Seeking out the best family vacation destinations to enjoy within the USA this winter – no passport required!
Winter to you might mean family dinners, hot drinks, a warm fireplace, and Christmas mornings. It could also mean the best time to travel and explore unique locations with your family.
The traditional cold season, December to February, is a great time to plan your winter family getaway. You can avoid peak season crowds and nab great deals on your flights and accommodation. Equally, you can enjoy outdoor adventures that may be too hot to fully appreciate with kids in tow at the peak of summer.
Traveling during the winter is also a fantastic opportunity to enjoy festivals and events held only during the winter season – from ice castles and Christmas markets to the best of snow sports, tubing, and sledding in the country’s best ski resort destinations.
If the cold isn’t your thing, luckily, the vast size of the USA and its territories means you can always find somewhere year-round boasting sunshine and warm days. What is better than having a ‘summer vacation’ experience during winter?
This post is part of our series Discover the USA – pop on over for plenty more US Vacation Ideas
Best Winter Destinations in the USA
So, first up – what’s your goal in winter travel? Are you looking to catch the festive lights and find unique places to visit in December in USA with family? Test out your skiing skills in the mountains? Or are you seeking a little reprieve from the winter and want to head somewhere warm and beachy?
Here’s our handy guide to finding the many vacation spots for snow and seeking the sun across the country. Read on for more details on what to expect from climate to kids activities at each.
- Big Sky, Montana
- Breckenridge, Colorado
- Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
- Mount Hood, Oregon
- Stowe, Vermont
- Yosemite National Park, California
- Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
- Gatlinburg, Tennessee
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California
- New York City, New York
- Beaver Creek, Colorado
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Fairbanks, Alaska
- Canaan Valley, West Virginia
- Adirondacks, New York
- Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, California
- US Virgin Islands
- San Diego, California
- Clearwater Beach, Florida
- Big Island, Hawaii
- Orlando, Florida
- Disneyland, Anaheim, California
- Key West, Florida
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
Big Sky, Montana
Climate in Winter: Expect winter daytime temperatures of 30°F (-1°C) and lows overnight down to 7°F (-14°C )
With over 400″ of snow falling annually, Big Sky in Montana is a winter family vacation favorite for snowsport enthusiasts. Excellent ski conditions are nearly guaranteed, and there’s less traffic here than some of the larger resorts – meaning fewer lines and more ski time!
Alongside Moonlight Basin, connected by ski chair, Big Sky boasts more than 5,850 acres of skiable terrain. Big Sky also claims to be one of the best-connected ski resort towns in the US, with over 30 daily direct flights to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN).
Even if you’re not avid skiers, there’s still plenty of exciting winter family fun to be had at Big Sky. Look for sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, and guided snowshoe tours. The resort also offers Basecamp for Kids and Basecamp for Teens activities such as zip-lining, laser tag, bungee trampoline giant swing, and a climbing wall.
Big Sky Resort is also close to Yellowstone National Park, another incredible choice for winter family exploration. It is much quieter than in summer, but many parts become inaccessible by car, so be prepared to jump on a snowmobile. The only part that remains open year-round is Mammoth Hot Springs, which provides for a spectacular winter experience.
Climate in Winter: Expect highs of 28°F (-1°C) and overnight lows of 15°F (-7°C)
Home to the best hot chocolate in the world, this unique Colorado mining town is an excellent location for your family’s winter vacation. Featuring charming streets, play areas for kids, museums, and a world-renowned ski resort, your family will have lots of activities to explore during your winter vacation.
Rent a carriage and explore the small town, or go on a snowcat tour. There are many ice sculpting contests, indoor and outdoor ice skating rinks, and snowshoe hiking to keep you entertained for days. A gondola ride to the base of Peak 8 is a must.
In addition to the excellent winter vacation and entertainment conditions, Breckenridge is also a great place to live. If you plan to move with your family to that area, you won’t regret it. Find the best moving company in your area and start your new life in a city rich in history, beauty, culture, and fresh air.
Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Climate in Winter: Expect at the coolest point of winter highs of 30°F (-1°C) and lows overnight down to 16°F (-9°C)
Nestled in the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe rounds out our list of winter wonderlands in the USA. It is undoubtedly one of the best destinations in the US for a winter family vacation, combining the majestic beauty of the festive season with sensational snowy slopes to explore with skis, snowboards, sledding, or snowshoeing.
For those looking for a quieter pace, scenic gondola rides offer breathtaking panoramic views of the snow-blanketed landscape. Off the slopes, the towns around Lake Tahoe dazzle with festive lights, and local events, from holiday markets to winter festivals, ensure there’s never a dull moment.
Where to stay: This is the ideal place to book yourselves a cozy cabin such as these in Incline Village, or for a luxury resort with all the festive trimmings, try Northstar California Resort, one of the best family ski resorts in North America.
Mount Hood, Oregon
Climate in Winter: Expect winter highs around 32°F (-10°C) and overnight to 5°F (-15°C)
Mount Hood is very much a four-season area close to Portland, Oregon but is most famous as a popular winter destination for families in the Pacific North West.
Mt Hood offers three skiing and snowboard resort areas within 20 minutes of each other – Meadows, Ski Bowl & Timberline. Two smaller ski resorts at Cooper Spur and Summit Ski can also be found.
There are a few things that make Mount Hood uniquely; Timberline is famous for being the only year-round destination for snowsports in the northwest, while Ski Bowl is known for its floodlit night skiing opportunities, the largest of its kind in the USA!
You’ll also find a number of areas around Mt Hood for tubing and sledding; these will require a Sno-Park Pass.
Climate in Winter: Expect highs of 18°F (-8°C) and lows overnight down to 1°F (-17°C)
Winter is one of the best times to visit Stowe in Vermont. It is a quiet village, making it one of the best places for family vacations in winter. One of the country’s oldest ski resort towns, recent additions include an on-mountain Kids Adventure Zone with gentle slopes and freestyle terrain purpose-built for learning – making it an ideal spot for beginners.
We recommend spending some time exploring the Stowe Recreation Path. This 5.3-mile path will take you through the valley to the West Branch of Little River. The trail is well-groomed even during winter and is perfect for snowshoers, cross-country skiers, hikers, and bikers. Be sure to make some stops at the restaurants along the way. There, you can enjoy a warm meal and keep warm with an array of hot beverages.
Twilight dogsledding tours, sleigh rides, and snowmobile tours through the Mt. Mansfield State Forest are some of the other winter options in Stowe.
Yosemite National Park, California
Climate in Winter: Expect highs of 48°F (9°C) and lows down to 28°F (-2°C) in midwinter
Although Yosemite National Park is popularly known as a summer destination, it is even more awe-inspiring in the winter. Visiting Yosemite during your family winter vacation, expect to see frozen waterfalls, frost-coated trees, crispy snowy reflections, and valleys blanketed in white. It is a magical sight to behold.
With fewer crowds, lower prices, lots of outdoor activities, and the appearance of more wildlife, Yosemite National Park is one of the best winter family vacations. Your kids will love exploring the cold and engaging in skiing, zip-lining, snowboarding and snowshoeing. Rug the kids up warm and take pleasure in enjoying stargazing on dark winter nights.
Whilst some of the usual family hiking trails in Yosemite may be closed, why not enjoy backcountry ski tours, snowshoeing, snow tubing, and cross-country skiing? Badgers Pass Ski Area is a great beginner’s area; it’s the perfect Northern California spot for families with small children just starting with snow sports.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Climate in Winter: Expect mid-winter highs of 28°F (-2°C) and overnight lows 12°F (-11°C)
Lake Geneva is a winter wonderland with a four-season resort. Its unspoiled small-city charm makes it an excellent location for a winter family getaway, a place all families should visit at least once!
