Travel

The Best Winter Festivals Across the U.S.

When the weather cools down, festival season heats up.

Visit Aspen
Visit Aspen
Visit Aspen

Just because warm weather is months away doesn’t mean festival-lovers have to wait until Coachella rears its bedazzled head once again to party. From coast to coast, winter festivals celebrate the frozen beauty of the lesser-loved months between New Year’s Day and springtime, bringing with them everything from polar plunges to parades dedicated to mythical Nordic god-kings. Grab your beanies, puffy coats, and Bernie mittens: these festive winter wonderlands are coming at you in early 2022.

Visit Anchorage
Visit Anchorage
Visit Anchorage

Anchorage Fur Rendezvous

Anchorage, Alaska
February 25 – March 6
Known locally as “Fur Rondy,” the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous was first held in 1935, predating the famous Iditarod Race by nearly four decades. This festival dates back to the city’s fur trading days (hence the name) and pays homage to the tradition with authentic fur auctions interspersed between signature events.

Partygoers can expect about 20 cultural and sporting activities-including the World Champion Sled Dog Race, a three-day dash through Anchorage’s city streets and wooded trails-as well as dozens of other “Rondy Round Town” events held each year by local business and community orgs. There are championships for everything from cornhole to Texas Hold’em, a snow sculpture competition, fireworks, a fun run, a beard and mustache competition, outhouse races, ice bowling, a carnival, a parade…the list goes on. If you make your way up to the Last Frontier, we can almost guarantee you’ll find something that tickles your fancy.

Ice Castles
Ice Castles
Ice Castles

Ice Castles

Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Utah, and Wisconsin
January – late February/early March (depending on weather)
Ice Castles is a series of frozen attractions with locations in five different US cities where temperatures stay reliably cold enough to sustain them. Perhaps best understood as immersive, ephemeral art installations, these large-scale creations are made by professional ice artists who use hundreds of thousands of hand-placed icicles (as well as some colorful LED lights) to create fantastical worlds of crystalline castles, caves, tunnels, and thrones. Every location is different, and each installation changes from one year to the next. If you want to feel like you’re stepping into a frozen fairytale (or straight-up Frozen), seek one out when they open in January, weather permitting.

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival
Saranac Lake Winter Carnival
Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Adirondacks, New York
February 4 – 13
This upstate New York winter festival has been held for over a century, and this year, the party is taking guests back in time with a “Totally ‘80s” theme. The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival has everything: a Royal Court complete with coronation celebrations and courtly robes, arctic golf, an arctic BBQ, downhill ski races, snowshoe races, curling exhibitions, woodsman exhibitions, a ladies fry pan toss (why not!), “totally tubular”-themed parades, fireworks, and more. But the real highlight of the event is the Ice Palace-created by the very same people who brought you the aforementioned Ice Castles-made entirely out of thousands of ice blocks cut from the lake.

Explore Whitefish
Explore Whitefish
Explore Whitefish

Whitefish Winter Carnival

Whitefish, Montana
February 4 – 6

Apparently, people are feeling nostalgic for the 80s, because like Saranac Lake, Whitefish has chosen “80’s Rewind: Totally Rad” as the theme of their 63rd annual winter carnival. If the theme doesn’t spark your interest, also consider that this particular party pays homage to Ullr, a Nordic god-king. Legend says that after being forgotten by his worshippers for a time, Ullr got bored and ended up in Northwest Montana (as one does), where he stayed until humans eventually also settled and resumed worshipping him. Now, the town of Whitefish gets together each year to celebrate him with a Penguin Plunge fundraiser, a grand parade, a snow sculpture contest, an art expo, and more. Whitefish is becoming quite the trendy tourism destination with its proximity to Glacier National Park, but this fest is a great way to experience the friendly small town from a local’s POV.

