42 Winter Wonderlands Worth Your Money
If you tend to travel only during the warmer months, you’re missing out on all that winter has to offer. Yes, winter weather can make travel difficult. But it can also create a scenic wonderland ideal for skiing, sleigh rides and other outdoor activities. Plus, prices drop significantly in certain areas during the winter.
If you’re thinking about taking a winter vacation, consider going someplace where you can experience winter at its best. Click through to see breathtaking winter wonderlands around the world.
1. Quebec City
The capital of Canada’s Quebec province might feel like France, but it costs half as much, said Elizabeth Avery, founder of Solo Trekker 4 U. That’s because it’s one of the destinations where your dollar goes further.
Plus, the cold winter weather drives prices down after the holidays, with accommodation rates as low as $86 per night in February, she said.
Winter is a great time to visit this city, though, because it offers skiing, ice skating, dog sledding and a family-friendly winter carnival. The Carnaval de Québec — held in 2018 from Jan. 26 through Feb. 11 — is one of the largest winter festivals in the world and boasts parades, sporting events and snow sculptures, said Clem Bason, CEO of the hotel search site goSeek.
2. Banff, Canada
This town within Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies is truly a winter wonderland, boasting plenty of activities ranging from ice fishing and dogsledding to downhill and cross-country skiing, said Emily Bernard, co-founder of travel tour and activity booking site, PlacePass.
“The scenery in the area is jaw-dropping,” she said.
There are a variety of lodging options, including hostels, inns and resorts. Fortunately, the U.S. dollar goes a bit further in Canada — the average daily cost in Banff is only $73 per person.
3. Tromso, Norway
To experience winter in the Arctic, head to the picturesque city of Tromso — which has an average daily cost of only $11 per person.
“The winter resort city of Tromso offers all kinds of interesting sightseeing opportunities, from visiting indigenous villages to cross-country skiing to incredible northern lights viewing,” said Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and founder of the travel blog Ask the Pilot.
4. Yosemite National Park, Calif.
Winter is a great time to visit this national park because there are no crowds, said Dylan Gallagher, owner of Orange Sky Adventures. Enjoy the waterfalls and snow-covered cliffs in solitude or check out the nearby downhill and cross-country skiing.
The average daily cost is $87 per person. But sure you learn about the park’s hidden fees to avoid breaking the bank on your vacation.
5. Park City, Utah
If mixing snow with sports is more your speed, point your snowboarding goggles toward Park City, which is known for its world-class ski resorts. Conveniently located about 35 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport, Park City offers skiing, bobsled riding, hot air ballooning, snowmobiling, sleigh rides, snow tubing, mountain biking and more than 400 miles of hiking trails.
This old mining town has modernized, too. For your travel buddies who aren’t into extreme sports, Park City offers one of the best winter vacations for culture buffs. In January, the area plays host to the Sundance Film Festival, and Main Street is a hotbed for arts, fine dining and live music. Lodges and ski resorts are the name of the game here, and the average daily cost in this city is $374.
6. Harbin, China
Starting in December and running through early 2018, the northern Chinese city of Harbin will host its 34th International Ice and Snow Sculpture festival, one of the most famous events of its kind. Unique among winter destinations, Harbin offers a slate of icy events such as snow sculpture competitions, ice lantern displays, art fairs, parades, concerts, skiing and more.
When the festival hits, Harbin becomes a neon-drenched theme park of ice and snow, with a carnival-like atmosphere and snow sculptures bigger than buildings. And you’ll have plenty of money to spend on sleigh rides and souvenirs, as the daily average cost is less than $50.
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7. Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg’s scenery is the very definition of a winter wonderland, said Erin Zipperle, founder of the travel blog Surviving Europe. Some of Austria’s most famous ski resorts are nearby, and Salzburg hosts an annual Christkindlmarkt — Christmas market — in the center of Old Town with crafts, food and drinks.
The prices stay fairly consistent year-round, and this city in the Alps is very affordable, Zipperle said. According to Budget Your Trip, the average daily cost is $115.
8. Tallinn, Estonia
Ever wanted to spend your vacation inside a snow globe? If so, Tallinn might just be your dream destination. This immaculately preserved medieval town caters to those seeking a quiet stay, though nightclubs and a thriving film scene keep things interesting.
Though the coastal town works just fine as a lazy beach getaway, it really comes to life during the holidays. Stroll through the cobblestone streets of the Tallinn Christmas Market and enjoy comforting gingerbread, warm spiced wines and cool live jazz.
