There's something about winter that signifies a fresh start, and with that, a renewed sense of adventure. This is a wonderful time to plan some winter travel!
Whether you prefer a snowy winter wonderland or something a bit warmer and maybe even tropical, traveling in winter is unique in several ways. In many places, it's also a "shoulder," or slower off-peak season, so crowds are fewer and accommodations tend to be significantly more affordable.
We've put together a round-up of seven of the best states to visit in winter, with something for everyone. National parks you can ski in, foodie states, beach destinations, and more!
Psst...have you seen The Wander Club's awesome selection of US State Tokens? As you're planning your trip and deciding on the best states to visit in the winter, consider adding a few to your collection as a unique souvenir!
Best States to Visit in Winter
Alabama is far more diverse than many people realize, and it happens to be one of the best states to visit in winter.
Aside from well-known places like Birmingham and Gulf Shores, Alabama has mountains, caves, waterfalls, and interesting historical attractions to explore all over the state.
The weather is mild enough in the heart of winter to enjoy outdoor pursuits including fishing, golf, beaches, biking, hiking, and more. There are even ski resorts (who knew?!)!
Fun fact: Mardi Gras was actually started in Mobile, Alabama, NOT New Orleans. If you're visiting in February, attend some of the festivities, which are just as lively and even more elaborate than in NOLA.
When you think of the best states to visit in winter, it doesn't get much more quintessential than Alaska.
Between its eight national parks, excellent odds of spotting the Northern Lights, winter sports including skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, flying over glaciers in a helicopter, and more, dog sledding, incredible wildlife, and natural hot springs, Alaska is a wintertime playground!
Visiting during this time of year definitely comes with some weather-related challenges, but plan ahead and be flexible, and everything should run smoothly.
Don't miss the town of North Pole, which (of course!) is decorated for Christmas year-round.
If warmth and sunshine are more your speed, Arizona is by far one of the best states to visit in the winter.
There's outdoor adventure everywhere you turn, from hiking and biking to kayaking and off-roading. Arizona has three national parks to explore, two of which are extremely underrated. The Grand Canyon is, of course, one of the most popular natural attractions in the entire world, but there are also Saguaro and Petrified Forest National Parks.
Aside from its national parks, Arizona has several other must-see spots (especially in the winter), including Horseshoe Bend, the wild wild west town of Tombstone, Monument Valley, Tucson, Sedona, Scottsdale, Route 66...the list really does just go on and on.
Northern Arizona even has high elevation, so you can get a dose of winter wonderland in the mountains if you want!
Much like Alabama, Georgia is geographically diverse. That means there's a huge variety of things to see and do, making it one of the best states to visit in winter.
To begin with, there are the 7 Natural Wonders of Georgia, which encompass waterfalls, the largest blackwater swamp in North America, natural springs, and red rock canyons reminiscent of Zion National Park. All of these places are accessible in the winter, and each offers a very different experience.
On the coast, Savannah is a fantastic winter destination for everyone. Charming historic architecture, excellent lowcountry and Southern food, and plenty of winter festivals entertain, while the mild weather is comfortable to be outdoors.
Stone Mountain Park is excellent for families, with rides, museums, a scenic train ride, nature areas, and holiday-themed activities.
Do we even really need to explain why Hawaii is one of the best states to visit in the winter? We're probably better off listing reasons it isn't (spoiler alert: there are none!).
Warm, calm weather, endless sunshine, pristine beaches, crystal-clear turquoise seas, unique national parks to explore, tropical drinks with umbrellas (enjoyed poolside, of course)...yep, the gang's all here!
Winter is also the best time for whale-watching, as humpback whales migrate between December and March. They prefer warm, shallow waters, so Maui is one of the best islands to spot whales overall and Oahu's Makapuu Lighthouse is another great spot if you're not booking a tour.
For adventurous travelers, here's something unique to add to your bucket list: skiing down a volcano in Hawaii! You read that correctly — you can actually ski down Mauna Kea, the 13,803-foot dormant volcano on the Big Island. It's simply a ski area, not a ski resort, so you'll need to bring all your own gear.
Not only is Louisiana one of the best states to visit in winter, but winter is also by far the best time to visit!
This is the "sweet spot" between hurricane season and before the weather gets intolerably hot and humid, plus there are far fewer crowds than in the spring and summer (i.e.; before Mardi Gras and the annual jazz festival).
Spend your time exploring the real New Orleans, which goes all out with decorations for the holidays. Stroll the historic neighborhoods and eat (and drink!) your way through the French Quarter, skip Bourbon Street and instead head to Frenchman Street for live music, and take a riverboat cruise.
Outside of NOLA, there's plenty more to see. Walk along the river and visit the State Capitol and LSU campus in Baton Rouge, both extremely impressive. Take swamp tours anywhere in the state, go kayaking, and enjoy a healthy dose of Southern hospitality and great food.
The Southwest is at its very best in the winter, with its colorful landscapes, jaw-dropping sunsets, and perpetually perfect weather all showing off.
Utah, in particular, is an excellent wintertime destination because of the variety and sheer abundance of things to do. A great place to start is road tripping through any of the Mighty Five national parks. They're close enough to easily do this on a week-long trip, but you can also visit just a couple, also.
If you want a more traditional winter experience, head up north to Salt Lake City or Park City. You can ski, snowboard, ice skate, go tubing and sledding, shop 'til you drop, ride in horse-drawn sleighs, and enjoy all those other quintessential winter experiences.
Utah's state parks are something of a hidden gem and well worth exploring in the winter, also. Goblin Valley near Arches and Canyonlands is mind-boggling, Kodachrome near Bryce Canyon is full of fun slot canyons, and Pink Coral Sand Dunes near Zion will make you feel like you're on Mars!
Photo credit: Travel + Leisure
Bonus: Lake Tahoe
Okay, okay, so it may not be one of the best states to visit in winter, but Lake Tahoe definitely deserves a spot on your winter bucket list!
Situated in both California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe dishes up four season recreation, but it really shines in the winter.
Epic skiing on both sides of the lake (and bonus, the resorts typically aren't very crowded) plus breathtaking mountain scenery, hiking, snowshoeing, and more — what more could you want from a winter destination?
If you've never been to Tahoe, it can be a bit tricky planning a trip. Almost everything is situated on either the North Shore or in South Lake Tahoe, but even then, attractions sit in both states.