Sure, you could head down south for warmer winter weather, but it can be just as wonderful to embrace the season and explore northern vacation spots where there’s lots to do inside and out (just bundle up!). Here are six favorites in Vermont, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. Just be sure to check with destinations for their latest COVID-19 protocols, and follow CDC guidance for safe travel.
Smoke curls from chimneys and icicles dangle from eaves in this quaint northern Vermont ski town. Wedged between the evergreen peaks of the state’s namesake Green Mountains, the village of Stowe embodies the genuine charm of an old-fashioned New England winter. Start with a stroll along Main Street where the steeple of the Stowe Community Church punctuates the snug downtown and places like Stowe Mercantile and Shaw’s General Store — each with their penny candy and cozy woolens — hark back to a bygone era. Pop into the circa-1818 Stowe Town Meetinghouse, where the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum tells the story of the state’s snow sports heritage, complete with vintage gear, antique lift chairs and other memorabilia ($5 suggested donation).
Head north on state Route 108, better known as the Mountain Road, to Stowe Mountain Resort, one of the most popular ski areas in the region, now in its 85th season. Tucked at the base of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, the resort offers downhill fans an abundance of classic terrain, including the Toll Road, a mellow, meandering run through the woods. Cross-country and snowshoe aficionados should make a beeline to the Trapp Family Lodge (yes, The Sound of Music von Trapp family), where more than 35 miles of pristinely groomed trails across the property's 2,500 acres lead through a postcard-perfect setting. End a day of schussing with a pint or two at the von Trapp Bierhall, where the family’s crisp lagers accompany a menu featuring delicious Austrian-inspired fare.
Where to Stay: Trapp Family Lodge has been welcoming guests to its charming European-style chalet since 1950 (rooms are $200 and up). Or try the Field Guide Lodge, a stylish base camp in the heart of town ($179 and up).
Lake Placid, New York
This picturesque Adirondack village has played host to the winter games not once, but twice — first in 1932 and again in 1980 — but you don’t have to be an Olympian to enjoy its many cold-weather adventures. Kick things off with a visit to the Olympic Center, home to the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum and the Herb Brooks Arena, where a group of scrappy U.S. hockey players ousted the undefeated Soviet team in the epic 1980 gold-medal game known as the Miracle on Ice. (Note: The center is currently under construction, but the arena is expected to reopen to the public by the end of December. The museum won't reopen until November 2022, but you can visit a temporary exhibit with a selection of museum items in the interim. It's also home to the Olympic Speed Skating Oval, open this season for public skating. Check the site for updates.)
Though the village’s namesake lake sits at its northern end, the downtown actually surrounds the smaller Mirror Lake, which becomes a hive of activity during the winter. Pond hockey players pass the puck, snowshoers explore the frozen expanse, and teams of fluffy huskies pull sleds across the snow-covered ice. Nordic skiers can glide along the 50-kilometer woodland trail network at Mount Van Hovenberg, Lake Placid’s Olympic cross-country ski and biathlon venue, which offers gear rentals.
For dining, try Smoke Signals, a cozy barbecue joint overlooking Mirror Lake that serves savory house-smoked meats — chicken, pulled pork, brisket and ribs — alongside salads and appetizers, including their award-winning wings.
Where to Stay: You’ll find vintage, cabin-style lodging right in town at Lake House at High Peaks Resort ($119 and up), while The Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa offers plush lakeside accommodations and a gorgeous spa ($199 and up).
North Conway, New Hampshire
Cozy inns, friendly mom-and-pop shops (don’t miss Zeb’s General Store!) and miles of snowy trails for skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh riding make this New Hampshire village the ideal base camp for winter in the White Mountains. Mount Washington, which looms majestically at the end of Main Street, beckons visitors to explore the surrounding snowy landscape. Just a block or so from Zeb's is Vito Marcello's Italian Bistro, where Chef Vito serves his signature marinara sauce, homemade meatballs and minestrone in a warm, friendly atmosphere.
A great place to begin is 20 miles north of town at the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Pinkham Notch. Here, 28 miles of forested trails offer spectacular views of the Presidential Range. For a unique adventure, try fat biking, which involves pedaling snow-packed carriage roads on a bicycle equipped with extra-wide tires. Then climb aboard the center’s four-track Snow Coach for a guided tour to Mount Washington’s tree line. Feeling extra adventurous? You’re welcome to hop out at any point on the return trip to snowshoe the rest of the way down.
In nearby Bartlett, explore winter’s wonderland by snowmobile. Northern Extremes offers a variety of guided tours perfect for novices through the scenic Bear Notch snowmobile system. Or, for a romantic adventure, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride along the Saco River and through the woods at Farm by the River. And stop by beautiful Jackson Falls on the Wildcat River, just up the road from North Conway on Route 16 (you'll drive through the photogenic and historic Jackson covered bridge, known as the Honeymoon Bridge).
