Five Essential Winter Vacation Destinations
Updated: Oct 11
As we celebrate the arrival of fall, I’m reminded that winter is right around the corner. If you’re anything like me, winter is that time of year when you normally settle in at home and hibernate.But this year, why not do something different? Let’s cure those inevitable winter blues with travel, or plan to celebrate the holiday season in a stunning new locale! Luckily, the United States is a huge country with so many varied climates that are at their peak during the winter months. Whether your ideal winter vacation is all about embracing the cold weather or whether you’re dreaming of escaping it, I’ve got five essential winter vacation destinations for you. Keep reading for more details on these American winter paradises.
Hawaii’s garden island, Kauai, features an excellent climate year-round, but in winter, average temperatures in the 60s and 70s allow for even more land-based adventures, like hiking mountains and rainforests and touring the island by helicopter. Even better still, you might try your hand at whale watching, as humpback whales migrate to the island’s coasts from December to March. While there, don’t miss Waimea Canyon, dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the nearly 200-foot Wailua Falls. If you’re after spectacular coastal views of seaside cliffs and idyllic beaches, check out Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park and Polihale State Park, where you’ll find that winter chill in your bones quickly disappears.
Key West, Florida
If you only have a long weekend to spare, might I recommend Key West, Florida, a very popular East Coast winter vacation destination—for good reason? Take it from me: the weather is perfect, with temperatures in the 70s, low humidity, and no risk of hurricanes. Indeed, in the winter, Key West’s convivial atmosphere is at its height! While there, don’t miss the nightly Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square, where you can watch the sun melt into the Gulf of Mexico while strolling a dynamic street festival. Embrace Key West’s quirky side by checking out the six-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. Browse the shops and restaurants on Duval Street, where you can indulge in all-you-can-eat fresh seafood followed by the city’s signature key lime pie. To chase away those winter blues, lounge on golden sand beaches at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Death Valley National Park, California
The “death” part of Death Valley National Park in California quickly recedes in the winter, when pleasant temperatures in the 60s and 70s replace the scorching desert temperatures of summer. In the winter, Death Valley becomes an entirely different destination, where it’s possible to hike and camp without feeling like you’re on an episode of Survivor. While in Death Valley, check out the famous sailing stones of the Racetrack Playa, large cracks that form on the rocks, visible only in winter because they’re caused by thin sheets of ice that melt with sunrise. Cure the dreariness of winter greys by immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the Badwater Basin salt flats, taking in the beautiful views from the mountain vistas overlooking dunes of sand, and studying the gorgeous reds, oranges, and golds of the badlands.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
If your idea of a winter vacation is to really lean into the winter weather, look no further than Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, where most roads are accessible only to cross-country skiers, snowshoers, snowmobilers, and snowcoach tourers during the winter months, though the park lodge and hotel remain open all year. Here you can experience the wonders of one of the nation’s most popular national parks among much smaller crowds. In the winter, Yellowstone looks even more mysterious and wonderful with its frozen lakes, snow-covered forests, and steaming geysers. Wildlife becomes easier to spot amidst the snow; keep your eyes peeled for bison, elk, foxes, and wolves. And if no winter vacation is complete without downhill skiing, be sure to visit nearby Jackson Hole.
Another excellent option for indulging your winter wonderland fantasies is Fairbanks, Alaska, where nights are cold and long, all the better for seeing the aurora borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, visible from September to March. One excellent viewing location is Creamer’s Field, a local bird sanctuary. While in Fairbanks, check out the Gates of the Arctic National Park to see majestic snowcapped mountains, the Museum of the North to learn about Alaska’s history and natural wonders, and, if you need a little warm up, the Chena Hot Springs. If you have the time, the Aurora Winter Train from Fairbanks to Anchorage is another fantastic opportunity to see heavily snow-covered scenery and wildlife like moose.
As one of my favorite Italian proverbs goes, “They who sing through the summer must dance in the winter.” As we turn the corner in the fall, let’s get started planning your winter vacation today so that you have something to look forward to when we enter our hibernation period. Wherever your winter travels take you, I’m wishing you the joy of escaping or indulging the season—whichever you prefer!