Hate the Cold? These 11 Winter Vacation Ideas Might Change Your Mind

Spice things up with a winter vacation that gives everyone in the family something to look forward to when the weather outside is frightful.
Happy girl in winter wonderland (Photo: @mikeygl via Twenty20)
Photo: @mikeygl via Twenty20

Unless you love snowy days and cold weather, winter vacations may not be at the top of your family vacation ideas wish list. But while spring breaks, summer trips, and fall getaways get all the attention, winter is actually a sneaky-good time to plan a family trip.

Because it’s the off-season in many of the best family vacation spots in the U.S., you can often find discounted rates on everything from hotels stays and vacation rentals to flights and rental cars. Plus, winter vacations offer the unique opportunity to choose between warm-weather family beach vacations or embrace the cold for some fun in the snow. 

The Best Winter Vacations in the U.S. for Families

Best of all, winter family vacations give everyone something to look forward to when the weather is dreary and the kids are longing for spring break. No matter what you choose, these winter vacation ideas will help you plan a family trip you’ll never forget.

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Warm Winter Vacations in the U.S.

Warm winter vacations give your family something to look forward to in the dark months of winter. When the temperatures drop, the roads get icy, and the daylight hours shrink, the thought of sunshine, warmth (and maybe a beach) can really add some spring to your step. Here are some amazing warm vacation spots in the U.S. to add to your “must-go” list. 

1. Maui, Hawaii

Kids standing inside the volcanic crater of Haleakala in Maui (Photo: @makenamedia via Twenty20)
Kids standing inside the volcanic crater of Haleakala in Maui (Photo: @makenamedia via Twenty20)

With more than 30 miles of white, gray, and black sand beaches, you could easily spend an entire family vacation swimming, snorkeling, and soaking in the rays on Maui. But there’s so much more to do on this Hawaiian island, too. Think boogie boarding, luaus, whale-watching, helicopter rides, and volcanic crater hikes, just for starters.

If you’re traveling with little ones, don’t miss out on Kapalua Beach. Protected inside a lava rock cove, the calm waters are ideal for small swimmers. If your family loves to snorkel, head to Makena Beach, a.k.a. “turtle town,” to see the resident green sea turtles. 

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Adventure-loving families won’t want to miss out on the chance to see Maui from on high. Take a helicopter tour for a bird’s eye view of Haleakala, the largest volcano on the island; or zip line above the trees in Maui’s jungle-like rainforest. If you visit from December through March, take a whale-watching tour to see the humpback whales that pass through Maui’s warm waters on their annual migratory journey. Hikers should plan a day trip inside the Mars-like crater of Haleakala. And for a single-day family road trip the kids will never forget, drive the twists and turns of the scenic road to Hana.

Where to Stay in Maui, Hawaii

For easy access to all things sand and sun, stay at Napili Surf Beach Resort. Rated highly for families, this resort offers spacious units with kitchens and a family-friendly pool area. It’s also within walking distance of shopping, dining, and the beach.

2. Orlando, Florida

Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Universal Orlando (Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)
Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Universal Orlando (Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)

When you think of winter family vacations in Florida, you probably think of the Orlando theme parks. From Disney’s Star Wars land and Universal’s Harry Potter theme park areas to EPCOT, SeaWorld, and LEGOLAND Florida, it’s hard to know which Florida park to visit first. But while these world-famous amusement parks for kids are a great reason to visit Orlando in the winter, they’re far from the only thing for families to do in things this vibrant (and sunny) vacation spot.

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Other don’t-miss Orlando attractions include the Sea Life Aquarium, Madame Tussards Orlando, and the Museum of Illusions, just to name a few. Winter vacationers can also take in several seasonal festivals and events, including the EPCOT International Festival of Arts, which runs from mid-January to late February, and the Dazzling Lights nighttime displays at Leu Gardens

Where to Stay for Winter Vacations in Orlando, Florida

If your plans involve any of the Universal theme parks, nothing beats the location, affordability, and retro-chic of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Like the other Universal hotels in Orlando, it’s packed with kid-friendly amenities, and there are two pools, a bowling alley, a lazy river, and free shuttle service between the parks.

3. Clearwater, Florida

The old-fashioned pier and palm-lined promenade make Clearwater Beach one of the best East Coast vacations in the U.S. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The palm-lined promenade of Clearwater Beach (Photo: Shutterstock)

For a tantalizing blend of outdoor fun and kid-friendly attractions, pack your bags and head to Clearwater. From picnicking at Sand Key Park and strolling the boardwalk at Pier 60 to sunbathing and swimming along the five-mile Beach Walk, this sunny Florida beach town is chock full of things to do.

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Hop on the Clearwater Jolley Trolley to easily get to shopping and dining in the downtown and surrounding areas. Don’t miss the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where kids can marvel at the antics of river otters and bottlenose dolphins. Older kids can try their hand at indoor surfing at SurfStyle’s FlowRider, and everyone will enjoy a walk or bike ride on the picturesque Pinellas Trail.

