The Best 2023 Winter Events in North America

A crowd watches a fun sledding race

Table of Contents

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click a link and complete a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

In 2023, it’s all about Hot Girl Winter. 

Essentially, winter this year means “doing you” — looking your best, feeling your best, and having the time of your life. While Wanderu can’t necessarily help with the first two, we can tell you about the year’s top winter events and winter festivals so you can have the best time.

And when you’re ready to plan your travels to one of these (figuratively) hot events, you know we’ll help you find the hottest deals on bus and train tickets to get there cheap.

Whether you’re on the hunt for new things to do in January, seeking some actually-fun winter activities for kids, or stoked for the biggest winter celebrations in the USA, read on for 12 unique options across North America.

St Paul Winter Carnival

January 26 – February 5, 2023
St. Paul, MN
Official website

Horse-drawn carriage in the snow with smiling family in Saint Paul

Pete Markham / Flickr

Held continuously since 1886, Minnesota’s St Paul Winter Carnival is widely considered the oldest and one of the biggest winter festivals in the U.S. With daily temperatures rarely exceeding the 20s in January and February in St. Paul, it’s fitting that the city hosts such a prolific winter celebration! ❄️

With dozens of winter activities spread across a couple of weeks, this carnival has something for everyone. There are ice and snow sculpting competitions, an ice fishing tournament, several parades, races, and more. Best of all, most of the events are FREE!

If you’re going, don’t miss the Ice Castles in nearby New Brighton and The Great Northern Festival, also held in the Twin Cities during the same time.

Whitefish Winter Carnival

February 3-5, 2023
Whitefish, MT
Official website

Whitefish Skijoring / Facebook

The Whitefish Winter Carnival is part small-town celebration, part world-class ski resort, and part long-time tradition—much like the town of Whitefish itself, coincidentally one of our favorite mountain destinations. As far as winter events go, the Whitefish Winter Carnival has something for everyone!

Centered around the legend of the Nordic god of winter called Ullr, the festival celebrates all things winter. Events include a Penguin Plunge into Whitefish Lake, the Grand Parade, a hilarious roast of Whitefish, skijoring (picture skiing while pulled by a horse), and more. 

Bonus: if Glacier National Park is on your winter bucket list—as it should be —it’s less than an hour from Whitefish.

Napa Valley Mustard Celebration

January – March 2023

Official opening weekend February 4-5, 2023

Napa Valley, CA


Official website

Rachael Towne/ Flickr

Affectionately known as “the season between the seasons,” wild mustard season runs from roughly January through March in Napa Valley, with specific dates dependent on weather. During the Mustard Celebration, the entire region is blanketed in bright yellow flowers—hello, Instagram gold.

Wondering what the heck mustard has to do with wine? It’s a “cover crop,” planted between rows of vines to attract good insects and deter bad ones, plus deposit valuable nutrients in the soil. 

If you’re looking for things to do in February, several Napa wineries host mustard-themed events in honor of the colorful season, and Visit Napa Valley put together a map of the best photo ops. Plus, don’t miss the Napa Lighted Art Festival, from late January through mid-February.

Guided Wine Tour with Picnic Lunch

 

Embark on a guided wine tour in Napa Valley, North America’s most famous wine region. Discover boutique wineries that are hand-picked by your guide and enjoy a tasty picnic lunch.

Ottawa Winterlude

February 3-20, 2023
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Official website

John Vetterli / Flickr

As the capital of Canada, it’s safe to assume that Ottawa knows a thing or two about hosting winter events! Winterlude, during the first three weekends of February every year, has drawn as many as 600,000 people to the region since its inception in 1979. 

The festival’s focus is free, uniquely Canadian winter fun and culture. Event highlights include classics such as tubing and ice sculptures alongside contemporary ones like the highly anticipated snowball-throwing championship and human foosball. 

If you have time for just one Winterlude activity, add skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway to your winter bucket list. The world’s largest ice skating rink, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the festival’s crown jewel and one of the reasons Ottawa ranks as a premier romantic destination.

Waste Management Phoenix Open

February 6-12, 2023
Scottsdale, AZ
Official website

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Coined “the greatest show on grass,” the Waste Management Phoenix Open is one of the biggest, most highly anticipated winter events in Arizona. Heck, the entire country—500,000+ people travel from all over!

At its core, the Phoenix Open is a PGA golf tournament—not an event about managing waste, despite the name. However, there’s so much more to enjoy than seeing Jon Rahm in golf pants. Beyond the golf, there are many things to do at the Phoenix Open: food vendors, big-name concerts, and even a full-blown nightclub known as The Birds’ Nest.

Regardless of what draws you to the Open, don’t miss the infamous 16th hole. It’s widely considered the loudest, rowdiest hole in all of golf! *golf claps*

Montréal en Lumière

February 16 – March 5, 2023
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Official website

art_inthecity / Flickr

Literally translating to “Montreal in Lights,” this is one of the largest, most vibrant winter festivals in the world. For 2.5 weeks, downtown Montreal transforms into an illuminated playground every night after dark, drawing over 900,000 spectators.

The festival combines a variety of lighting technology, from fireworks to electronic light art installations. Montreal embraces its reputation as a major gastronomy destination, so the festival’s food and wine program is renowned, and there’s an illuminated ice skating trail, live music performances, and children’s activities. 

Held on the final Saturday of the festival, Nuit Blanche is one of the main attractions. Free activities go until dawn at 200 sites across the city, and the festival provides free transportation.

Nordic Spa Thermal Experience

Discover a peaceful haven hidden away a few minutes from downtown Montreal. Take a dip in the thermal baths, recharge in the sauna, and rejuvenate before your next adventure.

