SMALL TOWN WINTER WONDERLANDS
There's something special about the charms of a small town during winter that warms the heart. Whether we're strolling along a snow-dusted main street beneath twinkling holiday lights, or cozying up by the fire with hot chocolate after a fun day on the slopes, small towns offer the perfect escape from the winter blues. We found the best small towns to see in winter in all 50 states — including the ones that offer sandy beaches instead of snow — to help you plan your next getaway.
Perched atop Lookout Mountain in the northeast corner of Alabama, this idyllic mountain town offers beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding Appalachian foothills, while rustic cabins and inns make great places to stay in winter. Although the town doesn't receive an abundance of snowfall, you can often get in a few runs at Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort, thanks to the snow machines. While sadly the historic Mentone Springs Hotel recently burned down, you can still visit the Log Cabin Craft Village for holiday shopping.
This former Gold Rush hub, just a short drive from Anchorage, is regarded as Alaska's only year-round resort, where you can enjoy plenty of winter fun while surrounded by the snow-covered Chugach Mountain Range. Enjoy skiing and snowboarding, glacier tours, and access to the Iditarod National Historic Trail, or warm up with the après ski experience at the upscale Alyeska Resort, considered one of the best in the state, and panoramic views and local brews at Girdwood Brewing Co.
Nestled in the White Mountains in Eastern Arizona near the New Mexico border, this small town is an alluring retreat year round, but especially so during the winter. With an elevation around 8,300 feet, Greer receives plenty of snowfall that you can enjoy whether you're hitting the slopes or cozying up by the fireplace in one of the many cabins or lodges. During the holidays, be sure to check out the Winter Wonderland, which features hayrides, games, cookie making, bonfires, and more.
EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS
Tucked in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, this enchanting destination offers plenty of beauty — both natural and manmade — to enjoy in the winter. Enjoy wandering through winding streets lined with Victorian architecture seen in historic hotels, manors, and cottages. Be sure to visit the Thorncrown Chapel, an astonishing 48-foot tall structure with 6,000 square feet of glass and 425 windows. And check out the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa's Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations.
For a truly unique winter experience, head to this adorable Danish-inspired village. Solvang Julefest offers fun holiday festivities, including tree-lighting, caroling, a festive parade, and even a Christmas tree burn in January. Find gingerbread houses at Solvang Bakery, warm up with housemade glögg at The Good Life, or take a winter wildlife cruise on nearby Cachuma Lake. Savor aebelskivers and other traditional Danish sweets, enjoy a gourmet winter feast at First & Oak, and get cozy at The Landsby, or the nearby Santa Ynez Inn.
This Victorian-era mining town is a winter paradise offering plenty to do, both on and off the slopes, and isn't as crowded as some of Colorado's other destinations. Surrounded on three sides by snow-covered mountains, there are plenty of outdoor activities for all skill levels, including downhill skiing, ice climbing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and even sledding. You'll also find plenty of art galleries, boutique shops, fine dining, live music, and more to help you stay warm and entertained during the winter months.
This historic seaport shines during the winter, offering plenty of festive activities and old New England charm. Just after Thanksgiving, there’s an annual, illuminated boat parade and see Santa arrive by tugboat. During the holidays, enjoy a guided lantern-lit tour of a re-created 19th-century village at the Mystic Seaport maritime museum. Grab a slice at Mystic Pizza, which inspired the movie, and feast on the best clam chowda for a cause at the annual Chowder Charity Cook Off and Cabin Fever Festival in February.
This meticulously preserved historic town — which traces its roots back to the colonial era — is a beautiful winter destination, especially after a snowfall. Each winter the Historic Odessa Foundation organizes special holiday events that include candlelit walking tours, visits to historic homes, caroling, demonstrations of festive foods from the 18th and 19th centuries, artistic interpretations of classic children's literature, and more. The events take place from mid-November to the end of December.
