20 Best Winter Vacation Destinations for Outdoor Adventure
Hit the slopes or chase the sun with these top winter destinations for outdoor adventure whether you’re looking for warm weather or snow.
With off-season prices, thinner crowds, and the change of seasons, winter is one of my favorite times for outdoor adventure in the US. Whether you are a winter lover and want to hit the slopes on a snowy vacation or are looking for warm weather and sunshine, there are plenty of winter destinations where the season and weather will fit the bill. In this blog post, we’ve rounded up the best winter vacations in the US for outdoor adventure.
Best Snowy Winter Vacation Destinations
Visit Crested Butte, Colorado
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to explore Crested Butte, Colorado in the winter for the first time and I loved getting to know this little Rocky Mountain town.
Located a 4-5 hour scenic drive from Denver, it’s a winter wonderland that should definitely be on your list of snowy winter destinations.
With incredible skiing, fat biking, snowshoeing, winter hiking, and cross-country skiing, I share everything you need to know about planning your visit in this Crested Butte Winter Travel Guide.
Explore Montana’s snowy landscapes
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, but Montana also 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
Discover Idaho’s plentiful winter activities
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 makes the top of my favorite snowy winter vacation spots for outdoor adventure, for sure.
Travelers can 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 the following blog posts for help planning your snowy winter vacation to Idaho:
- Fun Things to Do in Idaho During Winter
- Tips for Visiting Burgdorf Hot Springs in McCall, Idaho
- 4-Day McCall, Idaho Winter Itinerary
- 5 Reasons to Ski Tamarack in Idaho
View the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska
Heading to Alaska during the winter gives you the best chance to see the incredible aurora borealis, also known as the “Northern Lights” — a true bucket list winter vacation. Beyond the Northern Lights, there are tons of amazing things to do in Fairbanks in winter, including hot springs, dog mushing, ice sculpture parks, and more.
The Alaskan Railroad operates year-round and connects Anchorage to Fairbanks all winter, with Fairbanks often considered the best viewing area for the Northern Lights because it’s close to the Arctic Circle.
Just be sure to dress appropriately for frigid temperatures and varying weather conditions.
Head to Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado is one of the most popular snowy winter vacation destinations in the US, but most people stick to the ski slopes. Skip the crowds and head to Rocky Mountain National Park – located just two hours from Denver – to enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, wildlife watching, and more. Check out our complete Rocky Mountain National Park Winter Guide, including where to stay, outdoor activities, & what to pack to plan to plan your winter trip.
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 25 partner resorts for a total of 50 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.
>> Read Next: What To Wear Skiing
Go Snowshoeing in Washington
Western Washington is home to some of the deepest annual snowpacks in the world, with Mount Rainier and Mount Baker averaging more than 650 inches of snowfall a year. Because of this, Washington is a great winter destination, especially for snowshoeing. Check out our favorite Washington snowshoeing routes, and if you’ve never tried snowshoeing, our blog post on beginner snowshoeing tips & gear.
Not in Washington? See a full roundup of the best places to go snowshoeing in the Western US.
Shack up in a Rustic Backcountry Hut
Backcountry huts aren’t just for skiers (although they’re great for that, too). Slap on a pair of snowshoes, cross-country skis, or a backcountry set-up, and head to one of these 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.
Visit Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks
Avoid the sweltering summer heat (and the crowds) in Utah by visiting in the winter during 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 daytime 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.
Check out this blog post for more National Parks to visit in winter.
Go Hot Springs Hopping in Nevada
Nevada is one of the most underrated travel destinations in the US, and you’re guaranteed to find solitude during the winter. However, we love visiting Nevada in the winter because it’s prime hot springs season! Brush up on your hot springs etiquette and check out 21 of the best hot springs in Nevada.
Hit The Best Slopes in the US
I took up skiing at the age of 31 and it’s totally transformed how I spend my winters. Skiing is not just a way to get outside in the winter, but it’s an awesome sport that’s challenging, social, and a ton of fun. While I love my home resort of Alta in Salt Lake, there’s tons of amazing ski resorts across the US that make the perfect winter vacation:
- Best Ski Resorts for Beginners
- Best California Ski Resorts
- Best Oregon Ski Resorts
- Best New England Ski Resorts
- Colorado Gems: Affordable Ski Resorts
Best Warm Weather Winter Vacation Destinations
Go Backpacking in Southern California
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 and the California Hiking and Riding Trail (Joshua Tree National Park). These two 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 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.
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 and Haleakala National Park where you can catch an incredible sunrise or sunset.
For other ideas, check out our posts on Kona and Kauai or visit this roundup of awesome things to do on Oahu on Be My Travel Muse’s site.
Drive 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 coastal camping options as well, and during the winter you’ll have a better chance of snagging a spot.
Check out our Central California Coast road trip itinerary, Big Sur travel guide, or our post on the Best California Road Trip Stops for easy planning.
Camp in Big Bend National Park, Texas
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 and winter is one of the best seasons to enjoy it all.
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 stays warm throughout the winter. Florida is home to three national parks – Florida Keys National Park, Dry Tortugas, and the Everglades – where you can hike, take boat tours, snorkel, walk along white sand beaches, and encounter Florida’s giant gators.
We put together the Ultimate Florida National Parks road trip itinerary starting in Miami, where you can experience the best outdoor adventures that Florida has to offer.
Explore Arizona’s Desert Landscapes
Arizona is a beautiful winter destination that offers a ton of opportunities for outdoor adventure. Winter temperatures average in the mid to high sixties in most spots, making it a great time to get out there and explore while avoiding the heat.
Check out the following blog posts to help plan a winter trip to Arizona:
- Best Arizona Road Trip Stops
- 4-Day Sedona Itinerary for Adventure Travelers
- Saguaro National Park Guide
- Best Hikes in Tucson
- Best Things To Do in Bisbee, Arizona
- Petrified Forest National Park Hiking Guide
- “The Wave” Planning & Trail Guide
Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, just a couple of hours east of Los Angeles, is a wonderful winter hiking destination. While summer is unbearably hot, winter is a comfortable season for being outside any time of day as long as you bring layers (nighttime temperatures in the desert can drop into the teens!)
Check out some of our favorite hikes in Joshua Tree whether you’re going out for a day trip or plan on staying for a few days at one of the campgrounds.
If you’re looking to do some backpacking, check out our guide to backpacking the California Hiking and Riding Trail, a 35-mile route that runs through Joshua Tree.
Experience Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park may be one of the most unique parks in the United States and winter is the best season to visit due to mild temperatures. It’s home to the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, and only a short drive to the base of the tallest point in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney.
There’s a ton to see in do in Death Valley from hiking on sand dunes, exploring the badlands near Zabriskie Point, and taking in a birds-eye view from Dantes Point.
For a 3-day activity-packed itinerary, head over to our Death Valley National Park guide.
Get Outside in New Orleans
The historic, vibrant city of New Orleans is a popular winter vacation destination in the US with its annual Mardi Gras celebration. However, if you’re looking to see a different side of New Orleans, there’s tons of outdoor activities around the city and temperatures are mild in the winter. New Orleans is so much more than Bourbon Street – check out our guide to the best New Orleans hikes & nature walks to get the most out of your Louisiana trip.
Ah… snow its been time I try something like that, definitely this vacation booking a trip to enjoy the complete snow, this year 🙂
This looks pretty amazing , Thanks for sharing this 🙂
Revisiting this for 2020-21. So many great ideas! Thinking of Idaho, Utah or Big Bend.
Thanks for reading, Jen! Those all sound like great options, enjoy your trip 🙂
I love the choices! Thanks for sharing these wonderful places!