Bryce Canyon Winter Festival

February 18-20, 2023
Bryce Canyon City, UT
Official website

Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park is already a fantastic year-round destination, but this outdoor festival gives you a reason to visit specifically in winter. All the events are free and celebrate different types of outdoor recreation. 

For example, there are cross-country skiing and kayaking demos, astrophotography and stargazing sessions, night hikes, survival skills workshops, geology talks, wildlife and plant identification lessons, sleigh rides, and more. 

The festival includes several winter activities for kids, making this an event for the whole family! Little ones can enjoy crafts, cookie decorating, ice skating, and snow boot races. Ruby’s Inn in Bryce City hosts the winter festival in conjunction with the national park.

Mardi Gras

February 21, 2023
New Orleans, LA
Official website

Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday. Pancake Tuesday. Carnival Tuesday. Whatever you personally call it, Mardi Gras is one of the most famous winter celebrations in the USA. With New Orleans’ generally mild February weather, it’s easy to overlook Mardi Gras as a “winter” event, but it is indeed!

Officially marking the end of the Carnival season and the beginning of Lent, Mardi Gras itself is best defined as a day of pure revelry. The entire city is taken over with parades, feasts, live music, costumes, dancing, and adult beverages. And yes, lots and lots of beads.

Most of the big celebrations take place over the two weekends leading up to Mardi Gras, although you’ll find some January events and some one-offs, also. See New Orleans’ full calendar of Mardi Gras events to pick the parades and parties that most tickle your fancy.

Charleston Wine & Food Festival

March 1-5, 2023
Charleston, SC
Official website

Aerial view of the Charleston Wine and Food Festival

It’s no secret that Charleston is one of the best foodie cities in the US, and this tasty festival shows off exactly why. The South Carolina city enjoys a unique combination of coastal geography, deeply-rooted history and tradition, and healthy doses of Southern hospitality and Lowcountry flavors — the ingredients for a top-notch food destination. 

The festival focuses on “homegrown flavor,” a play on words extending far beyond actual flavor. Attendees will be spoiled for choice when it comes to food and wine, of course, but they’ll also have the opportunity to meet local Charleston artisans, authors, and community leaders. 

The event’s star is Culinary Village, but you’ll also find themed lunches and brunches, workshops, and even guided strolls. 

Small Group Food Tour in Charleston

Visit local eateries, culinary landmarks, restaurants, and bakeries with the help of local guides. What better way to delve into over 300 years of culinary history than through your tastebuds?

Iditarod Sled Dog Race Start

March 4, 2023
Anchorage, AK
Official website

Arctic Warrior / Flickr

If you really love winter (or animals, history, or adventure…), the ceremonial start of the Iditarod sled dog race should be one of your top things to do in March. 

The iconic, historic race technically starts in the tiny town of Willow, Alaska, but the ceremonial start in Anchorage is the much more popular one to see. Besides, the 11-mile stretch from Anchorage to Willow doesn’t count in race standings. From Willow to Nome, the entire race route is 1,049 miles. 

During the ceremonial start, downtown Anchorage transforms into an exciting, carnival-like atmosphere. Expect food vendors, live music, and opportunities to interact with the sled dog teams. That alone is winter bucket list-worthy!

SXSW

March 10-19, 2023
Austin, TX
Official website

You won’t find any snow activities at SXSW (South by Southwest, or affectionately shortened to “South By”), but it’s absolute heaven for music, film, and multimedia lovers. 

The week-and-a-half long festival completely takes over Austin in early March every year, bringing hundreds of concerts, film screenings, and unique technology- and media-focused events to the city. New speakers and performers are constantly being announced, but some 2023 highlights will be a keynote from Patagonia’s CEO, Ryan Hellert, performances from Ambre and the Zombies, and sessions ranging from the Future of Sex to the Metaverse. 

Some people go solely for the music, some for the exclusive activities, and some strictly for the free swag. And that’s one of the things that sets SXSW apart from other winter festivals: it’s multiple events in one.

Knott’s Boysenberry Festival

March 10 – April 16, 2023
Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA
Official website

The entrance to Knott's Berry Farm with part of a roller coaster visible in the background

Disneyland isn’t the only theme park for a family-friendly vacation in Southern California. Just 10 minutes from the world-famous park is Knott’s Berry Farm, one of the oldest and biggest theme parks in the US. Every March, Knott’s hosts its signature food-focused festival. 

The Boysenberry Festival, as you might expect, centers around all things boysenberry. Every imaginable type of food, drink, and treat incorporates boysenberry (and some you never would have imagined, too!). Think: street corn with boysenberry butter and boysenberry cowboy chili. Aside from the food, the festival includes live music, artisan vendors, and activities just for kiddos. 

Pro tip: Buy a Tasting Card, which includes six tastings of your choice at a discount. 

While there is some appeal to spending the winter cosplaying as the Sleepytime Tea bear, staying cuddled up at home means you’ll miss unique winter events like these.

Whichever events you choose to experience, turn to Wanderu for easy travel booking. We make it simple to find the best and most affordable options, whether it’s bus or train fare, rental cars, or hotels

Want some more winter travel inspo? Check out some of our favorite snowy destinations or the top spots to vacation in Colorado. Lake Tahoe is gorgeous in the wintertime, and you can always opt for an Arizona destination if you’re seeking some vitamin D. 

Happy wandering!

Like what you read?
Spread the word:

About the author
Taryn Shorr

Taryn Shorr

A classic Type A personality, Taryn's favorite aspects of travel are the planning and meeting new people. She's most drawn to the mountains and has a knack for quickly finding the best happy hour in new destinations. When she isn't writing for Wanderu or traveling, Taryn runs her own blog, Chasing Trail.