Named the No. 1 best value among travel destinations for 2018 by Lonely Planet — which notes that “the food trucks here offer Instagrammable fill-ups that won’t tax your wallet” — Tallinn won’t break the bank, either. The average daily cost is $83.
9. Reykjavik, Iceland
Okay, so maybe it’s cheating to include Iceland on a list of the best winter destinations, but one look at Reykjavik and you’ll understand why it belongs here. The most northerly capital on earth combines old-world architecture, modern vibes and a thriving foodie scene. But be aware that the average daily cost is $308.
In winter, Tjornin Pond becomes a skate-able mirror of ice. Additionally, the arts-oriented Winter Lights Festival in February turns the city into a beautiful, glowing installation while celebrating Reykjavik’s culture, including its museums and steamy thermal pools.
10. Yellowstone National Park
One of the most impressive yet affordable winter wonderlands in the world is Yellowstone National Park, which budget travelers can tackle for a doable $39 per person per day. Just watch out for some of the park’s hidden expenses, and you’ll stay on budget.
You’ll get plenty for your money in the winter, including snow-packed meadows, frosted woods, easily visible wildlife and the magic of hot geysers spewing against cold snow. Even better, with just two open hotels, you’ll have small crowds and a much more intimate experience.
11. Lake Tahoe, Nev./Calif.
If you’re looking to save money on your winter ski vacation, set your sights on Lake Tahoe. Visitors on a budget can experience this winter retreat for an average of $41 per person per day.
The area is known for skiing and snowboarding, but the winter fun doesn’t stop there. Try dog-sledding, Clydesdale-driven sleigh rides, snowshoeing, sledding and snowmobiling on for size. Or, just chill out with a cup of spiked hot cocoa and take in the breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
12. Anywhere, Colo.
A true American winter paradise, the state of Colorado is home to 26 ski resorts. Urban settings like Denver and Collins are holiday destinations. But the more adventurous can wander out to the state’s sparsely populated valleys and mountains for horse-drawn sleigh rides or tubing and sledding adventures in places like Keystone, Vail, Fraser and Copper Mountain.
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Vail is the quintessential ski resort — and one of the largest in the world, with more than 5,200 acres of ski and snowboard terrain, according to Vail Resorts.
“It’s cheaper if you travel there the first couple weeks of December, before ski season picks up,” said Lindsey Epperly, a luxury travel consultant and owner of Epperly Travel. “Most places are already decorated for Christmas, so it’s a great scenic getaway.”
Ice fishing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, ice climbing and snowmobiling are all on the winter menu throughout the state. Just make sure your budget is large enough for where you want to go. The average daily cost per person in Vail is $233, according to Budget Your Trip, an online travel guide. But budget traveler can base up in Colorado Springs for $74 per person per day. To save more money, check out these free things to do.
13. Glacier National Park, Mont.
If it’s got the word “glacier” in it, it must be a great place to spend the winter — and this rule holds true for the rugged, wild and remote paradise that is Glacier National Park. For just $44 per day per person, budget travelers can escape to one of the most pristine winter wonderlands in the world.
There are boundless camping opportunities in the park, where roads close as snow continues to pile up throughout the season. Ranger-led snowshoe walks are among the most popular adventures.
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14. Boise, Idaho
You can get by in Boise on just $52 per day. Beer connoisseurs can rest easy knowing that when they need a break from the cold Boise winter wind and snow, they have any number of options to retreat indoors in one of the country’s greatest unsung craft brew cities.
Boise’s historic downtown is walkable, even in winter, and visitors can get to know the largest concentration of Basque Americans in the entire country. In the evening, the mural-painted city lights up, reflecting off the snow and rugged surrounding landscape.
15. Cody, Wyo.
Cody is a perfect option for travelers on a budget looking for family fun in the winter. You can do the town on as little as $70 per person per day — and you’ll get plenty of frozen bang for your buck.
Although it’s close to Yellowstone National Park, you’ll never have to leave the town to enjoy an amazing snowcation. You can take a snowcoach tour of the area’s stunning landscape and wildlife or, if you’re feeling adventurous, go ice climbing on one of Cody’s many frozen waterfalls.