This picturesque resort community along the Gulf of Mexico offers plenty of Norman Rockwell-esque charm, and stunning beaches with emerald colored water, perfect for a winter escape. Known for its walkability, stroll around the town square, admire pastel-colored cottages, shop at the farmers market and explore boutique shops and great restaurants. You can even pretend that the pristine white sand on the beach is snow, without the cold.
PINE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA
Located just an hour southwest of Atlanta, this beautiful Southern town is known as the "Gateway to the Callaway Gardens," the famous botanical gardens and recreation destination. During the holiday season, Callaway Gardens transforms into Fantasy in Lights, a winter wonderland of twinkling lights, Christmas displays, shopping, dining, and more.
Skip the snow this winter and instead enjoy the warm weather of this colorful town on the northeast coast of Maui. Whether you're enjoying the surf at Ho'okipa Beach Park, strolling along galleries and boutique shops in town, or unwinding with drinks and fresh seafood at some of the local eateries like Paia Fish Market, you'll undoubtedly enjoy the magic of winter in Hawaii.
This charismatic town, located on the southern shore of Payette Lake and near the Payette National Forest, is a magical winter destination. Known for one of the highest average snowfalls in the state and extended winters, visitors can enjoy skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, fat biking — bicycling with huge tires for snow — and more. Try visiting during the famous McCall Winter Festival, which features a parade, ice carving, fireworks, live music, beer gardens, and more.
Thanks to snow-covered hills, 19th-century architecture, and plenty of Midwestern charm, Galena is considered one of the most scenic towns in Illinois. Take advantage of the snowy scenery and enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and sledding at Chestnut Mountain Resort, as well as sleigh rides. Birders and outdoor enthusiasts also flock mid-January to mid-February to witness the annual bald eagle migration.
While Indiana's Santa Claus town gets a lot of holiday credit, this quaint town offers a worthwhile winter getaway that isn't entirely Christmas-focused. The historic Hoosier artist colony offers plenty of art galleries and antiques, local wineries, outdoor winter activities, and historic architecture that's beautifully lit up during the holidays. If you visit during mid-January, you'll also want to check out Winter in the Woods, an annual event that features hikes, nature walks, local food and drink specialties, movies, and more.
LE MARS, IOWA
While Le Mars may be known as the "Ice Cream Capital of the World" thanks to the Wells' Blue Bunny Dairy — there is still plenty of reasons to visit when the weather is just as cold as the ice cream. Here you can enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride, roast marshmallows over a campfire while sipping hot cocoa, and enjoy holiday singing at the Pioneer Village Christmas Wonderland.
Founded by Swedish immigrants in 1868, Lindsborg offers a fun twist on the usual winter holiday celebrations by carrying on Swedish traditions. In December, there’s a St. Lucia Festival, which honors a time when Sweden was saved from famine, and numerous other holiday-related events and activities. Expect Swedish folk dancing and live music, a procession of girls in white carrying candles — in some cases on their head — and more.
This beautiful Kentucky destination offers historic architecture, horse-drawn carriage rides, and picture-perfect downtown streets — all of which sparkle even brighter during winter. Bardsville is also the start of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and is home to numerous distilleries where you can sip Kentucky's finest to get into the spirit of the holidays. You'll also want to dine aboard My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, which transforms into the North Pole Express during the holiday season.
ST. JAMES PARISH, LOUISIANA
Located just outside of New Orleans, this historic parish is known for its unique holiday festivities. Locals celebrate with the Festival of the Bonfires, which involves lighting large, teepee-shaped wooden structures on fire, as well as live music, amusement rides, a gumbo cook-off, and more. The festival is a prelude to the Bonfire on the Levee, when the structures are lit on fire on the levee on Christmas Eve in an effort to help guide Santa Claus down the Mississippi River.
Maine is full of towns that are charming in winter, but seaside Camden, with its picture-perfect harbor, really stands out with offerings for everyone. The popular Camden Snow Bowl is the only skiing destination on the East Coast with ocean views from the summit. And don't miss Camden Winterfest, which offers plenty of winter activities like ice carvings, a snow-plow parade, and the legendary U.S. National Toboggan Championships.
