45 Best Small Towns for Winter Travel
Let's face it: This year's push to spend time outdoors isn't coming to an end before winter arrives. So, you may have started wondering where to go and what to do when half the country is blanketed with snow.
Winter fans eagerly anticipate the first snowfall, as they're ready to hit the ski slopes and experience jam-packed fun outdoors, even if they have to layer on the clothing to enjoy it.
And some towns embrace winter so well that we wanted to highlight them in a handy travel guide for future ski trips. Focusing on small towns with about 10,000 people or fewer (perfect for social distancing!), these towns are filled with tons of charm. These communities celebrate winter with festivals and events as well as a host of fun things to do outdoors.
When you are nestled between two of New England's underrated ski resorts, Mad River Glen and Sugarbush, this lesser-visited Vermont mountain town means you can have more runs without long lift waits during the day.
When the evening comes, the town's great restaurants, pubs and distilleries provide for aprés-ski activities that will leave you with the warm and fuzzies.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Victorian homes, old-fashioned mining town storefronts, antique streetlights... Crested Butte is nothing but charismatic. They won't even allow chain restaurants to come in as a means of preserving its originality.
What officially became a ski destination in the 1960s, Crested Butte Mountain Resort is considered an off-the-beaten-path ski area that provides more than 1,500 acres for boarding and skiing.
Home to Sunday River, one of the most affordable ski resorts in Maine (with 135 trails), this small town is also close to Mount Abram and Indy Pass for an array of slope options during a winter getaway.
The walkable downtown provides dining and shopping, but most visitors head out of town to enjoy nature at Grafton Notch State Park and White Mountain National Forest.
Lake Placid, New York
Not one but two Olympic Winter Games took place in this upstate New York town found along Mirror Lake near Whiteface Mountain. It's proud of its Olympic heritage and has a fantastic museum dedicated to its role in Olympic history, which includes the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey game between the United States and Russia.
You can even ride a toboggan down the 30-foot-high ski jump used in the Olympic games.
Home to Alyeska Resort, this town is just a quick jaunt from Anchorage and is a local favorite for skiing and snow fun.
The Iditarod National Historic Trail runs through Girdwood, and visitors in the Chugach Mountain Range can join glacier tours and one-of-a-kind views.
Home to Sun Valley Ski Resort and its 2,000-plus acres of snow-covered terrain, Ketchum is one of the best places to enjoy Rocky Mountain skiing. The town is located at the base of the resort, which offers 13 lifts and nearly 3,400 vertical feet of slopes.
Aprés ski (or just no-ski days!) can be enjoyed in town, which features art boutiques and museums.
And did you know Ernest Hemingway is buried here? He loved to visit the Sawtooth Club and wrote "For Whom the Bell Tolls" at the Sun Valley Lodge.
June Lake, California
Yes, there are just 508 people living in this sleepy little town, but June Lake is just 30 minutes away from Mammoth Mountain and provides a quiet reprieve off the slope, while still remaining close to the winter action.
In fact, its very-own June Mountain provides 1,500 acres of skiing. With only seven lifts, more people head to Mammoth, which means this mountain is particularly welcoming to families who need more space.
Not only does Stowe Mountain offer the best mountain feel on the East Coast, but it also hosts a Winter Carnival every January to celebrate the season. The event includes ice carving demonstrations, live music, a snowball volleyball tournament and an ice fishing derby. Plus, the charming village becomes even more magical when covered in snow.
P.S. The Von Trapps of "The Sound of Music" fame settled here after leaving Austria, and you can visit their Trapp Family Lodge for authentic Austrian food and decor.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Bringing the party to winter every February, Lake Geneva's Winterfest features a National Snow Sculpting Championship with some amazing displays of art, drawing people out of their homes to enjoy winter's snow and chill.
Located just outside of Milwaukee, the lakefront town is all about a slowed-down pace and provides a delightful town for shopping, dining and relaxing, no matter the season. And, yes, there are ski resorts here that tout having the "best ski hills" in Wisconsin — perfect for beginner skiers or for those who like cross-country skiing.
North Conway, New Hampshire
New Hampshire's best skiing can be found in the White Mountains, home to the Presidential Mountain Range.
With fabulous resorts like Omni Mount Washington and tons of skiing in Bretton Woods, Cranmore Mountain and Waterville Valley, this is a winter-lovers' paradise. There are dog sledding, ice skating, and cozy pubs and inns to enjoy as well.
This former mining town's historic Main Street will make you feel as if you are stepping back into a time when Butch Cassidy and his Sundance Kids walked the streets.
It's so small there isn't even a traffic light, and you can walk to the wonderful Telluride ski resort, where 60 percent of the 2,000 acres is dedicated to beginners and intermediates. (Thank you!)
Why stay in the more expensive Jackson Hole when you can stay across the border in Idaho and enjoy the same Teton Mountain Range for less money and fewer crowds?
Victor's back door will lead you straight to Teton National Park and Yellowstone, which some rave is far more beautiful during the winter months. Find out by taking a snowmobile tour, the only way to see the park during this time.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
If you didn't think there was skiing in the Deep South, head to Blowing Rock, and discover the trails at Appalachian Ski Mountain, Ski Beech and Sugar Mountain, the three ski mountains that make up Watauga County in Western North Carolina.
