Tag Archives: Winter travel

30 Things to do in Chicago at Christmas

Chicago Christmas Winter December Skyline Snow

The city of Chicago is known to flex its majesty during the Christmas season. Chicago comes alive with anticipation as temperatures drop, and it is truly a magical place to spend Christmas with loved ones, new travel friends or even alone.

From popular Christmas activities to lesser-known winter events, here’s your guide to things to do in Chicago at Christmas for all ages and budgets.

While Christmas activities might look a little different this year, there are still many options for Christmas cheer. 

You may also like our guides to 3-day Chicago itinerary, free things to do in Chicago, and unique activities.

Christmas Things to do in Chicago

1. Christkindlmarket Christmas Market

For a European Christmas experience that can be found in Chicago, check out the Christkindlmarket Christmas Market at Daley Plaza in the Loop and Wrigleyville at Gallagher Way.

Pick up the perfect Christmas gift from November at the shopping experience inspired by the 16th century Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany.

Christkindlmarket Chicago is an authentic partnership between the city and Nuremberg, Germany and has been running since 1996.

In the past, vendors such as Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store have traveled from Germany to participate in the Christmas holiday market!

Enjoy filling European food like currywurst, raclette, and strudel, perfect for winter.

It continues to be one of the most popular things to do in Chicago at Christmas.  

Chrishtkindlmarket also features in our guide to Illinois in winter.

2. The Nutcracker at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lose a couple of hours to a majestic rendition of The Nutcracker presented by the Joffrey Ballet.

The Art Deco-style Lyric Opera House (20 N Upper Wacker Dr) hosts the annual winter show featuring story, dancing, and live orchestra.

3. The Bean Selfie

One of the most recognizable symbols in Chicago is that big silver bean at Millennium Park.

Just because the ground is dusted/covered in the white stuff, it does not stop winter lovers from taking a reflection shot with the number one attraction in the city!

Officially called Cloud Gate, this stainless steel figure is the work of Indian-born British artist Sir Anish Kapoor and is made up of 169 polished plates; that’s a lot of cleaning!

If you are doing it for the ‘Gram, you might want to get a picture of Lake Michigan completely frozen up with the Chicago skyline standing behind.

Check out our free things to do in Chicago guide for more.

Cloud Gate silver Chicago Bean with reflections of skyline and skyscrapers behind it

4. Ice Skating In Chicago at Millennium Park

Just because it is winter, it does not mean that you cannot enjoy outdoor activities this Christmas. Chicago has a number of one-of-a-kind ice skating rinks all over the city.

There are both indoor and outdoor rinks that thousands of people visit during Christmas.

One of the most visited rinks in Chicago is the Mccormick Tribune Ice Skating Rink at Millennium Park. It is open from November to March every year.

Look out for the 2-4-1 offers, which let you skate both Millennium and Maggie Daley Park.

If you are new in town, you can hire ice-skating gear. One of the family-friendly things to do in Chicago in winter.

5. Ice Skating Ribbon

Another Chicago ice-skating opportunity is at the Ice Skating Ribbon located at Maggie Daley Park Ice Skating Ribbon.

This outdoor skating rink opens in winter and it differs to other rinks as it snakes around the park, like a ribbon!

Low section of couple in skates ice skating on rink

6. Sledding In Chicago

Sledding is a great way to bond with family and friends during cold winter days.

Every Christmas holiday, sledging enthusiasts head to Cricket Hill at Montrose Harbor, Palmisano Park in Bridgeport, the Dan Ryan Woods and Soldier Field.

These hills offer the perfect sledding places and they are safe for kids too. For people looking to sled away from the city, they can head out to the suburbs where places like James Park (Evanston’s “Mount Trashmore”) and Polar Peak at Frozemont (Rosemount MB Financial Park, 20 mins from Chicago Downtown) reign supreme.

Father and son having fun sledding in the snow

7. Wrigley Building Christmas Tree

Stunning tree at Wrigley Plaza (400-410 Michigan Avenue), which pops against the glazed terra-cotta on Magnificent Mile.

The Wrigley is one of the many festive trees around the city but the most iconic.

8. IO Godfrey Igloos

Climb inside the heated igloos of the Godfrey Hotel’s rooftop winter scene!

These dreamy see-through igloos keep you warm while you drink and enjoy the views.

Back by popular demand, these rooftop igloos seat six people; one bottle per group must be purchased.

Bookings live from the end of October, a deposit is taken to secure it.

You may also like our guide to hidden gems in Chicago.

9. Curling By The Lake

Harry Caray’s Tavern (9700 E Grand Ave) at Navy Pier is where you’ll find a fun game of curling.

