With its mesmerizing snowscapes, frosty mornings, and crackling fireplaces, winter can be enchanting. The United States’ three major mountain ranges and several smaller peaks enable cold-weather enthusiasts to partake in outdoor winter activities galore. But where is the best winter wonderland in the country?
To find the answer, we harnessed data from Yelp, Airbnb, and other platforms to rank 95 destinations across six wintry categories. The result is a meticulously crafted guide that weighs the charm of the weather, the comfort of lodgings, and the thrill of snowy activities to unveil the best winter destinations. Cozy up and join us as we explore America’s most magical winter wonderlands to live in or visit.
- Colorado’s Vail, Aspen, and Beaver Creek are the top winter wonderland destinations.
- Six of the top 10 destinations are in Colorado, and two are in Utah.
- Alta, Utah, ranked at the top for the number of winter activities.
- Aspen, Colorado; Rangeley, Maine; and Red Lodge, Montana, have the best apres-ski scenes.
America’s Ultimate Winter Wonderlands
To pinpoint the top U.S. winter wonderland destinations, we used data from Airbnb, Yelp, Skiresort Service International, and Instagram to assess four key factors:
- Luxury short-term lodging availability
- Winter activity offerings, including proximity to ski resorts, ice skating, sledding, tubing, and hot springs
- Apres-ski scene of highly rated luxury bars and restaurants
- Scenic value
Use our interactive table below to discover how each wintry destination scored.
Scoring high across all categories, five destinations rose above the rest as the best winter wonderlands—and most are in Colorado.
Overall ranking: 1
Luxury short-term lodging rank: 2
Winter activities rank: 8
Apres-ski scene rank: 8
Scenic rank: 8
Vail secured the title of best winter wonderland destination with an impressive overall score of 95.01 out of 100 points. The Colorado town ranked second overall for luxury short-term lodging and eighth for winter activities, apres-ski scene, and scenery, making it the perfect place for winter lovers to call home.
Overall ranking: 2
Luxury short-term lodging rank: 8
Winter activities rank: 19
Apres-ski scene rank: 1
Scenic rank: 2
Aspen took second, with a score of 86.04 out of 100 points. While Aspen boasted plenty of beautiful scenery and luxury short-term lodging, it stood out the most for its apres-ski scene. With a plethora of highly-rated luxury bars and restaurants, Aspen is a food lover’s dream.
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Overall ranking: 3
Luxury short-term lodging rank: 3
Winter activities rank: 15
Apres-ski scene rank: 7
Scenic rank: 34
Coming in third place overall, Beaver Creek scored 81.83 points. Despite being smaller than Vail and Aspen, the town was third for luxury short-term lodging and seventh for apres-ski offerings. Beaver Creek also boasts excellent winter activities, making it a fantastic choice for those seeking an exciting but less-crowded wonderland.
Overall ranking: 4
Luxury short-term lodging rank: 5
Winter activities rank: 4
Apres-ski scene rank: 48
Scenic rank: 18
Keystone scored 75.99 out of 100 points, earning its spot as the fourth-best winter wonderland. Ranking fourth for winter activities and fifth for luxury short-term lodging, Keystone balanced high-class accommodations with outdoor fun.
Lake Tahoe, California
Overall ranking: 5
Luxury short-term lodging rank: 14
Winter activities rank: 14
Apres-ski scene rank: 60
Scenic rank: 1
Rounding out the top five, Lake Tahoe scored 75.73 out of 100 points. Ranking 14th in both winter activities and luxury short-term lodging, the region merges upscale comfort with outdoor excitement. Lake Tahoe also secured the number-one rank for scenic beauty with its unparalleled vistas of crystal clear waters, pine trees, and snow-capped mountains.
From Summit to Base: Top and Bottom Picks Across Categories
The top five destinations scored well overall, but others stood out in individual categories. We looked closer at the scores and subcategories to identify the best locations for each winter wonderland variable.
If you’re looking for a winter getaway rather than a relocation, consider Exeter, Rhode Island—the top destination for luxury short-term lodging. With 865 options, visitors have their pick of opulent accommodations. Coming in second and third, Colorado’s Vail and Beaver Creek also specialized in high-class living, with 799 and 791 luxury listings, respectively.
If skiing and other winter activities are high on your cold-weather to-do list, there are several superb destinations to consider. For avid skiers and snowboarders, Taos, New Mexico; Beaver Creek, Colorado; and Teton Village, Wyoming, offer ski slopes less than one mile from town.
For ice skaters, sledders, tubers, deal hunters, and hot spring soakers, Alta, Utah, boasts 100 winter activity options, the most of any city. Close behind, Princeton, Massachusetts, has 95 activities, and Ogden, Utah, has 91. Several of these locations also offer year-round outdoor activities, making them exciting places to live, especially for adventurous spirits.
Whether you like to hit the slopes or curl up by the fire, you will eventually need some sustenance. If you prefer foodie-approved dining, head to Jay, Vermont; Davis, West Virginia; or Red Lodge, Montana. All three destinations are gastronomic havens, with 50% of their bars and restaurants rated 4.5 stars or higher on Yelp.
If luxury dining is more your thing, then Aspen, Colorado; Woodstock, Vermont; and Vail, Colorado, might be better suited to your tastes. These classic winter towns offer the highest percentage of high-end dining establishments, with around one-quarter of their bars and restaurants serving up exclusive meals.
One of the most alluring aspects of winter destinations is their picturesque beauty, and some wonderlands are true visual masterpieces that beg to be captured on film. The most scenic winter destination, Lake Tahoe, was featured in more than 3 million hashtagged posts on Instagram. Aspen, Colorado, followed with more than 1.9 million snapshots, and Moab, Utah, was third with just under 1.5 million. Whether you crave a winter view for a few weeks or the rest of your life, these destinations show off the most stunning beauty winter has to offer.
Winter offers a long list of outdoor adventures and cozy experiences, and our ranking of the best U.S. winter wonderland destinations can help you take advantage of them all. While Colorado has proven itself a winter lover’s haven, Vermont also offers incredible eats, and Lake Tahoe is the ultimate destination for scenic beauty. When it comes to selecting your winter home, consider your favorite cold-season diversions: luxury lodgings, outdoor activities, fine dining, or picturesque views. Whatever your preference, there is a winter wonderland waiting for you; all you have to do is make the move.
How We Chose
- Luxury short-term lodging availability (25%)
- Number of Airbnb listings costing $800 or more per night. Data was collected in September of 2023; Airbnb defines the radius of each city.
- Winter activity offerings (25%)
- Number of ice skating listings on Yelp
- Number of sledding listings on Yelp
- Number of tubing listings on Yelp
- Number of ski and snowboard shops on Yelp
- Number of hot springs on Yelp
- Proximity to ski resorts
- Apres-ski scene (25%)
- Percentage of bars and restaurants with a Yelp rating of 4.5 stars or higher
- Percentage of bars and restaurants with a Yelp price rating of $$$ or higher
- Scenic value (25%)
- Number of hash-tagged posts on Instagram
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