Bust out of the city for a weekend on the slopes, or soaking in hot springs.
One of the best things about being in Washington, DC, is how close it is to everything you’re looking for in a wintertime vacation: mountain trails, hot springs, ski slopes—even whales (!). Here’s a look at some of the area’s best weekend trips, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Virginia Beach.
Take a Dip in Hot Springs
Driving time: about four hours
Seek some respite from the cold temperatures with a long soak in some presidentially approved hot springs. The Jefferson Pools at the Omni Homestead Resort—located in the aptly named Hot Springs, Virginia—flow naturally from the Allegheny Mountains and are so restorative that Thomas Jefferson was said to have soaked here back in 1818. From January 7 onward, one of the two pools will be open Thursdays through Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m.; an hour-long soak costs $17.
In addition to the Jefferson Pools, The Homestead also offers an expansive spa outfitted with an Aqua Thermal Suite: home to experiential showers, a detoxifying herbal cocoon room, a cold cabin, and thermal heated lounges. While you’re there, you might as well take advantage of all the other winter activities it has to offer. These include skiing and snowboarding on the resort’s own slopes, ice skating, and tubing down the Penguin Slides.
Hole Up in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Driving time: about three hours
Gather a group of good friends and head for the Blue Ridge Mountains for a classic seasonal experience: the cabin trip. Here, your escape is what you make of it, whether you choose a log cabin boasting 240 acres of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback-riding trails or the Spirit Dancer Lodge with a sauna, hot tub, playhouse, and mountaintop gazebo.
Wherever you stay, consider making a trek up Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. The nine-mile hike is the park’s most popular route, even in the wintertime, in part thanks to the fun (and difficulty) of the trail’s rock scramble. If hiking doesn’t suit, there’s nothing wrong with spending the weekend keeping warm and cozy with wine, games, books, bonfires—and your best friends.
Indulge in an Epic Culinary Fantasy
Driving time: one-and-a-half hours
Of course, if you’re looking for a more romantic Blue Ridge Mountain getaway, you can always spoil yourself with a stay in the foothills at The Inn at Little Washington. Known for its refined luxury as a member of the Relais & Chateaux group, The Inn at Little Washington is one of America’s most elegant small hotels. One of its main charms is its chef, Patrick O’Connell, under whose direction the Inn’s restaurant has won acclaim from critics and culinary aficionados the world over.
Make reservations early on for dinner—book the Kitchen Table if you like feeling part of the action—and look forward to tasting dishes like American Osetra caviar with peekytoe crab and cucumber rillette, a torchon of foie gras with sauternes gelee and pear butter, and carpaccio of herb-crusted lamb loin with Caesar salad ice cream.
Whale Watching in Virginia Beach
Driving time: about three and a half hours
Though heading to the beach in the heart of winter might seem counter-intuitive, it’s actually the best time for a Virginia Beach getaway—if you’re hoping to spot some whales. This is the season that humpbacks, fin whales, minke whales and more start making their way down the Virginia coastline to warmer waters. From now through March 6, 2016, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center offers boat trips for would-be whale-watchers aboard the Atlantic Explorer.
On this two-and-a-half-hour trip, you’ll prowl the ocean waters to spot them—as well as other sea dwellers such as dolphins, porpoises, seals, and birds—while professional educators fill you in on all the whale facts you need to know. These trips depart the Virginia Aquarium dock every day from Wednesday to Sunday. Tickets cost $27 for adults, $23 for kids, and are free for kids under three years old.
Hit the Slopes
Driving time: from three to five hours
The East Coast has been a little bit too warm for snow so far this winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go skiing. “In recent years, most mid-Atlantic resorts have invested heavily in modern snowmaking equipment, which allows them to make lots of snow quickly,” says M. Scott Smith, editor of DCSki, an online publication providing the latest intel on Mid-Atlantic ski resorts. “It now only takes a few cold nights to begin opening slopes.”
So don’t be afraid to plan a ski trip, but how to choose your locale? Smith says he avoids the resorts closest to the city on weekends, since they tend to get crowded. Instead, he says, “[f]or weekend trips, there are a few resorts that rise above the rest,” he says. These just so happen to lie in every which direction from DC: Wisp in western Maryland, Seven Springs in Pennsylvania, and Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, among others.
All these resorts offer great skiing as well as plenty of other winter activities. Wisp has snowshoeing, tubing, ice skating, and even a mountain coaster—as well as proximity to the popular Deep Creek Lake. At Seven Springs, there are sleigh rides, snowmobile tours, snowcat rides, snowshoeing, and tubing. And Snowshoe has off-road adventure tours, a 15,000-square-foot playground with inflatables, a climbing wall, and more.