The area is also home to sledding hills, ice skating, snow tubing and snowshoeing to ensure active folks can keep moving even when snow covers the land.
As the gateway to Glacier National Park, Whitefish appears on list after list as one of the most picturesque small towns in America.
There is ample skiing nearby since it's set in the Rocky Mountains. Plus, the town comes alive in the short month of February when it celebrates Ullr, the Nordic god, during its Winter Carnival.
One of the highest towns in the mountains, Alta climbs to nearly 9,000 feet. This is where skiing practically began in the U.S. In 1939, skiers could make a run down the mountain for just 25 cents!
Located near Salt Lake City and Sugarloaf Mountain for additional skiing, Alta reaches more than 8,500 feet in elevation, ensuring there is plenty of backcountry snow to enjoy.
Davis, West Virgina
Blackwater Falls State Park near Davis may be more renowned for its warmer-weather hiking but come winter these hills are perfect for sledding.
Cross-country skiing and downhill skiing can be enjoyed at Canaan Valley Resort, and when you're not bundled up, the live music and moonshine in the town's taverns will keep you warm.
Taos, New Mexico
New Mexico's hidden gem provides the best skiing and snowboarding within its multi-resort Enchantment miles. The 84-mile stretch includes Angel Fire, Red River, Sipapu and Taos Ski Valley for downhill runs and the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area for those sticking to the flats.
Of course, with so many resorts, snowmobiling, snow tubing, snowshoeing and skating are common side trips to a getaway to Northern New Mexico.
Beloved Breck is a town with a heart of gold. So many restaurants, shops and art galleries can be explored within steps of its ski resort. In fact, the historic streets date back to Victorian days and is a National Historic District.
You'll be nearly 10,000 feet when you visit this Rocky Mountain town in the heart of the Tenmile Range.
The people of Hayward enjoy being outside so much that a 66-mile long trail was created to be enjoyed during every season. The Birkebeiner Trail, or Birkie, even welcomes cross-country skiers during the wintertime.
Downtown is lit up during the holidays, and a parade of decorated cars and trucks takes place every December.
Carrabassett Valley, Maine
The home of Sugarloaf ski area, Carrabassett Valley is touted for being big on character, charm and beauty. They don't lie.
Sugarloaf is one of the biggest ski resorts east of the Rockies with more than 50 miles of trails. Between Carrabassett Valley and neighboring Kingfield, you'll find hundreds of miles of snowmobile and cross-country skiing trails as well.
The winter parties continue in McCall, host of an annual Winter Carnival with Mardi Gras parades, ice sculpture competitions, torchlight parades, dog-pulling races, live music and more.
The resort town is host to Brundage Mountain ski resort, which holds the title for Best Snow in Idaho with the most annual snowfall.
Saranac Lake, New York
Every winter, Saranac Lake celebrates winter with a 10-day festival. The Winter Carnival is actually the longest-running of its kind in the eastern U.S., having formed in 1896.
Before the festival's inception, the Adirondack Mountains were a summer retreat for city-goers, and Saranac Lake even became a health resort. But, in an effort to promote outdoor fun for all seasons, the Winter Carnival was launched.
Today, you'll find snowshoeing, skiing at Dewey Mountain and Mount Pisgah, snowflake volleyball, snowshoe softball, ultimate frisbee in the snow, curling and logging as well as concerts, a chocolate festival and the iconic Ice Palace, the festival's centerpiece.
Explore the Victorian Age in Camden's High Street Historic District where homes and buildings of the past have been lovingly preserved.
This harbor town is flanked by both the mountains and the sea, and its small Camden Snow Bowl even provides alpine skiing views of the ocean.
Like Girdwood, Valdez is found in the Chugach Mountains and is surrounded by glaciers, including those within its glacial lake.
The snow heavily falls in Thompson Pass, and there are more than 2,500 miles of areas ripe for heli-skiing — these are some of the steepest runs you'll find in the U.S.
The town is home to the Fat Bike Festival, held the first weekend of April with parades and street parties accompanying the event.
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Door County, Wisconsin's picturesque coastal towns make it the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," and Sturgeon Bay is one of its biggest towns. As a shipbuilding hub, fishing is the name of the game here, including ice fishing in the winter.
But the bayside town off of Green Bay and Lake Michigan is inviting for its snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and sledding as well.
Mammoth Lakes, California
Just as its name implies, this town's mountain is mammoth in size. Considered California's best ski resort, it has more than 3,500 acres of skiable terrain serviced by 28 lifts.
Around the lake families are entertained with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobile rides and Wolly's Tube Park & Snow Play trails for all ages. Plus, the town is located near Yosemite National Park for other outdoor adventures as well as near the previously mentioned June Lake.
The best resort for beachgoers of California to find winter snow, Mammoth Mountain is as big as its name implies. There are 3,500 acres of skiable terrain serviced by 28 lifts.
