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While summer may steal the spotlight when it comes to vacations, there are many reasons to enjoy a winter getaway. You might escape the cold and soak up the sun while taking part in warm weather activities or delve into all the delights of a snowy wonderland. No matter what type of escape you’re craving, there is a wide range of options in the U.S., from memorable ski trips in Colorado to swimming in the tropical waters of Hawaii.
While the summertime brings hordes of tourists to Yellowstone, winter offers a tranquil experience in America’s first national park. It’s a snowy wonderland now with a better chance of spotting some of the more elusive animals like wolves along with bison, elk, and even grizzly bears. The animals often flock to the shallow areas of Yellowstone Lake along the southern shores, where the water doesn’t freeze due to the geothermal activity. Tours are available that can bring you into the picturesque Lamar Valley, where the park’s wolves are often spotted, while activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing take the place of hiking, bringing visions of frozen waterfalls, erupting geysers, and brilliantly colored mineral pools.
Steamboat Springs offers spectacular natural beauty with winter painting the landscapes white. It attracts skiers and boarders from around the world to enjoy the slopes at Steamboat Ski Resort but you’ll find much more to do here too. There are horse-drawn sleigh rides through freshly fallen snow that include hot cocoa and when the chill gets to be too much, soothing soaks can be enjoyed at Strawberry Hot Springs. Snowshoeing, snow biking, and snow tubing can all be enjoyed and there are winter hot-air balloon rides that provide a bird’s-eye view over it all too.
Lake Tahoe is home to some of the best ski resorts in the country, but it’s a paradise for adventurers of all types year-round. In the winter, powdery snow typically blankets the ground but the days are often bright and sunny with the area getting an average of 300 days of sunshine annually. There is a wide range of other things to do too, including horse-drawn sleigh rides, sledding, snowshoeing, and ice skating. The region is renowned for its entertainment too, like live music concerts and casino gambling on the Nevada side of the lake. You’ll find world-class spas for pampering, a wealth of hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals, and a wide range of shopping and dining options too.
Just 90 minutes from Portland, Mount Hood offers plenty to do in the chillier months of the year, with the magnificent mountain landscapes transformed into a magical winter playground. You’ll find plenty of opportunities for skiing and boarding, as well as sledding, ice skating, and snowshoeing. The White River Trail is the top spot for snowshoeing in the state with many fantastic trails in the White River West Sno=Park area. Or, enjoy it all while riding the Mount Hood Christmas train hosted by the Mount Hood Railroad. It’s a great way to get into the spirit of the holiday with the 75-minute train ride departing from the town of Hood River. You’ll enjoy the scenery in comfort along with special treats like cookies with hot cocoa and elves that dance in the aisles.
Fairbanks is a bucket-list destination for many as it offers many fabulous experiences in the winter and beyond, including the chance to marvel at the northern lights. There are opportunities for ice skating, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and even flightseeing over the snowy Arctic wilderness. And you don’t have to spend the night to take advantage of the wonderfully warm waters at Chena Hot Springs Resort with day passes available. They include the hot springs as well as a round-trip shuttle from downtown or the airport, an Aurora Ice Museum Tour and the Geothermal Renewable Energy Tour. If you happen to be here when the skies are dark, and they likely will be with around 18 hours of darkness on winter days, you may be able to gaze up at the colorful aurora while relaxing in the hot springs.
New Orleans offers a mild climate that makes it enjoyable to visit year-round and in the winter, you won’t have to worry about searing heat or hurricanes. Simply wandering the cobbled streets of the French Quarter is enjoyable as the hub of the city’s culture and entertainment. Bourbon Street features rows and rows of bars for partying and you’ll find many outstanding restaurants for enjoying the famous creole cuisine. Of course, the music is what draws many, with all sorts of venues hosting blues, jazz, Zydeco, and rock around nearly every corner. The mansions in the Garden District are just one of the many other highlights, built in architectural styles ranging from gothic to Greek revival.
