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Budget-Friendly Winter Getaways

These 10 destinations shine in the snowy season, with free outdoor activities, events and cozy places to stay that won’t break the bank

spinner image a man skiis down a mountain in santa fe new mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a winter paradise from about November through March, with an average of 32 inches of snow in town and up to 300 inches in its surrounding mountains.
Tourism Santa Fe

While some might be inclined to plan beach vacations when the mercury drops, hot chocolate by a fire and outdoor sports sprinkled with snow can be just as restorative for those who love winter. If you’re one of them, now’s the time to start thinking of wool hats and cozy snow globe scenes as you plan a getaway that delivers all the wonders of the season. Here are 10 of our favorite chilled-out (literally) destinations that ratchet up hibernal merriment without freezing your funds.

spinner image kirkwood avenue in bloomington indiana
Kirkwood Avenue is full of shops, cafés, bars, restaurants and performance venues.
Indiana Stock / Alamy Stock Photo

Bloomington, Indiana

Snowy rolling hills and ice-covered trees transform Bloomington into an urban winter wonderland, especially around downtown’s light-strung square and historic Monroe County Courthouse. Wander iconic Kirkwood Avenue, chock-full of shops, cafés, bars, restaurants and performance venues. Indiana University’s walkable, 1,900-acre campus is nearby, too, and home to one of B-town’s hidden gems: the world’s largest collection of mechanical puzzles — more than 35,000 of them — tucked inside IU’s Lilly Library.

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Of course, no college town is complete without a good watering hole, and Crazy Horse is a local favorite thanks to cheap daily specials, including $3 mimosas and Bloody Marys on weekends. Get your live music fix at the famed Bluebird Nightclub, where artists rock out year-round and tickets run between $5 and $20. 

If you prefer to immerse yourself in serene winter scenery, the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve has eight trails that are all less than 2 miles long. Ice sculpting, kids’ games and hot chili are in store for visitors to the fourth annual (and free) Freezefest, which takes place in downtown Bloomington on Jan. 19 and 20. 

Stay: Showers Inn, within walking distance of Kirkwood Avenue, has 12 cozy rooms, some with fireplaces, plus free parking and daily breakfast. Rates start at around $139.

spinner image a man skiing in quechee vermont
Be sure to check out skiing.
Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography.com / Alamy Stock Photo

Quechee and Woodstock, Vermont

Just 2½ hours from downtown Boston, these two historic villages, less than 8 miles apart, deliver double the opportunity to experience historic and picturesque New England charm. Stroll hand in hand along Woodstock’s Central Street, lined with clothing boutiques, art galleries and the Yankee Bookshop, where you can pick up a bestseller or browse the selection of vinyl records. On nearby Elm Street, family-owned F.H. Gillingham & Sons General Store has shelves full of locally made Vermont goodies, including cheddar cheese and maple syrup. 

One of Vermont’s best-kept ski secrets is Ski Quechee, a forgiving family-friendly hill with full-day lift tickets for just $57 and half-day tickets (after noon) for $44 ($22 if you ski from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday afternoons). The village of Quechee is also home to the Simon Pearce glass factory, where visitors can watch glassblowing demonstrations and dine overlooking the Ottauquechee River. Before heading home, make sure to snap a photo of the area’s picturesque covered bridges.

Stay: The seven rooms at the adorable Village Inn of Woodstock are full of antiques, and a second-floor suite has an original woodburning fireplace. Best of all, a gourmet breakfast made with Vermont ingredients is included with the stay. Rates start at around $238. 

spinner image a person skiis down a mountain in santa fe new mexico
There are ski slopes about 35 minutes from downtown.
Tourism Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Though the Southwest conjures images of scorching heat, Santa Fe, with its year-round sunshine and 7,198-foot elevation, is a winter paradise from about November through March, with an average of 32 inches of snow in town and up to 300 inches in the surrounding mountains. Skiing is a popular pursuit, since you can be schussing down the slopes just 35 minutes from downtown at family-friendly Ski Santa Fe, where weekday full-day lift tickets for older adults (ages 62 to 71) are just $76 ($16 for those 72-plus).

Take a wintry stroll along Canyon Road, a pedestrian-friendly stretch of former adobe homes that now house varied Santa Fe art galleries. In February, the second annual Art + Sol winter festival brings live performances as well as special exhibitions to town, with a range of ticketed and free events. For a taste of some of Santa Fe’s stellar cuisine —and some dining-out deals — visit during Santa Fe Restaurant Week, held in late February and early March.

Stay: Less than a mile from Santa Fe’s historic plaza, the 154-room Sage Hotel is a pet-friendly option, with complimentary amenities including a downtown shuttle, breakfast, guest laundry and Wi-Fi. Winter midweek rates start at around $85.

spinner image interior, The University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
The University of Michigan Museum of Art is a free museum on campus.
B.O'KANE / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Ann Arbor, Michigan

The city of Ann Arbor, about 45 minutes west of downtown Detroit, is home to the University of Michigan, which means there is usually a lot going on — and not just on game day. There are several free museums on campus, including the University of Michigan Museum of Art, which houses a large collection of European, Chinese, Japanese, African and American art and hosts dozens of special exhibitions each year. Car buffs should motor 8 miles east to the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, spotlighting Michigan’s auto-manufacturing history with displays of vintage vehicles ($5 admission). 

