50 Cozy American towns to visit this winter
50 Cozy Towns to Visit This Winter
If it feels like all of your friends are heading off to tropical vacations this winter, consider heading down a different path with a visit to a quaint, cozy American town. Whether you’re interested in dog-sledding through the wilds of Wyoming or touring luxurious mansions along the coast of Rhode Island, we’ve rounded up a list of 50 favorite small-town destinations that have something to offer everyone.
Stacker evaluated each town based on visitor opinions, ratings from publications like U.S. News & World Report, Country Living, and Travel & Leisure, as well as available activities, landmarks, and other tourist attractions. We’ve also included the 2015 estimated Census population for each destination. Read on to see where you can find activities that range from the traditional fare like craft markets and holiday parades to out-of-the-ordinary finds (think Himalayan food, teepee camping, and even scuba diving!)
Estimated Population: 20,078
Buoyed by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which runs February through November, this quaint small town is home to cultural opportunities that defy its size. The temperate forest climate means that many of the town’s ample hiking trails—more than 50 miles worth—are still accessible in winter, making Ashland a must-visit for the outdoorsy set.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Estimated Population: 67,956
With its close proximity to Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the breathtaking Badlands, Rapid City is an ideal base for winter travelers to the region. The South Dakota town is home to a charming downtown lined with shops, restaurants, and an ice skating rink that’s larger than the one at Rockefeller Center.
Newport, Rhode Island
Estimated Population: 82,888
The “City by the Sea” illuminates during the winter, making it an ideal weekend getaway. Tour the collection of stately Rhode Island mansions, including the winter gardens of the Blithewold Mansion. And don’t miss the 109th Newport Harbor Illuminated Boat Parade, which kicks off the season with an assortment of yachts, boats, kayaks, and canoes decked out with holiday decor.
El Dorado, Arkansas
Estimated Population: 18,884
This former oil boomtown is home to the longest-running Christmas parade in Arkansas, ensuring that there’s no shortage of Southern holiday charm. Music lovers will relish the Murphy Arts District, El Dorado’s new entertainment and arts hub, which brings various concerts to town throughout the season.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Estimated Population: 9,577
Surrounded by the majestic Teton mountains and blanketed in snow early in the season, it’s no wonder that Jackson is frequently named as one of the country’s best small towns in winter. It’s main square even dresses up for the season, as its famous elk antler arches are adorned with an array of lights. Stay at the nearby Spring Creek Ranch to enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides and other wintry activities like dog-sledding.
Estimated Population: 80,405
This popular Midwestern college town shines in the winter: the IU Jacobs School of Music puts on its famed Chimes of Christmas production, the quaint Fountain Square Mall is dressed up with elaborate lights and holiday decor, and the surrounding hills, forests, and lakes are blanketed in pristine snow. Whether you’re an art lover or prefer to spend your time outdoors, Bloomington makes an ideal winter respite.
Asbury Park, New Jersey
Estimated Population: 16,116
Now considered one of America’s coolest small towns, this beachside destination isn’t lacking in holiday spirit. Stroll along the beach boardwalk and admire the idyllic Victorian homes before skating away the afternoon at The Asbury’s ice rink, which made its seasonal debut on November 24.
Estimated Population: 4,540
Downhill skiing is obviously a huge draw for visitors of this mountainous Colorado town, but there are plenty of other appealing things to do in “Breck,” like great shopping in the town’s well-preserved Victorian downtown area, snowshoeing, and dog sledding. Don’t miss the Express Superchair at Breckenridge Ski Resort—the highest high-speed lift in the world.
Estimated Population: 4,314
Another top ski destination, Stowe is also home to Vermont’s tallest mountain, Mount Mansfield. The town itself resembles a Norman Rockwell painting, surrounded by storybook scenery that’s stunning under a blanket of snow. For a unique winter excursion, don’t skip a snowshoe romp on the Stowe Recreation Path.
West Yellowstone, Montana
Estimated Population: 1,271
More than 95% of Yellowstone National Park’s three million annual visitors arrive in the summer, which makes winter prime time if you want to feel like you have part of the 2.2 million-acre park to yourself. West Yellowstone (just outside of the park’s west entrance), is a perfect home base for exploration, and it’s also home to the can’t-miss Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
Barryville, New York
Estimated Population: 2,530
This tiny hamlet is the perfect place for a beautiful, relaxing weekend in upstate New York. Nestled by the Delaware river at the border of New York and Pennsylvania, Barryville features scenic views of the river and surrounding Sullivan Catskills. Stay at the ECCE Bed & Breakfast for a romantic B&B experience and visit the Stickett Inn Store/Good Food for Intelligentsia coffee and other treats from local purveyors.