Where to Stay in Clearwater, Florida

Stay at the family-friendly Winter the Dolphin’s Beach Club. It’s named for a famous local dolphin with a prosthetic tail who inspired the Dolphin Tales movies. The resort partners with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and offers discounted tickets with every stay. Kids will enjoy the nautical-themed rooms and pool.

4. San Juan, Puerto Rico

Brilliant sky above Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (@RandomHartz via Twenty20)
Brilliant sky above Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (Photo: @RandomHartz via Twenty20)

If your ideal winter trip involves a mix of history, culture, and beach time, Puerto Rico is the warm vacation spot for you. Base your trip in the capital of San Juan, where you’ll find cobblestone streets and stunning colonial architecture. Be sure to grab a creamy, fruity popsicle at Señor Paleta before flying kites at the historic Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

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In the nearby town of Carolina, don’t miss the Museo del Niño (children’s museum) which offers more than 100 hands-on exhibits and activities for kids of all ages. Explore the tide pools at Playa Aviones, then enjoy the many dining options at the Mall of San Juan’s Italian food court

Where to Stay for Winter Vacations in San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel offers a convenient central location in the capital. It’s close to historic Old San Juan and the beach, and everyone in the family will enjoy swimming in the infinity pool with great skyline views. 

5. St. Thomas and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

tire swing and palm tree over the water in USVI
USVI (Photo: @punkypower via Twenty20)

With stunning scenery for the adults and endless Caribbean beaches for the little ones, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) make a perfect destination for warm winter vacations. Don’t miss the Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge on St. Croix, home to leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtles. For even more marine life, visit Coral World Ocean Park on St. Thomas near Coki Point Beach (a destination in its own right). There you can spot dolphins, stingrays, sharks, and more.

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If you’re feeling adventurous, glide above the trees on a zipline on St. Peter Mountain in St. Thomas (kids must be five to take a tandem ride). And for seafaring adventure, head to the Pirate’s Treasure Museum, a perfect way to explore the islands’ rich past in an engaging way. 

Where to Stay in the U.S. Virgin Islands

The Sugar Bay Resort and Spa is within walking distance of local attractions like Coki Point Beach, as well as shopping and dining. Your kids will especially love the grotto swimming pool, complete with caves and waterfalls. Easy beach access, snorkeling spots, and kayak rentals are added winter vacation perks. 

6. Catalina Island, California

View of Catalina Island and Pacific with pink sky in background
Catalina Island (Photo: @jonathanleemedia via Twenty20)

Though the temperatures aren’t quite tropical, the weather on Catalina Island is mild and temperate, making it a great spot for winter vacations in the U.S. that feel a world away from a mainland stay. Glass-bottom boat rides and a semi-submersible submarine excursion are huge hits with kids. And children ages five and older can hop on the fast-moving Sealife Safari to search for dolphins and sea lions. Many Catalina Island tour operators offer discounted rates during the winter vacation months, too.

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Take a leisurely stroll (or a hike) on the island’s miles of trails, and keep your eyes open for the bison that roam free on Catalina Island Conservancy lands. Of course, there’s a beach as well—head to the town of Avalon for coastal fun mixed with shopping and dining. 

Where to Stay for Winter Vacations on Catalina Island, California

Sleep just steps from the beach at the Pavilion Hotel. With more than 30 restaurants and attractions within walking distance, it’s a great jumping off point for family adventures on this beautiful island off the coast of Southern California. 

Cold-Weather Winter Getaways in the U.S.

If you’re thinking fondly of snow flurries while the rest of the country is dreaming of sun and sand, a cold-weather getaway is the winter vacation for you. When snuggling by the fire, sipping hot chocolate, and building snowmen with the kids are in the cards, these winter vacation ideas fit the bill. 

1. Lake Placid, New York

Winter vacations in Lake Placid, New York (Photo: Brooke O'Neil)
Winter vacations in Lake Placid, New York (Photo: Brooke O’Neil)

Do you believe in miracles? The site of the 1980 Winter Olympic games and the Miracle on Ice offers a multitude of snowy wonders. From skiing and sledding at Whiteface Mountain to ice skating at the Olympic Oval, idyllic Lake Placid in the Adirondack Mountains is a can’t-miss New York vacation for families who truly embrace winter. You can cross-country ski at the Cascade Ski Center, go bobsledding at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Slide Center, and even hitch a ride on a dogsled.

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Head to Mirror Lake to join in a pickup game of ice hockey or try your hand at figure skating. Every February, the 30-foot-tall tower above the lake opens for toboggan rides. Kids will love tubing at the Mount Pisgah Recreation Center, and the whole family will enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow.

Where to Stay in Lake Placid, New York

The Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort sits on the shores of Mirror Lake. From here, it’s just a short walk to the Olympic Village as well all the shopping and dining in downtown Lake Placid. After a day spent outside, you’ll really appreciate the sauna and whirlpool tubs, and the kids will love the indoor pool.  

