PHOENIX (Stacker) — If it feels like all of your friends are heading off on tropical vacations this winter, consider heading down a different path with a visit to a quaint, cozy American town.
Whether you’re interested in dog-sledding through the wilds of Wyoming or touring luxurious mansions along the coast of Rhode Island, Stacker rounded up a list of 50 favorite small-town destinations with something to offer everyone. Towns were selected based on visitor opinions, ratings from nationwide publications like U.S. News & World Report, Country Living, and Travel & Leisure, as well as available activities, landmarks, and other tourist attractions.
Buoyed by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which runs April through October 2023, this quaint small town is home to cultural opportunities that defy its size. The temperate forest climate means that many of the town’s ample hiking trails—more than 50 miles worth—are still accessible in winter, making Ashland a must-visit for the outdoorsy types.
Rapid City, South Dakota
With its close proximity to Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the breathtaking Badlands, Rapid City is an ideal base for winter travelers to the region. The South Dakota town is home to a charming downtown lined with shops, restaurants, and an ice skating rink that’s larger than the one at Rockefeller Center.
Newport, Rhode Island
The “City by the Sea” illuminates during the winter, making it an ideal weekend getaway. Tour the collection of stately Rhode Island mansions, including the gardens of The Breakers, the Gilded Age home of the Vanderbilt family. And don’t miss the Newport Harbor Illuminated Boat Parade, which kicks off the season on Nov. 25 with an assortment of yachts, boats, kayaks, and canoes decked with holiday decor.
El Dorado, Arkansas
This former oil boomtown is home to the longest-running Christmas parade in Arkansas, ensuring no shortage of Southern holiday charm. Music lovers will relish the Murphy Arts District, El Dorado’s entertainment and arts hub, which brings various concerts to town throughout the season.
Surrounded by the majestic Teton mountains and blanketed in snow early in the season, it’s no wonder that Jackson is frequently named one of the country’s best small towns in winter. Its main square even dresses up for the season, as its famous elk antler arches are adorned with an array of lights. Stay at the nearby Spring Creek Ranch to enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides and other wintry activities like dog-sledding.
This popular Midwestern college town shines in the winter: The IU Jacobs School of Music puts on its famed Chimes of Christmas production, the quaint Fountain Square Mall is dressed up with elaborate lights and holiday decor, and the surrounding hills, forests, and lakes are blanketed in pristine snow. Whether you’re an art lover or prefer to spend your time outdoors, Bloomington makes an ideal winter respite.
Asbury Park, New Jersey
Now considered one of America’s coolest small towns, this beachside destination offers plenty during the winter months. Visit one of the town’s numerous holiday bazaars and markets, stroll the beach boardwalk, admire the idyllic Victorian homes, or check out a show at the historic Stone Pony (open year-round!).
Downhill skiing is obviously a huge draw for visitors to this mountainous Colorado town, but there are plenty of other appealing things to do in “Breck,” like great shopping in the town’s well-preserved Victorian downtown area, snowshoeing, and dog-sledding. Don’t miss the Express Superchair at Breckenridge Ski Resort, the highest chairlift in North America.
Another top ski destination, Stowe is home to Vermont’s tallest mountain, Mount Mansfield. The town itself resembles a Norman Rockwell painting, surrounded by storybook scenery that’s stunning under a blanket of snow. Don’t skip a snowshoe romp on the Stowe Recreation Path for a unique winter excursion.
West Yellowstone, Montana
The vast majority of Yellowstone National Park’s nearly 5 million annual visitors arrive in the summer, which makes winter prime time if you want to feel like you have part of the 2.2 million-acre park to yourself. West Yellowstone (just outside of the park’s west entrance) is a perfect home base for exploration, and it’s also home to the can’t-miss Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.
Barryville, New York
This tiny hamlet is the perfect place for a beautiful, relaxing weekend in upstate New York. Nestled by the Delaware River at the New York and Pennsylvania borders, Barryville features scenic views of the river and surrounding Sullivan Catskills. Stay at the ECCE Bed & Breakfast for a romantic B&B experience, and visit the Stickett Inn for Intelligentsia coffee and other treats from local purveyors.