Livingston Manor, New York
Estimated Population: 1,221
Also nestled in the Sullivan Catskills, Livingston Manor offers everything you'll need for a cozy winter escape. Enjoy local brews at the Catskill Brewery, stay at the Arnold House for a grown-up sleepaway camp vibe, and indulge in the Saturday evening tasting menu at the Debruce. Want an outdoor adventure? Try ice fishing, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.
Estimated Population: 1,965
The sun might not come out very often during Leavenworth’s winter season, but this Pacific Northwest gem has all the charm of a little Bavarian village. After hitting the slopes, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the place that A&E once named the “Ultimate Holiday Town.”
Estimated Population: 74,982
With a name like Bethlehem, it’s no surprise that this Pennsylvania town is also called the “Christmas City.” Winter visitors will delight in seeing the historic Moravian district—which dates back to the town’s founding in 1741—under a blanket of snow. Don’t miss the Christkindlmarkt, often recognized as one of the best holiday markets in the United States.
Estimated Population: 10,530
Nestled in the rolling Texas Hill Country, this small town is best known for its wineries, antique stores, and 19th-century architecture. The year-round temperate climate and walkable downtown make Fredericksburg a charming destination any time of the year.
Estimated Population: 5,025
Lenox makes a great base for wintry exploration of Massachusetts’ popular Berkshires region. Museum-goers can find themselves lost in the region’s world-class museums—the Clark, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art—and charming hotel options like 33 Main and Blantyre make this a luxurious, culture-filled retreat.
Estes Park, Colorado
Estimated Population: 5,858
Celebrating winter in Estes Park means great skiing, local beer and wine, and not as many people! Mostly a summer destination, Estes Park isn’t as crowded in the winter as the other Colorado mainstays, meaning that you can spend more gliding along the slopes (or lounging in front of the fireplace). Sure beats sitting in traffic!
Estimated Population: 2,325
Situated at the entrance of a canyon, Telluride is surrounded by some of Colorado’s most scenic peaks. The town—just eight blocks wide and 12 blocks long—is a National Historic Landmark District. Its jewel-box Victorian homes, boutiques, and art galleries make it ripe for a whole weekend’s worth of exploration.
Estimated Population: 10,798
If you’ve ever yearned for a New England Christmas by the sea, Kennebunk is your place. Another destination more popular in the summer, this tranquil Maine town has plenty of charms in the winter season as well—like the Christmas Prelude celebration and the Maine Brewers’ Guild Beer Festival.
Mammoth Lakes, California
Estimated Population: 8,234
This mountain town’s namesake peak gets more than 30 feet of snow every winter, making it a veritable winter wonderland. But pack your sunscreen—it also boasts more than 300 days of sun. The neighboring village offers shops, nightlife, and dining, plus the mountain’s gondola—which climbs to 11,053 feet and is open to non-skiers as well.
Estimated Population: 7,855
Vermont’s capital city has all the charm of a quaint mountain town, but with just enough bustle to feel like a thriving metropolis. Nestled against the scenic Green Mountains, spend your time in Montpelier touring the landmark state capital, the Vermont History Museum, and the buzzing restaurant scene, which is as robust as ever thanks to the nearby New England Culinary Institute.
Estimated Population: 3,845
If you want to live out your Frozen dreams, come to Midway. Every winter, the town is home to incredible ice castles weighing around 25 million pounds. Other wintry adventures in this small Utah town include scuba diving (yes, you read that right!) at the Homestead Crater, fishing at the nearby Deer Creek Dam and Reservoir, and plenty of options for skiing and snowboarding.
Estimated Population: 4,348
Winter is a pleasant time in Hamilton, as the town’s position in the Bitterroot Valley protects it from harsh blizzard conditions and record-breaking wind chills. In the town itself, you can enjoy winter festivals, craft fairs, and live cultural events put on by the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Estimated Population: 1,487
Crested Butte was named America’s best ski town by Powder magazine, but there’s plenty to do off the mountain as well. If you still want to break a sweat, strap on some snowshoes or hit the trail on a “fat bike,” a specially-equipped bicycle that allows you to ride on the snowiest of roads. Stroll down scenic Elk Avenue for the town’s best shopping—and don’t miss Chopwood Mercantile, a perfectly curated outdoor goods store.
