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Top Winter Festivals in the USA

U.S. Winter Festivals That Embrace the Elements

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The desire to retreat to warmer climes is all too common among winter travelers. But avoiding the cold may cause you to miss out on some of the most authentic and festive events in the country. What's more, winter travel is less expensive than travel during any other time of year (unless you're going to the ritziest of ski resorts).

Below, I've detailed some of the best winter festivals in the country, from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest to New England. These are festivals in which organizers embrace the snow, wind, and ice, making the most of the wintry landscape.

So, mingle with ice anglers, participate on a snowball fighting team, or watch a pond hockey game -- these winter festivals may chill your nose, but they'll likely leave you with warm memories.

Pair this article with Where to Go in the USA in Winter and Where to Ski and Snowboard in the USA.

St. Paul Winter Carnival

Late January to early February, St. Paul, Minnesota. Attracting more than 350,000 visitors to the Twin Cities, the St. Paul Winter Carnival is the nation's biggest cold weather festival. It is also the oldest, having begun in 1886 as a way to stick to a New York reporter who had called the area "another Siberia, unfit for human habitation in the winter." In some ways akin to a wintry Mardi Gras, the St. Paul Winter Carnival has its own legend, royal family, and Vulcan Krewe, who oversee all of the activities. Floats, a scavenger hunt, ice sculpture carving, a dogsled race, and a Beer Dabbler are just a few ways to enjoy the frigid fun.

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Late January to early February, Saranac Lake, New York. Taking place annually since 1897, the Saranac Lake Winter Festival bills itself as the oldest festival of its kind in the Eastern United States. The cornerstone of this event in the Adirondacks is the Ice Palace, a giant castle constructed each year out of blocks of ice carved from Pontiac Bay. A parade, winter games, and the crowning of Ice Palace "royalty" are part of the activities. The final event of the 10-day festival is the "Storming of the Palace," a fireworks display.

Dartmouth Winter Carnival

Early- to Mid-February, Hanover. Famously referred to as a "30-ring circus" in a 1955 profile in Sports Illustrated, the Dartmouth Winter Carnival is one of the most famous of its kind in New England. Organized by and for the students of Dartmouth College, the 10-day festival features ski races, sleigh rides, and ice skating fueled by musical performances and plenty of libations.

 

 

Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival

Second week of February, Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In 1914, 29 years after settlers founded Steamboat Springs, the residents gathered the second week of February to alleviate cabin fever. One of the most popular -- but not the only -- winter carnival in Colorado, Steamboat Springs' festival takes place downtown and features a parade, skiing and snowboarding events, and food and craft vendors. The "Lighted Man," a local man outfitted in a 70-pound lighted suit, has been a Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival tradition since 1936.

International Snow Sculpture Championships

Mid- to late January, Breckenridge, Colorado. Breckenridge is known worldwide for its fine skiing but it's also the site of the yearly International Snow Sculpture Championships, which sees expert sculpting teams from as far away as Mongolia and Latvia compete to see who can construct a work of art from a simple block of packed snow. Pair with Breckenridge's Ullr Fest, a Viking inspired week of fun and winter games that typically overlaps the timing for the sculpture competition as well as a few other mini festivals.

Newport Winter Festival

Mid-February, Newport, Rhode Island. Rhode Island's toniest city Newport has been the site of "New England's Largest Winter Extravaganza" since the late 1980s. More than 150 events, from a chili cook-off to a children's fair to a "Beatlemania" concert, are planned for the yearly 10-day event. There are also ice sculpting and sand castle competitions during the carnival.

Madison Winter Festival

Mid-February, Madison, Wisconsin. This smallish two-day festival showcases Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, one of the best college towns in the country, and a city that consistently ranks in the top 10 for being a livable city. Madison's small but fun winter event features a snowshoe obstacle course, tubing hills, Dog Jogs, ice sculptures, and more.

Fur Rendezvous (aka Fur Rondy)

Late February to early March, Anchorage, Alaska. Pre-dating the Iditarod, the 975-mile dog-sledding race that starts in Anchorage each year, the Fur Rendezvous, affectionately known as "Fur Rondy," has been a tradition here since 1935. Featured events during the festival include an official auction (which harkens back to Anchorage's fur trading days, thus "fur" in the name); a Native American blanket toss; an outdoor hockey tournament; outhouse races; and the World Champion Sled Dog Race, a shorter, local version of the mushing contest.

Oregon WinterFest

Mid-February, Bend, Oregon. Started in 1999, the festival formerly known as the Bend Winterfest has become one of Oregon's largest winter festivals. In the shadow of the eastern Cascade Mountains, Oregon Winterfest includes the Snow Warriors challenging outdoor obstacle course; kids activities organized by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry; artisan fire pits; snow sculptures; and a wine walk.

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