Curling By The Lake consists of a patio curling rink made of Polyglide synthetic ice, Curling Cocktails, and a cozy Warming Hut with electric a fireplace and blankets!

10. Winter Wonderland at Gallagher Way

Head to the Wrigleyville neighborhood for ice skating, ice bumper cars, and private chalets for rent.

There’s also a host of Christmas food from around the world like perogies, and crepes.

11. Frosty’s A Christmas Bar

Head to 809 W Evergreen (Goose Island) for Frosty’s pop-up Christmas bar which has heaps of Instagrammable props like swings, giant soldiers and candy canes.

Get ready to party at Frosty’s! Check out the official website for this winter updates.

12. Have Glogg At Simon’s Tavern

Looking for the perfect night spot to spend quality time with friends?

The Andersonville neighborhood dive bar, Simon’s Tavern (5210 N Clark St), was recently voted as the most loved bar in all of Chicago.

The place has been open since 1934 and is perfect for people looking to enjoy a night out during the Christmas period.

You can cozy up with friends, knock back the tavern’s famous spiced wine and feed the jukebox all night long.

During the holidays, a special neon sign is put up on the front window proclaiming, “It’s glogg time!”

If you are looking to drink by an open fire, head to Broken Shaker or Drumbar for an outside fire with a classy twist.

13. Polar Express Pulls Into Chicago

Hop aboard the CTA’s holiday train, which is decked out in over 60,000 lights, tinsel and a visit from Santa!

Check out the official CTA website for this winter updates.

14. Christmas Shopping in Chicago

Looking for a special gift for a loved one? How about you head to one of the many holiday markets in Chicago.

As you browse the markets, you will experience the wintertime magic while having a blast shopping for the perfect gifts for everyone on your list.

The seasonal market circuit offers a variety of merchandise, from Chicago-themed gifts to sugary confections to vintage clothing.

You are free to enjoy a boozy beverage as you shop. Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago is where you will find the European inspired Christmas market stalls and lights to boot.

If, like me, you prefer vintage shopping, head to the Lower West Side for Knee Deep Vintage, Richard’s Fabulous Finds at Wicker Park (I love this area) and Encore Resale Clothing at Hyde Park.

15. Visit Chicago’s Toy Stores

Chicago has several toy stores.

During the Christmas season, the shops are open until late hours to accommodate the number of last-minute shoppers.

The toys available at these stores aren’t just for kids.

You will find all sorts of toys, including rare collectables.

One of the places to visit in Chicago during winter is Macy’s (the old Marshall Fields) to see the 45-foot tree in the Walnut Room.

Christmas Tree Magnificent Mile Chicago

16. Check Out The Latest Christmas Movies

Every year, there are Christmas-themed movies that get released in cinemas.

Chicago is home to one of the best cinemas equipped with the latest technology to provide a thrilling experience to movie buffs. There are several movies released each year with different ratings.

Instead of staying home and enjoying the same Christmas films you have watched over and over, why not head to one of the cinemas in Chicago and catch the latest Christmas movies. Bring along the whole family to make the experience memorable.

Alternatively, what about Christmas date night? AMC Dine-in Theatres Block 37 lets you eat a freshly prepared meal, have a drink in hand and watch a movie!

Logan Theatre (2646 N Milwaukee Avenue) is an old-school cinema with crushed velvet seats and cheap show tickets. You can expect new movies, throwbacks and late-night movies.

Downtown Chicago winter view with frozen lake

17. Christmas Shows in Chicago

Do you enjoy watching live plays?

Every year, local theaters in Chicago present both old favourites and new plays on stage.

Venues also host festive orchestras and ballet shows.

Check out the historic CIBC Theatre, the James M. Nederlander Theatre, and the Cadillac Palace Theatre for more.

Chicago Theatre sign and buildings

18. Adler Planetarium

Not specifically a Christmas activity but a unique point of interest in Chicago for those who like all things space-related – Alder Planetarium (1300 S Lake Shore Drive).

Many of the shows start at midnight for obvious reasons.

You can expect educational shows, hands-on activities and expert exhibitions. In 2020, you can watch a show online.

Check out our guide to unique things to do in Chicago for more alternative ideas.

Chicago in December in Winter_

19. Book a Snug and Eat Fondue Until You Puke

OK, don’t puke, but you can reserve a cozy nook at Geja’s Cafe, where the menu calls for fondue and fine wine.

For over 50 years, Geja’s Cafe (340 W Armitage Avenue) has been encouraging visitors to play with their food over an open fire.

This award-winning restaurant has won the title of one of the most romantic places to dine in the US by USA Today!