If your kids are fans of Frozen, they will be delighted to visit the Ice Castles. These castles have thrones, tunnels, lights, slides, and archways built with hundreds of thousands of icicles. The ice castles magically bring all your favorite winter fairytales to life.
Winterfest is also held around February each year. This event features magic shows, helicopter rides, a human-dog sled race, and the US Snow Sculpting Championship. Your family can also enjoy zip-lining, cross-country skiing, ice-skating, and many other winter outdoor activities, making this one of the best winter vacation destinations in the upper Midwest.
Climate in Winter: Expect mid-winter highs of 50°F (10°C) to overnight lows of 28°F (-2°C)
Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is a winter haven for families. The town sparkles under the annual Winterfest lights, turning the streets into a festive spectacle, while Ober Gatlinburg invites visitors for skiing, snowboarding, and joyful snow tubing sessions.
The snow-draped landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in winter offer a tranquil backdrop for snowshoeing and capturing the beauty of frozen waterfalls.
Downtown Gatlinburg buzzes with attractions, from the immersive Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies to panoramic views from the Space Needle. Gatlinburg combines outdoor thrills with heartfelt winter traditions, making it an ideal family getaway during the colder months.
Where to stay: The perfect place for a cozy cabin in the mountains with a hot tub! Or, for a more resort feel, try Westgate Resort with its huge indoor water park for a unique winter retreat with the kids, enjoying the best of indoors and out!
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California
Climate in Winter: Expect daytime highs of 34°F (1°C) to overnight lows of 7°F (-14°C)
Encased in natural splendor, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is a spectacular winter vacation location. This park is stunning in winter, featuring dense forests of colossal sequoias.
(NB 2021 KNP complex bushfire may mean some or all parts of the park remain closed this winter – save this idea for future family winter experiences)
Be ready to have your breath taken away by views of deep glacier-carved valleys and gigantic granite cliffs. You can hike through Grant Grove and enjoy views of the General Grant or explore it on horseback. You will also get to see the Nation’s Christmas Tree, the second-largest tree in the world.
New York City, New York
Climate in Winter: Expect December highs of 45°F (7°C) down to 32°F (0°C) overnight
There is something truly magical about a family trip to New York City in winter. For families looking to enjoy the festive spirit of winter in the city, New York City is the best location. Think Christmas lights, mouth-watering aroma of delicious winter treats, Christmas trees all over the city and well-lit, brightly decorated holiday windows.
Be sure to check out the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and take memorable family pictures. You can also head on to Central Park and enjoy a fun time playing in the crisp white snow, or try some ice skating while making priceless memories with your family.
New York City also boasts many Broadway shows, sporting matches, music events and family-friendly restaurants – it’s a year-round city with something special to enjoy in every season but Christmas certainly adds something magical to the Big Apple.
Where to stay: Roxy Hotel New York can be a great family choice in Lower Manhattan, or at Midtown Fifty Hotel & Suites by Affina is a great choice for larger families with small serviced apartment options
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Climate in Winter: Expect winter highs of 28°F (-2°C) and lows 5°F (-15°C)
The Beaver Creek Resort is a hub of exciting winter sports and one of the best winter vacations for families. Every December, athletes and spectators from around the world gather to participate and experience the world’s premier ski events.
The Beaver Creek Resort spans over 1800 acres. This space ranges from steep bumps to gentle slopes and is an excellent landscape for skiers of all levels. There are other hiking trails along the edge of the village for those who love to explore.
Outside of winter sports, Beaver Creek also offers other fun, family-friendly activities, such as a children’s museum and a performing arts center where different events are held during winter.
Where to stay: For a truly luxurious mountain ski resort experience Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort, or for something a little more budget-friendly (this area is not cheap!) try The Christie offering family suites
You can find more incredible Colorado ski resort ideas in our guide to North American Ski Resorts for Families.
