Santa hat on a spruce tree in the Smoky Mountains

A Few of our Favorite Outdoor Destinations for the Christmas Season

There's something different about the Christmas season, and what better way to experience that than with a trip to the great outdoors? America offers plenty of scenic destinations perfect for a Christmas excursion. We'll cover a few of our favorites here. 

Crater Lake, OR

Crater Lake covered in snow
Who wouldn't want to explore a lake nestled in a crater on top of a mountain - especially when it's covered in snow? 
Crater Lake is an incredible spot year-round, but there's just something about seeing the crater covered in snow that really brings it to life. Crater Lake is also a place where Christmas trees grow naturally. 


Sky Valley, GA

View from Rabun Bald, GA, near Sky Valley

Once home to Georgia's only ski resort, Sky Valley makes up for the Peach State's lack of snow with local celebrations and unique hiking trails. It's on the way to Rabun Bald, a peak offering one of the state's most expansive mountain views. Some consider the area a rainforest, and if that's true, it's the only one you'll find in Georgia.

Temperatures are typically much cooler at the top than the surrounding area, and snow is possible even when temperatures at the lower elevations are in the 50s. 

If you're in the area and have time to spare, stop by Dillard. The small town of about 350 residents love Christmas, and it shows. There's a shop known for selling unique Christmas and Halloween décor year-round. The Cupboard Café and Dillard House offer some of the south's finest dining with beautiful mountain views (if you get the right seat). You'll also find some great hiking tails at the nearby Black Rock State Park. 

Steamboat Springs, CO

Christmas in Steamboat SpringsPhoto by Rory Clow

If there ever was a small, quaint mountain town that loves Christmas and the outdoors, it's Steamboat Springs. Pretty much everything that you could possibly want from an outdoorsy Christmas excursion lives here.

It's nestled in the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains and offers some of the Colorado's most scenic ski slopes (and if you've ever been to the state, you know that's saying something). Hiking trails surround the area and are almost always covered in snow this time of the year. 

Below the slopes and trails, Steamboat's downtown district is beautifully decorated for the Christmas season. Local shops collaborate with the city to host a variety of festivals and celebrations. Some of these events celebrate and explore the local outdoor scene; others just offer great family fun. 

Skiing while wearing Christmas lightsAnd who wouldn't want to ski while wearing Christmas lights? Photo by Rory Clow

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Newfound Gap in the Smoky Mountains covered in snow.

The Smoky Mountains offer an experience that is unique to the southeastern US. Spruce-fir forests are common here. It's pretty much like hiking through a forest of Christmas trees surrounded by mountains.

We recommend the higher elevations for the best experience. This is where the Christmas tree forests actually grow. You'll also find more snow at the higher elevations, sometimes even when temperatures in the surrounding lowlands are in the 50s. Popular spots like Newfound Gap, Clingman's Dome, and Mt. LeConte are some of the best for a Christmas hike. 

The nearby towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Cherokee also have their own unique celebrations during the Christmas season. You can also enjoy the Polar Express train ride through the mountains in November and December. Just remember to book your ticket a few months in advance. 

Tip: Road closures are common and occur with little warning. If 441 (the main thoroughfare) is closed, there's still a good chance that you can park at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead to reach Mt. Leconte. Just be ready for a 13.8 mile roundtrip hike. Usually (not always) 441 reopens within a couple of hours.

What are Your Favorites?

We get it; there are many other outdoor destinations that are perfect for the Christmas season. Some that we probably haven't even heard of yet! What are your favorites? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published