The coolest season of the year offers many opportunities for family trips, including holiday getaways, snowy mountain escapes, and city breaks.
Monthly guides for family vacations in December, January, and February will give you some ideas. In December, consider warming up in San Diego. You can take a whale watching getaway to see San Diego’s famous gray whales during their migration. The season stretches from December through April.
In January, check out an ice hotel in Quebec. Dozens of artisans come together to create the one-of-a-kind Hotel de Glace out of ice and snow, now one of the most popular winter tourist attractions in Quebec. If you don't want to stay there, you can take a day tour.
In February, head down to Texas. There is no better way for families to tap into the authentic cowboy culture in Texas than to visit when there’s a rodeo in town. January through March is prime rodeo season in the Lone Star State, drawing crowds from across the country to enjoy this storied Western tradition.
Make the Most of School Breaks
Winter offers several long holiday weeks and school breaks when kids are out of school. The breaks at the Christmas and New Year periods and Presidents Week provide great opportunities to grab some together time with your family. Choose a family-friendly resort, plan an adventuresome escape and head to South America.
Consider a family vacation to Peru during the time off from school. Visit Machu Picchu and sleep at the Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel, where you can stay with your entire family in a large family suite, take part in mini chef classes, and learn Andean tales during story time.
Cuddle with llamas at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, learn from local artisans and weavers in the hotel's courtyard, and explore the bustling metropolis of Lima. When you've toured enough, you can return to the restored 16th-century property and enjoy a delectable meal at Qespi Restaurant.
Abercrombie & Kent offers a well-rounded itinerary for their Tailor Made: Family Peru adventure. They will take care of all of the logistics so you can just enjoy your time with your family. The knowledgeable guides you'll have access to are the best around. Plus, visiting during this part of the year will reward you with less tourists and crowds and better deals on hotels and tours—just be sure to pack a rain jacket.
Perhaps the best-kept secret about national parks is that they are terrific places to visit year-round. During the winter, your family can take advantage of free ranger-led tours, junior ranger activities, and wildlife learning without the heat and the crowds.
For example, Yosemite National Park is simply the perfect getaway for winter-sports enthusiasts. Bring the kids to the outdoor ice skating rink in Yosemite Valley. A tradition in Yosemite since the 1930s, the ice rink is tucked beneath Half Dome and Glacier Point offering a majestic backdrop. Although it's outside, the family can stay warm by the outdoor fire ring or inside the store with hot cocoa and warm treats.
Zion National Park, located in southwest Utah, is also quite lovely in the winter months. The geography is what brings families here year-round. See colossal cliffs, deep canyons, high plateaus and the Virgin River at this desert oasis full of box elder, willow, cottonwood and ash trees. For fit families, consider running the 2020 Zion Half Marathon with Vacation Races, which is stroller friendly and kicks off at the end of February. The Greater Zion area is full of family fun, from aerial tours to ATV rides to visits to area museums like the Dinosaur Discovery Site, St. George Children's Museum, or the Rosenbruch Wildlife Museum.
Maui for Families
From snorkeling to world famous beaches to dormant volcanoes to paddle sports, Maui, "The Valley Isle", has it all. And, a trip in the winter months is extra special because you can see whales breed, calve and nurse their young. Take the kids to Maui Ocean Center, enjoy a helicopter ride to see waterfalls and lush landscapes, adventure through Haleakala National Park on an eco tour, and learn how to Hula dance. If you're traveling with a multigenerational family, visit the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm, tour the lush grounds, and nosh on warm lavender scones afterward.
Families will be quite comfortable at Four Seasons Resort Lanai where you can enjoy a sunrise hike to Pu'u Pehe, try your hand at shoreline fishing and net throwing, learn how to strum a ukulele, and weave bracelets. The island of Lanai also has a brand-new attraction for kids, the Lanai Adventure Park, complete with a ropes course and zip line.
Make a Splash in an Indoor Water Park
No matter the weather, every day's a pool day at an indoor water park. Find the best water parks in every region of the United States.
