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With the pandemic this year, many people are choosing to avoid flying and hit the road for the holidays instead. While that might mean giving up your ski trip in the Alps, the better news is there are plenty of fun winter trips that can be enjoyed closer to home. Whether you’re looking for a snowy wonderland, a tropical getaway or something in between, one of these options is sure to fit the bill.
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Base yourself in Asheville and you can take a road trip traveling north or south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to soak up some spectacular mountain scenery that’s even more beautiful during the winter. It’s all about the journey, so go slow and stop frequently. Before or after heading out you’ll be able to enjoy Asheville’s sparkling holiday light displays and decor, and a visit to the Châteauesque-style mansion known as Biltmore Estate, the country’s largest privately-owned home. It’s worth touring any time of year, but at Christmas, the evening candlelight tour features over 50 Christmas trees.
A road trip through the Florida Keys along the Overseas Highway brings plenty of good cheer and warm temperatures, leading to Key West, America’s southernmost point. At Christmas, there will be gorgeously-trimmed palm trees, multiple blocks of boats decked out of the holidays along the historic waterfront, and historic inns done up in holiday décor. It’s an ideal destination for enjoying a Caribbean-feel without leaving the country, and you’ll find lots of holiday events to enjoy along with the usual attractions like sunset sailing trips.
While desert landscapes may not provide a winter wonderland experience, Phoenix knows how to do the holidays right, with its famous Tumbleweed Tree tradition, a lighting ceremony and Christmas parade. Before or after enjoying it, take a road trip to the Grand Canyon where there’s a good chance you’ll see at least a dusting of snow with the South Rim sitting at about 6,800 feet in elevation, bringing lots of picture-perfect photo-ops without the crowds. And, during the holidays you can ride the Polar Express Train from the South Rim to Williams.
In Denver, you can take advantage of holiday events like Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo and the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light before hitting to road to take advantage of the slopes in the majestic Rockies for skiing, snowboarding, and other snow sports. Vail Village is a great place to be around the holidays, with free concerts to enjoy after a day of play, along with special events like a tree lighting ceremony, holiday market, crafts for the kids, a sweater run, carolers, an ice theater, ice skating performances, and more.
In the mood for a coastal Christmas? Head to Myrtle Beach where you can enjoy the Brookgreen Gardens annual Nights of a Thousand Candles event, with the grounds beautifully illuminated by more than 4,500 hand-lit candles and endless electric holiday lights. Afterward, embark on a road trip to Hilton Head, where along the way you can see many lighthouses, some up-close and others from afar. Once you reach your destination, enjoy a leisurely stroll around the harbor, through a wonderland of dazzling lights. There are Christmas concerts and holiday performances, and the weather will still be warm enough for golfing, hiking, kayaking and even dolphin watching tours.
A road trip from Seattle to Leavenworth will bring you across the Cascade Mountains, especially stunning in winter, but your biggest reward will be to take part in a Bavarian Christmas without traveling overseas. This unique Bavarian village is transformed into a virtual snow globe of holiday magic in December, with the Christmas Lighting Festival featuring old fashioned caroling, Christmas characters and nearly an endless amount of dazzling holiday lights. Every Friday throughout the month St. Nikolas himself makes an appearance, welcoming children with song and fruit. You’ll also be able to attend handbell concerts and check off items on your holiday to-buy list at Christkindlmarkt.
Winter transforms beautiful St. Augustine, Florida, America’s oldest city, into a stunning spectacle of lights. Its magnificent Spanish architecture is lit up with over three million individual bulbs, and there will be horse-drawn carriage rides to view them all. Afterward, take off for Savannah to enjoy the Boats on Parade with more than 40 lighted vessels parading both sides of the waterfront, accompanied by live music, a tree lighting ceremony, and fireworks. Or enjoy an old-fashioned celebration with Christmas on the River with local entertainment, music, seasonal treats and more.
San Francisco offers an endless list of events for the holidays, including ice skating, a massive Christmas tree and holiday lights in Union Square. From here, you can drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, enjoying one of the world’s most scenic drives on your way to Solvang, a Danish village. This small town offers a remarkable Denmark-like experience, and you’ll be able to see it decked out in traditional holiday decor while shopping in some 150 boutiques that sell Danish items like porcelain, lace, high-quality toys and clogs. Attractions include horse-drawn carriage rides, annual Julefest celebrations, a nativity pageant and more.
The drive from Burlington, Vermont to Jackson, New Hampshire is gorgeous, traveling through the White Mountains with its red covered bridges surrounded by a dazzling winter wonderland. Stop in Bretton Woods to take advantage of Mount Washington Resort’s downhill runs, sleigh rides, ice skating or tubing before continuing to one of the country’s most picturesque Christmas towns, Jackson. Here you can enjoy all sorts of snow sports and the Annual Journey to the North Pole train ride, complete with Santa and his elves.
Winter is the perfect time for a hot springs road trip, and Idaho is home to more than any other state, many of which can be found between Boise and Stanley. You’ll hit the first one in under two hours, Kirkham Hot Springs on the South Fork of the Payette River. Bonneville Hot Springs, Elkhorn Hot Springs and Sunbeam Hot Springs all follow. Once in Stanley, you can enjoy a wide range of winter sports from skiing and ice skating to sledding on a groomed hill with breathtaking Sawtooth Mountain views in what will look like a Christmas snow globe.
Travel to Oregon’s tallest mountain, Mount Hood, to enjoy skiing or a unique cosmic snow tubing experience with icy chutes illuminated by mesmerizing colors. You can also embark on an incredibly scenic drive through a snowy wonderland on the Mount Hood Scenic Byway. A 100-mile route will bring you along around the south and east sides of Mount Hood while providing access to the mountain itself at Timberline Lodge. It begins on I-84 in the Gresham/Troutdale area, just outside Portland and ends at Hood River.
Massachusetts Highway 6A travels through Cape Cod, and winter is a perfect time to enjoy it without the summer crowds. Few North American beaches compare to the Cape Cod National Seashore in this season, where you might see snow peeking through the dune grass and gathering on the sand. Along the way enjoy picturesque lighthouses, and peaceful boardwalk strolls where you can bundle up and soak up the view in Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Reserve and Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. If you time your visit over the Thanksgiving weekend, you can watch the lighting of the Lobster Pot Tree which features over 100 lobster pots, buoys, plastic lobsters and 3,400 lights.
Traveling the 50-mile stretch between Rochester and Stowe along the Route 100 Byway brings some of the best views around. Be sure to stop in the Green Mountain villages of Wilmington and Weston, and then take a tour of Mad River Valley, with Moss Glen Falls providing an ever-changing frozen sculpture. Once in Stowe, you’ll be immersed in one of the country’s most postcard-perfect Christmas towns, offering ice skating, skiing, and many other snow sports along with sparkling lights and cozy fires in restaurants, lodges and cozy inns.
New York City is famous for its holiday events, including ice skating around the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. Do some shopping in SoHo and along Fifth Avenue, stay overnight in a luxury hotel and then enjoy the Norman Rockwell countryside as you make your way to Pennsylvania. If you’re into skiing, hit the slopes at North America’s largest private ski resort, HoliMont in Ellicottville, warming up afterward with hot cocoa under a three-story Christmas tree. Savor views of the snow-covered evergreen forests in Allegany State Park and then enjoy Bradford’s Downtown Old Fashioned Christmas, including horse-drawn carriage rides on Main Street.