No skis, no passport, no problem.
Nothing beats the winter doldrums like a stirring escape. Some grab the fastest flight to a beachy paradise, shedding the layers and soaking in the sun. Others can’t wait to grab some skis or a board at the first decent snowfalls. But those craving winter adventure without stomping into skis often end up lingering at the bottom of the mountain, waiting for the group and their vacation to begin.
Winter wonderland getaways don’t have to be just ski resorts or cozy cabin lounging. Pristine snowscapes full of excitement for all ages are open across the states for anyone wanting to try something different. Bundle up and get ready for chilly thrills with these adventures—no ski lifts required.
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WHERE: Door County Kayak and Bike in Wisconsin
Typically known for its summer fun, the jutting peninsula of Door County, Wisconsin, unveils a starker beauty when Lake Michigan whips in winter winds. Door County Kayak and Bike’s Jacksonport shop is conveniently located less than five miles from Cave Point County Park. E-bikes make it easy, with fat tires providing some traction on gently sloping roads toward the frequently pictured park. At the point, Lake Michigan carves out forested cliffs and splashes up, leaving ice cascades. Keep going just around the corner to Whitefish Dunes State Park for sandy and sometimes snowy beaches. On the way back, kick up the bike’s battery-powered oomph for an effortless thrill. With the right rhythm (hint: don’t pedal too hard), even the most casual rider can glide over 20 miles per hour.
Alternative: Those looking for serious adventure can head to The Last Frontier. Talkeetna Gear Shop guides tours around the gateways to Denali National Park, Alaska. With Denali and the Alaska Range in sight, the area’s trail system triples over frozen swamps in the winter.
WHERE: Summit County Ice Skating in Keystone, Colorado
Ninety minutes from Denver, Keystone Lake is one of the country’s largest maintained outdoor ice rinks with five acres of ice. Sitting at the base of Lakeside Village and part of the larger ski complex, the rink has skate rentals, restaurants, and lodging within steps. Closer to the main base, the smaller Dercum Square rink offers a cozier setting that is particularly easy to maneuver for those with younger children. Visit the lakeside town of Frisco for a change of pace, and don’t miss the wilder side of the Rockies. Take the Loveland Pass Loop on Highway 6 to hit the Continental Divide with stunning, snow-capped views.
Alternative: As yet another reminder that California can do it all, Curry Village Ice Rink in Yosemite Valley gives off fairy-tale vibes with the park’s Half Dome overlooking the ice.
WHERE: Lake of the Woods, Minnesota
Toss the frozen images of someone huddled over a hole–ice fishing can be toasty and enjoyable. Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods is one of America’s largest freshwater lake systems outside of Alaska. The area has over fifty resorts, hotels, and outfitters to help even the most novice fishermen have a shot on the ice. Outfitters and lodges take guests out on the ice to heated fishing huts, carefully monitored throughout the season for safety. Walleyes, jumbo perch, northern pike, and other species wait below for the lucky and patient. Even if you don’t catch something, count on having some of the tastiest fish dinners.
Alternative: Ice fishing charters in Vermont can whisk reluctant skiers away from the mountains to the state’s ample lakes, including the 125-mile Lake Champlain.
WHERE: Borealis Basecamp in Fairbanks, Alaska
The geodesic domes at Borealis Basecamp are remote, enclosed by 100 acres of boreal forest 25 miles outside Fairbanks, Alaska. They’re also comfortable, with luxurious details meant to make your bed the best place to watch the Northern Lights through the transparent section of the dome. Two- to five-night packages allow plenty of time to race a snowmobile, launch out on a dogsled, go sightseeing by land or air, and then relax in the sauna. All igloos have a private bathroom, the restaurant provides locally-sourced meals, and the basecamp can arrange shuttles from Fairbanks.
Alternative: Hike, ski, or snowmobile to waterfalls and lakes in New Hampshire’s White Mountain from this off-the-grid yurt.
