Top 8 Places for Winter Road Trip (USA)
Road Trips > Cross Country Road Trip > Winter Road Trip Destinations
Planning a winter road trip can look daunting. Ice-covered roads need special skills if driving in a blizzard, and unknown terrain does indeed tend to discourage an amateur from hitting the road in winter.
But a real road trip lover will know that there are probably no things better than a winter road trip around the states. What is more, there are a whole bunch of destinations that are best visited only in winter.
Check out my top picks for a road trip during winter, and bear in mind that going on a road trip for Christmas is a nice way to jazz up your Christmas holiday and explore some of America’s hidden gems, often buried along its zippy traffic arteries.
Why You Should Exploring the Great Outdoors in Winter
Winter road trips offer a unique adventure experience, with tons of winter activities to boot. From coast to coast there are winter destinations for everyone — from the experienced winter traveler looking for something off the beaten path, to those who need a little more guidance in order to have an unforgettable winter experience. Here's why you should go on a winter road trip:
- Enjoy winter activities: hink winter sports, winter hiking, winter camping, snowmobiling and more.
- Discover winter wildlife: Spotting winter birds, animals and other wildlife is a great way to learn about the area’s environment and appreciate nature in winter.
- Take advantage of winter's crisp air and pristine landscapes: one of the best things about winter road trips is the opportunity to enjoy winter's crisp air and pristine landscapes. Winter brings its own unique beauty, offering majestic snow-blanketed mountains, frozen lakes and rivers. Happy travels! ❄️🚗⛷️✨
- Winter Time Deals: Benefit from winter-exclusive deals on hotels, airfare, car rentals and more. With winter comes an abundance of winter-only deals and discounts, so always check in with travel booking sites to get the best winter prices on accommodations and activities.
- Less Crowd: Cease the opportunity to travel off the beaten path to explore beautiful winter landscapes that are often less crowded during the winter months.
- Comfort Activities: Nothing beats winter camping! From cozying up to a campfire with family and friends, to winter sports like skiing or snowshoeing, winter camping offers an array of activities that can be enjoyed in the great outdoors.
- Winter Sunsets: Enjoy picturesque sunsets over frozen lakes or mountains for a memorable winter sightseeing experience.
- Winter Cuisine: Savor warm winter cuisine like hot chocolate and hearty soups or stews cooked over an open fire for a truly memorable winter dining experience.
- Disconnect from Technology: A winter road trip is a great chance to disconnect from technology and everyday life. The roads and destinations are less populated and you'll have plenty of peace and solitude.
- Winter Festivals: Taking a winter road trip is a great opportunity to participate in unique winter festivals with local culture, music and art. Winter festivals are a great way to experience winter, especially in the USA. From winter carnivals and winter beer festivals to winter music and winter film festivals, there’s something for everyone looking to have a unique winter experience.
US Winter Festivals
USA winter festivals have been around for centuries and have become an important part of winter culture. The following are some fantastic winter festivals worth exploring:
• Winter Carnival in St. Paul, Minnesota – This longstanding winter event has been celebrated since 1886 with art shows, horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice sculptures, snowshoe races, ice fishing contests and more.
• Traverse City Winter Festival – Located in Michigan’s northern country, this popular festival is focused on winter activities like ice skating, snowshoeing and snow tubing.
• Jackson Hole Snow King Winter Festival – This three-day quirky winter event features a ski competition, snow volleyball tournament and other outdoor activities like fat bike rallies and igloo building competitions.
• New York Ice Festival – Located in Lake Placid’s Olympic village this winter event is for serious adventurers who want to take part in ice climbing workshops or competitive alpine skiing competitions.
• Telluride Fire Festival – Taking place high up in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains this winter celebration features fire dancing performances as well as torchlight parades down the slopes of Telluride Ski Resort at nightfall.
Whether you’re looking for a unique way to experience winter or just looking for something fun to do during the cold months, USA's winter festivals offer something special for everyone!
Winter Road Trip Destinations
The only list you need for the top winter road trip destinations!
The Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains offer an unbeatable winter road trip destination for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With its snow-capped peaks, winter sports, winter cuisine, and breathtaking sunsets over frozen lakes and mountains, the Rockies provide a unique winter landscape that is perfect for enjoying all that winter has to offer. Whether you're looking for a peaceful getaway or an exciting adventure in nature's beauty, the Rocky Mountains are sure to have something special in store!
Things to Do in Winter in the Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains offer an array of winter activities to enjoy, here's a list of top things to do:
- Sledding at Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Take in winter wildlife: Keep an eye out for winter wildlife like elk, moose, and deer as you take an unforgettable winter drive up into the mountains.
- Skiing and snowboarding: Take advantage of winter's chill with a skiing or snowboarding adventure! Ski resorts in the Rockies offer winter fun for all skill levels.
- Snowshoe Rocky Mountain Trails
- Skiing and snowboarding: Take advantage of winter's chill with a skiing or snowboarding adventure! Ski resorts in the Rockies offer winter fun for all skill levels.
- Snowshoeing: Enjoy the winter beauty by going on a snowshoeing adventure, perfect for those looking to explore at a leisurely pace.
- Ice fishing: Test your skills by trying your hand at ice fishing in one of the many frozen lakes and rivers throughout the Rockies. You never know what you'll catch!
- Explore Rocky Mountain Park with a Ranger or a Winter Bus Tour
- Ice Climbing
- Attend a Winter Festival
- Soak in a Hot Spring
- and many many more!
Rocky mountain Popular ski resorts
Some popular ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains offering a wide range of terrain and a variety of amenities such as ski-in/ski-out lodging, dining, shopping, and après-ski activities include:
- Vail, Breckenridge,
- Park City, Utah
- Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- Aspen Snowmass,
Cost of Visiting the Rocky Mountains
The cost of visiting Rocky Mountains will vary depending on factors such as transportation, lodging, and activities. Visitors may need to purchase a park pass, which ranges from $25-70 for a 7-day pass. If you plan to camp, the cost will be around $20-30 per night, while lodging in a cabin or hotel can range from $100-300 per night. Activities such as hiking and guided tours will also add to the overall cost. It's best to plan ahead and research costs for specific locations and activities within the Rocky Mountains to get a better idea of the overall cost.
Zion National Park, Utah
There are many reasons to visit Zion National Park. The park is located in southern Utah and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. It is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including some species that are unique to the area. The park also offers a wide range of activities, from hiking and camping to rock climbing and river rafting. In addition, the park has a rich cultural history, with many interesting stories and legends associated with it. Overall, a visit to Zion National Park can be a rewarding and unforgettable experience.
Some people prefer to visit the park in the winter because the crowds are smaller and the scenery is often even more beautiful with a blanket of snow. Just be sure to dress warmly and check the park's website for any road closures or other important information before you go.
Another thing to take into consideration is that certain areas of the park may be closed or have limited access due to snow and ice, so it's a good idea to check the park's website for current road and trail conditions before you go. (here)
Things to do
There are many things to do in Zion National Park. Some popular activities include:
- rock climbing,
- bird watching,
- river rafting,
- The park also offers ranger-led programs and guided tours that provide visitors with an opportunity to learn more about the park's history and natural features.
The park also has several well-marked trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Camping is allowed in designated areas within the park, and backpacking is also a popular way to explore the park's more remote areas.
The cost of visiting Zion National Park varies depending on the type of admission you choose. A private, non-commercial vehicle is $35 per vehicle, which provides admission for the occupants of the vehicle for seven days. An individual on foot or on bike is $20 per person, which provides admission for seven days. A Zion Annual Pass is $70 and provides admission for the pass holder and three adults (16 and older) at sites where per person entrance fees are charged. Children 15 and under are always admitted free of charge. Additionally, the cost of activities and services within the park, such as camping and guided tours, may vary. It's a good idea to check the park's website for the most up-to-date information on fees and charges before you visit.
The Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest includes the states of Oregon and Washington and is considered a winter wonderland. Head up to Snoqualmie Pass for incredible winter activities like snowshoeing and sledding. Drive through the lush green forests of the old growth hikes in Olympic National Park or take a dip at one of the many hot springs along the way on your winter road trip!