Livingston Manor, New York
Also nestled in the Sullivan Catskills, Livingston Manor offers everything you’ll need for a cozy winter escape. Enjoy local brews at the Catskill Brewery, stay at the Arnold House for a grown-up sleepaway camp vibe, and indulge in the Saturday evening tasting menu at the DeBruce. Want an outdoor adventure? Try ice fishing, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.
The sun might not come out very often during Leavenworth’s winter season, but this Pacific Northwest gem has all the charm of a little Bavarian village. After hitting the slopes, ride a horse-drawn sleigh through the place that A&E once named the “Ultimate Holiday Town.”
With a name like Bethlehem, it’s no surprise that this Pennsylvania town is also called the “Christmas City.” Winter visitors will delight in seeing the historic Moravian District—which dates back to the town’s founding in 1741—under a blanket of snow. Don’t miss the Christkindlmarkt, often recognized as one of the best holiday markets in the United States.
Nestled in the rolling Texas Hill Country, this small town is best known for its wineries, antique stores, and 19th-century architecture. The year-round temperate climate and walkable downtown make Fredericksburg a charming destination any time of the year.
Lenox makes a great base for wintry exploration of Massachusetts’ popular Berkshires region. Museum-goers can find themselves lost in the region’s world-class museums—the Clark, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art—and charming hotel options like 33 Main and Blantyre make this a luxurious, culture-filled retreat.
Estes Park, Colorado
Celebrating winter in Estes Park means great skiing, local beer and wine, and not as many people! Mostly a summer destination, Estes Park isn’t as crowded in the winter as the other Colorado mainstays, meaning that you can spend more gliding along the slopes (or lounging in front of the fireplace).
Situated at the entrance of a canyon, Telluride is surrounded by some of Colorado’s most scenic peaks. The town—just eight blocks wide and 12 blocks long—is a National Historic Landmark District. Its jewel-box Victorian homes, boutiques, and art galleries make it ripe for a whole weekend’s worth of exploration.
If you’ve ever yearned for a New England Christmas by the sea, Kennebunk is your place. This tranquil Maine town has plenty of charms in the winter, like the Christmas Prelude celebration that runs in December.
Mammoth Lakes, California
This mountain town’s namesake peak gets more than 30 feet of snow every winter, making it a veritable winter wonderland. But pack your sunscreen—it also boasts more than 300 days of sun. The neighboring village offers shops, nightlife, and dining, plus the mountain’s gondola that climbs to 11,053 feet and is open to non-skiers.
Vermont’s capital city has all the charm of a quaint mountain town with just enough bustle to feel like a thriving, small city. Nestled against the scenic Green Mountains, spend your time in Montpelier touring the landmark state capital, the Vermont History Museum, and the buzzing restaurant scene.
If you want to live out your “Frozen” dreams, come to Midway. The town is home to incredible ice castles each winter weighing around 25 million pounds. Other wintry adventures in this small Utah town include scuba diving (yes, you read that right!) at the Homestead Crater, fishing at the nearby Deer Creek Dam and Reservoir, and plenty of options for skiing and snowboarding.
Winter is a pleasant time in Hamilton, as the town’s position in the Bitterroot Valley protects it from harsh blizzard conditions and record-breaking wind chills. In the town itself, you can enjoy winter festivals, craft fairs, and live cultural events put on by the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte is regularly named among the best American ski towns, but there’s plenty to do off the mountain as well. If you still want to break a sweat, strap on some snowshoes or hit the trail on a “fat bike,” a specially equipped bicycle that allows you to ride on the snowiest of roads. Stroll down scenic Elk Avenue for the town’s best shopping—and don’t miss Chopwood Mercantile, a perfectly curated outdoor goods store.
