Three snowy mountain peaks reflected in the body of water in the foreground.
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10 can't-miss places to visit in the winter

Written by:
December 11, 2023

This story originally appeared on CoPilot and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

10 can't-miss places to visit in the winter

The holiday carols were onto something with joyful lyrics about dashing through the snow. Winter road trips can provide incredibly scenic vistas, offering a different perspective of a place seen during warmer seasons. Winter may not be the first choice for some road trippers, but for those willing to embrace adventure, winter travel offers stunning cold-weather views and, oftentimes, smaller crowds.

For those looking for trip inspiration to embrace the cold-weather months, CoPilot compiled 10 drivable U.S. locations that are ideal for winter visits. Many winter vacation lovers flock to partake in sports such as skiing and snowboarding, but plenty of other activities can offer a dose of winter's special magic. Travelers can head to spots with the best opportunities to see the northern lights or head to an area perfect for trying snow fishing for the first time.

Drivers must take a few extra precautions before hitting wintry roads. It's essential to pay attention to local road conditions and make sure tires are prepared to navigate snow and ice.

Read on for winter travel inspiration—and be glad you chose not to hibernate this winter!

People ice skating on a frozen lake surrounded by tall trees and mountains in the background.
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Lake Placid, New York

Lake Placid is a beautiful place to visit year-round, with the Adirondack Mountains in the background. The area comes alive in the winter, with many outdoor recreation opportunities for the snowy and icy months.

Mirror Lake's toboggan chute is a favorite. It drops participants down an icy 30-foot-tall converted ski jump trestle onto a frozen Mirror Lake. The lake is also an excellent place for ice skating. Off the ice, visitors can choose from several trails to go backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing.

A tall mountain covered in snow with a valley landscape in the foreground.
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Nickolay Khoroshkov // Shutterstock

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Two in 3 people east of the Mississippi River live within a day's drive to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Once there, the majestic Smoky Mountains beckon. Part of what makes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the most visited of all the national parks is its accessibility. Hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing are available, but people can also drive through the park on Highway 441 to take in its beauty.

After exploring the mountains, if you're there in early winter, go for a different kind of adventure at the Dollywood theme park, where visitors can partake in daring coasters, rides for young kids, and even a replica of Dolly Parton's childhood home.

A person sitting on top of a cooler while ice fishing in the foreground with more people ice fishing in the background.
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ver0nicka // Shutterstock

Saginaw Bay, Michigan

Michigan is one of the best states to try your hand at ice fishing. The state is home to 150 species of fish, many of which fishers can reach in the winter months by drilling a hole in an icy lake. Saginaw Bay is typically safe to ice fish from December through February.

Tag a scenic road trip onto an ice fishing adventure by driving Michigan's River Road National Scenic Byway on M-65, which begins on the north side of Saginaw Bay. The scenic byway then goes north into the Huron-Manistee National Forest. There are many scenic overlooks along the way where travelers can view the beautiful vistas.

A hiker on top of the mountain taking in the views of surrounding mountains.
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TempleNick // Shutterstock

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Seventy-five miles from Washington D.C., and about 100 miles from Richmond, Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is a leisurely road trip to take in the state's natural beauty. Roadtrippers can drive through the national park in about three hours on the public road called Skyline Drive. Beware—the road closes after a winter storm but is open throughout the winter otherwise.

Visitors to Shenandoah National Park can also enjoy stargazing, especially near the park's Big Meadows area. Park rangers recommend bringing a red light flashlight, chairs, and extra blankets to make the most out of evening stargazing.

A lake with tall trees at the sunset with the reflection of the mountains and clouds in the water.
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wallybird // Shutterstock

Panhandle National Forest, Idaho

There's a scenic view everywhere you turn in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. The forest is full of mountain and lake vistas and wildlife, including elk and grizzly bears. Several state and forest highways allow visitors to take it all in from the comfort of their vehicles. One of these roads is the Forest Highway 50, a paved road that meanders along the St. Joe River.