For fun in the winter sun, Key West is idyllic. Located at the southern tip of the Florida Keys, the string of jewel-like islands that stretch for about 120 miles, you can enjoy a Caribbean-like getaway with no passport needed. That includes clear blue, warm water with abundant marine life from colorful fish to sea turtles and dolphins, along with opportunities for outdoor adventures and sunset sailing. Couples won’t want to miss the chance to watch the sun go down with a drink in hand while watching the colors splash across the sky. Everything from paddleboarding to guided kayak tours through mangroves can be enjoyed as well, and if you’re into history, check out the Ernest Hemingway House. The home was the residence where the literary icon once lived with his family, from 1931 to 1941, and even includes around five-dozen six-toed cats, descendants of Hemingway’s former pet, Snow White.
While every island in Hawaii has its own unique appeal, Kauai is a standout, ideal for those seeking striking natural beauty and tranquility. Enjoy the usual warm winter escape along with attractions like the Na Pali coast, a jaw-dropping coastal range that can be viewed or visited on foot or via a helicopter or boat tour. For the ultimate adventure, hike the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, which brings incredible views with cliff-hugging turns, narrow switchbacks, and sheer-drop offs. You can also explore the underwater world, with many excellent spots like the half-moon stretch of Ke’e Beach in Hā’ena State Park or popular Poipu.
Joshua Tree National Park in California’s Mojave Desert is an outstanding destination for outdoor activities in the winter that don’t involve snow. Located outside the artsy village of Joshua Tree, it’s popular for bouldering, climbing, and hiking. In late winter, the desert landscape will even be bursting with colorful wildflowers, along with unique Joshua trees and all sorts of interesting desert plants. You’ll even find routes that lead to a lush oasis with fan palms that create a canopy over serene pools of water. And, after dark, the park is a stargazer’s dream.
St. John is a stunning Caribbean paradise that doesn’t require a passport as it’s one of the three U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s also the most unspoiled with little development, which means there is no airport and not even a pier. Most visitors arrive by ferry from the island of St. Thomas. While it’s possible to take a day trip, if you’re looking for tranquility, breathtaking scenery, and a top spot for world-class snorkeling or diving, you may want to spend your entire vacation right here. There are many pristine, white sandy beaches like Trunk Bay and you can even hike trails that wind through emerald-hued mountains.
As it’s not easy to get to Crested Butte, a remote and stunning town in the Colorado Rockies, it tends to keep the crowds away while offering a postcard-perfect escape. It’s far quieter than popular Aspen or Telluride while offering outstanding slopes for skiing and boarding, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and much more. Art lovers will enjoy the Creative Art District with many great galleries featuring works by local artists, and there are plenty of opportunities for shopping and gourmet dining. If your muscles are in need of soothing after a day on the slopes or other activities, you’ll also find lavish spas offering treatments that use organic, wildcrafted ingredients.
Stowe is a picturesque town and one of the most popular ski destinations in the northeast, with many of the region’s activities revolving around Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in the state. Enjoy all of the usual winter sports along with sleigh rides that are driven by gentle Percheron and Belgian draft horses with illuminated Santa-style sleighs and trips on the gondola for a bird’s-eye view over it all. The charming downtown area itself is like a postcard and fun to stroll with its well-preserved historic buildings.
While Sedona does get the occasional snowfall, it’s typically just a dusting, making the red rock formations and dramatic cliffs look even more enchanting. It’s a great place to enjoy outdoor activities in the winter as sunshine and blue skies are frequent. Hit the trails that bring breathtaking views of the impressive landscapes or join a Jeep tour. There’s plenty to do in town, with fun New Age shops selling crystals and the like, along with art galleries and a wide range of eateries.
It may be rainy, windy, or snowy, but winter is a fantastic time to visit Olympic National Park. Not only will there be few other tourists here, but as it’s so vast, the weather can vary dramatically depending on the destination, from the coast to the rainforest and the mountains. Watching the powerful waves on the beach during a storm is a popular pastime, as is walking the trails that wind through the moss-draped trees in the park’s interior. In the Hurricane Ridge area, you can ski or enjoy snow tubing. Plus there are hot springs to warm up in after a day of any type of adventure.
No list of winter vacations in the U.S. would be complete without mentioning San Diego. You’ll be able to take advantage of the soft sandy beaches to relax and enjoy peaceful strolls. There are plenty of attractions in the area too, like the world-famous San Diego Zoo and a fantastic food scene, including some of the best fish tacos you’ll find north of the Mexican border.