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

With lighter crowds and lower prices, winter is great time for a family vacation in many parts of the the U.S.
Parasailing at sunset above Clearwater Beach, Florida (Photo: Envato)
Parasailing at sunset above Clearwater Beach, Florida (Photo: Envato)
  • Winter is great time for a family vacation in many parts of the the U.S. because prices are lower and crowds tend to be smaller than during the peak season.
  • Winter family vacations give everyone something to look forward to when the weather is dreary and the kids are longing for a break from school.
  • My picks for the best winter vacations in the U.S. include both warm weather destinations and family vacation spots that embrace the season’s frosty charms.

Summer trips get a lot of attention, but as a parent and longtime travel journalist, I have a real soft spot for winter family vacations. Winter travel tends to offer better prices, smaller crowds, and comes at a time of year when everyone really needs a break.

Most schools have a two-week winter break followed by a series of three- and four-day weekends in January and February, so there are plenty of opportunities to fire up some inspired family vacation ideas. And outside of those peak holiday periods, it really is off-season in many of the country’s top family vacation spots, so you can often find discounted rates on everything from hotel stays and vacation rentals to flights and rental cars.

Whether your family is dreaming of white sand beaches or some fun in the snow, winter family vacations give everyone something to look forward to when the weather is dreary and spring break still seems just a little too far away.

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Best Winter Vacations in the U.S. for Families

Over the years, I’ve traveled all across the country for winter vacations with my family, and am always on the lookout for new winter vacation ideas. Here are my picks (approved by my kids) for the top places to go with kids during those long, cold winter months.

1. Maui, Hawaii

Maui, Hawaii, is one of the best winter vacation spots in the U.S. (Photo: Envato)
Maui, Hawaii, is one of the best winter vacation spots in the U.S. (Photo: Envato)

There might not be a better year-round vacation spot in the whole country than Maui, but it’s especially nice to visit in the winter when much of the rest of the country feels dark and cold. There’s truly nothing like boarding a plane in a parka and getting off in a T-shirt to put the whole family in a great mood.

With more than 30 miles of gorgeous beaches, you could easily spend an entire family beach vacation swimming, snorkeling, and soaking in the rays on Maui. Yet 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. And since Maui is now open for business again, this is the perfect time to help the local economy recover with a trip to this beautiful spot.

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If you’re traveling with toddlers, 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. And if you’re a slightly more adventurous family, try your hand at a snorkeling trip to nearby Molokini. Anytime you go snorkeling on a Hawaiian island, morning is best and reef-safe sunscreen is a must.

Some of my favorite ways to experience Hawaii aren’t on land or sea, though. You can 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, whale-watching tours can get you up close 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 (or hop a tour and leave the driving to a local expert who knows all the best spots along the way).

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 has spacious rooms with kitchens and a family-friendly pool area. It’s also within walking distance of shopping, dining, and the beach.

2. 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. Children ages five and older can hop on the fast-moving Sealife Safari to search for dolphins and sea lions, 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. And there’s good news if you’re looking to save as little money this season, too. Many Catalina Island tour operators offer discounted rates during the winter vacation months.

Where to Stay 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. 

3. 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)

The site of the 1980 Winter Olympic games and the Miracle on Ice offers a multitude of snowy wonders and winter activities, and is one of my favorite spots in North America to visit at this time of year. 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 (right downtown) 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 to thaw out in cold weather. 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. 

4. 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 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 perfect 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.

5. 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 snow covered 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 winter weather 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. 

6. 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.

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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. 

7. 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)

Sure, you could plan a winter vacation to the Orlando theme parks like everyone else, but they get especially crowded and expensive in the colder months. For my money, you’re better off planning your Disney vacation or Universal Studios trip when the parks are less busy, and choosing the tantalizing blend of outdoor fun and kid-friendly attractions of Clearwater instead. 

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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).

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.

8. 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.

9. 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 and where my own kids learned to ski.

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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.

10. 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 your family occupied indoors and out during the winter vacation months. Start by playing outside at the nearby Cascade Mountain Resort, which offers skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and tubing. (Kids age 12 and under ski free with a paying adult.)

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Of course, the main attraction in Wisconsin Dells is its many 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. 

11. 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)

There’s no other way to describe Yosemite’s Merced River in the spring or summer than “awesome,” but the warmer months also 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 natural lighting, 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 (read our review). 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.

12. Tucson, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona, USA downtown skyline with Sentinel Peak at dusk. (Mountaintop "A"  for "Arizona")
Tucson, Arizona is a great winter destination for families (Photo: Envato/SeanPavone)

Here’s the thing about Tucson: it’s a great destination, but in summer? It’s. Just. So. Hot. But in winter, it’s a blissful break from colder climes, with daytime highs in the high 60s and low 70s (and since it’s still the desert, even in winter, chilly nights).

It’s about 90 minutes from Phoenix, a city with lots of direct flights from cities around the U.S. You’ll definitely want to rent a car to get the most out Tucson, since it’s packed with fun stuff to do with kids but is also pretty spread out.

With kids of any age, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum should be your first stop. It will make you fall in love with this part of the country, and give you and the kids tons of cool facts to share (and teach you what wildlife and plants to keep an eye out for on your trip).

Slightly older kids (and younger kids who love planes) get a day packed with wows at the Pima Air and Space Museum. Its 400 planes (and other aircraft) are spread out across 80 acres of dramatic desert. And for a more nature-based desert experience, head to Sabino Canyon where you can hop the tram for a tour and then take a hike (short or long, you choose).

Here’s another thing about Tucson: It’s one of two U.S. cities that have earned a UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation. Is that going to impress the kids? It will if you take them to Ruiz Hot Dogs for a Sonoran Hot Dog (one of those you’ve-got-to-try-it-to-understand-it foods, but it includes bacon and pinto beans), tacos you will dream about for years at Taqueria el Rapido, and tortillas to bring home at La Mesa Tortillas.

Where to Stay for Winter Vacations in Tucson

The Arizona Inn is a family favorite. It has a perfectly central location in downtown (a lot of the other great spots to stay with kids near Tucson are out in the desert, a 30- to 40-minute drive from town), has a fantastic pool and spacious casitas and rooms (there are plenty of options for families of four), and the hotel is spread out across 14 acres of desert gardens.

For something totally different, you could also consider a family friendly Arizona dude ranch. One of our top picks, Tanque Verde Ranch, is about 35 minutes from downtown Tucson.

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Josh Roberts
Josh Roberts is the Editorial Director and Co-Founder of FamilyVacationist. He is the former Senior Executive Editor at Tripadvisor, SmarterTravel, Airfarewatchdog, and FamilyVacationCritic. He has been recognized with multiple awards for excellence in travel journalism from the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA). His work has also appeared in Insider, Yahoo, USA Today, Tripadvisor, and many other publications.