2. North Conway, New Hampshire

Snowshoeing in the White Mountains (Photo: VisitNH)
Snowshoeing in the White Mountains (Photo: VisitNH)

If relaxing New England winter getaways are your idea of heaven, there’s no better place to do it than North Conway, recognized by National Geographic as one of the best ski towns in the entire world. Start the day at Peach’s restaurant, a local favorite with a massive selection of crêpes and pancakes. Once you’re fueled up, head out to hit the (gentle) slopes of Cranmore Mountain Resort, a ski and snowboarding hill known for its family-friendly vibe.

North Conway is located squarely in the middle of the Mt. Washington Valley region, where sleigh rides, snowmobiling, ice skating, and sledding are common family vacation activities. For panoramic winter vistas of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway, which operates to an elevation of 2,700 feet seven days a week even in the winter months (and may go as high as 5,000 feet, weather permitting). Or, hop onboard the Conway Scenic Railway to see the winter sights from a more grounded position.

When you need a break from the cold, head indoors to the town’s famed tax-free outlet stores at Settlers’ Green.

Where to Stay for Winter Vacations in North Conway, New Hampshire

At the Red Jacket Mountain View Resort in North Conway, you’ll find comfy rooms close to all the action, including the ski slopes, restaurants, cog railway, and outlet shops. But what makes it especially great for families is the enormous Kahuna Laguna Indoor Water Park located right onsite and open exclusively for guests of the hotel.

Or, for a truly one-of-a-kind winter vacation experience, book a kid-themed hotel room at Adventure Suites, where you can spend the night in a treehouse suite, a dragon’s lair, a haunted castle, and other fully immersive fantasy-inspired hotel rooms that will inspire kids’ imaginations all vacation long.

3. Breckenridge, Colorado

Family walking in the snow at Breckenridge in Colorado (Photo: Andrew Maguire)
Family walking in the snow at Breckenridge in Colorado (Photo: Andrew Maguire)

For kids who love to ski, winter family vacations in Breckenridge are a perfect choice. This Colorado ski town is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing, and more all within a stone’s throw of the downtown area. For sledding and tubing, head to Carter Park or Runway Sledding Hill, both within walking distance of downtown. If dog sledding is more your style, take a tour with one of the local teams. 

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Warm your toes in the heated cabin of a snow cat and explore the backcountry. Sign up for family ski lessons at the mountain or simply enjoy a free gondola ride to the top for the views. End the day with a sleigh ride through the White River National Forest, complete with steaming mugs of hot cocoa. 

Where to Stay in Breckenridge, Colorado

For the classic ski-in, ski-out experience, stay at the Grand Timber Lodge. Nestled at the foot of the mountain, this wood-beamed resort offers a family fun center and ski and snowboard rentals. 

4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Snow coach passing a herd of bison in Yellowstone National Park (Photo: NPS)
Snow coach passing a herd of bison in Yellowstone National Park (Photo: NPS)

If you’ve ever visited Yellowstone National Park in summer (or, let’s be honest, in the spring or fall too) you know how busy it can get. But winter vacations to this popular national park offer a very different experience. While the geysers are still steaming and Old Faithful is still blowing on schedule, the crowds are definitely not as thick, which is why it consistently ranks as one of the best national parks to visit in winter.

Of course, you’ll need to prepare for frigid temperatures; the average winter highs are well below freezing during the day, and often drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit at night, so dress accordingly. Winter visitors can cross-country ski, snowmobile, take a tour of Old Faithful, and walk the boardwalks above the geysers. 

Where to Stay for Winter Vacations in Yellowstone

The Old Faithful Inn is one of America’s most beautiful national park lodges, but it’s only open from early May to mid-October. If you want to stay inside the park during the winter, head to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins or the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins for easy access to park activities and day tours. 

5. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Wisconsin's largest indoor waterpark at Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells (Photo: Kalahari Resorts)
Wisconsin’s largest indoor waterpark at Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells (Photo: Kalahari Resorts)

When it’s cold outside but you still want to swim, head for the undisputed indoor water park capital of the world, Wisconsin Dells. Packed full of the best indoor water park resorts in the U.S., the Dells keeps the fun going even when temperatures drop. Take your pick of parks with indoor facilities like the Kalahari Resort, Chula Vista Resort, Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park, Wilderness Resort Waterpark, and one of the best Great Wolf Lodge locations in the country.

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When you’ve had enough of slipping and sliding, head downtown to experience even more winter vacation fun. The Asgard Underworld Arcade has all of the kids’ favorite games, and the Chalet Lanes bowling alley is open year-round too. Of course, you can still play outside; nearby Cascade Mountain Resort offers skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and tubing. Best of all, kids age 12 and under ski free with a paying adult. 

Where to Stay in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

When in the world’s water park capital, why not stay in a resort with its very own indoor water park? The Grand Marquis Waterpark Hotel offers just that with an indoor park, an indoor pool, and three hot tubs for the adults. Guests score discounts at the other local water parks as well.  

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Josh Roberts
Recognized with multiple awards for excellence in travel journalism, Josh Roberts has more than two decades of experience helping travelers discover where to go and what to do when they get there. He is the former Senior Executive Editor of Tripadvisor's SmarterTravel, Airfarewatchdog, and FamilyVacationCritic websites, and the co-founder and Head of Content at FamilyVacationist.

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