Climate in Winter: Expect midwinter highs of 37°F (3°C) to overnight lows 23°F (-5vC)
Boston in the winter is a real thrill as there are tons of fun attractions for both kids and adults. You could go ice skating on the Boston Common Frog Pond or explore the Freedom Trail. You can also go shopping at the indoor Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
Take your kids to the Skywalk Observatory, where they can see the beauty of Boston from above. Heading on the road from Boston you can also enjoy magical day trips to picturesque spots such as Plymouth or Lincoln is a magical spot at Christmas.
Climate in Winter: Expect daytime temperatures of 0°F (-18°C) and overnight lows down to -15°F (-26°C)
If you do not mind the cold weather, you should plan a trip of a lifetime to Alaska in winter. Alaska on its own is a beautiful destination for a family vacation. However, during winter, it is even more stunning.
Due to the plummeting temperatures, visiting Alaska with small kids might not be ideal. However, it is an exciting location for adults and older kids to explore. Adventure lovers will enjoy exploring the ski races, ice skating, dog sledding tours, snowmobiles, and winter festivals.
And, of course, you would not miss the breathtaking Northern lights across the winter skies. Fairbanks is renowned as one of the best places in North America for witnessing the Northern Lights and works as a great base point for a winter trip to Alaska.
Where to stay: Aurora Villa offers family rooms with superb mountain views near Fairbanks, or get in the heart of the action Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
Canaan Valley, West Virginia
Climate in Winter: Expect daytime highs midwinter of 32cF (0°C) to 18°F (-8°)
Canaan Valley is a beautiful and affordable winter destination that offers the best value to families looking to have fun. This top-notch ski resort features a 1,200-foot tubing park where you and your kids can enjoy tubing and other fun winter sports.
There is also a covered outdoor ice skating rink at the resort. Skiing lessons are available for amateur skiers, and guests here have exclusive access to the swimming pool and fitness center. You can also enjoy other winter sports, such as skating and snowboarding, at this resort, a highly recommended spot for beginners dipping their toes into winter sports on the east coast.
Adirondacks, New York
Climate in Winter: Expect average highs midwinter 25°F (-4°C) and lows of 5°F (-15°C)
If you have never been to the Adirondacks, you are really missing something spectacular. Rounding out our list of snowy winter wonderland destinations in the USA, the snow-covered mountains, historic sites, and beautiful landscape make the Adirondacks look like something out of a fairy tale – but it’s also extremely cold!
One of the best locations for cross-country skiing, the Adirondacks also features fun winter carnivals, dog sledding, bobsledding, hiking, snowmobiling, and winter activities for everyone. Enjoy beautiful views of frozen lakes and dazzling white trails as you explore the great outdoors.
Ever ridden a wooden toboggan across a lake? Try it at Mirror Lake, where your kids can also enjoy ice skating and other kid-friendly winter games and sports. Look out for the Lake George ice castle in this winter fairytale corner of Upstate New York.
Now, let’s head on to some slightly warmer winter destinations in the USA. Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventures for the whole family without the crowds seen in the summer months or simply need the sights and smells of the beach to banish the winter blues – try one of these best warm winter vacations in the USA.
Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, California
Climate in Winter: Expect mild daytime highs midwinter of 70°F (21°C) to 45°F (7°C)
With its unique climate and desert scape, people come to Palm Springs not just as a sunny winter destination but also to enjoy the natural glory of Joshua Tree National Park away from the peak temperatures of the year. In fact, February is becoming one of the most popular times of the year, meaning accommodation books up!
Joshua Tree provides families with many excellent day hikes, whilst Palm Springs has many kid-friendly attractions, including the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and Children’s Museum.
US Virgin Islands
Climate in Winter: Expect daytime highs of 82°F (28°C) and lows of 75°F (24°C)
A sunny island escape in the middle of winter without leaving the US? We’re talking about the US Virgin Islands, of course! Situated in the Caribbean, you’re only about 2 hours 20 minutes from Florida by plane or 3 hours from New York, and you won’t need passports!
