The Best Winter Festivals Across the U.S.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 Twin Cities, Minnesota
January 27 – February 6
The Great Northern Festival, held annually in Minneapolis–Saint 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.