I've Lived & Traveled To Every Continental State. Here Are My Top 5 Winter Destinations In US

January 1, 2021

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While COVID-19 may limit our international trips, it’s presented a chance to reignite our love of local places. So many travel abroad before they’ve ever seen states or regions bordering their own. That’s a shame, because there is simply so much to see in this world, and skipping over places near us is a lost chance to fully explore. I have lived and traveled all over the United States, and while I’m always about the bountiful summer vacations, winter is magic here. All across the country, there are so many places to truly connect to the Earth when the hemisphere gets colder. So as the winter marches on, consider hopping in the car and discovering new, beautiful places along the way. It’s a perfect opportunity to recharge, reconnect with yourself, and practice mindful travel. Here are just a few places to get you going:

Leavenworth, Washington

Perched in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, this Bavarian town is as picturesque as it is exciting. The lovely, german buildings make visitors feel like they are in Europe, without having to hop on a plane (which is so important right now, in COVID-19 times). Make sure to hike on the outskirts, stopping along the river to admire the view. Expect the tallest pines you’ve ever seen, caked in powdered sugar snow for as far as you can see. It honestly looks like a snow globe, so it’s ideal for people who want snow, mountains, and a cabin-y feel. Try out Nordic skiing, ice climbing, snowshoeing, or sledding! There is so much to do in this winter wonderland, so enjoy it! When you’re feeling hungry, grab some sweet potato tacos at South, chutney-topped veggie burgers at Bavarian Bistro Bar, or vegetable enchiladas at Los Camperos! If you want a snack, consider the fresh avocado toast at Argonaut Espresso Bar, an apple sage vegan bratwurst from Munchen Haus, vegan zucchini banana bread at the Gingerbread Factory (a childhood favorite of mine), or some spiced pumpkin soup from Icicle Brewing! There are so many options for vegans in this mountain town, so be sure to try and sample a few places! If you have more time on your hands consider driving up the road to Mana, where you can feast in an igloo on organic, local food (just make sure to call ahead—most of the menu is vegan, but it’s a five-course meal setup, so you’ll need to make sure only vegan food will be served to you). They even host mindful meditation afternoons. No matter where you eat though, be sure to breathe in the high altitude, and take some time to just be in the moment. It’s a beautiful, snowy place, and it deserves that attention. Even if you just pull off at a beautiful place along the road outside town, and do some snow yoga, it’ll all be very centering.

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Concord, Massachusetts

This little New England village dates back to 1635, and is home to the houses of many famous writers—including Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the winter, the town empties itself of tourists, and it becomes a sleepy, wintery town of warm cottages and misty forests. All of New England is stunning in the winter, but Concord has a very special feeling to it. Make sure to walk across the Old North Bridge at dawn, visit the Old Hill Burial Ground, and meditate at Walden Pond. The pond is especially beautiful in the cold, so this is a beautiful spot for some yoga or grounding. The town also has some great places to eat for vegans, when you want to come in from the cold. Feast on apple radish salad from 80 Thoreau, a harvest bowl from Main Street Market and Cafe, wild rice and chickpea salad from Salt Box Kitchen, or fried tofu and braised kale salad from Trails End Cafe! The options are plentiful, and with the area being steeped in the farm-to-table movement, you can count on finding options that are locally sourced as well!

Park City, Utah

Utah is one of the most underrated states of the country when it comes to natural beauty—especially northern Utah. While many have been to the national parks of southern Utah, few outside of locals have spent a lot of time up north. While the culture might be questionable there, Park City is the exception, and luckily happens to be the best spot in the state during the winter time. Thanks to its spot in the high mountains, it avoids the classic Utahn winter inversion. There are so many things to do in this alpine town, including plenty of skiing! If you’re into winter sports, this is a haven for you! Visit any of the many ski resorts or the Olympic Park—home to the 2002 winter games! If you’re wanting some culture, head up to Sundance Resort (one of my favorite places in the state). The drive from town is among the prettiest you’ll ever take. The plethora of pines and peaks makes for an almost surreal experience. The road is narrow, so while there aren’t many places to pull over, just drive slow and take it all in. When you get to the top, there are plenty of stunning view points of all of the mountains, so you won’t miss a thing. Explore the beautiful jewelry shops filled with glass and stone creations, and consider meditating or grounding in the forested areas. When you’re hungry, there are so many options on the mountain. If you want a smaller meal, grab an heirloom vegetable sandwich from the deli! If you’re wanting something with more substance, there are really mouthwatering options at Foundry Grill. From the sweet potato hummus to the roasted beets topped with fennel pollen, even the appetizers are stunning. The entrees are just as wonderful (including the squash tacos with cashew cream). If you have an entire day, consider driving north to Logan Canyon, and seeing Tony Grove. Known almost exclusively among Cache Valley locals, this place is straight out of dreams. The towering pines rest along the mirror-like waters of the lake, in the middle of the mountains. Bring snacks or grab food in Logan (consider grabbing a vegan mozzarella sandwich from Crush), because it is remote, but it’s very worth it. It’s the perfect spot to be alone in nature and just ground yourself.

