Winter Travel Destinations 2020: Our Top 3 Picks

COVID-19, wildfires, politics -- it's all getting us down. But travel this winter is still possible, and we have some choice locations for you to consider when you start vacation planning.Read More

Travel this holiday? Yep, it's still possible. (Source: Shutterstock / Ilija Erceg)

The holiday season just won’t be the same in 2020. We’re still (understandably) on edge about COVID-19, wildfires continue to rage, and the political landscape is tumultuous at best. While all of this may suggest a stay-at-home holiday is ideal, we believe that careful travel is not only possible, but a good way to reset. To help guide your end-of-year vacations, then, we’ve curated a handful of winter travel destinations we recommend you consider visiting – both because they’re less-populated (and therefore somewhat safer than tourist-clogged big cities), and because they’re beautiful in the winter.

1: San Juan Islands, Washington

With its rugged shores and forested interior, the San Juan Islands are beautiful marked by a winter snow. (Source: Shutterstock / Kent Sorensen)
With its rugged shores and forested interior, the San Juan Islands are beautiful marked by a winter snow. (Source: Shutterstock / Kent Sorensen)

It’s no secret that we have kind of a thing for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest; that rings true in the colder months, too. For a winter travel destination that boasts maximum seclusion and gorgeous views of the Pacific, we suggest renting a cabin on the San Juans and spending the holidays surrounded by lush forests, azure blue waters, and utter calm. The San Juan Visitors Bureau is a good place to start looking for those idyllic log cabin digs, though Airbnb is also a good resource. Rates vary widely depending on cabin size and location, but expect prices starting at about $100/night.

What to do: Many of the activities the San Juans are traditionally known for requiring nicer weather – hiking, cycling, swimming, etc. Come colder snaps, however, we like to tour local breweries and wineries and soak in quirky art exhibits. Our favorite stop is the Moran Museum in the Rosario Resort – there’s a room with organ pipe walls that’s the coolest thing ever.

To cap it all off, make sure you amble through the village squares of Orcas and Lopez islands where Christmas lights will undoubtedly put you in the festive mood.

2: Provo, Utah

Sunsets behind the snow-capped mountains in Provo (Source: Shutterstock / Johnny Adolphson)
Sunsets behind the snow-capped mountains in Provo (Source: Shutterstock / Johnny Adolphson)

Butting up against beautiful Utah Lake and home to BYU, Provo is a rich winter travel destination that few think to visit. That’s a shame, really, because the city boasts beautiful winter views and a ton of cultural experiences worth a multi-day trip. The good news is, holiday stays mean most of the students are gone so the city is much quieter – while still offering its usual amenities. Plus, the 2002 Winter Olympics were held nearby, so you know there’s plenty of outdoor wintertime fun to be had.

What to do: Provo is nested in the Utah Valley, a gorgeous, topographically-diverse expanse made for snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and skiing. In fact, Spanish Fork Canyon is top-notch for snowmobiling, giving you lots of “up and down” action as you navigate the canyon. For skiing (and perhaps for staying) we recommend the Sundance Mountain Resort, just 13 miles northeast of Provo. Even if you don’t end up on the slopes, the views from Sundance are breathtaking.

3: Elizabeth Islands, Massachusetts

Blustery but beautiful, Cattyhunk is made for those who want to escape the frenzy of life. (Source: Shutterstock / Birchmarine)
Blustery but beautiful, Cattyhunk is made for those who want to escape the frenzy of life. (Source: Shutterstock / Birchmarine)

If you’re more of an East Coaster – and don’t mind a quieter existence on your holiday break – consider trekking to the winter travel destination of Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Most of the islands are privately owned, but two are open for tourism: Cuttyhunk and Penikese. While the nightly rates for an Airbnb on Cuttyhunk are more than one might expect ($135 and up per night), the tranquility and ocean views are well worth it.  (You can also grab a whole house for the family from Avalon.)

What to do: Our advice for travelers to Cuttyhunk: Hunker down and do nothing. If you feel like wandering, there’s a lovely pizza stop in town, Soprano’s, while the Cuttyhunk Corner Store and Gift Shop scratches that shopping itch. Still, we recommend bringing food and other goodies you may need from the mainland and just enjoying the peace and quiet of wind-swept Cuttyhunk. (If you’re feeling adventurous, though, you can hike to the western side of the island to explore the Cuttyhunk Light Oil House.)