Looking for some winter retail therapy? Ann Arbor’s downtown is made for walking, browsing and eating thanks to its abundance of independent theaters, shops, bars, breweries and restaurants (Main, State and Liberty streets are good places to start). Take a quick stroll through the Nickels Arcade, a covered mosaic-tiled shopping corridor listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and check out the calendar of events at Literati Bookstore and at the Michigan Theater, which hosts some free events.

At most downtown bars, you can count on daily food and drink discounts. If you’re in town on a Thursday, go to Good Time Charley’s for the $6 burger, fries and soft drink special. Locals don’t let a little cold weather stop them from enjoying the numerous surrounding parks all year long, and you shouldn’t either. Top among cross-country skiers and snowshoers is 439-acre Rolling Hills County Park, where the varied terrain and trails suit all levels. You can rent skis for $10 an hour. 

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Stay: The Baxter House puts the “breakfast” in B&B thanks to an innkeeper who’s also an avid foodie and cookbook author. Rates start at around $175 (two-night minimum).

spinner image a street in the town of decorah iowa
Picturesque Decorah is a town of fewer than 8,000 people.
Kim Hanson / Alamy Stock Photo

Decorah, Iowa

In the northeast corner of the state in an area known as the Driftless (“a part of the country the glaciers missed,” according to Visit Decorah), this picturesque town of fewer than 8,000 people is just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer — though it requires a few more layers for an enjoyable stroll past the downtown district’s historic buildings on Main and Water streets that are home to restaurants, boutiques and bars. Decorah is also home to the country’s largest museum devoted to a single immigrant group, the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School, which holds more than 33,000 artifacts, folk art, tools and furnishings ($12 admission, $10 for 65-plus but free on the second Saturday of the month). 

Winter sports lovers will appreciate Decorah’s proximity to classic track cross-country skiing on the Trout Run Trail, an 11-mile loop near downtown and along the Upper Iowa River. Don’t want to schlep your own gear? Head to Decorah Bicycles and rent a pair of cross-country skis ($10 for 24 hours) or ice skates ($5 for 24 hours), then walk to the basketball courts-turned-ice-rink at Carl Selland Wayside Park. 

Cold craft brews are a year-round treat in Decorah, and Pulpit Rock Brewing Company has several on tap that are only $3 for a 4-ounce pour, making it easy to create your own flight. For some entertainment with your beer, head to Toppling Goliath Taproom on Tuesday nights between 6 and 7:30 p.m. for free games of bingo with prizes. 

Stay: The historic Hotel Winneshiek has simple rooms and large suites perfect for families, and it’s within walking distance of shops, museums and galleries. Rates start at around $149.

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Bogart’s, a casual downtown eatery, draws a crowd for its signature margaritas.
Visit Montana

Red Lodge, Montana

Set against the Beartooths, Montana’s highest mountains, Red Lodge dishes out warm welcomes year-round, even during its snow-covered winters. Red Lodge Nordic has more than 9 miles of groomed classic and skate cross-country ski trails, with $10-per-day passes. You can rent equipment in town at Sylvan Peak Mountain Shop from $20 a day.

Kick off the holiday spirit at the annual Christmas Stroll on Dec. 1 and 2, when a children’s story time brings cheer to little ones at Beartooth Books, an evening parade cruises down Broadway, and downtown shops stay open late. If you’re craving margaritas in winter, head to Bogart’s, a casual downtown eatery that draws a crowd for its signature drinks, ranging from the traditional to such specialties as jalapeño mango and sangria.

For downhill skiers, Red Lodge Mountain, just 15 minutes from downtown, offers 70 runs, spread over 1,635 acres, and a flex lift ticket (a few blackout dates apply) for one day of skiing during the 2023-24 season for $85. Advance purchase is required.

Stay: The locally owned Pollard Hotel ticks the boxes for a historic stay in a western town, with midweek rooms from around $140. There’s also an onsite restaurant and a gym.

spinner image Leavenworth WA, with lighting decoration in winter.
A half-million lights cast their glow on Leavenworth from Thanksgiving until Valentine’s Day.
NATTHAPHONG JANPUM / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Leavenworth, Washington

If you’re looking for a small town that cranks up the holiday cheer all season long, the Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth, in the foothills of the Cascade Range, rises to the top of the list. With a half-million lights casting their glow from Thanksgiving until Valentine’s Day, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve fallen into a snow globe. January is a great time to visit, when Winter Karneval skates into town with ice-carving contests, musical entertainment, and German-style food and drink seven days a week. 