This laidback town becomes a festive destination come wintertime, thanks to holiday lights, carriage rides, and an annual Christmas Parade. Berlin is also worth exploring for its Victorian- and Federal-style architecture, which becomes even more attractive during a snowy winter.
This historic town in western Massachusetts offers beautiful, pastoral scenery year-round, and winter is particularly captivating. Surrounded by the snow-covered Berkshire Hills, admiring ornate mansions and enjoying the town's cultural charm, you may feel like you're in a Norman Rockwell painting — and you can even visit the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Located on Lake Michigan, Pentwater is a popular retreat year-round, but offers a particular charm and peace during the winter months. The annual Winterfest, which takes place during the second and third weekends in February, is a huge celebration with perch fishing tournaments, cross-country skiing, and polar bear swims in frigid water. There's also sledding on the Village Green, art walks, wine and beer tastings, a Snowman Scram 5K, and broomball — a unique game played on ice with a small ball and a stick called a "broom" — and plenty more winter fun.
This hidden gem of southeastern Minnesota offers an enchanting snow-covered getaway during the winter. Outdoor adventurers will find plenty of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and hiking along the Root River Trail System. Or you can enjoy dining, shopping in century-old brick storefronts, as well as bed-and-breakfasts in historic Victorian homes.
This historic destination along the Mississippi River offers plenty to see and do during the winter months. Beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving and lasting until New Year's Day, the Christmas in Natchez holiday celebrations include beautifully illuminated historic homes, candlelight carriage rides, holiday concerts, a gumbo cook-off and plenty more. In February, enjoy the annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.
Located in southwest Missouri, this Ozark town is popular as a family-friendly destination and for live music. During the winter, the Ozark Mountain Christmas is an incredible holiday celebration with festive drive-along light displays, live music, a parade of floats, and costumed characters, and more. You'll also want to climb aboard the Polar Express Train Ride, which offers a 40-mile round-trip excursion through the Ozark foothills and tunnels, complete with hot cocoa.
This lovely resort town in the Rocky Mountains is regarded as the gateway to Glacier National Park, and an excellent winter destination. Whether you're skiing downhill or cross-country, exploring the park or just relaxing on horse-drawn carriage rides through town, you're bound to love this winter wonderland. There are also plenty of excellent dining and drinking destinations to enjoy around town.
Surrounded by the Oglala National Grasslands, Nebraska National Forest, Chadron State Park, and Toadstool Geological Park, Chadron offers spectacular scenery that's even more stunning when covered in snow. The historic district also offers plenty of Old West charm, along with shopping and dining options.
Founded in 1851, Genoa is regarded as the first settlement in what would later become the Nevada territory. Tucked at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Range, the endearing town offers snow-covered natural beauty and plenty of history for a winter getaway. Enjoy scenic winter hikes where you may spot roaming mule deer, and have a soak at the hot springs of David Walley's Resort. Visit the statue of Genoa's legendary mailman Jon "Snowshoe" Johnson, warm up at the historic Genoa Bar and enjoy the twinkling lights, caroling and more during the holidays.
NORTH CONWAY, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Nestled in New Hampshire's stunning White Mountains ski region, this wonderful winter destination offers plenty of activities and scenic sights. Enjoy skiing, ice skating, dog sledding and more outdoor activities. And through December, you can take an old-fashioned train ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad. Enjoy strolling along shops in town, enjoy fine dining and historic taverns, and stay cozy at one of the many country inns or bed-and-breakfasts.
CAPE MAY, NEW JERSEY
This seaside town, known for its Victorian mansions, transforms into a Charles Dickens-worthy winter wonderland during the holiday season. Explore the charming town's historic district on trolley rides to meet Santa, see holiday lights and even meet the ghosts of Christmas past. Go for a picturesque winter stroll and shop along the pedestrian-only Washington Street Mall, and visit Congress Hall, the nation's oldest seaside resort for plenty of fun holiday activities.
