on the edge of the wilderness.

Pro traveler tip: Trying to catch a glimpse of a moose around Anchorage? Time your search for either dusk or dawn, as they tend to rest midday.

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 fewer 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.

san-antonio-river-walk-texas

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.

Where to Stay in San Antonio

The best responses to a disaster leaves the affected area better than it was before. That’s exactly the case with the aforementioned River Walk. A flood in the 1920’s forced the Texas government to create a manmade overflow waterway. Ingeniously they turned this side river into a cultural hub. The River Walk hosts a multitude of shops, restaurants, and hotels. Most of those hotels have waterfront views by the way. This spot has to be on the top of your list of places to stay.

Pro traveler tip: If you’re an adrenaline junkie, plan a day at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. The mild winter here means it’s never too cold to soar on world class roller coasters.

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.

minneapolis-light-trails-dusk-sunset

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.  

Where to Stay in Minneapolis

The North Loop is the part of the city where old meets new. Once home to early 20th century warehouses and wholesale operations, it now hosts a collection of art galleries, start ups, and bars. If you’re looking for a hip vacation, you gotta check this place out.

Pro traveler tip: The lakes around Minneapolis don’t freeze over as long as they used to. If you want to get the most icy experience, travel there in the heart of winter.

4 Best Ski Towns for Snow Bunnies

It’s easy to find the best places 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.

Where to Stay in Aspen

Downtown Aspen is the obvious choice if you’re looking for other things to do in the winter when you come down from the mountain. From boutique hotels to cozy bars. Downtown is a good place to warm up. With nearby access to the gondola that’s your stairway to skiing heaven, you’re going to want to choose this spot in your winter vacation package.

Pro traveler tip: If you’re looking to get away when you visit Aspen, head over to Woody Creek for a more rustic experience.

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.

jackson-hole-wyoming-antler-arch

If you’re looking for an experience away from the snow, Jackson Hole has The National Museum of Wildlife Art, which sits on 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.  

Where to Stay in Jackson Hole

Despite the bitter cold, downtown Jackson Hole is a blast to stay in. It has so many things to do in the winter you might forget just how freezing it is outside. Warm up with some good food, with options that range from fancy to fancy free. There’s plenty of hotels to rest your head, but if you’re ready for a little night time action go out there and move your thang to some live music.

Teton Village isn’t as sprawling as the downtown area, but it’s got some breathtaking mountain views. If proximity to world-class ski mountains is your priority, Teton Village is definitely the place for you. No need to look for parking here, just grab your gear and walk over to the lift.

Pro traveler tip: Planning to visit Grand Teton National Park during your visit? Teton Village is a park adjacent, staying there will give you the best of Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park.

Park City, Utah

park-city-sidewalks

For tubing aficionados, Gorgoza Park offers seven specially-designed tubing lanes that range from beginner to adventure-friendly. And in Park City, 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 overplayed 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. Park City claims to have the “greatest snow on earth.” With that in mind, it’s safe to say this is one of the best places to ski in America.

Where to Stay in Park City

Downtown Park City is the place to be if you’re looking for entertainment post-slope. Restaurants, shops and hotels dot the streets. Want something a little less populated? Deer Valley hosts winter chalets to better enjoy the natural surroundings. With the added bonus of a shuttle to the base of the mountain for all your snow sport needs.

Pro traveler tip: Fly into Salt Lake City International Airport and enjoy the ride to the world’s most accessible ski town. (It’s only 40 minutes away).

Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid, New York

downtown-lake-placid-new-york-winter

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.

Where to Stay in Lake Placid

Choose somewhere close to the historic main street to have fun with fellow mountain visitors. Don’t forget about the lake itself, some vacation properties have waterfront access.

Pro traveler tip: They are currently making a huge overhaul to Lake Placid’s infrastructure. Check out this link to stay informed on the progress before making your winter vacation package.

Your Winter Wonderland Awaits!

Winter can be a hard time for many of us. Limited sunlight, harsh cold, and dangerous conditions can make this time of year a nightmare. Taking a cold-weather vacation can turn this whole mindset around. Find your bliss and go do some fun things in the wintertime. Trying to escape the cold altogether? We’ve got you covered with our warm winter vacation guide! 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