Hate the Cold? These 13 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 hotel 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 destinations. 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 can stand 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, kayaking, luaus, whale-watching, helicopter rides, and volcanic crater hikes, just for starters. 

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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. Slightly more adventurous families might want to try their hand at a snorkeling trip to nearby Molokini. Anytime you go snorkeling on a Hawaiian island, morning is best and be sure to wear reef-safe sunscreen.

Active 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 after booking a parking spot to watch the sunrise from the peak. Yes it’s early, but you’ll never forget it. 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. If hotels are more your scene, the Westin Ka’anapali has it all and a central location to boot. (Ka’anapali is the hotel section of beach.)

2. Orlando, Florida

Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Universal Orlando (Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)
The Jurassic World VelociCoaster is one of several new attractions 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 this vibrant (and sunny) vacation spot.

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Other not-to-miss Orlando attractions include the Sea Life Aquarium, Madame Tussauds 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 style 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 is perfectly for strolling with the kids (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. Kids may enjoy the wild nature of the nearby Salvador Dali Museum or the Great Explorations Children’s Museum (alongside Sunken Gardens Park).

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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)
Puerto Rico offers a stellar mix of history, culture, and beach time (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

Just a short 45-minute drive from the city, the beaches of Luquillo are known for their beautiful palm trees and calm waters, making a day trip there feel a million miles from town. Stop at the famous Luquillo Kioskos (food stands) for outstanding local foods, and if you want to make a weekend of it, pair Luquillo with a trip to El Yunque National Forest. It’s the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. forest system.

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
Endless beaches and active pursuits like zip lining make the USVI a wonderful winter vacation spot (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’s weather is mild and temperate even in the winter months (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. 

7. Palm Springs, California

Palm trees and San Bernardino mountain range in Palm Springs (Photo: Envato)
Palm Springs is a warm weather oasis for winter vacations in the U.S. (Photo: Envato)

If you’re heading to Palm Springs in winter, it’s probably because you want some warm weather leisure without needing to leave the continental U.S. And in this regard you definitely won’t be disappointed. You know someplace is a perfect warm winter vacation destination when December is its “coldest” month and the average temps still hit 70 degrees.

This Southern California oasis is dreamy for families in winter and makes for an ideal multigenerational family vacation spot. With planes from WWII, the Korean War, and even a Stealth Fighter, every member of the family from grandparents to toddlers will find the Palm Springs Air Museum captivating. Take to the air yourselves by experiencing the one-of-a-kind Palm Springs Aerial Tramway—you’ll rotate in a gondola car from desert floor to mountain ridge, slowly enough to enjoy and (probably) not need dramamine. The hardest part of this outing will be deciding if it’s more incredible during the day or at night.

Where to Stay for Winter Vacations in Palm Springs, California

If you don’t mind being a short drive from town, your family will not be disappointed at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa about 10 miles out. With multiple pools, golf, and inland waterways with flamingos, there’s plenty for the whole family to enjoy. However, if you want to be in the thick of it all, you won’t want to miss the buzz at The Saguaro, where your poolside cabana will be your home away from home.

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)
Toboggan rides are a winter vacation tradition 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 Adirondack Mountain Club, go bobsledding at Mount Van Hoevenberg, and even hitch a ride on a dogsled on Lake Placid itself.

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Head to Mirror Lake to join in a pickup game of ice hockey or try your hand at figure skating. Nearby Main Street bustles with shops and several options for the requisite hot chocolate stop. 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 as 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)
North Conway is considered one of the best ski towns in the U.S. for families (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 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 aboard 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

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.

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. (Editor’s note: This hotel was damaged by fire in 2022 and is currently set to reopen in fall 2023.)

3. Breckenridge, Colorado

Family walking in the snow at Breckenridge in Colorado (Photo: Andrew Maguire)
Winter vacations in Breckenridge are a great choice for families who love to ski (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)
Winter in Yellowstone National Park is an entirely different experience than in summer (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

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. 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. 

5. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Wisconsin's largest indoor waterpark at Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells (Photo: Kalahari Resorts)
Wisconsin Dells is home to some of the best indoor waterparks in the world (Photo: Kalahari Resorts)

A four-season destination due to its position as the undisputed indoor water park capital of the world, chilly Wisconsin Dells has plenty to keep families occupied indoors and out during the winter vacation months.

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Start by playing outside at the nearby Cascade Mountain Resort, which offers skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and tubing. Best of all, kids age 12 and under ski free with a paying adult. Of course, the main attractions in Wisconsin Dells are its indoor water park resorts, which keep 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. 

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. 

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. 

6. Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Half Dome (Photo: @A.mop via Twenty20)
It’s not too cold to enjoy a winter vacation inside Yosemite National Park (Photo: @A.mop via Twenty20)

Though frolicking in Yosemite’s Merced River in spring or summer can be delightful, the warmer months bring big crowds to this incredible national park. Fortunately, while winter in Yosemite is cold it’s not typically sub-zero cold. And the winter months bring spectacular lighting to the park, particularly at sunset, when casting shadows create sharp distinctions across the valley floor. 

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You’ll need to bundle up, but wear layers because when the sun shines you may end up in a t-shirt. Then hit several of the key hikes that are ideal for families: the paved and gentle Lower Yosemite Falls hike, the partially-paved Mirror Lake walk, and the more strenuous Vernal Falls hike (which closes about two miles in during winter months). There’s also ice skating in the valley as well as the chance to warm up fireside with a hot chocolate in the great room of the majestic Ahwanee Hotel. Exhibits around the main floor of the hotel give visitors a sense of the history of tourism in the area.

While most people think of the valley when they hear Yosemite, the park is actually vast. About a 45-minute drive up and out of the valley but still in the park is Badger Pass, a gentle and family-friendly ski resort that’s still somewhat affordable. And on your way out of Badger Pass towards Fish Camp, don’t miss the Mariposa Grove, which showcases California’s magnificent redwood trees.

Where to Stay for Winter Vacations in and around Yosemite

In the valley itself, there are three national park lodging options for families: lower-cost Curry Village tents and cabins, mid-range Yosemite Valley Lodge, and the pricey Ahwanee. Just outside the Oak Flat entrance is the affordable and accessible Yosemite View Lodge.

Most outside-of-the park hotels near Yosemite are a good 45 to 60 minutes by car from the valley, but if that isn’t a deterrent, treat yourself to Rush Creek Lodge, a fun and elegant resort. In addition to its phenomenal spa and adult-only pool, Rush Creek has indoor and outdoor game areas and play spaces for kids, s’mores kits for nighttime fun, and snowshoe rentals and trails out the back door.

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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 Editorial Director at FamilyVacationist.

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