While you’ll be seeing many travelers fly off to tropical beaches this season, there’s something to be said for a cold-weather escape. Sometimes the best way to beat the winter blues is to just embrace the cold. But still, some spots are better for exploring snow-covered slopes and enchanted holiday displays than others. There are a few standout cities that are known to bring out the best winter has to offer.
Here are the top North American winter destinations to visit for out-of-town fun:
Jasper, Alberta, Canada
As the commercial center of Jasper National Park, this mountain town sees millions of international visitors throughout the year. However, winter is truly the most magical time to visit. Cold-weather travelers can try snowboarding and skiing at Marmot Basin, dog sledding and fat biking through the Jasper’s valleys, and ice walking through the unforgettable Maligne Canyon.
If you want to see Jasper at its most authentic, locals say you need to visit during the 30th annual Jasper in January festival. The celebration of skating, skiing, and all things outdoors last for three weeks and includes a new series of live shows by musicians and comedians.
And after all that play, you can wind down at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. The 700-acre resort offers a charming village of cedar chalets that overlook the frozen Lac Beauvert. During the holiday season, families can indulge in the “Jasper Festival of Christmas” package for an in-room Christmas tree and decorations kit; s’mores under the stars; skating on the lake and tobogganing; a tree lighting ceremony; a wine tasting; mixology classes; and a special holiday family photo.
Journey over to this small Bavarian-style village for a distinct Northwestern winter experience. The dreamy Sleeping Lady is touted as one of the idyllic spots to set up camp. This Cascade Mountains resort mixes the best of both indoor and outdoor amenities, including the Aspen Leaf Spa, Woodland Rock Pools (heated!), and a self-guided outdoor art walk (the Chihuly Icicle Chandelier is a noted highlight). You can take advantage of activities like yoga classes and “Sip, Eat & Paint” parties year round.
The greater town of Leavenworth, often referred to as Washington’s version of Bavaria, fittingly hosts an annual Bavarian Icefest every January. See the village be transformed by a half million lights and thousands of incomers looking to celebrate winter’s bounty. Visitors can enjoy a long weekend of snow sculptures, the great Frisbee sweep, smooshing, snowmobile sled pulls, live ice carvings, fireworks, and more.
The Twin Cities is known for having one of the most brutal winters in the U.S. But once you prepare for the below-freezing temperatures, there’s plenty of fun to have alongside thousands of other cold-weather enthusiasts. Just one trip can get you hooked – at least, that’s what Le Méridien Chambers promises.
The boutique art hotel’s VIP “Hooked On Winter” package includes a guided ice fishing excursion at a St. Cloud heated ice-house. The five-hour experience includes lunch and locally brewed beer throughout the day. Transportation, winter accessories, and ice fishing materials are also included – so you can pack light. To end the day, guests return to the hotel to enjoy an “ice-house to table” dinner, in which Executive Chef Mike Rakun will serve the day’s catch paired with wine.
New Paltz, New York
Nestled in the Hudson Valley along the Catskill Mountains, the town of New Paltz is just far enough from the Big Apple to feel like a hidden getaway. But its most famous accommodations, Mohonk Mountain House, is no longer a well-kept secret. It’s often rated as one of the world’s best resorts and hotels for kids and families — and with good reason.
This all-inclusive resort stands within a Victorian castle (designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986) that overlooks Lake Mohonk. Guests can create their own winter wonderland experience at its outdoor skating rink, indoor heated pool, award-winning spa, and the adjoining Mohonk Preserve. Concierges are at the ready to book guided winter hikes, relaxing meditations, tomahawk throwing lessons, and house history tours. If you’re more of the indoor type, you can simply relax and enjoy afternoon tea and cookies served within its fireside lounge.
This year, the resort’s Spa, Drink & Be Merry offerings create an extra incentive for a midweek getaway with new ways to celebrate every day.
Every year on the last weekend of January, the nicknamed “Ski Capital of the East” is at its liveliest for the annual Stowe Winter Carnival. Participate in (or just watch) zany winter sport events, such as ice carving competitions, a youth fishing tournament, snow golf, and snow volleyball tournaments. This year’s theme, “To Stowe and Beyond…,” is all about outer space.
Staying at Stowe Mountain Lodge will give you the most direct access to the town’s hotspots, including Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center, downtown Stowe, the Stowe Mountain Club, Smugglers Notch State Park, and ski in/ski out routes to Stowe Mountain Resort. But for a more intimate, ski house experience, check out the nearby Field Guide. The boutique lodge and trail house offers modern rooms and luxury suites that share a seasonal heated pool, hot tub, and outdoor fire pits. They even offer storage for your active gear, an iPad, and a printed field guide to help you navigate the best of Stowe.
There’s nothing else quite like the Old World charm of Colorado’s Vail Valley. The world-renowned ski resort boasts more than 5,200 acres of groomed terrain and seven Back Bowls for skiers and snowboarders to explore. Off the slopes, the European-inspired small town offers a luxurious mix of après-ski shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. Stroll through the cobblestone streets of its three lively base areas, and you’ll feel “at home and a world away.”
As one of the world’s largest gateways to winter sports, Vail also hosts several seasonal festivals to keep you outside in the snow. Vail Holidays (December 15-31) promises tree lighting events, lantern walks, and New Year’s Eve torchlight skiing and fireworks to make your getaway a little more magical. Or, come February 25, you can witness the Burton U.S. Open, the country’s largest snowboarding competition.
Be sure to pick lodging with amenities that can maximize your winter fun. For example, the Arrabelle at Vail Square, a luxury resort just a few minutes from the Eagle Bahn Gondola, offers complimentary ski valet and storage, babysitting services, and GoPro rentals so “you can document your entire day’s adventures.”