Head down south for a winter road trip journey into California's beautiful desert regions. Death Valley National Park is an amazing winter destination, with temperatures rarely dropping below 40 degrees Fahrenheit during winter and some stunning wildflowers blooming as early as February! Put on your hiking boots and explore all of the trails from Mount Whitney to Badwater Basin.
For those who love being around water, drive further east through Nevada and into Utah’s Lake Powell. Winter is the best time to explore this stunning lake, with winter camping allowed around certain areas of the shoreline. Take a boat ride across the lake and catch some winter trout fishing along the way!
Finally, why not finish your winter road trip on a high note in Colorado? Take some time to admire winter wildlife like elk and bighorn sheep while driving through Rocky Mountain National Park or take part in winter activities such as skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Wherever you end up, winter road trips are always a fantastic way to spend quality time with family and friends while exploring America's beauty during its coldest months!
Things to do in the pacific northwest in winter
- Hiking in Olympic National Park
- Hot springs soaking
- Visiting Death Valley National Park
- Exploring Lake Powell
- Winter camping at the shoreline of Lake Powell
- Wildlife spotting in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating at Breckenridge Ski Resort
- Trout fishing along Lake Powell
- Snowshoeing and sledding at Snoqualmie Pass
- Exploring winter wildflowers in Death Valley
- and of course Snowmobiling and ice skating!
Popular ski resorts
- Mt. Bachelor, Oregon
- Crystal Mountain, Washington
Cost of a winter road trip to the pacific northwest
The cost of a winter road trip to the pacific northwest will vary significantly depending on your itinerary, but expect to spend at least $1,000 for the entire trip. This includes gas, food and lodging costs. If you plan to take part in winter activities such as skiing or snowshoeing, then you should also set aside some extra money for those activities. In addition, you may want to look into saving up by finding budget-friendly accommodation options such as hostels, campsites or Airbnb's along the way to stretch your dollars further!
Winter road trip to New England
The Northeastern United States is known for its snow and winter activities, so you can get in on all of that winter fun by taking a road trip. You can start your winter adventure in Vermont, where you can hit the slopes at Stowe Mountain Resort or take a scenic drive through the Green Mountains.
Continue your winter excursion in Massachusetts with a visit to Mount Greylock State Reservation for some winter hiking, wildlife spotting and incredible views from one of the highest peaks in the state! Drive further east and explore Maine’s Acadia National Park with winter activities like ice fishing, skiing and snowshoeing.
End your winter road trip in Connecticut, where you can explore winter activities such as ice skating, sledding and winter camping at Mohawk Mountain State Park. Finally, don’t forget to make a stop at Mystic for some delicious seafood. Cost of winter road trip to New England The cost of a winter road trip to the New England states will depend on how much time you plan to spend there and which activities you take part in. Expect to spend around $1,500 - $2,000 for the whole winter excursion. This includes gas, food and lodging costs as well as other winter activities that you may choose to partake in such as skiing or snowshoeing!
Things To Do In New England
- Skiing and snowboarding at Stowe Mountain Resort
- Winter hiking in Mount Greylock State Reservation
- Snowshoeing and winter camping in Acadia National Park
- Ice skating, sledding and winter camping at Mohawk Mountain State Park
- Exploring Mystic’s seafood restaurants
- Ice fishing in Maine
- Wildlife spotting along the winter trails of New England
- Exploring winter markets in Massachusetts
- Sightseeing along the coast of Connecticut
- Taking a scenic drive through Vermont’s Green Mountains
Popular ski resorts
- Stowe, Vermont
- Killington, Vermont
- Sunday River, Maine
Cost of a winter road trip to New England
The cost of a winter road trip to the New England states will depend on how much time you plan to spend there and which activities you take part in. Expect to spend around $1,500 - $2,000 for the whole winter excursion. This includes gas, food and lodging costs as well as other winter activities that you may choose to partake in such as skiing or snowshoeing! With winter trips like these, there's no shortage of winter fun and adventure to be had! So what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore America during its coldest months! You won't regret it.
