What is a winter wonderland? It’s a place with a chill in the air that’s covered in snow (sorry, that puts most of Arizona, California and Florida out of the running). There’s a seasonal exuberance during the frostier months with events like Christmas markets and festivals of light. Houses are bedecked with twinkling lights and the smell of mulled wine lingers. Access to nostalgic winter activities such as sledding and ice skating comes with the territory, too. Basically, these are spots that capture the essence of the quaint North Pole-esque destinations we’ve seen depicted in holiday movies. Scroll on for the charming small towns across the United States that fit that festive description.
10 Small Town Winter Wonderlands in the U.S.
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- Why We Love It: Bavarian vibes, beer, outdoor activities
- Where to Stay: Aventyr Hus (from $173/night), Willkommen Zuhause (from $200/night)
Leavenworth earns a ton of affection and accolades during the coldest season. Undeniably one of the most wonderful Christmas towns in the United States, it’s also a spirited destination for any time you need a little pep in your furry boot-wearing step. This Bavarian-style wonderland in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains makes frosty dreams come true with its fairytale architecture, cheerful decorations and holiday happenings. Even if you miss the tree lighting ceremony, the festive alpine ambiance continues for many months with sleigh rides, trips to the nutcracker museum and feeding furry friends at the family-run Leavenworth Reindeer Farm.
- Why We Love It: winter sports, New England coziness, relaxation
- Where to Stay: Green Mountain Inn (from $189/night), The Lodge at Spruce Peak, a Destination by Hyatt Property (from $249/night)
‘Tis the season for sleigh rides and cozying up by a roaring fire with a mug of a hot toddy. There’s no better place for such pursuits than Stowe. This quintessential New England town positioned next to Vermont's highest peak turns on the charm during the winter with historic architecture, decorative window dressing and piles of fresh powder. It also boasts some of the best skiing in the Northeast, plus sledding and an ice skating rink for some classic frigid fun. To unwind after the outdoor action? Head to the spa at The Lodge at Spruce Peak, a Destination by Hyatt Property for a cider-infused body scrub or a hot stone massage.
- Why We Love It: beaches, New England coziness, coastal sweeps
- Where to stay: Coastal Condo (from $153/night), Beach Cottage (from $285/night)
Maine’s southern coast may seem like a strange choice to visit in the winter, but just hear us out. The four-square-mile town of Ogunquit has enough appeal to convince even the Scroogiest of travelers that the Pine Tree State deserves a few vacation days. It’s well worth bundling up to soak in the views from the cliff walk. The dune-backed beaches and lighthouse look like a film set blanketed in snow. Don’t worry if your toes start to feel a little tingly, the seasonal spirit will warm your soul—and that’s even before diving into a bowl of New England clam chowder.
- Why We Love It: winter sports, western vibes, aprés-ski scene
- Where to Stay: Downtown Townhouse (from $289/night), Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole (from $425/night)
It’s fair to call Jackson Wyoming’s premier winter vacation destination. Not only does this western-tinged town provide easy access to three ski areas—Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Snow King Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee Resort—it serves up festive holiday vibes. Visitors can pick up presents for friends and family at the many souvenir shops and stop for a cup of cocoa. Don’t forget to stop by the Town Square to snap some photos in front of the famed arch made of shed antlers. To see elk and other wildlife against a snowy backdrop, drive over to Grand Teton National Park.
- Why We Love It: winter sports, western vibes, aprés-ski scene
- Where to Stay: The Hotel Telluride (from $209/night), The New Sheridan (from $288/night)
Backed by snow-capped peaks of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Telluride is one of the top spots to celebrate the splendor of the season. A classic ski town in every sense, it gets heaps of powder and delivers ample opportunities for downhill action—whether you prefer bunny hills, black diamonds or the adrenaline-pumping thrill of heli-skiing—as well as gondola rides for scenic views without breaking a sweat and many lively aprés-ski haunts. The roots of this former Victorian mining hub run deep. Historic district landmarks like the Sheridan Opera House dazzle even more when snow piles high and colorful lights festoon the exterior.
- Why We Love It: winter sports, Olympic venues, lodges
- Where to Stay: ADK Mansion (from $831/night), Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa (from $249/night)
Situated in Upstate New York, Lake Placid lures travelers with its natural splendor—sparkling water, mountains, and forests. The average 103 inches of snow that falls annually gives this beloved region an even more magical visual. It’s prime time for cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. Don't forget to visit the world-famous Olympic Village. Winter also means doing your holiday shopping along Main Street and popping into a cozy restaurant or bar to warm up by the fire. Another great way to get your blood flowing? Hit the heated indoor lap pool, hot tub and sauna at Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa.
- Why We Love It: skiing, shopping, western vibes
- Where to Stay: Pendry Park City (from $345/night), Washington School House (from $675/night)
Among the most picturesque and popular winter destinations in the country, Park City draws crowds during ski season. Even if you aren’t planning to hit the slopes at Deer Valley Resort, this dazzling mountain town shows off its best assets when the temps dip. It’s a snow-covered playground for outdoor recreation with cross-country skiing, sledding and snowmobiling. You can count on festive window displays at the shops and galleries along Main Street. The cozy restaurants welcome hungry patrons with hearty farm-to-table dishes. Lodgings—from Washington School House to the Pendry Park City—really get into the festive mood, too.
- Why We Love It: winter sports, festive events, holiday market
- Where to Stay: Family-Friendly Home (from $102/night), The Moravian House (from $369/night)
Bethlehem is a joy-filled storybook setting to celebrate the holidays, ring in the New Year or just escape from hibernation for a weekend. True to its name, this festooned eastern Pennsylvania town that gives off North Pole vibes displays garland-draped buildings, nativity scenes, giant nutcrackers and ornamented trees. There’s also a European-style holiday market to stock up on souvenirs and gifts for loved ones back home as well as a one-of-a-kind “Live Advent Calendar” on Main Street. Between all the yuletide merriment, drink some eggnog and go for a spin on Lehigh Valley's only outdoor Olympic-sized rink.
- Why We Love It: beaches, Victorian houses, nostalgia
- Where to stay: Lokal Hotel - Cape May (from $210/night), Congress Hall (from $215/night)
Cape May is so much more than just a storied summer retreat. Winter brings charm, character and seasonal delights. Victorian houses and the iconic red-and-white striped lighthouse that resembles a candy cane give this Jersey shore town an advantage in that it’s already so cinematic. When the flakes fall—which does happen occasionally—it looks like a snow globe come to life. Even without a dusting of the white stuff, Cape May enchants in all its festive glory. Congress Hall goes all out with tree lighting, gingerbread bakes and yuletide concerts. It’s a special place to spend a few fun-filled days during the brisk months.
- Why We Love It: winter sports, hiking, scenery,
- Where to Stay: Remodeled Condo (from $199/night), Moose Jaw House (from $618/night)
The winter doldrums don’t exist in Whitefish. A front-runner in the field of the best small towns in Montana and an all-around cold-weather sports mecca, this gem in the northwest part of the Big Sky Country acts as the gateway to Glacier National Park. That translates to the chance to traverse snowy trails and admire sparkling lakes sans crowds. Whitefish Mountain Resort offers top-notch skiing and snowboarding. Visitors can also give sledding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing a try. Whitefish also goes all out for the holidays with decorations, caroling and horse-drawn sleigh rides that continue long after Santa departs.