Light Up the Holidays With These Festive Winter Destinations

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November 6, 2020

Still mulling over your Christmas plans and winter destinations?

While some prefer staying home for the holidays, many cities and parks across the USA offer RVers plenty of unique opportunities to celebrate on the road. From Thanksgiving to January, the country is chock-full of festivals, light displays, parades, and celebrations that help make the darkest days of the year brighter. From the decked-out Newport Beach boat parade, to a 6.5 million light display at Branson’s Silver Dollar City, or the 8,000 flickering luminaries at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, there are holiday memories to be made across the country. Whether you plan to travel solo, as a couple, or with your friends and family, you’ll find holiday destinations that soot you.

Snow capped Pine tree, with sun star.

Snow capped pine tree in the Grand Canyon. Photo Credit: Getty Images, tonda

If the kids are pining for hot cocoa and cookies with Santa, get on board the 1930’s era Polar Express train at Grand Canyon National Park for a trip to the North Pole. If you’re wishing for a White Christmas, head to Leavenworth, Washington, nestled in the Cascade Mountains, where you can witness the magic of Christmas at their Bavarian village of lights. For a romantic getaway, feast your eyes on Asheville’s historic Biltmore Estate, adorned with garlands, ornaments, and impressive Christmas trees or visit the dazzling 65-acre light display at Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama. For those wanting to celebrate with extra safety precautions this year, take a driving tour through Maine’s largest light display at Gardens Aglow, where you can stay warm and enjoy from your car.

The holiday season is much more than exchanging gifts, it’s about spending time with loved ones, eating amazing food, creating special moments, and celebrating family traditions. There’s no better way to usher in the New Year, than taking a trip to a festive destination where you can enjoy the most magical time of the year.  No matter what corner of the country you find yourself this winter, get into the spirit at these dazzling holiday destinations that are sure to leave you and yours with lasting memories. It’s one of the great winter destinations.

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade: Newport Beach, California

Boat dock at Newport Beach with Christmas decorations, among the top winter destinations.

Photo Credit: Visit Newport Beach

December 16th-20th

Have a White Christmas but skip the snow along the ivory shores of Newport Beach. This year marks the 112th celebration of the Christmas Boat Parade and Ring of Lights Home Competition, as onlookers watch festive yachts, boats, canoes, and kayaks sail along Newport’s harbor. The free event, which is hosted by the Chamber of Commerce’s Commodores Club, can be viewed from almost any place along the shoreline. For those wanting an extra special experience, several companies offer chartered cruises where you can see the boats and waterfront estates decked out for the holidays. For the first time in the parade’s history, the 5-day event will be live streamed across multiple platforms, bringing the magic of Christmas to everyone near and far.

Newport Beach lit up for holidays

Photo Credit: Bleu Cotton Photography

Leavenworth Village Lights: Leavenworth, Washington

Thanksgiving to Valentines Day

Main Street in Leavenworth, WA

Leavenworth is a Bavarian-styled village in the Cascade Mountains, in central Washington State. Photo Credit: Getty Images, Bjorn Bakstad

Tucked away in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, is a winter wonderland that’ll convince you you’ve time-traveled to Bavaria. Perhaps the most picturesque winter destination in the country, Leavenworth’s snowy alpen-style village is decorated with a half-million lights that beckon visitors from across the country. Perfect for a romantic getaway, take Mrs. Claus on a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow and afterward, warm up at a local bierhaus with authentic German food and libations. For those wanting to celebrate with the whole family, explore Leavenworth’s famous Nutcracker Museum, take a ride on the sledding hill, or meet Santa’s furry friends at the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. If you’re wishing for a little extra adventure, enjoy a ski day at Stevens Pass, which offers trails for every level, or the Leavenworth Ski Hill, just moments from downtown. Though the annual Christmas Lighting Festival is canceled for 2020, all the lights will turn on starting at dusk- 7 nights a week from Thanksgiving to Valentines Day.

Beautiful Leavenworth with holiday lighting decorations in winter, one of the great winter destinations..

Beautiful Leavenworth in winter. Photo Credit: Getty Images, Joecho-16

Silver Dollar City’s Old-Time Christmas: Branson, Missouri

November 7th-December 30th

It’s no surprise that an “Old-Time Christmas” at Branson’s Silver Dollar City has been voted “The Best Theme Park Holiday Event” in the country the past four years, with their impressive 6.5 million lights display. Perfect for the entire family, this holiday event showcases the awe-inspiring ”Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade”- a nightly musical procession featuring Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer who leads lighted floats and dozens of characters through the streets of the park. While strolling past Silver Dollar City’s woodcarver, blacksmith, and artisan shops, revel in the warmth of the “Christmas in Midtown Light Spectacular”- where you can feast your eyes on 1.5 million twinkling lights and whimsical animations. You’ll also be able to witness their 90ft tall Christmas tree, a tunnel of lights, and two 40ft trains. While there, decorate Christmas cookies, meet Santa, and let loose on rides yule love!

