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Skiing may be the most popular winter sport, but there are plenty of reasons why families aren’t willing to plan elaborate ski-slope vacations. Ski resorts are expensive and crowded, and skiing itself can be a little frightening if you’re new to the sport. I have a friend who spent thousands on a family ski trip – their very first time on the slopes. Two of his three kids only made it down the mountain once, which resulted in grumpy parents and expensive daycare. I can tell you, they never made that mistake again!
As much as my own kids love to ski, I have never gotten the hang of it. I will blame my father for stealing me away from my Vermont home when I was young so that I could grow up among palm trees and an ocean breeze. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that you can still travel to the world’s most wintery locations and have a blast without skiing. That’s because winter is long and folks have been really creative about making it awesome.
Some of these winter activities aren’t cheap, but others are entirely free! Here are our top picks for winter activities for families who don’t want to deal with the expense or crowds of a ski resort vacation.
Winter Activities for Families who don’t Ski
Snow Tubing with Kids
Snow tubing offers kids and adults the thrill of flying down a mountain without the inherent dangers of skiing and snowboarding, or the hefty price tag. It is true that most snow tubing adventures take place at ski resorts, but snow tube rentals are just a fraction of the cost of a full-day lift ticket, and you can also skip the expensive equipment necessary for skiing and snowboarding. Snow tubing with kids is also fabulous exercise.
Young children are especially drawn to snow tubing because it’s like sledding on steroids. Snow tubing adventure centers have been springing up all over the northern United States, and as far south as Georgia. Whether you’re looking for an exhilarating way to spend the day or planning a full-fledged winter vacation for your family, snow tubing with kids might be just the winter adventure you’re looking for.
Best Places to go Snow Tubing with Kids
Camelback Mountain Resort, Tannersville, PA – This is the biggest snow tubing park in the USA, and it just got a lot more adventurous. Starting in the 2018/2019 season they will be offering Galactic Snow Tubing – snow tubing after dark with an LED light show and 42 lightning fast lanes for kids and adults. We recommend lodging at Camelback Lodge and Waterpark, which is very kid-friendly, and who doesn’t love an indoor waterpark in the winter?
Mountaintop Snow Tubing at Keystone Resort, Keystone, CO – This is serious snow tubing for serious fun. Keystone Resort features a huge, multi-lane hill, a lift to make life easier for tired legs, and night tubing under the lights. There’s even a bunny hill for smaller kids to enjoy their own bit of powdery snow. Keystone Lodge & Spa is the most convenient and affordable lodging, although it’s far from cheap. The views and the outdoor pool make it totally worth it.
Hawksnest Snow Tubing Park, Seven Devils, NC – The 30 snow tubing lanes at Hawksnest range from 400 to 1,000 feet long and are perfect for both big and little kids, although you have to be three years old and up to go tubing. There are four different tubing areas with varied terrain for a wild and exhilarating tubing experience. Hawksnest makes snow for improved conditions and offers night snow tubing under the lights. Hawksnest Snow Tubing Park is just a short drive from Blowing Rock and Boone, NC, but the closest lodging is at the Best Western Moutain Lodge at Banner Elk.
Want more ideas for snow tubing with kids? Check out this post on Family Vacation Critic.
Sledding with Kids
Give kids a bit of snow and a sled and you’ve got the potential for hours of winter fun. The great thing about sledding with kids is that as long as you’ve got snow and a bit of an incline, you can do it without spending a lot of money. Just about every town I can think of that gets snow in the winter has a dedicated hill where the kids like to congregate. In our town, we have more than one. If you are traveling and want to know where the locals go sledding with kids, your best bet is to join a local Facebook group and ask.
As for sleds, there are many different types, and my husband and I have different opinions about which are the best for sledding with kids. We love our wooden toboggan that we’ve had for years, but it doesn’t work well if the sled is super sticky. For those days, we use regular old plastic sleds that we get from the grocery store during our travels.
