Instead: Reno / Lake Tahoe, Nevada
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Holiday Road Trips Away From the Crowds

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Instead: Reno / Lake Tahoe, Nevada
jimveilleux/istockphoto

Holiday Road Map

The coronavirus certainly put a damper on things last holiday season, but that doesn’t mean you can't have end-of-the-year fun in 2021. There are plenty of destinations across the country that offer socially distanced holiday festivities if you don’t mind packing for a road trip. From winter wonderlands where you can ski and snowshoe to beach destinations where you can simply get away from it all, here are some of the best options for taking time off to relax, retreat, and say goodbye to the year.


Related: The Most Beautiful Cabin in Every State

Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina
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Asheville, North Carolina

The socially distanced holiday activities in Asheville range from an illuminated drive-thru light show at the North Carolina Arboretum to watching Santa Claus rock climbing at Chimney Rock State Park, accompanied by holiday music, hot cocoa, and cookies. Asheville’s legendary Biltmore House, a sprawling estate once home to the Vanderbilt family, hosts Christmas events through Jan. 9 with masks and social distancing required. The festive event includes more than 100 hand-decorated Christmas trees, 25,000 ornaments, 100,000 holiday lights, nearly 6,000 feet of garland, and 1,200 poinsettias around the massive house and estate.


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Related: Amazing Ski-In, Ski-Out Airbnb Rentals Near Breckenridge

Deer Lake State Park, South Walton County, Florida.
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South Walton, Florida

The 16 communities that make up the South Walton region in the Florida Panhandle were built to be open, walkable, spacious places — meaning you won’t find congestion and crowds, as you might in a more urban destination. Adding to South Walton’s appeal (beyond its beauty and turquoise waters), about 40% of the land has been preserved. The result is more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails — providing plenty of opportunity to get out with the family and enjoy natural social distancing in the fresh air. And don’t miss taking a drive along Scenic Highway 98, a beachfront roadway in Miramar Beach that provides picture-perfect views of the Gulf of Mexico and South Walton’s white sand beaches.


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Rock Hill, South Carolina
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Rock Hill, South Carolina

From zipline tours through the treetops of Canaan Island to kayaking down the Catawba River, the recreation-centric city of Rock Hill provides plenty of outdoor options to fill a holiday getaway. Perhaps even more importantly given the season, Old Town Rock Hill will be transformed into Christmasville, a holiday village featuring an outdoor art festival and more than 70 activities including horse-drawn carriage rides, music, a gingerbread house contest, and an ice-skating rink.


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Related: The Most Christmas-y Towns in All 50 States

Lake Placid, New York
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The Adirondacks, New York

A region renowned for its winter fun, the Adirondacks has options that include downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and ice fishing. There’s upward of 46,000 acres to explore by snowshoe or cross-country skis at Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, and thousands of miles of scenic snowmobile trails between Lake George and the Adirondack High Peaks. And when you’re ready to slow things down a bit, spend some time strolling through the many charming downtowns throughout the Adirondacks, such as Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Old Forge


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Related: 20 Best Winter Home Rentals in America  

Expert skier on a powder day.
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Stowe, Vermont

This picture-postcard town has been ranked one of the “Top 10 Best Ski Towns” by Forbes, but a holiday season visit to Stowe offers a little something for everyone. In addition to the obvious (skiing), the list of winter activities includes dog sledding, snowmobiling, fat biking, and sleigh rides. Ice climbing and winter zip lining are possibilities for the adventurous and outdoorsy types. Mountain Ops Outdoor Gear, on the property of Topnotch Resort, can provide gear for any activity. The holiday season in Stowe also typically includes tree lightings, lantern parades, Santa, and carolers.


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Related: The Most Beautiful Main Streets in Every State

Wind River Valley, Wyoming
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Wind River Country, Wyoming

Practically everyone has heard of Yellowstone National Park, but far fewer people are familiar with nearby Wind River Country, a destination just beyond the legendary national park that bills itself as a place to escape the crowds and unwind. Like many other winter destinations on this list, here too you will find opportunities for snowmobiling, hiking, and snowshoeing. There’s also back country and Nordic skiing. No matter what you choose, you’ll have plenty of room to roam and breathe in Wind River Country’s wide-open spaces.


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Related: Great Winter Vacation Rentals Under $100 a Night — If You Share

Friends hiking in the muntains on winter break.
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Frisco, Colorado

A destination in the heart of Colorado’s Summit County, the town of Frisco has been dubbed the “Main Street” of the Rockies. Think classic Colorado mountain town, but perched between two mountains at 9,097 feet and within 30 minutes of six ski resorts, so there’s plenty to keep active, outdoors enthusiasts busy. The town itself offers a Main Street lined by many locally owned shops. The Frisco Adventure Park, meanwhile, features snow tubing and cross-country skiing. Add a dose of holiday fun by taking a sleigh ride through the Rocky Mountain landscape with Two Below Zero, an experience that’s highly rated by the Travel Channel.