WHERE: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Not your average sled run, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a sandy natural wonder shaped by the wind off Lake Michigan’s shore. The National Lakeshore allows sleds on the Dune Climb, a 245 drop that rushes towards Glen Lake. This run gets exhilarating speed; children may be better starting further down the dune. Parking at the base makes it easy to collapse after the last run. Traverse City or Charlevoix serve as good bases, each with plenty of family accommodations, shopping, wineries, breweries, and winter sports to explore the “Tip of the Mitt” in Michigan.
Alternative: Ski resorts around the country offer tubing with an easy lift back up, but Summit at Snoqualmie near Seattle has twenty runs with over forty vertical feet in drop.
WHERE: Chaska Curling Center near Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Olympics has plenty of us sliding across polished floors with brooms, pushing our “stones” towards a makeshift target in some semblance of the red-hot curling teams. The sport has long roots in the U.S., and established clubs like the Chaska Curling Center are bringing the public on the ice. In the mix of Minnesota’s busy curling scene, this center welcomes visitors to games, tournaments, and classes. After taking a crack as a lead, you can grab a mug at the Crooked Ale Pint House overlooking the arena. Only thirty minutes from downtown Minneapolis, this makes an easy urban winter getaway for any fans of “The Roaring Game.”
Alternative: The Philadelphia Curling Club offers curling classes and partners with other clubs around the area for open houses. Classes book quickly.
WHERE: Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana
An hour from Yellowstone’s west entrance, this classically picturesque ranch is straight from your screen–only without the show’s gritty drama. Recently voted “Best Family Ranch,” Lone Mountain Ranch’s winter activities include a massive cross-country trail system, yoga, dog sledding, and park tours. Whatever you choose, every vacation package consists of the ranch’s traditional sleigh ride. A staple for 35 years, powerful draft horses dash guests through the night to the historic North Fork Cabin. A welcome shot of honey moonshine warms you for your prime rib dinner with cowboy singer storytellers.
Alternative: Surrounded by Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, this sleigh ride takes you to see the largest migrating elk herd in North America.
WHERE: Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, Maine
New England’s beloved ski resort is also home to Maine’s largest Nordic Center. At Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, over thirty miles of pristine, wooded trails surround the rental center, making snowshoeing a cinch. A night tour under the stars adds awe, with cookies and hot chocolate waiting in a warming hut around a roaring fire. Off the resort, the nearby Bigelow Preserve in Maine’s famed woods has more trails for snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, and snowmobiling. Back at Sugarloaf, Widowmaker is the traditional spot to warm up and grab a local brew.
Alternative: For a unique scene, snowshoe Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park and take a guided ranger tour through the hoodoos at night.
Ice Climbing and Rappelling
WHERE: Apex Mountain School in Vail, Colorado
Sure, you can ski, Vail. But why not venture to the “Home of Rock, Ice, and Snow”? Apex Mountain School, the area’s original mountaineering and guiding school, offers trips and courses in everything from avalanche safety to ice climbing to rappelling. The climbs range from 30 to 100 feet, and guides will adapt routes for first-timers to experienced climbers. See the mountains from a unique angle on nature’s ever-changing ice sculptures. Before heading out to the many brewhouses, get a taste of Vail’s German and Austrian heritage with dinner at Alpenrose.
Alternative: Near Hocking Hills State Park, south of Columbus, Ohio, visitors rappel down cliff sides on ecotours with High Rock Adventures.
All-Inclusive Winter Resorts
WHERE: Mohonk Mountain House, New York
Ninety minutes north of New York City, this Victorian castle resort takes care of everything for a dreamy winter retreat. The historic landmark in the Hudson Valley has an award-winning spa, abundant dining, and a plethora of outdoor recreation. For the cherry on top, Mohonk Mountain House offers themed events like Victorian Holidays, Winter Yoga Weekend, and Scottish Weekend. For those wanting to get away from the bustle, the complex has over 40,000 forested acres to explore. All winter activities, meals, fitness classes, and access to a long list of amenities are included.
Alternative: This luxury ranch outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, has plenty of play and pampering, including an adults-only season from New Year’s through Valentine’s Day.