Just as not every person is a fan of snow and ice, not every vacation town can lay claim to true four-season status. For visitors to make the drive out during the cold months, you have to have something special going: a reliable downhill ski resort, miles of Nordic skiing or snowmobile trails, well-stocked lakes with ice thick enough to support shanties and pickups.
These five winter destinations have all those things — and more. But they’re also popular with warm-season visitors, when the weather cares to cooperate. Which is tops on your trip list?
1.- Grand Lake, Colorado
This is no Aspen. It’s not even Breckenridge or Steamboat Springs.
What Grand Lake lacks in name recognition, it makes up in amenities — specifically, the Colorado Rockies’ largest natural lake. It’s far more laid-back than better-known mountain towns, too: more affordable, more family-friendly, quieter. And it’s a couple thousand feet lower than Aspen and Telluride, making its summers that much longer. (Though snow regularly lingers until May on the hills around town.)
2.- Hecla Island, Manitoba
Hecla Island is a vast, verdant island on a vast freshwater sea: Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg. Its flat terrain and ample coastline make it an ideal destination for hikers, bikers, and paddlers. After August, crowds thin out ahead of the long, cold winter — music to quiet-seeking winter sports enthusiasts’ ears.
“Hecla Island and surrounding parts of the mainland have some of Manitoba’s finest Nordic skiing,” says Gull Harbour Marina co-owner Lori Janeson. Her property isn’t open during the cold season, but she tries to make it up from Winnipeg for as many winter weekends as she can — as do many of her fellow in-the-know city-dwellers.
3.- Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole sits at the foot of (arguably) North America’s prettiest mountain range, the Tetons. The main winter attraction isn’t far away, either: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, renowned for its lush powder and impossibly long season. On the high prairies outside northwestern Wyoming’s extensive protected areas, snowmobiles replace horses when the snow starts falling.
4.- Banff, Alberta
It’s not quite fair to say that Banff is Canada’s Jackson Hole — indeed, the opposite may be true. What’s indisputable is Banff’s singular beauty. Lake Louise, one of Canada’s largest (and certainly its best-known) alpine lake, sets the scene, and the surrounding high peaks do the rest. If you’re brave enough to visit in the dead of winter, come for the Ice Magic Festival, held annually in mid-to-late January.
5.- Upper Peninsula, Michigan
The rugged, heavily forested Upper Peninsula might lack the Rockies’ dramatic terrain, but it does have two things in spades: deep snow and hundreds of miles of skiable trails. If you’re looking for a remote place to snap on snowshoes and just go for it, you’ll love it up here. Or, wait until winter’s end for waterfall season, a two-week stretch in April when the region’s myriad small creeks explode with snowmelt.
Summer Isn’t Forever
It depends on your definition of “summer,” of course. But, unless you live in the tropics, you’re bound to experience seasonal variation — whether that’s the rainy season in coastal northern California, or the four-month “chilly season” in the mid-Atlantic region, or the annual nine-month pause between growing seasons in the heart of the Rockies.
In other words, all summers come to an end. It’s up to you to make the most of them — and, if you’re visiting any of these beautiful destinations, to return when the weather’s cooler.