Tahoe Snowfest
Tahoe Snowfest
Tahoe Snowfest

SnowFest

Tahoe City, California
February 25 – March 6
Tahoe City’s SnowFest was originally conceived to promote the North Lake Tahoe area’s incredible weather and plentiful powder in early March, which is typically the off-season for ski tourism. Now, it’s a ten-day mountain Mardi Gras celebration with nearly 100 events spread throughout North Lake Tahoe, including a Mardi Gras party, a luau, a dog pull, a dog costume contest, fireworks, several parades, snow sculpture and ice carving competitions, milk jug curling, a cornhole tournament, concerts, ski races, a polar bear swim, and more.

The Great Northern Festival
The Great Northern Festival
The Great Northern Festival

The Great Northern

The Twin Cities, Minnesota
January 27 – February 6
The Great Northern Festival, held annually in MinneapolisSaint Paul, exists to counter the narrative of long, dark, depressing Midwestern winters with ten days of artistically rich and intellectually stimulating fun. The brainy bunch will find music and performance events, film screenings, gallery shows, public art installations, and live interviews with social activists, scientists, artists, and thought leaders; party animals can enjoy a family-friendly winter carnival and dance parties; and sports junkies can check out hockey tournaments, winter hiking, and so much more.

Topics addressing climate change and the environment are a through-line throughout the many different events, and there is an emphasis on racial and cultural diversity as well as local Native American heritage. It’s kind of like a small-scale, sub-zero version of South by Southwest …North by Midwest, if you will.

Visit Aspen
Visit Aspen
Visit Aspen

Wintersköl

Aspen, Colorado
January 13 – 16
It’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation that Aspen is a great place to visit in the winter. But if you’re going to visit Aspen during ski season, plan your trip during Wintersköl, a community-wide winter celebration during which the whole resort town puts on a host of fun activities and events driven by residents and local businesses. There’s a royal court that honors residents known for being positive forces in the Aspen Valley, concerts, a canine fashion show, snow sculptures, mountain activities (obviously), après-ski parties (also obviously), and a traditional torchlight descent down Aspen Mountain followed by a bonfire and fireworks.

Idaho Tourism
Idaho Tourism
Idaho Tourism

Fire and Ice Winter Fest

Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
February 4 – 6
At the Fire and Ice Winter Fest in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, you can escape the cold in the best way we know how: with a relaxing soak in all-natural mineral hot springs. But if you want to maximize your visit, you should do so only after you take part in about a dozen wild winter activities. Don the weirdest costume you can concoct and go careening down the Portneuf River during the annual Polar Float Parade. Watch local daredevils ski down the mountain with lit torches in hand. Participate in rubber penguin races, chili tastings, wine tastings, a costume parade, a relay race, and more. And then, once all is said and done, warm up in one of the town’s famous geothermal pools. We swear that a full day of frigid outdoor fun will make the evening soak twice as good.

WinterWonderGrass Festival
WinterWonderGrass Festival
WinterWonderGrass Festival

WinterWonderGrass

Colorado, California, and Vermont
Dates in February and April
The WinterWonderGrass Festival is a combination music and beer festival held in the wintery climes of various mountain towns across the country (including Steamboat, Colorado; Tahoe, California; and Stratton, Vermont), promising “the best in bluegrass, Americana, and roots music with community-minded independent brewers.”

WWG features more than 20 bluegrass bands over three days (including select “on-mountain” shows), as well as three massive, heated beer hall tents with their own stages. And since the festivals are held during peak ski season, attendees can also get deals on ski lift packages during the event. The 2022 dates are February 25-27 in Colorado and April 1-3 in Tahoe, while Vermont’s festival is expected to return in 2023.

