Top Vacation Spots for Snow & Sun

Alaska, Vermont and California are great vacation destinations with tons of outdoor recreation to explore both in the summer and the winter.
Katie Ballalatak

Who says a destination can’t be incredible in both the summer and the winter? In 2021, choosing a travel destination will be more strategic than ever before. There are so many questions to ask yourself before booking a flight or a hotel room: What does the state's COVID-19 situation look like? Are establishments open? What parks, destinations and attractions can I explore? To help you plan your next trip, we have picked three destinations that offer something for everybody, whether you’re looking for a snowy retreat or a sun-soaked getaway. You just have to decide when you want to go the most (and who you want to tag along, of course).

Anchorage, Alaska

Nicknamed the Land of the Midnight Sun and known as the Last Frontier, Alaska is the 49th state admitted to the union and the largest state in the U.S. As a whole, Alaska is a force to be reckoned with, both in terms of terrain and wildlife. Case in point: Alaska has more than 100 volcanos and 100,000 glaciers, is home to 98 percent of the United States’ brown bear population (there are approximately 30,000 that live in the state) and has 3 million lakes, the largest being Lake Iliamna which is 1,000 square miles.

There are many cool cities to visit in Alaska, but the largest and most popular is Anchorage. We can hardly give you a complete list of things to do during your visit, but there are a few must-do activities to add to your itinerary.

Anchorage in the Summer

One of the most popular tourist attractions in the summer is going on a salmon fishing tour. The best time for fishing is May through August, and tour companies offer both half-day and full-day tours with tackle and gear included in the package. Summer is also a good time to explore the cultural heritage of Anchorage. Start at Alaska Native Heritage Center where you can go on tours, watch dance performances, and learn more about the traditions, languages and art of Alaska’s native people.

A visit in the summer also means experiencing the midnight sun, a natural phenomenon that gives Alaska sunlight nearly all day long. Barrow, Alaska’s northernmost community, experiences sun for two and a half months straight from May to August. Anchorage, on the other hand, simply experiences longer days around the sun solstice, with 19 hours of sunlight above the horizon. This, of course, just means you have more daylight to explore the parks and attractions in and around Anchorage.

Anchorage in the Winter

Although summer is the most popular time to visit Alaska, winter is a sure bet, too, with tolerable weather (similar to Minneapolis, according to weather reports) and affordable lodging. Plus, the winter recreation in Alaska is nothing to sneeze at. Experience the exhilaration of racing through the landscape on a dog sledding adventure with a guided mushing outing courtesy of Salmon Berry Travel & Tours or Alaska Mushing School. Fun fact: Dog mushing is actually the official state sport of Alaska.

Winter is also the best time to see the northern lights. In fact, many hotels offer wake-up calls to tell guests when the northern lights are visible on clear nights. For an even better view, consider heading north to Fairbanks, a six-hour drive from Anchorage, and set up a tour to view them from Murphy Domeor Chena Lake. (For safety purposes, make sure to check the weather first!) If you’re looking to ski during your trip, try Alyeska Resort, one of the few ski resorts in North America where the base of the chairlift is virtually at sea level. And for breathtaking winter views, consider booking a two-way ticket on the Alaska Railroad, perfect for a weekend getaway to Talkeetna from Anchorage.

Burlington, Vermont

Did you know that Vermont produces more Winter Olympians per capita than any other state? It’s not a shocking statistic, given Vermont’s acclaimed reputation for its ski resorts and other winter recreation. For an East Coast visit, consider staying in or around Burlington, Vermont, where New England charm meets mountainous terrain and lakeside views.

Burlington in the Winter

Burlington is the largest city in Vermont, located right on Lake Champlain and near the Green Mountains to the east. Although stellar skiing resorts exist all throughout the state, northern Vermont is home to some of the best options including Jay Peak Resort (a 90-minute drive from Burlington), Smuggler’sNotch Resort (a one-hour drive), and Stowe Mountain Resort (also a one-hour drive). Jay Peak Resort is home to Vermont’s only aerial tram along with several other recreational activities including an indoor waterpark, snowboard lessons and snowshoeing in the winter; summer guests enjoy its outdoor pool, hiking trails and disc golf. Smuggler’s Notch Resort has won numerous awards for being especially family friendly, and Stowe Mountain Resort is home to Vermont’s largest peak, Mt. Mansfield. It’s also one of the country’s earliest ski resort towns and is considered the ski capital of the East Coast.

Burlington in the Summer

Not unlike Minnesota, Vermont’s snowy winters are traded for gorgeous—if not a bit cooler—summers, and likewise, a favorite pastime is hiking. A number of state and national parks are nestled in the northern part of the state: Niquette Bay State Park has good hiking trails and a swimming beach, but the most popular hiking destination is Camel’s Hump, located in the Camel’s Hump State Forest about a 40-minute drive from Burlington. There, you’ll find plenty of trail options including the most popular, the Burrow Trail, which ends with a rewarding view from the summit. For a day in town, head to ChurchStreet, a pedestrian-only walkway that boasts many cafés, bookstores and shops. Walking distance from Church Street is Waterfront Park, where you can enjoy lakeside views of Lake Champlain. If you want to get out on the water, try a sailing excursion with Whistling Man Schooner Co. or rent a paddleboard from Paddlesurf Champlain.

Lake Tahoe, California

Ranked as the best lake in America according to a survey conducted by USA Today, Lake Tahoe in California is equally popular in the summer and winter. The lake straddles the Nevada and California state lines and is generally referred to as South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe. Regardless of which section of the lake you choose to visit, you’re sure to love the views and the adventure at your fingertips.

Lake Tahoe in the Winter

In the winter, travelers flock to Tahoe for winter sports including snowshoeing, snowboarding and—you guessed it—skiing. Lake Tahoe is home to 12 resorts and each has its perks. On the north side of the lake, consider Northstar California Resort, which is just 15 minutes from Lake Tahoe and offers plenty of accommodations, restaurants, shops and more. Fora particularly luxurious trip, book a room at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. The award-winning resort is ranked No. 3 on USA Today’s list of 10 best terrain parks and offers jumps and trails for all skill levels. Slightly south from Northstar is Squaw Valley Resort, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960 and is another long-time family favorite with a variety of ski runs and trails plus other winter activities like snow tubing and mini snowmobiles for kids. One winter tip: Expect unplowed snowy roads—if you don’t have four-wheel drive, make sure you use tire chains for added traction.

Lake Tahoe in the Summer

In the summer, skiing takes the back seat and the incredibly blue Lake Tahoe becomes the prized attraction. With a depth of 1,645 feet, Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the U.S., and according to Keep Tahoe Blue, clarity is around 60 feet. Visitors can get out on the water by renting a paddleboard or kayak, or going water skiing, wakeboarding, jet skiing, fishing and more. While the majority of the lake's 70 miles of shoreline is rugged, there are several public beaches including favorites like PopeBeach and Baldwin Beach, both in South Lake Tahoe. For some of the best scenery, head to Lake Tahoe’scrown jewel, Emerald Bay State Park. Emerald Bay is also home to Vikingsholm Castle, a 38-room mansion that is considered one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture in the country. For an incredible panoramic view of Emerald Bay, stop along Highway 89 at Inspiration Point—you’ll leave with beautiful photos to show your friends and an increased appreciation for the beautiful world we live in.

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