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9 Underrated US Destinations That Are Real-Life Winter Wonderlands

From quaint Bavarian-inspired villages to tranquil mountain hideaways, these nine hidden-gem locales are especially spectacular come wintertime.

Twilight in a Bavarian-style US town during the winter
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Lauren is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York. Her work has been featured in publications such as Travel + Leisure, SmarterTravel, AFAR, and Time Out. When she's not writing or playing with her dog, she's more than likely researching her next trip.

Instead of fighting off the winter blues with a trip to the beach, why not celebrate all the season has to offer by planning a bucket list–worthy winter getaway right here in the US? Fortunately, the country’s best winter wonderland–esque towns offer a slew of outdoor activities, festivities, and—of course—plenty of holiday cheer. From an often-overlooked waterfront city in the Midwest to a tiny town in New York’s Finger Lakes region, here are the best, most underrated US locales that feel like real-life winter wonderlands.

1. Leavenworth, Washington

The snowy streets of Leavenworth.
The snowy streets of Leavenworth in Washington are a Bavarian dream.Photo Credit: Mark A Lee / Shutterstock

Bavaria meets the Pacific Northwest in Leavenworth.

Tucked away in the snowy Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth was rebuilt in the ‘60s to resemble a fairy-tale–esque Bavarian village, complete with colorful buildings and Alpine-style architecture. During the holiday season, the town transforms into a real-life winter wonderland, complete with half a million twinkling lights, plus festive events and activities such as Santa meet-and-greets, gingerbread house exhibitions, and more.

Get in the festive spirit on a (one-horse open) sleigh ride, a historic walking tour, or a visit to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, which boasts over 9,000 nutcrackers from 50 countries.

2. Frankenmuth, Michigan

Frankenmuth on a sunny day in winter.
Frankenmuth offers Bavarian charm in the depths of the Midwest.Photo Credit: T-I / Shutterstock

Have your say on the festive decorations in this Midwestern town.

Known as Michigan’s very own Little Bavaria, Frankenmuth—just 90 miles (144 kilometers) north of Detroit—feels like it was plucked straight out of Germany, thanks to its stunning architecture and quaint streets.

Come Christmastime, the whole town gets in on the fun: As part of the neighborhood-decorating competition, visitors can cast their vote for the most festive house in Frankenmuth, before embarking on a self-guided driving tour to admire all the holiday lights and peek at the 40-foot-tall (12-meter-tall) Christmas tree. There’s also an outdoor ice skating rink located in the heart of downtown through the end of February, for all the family to enjoy.

3. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Bethlehem in the snow in PA.
This Pennsylvania favorite offers both a seasonal name and seasonal cheer.Photo Credit: ros516 / Shutterstock

Bethlehem is not known as "Christmas City" for nothing.

Famous for its Moravian history, this eastern Pennsylvania city earned its name back on Christmas Eve in 1741. Today, Bethlehem is lovingly referred to as “Christmas City, USA,” for its selection of unique attractions. Among the most noteworthy is the Live Advent Calendar, which offers nightly surprises from December 1 through 23, as well as the Christkindlmarkt with its live performances, festive food, artisan vendors, and ice skating rink. Once you’re done exploring, admire this festive town during a horse-drawn carriage ride through the historic district.

4. Duluth, Minnesota

A misty winter's day by Duluth's lighthouse in Minnesota.
Duluth in the winter is ideal for a perfectly charming getaway.Photo Credit: BlueGreen / Shutterstock

Want a traditional festive atmosphere? Head here for the holidays.

Located along Lake Superior, this waterfront city is perfect for a cheery cold-weather escape. The Bentleyville Tour of Lights boasts a staggering 5 million lights and a 12-story steel Christmas tree, although history buffs will especially appreciate a tour of the historic 20,000-square-foot (1,860-square-meter), 39-room Glensheen Mansion, which is typically decked out in holiday decor—think: wreaths, garlands, and red ribbons galore—through January.

