It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for travel, but things are starting to look up. As destinations and attractions reopen for tourism, the precautions being taken to keep guests safe are putting people at ease and reigniting their desire to leave town. Hence why now is the perfect time to start dreaming about where you’ll escape to this winter.
But the question is: where to go? The future is anything but certain right now, and the best places to visit in the USA in December will be the ones that most likely aren’t already on your radar.
The typical go-to winter destinations — we’re looking at you, popular ski resorts and sunny coastal towns — will likely still be the most crowded, making social distancing more of a challenge.
Since we also love travel planning, we’ve come up with a few ideas surrounding destinations that may see fewer crowds this winter — or at least make it easier to keep your distance.
Best places to visit in the US, and nearby:
- Spring Mountains, Nevada
- Depoe Bay, Oregon
- Fairbanks, Alaska
- Frankenmuth, Michigan
- Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
- Parke County, Indiana
- The Bahamas
- U.S. Virgin Islands
Spring Mountains, Nevada
People typically visit Nevada for Sin City and tend not to leave The Strip. It’s a missed opportunity because there’s so much natural beauty less than an hour’s drive from downtown. Nowadays, that’s to your benefit.
In the Mojave Desert, the Spring Mountains are a snowy wonderland during winter. It’s easy to find solitude in this vast area that encompasses more than 316,000 acres.
Mount Charleston, the state’s fifth tallest peak at nearly 12,000 feet, is the most well-known destination in the mountains. Snowbirds can go skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and snowshoeing. Those who aren’t athletically inclined can relax fireside with a hot chocolate and good book in-hand.
Depoe Bay, Oregon
A chilly coastal getaway isn’t most people’s first pick for a winter vacation. And that’s what makes Depoe Bay a great option. As long as you have a jacket to stay warm, there’s a lot to do around this northwest gem.
As the Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast, Depoe Bay sees upwards of 25,000 gray whales swim south along its shoreline from mid-December through mid-January. In the harbor, you’ll find local seals playing and sleeping in the sunshine.
You can raise your heart rate and take in a view of the Pacific coastline by hiking the 382-mile Oregon Coast Trail. Or hit the open road and drive Oregon’s Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, which runs the complete length of the state’s coastline from its border with California to Washington.
For travelers who love cold-weather destinations, there’s no better domestic winter wonderland than Fairbanks. You can enjoy all the usual outdoor activities that snowbirds love, like skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and more.
The city is also known for its winter ice sculptures, chiselled by international artists from one-ton ice blocks harvested from nearby ponds.
Given Fairbanks’ location just below the Arctic Circle, you’ll have the opportunity to spot the aurora borealis dancing colorfully in the night sky. The viewing season runs from late August to late April.
Even if Americans can’t visit Germany in the winter, you can still feel like you’re there. Just head to Little Bavaria in Michigan!
Frankenmuth is a charming town of just over 5,000 people. It’s known for its Bavarian-style architecture and atmosphere. You can learn about its German roots at the Frankenmuth Historical Museum and nosh on Bavarian-style dishes around town.
The city doesn’t have its own version of the Bavarian Alps, but there are 18 parks and a Riverwalk loop where you can go for a stroll or jog.
If the temperature outside gets too cold, pop into the world’s biggest Christmas store. Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland is larger than one and a half football fields and boasts more than 50,000 gifts and other holiday items. This jolly space is sure to put you in the holiday spirit.
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
This picturesque valley stretches for 200 miles along the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. Winter season is quiet here, but still lovely. It’s the perfect destination for a romantic winter escape.
There’s no one particular location to head to, as the entire area is the destination. Just base yourself close to one of the four entrances to Skyline Drive—Front Royal, Thornton Gap, Swift Run Gap, and Rockfish Gap—so you can cruise this scenic highway and stop for a hike in Shenandoah National Park to stretch your legs.
The area is wildly popular for Washington, DC urbanites and suburbanites during every other season, so winter is the perfect time to have the valley and park mostly to yourself.
Parke County, Indiana
The “Covered Bridge Capital of the World” makes for a different kind of winter escape. There’s a slower pace of life here. When you arrive in this quaint area, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back decades.
Parke County’s 31 rustic covered bridges are already picture-worthy sights. They’re made even more charming in winter when there’s a chill in the air or light snow falling to the ground.
Shopping is also a popular activity for visitors to Parke County, as it’s home to many Amish, antique and collectible stores.
Nearby, but Abroad
When you’re ready to travel far away again, these nearby destinations are great for a hot and tropical winter. Be sure to check the local government’s website for details on entry restrictions and requirements.
More than 700 islands are part of this archipelago paradise that is just a short flight from South Florida. The best things to do in The Bahamas are the same now as they were before the pandemic: relax on the beach, swim in crystal clear waters, and go diving, snorkeling or fishing. You’ll definitely want to take in the view at Horseshoe Bay or stroll the shoreline at Gold Rock Beach.
When The Bahamas reopened to tourism over the summer, the health ministry required additional cleaning measures in accommodations, as well as ensuring the accessibility of hand sanitizer. Restaurants are separating tables to help customers maintain social distance.
U.S. Virgin Islands
This U.S. territory in the Caribbean is known for its incredible white-sand beaches, fish-filled reefs and picturesque hiking trails. It’s easy to maintain social distancing when the outdoor options are wide and varied.
The U.S. Virgin Islands also boast five National Historic Landmarks that make for a fun afternoon of exploration: Blackbeard’s Castle, Columbus Landing Site, Fort Christian, Fort Frederik, and St. Thomas Synagogue.
Like The Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands are taking precautions to help minimize the spread of the coronavirus for guests and locals. Accommodations have implemented new cleaning measures. Restaurants are operating at a reduced capacity. Masks are required in areas where safe social distancing is difficult to maintain.
No matter where you decide to travel this winter or this year, be sure to pack hand sanitizer and face coverings. The same precautions you take at home should always be applied when traveling to will help reduce your coronavirus exposure and risk during this pandemic.
Discover where you can go
Making plans to get back out there? Find out which borders are open with our interactive global map. You can also sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.
Want to read more?
You may be interested in Skyscanner’s latest coronavirus updates as the world slowly reopens to travelers:
- Tips for flying during coronavirus: essential face mask information
- Coronavirus travel questions: Your COVID-19 queries answered
- The new world of hotels: What your hotel stay will be like during coronavirus
- Wellness travel: why it could be the post-coronavirus stress-buster you need
Our coronavirus travel advice is updated daily with changes to travel restrictions.