With off-season prices, thinner crowds, and the change of seasons, winter is one of my favorite times for outdoor adventure. Whether you are a snow lover and want to hit the slopes or are looking for a sunny coastal road trip, there are plenty of winter destinations where the season and weather will fit the bill. In this blog post, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite winter destinations for outdoor adventure, as well as a few we’ve got our eye on. So check out this list with options for both snow lovers and sun seekers, and start planning before winter melts away.
Winter Destinations for Snow Lovers
Take a Mountain Collective Ski Pass Road Trip
A few years back, I got my first Mountain Collective Pass, which provides 2 days of lift tickets at each of 18 partner resorts for a total of 36 days of lift access. I put together an awesome road trip itinerary and spent a week visiting Snowbird (Salt Lake), Sun Valley (Idaho), and Jackson Hole (Wyoming).
Other options for combining Mountain Collective resorts into the ultimate ski vacation are:
- Mammoth & Squaw Valley (California)
- Revelstoke & Lake Louise (Canada)
- Aspen & Telluride (Colorado)
- Alta, Snowbird & Snowbasin (Utah)
The Mountain Collective Pass is a great deal, and you really only need to visit 2 or 3 of the resorts in a winter to make the pass worth it.
Get Outside in Montana
When most people think of Montana, they picture Glacier National Park’s colorful valleys and high alpine lakes or bison roaming through the wildflowers of Yellowstone National Park. But have you ever thought of visiting Montana in the winter? Not only can you find solitude in some of Montana’s most scenic destinations throughout winter, Montana offers a wealth of unique winter activities, some of which are found nowhere else. Sure there’s epic resort skiing at Big Sky and Bridger Bowl, but you can also try ice climbing, snowshoeing or skijoring, and end your day soaking your muscles in some very inviting hot springs.
Check out 8 exciting things to do in Montana this winter
Explore the Best of Idaho
With more natural hot springs than any other state, uncrowded ski resorts, and unpretentious mountain towns, Idaho should be on your winter vacation radar. It’s one of my favorite winter destinations for outdoor adventure. Either fly into Boise, rent a car and head up to McCall or fly direct into Sun Valley. You can’t go wrong with either – the skiing, hot springs, views, and delicious food are plentiful in both. Check out this blog post for a list of fun things to do in Idaho during winter.
Check out our 4-day McCall, Idaho winter itinerary
Travel By Train in Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis
Heading to Alaska during the winter gives you the best chance to see the incredible aurora borealis, also known as the “northern lights.” Just be sure to dress appropriately for freezing temperatures and varying weather conditions. The Alaskan Railroad operates year round and connects from Anchorage to Fairbanks all winter, with Fairbanks often considered the best viewing area.
Shack up in a Rustic Backcountry Hut
Backcountry huts aren’t just for skiers. Slap on a pair of snowshoes, cross-country skis, or a backcountry set-up, and head to one of these 12 cozy backcountry huts. You’ll find solitude, untracked snow, and incredible mountain scenery. After a memorable day out in a winter wonderland, you can warm up around your wood-burning stove, enjoy some hot drinks, and make a delicious meal.
Photo: Robert Thomson
Explore Canada’s National Parks
Avoid the crowds in Canada’s National Parks by visiting in the winter instead. The outdoor adventure opportunities in winter are just as plentiful as the summer, but without the mass influx of visitors. I visited Jasper National Park last winter for the first time and share everything I did in this complete itinerary. It includes where to stay, where to eat, and the best winter activities for outdoor adventure like ice climbing, dog-sledding, exploring the Maligne Canyon, and skiing at Marmot Basin.
Winter Destinations for Sun Seekers
Visit Utah’s Mighty 5
Avoid the sweltering summer heat in Utah (and the crowds), and visit in the off season. Southern Utah can get hit with a little bit of snow, especially at higher elevations in Bryce Canyon, but more likely you’ll end up with pleasant day time temps and quiet trails. Our week-long Utah road trip itinerary covers Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef. Pick one park on the itinerary to explore, or if you have the time, hit them all. Just be sure to pack appropriately for the cold temps and note that some campgrounds are closed in the winter.
Get a detailed 10-day itinerary for Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks
Go Backpacking in SoCal
If you’re looking for incredible winter backpacking trips in not-so-wintery environments, check out our trail reports of the Trans-Catalina Trail (Catalina Island), the Hiking and Riding Trail (Joshua Tree National Park), and San Jacinto Peak (San Jacinto Mountains). These three Southern California trails will keep your backpacking legs in shape this winter. The Trans-Catalina Trail offers the opportunity to witness psychedelic sunsets, cross paths with the island’s resident bison, and to camp right on the sand. Alternatively, you can tick off another National park on the Hiking and Riding Trail in Joshua Tree where you’ll weave through massive boulder formations, iconic desert vegetation, and sleep under some of the darkest skies in California. If peak bagging is your thing, San Jacinto Peak is not to be missed, plus the views are sublime.
Head to Hawaii
Hawaii is always a good choice for outdoor adventure in the winter. Big swells arrive on parts of the islands this time of year, so check out Honolii Beach Park or Kahaluu Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii for surf action. If you want to be a spectator, some of Hawaii’s biggest surf competitions are held during the winter months on the North Shore of Oahu. Hawaii has more to offer than just surf though; there are endless ways to enjoy the warm weather whether it’s snorkeling with sea turtles, kayaking, watching humpbacks breach offshore, swimming, hiking, or stand up paddling. The Hawaiian islands are also home to two National Parks, including Volcanoes National Park where you can experience exploding lava flow into the ocean at night.
Road Trip Down the California Coast
While the mountains are packed with snow, the California coast has mild temperatures even in winter. You’ll find cute coastal towns, incredible food (local oysters or clam chowder anyone?), world-class wine, and unbelievable vistas. Pick a coastal destination for a long weekend or plan a road trip down the entire 800-mile coast if you have time. Some of our favorite coastal cities for overnight stays are Mendocino, Bodega Bay, Santa Cruz, Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Malibu, Encinitas and Ocean Beach (San Diego). There are camping options along the coast as well, and during the winter you’ll have a better chance at snagging a spot.
Check out our Central California Coast road trip itinerary
Kayak in Big Bend National Park
From day hikes, backpacking and multi-day kayaking trips to scenic drives and stargazing, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Big Bend National Park in Texas. Average winter highs are in the 60s, and all three campgrounds in the park are open year-round. If you’re looking for something a little cozier, the Chisos Mountain Lodge offers warm rooms and cottages in the heart of the Park.
Road Trip Florida’s National Parks
While other parts of the U.S. are bundling up, the weather in the south is still warm. Florida is home to three national parks – Florida Keys National Park, Dry Tortugas, and the Everglades – where you can hike, take boat tours, snorkel, and encounter Florida’s giant gators. We put together the Ultimate Florida National Parks road trip itinerary where you can experience the best outdoor adventures that Florida has to offer.