These Winter Festivals Are the Best Reason to Travel This Season
There’s no need to head inside when the weather turns cold. The dropping temperatures, first snowfalls, and icy ambience awakens that need to go outside and play. And that's why winter is the best time to throw a massive, outdoor festival.
Every year, all over the U.S., cities find their own way to ring in the season. From January to March, you can find winter festivals featuring ice sculpture competitions, skiing, sleigh rides and sled dog races. There are more unique activities, like snow golf, arctic frisbee, and taking the plunge into frigid waters like a polar bear.
If you’re not a sporty type, winter festivals feature more cozy activities as well. Walk through palaces made of gigantic blocks of ice or admire whimsical snow sculptures while you enjoy some hot chocolate. Travel to the northern Midwest for some of the largest winter carnivals in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana, or take a trip to the Rockies to take in a winter festival in Colorado. Spend a weekend at some of the oldest celebrations in the northeast in New York and Vermont.
There are plenty of things to do even if it’s bitterly cold outside.So grab your warmest coat, bundle up tight, and head off for some winter days full of cheer.
Wintersköl — January 11-14, 2018
There’s literally no better time to visit Aspen than during Winterskol. Not only is the resort town the perfect place to catch some fresh powder in the winter, there are also The Fat Bike Race (in which competitors ride bikes with extra wide tires down slippery slopes) and a soup contest between the town’s best restaurants.
Bavarian IceFest — January 13-14, 2018
Anyone who has been to Leavenworth, Washington, can attest to its charm. The small town is reminiscent of an old Bavarian German village, which makes it perfect for a winter carnival. Families can enjoy snowball tosses, snowmobile sled pulls, 13 different types of chili, and fireworks, as well as admiring ice sculptures and live music.
Stowe Winter Carnival — January 13-27, 2018
Stowe, Vermont, might be famous for its changing leaves in the fall, but it’s also perfectly magical in the winter. Families can enjoy traditional winter activities like downhill ski races, ice hockey games, and an ice carving competition, along with some unexpected fun, like a snow volleyball tournament and snow golf.
Ouray Ice Climbing Festival — January 18-21, 2018
Every January, Ouray, Colorado is home to the country’s largest ice climbing festival. Visitors are always blown away by the gigantic walls of blue ice lining the Uncompahgre Gorge, whether they intend to climb or not. There are also climbing competitions, demonstrations, clinics, presentations, films, and a gear expo.
International Snow Sculpture Championship — January 22-29, 2018
People from all over flock to Breckenridge, Colorado, every year to participate in the snow sculpting competition. Teams spend five days turning blocks of snow into art, creating a gallery of whimsical creatures along the Riverwalk Center.
Polar Bear Plunge — January 25-27, 2018
There’s nothing like an ice-cold plunge into freezing waters to ring in the winter season. Maryland’s Plunge Fest, in Annapolis, attracts more than 25,000 plungers and spectators every year on the Chesapeake Bay, raising money for the Special Olympics Maryland.
St. Paul Winter Carnival — January 25-February 10, 2018
St. Paul, Minnesota, one of the coldest cities in the U.S., is naturally one of the best places to have a winter festival. The St. Paul Winter Carnival is also oldest and largest winter festival in the U.S., attracting visitors from every corner of the country. The carnival is best known for it’s gigantic ice castle.
Madison Winter Festival — February 2018
Madison, Wisconsin’s Winter Festival may be small, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of fun packed into this two-day event. There is a snowshoe obstacle course, tubing hills, Dog Jogs, ice sculptures, and more activities for visitors to enjoy. Exact dates to be announced.
Whitefish Winter Carnival — February 2-4, 2018
Whitefish is not your typical winter carnival. The people of Whitefish, Montana, created the Whitefish Winter Carnival not only to celebrate all things winter, but also to celebrate the story of Ullr, the Nordic god of snow, who, legend has it, settled in northwest Montana and made his home on Big Mountain.
Fire and Ice Winter Fest — February 2-4, 2018
Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, is famous for its natural hot springs, which play a large part in this winter festival. The festival ends with a race from one hot spring to the next — via downtown. Visitors can also catch the Polar Float Parade, where everyone is encouraged to dress up in creative costumes and float down the Portneuf River. There will be fire shows on main street as well.
Saranac Lake Winter Carnival — February 2-11, 2018
Saranac Lake, New York, is home to the longest-running winter festival in the eastern United States. Visitors can enjoy winter sports like Nordic skiing and ice-skating, and also quirky activities like ultimate arctic frisbee and a women's frying pan toss. The biggest draw is a sculpted ice palace made from 1,000 to 3,000 ice blocks, weighing up to 800 pounds each.
Steamboat Winter Carnival — February 7-11, 2018
The Steamboat Winter Carnival, in Colorado, is part winter festival, part rodeo. Horses are the main draw to this huge carnival celebrating Western heritage. There are horse-drawn shovel races, and also ski events in which skiers hang onto a lasso held by a cowboy on horseback.
Dartmouth Winter Carnival — February 8-11, 2018
The Dartmouth Winter Carnival in Hanover, New Hampshire, is sometimes referred to as a “30-ring circus.” Organized by and for the students of Dartmouth College, the 10-day festival features ski races, sleigh rides, ice skating, and musical performances.
Newport Winter Festival — February 8-11, 2018
Rhode Island's Newport Winter Festival has often been called “New England's Largest Winter Extravaganza” for the last 30 years. The 10-day festival has more than 150 events, including a chili cook-off, ice-sculpting, sand castle competitions, a children's fair, and even a "Beatlemania" themed concert.
Polar Fest — February 8-19, 2018
Every week around President’s Day weekend, the people of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, gather for the annual Polar Fest. Among the many activities visitors can enjoy during the week include a full moon Nordic ski, ice tee golf tournaments, live music, snow mobile swap meets, and a “Freeze Your Buns” run.
WinterFest — February 16-18, 2018
Ever since 1999, Bend's WinterFest has been one of Oregon’s largest winter festivals. Celebrating everything Oregon has to offer in wintertime, the festival boasts the Snow Warriors challenging outdoor obstacle course, kids activities organized by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, artisan fire pits, snow sculptures, and a wine walk.
Fur Rendezvous — February 23-March 4, 2018
Fur Rendezvous, or Fur Rondy for short, was originally started as a way to break up those long, Alaskan winters. Since then, it’s grown into a huge, 10 day winter celebration. Among the many activities at this festival in Anchorage, there is men's snowshoe softball, a grand prix auto race, a “running of the reindeer” event, a native arts market, and a “blanket toss.”
Tahoe Snowfest — March 1-11, 2018
For more than 30 years, the resorts on the north and west side of Lake Tahoe come together to throw a 10-day winter sports blowout. Among the many fun activities is the super popular Tahoe Donner Ididarun, in which dogs pull covered sleds across a snow covered course.
Frozen Dead Guy Days — March 9-11, 2018
This quirky festival pays homage to Bredo Morstol, who is frozen in a state of suspended animation and housed in a Tuff Shed on dry ice high above Nederland. The artsy Colorado town pays homage to his memory (perhaps a little morbidly) with coffin races, a parade of hearses, a frozen t-shirt contest, snow volleyball, and other offbeat activities.
Mammoth Pond Skim — April 15, 2018
Even Californians get in on the winter fun. At this outlandish festival, skiers and snowboarders dress up in outlandish costumes and skim across a 110-foot unfrozen pond. Some make it across, and some, well, don’t. But everyone has fun.