20 Most Beautiful Winter Towns in the U.S.

Plan a trip to these real-life winter wonderlands

<p>Nik Wheeler/Getty Images</p>

Nik Wheeler/Getty Images

Three-quarters of travelers plan to stay and play within the United States this winter, according to vacation rental company Vacasa. With so many magical domestic destinations to visit, it’s easy to see why people are choosing to stick a bit closer to home. The chilly season brings out the best in towns across the country. A dusting of fresh flakes, cozy inns, fireside cocoa, nostalgic pastimes like ice skating, and twinkling lights during the cold-weather months are the stuff of frosty travel fantasies. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to live — or, at least, vacation — inside a snow globe, these real-life winter wonderlands are proof that it would be oh-so-pretty.

Aspen, Colorado

<p>Douglas Sacha/Getty Images</p>

Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

For avid skiers and snowboarders, après-skiers, and really anyone who favors a glamorous winter vacation that doesn’t require a passport, Aspen needs no introduction. Colorado’s most alluring see-and-be-seen resort town has legendary slopeside action, plus upscale boutiques, cool galleries, renowned restaurants, and luxurious accommodations like Hotel Jermone, Auberge Resorts Collection that buzz with guests wearing stylish outfits all season long.

Leavenworth, Washington

<p>Joecho-16/Getty Images</p>

Joecho-16/Getty Images

"Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh" isn’t just a song lyric, but an actual experience in Leavenworth. This Bavarian village in the Cascade Mountains goes all out for the holidays with decorations and carolers. Even when you take the festive stuff out of the equation, it’s still the perfect winter getaway with alpine-style buildings that look even prettier after a snowfall, hearty German food, and proximity to nearby ski areas.

Whitefish, Montana

<p>Noah Clayton/Getty Images</p>

Noah Clayton/Getty Images

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, Whitefish, Montana, is winter lover's dream. Travelers keen on getting outside won’t have to look far for thrilling opportunities to mingle with Jack Frost. Whitefish Mountain Resort supplies 3,000 acres of skiable terrain. Had your fill of downhill action? Give snowmobiling or cross-country skiing a try. It’s also a tranquil time to visit Glacier National Park.

Woodstock, Vermont

<p>Fotosearch/Getty Images</p>

Fotosearch/Getty Images

Vermont isn’t lacking in outstanding winter escapes, but ask anyone who has ever been to the Green Mountain State during the colder months and they’ll undoubtedly implore you to visit Woodstock. That’s because this adorable town sets itself apart with rolling hills, old covered bridges, and historic architecture. When your toes start to tingle after walking around, warm up with a fireside cocktail or local craft brew at Richardson's Tavern.

Jackson, Wyoming

<p>wanderluster/Getty Images</p>

wanderluster/Getty Images

Jackson is a four-season vacation destination with tons to offer travelers. In the winter, that litany of enticing attributes includes access to three different ski resorts, the chance to see elk and other wildlife frolicking in the snow at Grand Teton National Park, plenty of shops for souvenirs, photo ops in front of the arch made of shed antlers in the downtown area, and post-massage dips in the hot tub at luxury resorts like Amangani.

Telluride, Colorado

<p>DOUGBERRY/Getty Images</p>

DOUGBERRY/Getty Images

Colorado serves up dozens of dazzling winter resorts, but even with stiff competition, Telluride continues to top lists. Set in a box canyon surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains on three sides, this former mining town has a booming historic district and sits at the base of a popular ski resort. That gives visitors the option of starting slow with bunny hills, swooshing down black diamonds, or simply riding the scenic gondola.

Lenox, Massachusetts

<p>Jumping Rocks/Getty Images</p>

Jumping Rocks/Getty Images

A well-established summer retreat for New Englanders going back ages, Lenox is steadily growing its reputation as a winter getaway, too. During the colder months, snow-dusted scenery, as well as cultural happenings at the many museums, theaters, and music halls, make this Berkshires town an utterly enchanting choice. Having multiple ski areas within driving distance certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Kennebunkport, Maine

<p>Daniel Hanscom/Getty Images</p>

Daniel Hanscom/Getty Images

The vast majority of Maine’s most popular summer hot spots slow down considerably in the winter. As the temps dip, so do the crowds. That means people visiting Kennebunkport in the winter can enjoy fresh seafood, boutique shopping, empty beaches, and coastal walks without the peak-season swarms, plus better rates on waterfront stays at Cape Arundel Inn & Resort and the Yachtsman Hotel & Marina Club.

Galena, Illinois

<p>PickStock/Getty Images</p>

PickStock/Getty Images

The ideal stop on a road trip from Chicago, Galena turns on the charm with its well-preserved 19th-century buildings, antique shops, and museums. It’s even harder to beat this postcard-worthy old mining town in the winter, when the forecast frequently calls for snow and Galena Cellars Winery coaxes frost-bitten visitors inside its Main Street tasting room with the promise of mulled wine.

