Play it cool in these scenic small towns that know just how to embrace winter.
America's Prettiest Winter Towns
For all of the Rockies’ flashy resorts and rustic ranches, few places compare to the erstwhile mining town of Ouray when it comes to an authentic and adventurous winter vibe. Where else can you stroll streets with Victorian buildings, ogle ice climbers dangling from their pickaxes nearby, and then melt into the therapeutic warmth of a vapor cave discovered by miners searching for gold? While scaling enormous ice formations (or simply observing) may be the winter pastime of choice, there’s snowshoeing and skiing, too.
Winter Fun: Join the crowds at Ouray’s bridges to watch daredevil mountaineers swing their axes into the frozen faces at the Ouray Ice Park, then warm up with a dip in pools fed by natural springs at the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa, also the site of the vapor cave.
You don’t need to find a beach to beat the winter blues. There’s an invigorating, rosy-cheek feeling that comes from a day out among fresh air and snow—followed by something hot to drink.
That’s the promise of America’s prettiest winter towns, where you can wander among beautiful historic streets with eclectic businesses and scenic surroundings—whether laced with cross-country trails or vineyards whose tasting rooms beckon with fireplaces. Even when snowfall is sporadic, towns like Jackson, WY, or Charlottesville, VA, have undeniable, picturesque appeal. There’s always something to do, and the passion their residents pour into cold-weather pursuits is contagious.
“When you walk into a great winter town, you immediately feel like you’re in its embrace,” says David K. Gibson, editor in chief for luxury lifestyle magazine Snow. “The joy comes in being able to walk from your hotel to the coffee shop, where you can talk to your barista, and she tells you where to go for dinner, and then your waiter at dinner tells you where to go skiing,” he says.
Consider it done in the friendly, artsy town of Red River among the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. Visitors, many from Texas, hit the slopes and then go for après-ski drinks along the town’s main drag. And is it any surprise that New England, the birthplace of the American ski industry, has its share of pretty winter towns?
Related: America's Favorite Mountain Towns
“We have mountains, we have inns, we have a tradition of people coming here that goes way back,” says Mel Allen, editor of Yankee magazine. “Winter tourism is not a new thing for New England—many of the inns have been here a long time, and they know how to make people feel welcome.”
Grafton, VT, owes the upkeep of its clapboard buildings and Normal Rockwell–esque taverns and art galleries to the Windham Foundation, charged with promoting the state’s rural communities. The town—population 600—is far from Disneyfied, despite the historical aura and pastoral views at every turn.
Related: America's Best Mountain Resorts
Ready to dive into an authentic winter experience? Follow our lead to America’s prettiest winter towns.