Oregon Winterfest
Oregon Winterfest
Oregon Winterfest

Oregon Winterfest

Redmond, Oregon
February 18 – 20
Oregon’s popular Winterfest, one of the state’s largest winter festivals, is moving to a new location in Central Oregon this year after being held in Bend’s Old Mill District since its inception in 1999. The new venue, the Deschutes County Expo Center, will be able to accommodate the festival’s recent spike in popularity, with tens of thousands of attendees expected in 2022. Along with artisans and vendors from the Pacific Northwest and beyond, keep an eye out for live music, freestyling snowboarders and skiers at the Rail Jam, the popular K9 Kings “flying dog show,” food carts, minibars, a “royal court” of roaming wizards, and sculptures made of fire, ice, and light.

Robert Ferdinandt/Visit Saint Paul
Robert Ferdinandt/Visit Saint Paul
Robert Ferdinandt/Visit Saint Paul

Saint Paul Winter Carnival

St. Paul, Minnesota
January 28 – February 6
The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is the oldest and largest winter festival in the US, established in 1886 and drawing in more than 350,000 visitors annually. (For those of you keeping score, yes, this is the second winter festival in St. Paul highlighted here. But as it is one of the coldest cities in the country, it’s only fitting that it should host so many hits.) There is a LOT to explore here, but you’ll definitely want to seek out the Ice Palace (which is honestly so large, you can’t miss it), as well as events like the Grande Day and Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parades, which, while not associated with Mardi Gras, certainly take a lot of cues from New Orleans’s famed party (including having their own krewes and royalty). There’s also an ice fishing tournament, a 5k & 10k run, a snow maze, a snow sculpting competition, and more.

GoBreck
GoBreck
GoBreck

International Snow Sculpture Championship

Breckenridge, Colorado
January 24 – February 2
The International Snow Sculpture Championship is a world-renowned competition during which 12 teams from around the world compete to transform 20-ton blocks of snow into sculptural works of art, transforming historic downtown Breckenridge into a temporary outdoor public art gallery in the process. (Walking in a winter wonderland, indeed!) By the way, it’s all done by hand-no power tools allowed. While you’re in town, don’t forget to take a scenic snowcat tour or sleigh ride, or even try fat biking; after all, cycle-loving Coloradans don’t stop just because of some pesky snow.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer covering food, travel, arts, culture, and what-have-you. She winters in Las Vegas and summers in Detroit, as does anybody who’s anybody. Her favorite activities include drinking beer and quoting Fight Club.

Travel

13 Reasons to Drive to Palm Springs

Rest, relaxation, and happy hour await you in the desert.

Photo courtesy of Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Photo courtesy of Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Photo courtesy of Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

SoCal winters may not cause locals to flee toward warmer weather, but it does remind us that now is a good time to visit Palm Springs. This time of year is the sweet spot where it’s not too hot during the day and the nights are perfect for a dip in a hot tub. Covered in kitsch, with a culture that encourages you to day drink and lay by a pool all day, it’s no wonder that the desert town has long been a refuge for weekend warriors looking for an escape. Bonus: You can pack up and drive, and be there in less time than it takes to binge a new Netflix series.

Palm Springs is home to a vibrant LGBTQ community-including the nation’s first all-LGBTQ city council-plus art and culture, as well as an abundance of mid-century modern architecture. A field of wind turbines welcome you to town, and once you’re there you’ll be welcomed by leaning palm trees and craggy mountain ranges that keep inspiration flowing. Here you can find warm weather, outdoor activities, and an abundance of restaurants and shops. You’ll also find plenty of opportunities to lounge poolside and do close to nothing, if that’s more your vibe. Use our recommendations below to craft your perfect weekend. You deserve it.

Editor’s note: The city of Palm Springs requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination status or a recent negative COVID test result for entry into the city’s indoor bars and restaurants. Make sure you plan accordingly.

Photo courtesy of Fleur Noire
Photo courtesy of Fleur Noire
Photo courtesy of Fleur Noire

Chill out in style

So you decided to make the good choice to spend a weekend in Palm Springs and need a place to stay. Sure, you could go the Airbnb route, of which the town has many. Or you could enjoy the luxury and amenities of one of Palm Springs’ beautifully designed hotels.

