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Nantucket Holiday Stroll | © Massachusetts Office of Tourism/Flickr
Nantucket Holiday Stroll | © Massachusetts Office of Tourism/Flickr
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13 Reasons Why You Should Visit New England in Winter

Picture of Christopher Crosby
Updated: 18 October 2017
Thinking of visiting New England this winter? Here’s why you should go: the nation’s summer getaway is a secret winter retreat, full of beautiful, but deserted beaches, towns blanketed in as much charm as they are snow, and ample chances to snowboard, ski and snowmobile. Here are some of our favorite ways to see the northeast when the temperatures drop.

Alpine skiing and snowboarding

Sunday River, Maine
Sunday River, Maine | © WikiCommons

The northeast is home to Olympic skiers and snowboarders who know that winter means one thing: snow. Well, sort of… getting good on an eastern mountain usually means you need to be adept at coping with that other winter stalwart: ice. But with so many slopes to choose from, you have no excuse for not having a good day. While places such as Sunday River and Sugarloaf offer world-class opportunities, Stowe and Sugarbush in Vermont offer stunning mountain resorts perfect for a weekend retreat.

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing

Water Valley, New Hampshire
Water Valley, New Hampshire | © ashokboghani/Flickr

So good it deserves its own entry, New England’s flatter trails offer miles of winter wonder. Cross-country skiing is a great way to exercise, get outdoors and see parts of New England often overlooked in glossy travel magazines. Most Nordic skiing centers have trails for all skill levels, so don’t worry if it’s your first time or your 50th. Jackson, New Hampshire is particularly renown for its 150km network of trails (which lead to its pub, cocoa café and warming hut), while the Trapp Family Lodge Cross-Country Ski Center (yes, it’s the same Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music) runs a stunning chateau overlooking a valley, complete with an extensive network of trails, a restaurant and a brewery.

Snowmobiling

Rural New England offers miles of interconnected trails that even cross over into Canada. In Maine, there are over 14,000 miles of trails alone maintained by a series of clubs. With plenty of rentals, lodges, and outfitters willing to show you the way, zooming through snowy fields and forests is a great way to see an otherwise under-visited part of New England.

Snow tubing

What better way to get down a hill than careening at high speeds in a soft, bouncy doughnut? New Englanders know that those long hills deemed too short for skiing offer the chance for tubes and sleds to take over. Many have lifts, allowing you to conserve your energy and stay for more runs.

Icefishing

Ice fishing huts on the Androscoggin River, Maine
Ice fishing huts on the Androscoggin River, Maine | © Courtesy of Paul VanDerWerf/Flickr

If action sports aren’t your thing, or you just want a break from the fast pace of life, what better way than sitting, waiting for fish? While some think of ice fishing as an excuse to drink beer and sit outside alone (and, to be sure, it’s certainly that) ice fishing is an art in itself, requiring knowledge of fish habits and patience. Outfitters from Maine, to Vermont to New Hampshire will provide everything you need, from hut to bait.

Serene beaches

Cue winter and New England’s once-crowded beaches turn cold, empty and beautiful. With the beaches to yourself, be on the lookout for boats, as no scene captures the hard-working, independent reputation and culture of the area’s fishing villages like watching a lobster boat coming to port in the winter seas. While the water may not be warm enough for swimming (unless you’re looking for a polar bear dip), it’s usually free to walk along the beaches.

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The Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory

New Englanders who are tired of perpetual winter can warm up at this 8,000-square foot butterfly conservatory. Tucked inside several greenhouses in this small, western Massachusetts town, the conservatory houses more than 4,000 native and tropical butterflies, lush equatorial plants and even a Japanese koi garden, helping you forget that there are months of winter still to come.
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Nantucket’s Christmas Stroll

Less a stroll and more a makeover, this famous summer seaside town transforms into a colonial winter time-capsule come December for its Christmas Stroll. Starting the day after Thanksgiving for the past 44 years, the town dons holiday wear and travelers flock from afar as Santa-fever grips the town. Trees are adorned with ‘local’ ornaments (expect to see seashells) as lights are strung up on lighthouses, wreaths are wrung and artisans showcase their best wares.

Nantucket Holiday Stroll | © Massachusetts Office of Tourism/Flickr

First Night Boston

The country’s oldest and largest New Year’s eve festival, Boston’s First Night features music, dance, ice skating, and theater performances, all for free. The family-friendly festival has fireworks displays, ice sculptures, as well as numerous art shows. The countdown to midnight features a massive pyrotechnic display.

Boston First Night fireworks
Boston First Night fireworks | © Bill Damon/Flickr

Skating and outdoor ice hockey

Scan any solidly frozen pond come a New England winter, and you’re likely to see ice skaters cutting graceful movements over the surface. Ice skating (and its full-contact version, hockey) are fun, unique ways to enjoy the outdoors. Many arenas, ponds and rinks will rent skates if you don’t have your own, and through local meet-up groups, you can join in on a hockey game. Although Canada may be the home of hockey, many of the country’s best skaters and hockey players hail from the northeast.

Harbor Hotel Outdoor Ice Skating
Harbor Hotel Outdoor Ice Skating | © The Massachusetts Office of Tourism/Flickr

Boston’s The Nutcracker Ballet

Among winter’s greatest traditions, watching a performance of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet is a beautiful experience. They seem to take on a special feeling as the winter wonderland on stage is mirrored outside. The Boston Ballet‘s version runs from November 24 through December, and features all the toy soldiers, mice and dancing snowflakes you’ve come to expect.

Stoic log cabins

Rustic, rough-hewn, and often off-grid, log cabins are an iconic New England staple. The buildings bring to mind the rugged individualism permeating the culture here, and for a weekend you can try your hand at self-sufficiency, too. The good news? Tourism will be slower in the rural stretches of Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, making a log cabin a perfect getaway.

Charming villages

Hearty locals, smoke rising from chimneys, steepled roofs covered in snow… the delights of a New England winter scene are loaded with charm. Just being there is beautiful and soothing (if you’re not driving). Plenty of towns cater to winter travelers, whether they offer local amenities or their speciality is offering homestyle lodgings. Largely drained of the summer tourism crowds, New England winters are all about slow travel – sitting in front of a warm stove and enjoying a cup of hot chocolate over several hours.

Barn, Stowe Vermont
Barn, Stowe Vermont | © Peter Rintels/Flickr