Red River, N.M.
With a population of fewer than 500, this blink-and-you-miss-it resort town in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains reaches its full potential in the winter. Snow tube or sled down a mountain, or take a guided snowmobile tour through the Carson National Forest. You’ll also want to schedule in a winter constellations hike, since the crisp, clear nights are ideal for stargazing.
Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
This mountain resort city in the Southeast is situated just eight miles north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where there’s plenty to do when the temperature drops. Hike or cross-country ski through serene forest, or opt for a photo-worthy drive through Cades Cove, on an 11-mile loop where you’ll see historic sites once occupied by European settlers, including a working grist mill, churches and log houses. Warm up afterward by visiting one of the local distilleries.
This magical destination on the southern shore of Payette Lake and Payette National Forest is known for the highest average snowfalls in the state, which makes for great fat-biking conditions. Gear up and pedal through snow on a two-wheeler with wide tires. Beginning in late January, the city is transformed into a living art gallery with towering snow sculptures that herald the epic McCall Winter Carnival. And don’t leave without seeing the fireworks, beer garden and Mardi Gras Parade.
Steamboat Springs, Colo.
The working ranches and cowboys around Steamboat, as the locals call it, give this town an authentic western feel. It’s no surprise then that you can explore the valley and its surrounding mountains on horseback year-round. Internationally known, this destination in northwestern Colorado also has some of the best skiing in the state. After a morning of runs, try out the roller coaster (yes, it’s on the slopes!) that features dips, turns and 360-degree circles. Then enjoy a relaxing soak in the area’s natural hot springs mineral pools.
This seacoast town doesn’t shutter in the winter. Its country inns, shops and restaurants are open and serving local favorites like blueberry pancakes, lobster stew and clam chowder deep into the chilly months. You’ll work up an appetite at the 400-foot Jack Williams Toboggan Chute, one of the last of its kind in the country—where toboggans zoom by at 40 mph. Or, for a tamer experience, ice skate on the nearby 55-acre pond and explore some 30 miles of hiking and snowshoeing trails in Camden Hills State Park.
Nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, this community is known for its seasons as well as its majestic forests and small-town vibe. In the winter, skiing and sledding are popular pastimes. But what sets Idyllwild apart from other winter resort towns is that it’s an hour’s drive down to the desert surrounding Palm Springs.
Old Forge, N.Y.
This Herkimer County hamlet has been dubbed the “Snowmobile Capital of the East” due to its miles of scenic, professionally groomed trails that afford breathtaking views of the Adirondack Mountains. If you prefer to take in the vistas on foot, The Wild Center’s 115 acres are ideal for snowshoeing, or you can cross-country ski on the nearby golf course. Locals also head to McCauley Mountain for the annual Winter Carnival in February, where you can enjoy torchlight skiing and ice skating before dancing the night away at a local chalet.
By Michele Shapiro