Across the United States, you'll find the Great Wolf Lodge chain with accommodations geared for families and fun slides, tubes, and a variety of pools. The lodge in Gurnee, near Chicago, for example, has a Wolf Den Suite, perfect for littles, and loads of activities on dry land, in addition to the water park, like a climbing wall, bowling alley, arcade, ropes course, and the MagiQuest live action game.
Book a Trip to Aruba: One Happy Island
See multi-hued schools of fish on a sailing and snorkeling adventure; test your balance while stand up paddle boarding; romp around the island on a UTV tour, checking out the Donkey Sanctuary and Butterfly Farm; and swim in a natural ocean pool at Arikok National Park. Aruba’s consistently warm and sunny weather is an ideal destination for families that are looking to get away from colder climates.
Stay at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, located on Palm Beach, one of the most stunning beaches on the entire island. Of course, there is a lovely pool, fitness center, and spa, but what really sets this resort apart is the dining options. Ruth’s Chris Steak House; La Vista, with the weekly Carnival dinner; Atardi, where you can watch the sun set while you dine shoeless on the beach; Waves Beach Bar & Grill; The Lobby, for excellent sushi; Gelato & Co., for healthy acai bowls and smoothies; and Starbucks all offer amazing versatility for families.
Book Budget-Friendly Vacations
Once the holidays are over, prices plummet in many key destinations. Taking advantage of fewer crowds and lower hotel rates is a win-win for families looking for an affordable winter getaway.
Visiting Disney World in January can be a real money saver, and the crowds will have diminished a bit after the hectic holiday season. While days are usually warm and sunny, don't be surprised if you see a frosty dew in the early morning hours or experience chilly evening temperatures, as Orlando has a sub-tropical climate. After New Year's Day, the hours in the parks shorten, but since the attractions lines are shorter than any other time of the year, the lessened hours shouldn't deter you from going.
Dead Week, the first week of December after the Thanksgiving holiday, is a fabulous time to travel. Prices pick up again in mid-December for the peak holiday period for Christmas and New Year's.
Head for the Slopes
Nobody said skiing was cheap, but there are easy ways to make a family getaway to the mountains more affordable. If you have several children in your family, you can save big by taking them skiing at resorts where children ski and snowboard for free.
Sundial in Park City, Utah is largest ski and snowboard resort in the U.S. With 17 peaks, 7,300 skiable acres, and more than 300 trails, the huge area offers a range of intermediate and experienced-level slopes, with a few beginner-runs, and a practice area available for training up younger children. It's one of our top picks for families.
Keystone Resort, also on our list, has playgrounds, snow forts, and a colorful daily parade. Keystone Lodge & Spa in Colorado has a strong family-friendly atmosphere backed by an impressive range of facilities dedicated to younger families.
Gaze at the Northern Lights
No need to visit Iceland to see the Northern Lights. Stay right here in the U.S. where some of the most amazing aurora borealis sightings happen in the Great Lakes region.
The Northern Lights (also called Aurora Borealis) are the result of large numbers of electrons, originating from the sun, streaming in toward the Earth along its magnetic field and colliding with air particles. The air then lights up in a similar manner to what happens in a fluorescent light tube, around 60 miles (100 kilometers) above the earth's surface. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Have Your Own Winter Olympics
You don't need to be a world-class athlete to try an Olympic sport. Head to one of the former host cities—Lake Placid, Salt Lake City, Squaw Valley, Calgary, or Whistler—and give a new activity a try.
Olympic parks offer the chance to take a ride on a bobsled, luge, or skeleton, go skating or skiing, or even test your biathlon skills.
Take the Kids Ice Skating
Lacing up skates for a smooth glide around an ice rink is a quintessential winter pastime.
A vacation to remember would be to skate with stunning views of Yosemite's Half Dome and Glacier Point as a backdrop. The Curry Village ice rink in Yosemite National Park offers a breathtaking place to glide.
And then, of course, there is New York City. The Big Apple during the winter months brings an opportunity for frozen fun. With a backdrop of skyscrapers and city lights, Manhattan's ice rinks deliver oodles of drama. Glide around Wollman Rink in Central Park, take a lap on the famous rink on Rockefeller Plaza or practice your spins on the charming rink in Bryant Park.