Winter road trip to The Midwest
If winter in the Midwest is calling your name, then take a winter road trip from Minneapolis to Chicago and explore all of winter's wonders. Start off by exploring Minneapolis' winter attractions such as ice skating at the Depot Rink or tubing at Afton Alps. Then head south to Wisconsin for some winter fun activities like skiing at Wilmot Mountain or snowshoeing in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Continue eastward for an amazing winter experience in Michigan with a visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore where you can take part in winter activities such as cross country skiing, snowmobiling and fat tire biking! End your Midwest winter road trip by visiting Chicago and explore its famous Magnificent Mile- there's winter shopping, winter events, winter restaurants and much more!
Things To Do In The Midwest
- Ice skating at the Depot Rink in Minneapolis
- Tubing at Afton Alps in Minnesota
- Skiing at Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin
- Snowshoeing in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
- Cross country skiing in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
- Snowmobiling in Michigan
- Fat tire biking in Michigan
- Exploring Chicago's Magnificent Mile
Popular ski resorts
- Boyne Mountain, Michigan
- Lutsen Mountains, Minnesota
- Granite Peak, Wisconsin
Cost of winter road trip to The Midwest
The cost of a winter road trip to the Midwest will depend on how much time you plan to spend there and which activities you take part in. Expect to spend around $800 -$1,000 for the winter excursion. This includes gas, food and lodging costs as well as other winter activities that you may choose to partake in!
Seward Highway, Alaska
The Seward Highway is a scenic road in Alaska that offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. The highway runs along the coast of the Kenai Peninsula, providing access to a number of popular destinations, including Seward, Girdwood, and Whittier. The highway is known for its stunning views of the ocean, mountains, and glaciers, and is a popular route for travelers looking to experience the natural beauty of Alaska. In addition to its scenic beauty, the Seward Highway is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bears, moose, and bald eagles. Overall, a road trip on the Seward Highway is an unforgettable way to explore the beauty of Alaska.
Drive from Anchorage to Portage, one of the best winter road trips USA. The road will take you through some of America’s most secret nature marvels like the Chugach National Forest, Turnagain Arm, and Kenai Lake, to the ghost town of Portage.
Things to do
There are many things to do along the Seward Highway. Some popular activities include:
- wildlife viewing,
- and photography.
The highway offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape, including mountains, glaciers, and the ocean, and is a great place to take in the natural beauty of Alaska. Wildlife viewing is also popular along the highway, as it is home to a variety of animals, including bears, moose, and bald eagles. Photographers will also find plenty of opportunities to capture beautiful landscapes and wildlife along the Seward Highway. Additionally, the highway provides access to a number of popular destinations, such as Seward, Girdwood, and Whittier, where you can find a range of other activities and attractions.
- Note that you can put up at The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre for an immersive tour of local wildlife, one of the best pristine nature resorts to put up on your road trip during winter.
Popular places to stay at Seward Highway
The Seward Highway offers plenty of options for winter lodging. Some popular winter lodges include:
- Seward Windsong Lodge - Located just minutes from the Seward Highway, this cozy lodge offers comfortable rooms with all the necessary amenities.
- Fox Hollow Bed and Breakfast - A perfect destination for a romantic winter getaway, this bed and breakfast is situated in beautiful Fox Hollow Valley and surrounded by nature.
- The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre - Offering immersive tours of local wildlife, this conservation centre is one of the best pristine nature resorts to put up on your winter road trip. No matter where you decide to stay along the Seward Highway, you are sure to have an unforgettable winter experience!
Cost of winter road trip to Seward Highway
The cost of a winter road trip to Seward Highway will depend on how much time you plan to spend there and which activities you take part in. Expect to spend around $1,000 -$2,000 for the winter excursion, including gas and food. This price is also subject to change depending on your lodging and winter activities that you may choose to partake in! Overall, the Midwest and Seward highway are great winter destinations that offer a wealth of winter activities and attractions. Whether it's skiing or snowshoeing in Wisconsin or exploring the natural beauty of Alaska along the Seward Highway - both offer an unforgettable winter experience!
