While most people prefer the summer months to take their vacations, there’s something to be said about winter travel — namely that it can be super affordable. Take a look at these easy-on-the-wallet winter wonderlands that are practically begging you to visit.
1. Massanutten, Virginia
Skiers and snowboarders can save big time at Massanutten Resort in Virginia, which boasts the most vertical drop in the area; 14 lighted trails (night skiing, you guys!); and savings for college students on Wednesdays and Fridays from Jan. 3 to March 2, snow/no-school day discounts, weekend lodging specials, plus a free slope ticket for military on March 11. If you’d rather slide down the mountain on your back (that’s my preferred method), snow tubing is just $15 for two hours of fun on Tuesdays from December to March. (See also: 10 Ways to Save Big on Family Ski Trips)
2. Mystery destination
Can’t decide as a couple or family where to go this winter? Let the savings steer you in the right direction. A new travel company called Pack Up + Go plans mystery trips (you don’t know where you’re going until you get to the airport) based on your travel preferences (so it’s not a total crapshoot). I also just learned about another cool money-saving option called Flight Baron that sends out exclusive deals to its subscribers. Recent deals have included round-trip airfare from LAX to Iceland (one of the best places I’ve ever been, by the way) for $210 (around $1,000 on most airlines) and round trips from 25 U.S. cities to Europe in the $300-$500 range.
3. Indianapolis, Indiana
Friends and family in my hometown of Baltimore won’t like that I’m suggesting you visit Indianapolis (they’re still salty about the Colts football franchise abandoning us under the cover of night back in 1984), but I’m willing to let bygones be bygones when I’m saving cash. Some of Indy’s interesting winter activities include a massive outdoor garden-lights exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art where you can snag a Girls Scouts of America s’mores kit to roast on fire pits throughout the gardens. There’s also a drive-through light experience on the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway — one of the most iconic racetracks in the world — along with holiday fun at the Children’s Museum. Tickets to all of this are cheapest online and in advance. If you want a really dynamic lodging experience, check into the Crown Plaza at Union Station. Families can stay in an original Pullman Train Car on its original tracks — like, that’s your room! — with rates starting at $210.
4. Saint Paul, Minnesota
If you like your winter cold, Saint Paul, Minnesota, is calling your name. For more than 130 years it has hosted the Winter Carnival, which features free outdoor music, ice palaces, a snow park, parades, and treasure hunts. Additionally, Wells Fargo WinterSkate on the outdoor ice skating rink downtown offers free skating. Time your trip right and you can witness the Red Bull Crashed Ice event, an ice racing competition on elevated tracks. You’ll find exclusive travel, restaurant and lodging deals — more than $800 in savings, in fact — at VisitSaintPaul.com
5. Des Moines, Iowa
Who visits Iowa? You do! The Hawkeye State provides plenty of opportunities to get your winter on; experience something you’ve never done before, like corn silo ice climbing (say whaaat?!); participate in eagle watching; and take in the sweeping views of the Mississippi River and limestone bluffs. When you’re ready to thaw out, head indoors for botanicals, art, tons of tractors (please, whatever you do, don’t miss the National Farm Toy Museum), and a year-round water park. Hotel prices are crazy cheap, too. Four-night stays in three-star hotels like Hampton Inn in Cedar Rapids and Country Inn & Suite in Des Moines start under $100 per night.
6. Chicago, Illinois
Recently Chicago was named top city in the United States in Condé Nast Traveler‘s Readers’ Choice Awards, and you can discover why this winter. Offseason attractions include the Skating Ribbon in Maggie Daley Park, Navy Pier, holiday lights and windows along Michigan Avenue, and the Shedd Aquarium. Loews Chicago Hotel, centrally located two blocks from both the Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier, and just a block from the Chicago River, is a great home base for families. Its Snowed Inn package, available for stays November 16 to April 1, 2018, comes with everything you need for a cozy stay including overnight accommodations, a tent and campfire set for kids to enjoy, cookies and hot cocoa, one in-room movie credit per stay, and valet parking. The hotel’s indoor pool also provides a great outlet for families to expend some energy when the Windy City is living up to its name.
7. Finger Lakes Wine Country
If you’re a no-kids couple, Finger Lakes Wine Country may already be on your radar, but moms and dads who need a B-R-E-A-K are also a target market. There’s wine sampling, museums galore, and even pet-friendly options so you can bring the pooch. Holiday Inn Express Horseheads offers the Escape to Wine Country package, starting at $150, that includes free hot breakfast in the morning; a visit to Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, where you can learn about the family history of the winery while sampling award-winning wines; browse the gift shop with $20, and dine at Giuseppe’s Pizzeria & Restaurant with a $30 gift certificate. Meanwhile, the Best Western PLUS Vineyard Inn & Suites has a Dog Lovers package for when you want Fido to come along, which includes a one-night stay in a standard queen or king room, gourmet doggy bag, and pet toy, for $119.
8. St. Louis, Missouri
I’m totally into quintessential Americana, and St. Louis just seems like one of those places where everything is June Cleaver-fied — tree-lined streets, white picket fences, kids carrying brown bag lunches to school while skipping down the street. It’s probably not exactly like that, but you will get a taste of the good ol’ USA in the Gateway City with visits to Forest Park, open for a brilliant lights display during the holidays, plus snow-day activities like sledding, when Mother Nature lays down a blanket of the white stuff; a tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery (with samples!); and a meal at the landmark Blueberry Hill restaurant and music venue. You can fill your itinerary with lots of other great things to do and see with the CityPass, which offers up to half-off admission to pretty much all the touristy things on your list.
9. Colorado Springs, Colorado
When you think of a snow-covered state, does Colorado come to mind? It does for me, and there’s plenty to take advantage of in fresh-aired Colorado Springs. Budget-minded travelers will enjoy the stunning, snow-capped Rocky Mountains; Garden of the Gods Park; The North Pole — a Christmas-themed amusement park; and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Electric Safari. Even better, there are about 55 attractions in all in the area — and at least 30 of them are totally free! Lodging choices range from charming B&Bs to full-service indoor water-park hotels, deals and specials for which are available through VisitCOS.com.