Winter marks a great time to visit Texas’ high desert. Marfa has long been a haven for artists seeking seclusion, but a new influx of hoteliers and chefs has put this tiny cowboy town on the map. Explore Donald Judd’s art at the Chinati Foundation, and check out novel lodging options—like sleeping in a teepee under the stars at El Cosmico, or relaxing in style at the historic El Paisano Hotel.
Dominated by the stunning peaks of Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain, Ketchum’s surrounding winter landscape is a snow globe-like wonderland of rolling hills, dense evergreens, and stark white aspen. World-class skiing has brought the crowds for decades, but Ketchum and neighboring Sun Valley also boast a dizzying array of restaurants, shopping, and spas.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Occupying the unique space between Midwestern charm and cosmopolitan urban energy, Detroit offers world-class theater, performing arts, and museum experiences. Don’t miss Midnight Madness on Dec. 2, the town’s annual one-night event, where local boutiques along Main Street stay open late for holiday shopping.
Big Bear Lake, California
Visitors can zoom down miles of groomed runs at Big Bear Lake’s alpine resorts. But off the slopes, the town’s unique features include an impressive population of bald eagles, a delicious Himalayan restaurant, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, and winter activities ranging from snowshoeing to zip-lining.
Fairbanks should be at the top of your to-do list if your winter travel goal is to see the northern lights. The eerie glow is at its best from mid-September to late April, but that’s not the only draw for this eastern Alaska town. Visitors can also enjoy the World Ice Art Championships from Feb. 17 through March 31, Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, and nearby Chena Hot Springs.
Oregon’s scenic coast is stunning any time of the year, but winter is an especially good time to visit Astoria. Take a scenic beach hike at Fort Stevens State Park (including a stop to see the wreckage of sailing vessel Peter Iredale) and then continue the nautical theme with a fish-and-chips lunch from Bowpicker—a quirky stand constructed from an old fishing boat. After a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum, take a quick drive out of town to see the stunning Youngs River Falls.
Sedona’s a mythical place—and rightly so. The famed Red Rocks are especially alluring during the winter, and luckily, the town’s 4,500-foot elevation makes for mostly mild winters. Spend your days in Sedona visiting local wine-tasting rooms, going on scenic hikes, or even enjoying a luxe spa treatment at one of the many surrounding wellness retreats.
Taos, New Mexico
New Mexico is the hot air balloon capital of the world, and there’s almost no bad season for a balloon ride. Try a morning trip and take in incredible views of the snow-covered Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Rio Grande Gorge. Afterward, visit Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort, or strap on some snowshoes and hit one of the many wilderness canyons—where you can hike for hours without seeing another person.
Lake Placid, New York
For decades, Lake Placid’s ubiquitous charm and nostalgia have made it a top winter travel destination. Home to two Winter Olympics, Lake Placid offers every winter sporting activity imaginable, but the town is also home to great dining, hotels, and even three local breweries.
This picturesque Oregon town has everything whether you want an active winter getaway or a cozy retreat. Located three hours southeast of Portland, Sisters is known for its natural beauty, but it’s also full of art galleries, eccentric shops, and a surprising number of live music venues—making it a perfect place to spend a few wintry days tucked away.
Woodstock is cold, but there’s plenty to warm you up in this small Vermont town. Stop at the famous Harpoon Brewery for a pint of seasonal Winter Warmer, then pop across the street to American Crafted Spirits to try the bourbon and flavored vodkas. Stay at the renovated Woodstock Inn, a stately property originally built by the Rockefeller Family.
Lake George, New York
If you’re looking for an activity-packed winter getaway, the Adirondack town of Lake George is a great place to find it. The town held its inaugural Winter Carnival in 1961, and more than a half-century later, this celebration of outdoor winter activities continues throughout February. Afterward, cozy up next to one of the three stone fireplaces at the Log Jam Restaurant.