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GardenFest of Lights @ Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens
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Richmond, Virginia

A popular drive-to destination, Richmond likes to describe itself as a big, outdoor playground, include hiking trails, horseback riding, and biking the Capital Trail, which takes visitors from Richmond to Williamsburg. There are also more than 100 murals throughout Richmond to take in for those who want to focus their activities on the outdoors. The 50-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden offers visitors another opportunity to explore an outdoor attraction; holiday revelers won’t want to miss the garden's Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights, which starts Nov. 22 and features lights, decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, hot chocolate, and more.


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Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
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Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

For a slightly different take on the holiday getaway theme, explore the European-inspired village of Carmel-by-the-Sea on California’s central coast. The 1-square-mile village is known for being a charming, walkable community filled with quaint side streets, courtyards and even secret passageways. There are also stone-paved alleyways and curlicue-roofed shops, reminiscent of a Charles Dickens scene. The entire community is usually decked out in lights during the holiday season. When not exploring the village, visitors can explore iconic Carmel Beach and its majestic scenery. Don’t miss the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home at the north end of the beach. Visitors can also indulge in a wine tasting at one of the area’s many tasting rooms and vineyards.


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Related: 25 Vacation Rentals with Secret Rooms and Hidden Passages

Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia
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Abingdon, Virginia

Experience an Appalachian holiday in Abingdon, a Blue Ridge Mountain community where visitors will find brick sidewalks, ancient oak trees decorated with lights, and a quaint downtown that becomes a Christmas wonderland complete with carolers, storefront displays, and special events. In late November and December, the Barter Theatre at the Moonlite Drive-In will perform "A Christmas Story" and "Jingle All the Way" in an open-air outdoor environment. The dialogue of actors on stage will be broadcast through your car radio, allowing you to sit back, relax and enjoy a live performance without mingling with other people.  


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Related: Best 'Main Street' Shopping Districts in All 50 States

Helen, Georgia
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Helen, Georgia

How does a Bavarian-themed holiday getaway in the mountains of Georgia sound? That’s what visitors will find in Helen, a community about 90 minutes north of Atlanta. In addition to holiday activities such as the Annual Lighting of the Village on Nov. 26, there’s a traditional German Christkindlmarkt (Nov. 27-28 and Dec. 4-5) where specialty gifts and decorations are sold along with savory food and drinks. Once you’ve had your fill of all things Bavarian, check out one of the area’s many hiking trails or waterfalls.


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Related: 22 of the Smallest Towns in America

Christmas ornaments glowing in the dark outside residential building in Northern California
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Cleveland, Mississippi

Midway between Memphis, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, on historic Highway 61, Cleveland has earned the reputation of being one of the hippest little towns on the Mississippi Delta. (Southern Living named it one of the best small towns of 2019.) From Nov. 13 through Jan. 2, the town will host its legendary 50 Nights of Lights, during which 100,000 lights transform the community into a wonderland. The lights can be viewed either by walking or driving. Besides the light display, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Hiking, bird watching, and boating are among the options. Or take a stroll through The Hazel and Jimmy Sanders Sculpture Garden on the grounds of the Arts Center at Delta State University. 


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Sun Valley, Idaho
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Sun Valley, Idaho

Viewed by some as America’s original mountain town, Sun Valley makes for a memorable holiday getaway for many reasons, not the least of which is its distinction as part of the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve (the only designated international dark sky reserve in the U.S.). And what better social distancing activity than simply spending time outdoors checking out the clear night skies where it’s possible to see countless unobscured stars in the sky. A bonus: Shooting-star sightings are the norm in Sun Valley. In addition to being star central, the region has also been dubbed Nordic Town USA, as there are hundreds of miles of groomed Nordic trails accessible from Sun Valley. Still more socially distant activities include snowshoeing, ice skating, and hiking.


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Lake Tahoe
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Reno-Lake Tahoe

With its proximity to desert, lakes, rivers, and the mountains, the Reno, Nevada-Lake Tahoe area offers plenty to fill a weekend or weeklong holiday getaway. There’s several ski resorts in the area, including Northstar Ski Resort, Mount Rose, Squaw Valley or Diamond Peak (to name a few). When not hitting the slopes, you can spend time walking through midtown Reno to take in the colorful street art and public art sculptures. (City Plaza, at the corner of First and South Virginia streets, is home to two former Burning Man pieces). Still more outdoor activity options in the area include biking, hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding.


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