It may be hard to believe, depending on where you live between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but there are kids who never even see a flake of snow during the winter! As tragic as that is, thankfully, there are places where families can seek out snow and many of them won’t even take you very far from home – just a quick plane ride or car trip away. From resorts that will help bring out your inner-ski-bunny to little mountain towns that families who don’t hit the slopes will enjoy, now is the time to book a winter wonderland vacation. Get out those mittens and cozy hats (or, buy some online if you live somewhere warm!) – you’re going to need them!
Getting there: About a three-hour drive from Portland into the forests and mountains of Oregon, you’ll find this fun and funky town of Bend, where it seems as if winter was made. Don’t forget your camera – the route to Bend from Portland will take you right by the scenic Mt. Hood – another fun place to stop and enjoy the snow, if you have time!
Where to stay: If you want to stay as close to Mt. Bachelor as possible, check out Seventh Mountain Resort, which literally lets you walk right out of the resort and onto the slopes. Beyond skiing, kids will love the ice rink and snowshoeing, and you’ll all be thankful for the indoor heated pools at the end of the day! For families who prefer to make downtown Bend where they do most of their exploring, the Riverhouse Hotel is a classic in Bend and located right along the river. It’s within walking distance to tons of great restaurants and places to shop and explore – even on snowy days!
Winter fun: Mt. Bachelor is the main winter destination when you take a getaway to Bend and even if your family doesn’t ski, it will be easy to see why – you can go tubing, drink hot chocolate in the lodges while you watch the snow fall, or even go dog sledding. Downtown Bend shouldn’t be missed, especially with kids, including multiple winter festivals that are held throughout the season, a real operating reindeer ranch and the interesting and hands-on High Desert Museum.
Photo via the Seventh Mountain Resort Facebook page.
Lake Tahoe, California
Get there: Getting to Lake Tahoe is as painless as flying into Reno. Are you confused yet? Yes, you fly into the desert to get to the snow. From Reno, which is a great easy to navigate airport, drive less than an hour to reach the north side of Lake Tahoe and all that it offers during the winter.
Where to stay: Check out Northstar or Squaw Valley, where kids rule. Both little ski villages are tucked right into the mountains, so you can conveniently ski the day away with your family or simply spend time enjoying the bustling winter villages that surround them. You can easily find accommodations to fit whatever your family may need – from full-service hotel rooms to more laid-back rentals that are still right in the village.
Winter fun: Both places are destinations in and of themselves at Lake Tahoe and since the lake itself is pretty much out of commission during the chilly winter months (brrr!), the snow and the mountains reign when it comes to family-fun. Tubing should be at the top of every family’s Tahoe list, as should a quiet trip into the backcountry for a snowshoeing adventure. When you’ve had your fill of mountain time, drive down into Truckee, where you’ll find more fun, local shops to explore and restaurants to try. Don’t miss Burger Me for lunch, where–as with everywhere you’ll find in Truckee–you’ll feel like a local.
Photo via the Northstar Facebook Page
Get there: Leavenworth has been a Seattle family getaway for generations. During the winter, this little mountain town with a Bavarian-twist turns into a snowy spot to explore and play. From Seattle, it takes about three-hours to get to Leavenworth, pending the road conditions. But, the drive is pretty enough to keep even the squirmiest of little car travelers occupied along the way!
Where to stay: For something smaller and more unique, like you are staying in an actual Bavarian Village, check out the popular Leavenworth Village Inn, which is just out of the hustle and bustle of the village of Leavenworth, but within walking distance, even in the cold. On the more generic side, but a great option for traveling to Leavenworth with kids is the Icicle Inn, which includes amenities that moms and dads will appreciate while on vacation, like a complimentary hot breakfast bar and the year-round heated pool.
Winter fun: Spending time in the village of Leavenworth itself will take up a good chunk of your time while on this getaway. Kids will love the funky little shops that are full of nutcrackers and European trinkets and parents will love kicking back at the countless family-friendly pubs to enjoy a pint. If skiing is a must for you, when it comes to winter wonderland getaways, you can get your ski on at Ski Hill, which is just a snowball’s throw from the heart of Leavenworth. Ski Hill also features winter fun, such as tubing and ice skating.
Photo via the Leavenworth.org Facebook Page.
Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont
Get there: A destination for all of the East-Coasters who can’t get enough snow in their daily lives, Smugglers’ Notch is a quick drive (about an hour) from Burlington, Vermont, where you can fly in, or, pack up the car and drive from your East Coast hometown – it will take you about six-hours from New York City or about four-hours from Boston.
Where to stay: Smugglers’ Notch is more of an all-in-one, stay-where-you-play winter wonderland getaway. In other words, staying at the resort itself, or one of the properties at the resort, is your best bet. You can pick your “community” based on where you want to stay on the mountain – how far up and next to which amenities are most important to you. Village West and Village East are right next to the village itself, for easiest access to restaurants. North Hill has an indoor pool and kids’ splash area for when you’re ready to get out of the snow. All are within walking distance of the village area, or you can jump on a shuttle to get there even quicker.
Winter fun: This is truly a family destination and you’ll be impressed with all they have to offer for every age-range of kids. This makes Smugglers’ a good choice for large extended families who want to travel to the snow together. From childcare that starts as young as six-weeks old (hit those black diamond runs, mom and dad!) to fun fests for kids, kids’ night out programs, mom/dad and me ski or snowboard lessons, you’re going to need more than just a couple of days to fit it all in. Don’t miss the FunZone, an indoor activity park, for when you need to defrost!
Photo via the Smugglers’ Notch Resort Facebook Page.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Get there: It’s hard not to think of Colorado when you think of winter wonderland getaways, but how can you ever choose which one to try with your kids? If you’re a Colorado rookie (not to be confused with the Colorado Rockies!), give Steamboat Springs a try. It’s 3-4 hours outside of Denver, and is on the low-key side of Colorado ski towns and resorts, making it a great choice for family travel.
Where to stay: Steamboat Resort is a good place to start if you want to be mountain-side for this getaway. They offer countless ways to stay – from houses to condos to hotel rooms – for you to pick from, so it’s easy to find exactly what your family needs. Plus, the resort hosts dozens of kid-friendly activities – both on the slopes and off. If you are looking to get some skis under your kiddo’s boots, they’ve just expanded their kids’ complex at Steamboat and they even have a Kids Ski Free program.
Winter fun: Beyond the typical variety of mountain and snow sports offered in Steamboat Springs, you’ll want to add the “springs” part of the town’s name to your must-try list while visiting. Old Town Hot Springs is in downtown Steamboat Springs and has both indoor and outdoor pools, plus waterslides for extra fun.
Photo via the Steamboat Resort Facebook Page.
Notes about Planning a Winter Wonderland Vacation:
Most of these destinations see more than just a dusting of snow, so plan accordingly when it comes to transportation, and what you’ll possibly need to purchase or rent as far as clothing and gear to make it a safe and comfortable getaway.
While we’ve listed resort-style lodging throughout the article, you can also easily find places to rent at each of these destinations, which is often a great choice for families who would love to have a kitchen for cooking some meals or a little more space than the average hotel room would give you. Check out VRBO.com for rentals of all kinds and simply type in your winter wonderland destination of choice!
Instead of hauling all of your ski gear to your destination, consider renting it when you get there! Many ski towns even have concierge-like services that will come to wherever you’re staying and bring you all of the gear you need, in the sizes you need. And you know what that means? More time in the snow!
More Awesome Picks for Winter Vacation Destinations:
Where does your family like to go to find the snow each winter?
— Katie Kavulla