But, don’t fret if you can’t visit for the holidays: The city offers snowsports throughout the year including snowshoeing, dog sledding, and skiing

5. Rockford, Illinois

A creek in Rockford in winter.
Snowy Rockford is a stone's throw from big and bustling Chicago.Photo Credit: Tim Kornoelje / Shutterstock

Enjoy winter illuminations and outdoor activities in this winter wonderland.

The city of Rockford is just two hours from Chicago, yet its small-town charm makes it feel worlds away from the bustling Windy City. Visitors of all ages will appreciate the All Aglow Holiday Display at the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, a free event that lures locals and travelers alike for its 300,000 colorful lights.

Rockford is also home to 10,000-plus acres (4,046-plus hectares) of protected recreational land, which means outdoor winter adventures abound. The destination’s snow-covered hills and forests provide a postcard-worthy backdrop for sports such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing.

6. Corning, New York

A wintery view of Corning's trees at night.
Corning makes for a great wintertime escape in the Finger Lakes.Photo Credit: Viator

If you want Christmas cheer this year, head to this tiny Finger Lakes town.

Located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, Corning is best known as America’s Crystal City for the large amount of glass produced here in the 19th and 20th centuries. (Today, it’s home to the Corning Museum of Glass.) The city shines especially bright in the wintertime, when the walkable downtown area is extra enchanting thanks to the annual Sparkle event. Expect everything from live sing-a-longs and horse-drawn carriage rides, to Santa photo ops.

And don’t forget to snap a picture by the Corning Museum of Glass’ 14-foot-tall (4-meter-tall) glass Christmas tree, which features 2,000 handblown ornaments, before heading inside to make your own.

7. Stowe, Vermont

The snowy mountains of Stowe in Vermont.
Stowe, Vermont is a quintessential Christmas classic.Photo Credit: / Shutterstock

Stowe offers some scene-stealing winter scenery ... and activities.

Stowe looks and feels like a real-life snow globe—and not just because it’s home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding on the East Coast. The snow-filled destination is ideally situated at the base of Mt. Mansfield, which is Vermont’s highest peak, ideal for avid winter sport fanatics.

When you’re off the slopes, take advantage of the buzzy après-ski scene and go wine, cider, and beer tasting—highlights include the von Trapp Brewery & Bierhall (which, yes, is owned by that von Trapp family!), Stowe Cider, and Idletyme Brewing. Alternative activities also abound, including hiking, snowshoeing, dog sledding, fat biking, ice fishing, ice skating, and snowmobiling.

8. Whitefish, Montana

Skiers enjoy Whitefish on a blue-sky day in winter.
Take to the slopes in Whitefish, Montana this winter.Photo Credit: Timothy Yue / Shutterstock

Montana offers some perhaps surprising winter wonderland cheer in Whitefish.

Whitefish offers incredible winter sports ops, whether it be skiing and snowboarding or sledding and snowmobiling, plus postcard-worthy surroundings—think: high peaks and sparkling lakes. The vibrant downtown area is also extra-alluring over the holidays, as buildings—many of which house unique shops and restaurants—are done up in festive decor.

Here, you can take in the surroundings from the comfort of your horse-drawn sleigh or visit a little later in the season to experience all the magic the town has to offer at the Whitefish Winter Carnival.

9. Silverton, Oregon

A scenic waterfall in snowy Silverton.
Silverton, Oregon stuns with snowy scenery over the winter season.Photo Credit: Jacquie Klose / Shutterstock

Combine Christmas markets and hiking trails in Oregon this winter.

This winter, cozy up in Silverton, which is an easy 1-hour drive from Portland. The Silverton Christmas Market offers one-of-a-kind presents and souvenirs from artisan vendors and—in addition to stocking up on gifts—you can also stroll through immersive pathways that twinkle with over 1 million lights, visit Santa, listen to live music, enjoy a pint at the on-site Biergarten, and warm up by the wood-burning fire pit.

Don’t forget to pack your hiking boots, either, as the cascading waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park are even more magical when covered in a blanket of fresh powder.

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