Best Winter Vacations in the US (and closeby)

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Best Winter Vacations in the US (and closeby)

Are you a winter traveler who flocks to the snow or a snowbird who flees the dropping temperatures as quickly as the first flakes fly? No matter what your inclination, the United States has a multitude of winter vacation options. From the West Coast to the East Coast, north to south, here are the best winter vacations in the US:
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Las Vegas
We’re going to assume you know all about The Strip and its glittering, glistening entertainment options. If you’re planning a winter vacation in the US, consider Las Vegas for everything going on in addition to The Strip. Go mountain biking on single-track trails in Boulder City’s Bootleg Canyon. Enjoy the warm, bubbly goodness of Gold Strike Hot Springs, one of the Nevada’s best natural hot springs. Get out of the city and head for the woodsy cabins of Mt. Charleston Cabins in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Go rock climbing or hiking in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and check out the petroglyphs and fossilized dinosaur tracks. Take a horseback ride through the Mojave Desert. Marvel at the stunning sandstone formations and striations – and ancient rock art – at the Valley of Fire State Park. Visit a ghost town and see get a feel for the Gold Rush days – check out Goldfield, Nelson or Rhyolite. Or, head to the hottest, driest and lowest national park, Death Valley, on the border of Nevada and California. The winter is great hiking weather, through canyons, along snowy peaks and through rolling sand dunes.

 

Grand Canyon
Hadn’t considered Grand Canyon as one of the best winter vacations in the US? Think again. Brave the winter temperatures, shorter days and snow to embrace one the nation’s greatest treasures – the one thing you won’t find is thick crowds. The Bright Angel Trail and scenic drives, which can get so congested at other times of year, are delightful quiet in the winter. Spot mule deer wandering about in the fresh snow, soaring bald eagles and more – you may even see elk and California condors. Visit the Yavapai Museum of Geology, from which you can view the canyon through panoramic windows – enjoying the heat of the building. The South Rim is open year-round. Roads are generally passable unless there is severe weather.

 

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Lake Tahoe
An epic year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts, Lake Tahoe particularly shines in the winter. Their world-class ski resorts attract all level, from beginner to expert – check out Squaw Valley ski resort, Alpine Valley, Heavenly Mountain, Mt. Rose, Homewood, Northstar and Diamond Peak. The apres-ski scene is legit at all of the resort villages. Off the ski resort slopes, there is plenty to keep you busy in this winter wonderland. Go snowshoeing along the Tahoe Meadows Trail or explore the trails at Carson Pass. Go snowmobiling at Lake Tahoe North and South. Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride with one of the many operators in the Reno area. Live out your Iditarod fantasies on an exhilarating dogsledding excursion. Go ice skating in Squaw Valley at the Olympic Ice Pavilion or the open-air rink at Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe.

 

Key West
Those who live in the northern part of the east coast – or anywhere cold, for that matter – love Key West for its mild weather between November and February. Hardier souls can still enjoy ocean swimming at this time, while everyone can savor the bright, sunny days and ocean breezes. One of the most iconic winter vacation activities in Key West is the Holly Jolly Holidays Lights Tour with Old Town Trolley. Sip hot cider as you ride through Mallory Square and the surrounding parts of the city, taking in the best holiday lights displays. Or, ride the historic Conch Tour Train, which also showcases the lights. Check out the lighted boat parade along the Key West bight and harbor. The Key West holiday parade takes place the first week of December and is tons of festive fun. Music fans will enjoy the Mile 0 Festival at the Turman Waterfront Park Amphitheater, and if you’re into all things botanical, you can take a self-guided house and gardens tour.

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Palm Springs
Escape the winter doldrums in pleasant Palm Springs, a beautiful California desert city where the winter temperatures are in the low to mid-70s. There’s shopping, dining and spa-going for days, as well as these other fun activities. Take a family bike ride on one of the city’s many mapped bike loops, passing landscaped parks and country club golf courses. Visit the Palm Springs Art Museum to admire photography, glasswork, desert landscape paintings and Native American textiles. There are a number of art galleries along South Palm Canyon Drive and North Indian Canyon Drive. Take a gander at the famous Palm Springs architecture, much of it from the mid-20th century. Go hiking in Indian Canyons, located in the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians Reservation and home to gigantic stone formations and the world’s largest native palm oasis. You may even glimpse mule deer and Peninsula bighorn sheep.

 

Costa Rica
Get your eco-holiday fix in Costa Rica, a vision of black-sand beaches, lush jungles and blue ocean – and an awesome warm winter vacation! Compared to some popular winter destinations in the US and Europe, Costa Rica can make for an affordable winter vacation, depending on your accommodations and chosen activities. Be sure to see Manuel Antonio Beach, accessible via a half-hour hike through the rainforest (keep an eye out for monkeys!). Snorkel along vibrant coral reefs. Visit cloud forests, volcanoes and river valleys where you’ll relish the amazing biodiversity of the region. There are 12 total ecological zones in a country that houses more than 615 wildlife species. Trek on the Arenal Volcano and the five cascades of the Paz Waterfalls. Surf on the Pacific coast. Zipline through the jungle. Dive into the capital city of San Jose and its many museums and restaurants. Don’t leave the country without indulging in ceviche tico, picadillo and gallo pinto!