20. Gorge on Monster Hot Chocolates

Did you even go on a winter city break if you didn’t get a pic of you and your bestie cheersing an overflowing hot chocolate packed with giant marshmallows?

Indulge your sweet tooth while warming up with killer hot chocolates at Bombobar (832 W Randolph Street) or XO Marshmallow (6977 N Sheridan Road).

Christmas Festivals

21. Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

You will not have properly experienced Christmas in Chicago unless you do the things listed in this post, especially the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Every year, the city of Chicago erects an official 50-foot+ Christmas tree in the majestic Millennium Park. 

It won’t just be the tree that is glowing as Christmas-lovers capture the event on their phones.

There might just be another bright surprise for you too.

22. Morton Arboretum Illumination

Morton Arboretum Illumination, 30 minutes outside of Chicago, is day trip worth taking for the Illumination: Tree Lights.

The two-mile-long driving event along Arboretum’s 1,700 acres has more than lit up 10,000 trees!

Open from Thanksgiving through to New Year’s Day. A great family-friendly driving experience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAKAJBenuEE 

23. Christmas Around the World at Museum of Science & Industry

It is the tradition that the Museum of Science & Industry plays host to the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light event each year from the second week in November until January.

Expect a floor-to-dome-sized Christmas tree surrounding bother small (but in no means small) trees decorated by volunteers.

Each tree represents the different ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world, hence the title. Museum of Science & Industry can be found at 5700 S Lake Shore Drive.

You can also learn how to say Merry Christmas in lots of languages!

24. Chicago Christmas Lights Festival

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile (Mag’s Mile) is home to many hotels, shops and restaurants, but for one night in November, the street comes to life with music, light and a few Disney characters thrown in to kick-start the festive feels.

25. Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Walk by and through the huge light installations at Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lightscape (1000 Lake Cook Rd).

This family-friendly Christmas event marries nature with music, light, fire, and color.

26. Santa Hustle Chicago

Whack on the red suit, beard, hat and sneakers – it’s time to compete for the gold medal during the Santa Hustle!

Volunteers pass out goodies and keep spirits high as you run through The Windy City.

The course includes at 5K route and a kids dash for families. Cookies included!

Other Winter Festivals in Chicago

27. Día de Muertos

Honor and celebrate those who have lost their lives during the annual Day of the Dead exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

The exhibit features art, photography, and traditionally decorated altars.

28. Kwanzaa at DuSable Black History Museum

Learn more about the annual holiday, Kwanzaa, celebrated in African-American culture at the DuSable Black History Museum.

Events include education and performances.

29. NYE Fireworks at Navy Pier

Ring in the new year for free at Navy Pier with a family-friendly festival.

The event will feature a countdown to midnight then a huge firework display.

There are also a number of premium NYE events throughout the city, including a party at Navy Pier where you can see the fireworks as part of the ticket.

30. Lunar New Year Parade

Celebrations in Chicago stretch into January with the Lunar New Year Parade.

The colorful parade includes a traditional dragon, dancing teams, floats, and marching bands.

Getting Around Chicago

It’s really easy to navigate downtown Chicago; like Glasgow in Scotland, it uses a grid system.

Downtown is divided by Madison Street (North and South), and State Street splits up East and West.

There is an extensive transport system for those who prefer not to walk and/or want to squeeze more in.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs the train and bus system in the city.

You can pay with cash for single trips or invest in a reloadable Ventra Transit Card or Unlimited Ride Pass for multi-use savings. The ‘L’ train covers 144 rail stations, and two of the links operate 24 hours a day.

The Blue Line links the airport (O’Hare) to downtown, and the Red Link hooks up the North and the South. Some of the buses also run 24 hours a day.

You need the exact change for buses. You can plan your journey using the Chicago route planner.

Weather in Chicago

You can expect temperatures of around 21°F (-6.1°C) to 35°F (1.7°C).

Prepare for ice and snow from December. Wrap up, wear layers and invest in a good quality waterproof coat.

If this doesn’t sound like temperatures you can handle, consider fall in Chicago instead.

Orange fall trees with Buckingham Fountain Grant Park in Chicago

What to Wear in Chicago in Winter

  • Layers, keep warm outdoors but get ready to remove items when indoors 
  • Thermals if you plan to be out for a long time 
  • Padded outerwear
  • Wool outerwear is warm but not great when it gets wet
  • Hat, gloves, scarf to keep cozy 
  • Extra socks, consider pantyhose under your pants 
  • Comfortable waterproof or snow boots, especially if you plan to walk a lot
  • Sunshades for winter glare
  • Tote bags for shopping
Chicago panoramic view in the winter. Woman in red coat.