The US Virgin Islands are a group of three islands – St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. If you like busy beaches, luxury resorts and enjoy your water sports, then you’ll want to base yourself in St. Thomas.
St John is perfect for families who love to hike, snorkel, and explore the great outdoors.
The US Virgin Islands remain warm throughout the winter months with seawater temperatures of 79°F (26°C).
Due to the wonderfully sunny climate, the holiday season is a peak travel season for the US Virgin Islands. You will want to book your accommodation well in advance.
San Diego, California
Climate in Winter: Expect mild days of 66°F (19°C) and lows down to 50°F (10°C)
San Diego is blessed with year-round warmth and magnificent beaches. Maybe it’s too cold to take a dip in midwinter – kids will want wetsuits if dipping their toes in – but still enjoyable beachfront fun can be had when visiting San Diego in the winter.
Aside from the beaches, there are plenty of family-friendly attractions to enjoy in the winter. The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park are world-famous attractions worth getting on your itinerary in the cool of winter, whilst Balboa Park is home to nearly 20 museums and beautiful outdoor spaces.
Don’t forget you are only about 30 minutes away from Legoland, California, here too!
Warm in southern California doesn’t necessarily mean no rain. Still, you should find plenty of daylight hours to enjoy in San Diego for a wonderful mid-winter family vacation in the US.
Clearwater Beach, Florida
Climate in Winter: Expect at the coolest point of winter highs of 70°F (21°C) and lows overnight down to 50°F (10°C)
One of the best warm winter family vacations in the lower 48 states, Clearwater Beach, is the perfect destination for sun-seekers who want to enjoy the Florida winter sunshine at its best on the Gulf Coast.
This three-mile beach features soft, white sands, warm winter weather, and tons of fun family activities to pick from. From stand-up paddleboarding to surfing and kayaking, there is something adventurous and fun for everyone in this Florida-favourite location.
Be sure not to miss the sunset at Pier 60, where the stunning sunset serves as a backdrop for fire eaters, musicians, and artisans performing and displaying their crafts. You can also explore the shopping district found nearby.
Many families love Clearwater Beach for its accessibility to Disney World; in fact, it’s the closest beach to Orlando on the Gulf Coast, so it makes a perfect winter pairing for families seeking a Florida escape – here’s exactly how you get from Orlando to Clearwater.
Big Island, Hawaii
Climate in Winter: Expect daytime highs of 80°C (27°C) and lows of 66°F (19°C) overnight
Another unmissable warm weather destination you should consider is Big Island, Hawaii. The largest of the Hawaiian islands, you can expect tropical warm temperatures in this picture-perfect winter vacation destination. Most famous for the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, you will find the natural diversity of Big Island incredible, from lush tropics to polar tundra!
Big Island’s beautiful beaches may not be as famous as some on O’hau, but kids will still love swimming in the beautiful tropical waters. Due to volcanic activity on the island, you can explore the uniqueness of black sand beaches, such as Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach.
Just remember winter, especially the Christmas to New Year period, is the ultra-peak season for all of the Hawaiian islands. Expect to book winter accommodation well in advance and pay the top rate. Waiting until schools are back and deeper into January/February, you will find it much cheaper if you still want to squeeze in that mid-winter escape.
You will find Big Island far less crowded than the most popular tourist islands of Hawaii, perfect if you are looking for a family nature escape in the sunshine this winter.
Climate in Winter: Expect daytime highs up to 73°F (23°C) and overnight lows of 50°F (10°C).
Orlando, Florida is another location that’s perfect for soaking up some winter sun with your family.
Every kid wants to go to Disney World or Universal Studios at some point in their life, and the cooler months of winter make this a much more manageable experience, especially with small children, than in the sweltering heat and humidity of summer. Take your time and mix theme park fun with other fun family activities in Orlando.
Meanwhile, don’t miss Universal Orlando off your list too. Potterheads will especially love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; dip into some Butterbeer or Fishy Green Ale!