If you’re traveling with a whole posse, consider the boutique hotel, Limón. Their interiors are bright, cheery, and inspired by mid-century modern and 1960s Mexico City. The seven-room property books as one unit and can accommodate you and 13 of your pals. It includes a communal kitchen, an entertainment room, pool, and BBQ area. During your stay, let their staff take the wheel and plan your days. They can assist in creating the perfect stay, like a night out for a bachelor/ette party, a hot air balloon excursion, or a personal chef to cook for you and your crew.

For those looking for an intimate stay for two, try the adults-only hotel, Dive. It’s hard not to feel romantic in their elegant rooms inspired by the 1960s French Riviera. Personally, we fell in love at “free glass of rosé upon check-in.” During Valentine’s Day weekend they will up their complimentary glass by offering a complimentary bottle of French Pool Toy Rosé and two chocolate-covered strawberries per room.

You can’t miss Fleur Noire, with its black exterior that makes it stand out amongst Palm Springs’ otherwise brightly colored architecture. The interiors feel airy, modern, and are punctuated with wallpaper bearing large floral prints. The property consists of an array of casitas, studios, and standard rooms surrounding the communal pool. The hotel is near Palm Springs’ famed Palm Canyon Drive with shops and restaurants. However, if you want to stay a bit closer to your home-tel, you can access Sandfish Sushi & Whiskey through their back gate. Try their signature Black Mussels served with hijiki seaweed, scallions, and miso sake broth. On the Fleur Noire property, you can grab a drink at their rosé and champagne bar, La Boisson.

Aptly named Tiki Hotel is a nod to the 1950s & ‘60s affinity for tiki culture. If you don’t like kitsch and bold design, this is not the place for you. The 11-room property boasts island-themed decor, with vibrant colors and patterns galore. You can lounge by their pool or jump on one of the provided beach cruisers to explore the Palm Springs Design District and nearby shops and restaurants.

Photo by Jenni-Kate Rogers, courtesy of Boozehounds
Photo by Jenni-Kate Rogers, courtesy of Boozehounds
Photo by Jenni-Kate Rogers, courtesy of Boozehounds

Try out the Palm Springs food scene

At some point you might want to stop taking your food and drinks poolside and head into a restaurant. Palm Springs has something for everyone and at least one restaurant for the dogs. Boozehounds makes you wonder: is this a dog-friendly restaurant or a human-friendly dog restaurant? Either way, we’re all in! The restaurant has a large patio perfect for your pooch or if you prefer to dine sans dog, they have an indoor dining area. They serve a wide selection of food, from Japanese yellowtail to a Double Cheeseburger, all inspired by Southern California. They even have a menu just for dogs. with items like a bowl of skirt steak, steamed rice, and sweet potato. As the name suggests, they have a great selection of booze in the form of cocktails, wine, and beer. Not to leave dogs out, you can order your fur baby a weenie-teenie, a concoction of chicken broth, chicken whipped cream, and a dog biscuit crumble. Non-alcoholic, of course.

Eat brunch or lunch outdoors at El Patio, a family-owned Mexican restaurant. Try the Breakfast Enchiladas that come with squash, spinach, corn, cheese, and topped with your choice of green or red sauce and two fried eggs. Or opt for the Bone-in Chicken covered with mole poblano and pipian sauces, garnished with red onion, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds. Make sure to save room for their churro cart that comes with three different dipping sauces and sprinkles.

One of the most exciting restaurants in Palm Springs right now is Bar Cecil. The culinary commander of the place is Gabe Woo, a Coachella Valley native and local celeb known for his dinner series at Sparrows Lodge and Holiday House that were hard to get into. Woo takes bistro-style foods and expands on it while using seasonal produce from local farms. We can’t promise you it’ll be easy to get a table but we can say that their bar area takes walk-ins where you can order a juicy, flavorful burger and a delicious pork chop with a hint of smokiness. Or order from their “Why Not” menu where you can find swanky items like their infamous $50 martini-Beluga vodka with a kiss of Alessio vermouth is poured tableside in a perfectly chilled glass. The drink is served on a silver tray with a Regiis Ova caviar-topped deviled egg and a bowl of sunchoke chips.