Where to Stay: Conway abounds with cozy accommodations. Two located right in town are the Cranmore Inn, which offers 19 rooms steeped in New England charm ($150 and up) and the Snowvillage Inn, tucked into the slopes of Foss Mountain 10 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of town (rates begin at $189/night).
Join today and get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.
Ashtabula County, Ohio
If you’ve never heard of ice wine, this bucolic county on the shores of Lake Erie is the place to start your education. Made from grapes that are left on the vine to freeze before being harvested at a chilly 17 degrees and pressed right away, ice wines are sweet, rich and perfect for dessert. More than 30 vineyards make up Ohio’s Grand River Valley viticulture area, where you’ll find everything from chardonnay to riesling to cabernet sauvignon, along with many delicious ice wine varieties, less than a 45-minute drive northeast from downtown Cleveland.
Wintertime in the wineries is especially magical. Bare grapevines contrast with the snowy landscape, Adirondack chairs surround blazing outdoor fire pits and local winemakers are frequently on hand to pour their wines and share their stories. For a unique experience, lace up your boots and wander through the dormant vines — several valley vineyards invite guests to explore. Afterward, warm up with a wine tasting. One of the coziest spots is Hundley Cellars in Geneva, where mother-daughter duo Tracy and Gerri pair warm hospitality with excellent wines, including a superior Bordeaux blend they call The Baron. Nearby, settle in to watch the snow fall and sip a glass of vidal blanc ice wine in the sparkling sunroom at Laurentia Vineyard & Winery in Madison.
Where to Stay: For gorgeous Lake Erie views and easy access to winter adventures at Geneva State Park, try The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake ($99 and up). Or consider nearby Vineyard Woods, where private cottages and three villa suites sit among the vines ($199 and up).
Traverse City, Michigan
Tucked into a bay on Lake Michigan, Traverse City attracts the lion’s share of its visitors during the summer — it's considered the Cherry Capital of the World, after all. But when the snow starts to fall, this northern Michigan burg vibrates with a warm winter spirit. Twinkling lights glimmer in the trees along Front Street, the city’s main drag, while cozy shops invite browsing, and craft breweries pour tasting flights. Traverse, as it’s called in these parts, also has a dynamic food scene that draws heavily from the bounty produced by local farms, orchards, and wineries. Favorites include amical, famed for its potpie and Sunday brunch, and Raduno, an Italian deli and cafe on Eighth Street. One unique spot in nearby Maple City that combines great food with winter fun is Broomstack Kitchen & Taphouse, which doubles as the home of the Leelanau Curling Club. Diners can take curling lessons at the on-site rink (its website sums up the experience: eatdrinkcurl.com).
Fifteen miles north of town, the colorful outpost of Suttons Bay is perfect for a stroll. Pop into Suttons Bay Bikes to rent a pair of snowshoes, and head out for a hike at 45 North Vineyard & Winery (named for the fact that Suttons Bay is on the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole). Loop through the vineyard’s vines and surrounding woods before settling into their cozy tasting room. Back in town, while away a few hours at The Dennos Museum Center, where you’ll find one of the largest collections of Inuit art made by the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic, Greenland and Alaska ($6 for adults).
Where to Stay: A former mansion built in 1905, The Wellington Inn Bed & Breakfast offers eight antique-style guest rooms right in the historic district ($195 and up, including full breakfast). For modern digs with Grand Traverse Bay views, try the chic Hotel Indigo, a five-minute walk from the shops and restaurants on Front Street ($135 and up).
Door County, Wisconsin
With its vibrant Scandinavian heritage and endearing small towns like Ephraim, Fish Creek, Sister Bay and Egg Harbor, this Wisconsin peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan is a hot summer destination, but also the perfect snowy spot to experience some wintertime hygge. Pronounced “hyoo-guh,” the Danish word encompasses feelings of cozy contentment or well-being that arise from enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Kick things off in Sturgeon Bay with a stroll through the historic downtown district, where you can browse unique homewares at Blissor, and watch master glassblowers Jeremy Polpeka and Stephanie Trenchard at their combined studio and gallery Polpeka Trenchard.
Then head north. A pair of two-lane roads — state routes 42 and 57 — wind along this pinkie of land. You're likely to find spectacular icy sheaves surrounded by the lake's glacier-blue waters at Cave Point County Park, while woodland trails at Whitefish Dunes State Park and The Ridges Sanctuary beckon snowshoers. For an old-fashioned adventure, join Door County Trolley for its Winter Wine Tour and Sleigh Ride. In the evening, warm up by the fire with a traditional Scandinavian fish boil at the historic White Gull Inn and Restaurant.
Where to Stay: The Fox Glove Inn in Sturgeon Bay has seven inviting suites and a warm atmosphere ($165 and up). In Fish Creek, settle into one of the White Gull Inn’s rooms, suites or cottages, some with fireplaces ($165 and up, full breakfast included).
Gina DeCaprio Vercesi is a New York-based journalist whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe, National Geographic Traveler, Travel+ Leisure and Sierra. She has lived in the Hudson Valley for more than 20 years.