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Leesburg, Virginia

This is one of the prettiest towns you’ll ever go to. Period. Dating back to the Revolutionary War, locals have kept the history alive by preserving the buildings. Enjoy the brick sidewalks and walk along the story book storefronts. Grab a lavender oat milk latte from Shoes Cup and Cork to warm up! This eatery is in an old shoe repair shop, and the owners have honored that by keeping centuries old shoes hanging from the ceiling. It’s a quirky and very Virginian atmosphere, and their coffee is the best in town. If you’re hungry, there are so many exciting options! Try out the baba ghannouj at Mama Luccis, the sweet and sour cauliflower from The Conche, or the quinoa bowl from Side Bar! If you’re wanting something sweet, grab some vegan pastries back in the historic district at King Street Coffee. When you’re all full on good food and goodies, walk from downtown to the old cemetery for some centuries old graves and a quiet corner of town. This is a beautiful place to think and honor the deceased. The neighborhood around it is beautiful too, with victorian houses and stone cottages being the norm. Explore the lovely neighborhoods, and enjoy the chilly weather in Virginia’s wine country! If you’re wanting a beautiful drive in the countryside, drive along Snickers Gap to pass through 1600s and 1700s villages and towns. Stop as often as you want, exploring these romantic places as you go! Virginia is a stunning state, and thanks to its history, it’s well preserved. Enjoy that, and pull off to see the views as much as possible. You won’t regret it!

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

This mountain town is supreme for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts! Nestled between peaks and endless forests, Jackson Hole is beyond beautiful. This place is perfect for those who love to ski, being home to some of the most picturesque ski resorts in the country! While you’re there, be sure to spend a lot of time outside in the middle of nature. The land surrounding the town is protected, which is home to the most stunning National Parks in the country- including Grand Teton! Take time to really get out there, take some snow walks, and inhale deeply. This is a remote place in the U.S., so take advantage of all of the space. Be mindful of wild animals, but seek out open spaces. Embrace the wild. This is a great place to always do that, but in the winter, there is even more space thanks to the fact that the tourists have emptied out. When you’re hungry, there are so many options to choose from! The mezze plates and vegan caprese toast from Healthy Being Organic Cafe are amazing. If you want something fancier, Figs has the state’s best rated hummus, but their grape leaves and vegetable kabobs are delicious as well! If you’re wanting something cozy and homestyle, Cultivate Cafe has everything including vegan chicken and waffles, jackfruit enchiladas, vegan omlettes, vegan nacho fries, and much more. If pizza sounds heartwarming in the cold, head over to Hand Fire Pizza for the best lemon and arugula vegan pizza! There is just so many options up there, at the top of the world. Embrace that, and live in the moment while you’re there. Eat as much as you want, play in the snow, and seek magic. You’ll find it in the those mountains.

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This winter may not include international getaways, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be filled with adventures. Explore your country and your local regions, and soak up every local experience! They’re severely underrated and offer new perspectives. Go after those, and spend this winter reconnecting with the land near you. Happy road tripping!

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Photo: Emily Iris Degn

Emily Iris Degn
Emily Iris Degn is a multilingual travel and freelance writer, editor, professional artist, model, and published poet. She is from the San Juan Islands, but currently lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her incredible partner and dozens of plant babies. She is also an ecofeminist activist, and works to focus her professional work on those issues. You can find her in many spaces on Instagram: @emilyirisdegn @wildearthgoods @happyvegansfeed @emfallstoearth @emilydegnart OR at Em Falls to Earth.

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