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Santa Fe
Santa Fe, New Mexico, is beautiful any time of year, but if you’re seeking to escape the colder winter temperatures, it should rise quickly to the top of your list. Let the fresh, clean mountain air invigorate you, then head out for some of these world-class winter vacation ideas. Ski Santa Fe – at 10,350 feet, it’s a family-friendly ski resort with something for everyone. Take a day hike into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Drive through the high desert. Explore Bandelier National Monument to see petroglyphs and ancient cliff dwellings. Trek through Santa Fe National Forest and Pecos National Historic Park, where history stretches back 7,000 years. Looking for indoor winter activities? Santa Fe boasts more than 100 art galleries and studios along Canyon Road, plus the legendary Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

 

Jackson Hole
If half your family is clamoring for a ski- and snowboard-heavy winter getaway, yet the other half loves the snow, but not so much the downhill, consider Jackson Hole, Wyoming! Non-skiers are just as happy in this beautiful winter wonderland at the foot of the Grand Teton Mountains. Families hoping to spend time together can partake in a huge number of activities, guaranteed to incite giggles and thrills. Take a winter tour of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park or the National Elk refuge aboard a heated snowcoach and see Old Faithful and winter-hardy wildlife. Go snowshoeing and cross country skiing along groomed Nordic tracks and nature trails. Head out on a dog sledding adventure to see deer, elk and bighorn sheep, then soak in Granite Hot Springs. Go snowmobiling in the Gros Ventre Range, at Togwotee Pass and at Greys River. Ride in a horsedrawn sleight to the National Elk Refuge, getting within 30 feet of these majestic beasts. Head inside to The National Museum of Wildlife Art or Jackson Hole’s 25-plus painting and photography galleries. There’s usually a great lineup of shows and other entertainment at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts.

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Salt Lake City
Looking for Ski Town, USA? Head to Salt Lake City. With four world-class ski resorts within the city limits, you’re never far from the slopes. There is more snowfall here in Salt Lake City ski resorts than at any other North American ski destination and there is something for all levels. For wide runs and open spaces, head to Solitude. For snowboarders, head to Brighton. For steep terrain, head to Snowbird. And for the most snow of all, head to Alta.

 

Park City is about a half-hour from Salt Lake City and a ski mecca in its own right. Want something a bit off the beaten path? Try out the bobsledding track that was built for the 2002 Olympic Games. Off piste, explore Historic Main Street for its many boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bookstores.

 

Mammoth Lakes
No one in your group will complain that there’s nothing to do at Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra Mountains of California. The region takes on a glorious beauty in the winter. There’s skiing and snowboarding on Mammoth Mountain (California’s highest chairlift-serviced peak). There’s snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. There’s snow tubing, ice skating and riding the gondola. You can even ride in a headed snowcat into the backcountry for a uniquely memorable excursion – you’ll head to Minaret Vista and get unparalleled views of the Mammoth Lakes skyline.

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San Juan, Puerto Rico
It’s a warm winter vacation that’s required, San Juan, Puerto Rico, holds the key. It’s relatively dry from November to April and the days are pleasantly warm and sunny. From surf sites to waterfalls to beaches to rain forests, this is one destination worth your consideration. If you love the winter holidays, get ready for one of the longest Christmas celebrations in the world. It starts after Thanksgiving and runs three weeks past New Year’s Day and is full of Spanish and African influences and festivities. Christmas “ends” with the San Sebastian Street Festival in January, during which Old San Juan gives itself over to music, parades and religious processions. Winter is also the best time to experience one of the world’s five bioluminescent bays – an otherworldly sight you won’t soon forget. Hike through the rain forest, home to 26 animal species endemic to Puerto Rico. And be sure to make time for some island hopping to the Spanish Virgin Islands of Culebra and Vieques. Snowbirds can hop on direct flights to San Juan’s international airport, making a quick escape from cold winter temperatures.

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North Woods, Wisconsin
Remember Little House in the Big Woods? Well, harness you inner Ingalls spirit and pack up your warmest parkas, hat and gloves and go play in the big, snowy backyard that is the North Woods of Wisconsin during the winter. There are more than 600 miles of snowmobile trails to explore, 200 miles of cross country ski trails and dozens of miles of snowshoeing trails. Want to try fat biking in the snow? Head to Cable, Wisconsin, for 80 miles of trails. Later, warm up with a BBQ Bowl at Old Southern BBQ or at a traditional fish fry at the Landing on the Chippewa Flowage.

 

Pasadena, California
Love a parade? Pasadena is full of ‘em come January 1st. Related events like Deco Week – you and yours can help adorn the parade floats! – and Bandfest, which showcases the country’s best marching bands, take place around the time of the parade. If you want tickets to the Rose Bowl college football game, get your ticket early!

 

New Orleans
The height of winter celebrations in New Orleans is the annual Mardi Gras party in February. Head to Bourbon Street for the quintessential festivities, but look for fun and festivals in other neighborhoods as well, including the French Quarter, Marigny and Treme. The temperatures at this time of year are much more comfortable than the scorching summer.

 

Crystal River, Florida
Hang out with manatees at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge at Kings Bay on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Between November and April, you’ll see dozens swimming in the water. Watch from the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs, where you can also see the remains of a prehistoric human settlement.

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