Top Winter Festivals in the USA

U.S. Winter Festivals That Embrace the Elements

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival
Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival. Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

The desire to retreat to warmer climates is all too common among winter travelers. But avoiding the cold may cause you to miss out on some of the most authentic and festive events in the country. What's more, winter travel tends to be less expensive than travel during any other time of year (unless you're going to the ritziest of ski resorts, so here is where to ski and snowboard).

For inspiration on where to go, check out this roundup of some of the best winter festivals in the country, from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest to New England. These are festivals in which organizers embrace the snow, wind, and ice, making the most of the wintery landscape.

So, mingle with ice anglers, participate on a snowball-fighting team, or watch a pond hockey game -- these winter festivals may chill your nose, but they'll likely leave you with warm memories of traveling in the USA in winter.

  • 01 of 09

    St. Paul Winter Carnival

    USA, Minnesota, St Paul, ice carving at Winter Festival
    Ryan/Beyer / Getty Images

    Late January to early February, St. Paul, Minnesota. Attracting more than 350,000 visitors to the Twin Cities, the St. Paul Winter Carnival is the nation's biggest cold-weather festival. It is also the oldest, having begun in 1886 as a way to stick it to a New York reporter who had called the area "another Siberia, unfit for human habitation in the winter." In some ways akin to a wintry Mardi Gras, the St. Paul Winter Carnival has its own legend, royal family, and Vulcan Krewe, who oversee all of the activities. Floats, a scavenger hunt, ice sculpture carving, a dogsled race, and a Beer Dabbler are just a few ways to enjoy the frigid fun.

  • 02 of 09
    Frozen Lake By Snow Covered Field Against Sky
    Saranac Lake in winter. Brian Norris / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Late January to early February, Saranac Lake, New York. Taking place annually since 1897, the Saranac Lake Winter Festival bills itself as the oldest festival of its kind in the Eastern United States. The cornerstone of this event in the Adirondacks is the Ice Palace, a giant castle constructed each year out of blocks of ice carved from Pontiac Bay. A parade, winter games, and the crowning of Ice Palace "royalty" are part of the activities. The final event of the 10-day festival is the "Storming of the Palace," a fireworks display.

  • 03 of 09
    Destruction Brook
    Destruction Brook in Dartmouth. DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

    Early- to Mid-February, Hanover, New Hampshire. Famously referred to as a "30-ring circus" in a 1955 profile in Sports Illustrated, the Dartmouth Winter Carnival is one of the most famous of its kind in New England. Organized by and for the students of Dartmouth College, the 10-day festival features ski races, sleigh rides, and ice skating fueled by musical performances and plenty of libations.

  • 04 of 09
    Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival
    Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival. Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

    Second week of February, Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In 1914, 29 years after settlers founded Steamboat Springs, the residents gathered the second week of February to alleviate cabin fever. One of the most popular -- but not the only -- winter carnivals in Colorado, Steamboat Springs' festival takes place downtown and features a parade, skiing and snowboarding events, and food and craft vendors. The "Lighted Man," a local man outfitted in a 70-pound lighted suit, has been a Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival tradition since 1936.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    International Snow Sculpture Championships

    Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships
    Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships. Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

    Mid- to late January, Breckenridge, Colorado. Breckenridge is known worldwide for its fine skiing but it's also the site of the yearly International Snow Sculpture Championships, which sees expert sculpting teams from as far away as Mongolia and Latvia compete to see who can construct a work of art from a simple block of packed snow. Pair with Breckenridge's Ullr Fest, a Viking inspired week of fun and winter games that typically overlaps the timing for the sculpture competition as well as a few other mini festivals.

  • 06 of 09

    Newport Winter Festival

    Castle Hill Inn along the snow covered shore, Newport Rhode Island
    Winter in Newport, Rhode Island. Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images

    Mid-February, Newport, Rhode Island. Rhode Island's classiest city, Newport has been the site of "New England's Largest Winter Extravaganza" since the late 1980s. More than 150 events, from a chili cook-off to a children's fair to a "Beatlemania" concert, are planned for the yearly 10-day event. There are also ice sculpting and sand castle competitions during the carnival.

  • 07 of 09
    USA, Wisconsin, Madison, Illuminated State Capitol Building
    Madison, Wisconsin, in winter. Henryk Sadura / Getty Images

    Mid-February, Madison, Wisconsin. This smallish two-day festival showcases Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, one of the best college towns in the country, and a city that consistently ranks in the top 10 for being a livable city. Madison's small but fun winter event features a snowshoe obstacle course, tubing hills, Dog Jogs, ice sculptures, and more.

  • 08 of 09
    Downtown Anchorage, Alaska
    Blue Poppy / Getty Images

    Late February to early March, Anchorage, Alaska. Pre-dating the Iditarod, the 975-mile dog-sledding race that starts in Anchorage each year, the Fur Rendezvous, affectionately known as "Fur Rondy," has been a tradition here since 1935. Featured events during the festival include an official auction (which harkens back to Anchorage's fur trading days, thus "fur" in the name); a Native American blanket toss; an outdoor hockey tournament; outhouse races; and the World Champion Sled Dog Race, a shorter, local version of the mushing contest.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09
    Cacade Mountains
    Cacade Mountains. Chen Su / Getty Images

    Mid-February, Bend, Oregon. Started in 1999, the festival formerly known as the Bend Winterfest has become one of Oregon's largest winter festivals. In the shadow of the eastern Cascade Mountains, Oregon Winterfest includes the Snow Warriors challenging outdoor obstacle course; kids activities organized by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry; artisan fire pits; snow sculptures; and a wine walk.