Estimated Population: 1,981
Winter marks a great time to visit Texas’ high desert. Marfa has long been a haven for artists seeking seclusion, but a new influx of hoteliers and chefs have put this tiny cowboy town on the map. Explore Donald Judd’s art at the Chinati Foundation, and check out novel lodging options—like sleeping in a teepee under the stars at El Cosmico, or relaxing in style at the historic El Paisano Hotel.
Estimated Population: 2,689
Dominated by the stunning peaks of Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain, Ketchum’s surrounding winter landscape is a snow globe-like wonderland of rolling hills, dense evergreens, and stark white aspen. World-class skiing has brought the crowds for decades, but Ketchum and neighboring Sun Valley also boast a dizzying array of restaurants, shopping, and spas.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Estimated Population: 113,934
Detroit has been getting lots of buzz lately, but Ann Arbor is another Michigan city worth checking out. Occupying the unique space between Midwestern charm and cosmopolitan urban, it offers the world-class theater, performing arts, and museum experiences that you would expect from a top-tier college town. (After all, the University of Michigan is one of the eight original “public Ivies.”) Don’t miss Midnight Madness, the town’s annual one-night event, where local boutiques along Main Street stay open late for holiday shopping.
Big Bear Lake, California
Estimated Population: 5,019
Visitors can zoom down miles of groomed runs at Big Bear Lake’s two alpine resorts. But off the slopes, the town’s unique features include an impressive population of bald eagles, a delicious Himalayan restaurant, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, and winter activities ranging from snowshoeing to zip-lining.
Estimated Population: 31,535
If your winter travel goal is to see the northern lights, Fairbanks should be at the top of your to-do list. The eerie glow is at its best from mid-September to late April, but that’s not the only draw for this eastern Alaska town. Visitors can also enjoy the World Ice Art Championships, Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, and nearby Chena Hot Springs.
Estimated Population: 9,477
Oregon’s scenic coast is stunning any time of the year, but winter is an especially good time to visit Astoria. Take a scenic beach hikes at Fort Stevens State Park (including a stop to see the wreckage of sailing vessel Peter Iredale) and then continue the nautical theme with a fish-and-chips lunch from Bowpicker—a quirky stand constructed from an old fishing boat. After a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum, take a quick drive out of town to see the stunning Youngs River Falls.
Estimated Population: 10,031
Sedona’s a mythical place—and rightly so. The famed red rocks are especially alluring during the winter, and luckily, the town’s 4,500-foot elevation makes for winters that are mostly mild. Spend your days in Sedona visiting local wine-tasting rooms, going on scenic hikes, or even enjoying a luxe spa treatment at one of the many surrounding wellness retreats.
Taos, New Mexico
Estimated Population: 5,716
New Mexico is the hot air balloon capital of the world, and there’s almost no bad season for a balloon ride. Try a morning trip and take in incredible views of the snow-covered Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Taos Gorge. Afterward, visit Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort, or strap on some snowshoes and hit one of the many wilderness canyons—where you can hike for hours without seeing another person.
Lake Placid, New York
Estimated Population: 2,521
Lake Placid’s ubiquitous charm and nostalgia have made it a top winter travel destination for decades. Home to two Winter Olympics, Lake Placid offers every winter sporting activity imaginable, but the town is also home to great dining and hotels, and even three local breweries.
Estimated Population: 2,038
Whether you want an active winter getaway or a cozy retreat, this picturesque Oregon town has it all. Located three hours southeast of Portland, Sisters is known for its natural beauty, but it’s also full of art galleries, eccentric shops, and a surprising number of live music venues—making it a perfect place to spend a few wintry days tucked away.
Estimated Population: 3,048
Woodstock is cold, but there’s plenty to warm you up in this small Vermont town. Stop at the famous Harpoon Brewery for a pint of their seasonal Winter Warmer, then pop across the street to American Crafted Spirits to try their bourbon and flavored vodkas. Stay at the recently-renovated Woodstock Inn, a stately property originally built by the Rockefeller Family.
Lake George, New York
Estimated Population: 3,515
If you’re looking for an activity-packed winter getaway, the Adirondack town of Lake George is a great place to find it. The town held its inaugural Winter Carnival in 1961, and more than a half-century later, this celebration of outdoor winter activities continues throughout February. Afterward, cozy up next to one of the three stone fireplaces at the Log Jam Restaurant.
Estimated Population: 25,477
Nestled in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country (watch out for horse-drawn buggies!), charming Lebanon is well worth an afternoon or weekend visit. Shopping lovers will covet its farmer’s markets, outlets, and specialty shops, especially Wertz Candies (and its famous opera fudge). For a snowy afternoon in town, explore the Lebanon County Historical Society, housed in an 18th-century doctor’s home.