Seymour's
Seymour’s
Seymour’s

Grab a cocktail or two

Drink across decades at Truss & Twine, a cocktail bar that celebrates the history of drinks in America. The interiors may be dark and dramatic, but their staff are friendly and happy to share their knowledge on libations with you. We recommend trying one of their original cocktails like the Game Changer that comes with gin, lime, cucumber, sugar, onion brine, sea salt, and celery bitters. They also serve food that does not resemble typical bar food fare, like their Wagyu Oxtail Grilled Cheese with cheddar, caramelized onion, and green chile aioli. For a mellow night, take a trip to the local speakeasy Seymours, located next to Mr. Lyons Steakhouse. Enter through the unmarked side entrance and step into a bar with chill vibes, moody lighting, and an intimate atmosphere with extraordinary bartenders. They also offer outdoor seating. Try their Oaxcan Hemingway with mezcal, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice, and simple syrup.

Photo courtesy of Fantasy Balloon Flights
Photo courtesy of Fantasy Balloon Flights
Photo courtesy of Fantasy Balloon Flights

Take in the scenery

September through May, Fantasy Balloon Flights will show you the world… or at least the vastness of the Coachella Valley from the sky. Rest assured, the hot air balloon company has been at it for some time (since 1981 to be exact). For those that need a bit of liquid courage, champagne balloon adventures are available.

Hop on the world’s largest rotating tramcar at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The car takes you on a ten-minute ride up and along the cliffs of Chino Canyon for picturesque views of the desert until you arrive at your destination, Mt. San Jacinto State Park. At the top, there are places to grab food, observation decks, and over 50 miles of hiking trails. And if you go during the winter there’s a good chance there will be snow.

Bon Vivant Palm Springs
Bon Vivant Palm Springs
Bon Vivant Palm Springs

Load up on new and new-to-you goods

Look for retro wares in the land of mid-century modern majesty. Palm Springs may not have invented the style but they sure do embrace it. Go on a vintage crawl on Palm Canyon Drive and gander at shops like Bon Vivant, Modernway, and Revivals. There you can find eccentric accents and mid-century modern furniture to buy or give you major design inspo. While you’re around, you might as well spruce up your wardrobe at vintage boutiques like The Frippery, Iconic Atomic, and Bazar.

If you prefer to be the first owner of your items, check out the Mojave Flea Trading Post. Contrary to its name, the indoor department store features about 95% new and 5% vintage goods. Browse the stylish works of 40+ local artisans and find art, jewelry, clothes, natural beauty products, home goods, and more.

Photo courtesy of Toucans Tiki Lounge & Cabaret
Photo courtesy of Toucans Tiki Lounge & Cabaret
Photo courtesy of Toucans Tiki Lounge & Cabaret

Support the LGBTQ community

For a bar that has a mission statement that is as good as its food, try Blackbook. Named after the black book in Nevada, a list of notorious people not welcomed in casinos, owner Dean Lavine explains, “We like to think that everyone has been on a blacklist at some point in time. Gay, bullied, racially excluded, Raiders fans, etc.” The bar prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming to all, with some of the best food in Palm Springs. We’re partial to their Palm Springs-style nachos, a version they invented that ensures every chip has cheese so no one is left with a cheese-less chip when sharing. We can’t forget about their drinks. They have a full bar with the largest whiskey selection in the valley, with over 450 different bourbons, ryes, scotches, and international whiskeys, along with beers and other adult canned and bottled beverages.