16. Rapid City, S.D.
Rapid City is a town built for winter, so virtually all of its awesome attractions stay open throughout the season. Try ice skating at Main Street Square or take in the sparkling and spectacular Christmas Nights of Light display at Storybook Island. Enjoy a Rapid City Rush hockey game or tour the North Pole (sort of) on the Holiday Express on 1880 Train.
This historic city also happens to be a cheap destination you’ll want to visit. All this can be yours on a ridiculously low budget of $40 per person per day.
17. Grand Teton National Park, Wyo.
When winter falls on Grand Teton National Park, the Teton Range is blanketed with snow and frigid cold, creating a peaceful and serene landscape. Local wildlife includes large predators, many roads are closed and avalanches are not unheard of. Yet for the boldest adventurers, backcountry winter camping is open and available.
Average visitors, however, will likely spend their vacation on safe, ranger-led snowshoe walks, snowmobile rides, guided tours or cross-country skiing trips. A single person can enjoy the park for about $42 per day.
18. Nova Scotia, Canada
Festivals, regional culinary events and a seemingly endless selection of outdoor activities are par for the course during a Nova Scotia winter. The first thing you’ll notice, however, is the sheer beauty of the place in wintertime. The majesty of the dense forests, lighthouse-dotted waterways and mountains is highlighted by the deep snow and clear air.
Snowshoeing, old-fashioned sleigh rides, ice skating and downhill skiing are just part of the fun. If you’re on a budget, $52 will get a tight-walleted traveler through a single day.
19. Acadia National Park, Maine
Travelers with mid-range budgets should consider a trip to one of the Northeast’s great national parks and winter wonderlands: Acadia. You’ll find 45 miles of carriage roads for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, 32 miles of which might be groomed, depending on weather conditions.
The solace you’ll find in the park’s rugged wilderness is hard to come by in today’s America. Rent a snowmobile or take in the solitude with a winter hike — all for about $138 per day per person.
20. Denali National Park, Alaska
If you’re truly looking to experience a place that embodies winter, you must visit Denali National Park — which you can do on a modest budget of $175 per person per day. It’s one of many must-see destinations in Alaska.
The park does not close for the season. In fact, it maintains a winter visitor center. If you’re looking for overwhelming solitude, you’re in the right place. In warmer months, Denali is teeming with life, but in the winter when minus-40 temperatures are common, that life is hibernating or long gone on southward migration. The brave, however, will experience the northern lights, arctic camping and the community’s legendary Winterfest Celebration.
21. Niagara Falls, Canada
Experience the sheer power and raw beauty of North America’s most iconic system of waterfalls: Niagara Falls. Although you can pull it off for less, travelers with a large budget can enjoy everything the enormous natural wonder has to offer for $220 per person per day.
In the winter, Canadians go all out in the region. Ice sculptures dot the landscape, and the Winter Festival of Lights, which is free, ignites the sky with millions of individual lights in the trees and on the ground. Then, of course, there are the falls themselves, parts of which have actually frozen during the coldest winters.
22. Levi, Finland
Husky safaris. Reindeer-powered nature tours. Visits to Icelandic horse stables. These are just a few of the things you’ll find everywhere in Levi. In this magical place, you can go ice fishing during the day and take a horse safari tour at night to hunt for the legendary northern lights. Want more? Soak up the heat in a Finnish sauna or a ride on an ice-breaker cruise.
Levi is one of the planet’s true winter wonderlands. Mid-budget travelers can experience it for about $118 per person per day.
23. New Brunswick, Canada
Canada is bursting with winter paradises. Few, however, compare to New Brunswick, which is home to four ski hills, an entrenched dogsledding and snowmobile culture, and a network of parks that become snowy playgrounds in the winter. Comprehensive snowfall maps let visitors know exactly where to find the fluffiest white stuff for winter walking and snowshoeing.
Although you can pull it off for less, travelers looking for a high-end vacation can do New Brunswick in style for $243 per person per day.
24. Piedmont, Italy
The mountainous Piedmont region of Northern Italy is home to one of the world’s first ski resorts. The region’s status as a world-class winter sports haven remained relatively unknown, however, before the 2006 Olympics, which let the cat out of the bag.
Surrounded on three sides by the Alps on the borders of France and Switzerland, the region is bursting with ski, snowshoe and winter hiking trails. Piedmont, which translates to “foot of the mountain,” is home to the highest peaks and biggest glaciers in the whole of Italy. Travelers with modest budgets can tour Piedmont for $102 per day per person.