TAOS, NEW MEXICO
Set against the backdrop of the snow-covered Sangre De Cristo mountains, Taos offers a beautifully unique winter getaway. Hit the slopes at Taos Ski Valley, explore the rich history and adobe buildings of the Taos Pueblo, admire the colorful local artwork, and enjoy incredible food, including the popular green chiles of New Mexico. There are plenty of winter activities here for everyone.
SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK
This historic town is the entryway to the Finger Lakes region, and offers postcard-perfect winter scenes. Widely considered the inspiration for the holiday classic "It's A Wonderful Life," the town hosts an annual festival with a holiday lights contest, a parade, a train ride, a special bell ringing, and other events at the It's A Wonderful Life Museum. Even if you aren't a huge fan of the film, the beautiful town offers plenty of history, local wine, and winter charm.
CLEMMONS, NORTH CAROLINA
This enchanting and historic destination offers a cozy retreat to unwind during the winter. Throughout the holiday season, from mid-November to Jan. 1, you'll definitely want to visit the Festival of Lights in Tanglewood Park. The rolling countryside is transformed into a winter wonderland with dazzling light displays, carriage and hayrides, a holiday gift village, and more.
While the city of Garrison gets lots of Christmas credit for its Dickens Village Festival, further west in the tiny town of Medora (population: 112) you'll find a back-to-nature Old West kind of winter getaway. Home to the colorful and rugged badlands of Little Missouri National Grassland with the spectacular backdrop of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, perfect for a winter hike to spot bison, elk, wild horses, and prairie dogs. Medora's Old Fashioned Cowboy Christmas features holiday decorations and lights, live performances, and more.
CHAGRIN FALLS, OHIO
This peaceful village just outside of Cleveland is considered the inspiration for the iconic snow piles of the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes created by hometown hero Bill Watterson, so you can just imagine the winter beauty found here. The town's namesake falls have an added charm during the colder months and run just under the historic Popcorn Shop, once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Also be sure to check out the annual Avant-Garde Art and Craft Show.
Home to the largest Historic Preservation District in the nation, Guthrie offers attractive Victorian-era architecture, romantic horse-drawn carriage rides, and twinkling lights during the winter months. The annual Territorial Christmas Celebration, which takes place throughout December, features an old-fashioned Christmas parade, homes and businesses with vintage holiday decorations, costumed carolers, and more.
Named for Nez Perce Chief Joseph, this quiet mountain town in northeast Oregon has a stunning backdrop of snowcapped Wallowa Mountains straight out of a storybook. The adjacent Eagle Cap Wilderness offers plenty of outdoor activities for winter, including the annual sled dog race in January.
JIM THORPE, PENNSYLVANIA
While the nearby city of Bethlehem (aka "Christmas City") is a popular winter destination, this historic town is an ideal winter retreat. Regarded as the "Switzerland of America" due to its gorgeous mountain scenery, the walkable town is even more charming when covered in snow. Stroll past Victorian buildings with unique shops and restaurants, hop aboard the Lehigh Scenic Railway for a train ride with Santa and other winter characters or enjoy family-friendly activities during WinterFest in February.
WICKFORD, RHODE ISLAND
This historic waterfront village is a perfect destination for an enchanting New England winter vacation. Bundle up for a stroll along the harbor, get your holiday shopping done at locally owned businesses, and admire Colonial- and Federal-period homes and the oldest all-wood lighthouse in America.
MURRELLS INLET, SC
Rumored to be the former lair of the infamous pirate Blackbeard, this beautiful seaside destination is now known for some of the best seafood in the South. Enjoy temperate winter weather as you enjoy fresh seafood, waterfront dining and live music along the Marsh Walk. During the holiday season, visit Brookfield Gardens' Night of A Thousand Candles to be dazzled by illuminated trees and sculptures while sipping hot cider. And be sure to visit the castle-like Atalaya, the winter home of industrialist and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington.