Great Smoky National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee
Covering 81 miles, along US 321 and I-40E or US Highway 441 and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Road Trip is one of the best winter road trips USA.
Even though you can start off from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, I embarked on my journey from Asheville, North Carolina. The scenic drive took me through Great Smoky Mountain National Park, one of top ten winter road trip destinations.
What I liked most along the way was the mind-blowing panoramic views of the mountains and the truly Alpine freshness of the air.
For example, the stretch along Blue Ridge Parkway in Cherokee is really of unrivalled beauty, while upon your arrival in Gatlinburg you will be able to profit from choice winter sports infrastructure, and go snowboarding, snow tubing or skiing in Ober Gatlinburg, one of the best winter road trip skiing options.
Popular places to stay
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers plenty of winter lodgings to choose from. Popular winter lodging options include:
• The Lodge at Buckberry Creek - Located just minutes away from the national park entrance, this cozy lodge offers comfortable rooms with all the necessary amenities.
• Mountain Vista Inn & Suites - Situated amidst stunning winter landscapes, this inn and suites provides guests with spacious lodgings, recreational activities, and a restaurant on-site.
• Four Seasons Resort Gatlinburg - Enjoy luxurious winter getaways in the beautiful town of Gatlinburg with all the modern amenities provided by the resort’s friendly staff.
The cost of winter road trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can vary depending on your individual needs.
On average, winter lodging and activities in the park itself will range from $50-$200 per day. Expenses outside of the park such as food, gas, and souvenirs can be additional costs to consider when budgeting for a winter road trip.
It is also important to factor in any winter weather conditions or road closures that may occur during your travels. Make sure to check local forecasts before departing on your winter adventure!
Yosemite National Park, California
Having spent the last two winters in California, I’ve really taken to its zippy tarmac. For example, last winter, I travelled to Yosemite National Park. In the end, it turned out to be one of the best winter road trips I had ever undertaken.
To see the gob-smacking panorama of what is arguably one of America’s most scenic nature sanctuaries, you should begin your California winter road trip in Groveland, California and then set on for a journey of a lifetime through the amazing Yosemite Valley.
The ride will take you through a valley gowned in snow. Its huge rock formations, looking like snow-clad giants, dwarf you and your car, while the magnificent waterfalls along the way morph into gargantuan, somewhat grotesque ice figures.
It is this preternatural landscape that accompanies you on the way to one of the main winter road trip destinations USA, Badger Pass Ski Area, where you can not just gaze at the snow but also speed on it.
Bear in mind that even though winter road closures are widespread in Yosemite Valley, Wawona Road (Highway 41), El Portal Road (Highway 140), Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120 from the west), and Hetch Hetchy Road remain open year-round.
Things to do
• Skiing & Snowboarding – Embark on a winter adventure and explore the snow-covered trails at Badger Pass, the only ski area in Yosemite National Park. From beginner to expert, there are slopes for all levels!
• Hiking & Camping - Explore the wintery wilderness of Yosemite and take in breathtaking views while hiking or camping during your winter road trip.
• Sightseeing – Witness winter wildlife along with stunning landscapes as you drive through Yosemite National Park. Be sure to bring your camera to capture amazing picturesque moments!
• Stargazing – On clear nights, visitors can look up into the dark skies above and marvel at dazzling star formations during wintertime.
Popular places to stay
• Yosemite View Lodge – This winter road trip destination offers winter visitors the perfect lodging experience while exploring Yosemite National Park. Guests can enjoy comfortable accommodations with a variety of amenities such as gs, recreational activities, and a restaurant on-site.
• The Redwoods in Yosemite - Spend some quality time in nature at this winter wonderland resort nestled among majestic redwood trees. With endless outdoor recreation opportunities and cozy fireplaces in each room, you’ll be sure to feel right at home during your winter getaway!
