Too many travelers believe “winter family vacation” translates to “family ski trip” when nothing could be further than the truth. We’ve left our skis/boards at home and used that second week of Christmas school holidays or a February “ski week” break to see many non-skiing, snow-covered spots – and experienced some of our most memorable family trips in the cold.
If you’ve got a warm jacket and boots, pack ‘em up for these winter trips of a lifetime.
The 10 Best Winter-y, Snowy Family Vacations
A must-do spectacle of geothermal & wildlife wonders
If your family can only make one of these winter expeditions before your kids leave home, do Yellowstone. I’d say this is one of the top five trips our family has ever taken in any season on any continent. Not only will you see both snow-covered bison and boiling geysers exhaling in the sub-zero air, but you will do it all with only a handful of other tourists. The strange and amazing geothermal oddities coupled with just about as many animals as you’d see in other seasons – even wolves if you’re lucky! – are worth it alone, but you can snowcoach, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski as long for as you can keep the frostbite at bay. Base your family in sleepy Mammoth Hot Springs, near Bozeman, so you can self-drive the frozen “American Serengeti,” or party and ski in Jackson, Wyoming and make day trips or overnights into the world’s first national park. Read more in our ROAM Report: Yellowstone in Winter – Road Trip of a Lifetime.
2. The Alps
Glistening peaks and storybook villages
If you can afford a ski resort over the Christmas holidays in America, you can afford a chalet in the French, Swiss, Austrian or Italian Alps. Of course, you’re going to have to fly the family there and that is going to cost you a pretty penny. But the magical sparkle of an Alpine village doused in Christmas? Unforgettable. Read our ROAM Report on Chamonix in the French Alps or Piedmont in Northern Italy.
3. The Rocky Mountains
Pick your powder: Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, British Columbia, or?
Whether you’re skiing or not, there’s nothing like the Mile-High air and epic powder of Rocky Mountains. From slopeside fun near Denver to snowshoeing around Lake Louise, there’s a lifetime of destinations and downhill to be explored. And for those who’ve done it all, snowkiting! Read more adventurous ideas in ROAM’s Thrills & Chills in Colorado’s Winter
The ice of Argentina and Chile both live up to their reputation
Again, a Patagonian vacation is likely best during a Northern Hemisphere spring or summer, but if you’re a fan of ice, South America holds onto the world’s best. Watching a glacier calve is an increasingly uncommon experience but one that happens with regularity in these regions. You can kayak to find penguins and take boat trips to see icebergs and trek in some of the most ruggedly handsome mountains you’ll ever see – or across a glacier, if you like. Read our ROAM Report on glaciers and hikes in Argentina or kayaking and road tripping in Chile.
5. Scandinavia’s Arctic Circle
Everything Europe offers plus a frosting of white
No one doesn’t want to stay at hotels made of ice, but there’s a lot more to see in Sweden, Norway, and Finland. winter where daytime is scarce. Yes, there’s dog sledding of every breed in every town. And maybe your best chance to see the Northern Lights. There’s ice skating, downhill and cross-country skiing galore. Plus, Christmas markets, festivals of light, and a sauna when you’re done? Nice.
6. Lake Tahoe
World-class beauty in an easy, family-friendly package
I’m lucky to have vacationed here all my life so, yes, I’m biased. But I’ve been a few places and very few compare to the grandeur of Lake Tahoe any time of year – but in winter, especially. The lake’s clear blue water is visible from the top of the lifts at the Californian and Nevadan ski resorts that ring America’s sixth-biggestlake. You can rent a cabin, condo or motel, eat in or out, go big or cheap, be active or chill – Tahoe has it all. I’m partial to the West Shore and the mellower, family-oriented slopes of Alpine Meadows or Homewood, but expert skiers swear by Squaw Valley, Northstar or Heavenly. But non-skiers needn’t worry, read ROAM’s list of ski-free Tahoe options that’ll keep any family busy for days.
Experience the exhilaration of a Yukon winter
No, the 49th state does not close in winter. Yes, some of the roads and services that cater to crowds during summer must close during the off-season but tourists can visit most of Alaska in any month. Denali National Park and its surrounding towns welcome visitors for drives, hikes and much more. Plus, you can meet American’s only team of canine rangers: sled dogs who patrol the park in snow season. Read the ROAM Report on Winter Adventuring in Denali’s Backcountry.
Legendary culture caked in legendary snow
Offering far more than red-faced monkeys in hot springs, Japan delivers above-and-beyond a typical winter vacation. In the Japanese Alps, Hokkaido, and other snowy spots, locals mix with tourists at ski resorts, ice festivals, and mountain towns. Add hot springs, hot ramen and hot sake and you’ve got the recipe for a warm and unique snow-centered trip. Read ROAM’s ideas for the best family spots in snowy Japan.
9. Churchill, Manitoba
Polar bears, Northern Lights and more
OK, technically, this one is supposed to happen before Thanksgiving when the real snow sets in. But I’m adding it here because there are more cool winter activities to do in Churchill. And when you’re writing up a winter bucket list, you gotta include something with polar bears, right?
10. National Parks of the West
Skip the summer and still see the grandeur
The only thing that surpasses the drama of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks is seeing their vistas topped in snow. Yes, you will sacrifice camping and long hikes in the backcountry but in exchange, you will make short walks and take in some of the best views in America with 1% of the crowds that visit during the summer. And these destinations can be reached on a road trip and for less money than you’d pay at other times of the year. Just pray to the weather gods for clear skies, pack your car, and aim to cruise through America’s best – you might even get a valley-floor, canyon-rim-side, or classic motel room given the off-season. But just to be sure, make lodging and dining reservations in advance – especially during Christmas/New Year’s holidays – because fewer places are open too. Read the ROAM Report – Yosemite & Sequoia in Winter.
The dream journey to your seventh continent
Save your money and pack your Dramamine for the expedition of a lifetime: Crossing from Tierra del Fuego to the iced southern territory is not for the seasick or easily chilled, but those who complete the passage never forget it. So if you’re going to splurge, try NatGeo’s cruise or consider a flight to your south pole paradise.
by Maryann Jones Thompson, ROAM Founder, November 2018
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