After eating, sing your heart out at Quadz, where VJs are playing clips of beloved musical theater. You will have a great time at this lively bar even if musicals aren’t your “thing.” However, after a few of their notoriously strong and affordable drinks, you may be belting out Streisand with the best of them. Reserve a spot at Toucans and see a performance at Palm Springs’ longest continuously running drag show. Drag shows are Thursday-Monday with a different theme each night. No matter what day you go, it’s always a good time at Toucans, making it a favorite for tourists and locals alike, but pro-tip: Monday nights are free.

Photo courtesy of Palm Springs Art Museum
Photo courtesy of Palm Springs Art Museum
Photo courtesy of Palm Springs Art Museum

Get your art and culture fix

It may be hard to peel yourself away from basking in the sun, but take a break and explore the Palm Springs Art Museum. You can find modern and contemporary art, architecture, and design objects that reflect Palm Springs’ unique history, culture, and place.

Photo courtesy of Feel Good Spa
Photo courtesy of Feel Good Spa
Photo courtesy of Feel Good Spa

Recharge at a spa

Between work, existential crises, and living through a global pandemic, we all could use a relaxing spa moment. Book a massage at the Ace Hotel’s Feel Good Spa. Try their Rose Goodness, where a masseuse will use quartz massagers to get deep into your muscle tissue. The use of rose quartz is said to help replace toxic emotions and blockages to the heart chakra with loving energy. Release tension and stress and gain clarity through a holistic treatment at The Spa at The Colony Palms Hotel & Bungalows. They offer a wide range of services, including massages, facials, body treatments, vibrational sound healing, and acutaping.

Big Wheel Tours
Big Wheel Tours
Big Wheel Tours

Go on a tour

Cruise through the desert landscape on two wheels (or by Jeep or by hiking) with Big Wheel Tours. If your interests are more architecture than nature, check out Modern & More Bike Tours and see architecturally and historically significant homes in South Palm Springs.

If biking is not your style, hop in Palm Springs Mod Squad‘s van and take part in a mid-century modern architecture tour. Choose the martini option to learn more about the cocktail and cap off your tour with James Bond’s favorite drink. Their expert will explain why martinis are shaken and not stirred. They also offer socially distanced options for those that prefer to stay in their own car.

Indian Canyons & Tahquitz Canyon
Indian Canyons & Tahquitz Canyon
Indian Canyons & Tahquitz Canyon

Hike historic trailheads

If you prefer to see the desert terrain by foot, Indian Canyon Trails offer a plethora of hiking options that include cool streams and lush oases. You may even see a BigHorn Sheep. Indian Canyons is the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and you can learn more about their history through preserved rock art, irrigation ditches, and food preparation areas.

The Living Desert
The Living Desert
The Living Desert

Explore desert plant life

See desert animals and plants thriving at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The world-class wildlife and botanical park has almost 430 animals, including cheetahs, giraffes, and camels as well as creatures native to the area. After that, head to Moorten Botanical Garden aka Cactus Castle, and explore over a dozen arid biomes and thousands of specimens sourced from all over the world. Plus, see rocks, crystals, fossils, gold-mining relics, and desert tortoises. If you feel inspired to become a plant parent after your visit, Moorten’s has a nursery for you to take home your own prickly bundle of joy.

Palm Springs Windmill Tours
Palm Springs Windmill Tours
Palm Springs Windmill Tours

Take a windmill selfie

The rows and rows of wind turbines off the I-10 on your way to Palm Springs are almost as iconic to the area as palm trees. If you’ve ever been curious about what they do, reserve a tour with Palm Springs Windmill Tours to see these 300-foot behemoths up close and learn how they power the entire Coachella Valley.

The Lights at Indio GC
The Lights at Indio GC
The Lights at Indio GC

Tee off after the sun goes down

If you burnt too much daylight at the pool or on hikes and weren’t able to get a round of golf in during the day, The Lights at Indio Golf Course has you covered. The Desert’s only night-lit course allows you to hit the links after dark.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Keisha Raines is a LA-based freelance writer born and raised in the Palm Springs area with a tattoo of the San Jacinto mountains to prove it.

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