KEYSTONE, SOUTH DAKOTA
Located in the Black Hills, this small, former mining town is home to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, one of America's must-see attractions. Stroll along the half-mile Presidential Trail that offers views of the monument, which is particularly stunning in winter and less crowded than warmer months. You'll also want to catch a ride on the 1880 Train, a historic steam train that transforms into the North Pole-bound Holiday Express after Thanksgiving.
This picturesque mountain town is the perfect gateway for exploring the Great Smoky Mountains in the winter when you enjoy snow-covered scenery and smaller crowds. In addition to enjoying excellent skiing, snowboarding, snowtubing, hikes, and other outdoor adventures, the town also hosts tons of winter festivities. There's the Winter Magic and Chili Cook Off, the Trolley Ride of Lights, the Festival of Trees, Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade, and plenty more.
Deep in the heart of Texas Hill Country, this small community is an excellent winter destination thanks to festive celebrations of its German heritage and Texan traditions. The festivities kick off the day after Thanksgiving with the lighting of the community Christmas tree and German Christmas Pyramid, followed by skating on the outdoor ice rink, a Christmas parade, holiday home tours, and an artisan market. You'll also find great barbecue, local wines and beer, historic sites and museums, outdoor activities, and more.
Bordered by the Wasatch Mountains, Midway has an average annual snowfall of 100 feet, helping to make it an alluring winter destination. Many of the 18th-century settlers were from Switzerland, helping to explain much of the charming architecture and festivals, like the annual Midway Christmas events. In addition to plenty of snow sports — Midway hosted several events in the 2002 Winter Olympics — many visitors flock to explore the Ice Castles, enormous sculptures handmade by artists each year with over 20 million pounds of ice.
With horse-drawn sleigh rides, snow-dappled evergreen trees, and historic covered bridges, visiting this fairy tale New England town offers one of the most iconic winter experiences. Enjoy nearby skiing, snowshoe trails, and sledding, or unwind with hot cocoa by the fireplace at the cozy Woodstock Inn & Resort. And consider visiting during Wassail Weekend, a 19th-century inspired winter celebration with carriage rides, caroling, tree-lighting, and more. And don't forget to enjoy pure maple syrup straight from the source.
This quaint Fairfax County town is often ranked one of the best places to live in the U.S., and that holds true for visiting during winter. The season kicks off the Monday after Thanksgiving with the Holiday Stroll when a stretch of Church Street is closed off for pedestrians to enjoy festive lights, live music, hot chocolate, and more. Head to the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens for Winter Walk of Lights, a dazzling display from mid-November to early January.
This Bavarian-themed town in the Cascade Mountains captures the cozy spirit of winter at every turn. During the holidays, the Alpine-style buildings are trimmed with lights, shoppers explore the traditional Christkindlmarkt, and enjoy celebrations with multiple tree-lightings, sledding, concerts, parades, and more. Be sure to visit the Nutcracker Museum, the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, and if you're feeling adventurous, hit the nearby ski slopes, or go snowshoeing or ice climbing.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WEST VIRGINIA
Nestled in picturesque Greenbrier Valley, White Sulphur Springs transforms into a dazzling winter destination with holiday lights, shopping, a parade, and more. Locals and visitors also head to the historic Greenbrier resort for holiday lights, musical performances, the famous Christmas Eve Gingerbread Ball, as well as holiday shopping and tree lighting every weekend in December.
This small town in western Wisconsin offers a peaceful and idyllic wintertime retreat. Locals and visitors alike head to Elkhart Lake for fun winter activities, dining, holiday shopping, and more. Check out the Osthoff Resort for the Old World Christmas Market. Inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt of Nuremberg, Germany, the annual event features horse-drawn hayrides in the woods, an artisanal market, and traditional German holiday foods.
Serving as an entry point to the National Elk Refuge, as well as Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, idyllic Jackson offers stunning winter vistas and plenty of fun activities. From snowshoeing to skiing, dogsledding to snowmobiles, there are outdoor activities for all speeds. You'll also want to shop and dine around the historic town square with its iconic antler arches. And don't miss the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the amazing views from Granite Hot Springs Pool, which stays open during winter.