Estimated Population: 33,039
Despite the harsh weather, Maine doesn’t spend winter in hibernation. Bangor’s performance venues—the Penobscot Theatre, Cross Insurance Center, Collins Center for the Arts, and the Gracie Theatre—offer theater and concerts throughout the season. And if you want some fresh air, lace up—many of the town’s outdoor parks are turned into ice-skating rinks.
Saratoga Springs, New York
Estimated Population: 26,586
Winter brings a whole host of events to Saratoga Springs, including road-running races, dance festivals, and its well-known restaurant week. Two standouts include the town’s Saratoga Craft Marketplace, now in its 42nd year, and the Saratoga Festival of Trees, at which hundreds of beautifully decorated trees, wreaths, centerpieces and other holiday items are on display (with some even available for purchase).
St. Cloud, Minnesota
Estimated Population: 65,842
Minnesota winters are tough, but natives make the best of it with fun activities and events. St. Cloud is home to the annual Spicer WinterFest, where you can play in the Green Lake Pond Hockey Tournament or even participate in snowy softball or snowmobile races. The nearby Sherburne Wildlife Refuge celebrates a winter festival of its own, where guests can meet live owls, enjoy a cozy bonfire, and go snowshoeing.
Estimated Population: 48,174
With tons of outdoor opportunities in the winter months, Logan is perfect for any active visitor who wants to cozy up by a fireplace at evening’s end. Spend your days ice fishing in Cache Valley, elk viewing at Hardware Ranch, or snow tubing at Cherry Peak Resort.
Estimated Population: 37,280
It’s easy to understand why skiers flock to Bozeman, but what do you do if skiing isn’t your thing? Luckily, this southern Montana town still has lots to offer in the winter. Chico Hot Springs is a popular destination—but if you want to warm up in a different way, visit one of Bozeman’s many breweries for a soul-warming porter or stout.
Traverse City, Michigan
Estimated Population: 14,674
Traverse City offers visitors one of the most beautiful wintry landscapes around. And while it may not have the idyllic downhill ski runs of Utah or Colorado, this northern Michigan town still has its share of winter attractions. For a new twist on the slopes, try night skiing at Timber Ridge Recreation Resort, or take a fat bike for a spin on Traverse City’s new Winter Sports Singletrack Trail.
Estimated Population: 5,245
This Danish-inspired village offers a wintry experience that will make you feel like you’re in Scandinavia. An abundance of fun holiday festivities—ranging from a festive parade to a January Christmas tree burn—make Solvang a great seasonal destination, especially if you stay at The Landsby or another cozy nearby inn.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Estimated Population: 5,875
Pigeon Forge shines during the winter, when nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park—the most-visited national park in the country—is far less crowded than the summer months. After hiking some of its 800 miles of trail, visit Old Forge Distillery or Ole Smoky Moonshine for a nip to warm you right up.
Beech Mountain, North Carolina
Estimated Population: 320
The smallest town on our list, this North Carolina locale is home to Beech Mountain Ski Resort, a winter wonderland nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Winter also bring some of the top musical acts of the southeast to the town as part of its Beech Mountain Winter Music Series.
North Conway, New Hampshire
Estimated Population: 2,349
A year-round resort area, North Conway offers the trappings of a quintessential New England town alongside exhilarating outdoor adventure—like hiking in the White Mountain National Forest and rock climbing at Echo Lake State Park. Visitors can also take a ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad, which departs from the village's Victorian station.
Estimated Population: 3,429
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Galena was once an American mining boomtown. Today, Galena’s architecture and history are a strong draw for visitors, especially the DeSoto House Hotel—the oldest operating hotel in the state.
Estimated Population: 43,375
Home to the University of Virginia and Monticello, Charlottesville has many draws for history buffs and nature-lovers alike. Nearby Shenandoah National Park offers stunning views and winter hiking, while the town’s recently-renovated Paramount Theater hosts performances like Broadway shows and big-ticket concerts. Charlottesville is also home to seven breweries within its city limits, notably Blue Ridge Brewery—once owned and managed by grandchildren of writer William Faulkner.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Estimated Population: 104,057
Cheese curds, ice fishing, and chilly camping are wintry draws for visitors to Green Bay, which is probably best-known for its NFL team. If the bitter cold doesn’t scare you off, the Green Bay Packers’ Titletown District opens a skating pond and trail during the winter months.