“Dashing through the snow, on a one-horse open sleigh!” You’ve sung it dozens of times with your family, but what if you could do it in real life? When you spend the holidays at a resort, this is exactly the type of Christmas magic your kids get to experience. It may be difficult to press pause on your at-home traditions for a year, but vacation destinations really are primed to make sure your family builds new memories like no other.
“Going away for Christmas was fantastic because the trip was truly about spending time together with just our immediate family,” says Jann Fujimoto, whose kids loved their trip to Door County, WI. Instead of cooking and cleaning for guests, they spent the trip trying new activities like geocaching, going for winter hikes, and exploring all the local seasonal offerings. “We were totally transported into the holiday spirit,” adds Fujimoto. Even if you can’t skip the big family Christmas, you can head out of town anytime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s to experience all these great spots have to offer.
If the slopes are calling your name this winter, Keystone offers perks for the whole family. First of all, kids under 12 ski free when you book two nights at the resort. (Serious savings!) Pair that with the largest night-skiing program in Colorado, and you have no excuse not to explore the mountain’s more than 3,000 acres of terrain. But there’s a lot more to love once you hang up your skis for the day. A treat to try: a sleigh ride and dinner. While your family is snuggled under wool blankets, horses will pull you through the Soda Creek Valley as your guide points out constellations in the night sky. Then you’ll warm up in front of the fire at a log cabin while dining on steak, salmon, and apple pie! Christmas at Keystone also involves plenty of time with good old Saint Nick. The big guy hosts storytime, PJ brunches, and skiing and ice-skating events from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
Located 15 minutes away from the resort town of Branson—home to the Silver Dollar City theme park, which is outfitted with 5 million lights and 1,000 decorated trees this time of year—the rustic Big Cedar Lodge looks like something out of Santa’s village. For your own piece of the North Pole, book a two-bedroom log cabin that features a decked-out Christmas tree, working fireplace, and a covered porch for enjoying a little crisp fresh air. And don’t forget to leave room for some special guests: Santa’s elves visit the resort nightly to tuck kids into bed, read holiday stories, and collect letters for the boss in red. Other don’t-miss holiday treats: an enormous Gingerbread Village, a seasonal scavenger hunt for kids, stocking decorating, storytime with Mrs. Claus, and a snowman ice-cream social.
A white Christmas is basically guaranteed two hours north of Boise in McCall—an under-the-radar winter destination that boasts more than 300 inches of powder a year. And Shore Lodge, set on (now frozen!) Payette Lake in the Payette National Forest, is a great home base. There are literally Christmas trees as far as the eye can see. When you arrive, start by bringing the outdoors right into your family’s suite by adopting one of those trees as your own. You and the kids can strap on snowshoes and head out with a guide to find the perfect fir. Once you’ve picked your tree, the staff will cut it down and deliver it back to your room while you roast marshmallows and chestnuts over an open fire, of course. You can spend the rest of your time there on the slopes at nearby Brundage Mountain Resort (you might even spot Santa skiing on Christmas Day), snowmobiling to local hot springs (outdoor swimming in the winter!), or enjoying events like breakfast with Santa and cookie-decorating classes.
The lodge was founded in 1950 by the family that inspired The Sound of Music, and you might as well be a personal guest of the von Trapps (who still own and operate it) when you head here for Christmas. You’ll step right into their Austrian holiday traditions as you admire 13 themed Christmas trees, learn to make Linzer tortes, and even sing carols with the family itself on Christmas Eve. You’ll also want to leave plenty of time for dashing through the snow. Whether you stay in the main lodge or one of the property’s villas or guest houses, there are more than 60 miles of cross-country and snowshoe trails right out the front door. They include terrain for every level and age—and on-site instructors will help beginners get started. Master the basics, then follow the 3-mile trail through the woods to the resort’s secluded Slayton Pasture Cabin, where you can warm up as you snack on soups, sandwiches, and hot chocolate. For more adventure, nearby Stowe Mountain offers 116 downhill trails. Or check out local outfitters to try dogsledding or ice fishing!
There may not be snow in Scottsdale, but this resort transforms into a winter wonderland all the same with incredible decorations that go far beyond your typical poinsettias and garlands—although they have plenty of those too. For the past six years, the resort has run its annual Christmas at the Princess festival from Thanksgiving week to New Year’s. The centerpiece is the four-story musical Christmas tree decorated with 70,000 lights that twinkle to 17 different tunes. But that’s not the only bright spot: You can take a ride on the Princess Express train to view the 3 million dazzling lights surrounding the property or walk along the resort’s extensive lagoon system to see illuminated displays of Santa fishing, a menorah and dreidels, elves on barges, and more. If that’s not enough, visit Santa in his resort “Secret Headquarters” (he’s there nightly), take a zip around a real ice-skating rink, roast s’mores in a pit surrounded by decorated trees, and more.