• Tenaya Lodge - Located just outside the park entrance, Tenaya Lodge is the ideal place for winter explorers looking to relax after a day of adventure. Enjoy heated pool cabanas, hot tubs, and winter spa treatments during your winter road trip!
Highway 395, California
Even though Wild West-set movies are usually more about summer than winter, my first encounter with the region was on a winter road trip. Probably it is thanks to that that I really lost my heart to this part of California.
First of all, the highway offers you a beautiful mountain panorama, with some areas offering you a wide choice of mountain accommodation, with great views. Then, you have all kinds of red rock formations, huge canyons, and intricate hoodoos.
To profit from it all, pull over the roadside from time to time and take photos.
I, for example, took great snaps at the renowned Mobius Arch, with gigantic Mount Whitney towering above, one of the main jewels of the Alabama Hills.
Other great spots include Convict Lake, where you can stroll to exercise, or Tahoe Lake, one of the US’ rare winter road trip destinations where you can actually ride a gondola.
Keep in mind that one of the best things to do while on Highway 395 is to drive up to Mammoth Mountain to speed down from the top of it: increased levels of adrenalin guaranteed.
Road trip through Maine
One of the best times to visit Maine is winter. The stark snow-clad beauty, Maine calls you for the road trip of your lifetime.
You can traverse the whole length of the state from West to East, through a series of small towns where accommodation is affordable, the secret formula for a budget road trip.
I started my Maine road trip in Portland and drove all the way to Houlton.
What made such a route appealing was the chance to visit Canada before driving back, one of the US winter road trips to do a visa run.
On my way, I saw some unique Maine landmarks, like Portland Headlight, or scenic Cadillac Mountain, situated somewhat off the main road, and nice tranquil towns like Bangor. Also, I was able to profit from great winter sports activities: for example, I managed to ride a snowmobile at one of the best power sports centers, Houlton Powersports.
All in all, Maine felt like a really different world, with rugged, self-reliant locals keeping secret the unrivalled charm of Maine in winter.
Colorado Devil Road Trip
Even though the six previous are fairly easy to accomplish, me being somewhat of an upstart, the Colorado Road trip is different. It is one of the most challenging road trips on the list, and as such should be undertaken only by the most seasoned road trip aficionados.
I started out from Ourvay (an alternative “route head” is Silverton) and went 24 miles to Silverton, one of Colorado’s most picturesque winter road trip destinations. The road is part of the breathtakingly beautiful Colorado Million Road Trip, and even though some will, with some authority, probably claim it is the fiendishness of some of its hairpins that gave it its name (If for 1.000.000 USD I would not drive down the highway again!) others will claim that it was named after the gob-smacking panoramas opening along the way: really million dollar views!
Whatever the etymology of the route’s name, the ride is quite dangerous, so don’t hit the brakes unless in one of the ghost towns lining the road, and don’t stop in between!
Blue Ridge Mountains Road Trip, Northern Virginia
Connecting arguably the two best nature reserves for a road trip, Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah, you can easily spend up to a week on the stretch of road linking the two.
I started off my multiple-day car ride at Charlottesville, by driving to Blue Ridge Parkway North Entrance, lying about 30 minutes away from the city.
En route I stopped at Humpback Area, an old caravansarai, boasting some old buildings, and known for great hiking trails. I put up here for the night and did some hiking.
The following days, I continued driving with a stop at Glasgow, a bit off the road, and just reveled in the beauty of the highway, a visit to the gorgeous Natural Bridge State Park, Roanoke, with many beautiful overlooks, and Floyd, a great town to spend the day while on the highway; Ashtonville, West Jefferson and, finally, Baltimore.
All in all, the highway is not just a great way to go from Shenandoah to Smokies, but also is a really scenic ride in and of itself. So, pack up and never stop exploring the beautiful Appalachians!
About the Author
Ivan Ivoilov is a freelance writer. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, he has spent the last four years exploring the Indo-Pacific and is doing a Master’s degree in Estonia, at the University of Tartu. Ivan’s main interests include collaborative creative writing and creating bespoke tours and pop-up writing retreats. Follow Ivan and his literary adventures on Instagram, or Facebook.