International Falls, Minnesota
If you are going to be the "Icebox of the Nation," you better find a way to enjoy winter. That is why the town will celebrate its 40th annual Icebox Days Winter Festival in 2021.
With the town's close proximity to Voyageurs National Park, moonlight skiing is also part of the fun.
There are just so many wonderful Colorado towns with an abundance of charm and ski runs. Winer Park's 25 ski lifts and 3,060 vertical feet draw plenty of people, but it's the small town of Fraser at its base that is often overlooked.
What's great about Fraser is the train station that will deliver you straight here from Denver!
One of three towns that make this region of Vermont a trifecta of prettiest New England places, Grafton's history is on display with museums, Victorian homes and farms, and antiques at every turn.
Even its main inn is historic and will make you feel as if you are on the set of "White Christmas" when enjoying the holiday festivities and lights. And what better way to glide through town and the surrounding landscape than with cross-country skis?
Glacier is actually the closest town to Mount Baker and its ski area, located just outside Bellingham.
Considered a locals' resort because of how small it is — just 1,000 acres — the town provides an off-the-grid winter trip free of crowds and filled with privacy.
Park City, Utah
The celebs that arrive in this glitzy ski resort town add glamour to the once-host of the Winter Olympics.
Still an Olympic winter sports training facility, the city is home to Deer Valley Resort for slopeside fun in the Wasatch mountain range.
Yes, there is skiing to be found in the farmland state of Illinois.
Outside of Chicago, Chestnut Mountain Resort and the 19th-century-built Galena provides a picturesque winter wonderland. Here, enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides and watch the annual migration of bald eagles — real snowbirds!
Boyne Falls, Michigan
Outside of New York State, Michigan boasts more ski resorts than any other state — no joke!
And one of its best resorts is Boyne Mountain, where the small village of Boyne Falls awaits. Nighttime skiing is available to keep the fun going across the 30 acres of terrain.
Home to the state's most popular ski resorts, Zanesfield's intimate village grows when the snow falls. It may not have the elevations of a western resort, but at 1,460 feet, Mad River Mountain will do just fine for a ski getaway void of crowds.
Be sure to try the 10 lanes of snow tubing at the biggest tubing park in the state.
Snowshoe, West Virginia
Most ski resorts keep their villages at the base of the mountain. Not Snowshoe. This village can be found at the top of its Allegheny Mountain location.
Here, two mountain ridges converge (Cheat and Back Allegheny), and downhillers will enjoy 4,848-foot heights within the 244 acres of skiable terrain.
The Berkshires' Pittsfield and Stockbridge may get all the glory, but nearby Otis can celebrate both towns' amazing restaurants and shops that provide a simpler retreat and a small ski mountain.
Visit Otis ridge with its ski-in, ski-out accommodations, and find family-friendly programs and trails for all ages and abilities.
In the heart of the Pocono Mountains is Tannersville, within easy driving distance of Philadelphia and New York.
Home to Camelback Mountain ski resort and numerous resorts with gigantic indoor water parks, the area that already welcomes outdoor lovers in the summer has found a way to keep them coming in winter.
Maryland may be best known for its waterfront, but in the western part of the state, it has the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
In McHenry, the state's favorite ski resort, Wisp, features an alpine coaster, snow tubing and, of course, all kinds of skiing trails.
Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky isn't so much a small town but a large expanse of land near Yellowstone National Park that invites all to enjoy life under the big sky at the aptly named Big Sky Mountain.
With an elevation higher than 7,000 feet, downhill skiing in the winter (and mountain biking in the summer) are favorites in the land surrounded by geysers and hot springs.
Angel Fire, New Mexico
Located within the Enchanted Circle and nestled in the Moreno Valley, Angel Fire is home to its own ski resort in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
When you can't get to Bavaria, you can get to Leavenworth, home to its very own Bavarian village in the mountains.
Averaging nearly 100 inches of snow each year, the charming town looks straight out of a holiday storybook when blanketed in snow. Here, visitors can cross-country skiing on the Icicle River Trail or downhill skiing on Leavenworth's Skil Hill.
The highest ski peak in the state can be found at Granite Peak ski area in Rib Mountain State Park. With 68 runs and 700 vertical feet across 200 acres, this is a Midwestern North Pole.
While most people stay in nearby Wausau, Rothschild is a smaller village with a lot of charm.
For New England charm in spades, visit Bridgton in the lakes region for its Winter Carnival. From snowshoeing to dog sledding to ice fishing and ice sculptures, winter is celebrated in full.
The small town is home to Shawnee Peak ski area, which offers a 1,300-foot vertical.
Canandaigua, New York
The largest winter town on the list is just over 10,000 people and found in the Finger Lakes. Canandaigua welcomes skiing at its Bristol Mountain, but its year-round Aerial Adventures' Zipline Canopy Tour is the real highlight.
See the area from 5,000 feet above on seven ziplines and four bridges.
Besides Paoli Peaks ski resort within Brown County State Park, Nashville, Indiana, celebrates winter's maple harvest every March.
The National Maply Syrup Festival features sugaring demos, arts and crafts, and all things maple-flavored.