Mystic, Connecticut

<p>shunyufan/Getty Images</p>

shunyufan/Getty Images

Mystic is a quaint, old town on the Connecticut shore that’s well known for its long-standing maritime traditions and the 1988 film "Mystic Pizza," but it's a sleeper hit in the winter. Highlights of the colder months include old-school sea captains' homes decked out with twinkling lights, seeing the iconic bascule-style drawbridge sparkling with icicles, and the peaceful atmosphere. Hot cocoa and Mystic cream doughnuts are the perfect seasonal sweet treats.

Lake Placid, New York

<p>Cavan Images/Getty Images</p>

Cavan Images/Getty Images

A favorite upstate New York destination for winter sports, Lake Placid is basically built around a love of all things outdoors. The average 103 inches of snow that falls annually transforms the already idyllic region into a hot spot for cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. It’s also really cool (no pun intended) to see the various Olympic venues during the time of year they were designed to be used.

Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

<p>Westersoe/Getty Images</p>

Westersoe/Getty Images

With a nickname like the “Switzerland of America” and a location in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains, it’s fair to assume that Jim Thorpe is an epic alpine escape in the winter. Prospective travelers looking for a little convincing only need to turn their attention to the ski slopes, serene woodland trails, and heritage-rich attractions. The annual Winterfest celebration held in mid-February features ice carvings, live entertainment, the Mug Walk, and scenic train rides.

Fairbanks, Alaska

<p>Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon/Getty Images</p>

Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon/Getty Images

While the conversation surrounding northern lights typically revolves around the far reaches of Iceland or Norway, Fairbanks provides nightly opportunities to see the aurora borealis without leaving the country. During the day, travelers can choose between active and leisure pursuits or try a bit of both. That might look like dog mushing in the morning, followed by an afternoon soaking in the hot springs.

Stowe, Vermont

<p>capecodphoto/Getty Images</p>

capecodphoto/Getty Images

One of the prettiest small towns in the entire country, Stowe shines even brighter in the winter months when heaps of snow envelop this picture-perfect part of Vermont. Outdoor activities run the gamut from downhill skiing and ice skating to snowmobiling and fat biking. More photo ops come from frozen Bingham Falls, the many covered bridges, and quintessential New England architecture. The Trapp Family Lodge is an Austrian-inspired resort to retire after a day of frosty fun.

Frankenmuth, Michigan

<p>Craig Sterken/Getty Images</p>

Craig Sterken/Getty Images

A festive-sounding name for a town that really gets into the yuletide spirit, Frankenmuth wows all winter long. Seriously, “Michigan’s Little Bavaria” could make even the most staunch snowbird change their tune with its powder-draped storybook buildings, outdoor ice rink in Zehnder Park, and horse-drawn carriage rides. Don’t forget to hit Bronner’s, which advertises itself as the world’s largest Christmas store.

Mammoth Lakes, California

<p>Bloomberg/Getty Images</p>

Bloomberg/Getty Images

Mammoth Lakes receives an average snowfall of 295 inches annually. That just gives this mountain town in California's Sierra Nevada range — and the gorgeous landscape surrounding it — even more of a glow. It’s also home to one of the country's largest ski resorts. Of course, the outdoor action doesn’t start and end with the highest chairlift-serviced peak in the Golden State. There are miles of trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling, too.

North Conway, New Hampshire

<p>Cavan Images/Getty Images</p>

Cavan Images/Getty Images

North Conway draws droves of winter travelers who flock to this picturesque New Hampshire town for outdoor recreation and the chance to admire the breathtaking scenery. It’s a paradise for skiing, snowboarding, and family-friendly sledding. Prefer to marvel at the majesty of Mother Nature from the comfort of a heated coach? Hop aboard the Conway Scenic Railroad. If the mood strikes, you can even get off at Attitash for a spin around the ice and return to the train later in the day.

Lanesboro, Minnesota

<p>wanderluster/Getty Images</p>

wanderluster/Getty Images

Winter in Lanesboro — a gem of a town that’s tucked away in the bluffs of the Root River Valley, about two hours southeast of the Twin Cities — looks like a painting. Take advantage of the powder that covers the 60-mile Root River State Trail by embarking on a cross-country skiing or snowshoeing expedition. Need a respite from the frigid weather in December, January, and February? Nab tickets to a play at Commonweal Theatre Company.

Custer, South Dakota

<p>Tim Bieber/Getty Images</p>

Tim Bieber/Getty Images

Winter is one of the best and most beautiful times to visit Custer. This small town in the Black Hills of South Dakota gives off Hallmark movie vibes when the historic downtown shimmers under a flurry of snow. Custer State Park encompasses 71,000 acres of peaks, pine trees, and rolling plains where buffalo roam. It’s also a thrill-a-minute destination for skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.

Sun Valley, Idaho

<p>Jordan Siemens/Getty Images</p>

Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

Many people don’t realize that destination skiing actually began in Sun Valley, Idaho. Covering both Bald Mountain and nearby Dollar Mountain, it’s a time-honored resort area favored during the frosty season for its diverse terrain that includes both beginner-friendly and expert-level slopes. If you’d rather do something with less of a steep learning curve, consider snowshoeing, indoor bowling, or a scenic sleigh ride.

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