While contemplating whether Tibet is “Asia’s best winter destination,” CNN called the towering, 13,000-foot-high snowfields of the Tibetan Plateau “otherworldly.” Thin air, frozen rivers and ancient monasteries checker the landscape. Like the scenery, the resilient locals who inhabit the place — along with their food, dress and religion — seem to exist outside of the modern world bustling miles down below.
You can live this elevated experience for $120 per person per day — or a lot less if you’re looking to save.
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26. St. Petersburg, Russia
Few places are as majestic as old Russia in the wintertime, and when it comes to old Russia, few cities stand as tall as St. Petersburg. Russian winters have spelled doom for empires and armies throughout history. But for travelers, the experience can be magical.
One of the most beautiful, architecturally important and heavily fortified cities in the world, St. Petersburg becomes a frozen wonderland during the long Russian winter. A writer for The Telegraph once described the experience “like stepping into a Russian novel.” A high-end stay there can be yours for about $164 per person per day.
27. Lombardy, Italy
Known for its capital city of Milan, the Lombardy region of Italy is home to some of the finest Alpine resorts in the entire Alps mountain range. The towering, jagged, snow-capped mountains create the backdrop of one of Europe’s most scenic winter wonderlands.
Visitors can indulge in some of the world’s finest wine and food when they’re not taking part in the region’s nearly endless menu of outdoor activities. Luxury travelers can enjoy all Lombardy has to offer for about $305 per person per day.
Nestled between France and Spain, high in the Pyrenees Mountains, tiny Andorra is a paradise for winter buffs who thrive in the cold — especially if they love snow sports. With 183 ski runs, there’s a slope for every skill level — no place in the world has a higher density of ski lifts.
The entire region is a seemingly endless sea of snow-covered peaks and valleys that extends to the horizon in all directions. Skiers might feel remote and isolated coasting down the tall peaks, but you’re never more than 17.4 miles from the principality’s capital city. You can vacation in Andorra like a VIP for $318 per person per day.
Winters in Luxembourg are all about gingerbread and mulled Luxembourgish wine, cold weather and centuries of history and culture. Arched bridges and soaring steeples dominate the Old Europe architecture.
Charming, quaint and winter-obsessed, the tiny nation is tucked between Belgium, France and Germany. A luxury vacation there costs about $346 per person per day.
30. Oslo, Norway
Norway, the northernmost outpost of Europe, exists in the frigid expanse across the Norwegian Sea from Iceland and, a little farther out, the frozen tundra of Greenland. Its capital city, Oslo, is steeped in winter culture dating back to the reign of the Vikings.
Today, the European winter paradise is a cold-weather destination complete with ice skating, Alpine skiing and Oslo’s legendary sled runs. The Oslo Winter Park honors the season, and the city’s many Viking museums and exhibits bring a frigid past to life. Expect to spend $267 per person per day for a trip that might convince you to skip Christmas at home and travel instead.
31. Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France
The Chamonix-Mont-Blanc Valley, called the Valley of Dreams, is a village snuggled between the soaring mountaintops on the border of Switzerland. In the winter, the region’s pristine Alpine lakes freeze over and chamois, red squirrels and deer become commons sights.
Cherished by mountaineers and skiers, the valley bursts with winter activities, including sightseeing at altitude, dog hiking, dog sledding, paragliding and pony trekking. Ready to climb? A luxury trip to the valley costs $318 per person per day.
32. Lucerne, Switzerland
Switzerland represents the physical embodiment of winter paradise — and there, Lucerne is in a class of its own. For the luxury traveler who can afford $287 per person per day, visitors can move between the 24 snow sport resorts amid Lake Lucerne’s snow-covered landscape. Winter adventures in the pristine countryside include rides on the Central Switzerland Snow Pass, and winter walking and snowshoeing.
33. Lake Placid, N.Y.
The host city for two Winter Olympic Games, Lake Placid, N.Y., is the ideal spot to enjoy some winter fun. You can tour the Olympic sites to see where history was made.
Additionally, you can ski on Whiteface Mountain, go ice climbing on frozen waterfalls, ice skate, enjoy a dogsled ride or take advantage of numerous other outdoor activities. The Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa offers holiday packages starting at $936 for a two-night stay for a family of four.