At night, the forest provides skies dark enough to view the northern lights. Check the forecast and stake out a spot at Priest Lake to see the aurora borealis dance across the lake. Idaho's Panhandle Forest is about 100 miles from Spokane, Washington. Drivers from Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, Washington, have a little further to go but can stop in Washington's Yakima Valley for an overnight stop in Washington wine country.

A couple looking at bright orange rock formations with snowy taller mountains in the distance.
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Margaret.Wiktor // Shutterstock

Arches National Park, Utah

Most images of Arches National Park are from the busy summer months, but winter is a delightful time to visit. The summer crowds have waned, and if you're lucky, the park's famed red rock formations may be blanketed in snow, which makes for a beautiful contrasting landscape.

Hiking trails will likely be slippery, but park rangers keep the roads plowed for any planned scenic drives. Camping is available through the winter, but many visitors prefer to stay in hotels to avoid the low overnight temperatures. A side quest to Moab's Main Street, with its rows of locally-owned restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques, is a great way to finish this outdoor adventure.

Ski lift with people going up the mountain and views of mountains covered in snow in the background.
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Killington, Vermont

For serious skiers and snowboarders, Killington, Vermont, is a favorite, and it's just a few hours' drive from several New England metropolitan areas. For hikers looking for a wintry wonderland, the Long Trail and some of the Appalachian Trail run through Killington. Hikers love visiting Thundering Brook Falls, which connects to the Appalachian Trail and is accessible for a half-mile day hike.

Visitors can make the drive to Killington more scenic by taking Highway 100 in Vermont. This scenic road includes local shops that may be worth the stop, such as the Vermont Country Store in Weston and the Green Mountain Sugar House in Ludlow for maple treats.

A blue lake in winter surrounded by the mountains.
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Darlene Wagner Butler // Shutterstock

Mammoth Lakes, California

The small town of Mammoth Lakes is your jumping-off point to a great outdoor adventure. Just 4 square miles, Mammoth Lakes is in the Inyo National Forest and on the eastern slope of the famous Sierra Nevada mountains. Just about every winter sport is offered here, from skiing to sledding and snowmobiling.

For a less active outdoor experience, Mammoth Lakes has several areas ideal for a winter picnic, including the grassy fields of Shady Rest Park. Mammoth Lakes, a day's drive from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento, is a less crowded alternative to Lake Tahoe.

An aerial view of a vast partially frozen lake and town surrounded by tall snowy mountains.
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Danica Chang // Shutterstock

Lake Dillon, Colorado

Colorado is ski central, with well-known winter sports towns like Vail, Breckenridge, and Aspen. But if you're looking for something more laid back, consider a trip on Interstate 70 to Lake Dillon, also known as Dillon Reservoir. The vistas by this human-made lake are spectacular, with views of the Tenmile and Gore Mountain ranges at every turn.

When the lake freezes during the winter, outdoor adventurers can try their hand at snowkiting. Snowkiting is similar to windsurfing, but the kite pulls the person across the frozen lake (ice skates are optional). Breckenridge and Vail are a short drive away if you want more of the typical ski town action.

Lights of the aurora borealis above Fairbanks, Alaska.
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Fairbanks, Alaska

If you're ready to ante up your winter vacation, Alaska is the place to do it. Visitors can use Fairbanks as a home base for outdoor adventures in the Alaskan countryside. Alaska's "Aurora Season" is from late August to late April—and due to solar activity, the winter months in Alaska with higher chances of an active aurora are October or March.

Consider a day trip to Chena Hot Springs, which includes an indoor pool and an adult-only lake for wading outdoors. Some visitors claim the naturally warm mineral water can heal certain conditions like arthritis and muscle pains.

A road trip to Fairbanks is not for the faint of heart—from Seattle, the over 2,000-mile drive will likely take more than 38 hours via the Alaska Highway. However, there are countless sights to see along the way. Depending on the chosen route, travelers can take side trips to some of Canada's breathtaking wilderness parks, such as Garibaldi Park and Tsilos Provincial Park, both in British Columbia.

Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn. Photo selection by Ania Antecka.

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