Frozen & Fantastic: The Top 10 Destinations for a Very Snowy Vacation

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Are you one of those people that insists they love “seasons”?

Do you find the sun setting early to be kinda romantic and moody?

Does barrelling down a mountainside on two skis (or a snowboard) sound like a blast?

If you answered yes to any (or all) of the above, then maybe a winter trip is just what the weatherman ordered. Lucky for you, Wanderu is well-equipped to deliver that frigid getaway by making it easy to compare buses, trains and flights in the same search. 

What better way to embrace the frosty months than by getting outside, exploring the icy scenery and capping off the day with a hot chocolate (or toddy) by the fire? Traveling from December through early April can make for a much-needed respite from work, school or life in general.

That’s why we’ve listed 10 can’t-miss destinations for you to consider this snow season — some offering winter sports, some featuring breathtaking vistas and some hosting a variety of cozy daytime activities. (And, in a few cases, all three.)

So, pack your parka (and scarf, gloves, beanie — you know the drill) and let’s get going!

1. Vail, CO

Photo of Vail, Colorado from a chairlift.
(Doug Letterman / Flickr)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: December to March is peak ski season, which isn’t the cheapest option but it’ll guarantee the best snow. Late November is a steal, but ski conditions may not be ideal.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Skiing on Vail Mountain, exploring the Austria–inspired town, snow-shoeing/cross-country skiing.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Vail is the top ski destination in Colorado, but beyond being the best winter spot in the Rockies, it’s among the best snowy vacation towns in the whole U.S. and beyond. There are more than 5,000 acres of ski-able territory in Vail, making it a mammoth snow-sports location for beginners and wanna-be pros alike.

Then, of course, there’s the quaint alpine downtown full of pubs and restaurants where you can sidle up to the fireplace and gorge yourself after a long, powder-filled day.

2. West Glacier, MT

Photo of the western entrance to Glacier National Park.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: The dead of winter may be truly hard to bear, but late February into March and April still has plenty of snow and (slightly) milder temps.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Glacier National Park, wildlife, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: West Glacier is the western gateway to glorious Glacier National Park in Montana. Surrounded by the majestic Rockies, winter is a quiet (and somewhat secret) season here. Take advantage of the lower rates and slower tourism by setting out on snowshoes or cross-country skis across the white landscape, keeping an eye out for frozen waterfalls and grizzly bears.

For outdoor experts, mountain climbing can be a thrilling and spectacular adventure here, albeit one that requires advanced skill and plenty of precautions. At any rate, a winter trip to West Glacier offers untouched winter scenery without a ton of human interaction. (Hello, introverts!)

3. Bangor, ME

Photo of Acadia National Park, a short drive from Bangor, Maine.
(Amy Meredith / Flickr)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: January and February are the snowiest months.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Skiing (downhill and cross-country), Acadia National Park, Stephen King House.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Maine is a gorgeous slice of New England, and it can be quite pleasant in the winter for the cold-inclined. (Or, at the very least, for the cold-indifferent.) Not far from a couple of ski resorts, and right by a large forest, Bangor offers skiing for fans of both downhill and cross-country.

A little over an hour’s drive away is the seaside Acadia National Park, while back in town you can take a look at horror-legend Stephen King’s creepy Victorian-style house, which is being turned into a museum and writer’s retreat. Just stay away from the rain gutters. 🤡

4. Minneapolis, MN

Photo of Lake Minnehaha during winter.
(Thomas – Minneapolis / Flickr)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Temps hang around 0° Fahrenheit in the earliest part of the year … which is scary! But you love winter, so maybe you can handle it. If not, December and March are more manageable, though you might miss the winter festivities. 

TOP ATTRACTIONS: St. Paul Winter Carnival, ice skating/fishing, Mall of America.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: A tradition now running more than 130 years, the St. Paul Winter Carnival is a 10-day long celebration with (mostly) free events. See the professional ice sculptures (and watch them be created in real-time), sip mulled wine, and enjoy live entertainment with all your fellow frigid-weather enthusiasts.

For sports-related fun, check out the 2020 U.S. Pond Hockey Championships (which is exactly what it sounds like). Ice skating and ice fishing opportunities abound as well; Minnesota isn’t called the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes for nothing. 

5. Leavenworth, WA

Photo of a creek near Leavenworth, WA.
(Spencer Thomas / Flickr)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: December (for holiday festivities) or January (for the Ice Fest).

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Bavarian Village, Bavarian Ice Fest, Nutcracker Museum.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Maybe you’ve never heard of Leavenworth, a Bavarian–style village in central Washington nestled in the Cascade Mountains, but this place practically screams winter cheer.

An alpine village with German food and drink (and close to ski resorts), the pinnacle of the season is the Bavarian Ice Fest. You can learn (and then play) games like Ice Cube Scramble, Smooshing (we’ll leave this one to your imagination) and Frisbee Sweep. The ice carvings are particularly impressive, and fabulous fireworks shows are a weekend staple.