Las Noches de las Luminarias: Phoenix, Arizona

November 27th-28th and December 11th-13th, 17th-23rd, 26th-31st

For those who enjoy the simplicity of a natural Noel, the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden’s “Las Noches de las Luminarias” event is a stunner. Every holiday season, this Southwest haven lights up the night with 8,000 luminaries and twinkling lights. From late November to the end of December, guests can enjoy a stroll through the garden, which showcases over 50,000 desert plants aglow. While exploring the gardens, holiday tunes will bring visitors extra cheer, with various synchronized light shows along with a free touchless photobooth. For those looking for something a little more peaceful, for the first time in its 42-year history, the garden is holding a “Silent Night”, an evening of reflection and rejuvenation, on December 21st to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

Biltmore Estate: Asheville, North Carolina

November 6th– January 10th

 If you’ve ever wanted to get a first-hand peek at America’s largest home, take a tour of the historic Biltmore Estate in Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains this holiday season. In 1889, George Vanderbilt began the construction of his 250-room French Renaissance chateau along Asheville’s French Broad River. During the holidays, the historic home is adorned with 1.5 miles of garland, 55 hand-decorated trees, 25,000 ornaments, 500 wreaths, and 2,000 poinsettias!  Take a self-guided daytime tour of the house, gardens, and Antler Village, along with a complimentary glass of wine at the winery. For those wanting something extra special, book the evening Candlelight Tour- a 90-minute guided -tour complete with choirs and live Christmas music. While there, witness the 55ft high Norway spruce glowing on the front lawn with over 45,000 lights and hundreds of luminaries as you imagine yourself a guest at the first Vanderbilt family Christmas in 1895.

Gardens Aglow: Boothbay, Maine

Fake moose decorated in blue Christmas holiday lights in Maine

Photo Courtesy of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

November 21st– January 2nd

 In New England, the holidays tend to be pretty chilly, but this year, you can enjoy one of the regions best light displays from the warmth and comfort of your car. The Coastal Maine Botanical Garden’s “Gardens Aglow” festival has spruced up this year’s annual tradition to accommodate safety protocols, ensuring guests a happy and healthy holiday experience. New England’s largest botanical garden will light up the Boothbay Peninsula from late November to early January, affording onlookers the chance to witness over 650,000 lights and numerous holiday displays. Tickets are sold by the car, not by the individual, and are only available in advance for a specific time slot. Tickets are $40/car for nonmembers and $30 for members. Cars that exceed height restrictions (no more than nine feet in height) will be turned away. But wait—there’s more! For the 2020 season, the Botanical Garden has invited the community to take part in the event with a home and business lighting contest, which extends the Gardens Aglow extravaganza throughout the Boothbay Peninsula, giving visitors the opportunity to tour the area and vote on the best displays.

Grand Canyon Railway Polar Express: Williams, Arizona

November 7th -January 3rd

For a family memory the kids will never forget, climb on board the Polar Express for a magical trip to the North Pole. For over two decades, this holiday favorite has delighted kids young and old as the train teleports guests from the Arizona desert to a winter wonderland full of dazzling lights. Far from an ordinary train ride, guests are encouraged to dress in their pajamas in order to get the full holiday experience. While there, enjoy a reading of the childhood classic along with hot cocoa and cookies with Santa. On the return trip from the North Pole, sing along to Christmas carols and revel in the holiday cheer. Without a doubt, this 90-minute excursion will definitely land you on your kid’s Nice List!

Bellingrath Gardens and Home: Theodore, Alabama

November 27th– December 31st

Celebrate the magic of Christmas at Bellingrath Garden’s “Magic Christmas in Lights”, the Gulf Coast’s renowned holiday display. This year marks the 25th anniversary of this favorite Southern tradition, where visitors can stroll through the spectacular 65-acre garden estate illuminated with over 3 million lights and 1,100 set pieces. Every year, the Bellingrath staff create new displays- designing, welding, and painting the pieces in-house, ensuring a different experience from year to year. In addition to the gardens, the Bellingrath home is adorned with festive finery and guests can purchase a ticket package that includes a tour of the historic 15-room estate. As winter destinations go, this is a top contender.