Nestled in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country (watch out for horse-drawn buggies!), charming Lebanon is well worth an afternoon or weekend visit. Shoppers will covet its farmers markets, outlets, and specialty shops, especially Wertz Candies (and its famous opera fudge). For a snowy afternoon in town, explore the Lebanon County Historical Society, housed in an 18th-century doctor’s home.
Despite the harsh weather, Maine doesn’t spend winter in hibernation. Bangor’s performance venues—the Penobscot Theatre, Cross Insurance Center, Collins Center for the Arts, and the Gracie Theatre—offer theater and concerts throughout the season. And if you want some fresh air, lace up—many of the town’s outdoor parks are turned into ice-skating rinks.
Saratoga Springs, New York
Winter brings a host of events to Saratoga Springs, including road-running races, dance festivals, and its well-known restaurant week. Two standouts include the town’s Saratoga Craft Marketplace and the Saratoga Festival of Trees, at which hundreds of beautifully decorated trees, wreaths, centerpieces, and other holiday items are on display.
St. Cloud, Minnesota
Minnesota winters are tough, but natives make the best of it with fun activities and events. The St. Cloud region neighbors the annual Spicer WinterFest, featuring a polar plunge, pond racing, a “Fire on Ice” dance, and more.
With tons of outdoor opportunities in the winter months, Logan is perfect for any active visitor who wants to cozy up by a fireplace at the evening’s end. Spend your day ice fishing in Cache Valley, elk-viewing at Hardware Ranch, or snow tubing at Cherry Peak Resort.
It’s easy to understand why skiers flock to Bozeman, but what do you do if skiing isn’t your thing? Luckily, this southern Montana town still has lots to offer in the winter. Chico Hot Springs is a popular destination—but if you want to warm up in a different way, visit one of Bozeman’s many breweries for a soul-warming porter or stout.
Traverse City, Michigan
Traverse City offers visitors one of the most beautiful wintry landscapes around. And while it may not have the idyllic downhill ski runs of Utah or Colorado, this northern Michigan town still has its share of winter attractions. For a new twist on the slopes, try night skiing at Timber Ridge Recreation Resort, or take a fat bike for a spin on Traverse City’s Winter Sports Singletrack Trail.
This Danish-inspired village offers a wintry experience that will make you feel like you’re in Scandinavia. An abundance of fun holiday festivities—ranging from a Julefest parade Dec. 3 to “A Cowboy Christmas” during Advent—make Solvang a great seasonal destination, especially if you stay at one of several cozy, nearby inns.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Pigeon Forge shines during the winter when the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park—the second-most-visited national park in 2021—is far less crowded than in the summer months. After hiking some of its 800 miles of trail, visit Old Forge Distillery or Ole Smoky Moonshine for a nip to warm up.
Beech Mountain, North Carolina
The smallest town on our list, this North Carolina locale is home to Beech Mountain Ski Resort, a winter wonderland nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Winter also brings some of the top musical acts of the southeast to the town as part of its Beech Mountain Winter Music Series.
North Conway, New Hampshire
A year-round resort area, North Conway offers the trappings of a quintessential New England town alongside exhilarating outdoor adventure—like hiking in the White Mountain National Forest and rock climbing at Echo Lake State Park. Visitors can also take a ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad, which departs from the village’s Victorian station.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Galena was once an American mining boomtown. Today, Galena’s architecture and history are a strong draw for visitors, especially the DeSoto House Hotel—the oldest operating hotel in the state.
Home to the University of Virginia and Monticello, Charlottesville has many draws for history buffs and nature lovers alike. Nearby Shenandoah National Park offers stunning views and winter hiking, while the town’s renovated Paramount Theater hosts performances like Broadway shows and big-ticket concerts. Charlottesville is also home to seven breweries within its city limits, notably Blue Ridge Brewery—once owned and managed by the grandchildren of writer William Faulkner.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Cheese curds, ice fishing, and chilly camping are wintry draws for visitors to Green Bay, which is probably best known for its NFL team. If the bitter cold doesn’t scare you off, the Green Bay Packers’ Titletown District opens a skating pond and trail during winter.
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