6. Burlington, VT

Photo of Ausable Chasm near Burlington, VT.
(Simcha Leiner / Flickr)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Any time during winter is a treat.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Lake Champlain, Green Mountains, a bustling and hip downtown.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Burlington has a cool, cute downtown with access to Lake Champlain for skating, skiing, sitting, or just plain gazing — it is gorgeous, after all. During winter, visitors can walk the entire rim of Ausable Chasm, a 500-million year old rock formation that features stunning icicles and frozen waterfalls.

Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowmobiling, skating: These are all viable on or near the lake, too. Check out the various farm-to-table spots in town (Hen of the Wood continues to get attention), and Burlington has plenty of watering holes for delicious, local craft beers.

7. Lake Tahoe, CA

Photo of a frozen creek in Lake Tahoe, CA.
(Jcookfisher / Flickr)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: January is the snowiest, albeit coldest, time of year.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Lake Tahoe itself, Squaw Valley Olympic Museum, Emerald Bay State Park.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: A beach and boat hot spot in summer, Lake Tahoe reinvents itself into a wicked winter destination. Skiing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing are on the table around Lake Tahoe, which is tucked in the Sierra Nevada mountains between California and Nevada.

A lake of gargantuan size, there are sporty hills and thrills for the advanced, as well as smaller slopes to go at a slower pace and take in the stunning scenery. A visit to the Olympic Museum is clutch, where you can learn more about the historic 1960 Winter Games.

8. Chicago, IL

Bird's eye photo of Lake Michigan and the Chicago coastline.
(Roman Boed / Flickr)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: While the holiday season is cheery, snow is rare. January and February are a bit flakier (in a good way).

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Millenium Park/The Bean, the SkyDeck in the Willis Tower, Navy Pier.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The Windy City is fun and festive during the holidays, but avoid the crowds and come in January or February for snowy delights. This is one of the best cities for skating among skyscrapers, with a rink situated right in the heart of Millennium Park. Lake Michigan is also at its most scenic when it freezes over.

Plus, with a thriving comedy scene, a horde of lakefront museums and loads of delicious eats, there is plenty to do indoors when the cold gets to be too biting. From 1,300 feet above the city in the Willis Tower SkyDeck, you can gaze out at it all from a glass box (with a glass bottom, which will definitely give you the willies). What makes it special: The Willis SkyDeck is the highest observation deck in the entire U.S.

9. Lake Placid, NY

Photo of a skier in Lake Placid, NY.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: November to April will be snowy here, though January and February bring the lowest temps.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Lake Placid Olympic Museum and Ski Jump; the Adirondack Mountains; John Brown Farm State Historic Site, former home of the famed abolitionist.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Winter Olympics enthusiasts will find bliss in Lake Placid, the site of the Winter Games in both 1932 and 1980. One of the snowiest destinations on our list (averaging 102 inches per year), Lake Placid offers something for everyone: snowshoeing, skiing, sledding, dog sledding and so much more.

Much of the Olympic village is open to tours, including athletic equipment like the ski jump tower. Lake Placid even has something that might be new to you — snow bonfires. The Lake Placid Lodge lights a bonfire by the lake every single night in winter, snow or no snow, with hot chocolate and s’mores served alongside.

10. Québec City, QC

BEST TIME TO VISIT: December through February.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Old Québec City, Chateau Frontenac Hotel, La Citadelle.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Maybe the most other-wordly spot on our list, North America’s oldest French–speaking city is home to cobblestone streets, delectable fare and a rich history embedded in its inspiring architecture. Come winter, Québec City draws thousands for its Winter Carnival in February, where you can ice canoe, make snow sculptures, partake in night parades and visit the Ice Palace.

Travel a bit outside the city center to encounter the tumbling Montmorency Falls, which freeze over in the colder months. For those looking to visit during the holidays, the fortified streets become lined with lights and decorations to create a truly magical atmosphere.

Of course, winter is the hottest time of year (tourism-wise) for many of these destinations, meaning trip costs can accumulate quickly. A few tips to keep things low:

  1. Round up a big group of friends to split the cost of a hotel room, AirBnB or VRBO. 
  2. Take advantage of the mouth-watering dining options wherever you go, but saving a little by making your own breakfast, packing a lunch or staying in for dinner can go a long way. 
  3. Shoulder season is your friend! This is especially true with the snowiest of destinations, where the powder is heavy for more than just the dead of winter. Late fall or early spring can be quieter months for visitors, meaning chill(er) prices all around.
  4. Find the best deals on travel when you book through Wanderu, where a bus or train may be a better deal than a flight, even if it takes you a little longer. On Wanderu.com and the free Wanderu app, you can compare all three options against each other in the same search results.

Or maybe you’re tired of the cold. In that case, better start planning for spring break! In our guide, you can find tickets to toasty destinations for under $60.

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About the author
Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl studied abroad in Stockholm, Sweden, where he became infatuated with meatballs and fika (though he didn't care for the sun setting before 4pm). He's down to go on a trip at a moment's notice, and he has previously written for travel guide website iExplore.