34. Big Sky, Mont.
Big Sky is also close to Yellowstone National Park, where you can hike, cross-country ski or snowmobile. And while Big Sky Resort is one of the largest ski areas in North America, it’s not crowded — so you won’t have to wait more than a couple minutes in lift lines, said Buzz Tatom, a partner with Montana real estate company Venture West Ranches. Lift tickets range from $59 to $130 for adults.
“Wildlife and landscape viewing is incredible,” Tatom said. “There are few crowds, and you have Yellowstone to yourself in the winter.”
35. Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Surrounded by mountains, this popular ski area is a must-see in the winter. Additionally, you can go snowmobiling, dogsledding or sleigh riding among the elk at the National Elk Refuge.
Jackson Hole resorts can be pricey, but if you want to save money on your ski trip, you can find affordable lodging and ski packages at the Snow King Resort. Rates start at $150 per night for ski and lodging packages, said Ariel Koerber, the facility’s marketing information coordinator.
36. Mount Washington Valley, N.H.
Mount Washington Valley is made up of 27 towns and villages that surround Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast, said Marti Mayne, public relations manager for the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. At the center is North Conway, which is home to 13 ski resorts and was voted one of the top U.S. ski towns.
Mount Washington offers plenty to do — including two mountain coasters, indoor water parks, snow tubing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, sleigh rides and more, Mayne said. And TripAdvisor named North Conway the most affordable ski town in the East two years in a row.
“There are more than 150 lodging options to choose from for every budget,” she said. For example, the North Conway Grand Hotel has rooms starting at $89 in December.
37. Saint Paul, Minn.
You can celebrate winter at America’s oldest winter festival in St. Paul, said Bason. The Saint Paul Winter Carnival runs from Jan. 25 through Feb. 10 and features parades, a snow park, ice palaces and more.
As an added incentive, St. Paul’s hotel prices are 20 percent lower in the winter than in the summer. For example, the enVision Hotel offers deals the first weekend of the carnival, Bason said.
38. Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor offers plenty of outdoor winter fun coupled with stunning views. Snow and icicles hang over the granite cliffs in the park, where you can go cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing. Or, you can enjoy the Bar Harbor Winter Beer Fest on Jan. 13. The event features Maine craft beer, local food and lots of winter fun. And, the average daily cost per person in Bar Harbor is $128.
39. Port Angeles, Wash.
This small coastal town on the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle is a great place to visit in winter, because you can avoid the crowds that come in the summer and still enjoy plenty of outdoor activities, said Stephen Fofanoff, the innkeeper at Domaine Madeleine Bed and Breakfast in Port Angeles.
Fofanoff recommended checking out the amazing views of snow-capped mountains, skiing on Hurricane Ridge in nearby Olympic National Park, hiking in a temperate rainforest or enjoying the foodie scene in Port Angeles. And travel costs are half of what they would be during the summer, with rates at Domaine Madeleine starting at $270 per night.
40. Bend, Ore.
This mountain town in Central Oregon offers views of snow-capped peaks, skiing at nearby Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, ice skating, dogsled rides and numerous other outdoor activities. Plus, adults can follow the Bend Ale Trail to sample craft beers.
There are a variety of lodging options, from motels to resorts. For example, you can get a room in December at Shilo Inn Suites Hotel for $92 per night through Priceline.
41. Indiana Dunes, Ind.
This 15,000-acre national and state park is the perfect winter travel destination, because it offers breathtaking views of the mountains of ice that form on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, said Ken Kosky, promotions director for Indiana Dunes Tourism. Plus, it boasts 70 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails.
Located in the middle of the country, Indiana Dunes is within a day’s drive of half of the U.S. population, so it’s easy and affordable to get to, Kosky said. December hotel rates start at around $70 on Priceline.
42. Thompsonville, Mich.
For family-oriented winter holiday destinations on a dime, it’s hard to beat Thompsonville, Mich. The star of the wintry show here is Crystal Mountain, a resort that excels in family events. In December, you can join carolers in the art park, indulge in a Christmas buffet, ski with Santa or take snowboarding classes for $25 per person. In January, stick around for cross-country winter trails and the World Snow Day celebration.
If snowshoeing, hockey and surrey rides with Belgian horses aren’t your thing, visit the nearby 18,500-square-foot spa. December rates at Crystal Mountain range from about $90 to $100 per night — until the last week of the month, when holiday prices can reach over $300.
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Cameron Huddleston and Dan Ketchum contributed to the reporting for this article. Destinations that include estimated budgets were sourced from travel guide Budget Your Trip.