The 10 Best Off-the-Radar Winter Destinations in the U.S.
Whether you're looking for sun or snow, travel experts recommend these unexpected locales.
When it comes to the perfect winter getaway, some people are drawn to mountain towns with ski slopes and cozy cabins, while others want nothing more than to put away their jackets and frolic in the sun. Luckily, the U.S. is filled with incredible destinations for every taste and personality style, including some places that may not be on your radar when you think of winter destinations. We went to the experts and asked them to recommend their favorite places to visit in winter. Whether you yearn to bundle up by the fire or sip a fruity drink by the pool, this list has something for you.
The 10 Best Off-the-Radar Winter Trips
1. Palmer, Alaska
Alaska is at the top of many travelers' bucket lists, and rightfully so. The state is jaw-droppingly beautiful with unparalleled access to nature, recreation, and picture-perfect small towns. And combining all of these attributes is Palmer, Alaska, located in the Mat-Su Valley in the Chugach National Forest.
"It's a gateway town to stunning outdoor adventure while still being close to Anchorage and Talkeetna," says travel writer Heide Brandes. "The Knik Glacier is the biggest draw, with an ice field averaging 25 miles long and 5 miles across," Brandes recommends taking a helicopter ride to the glacier for guided hiking, kayaking, or ice climbing. Afterward, enjoy local beer and burgers at Matanuska Brewing Company.
2. Hickory, North Carolina
With a population of 43,000, Hickory, North Carolina combines the charm and feel of a small town with the amenities of a larger city.
"The artsy mountain town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the perfect compromise between cold and warm weather destinations," says travel writer Meg St. Esprit. "You can shop the cute downtown in crisp but still comfortable temperatures and enjoy hiking without donning heavy winter gear." Hickory is especially beautiful during the holidays when the town square is strung with twinkling lights, heated outdoor dining, and live music.
St. Esprit also likes how the train tracks that run through the center of town "add to the old-time feel." For more historic fun, "you can have dinner inside the former train station at the Olde Hickory Station restaurant," she adds.
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3. San Antonio, Texas
During the winter in San Antonio, daytime temperatures are generally in the mid-60, ideal weather for biking the famous Riverwalk (which gets decked out with lights for the holidays!) or exploring the historic San Antonio Missions. The city also has a rich cultural heritage and some of the best museums in the country.
"The Museum of Art has a great collection, especially of Hispanic and Black art, and has a café overlooking the river that's lovely to dine at," raves travel writer Rusksana Hussain. "Don't miss the Pearl District at the end of the Riverwalk with fantastic restaurants and open green spaces for picnics."
4. Lake Charles, Louisiana
When the northern part of the country is full of cold and snowy winter weather, Lake Charles, Louisiana is in the balmy 60s. "Folks tend to head straight for New Orleans, but Lake Charles is a lesser-known area with lots to do," notes Hussain. "Plenty of opportunities for kayaking, eco-tours, and other lake activities and biking."
There are fantastic Cajun and Creole restaurants in the region, and Lake Charles is also part of the Creole Nature Trail, an officially designated scenic byway filled with beaches, history, and wildlife. And if you're looking for some nightlife, consider one of the three casino resorts.
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5. Ogden, Utah
The Wild West meets the ski slopes in Ogden, Utah, "a historic western town close to three incredible ski mountains—Nordic Valley, Powder Mountain, and Snowbasin," says travel writer Jeanine Consoli. "Plus it has a phenomenal food, art, and music scene."
While you're there, be sure to check out Union Station, a historic train depot that is now home to the Utah State Railroad Museum and the John M. Browning Firearms Museum. Perhaps best of all, Ogden is just over a half-hour drive from the Salt Lake City Airport.
6. Scottsdale, Arizona
Scottsdale, Arizona is famous for electric sunsets, world-class resorts, and some of the best public golf courses in the country. "The incredible food combined with winter desert hikes and mild temperatures are my favorite," adds travel writer Julie Bielenberg.
In Scottsdale, the weather is not only perfect for activities like kayaking the Salt River or exploring the desert with companies like Desert Dog Offroad Adventures, but it is often warm enough to sunbathe by the pool as the delicious fragrance of the Creosote bush fills the air.
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7. Big Sky, Montana
A name like Big Sky conjures up images of endless vistas and epic adventures, and this destination does not disappoint. "Big Sky is situated in the heart of Montana's Rocky Mountains and is home to some of the best skiing, hiking, and camping in the state," enthuses travel expert Matt James of Visitingly.
James says the area is home to big-name ski resorts like Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin, as well as a number of smaller, more intimate ski areas. And, if you're not a skier, you can still enjoy the stunning scenery and mountain air.
8. Taos, New Mexico
The high desert of New Mexico is one of the best destinations in the country for skiing and snow. "With an average annual snowfall of 176 inches, the rugged peaks and sacred wilderness of Taos are filled with multicultural vibes," says travel expert Becky Moore of Global Grasshopper. "Perfect for skiers and anyone with a sense of adventure, this small town is steeped in legendary charm and quirky traditions."
9. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Steamboat Springs, Colorado offers opportunities for ice skating, snow tubing, dog sledding, and other snowy activities, but what really makes the town special are the natural hot springs sprinkled around the town. They're the perfect place to soak your aching muscles after a hard day of playing in the snow. "These warm pools have been around for over 100 years," says travel blogger Samantha Pearsall of the Rambling Renegade.
After a day of outdoor fun, be sure to check out all of the boutiques, art galleries, and incredible restaurants downtown.
10. Leavenworth, Washington
Although well-known to local residents, Leavenworth, Washington is still under the radar for much of the rest of the country. Located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the tiny hamlet looks like a European Village, complete with Bavarian architecture and year-round al-fresco dining.
"The main tourist area is about six blocks long [and] the majority of it is dedicated to shopping and entertainment," says travel blogger Anna Krizova of Camino Adventures. "Check out the Christkindlmarkt and perhaps Mozart's Steakhouse for the best schnitzel you've ever had."