From sleigh rides to making snow angels, there are all sorts of fun activities to enjoy on a winter vacation. It’s also the time of year when a variety of action sports may also be enjoyed, including skiing and snowboarding, as well as more extreme activities such as alpine skiing, ice climbing and snow kiting. But not all of America’s best winter destinations require layers of heavy clothing and plenty of deep snow powder. In fact, some spots may be better suited for thrilling warm weather adventures like big wave surfing and base jumping. Here are just five of the best U.S. winter vacation ideas for the thrill seeker in mind.
With four renowned ski areas, picture postcard surroundings and fabulous dining and lodging, Aspen is likely the most famous ski destination in the entire country. Home to seven of Colorado’s legendary 14ers (peaks with an elevation of 14,000+ feet), Aspen is located along the Roaring Fork River and surrounded by the Elk Mountains within the central Rocky Mountains, making it a prime spot for mountain climbing, ice climbing, skiing and other cold weather action sports. Of the four ski areas, Aspen Snowmass may be the best for thrill seekers, with some of the best snow powder on the planet, three top level terrain parks and the largest vertical descent (4,396 feet) of any resort in North America. Additionally, Snowmass also features one of North America’s largest cross-country ski areas and superb onsite hotels like Viceroy Snowmass, Westin Snowmass and Woodrun V are ski in, ski out properties, allowing guests convenient access to the slopes. While Aspen Snowmass is the top draw, the Highland Bowl at nearby Aspen Highlands is also known to have one of the most challenging descents in North America and historic Aspen Mountain has plenty to offer for all levels of skiing ability. This year, Aspen will be the host city for two major sporting events that adrenaline junkies will especially enjoy – the ESPN Winter X Games at Buttermilk Mountain from January 26-29 featuring some of the world’s best action sports athletes as they compete in events like snowboard superpipe and snowmobile freestyle and the prestigious 2017 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals, featuring the world’s best men and women skiers at Snowmass from March 15-19.
With temperatures averaging in the 70s and with little or no precipitation, Key West is as famous for its warm winter weather as it is for its enormous collection of action sports to satisfy any level of thrillseeker. Located in the southernmost portion of the continental U.S., this popular island city offers nearly every type of water sport imaginable, including snorkeling, jet skiing, sailing and wakeboarding. If those options aren’t adventurous enough, visitors might also want test their hand gliding or skydiving skills, take a speedboat ride, get up close and personal in a shark cage, search for the catch of the day in one of the world’s best destinations for deep sea fishing or scuba dive through the magnificent Florida Reef, the only reef in the continental U.S and the third largest barrier reef in the world. In addition to top rated tour operators like Danger Charters, Sebago Watersports and Fury Water Adventures, leading hotels like Casa Marina, Ocean Key Resort & Spa and Westin Key West Resort & Marina offer an assortment of water activities. One last activity to consider in the Key West area is a 70-mile boat or seaplane trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, for diving and snorkeling to 19th century shipwrecks or along the fascinating moat wall of Fort Jefferson.
Although the winter months represent one of the high seasons, the Hawaiian Islands are an easy choice for travelers hoping to escape from the cold and oftentimes bitter weather on the mainland. While each of the primary islands have its own set of unique adventures, like visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, the island of Oahu simply offers a larger variety of activities and despite the traffic, is far more accessible by car and public transportation. As the capital and largest city of Hawaii, Honolulu also offers the largest selection of places to stay with the widest range of prices to accommodate visitors who will marvel at temperatures averaging in the low 80s and water temperatures averaging a very pleasant 76 degrees. The prospects of warm weather in Honolulu suggests most any type of outdoor activity can be enjoyed here, whether it’s snorkeling, hiking and cycling or the more extreme, such as ziplining, skydiving and cliff jumping. But the winter months are also one of two peak surfing seasons in Oahu, most notably on the North Shore of the island, where some of the world’s most famous big wave surfing spots can be found, like Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline and the legendary Waimea Bay, However, if big wave surfing isn’t part of the itinerary, perhaps a heart-pounding shark cage adventure or a sweeping helicopter ride from the North Shore’s Turtle Bay Resort might be a sensational alternative. Back in the Honolulu-Waikiki Beach area, many more local hotels like Hilton Hawaiian Village, Trump International Waikiki and Hyatt Regency Waikiki all offer a variety of water activities, including surf lessons, catamaran rides, snorkeling and undersea adventure excursions on board the Atlantis Submarine.
One of the most extreme adventure sports to engage in over the winter is ice climbing at leading destinations like Colorado’s epic Ouray Ice Park and Vermont’s Lake Willoughby. But with a little bit of everything for the thrill seeker, Lake Placid in New York’s Essex County is a top choice for a complete vacation full of winter activities. As the only American city to host two Winter Olympics, Lake Placid features superb lodging such as Lake Placid Lodge and Whiteface Lodge, and a tremendous amount of outdoor activities that are as varied as its stunning terrain. This includes skiing and snowboarding at Whiteface Mountain Resort, featuring the highest vertical drop on the East Coast, as well as fat tire biking, hiking in the High Peaks and ice climbing in the Adirondacks, in addition to hockey, bobsled rides and luge rides at the Olympic Sports Complex. One other notable attraction that should also be open after a recent makeover is the 30 foot tall Toboggan Chute in North Elba, just south of Lake Placid, which carries riders out across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake. Among the many other activities for families with younger thrill-seekers in Lake Placid are ice skating, dog sled rides, sleigh rides and snow tubing.
As the home base for two of America’s finest ski resorts, Park City has a wealth of winter activities for most everyone to enjoy but particularly for the adventurous types. Situated within Utah’s Wasatch Mountains just 32 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Park City features both the largest ski resort in America (Park City Mountain) and America’s best ski resort for the past four years (Deer Valley), making a choice between the two a challenge in itself. While skiing and snowboarding across 7,300 acres of terrain are the most popular activities at Park City Mountain, visitors seeking an extra thrill or two can also try other activities such as snowmobiling and snowboarding or even zip lining and taking a breathtaking ride on the Alpine Coaster. During the summer, visitors can take a ride on the Alpine Slide, one of the longest slides in the world. As America’s top ranked ski resort, Deer Valley offers world-class skiing and snowboarding, as well as Nordic skiing, dog sledding, hot air ballooning and much more. Some of the best hotel properties at Deer Valley offer ski in, ski out access such as Montage Deer Valley and Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley as well as exclusive ski adventures of its own such as heli, cat and tele skiing from the luxurious St. Regis Deer Valley. In addition to activities at these multi-award-winning resorts and hotels, Park City also offers snow-kiting lessons and bobsled rides at Utah Olympic Park, the primary site for the 2002 Winter Olympics and whose oval track was the recent host of the U.S. Speedskating Championships.
Related: How To Pack Light For Winter Trips