The half-timbered buildings along Front and Commercial streets house shops and restaurants, such as Colchuck’s, a family-friendly spot for pretzels dipped in cheese sauce and bratwurst cooked to perfection. For beer lovers, Stein will feel like home, thanks to its 55 taps pouring rotating styles and comfort-food pub grub. 

In keeping with the holiday spirit, more than 9,000 nutcrackers, some dating back centuries, are on display at the Nutcracker Museum ($5 admission; $3.50 for age 65 and up). The Leavenworth Winter Sports Club, minutes from downtown, has two groomed downhill slopes serviced by rope tows. Lift tickets are $29 per day, $23 for age 70-plus. Leavenworth is full of beautiful cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails, too, and there are plenty of places to rent equipment in town.

Stay: In the heart of town, just steps from tasting rooms, shops and restaurants, the Leavenworth Village Inn has 11 comfortable rooms and eight suites with jetted bathtubs and gas fireplaces. Rates start at around $119.

spinner image ice castles lit up with bright colors at night as people tour them
Ice Castles, which usually runs January through February, features artists who create massive structures and tunnels from tens of thousands of pounds of icicles.
Go Heber Valley, Utah

Midway, Utah

With its Swiss heritage, the charming city of Midway brims with European flair about 45 miles southeast of Salt Lake City in the Heber Valley. Winter is especially mesmerizing thanks to Ice Castles, a one-of-a-kind annual event (tickets are $23 on weekends, $18 on weekdays) that usually runs January through late February or early March (weather dependent). For the event, ice artists create massive structures, tunnels, fountains and slides from tens of thousands of pounds of icicles. 

During winter, Midway’s Town Square is home to Utah’s largest outdoor ice rink, where adults can skate for $7, then warm up with hot chocolate and hot apple cider. Book now for a December North Pole Express excursion aboard the historic Heber Valley Railroad, departing from Heber City, less than 10 minutes from Midway. The round-trip journey takes 90 minutes and includes hot cocoa, chocolate chip cookies, Christmas carols and a visit from Santa. Prices start at $42 per adult. 

Stay: Zermatt Resort’s decor delivers Swiss chalet vibes, as does the on-site restaurant, where you can share a fondue-for-two appetizer for $21. Rooms start at $189 per night.

spinner image bucks county playhouse in new hope pennsylvania
Bucks County Playhouse has welcomed legendary performers since opening in 1939.
Visit Bucks County by Kevin Crawford

New Hope, Pennsylvania

If you prefer browsing to bum runs for your winter getaway, head to New Hope, Pennsylvania, known for its eclectic shops, waterside restaurants and historic sites. The Delaware Canal runs right through it, and photos and memorabilia inside the 19th-century Locktender’s House, open year-round, detail life on the locks. Seven miles away, Washington Crossing Historic Park marks the spot where Gen. George Washington crossed the Delaware River in 1776. From January to March, guides lead daily tours for $7 per person; you’re free to explore on your own too.  

Make sure to poke around New Hope’s downtown streets for pleasant surprises, such as the Three Cranes Gallery, where you can snag merino wool mittens and cozy sweater jackets.  

Warm up your insides with flights of whiskey (from $25) and a menu full of small sharing plates at Nektar, across the street from the Bucks County Playhouse, which has welcomed legendary performers since it opened in 1939.

Stay: Built in 1817 by one of New Hope’s founders, Olivia’s Bridge Street Inn has eight impeccably decorated and equipped en suite bedrooms and a cozy fireplace-warmed living room. The inn serves daily hot breakfast to guests. Rooms are from around $159 per night.

spinner image View of Clinton Square with the city Christmas tree at night in downtown Syracuse, New York
Clinton Square features an ice-skating rink and a Christmas tree.
DEBRA MILLET / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Syracuse, New York

Love everything about the snow? So does everyone in Syracuse. With an average snowfall of 128 inches a year — making it the snowiest city in the country — this town thrives in the winter. See for yourself at Clinton Square, in the middle of downtown, where a picturesque ice rink is framed by Syracuse’s architecturally eye-catching buildings ($5 admission; $3 for 55-plus; $5 for skate rental).

The Salt City Market food hall is the hot spot for tasting cuisine from all corners of the world at reasonable prices. Try chicken curry at Big in Burma ($15), soul food classics at Miss Prissy’s ($17 for fried haddock and two sides) and vegan pineapple fried rice at Firecracker Thai Kitchen ($16). 

In February, the annual Winterfest celebration embraces the wintry days and nights with fireworks, ice sculptures and free ice-skating. About an hour outside the city, the Osceola Tug Hill XC Ski Center has 100-plus acres of gorgeous trails. Rent snowshoes for $10 and cross-country skis for $20 ($18 for age 62 and up).

Stay: The 261-room Marriott Syracuse Downtown was restored to its original 1924 glory in 2016 and blends old-world opulence with affordable convenience near Syracuse University and Armory Square. Rates start at around $152.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 5, 2022. It's been updated to reflect new information. 

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