If you find that sledding with kids is your favorite thing in the world, then you won’t regret buying the most awesome sled in the world. It’s called the Mad River Rocket Sled and it’s made in Vermont. It’s super fast, steerable, and awesome for doing tricks (which older kids will appreciate). One thing my husband and both agree on, plastic snow discs are the worst, and they’re dangerous because they’re impossible to steer.
Here are our favorites for sledding with kids:
Make your outing successful with a thermos of hot cocoa, warm, woolly socks, waterproof boots and snow clothes, and a cozy hat. The last time we packed up and went to our local sledding hill, someone had set up a table and a Coleman stove and was busy cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for all of the kids. Parents and adults had a blast.
Snowshoeing with Kids
When the snow piles up everywhere, you are all-of-a-sudden very limited as to where you can travel on foot. You can either stick to slushy, dirty roads and sidewalks, or you can strap on snowshoes and hit the trails for winter fun that never ends. Snowshoeing is a bit more strenuous than walking, or even hiking, but it allows you to experience the quiet and solitude of a peaceful winter day.
The secret to snowshoeing with kids is to take breaks and make it fun. Try your hand at animal tracking, spread out for a winter picnic, and explore places that are inaccessible in the lush summer growth. Ready to give it a try? Check out this guide to snowshoeing with kids before you head out.
Ice Skating with Kids
Frozen lakes open up all kinds of opportunities for adventure, and many lakeside resorts offer enticing packages to help them (and you) make the most of a lakeside winter. Sweden, Finland, and other Norwegian countries offer adventure ice skating tours, covering miles and miles on long-distance tracks. One thing’s for certain – unless you are ice skating with kids indoors, you will likely have to travel north to find outdoor skating rinks. Skating is fun no matter where you go, but some ice skating rinks are truly unique. If you’re looking for something memorable, check out these fantastic ice skating rinks.
Lake Morey Resort, Fairlee, VT – Lake Morey Resort maintains one of the largest ice skating trails in the US. It’s a 4.5-mile loop around the lake, with smaller rinks for children and hockey games. The best way to take advantage of this awesome ice trail is to rent nordic skates for you and your kids. These are kind of like a cross between cross-country skis and ice skates and they’re perfect for long distances. Lake Morey Resort has some great winter deals on lodging, especially if you visit midweek.
Wollman Skating Rink, New York City, NY – Located in the heart of Central Park, Wollman Rink is both cheaper and larger than its famous neighbor, Rockefeller Center. The rink opened in 1950 after Kate Wollman made a generous donation. The views from the rink are gorgeous, there are twinkly lights at night, and there’s even a snack bar that serves hot cocoa.
Half Dome Village Ice Rink, Yosemite Village, CA – With a breathtaking backdrop of Yosemite’s Half Dome, this may just be the most beautiful ice skating rink in the world. Located on the eastern side of Half Dome Village, families can rent skates, warm up near the fire pit, and purchase snacks and hot cocoa from the on-site snack bar. For winter lodging in Yosemite, you can’t beat the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. It’s pricey throughout the year, but it’s also within walking distance of major Yosemite attractions, waterfalls, and restaurants.
Rideau Canal Skateway, Ottawa, Canada – This is the largest ice skating rink in the world, winding through the heart of Ottawa for a total of 7.8 kilometers. Along the canal there are three skate rental facilities and four rest areas with concessions, restrooms, and fire pits. Ice conditions are updated daily on the National Capital Commission website.
Dog Sledding with Kids
While not exactly a budget-friendly option, you can find dog sled tours all over the north country. Winter destination spots and ski resorts will usually have a resident dog-sledding team, ready to take you out for an hour, a day, or even longer. Multi-day trips often involve cozy accommodations, full meals, and hands-on training with the canines.
While a dog sledding vacation isn’t for everyone, it just might be for you. Here’s a look at some top dog-sledding destinations in the United States.
Whether or not you love winter, you might as well make the best of it while it’s here. Bundle up and enjoy the snow without strapping on skis or spending a fortune. What do you do to enjoy winter as a family? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.
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