Just note that although the resorts and pools at Disney are open year-round with temperature-controlled water, they alternate closing the water parks for annual maintenance over winter. Check in advance when these closures will occur if you have winter water parks on your mind.
Where to stay: Staying at any onsite resort at Disney World or Universal may cost more, but the savings and convenience can undoubtedly add up – or stay at a hotel with a shuttle to the theme parks. Disney heats all its pools in winter, but we love the setting of the thermal springs at Copper Creek Springs, Disney Wilderness Lodge. At Universal, try Loews Sapphire Falls Resort.
Disneyland, Anaheim, California
Climate in Winter: Expect daytime highs of 70°F (21°C) to overnight lows of 46°F (8°C)
If Florida is not possible for you, head on to another fairy tale destination – Disneyland in Anaheim, southern California for some winter theme park action.
This magical location is a sure hit for kids as they will enjoy several special events. Some special winter events held here include food festivals, Santa’s Visit to the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, and other themed music festivals. These events are suitable for all ages.
The weather here is also amazing during winter, with very low rainfall and crisp clear days ahead. Beyond Disneyland, explore more of Greater Los Angeles with the kids, or try some of the nearby beaches to Disneyland – maybe not swimming weather but plenty of fun in the sun.
Where to stay: Disneylands Grand California Hotel & Spa is always a favorite, but if the budget doesn’t stretch, no issue staying off-site; we like self-catering accommodation options such as Homewood Suites by Hilton
Key West, Florida
Climate in Winter: Expect highs of 75°F (24°C) and overnight lows down to 66°F (19°C)
A classic sunny escape for families in the US looking for some eternal winter sun. Key West is one of those places families go to avoid the winter months cold, snow, and rain. The island is known for its tropical climate and is one of the best winter family vacations.
Key West, at the very tip of the Florida Keys, sits around 3.5 hours away from Miami, though the road trip that gets you there makes for the highlight of your winter trip to Florida. At the end of your road trip, you’ll find the delightful township of Key West and the Historic Seaport.
This is one of the best road trips in the country, and the views along the way are nothing short of stunning. Your road trip will start at Everglades National Park and then take you through many attractions, including the Turtle Hospital, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the Rain Barrel Artisan Village, and the History of Diving Museum.
With lots of fun island activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, fishing, and kayaking, your family is sure to have the time of their lives while everyone is shivering and wrapping up in blankets.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Climate in Winter: Expect highs of 83°F (28°C) and overnight lows down to 70°F (21°C)
This Caribbean gem is more than just pristine beaches and turquoise waters; it’s a tapestry of rich history, vibrant culture, and exhilarating activities suitable for all ages. The historic district of Old San Juan, with its colorful colonial buildings and cobblestone streets, transports visitors back in time, offering an interactive history lesson for curious kids and adults alike.
Adventurous families can explore the lush El Yunque Rainforest, take a mesmerizing nighttime kayak trip in bioluminescent bays, or discover underwater wonders through snorkeling excursions.
Combine these unique experiences with the genuine warmth of the Puerto Rican people, and it’s easy to see why San Juan is a top winter destination for US families looking for a warm adventure – sans passport as Puerto Rico remains a US Territory.
Where to stay: in the heart of the old city, try the Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel, or for something truly unique, the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel offers beachfront access at one of the city’s grandest buildings.
More USA Family Vacation Ideas
We have plenty more vacation inspiration guides within the USA to keep your family busy year-round. Whether it’s beaches you crave or outdoor exploring, why not try:
- Best Family Beaches on the East Coast
- The Best Family Beaches Along the Gulf Coast
- 20 Best Places for Families to Visit in Oregon
- Exploring the West Coast of the USA
- Escape to the Beaches of O’ahu, Hawaii
- Why Alaska makes the ultimate outdoor family destination
If it’s more winter fun you’re looking for, why not look across the pond to the best ski resorts for families in Europe, the best places to visit in Europe in December (think traditional Christmas markets!), or if you like it warm, the best destinations in Europe for some winter sun!
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