Final Words

If you are new to the city, visiting Chicago in December is an exciting time full of festivals and markets. If you are a local, I hope you’ve discovered something new to try out this winter. Please do tell us your favourite Christmas activities in Chicago below!

Illinois in Winter: Attractions & Festive Things to Do

Downtown Chicago winter view with frozen lake

Whether you’re looking for an adventure-filled winter vacation or a relaxing getaway, Illinois has something to offer during the season.

Winter in the state can be cold, with temperatures that can drop to 10°F in the north and upper 20s in the south.

You’ll find snow-covered grounds presenting a beautiful landscape, and there are plenty of winter activities to keep people busy.

To help plan your trip, this guide will explore the things you can do in Illinois in winter like skiing, ice skating, snowboarding, winter hiking, and some winter-themed events.

Things to do in Illinois in the Winter

The activities listed below are sectioned by regions where they are located.

So get ready to put on your layers and prepare for your next winter adventure in Illinois.

You may also like our USA bucket list which features Illinois.

Northern Illinois Winter Getaways

Start your winter getaway in Illinois by visiting the northern part of the state for some awesome activities like skiing, snowboarding, and holiday light displays.

The following list will feature destinations in Northern Illinois including the town of Galena, Campton Hills, and Rockford.

Visit the Beautiful Town of Galena

Galena is one of the best places to visit in Illinois in winter because it offers lots of activities you can enjoy during the season.

If you look forward to skiing or snowboarding, you can go to Chestnut Mountain Resort (8700 W Chestnut Mountain Rd).

It features a 7-acre terrain park and 19 ski runs.

For beginners, they also offer skiing and snowboarding lessons.

Once you’ve had your fill of skiing the slopes, book a room at the Chestnut Mountain Resort Inn.

Ski boarder at sunset on snowy mountain

Cross-Country Skiing at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa

For more things to do in Galena, Illinois in winter,  you can head to the Nordic Center at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa (444 Eagle Ridge Dr).

The resort features facilities where you can do ice skating, snowshoeing, sledding, or cross-country skiing- and offer equipment rentals for these activities. 

Picture of snowshoes in winter

Winter Carnival

The best part of Galena’s winter season is the amazing Winter Carnival at Eagle Ridge.

There are arts and crafts activities, bonfires, ice carving, and more to enjoy.

Visitors can also find treats and drinks that are perfect for the season like hot chocolate and S’mores.

Ice Sculpting Contest in Rockford

For even more wintry wonder, make plans to attend the yearly Ice Sculpting Contest (1401 N 2nd St) in Rockford.

Located in the historic Sinnissippi Park, the Ice Sculpting Contest is a favorite event for locals and travelers alike.

For three days every January, the best sculptors from across the state go head-to-head to create the best ice sculpture.

Admission is free, which makes this an awesome winter activity for anyone.

Witness the Amazing Light Show in Elburn

Visiting the free Larsen Light Show (42W891 Beith Rd, Campton Hills) is one of the most festive things to do in Illinois in the winter.

From the end of November to Christmastime, you can stop by as soon as the sun sets and be amazed by a truly spectacular light display.

Be sure to enter by way of Route 38 or Route 64, as no traffic is allowed from the east on Beith Rd!

Wander Around the Morton Arboretum

Despite the bitter cold, winter in Illinois can be a magical time.

The Morton Arboretum (4100 Rte 53, Lisle) is open year-round and affords one of the best snowy walks in northern Illinois.

With 16 miles of trails and tens of thousands of trees, you’ll love strolling around the gardens and collections as the snow falls.

You won’t want to miss the winter event called Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum, so be sure to get tickets now!

Things to Do in Chicago in Winter

Even though Chicago is located in northern Illinois, there are too many things to do in the city that shouldn’t take away from other winter activities in Illinois’s northern region.

You may also like our guide to Chicago at Christmas.

Ice Skate at Maggie Daley Park

For the most magical and romantic ice skating date, head to Maggie Daley Park to skate around the Ice Ribbon (337 E Randolph St).

The Ribbon is open from November to March and can be pretty crowded, especially on the weekends and holidays.

Reservations are required, whether you need to rent skates or not.

Explore the Frozen Lake

Winter in Illinois wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Lake Michigan to check out the frozen shore.

While the lake never completely freezes over, you’ll be able to see ‘ice pancakes’ in the water, and the edge usually freezes solidly.

Only if it’s safe to do so, walk out a little bit onto the lake’s frozen surface and explore!

You might even see the spectacular waves of frozen shards that occur from time to time.

If you’re not into the frosty winter weather, you can visit Chicago in fall and find many things to do.

Downtown Chicago winter view with frozen lake

Shop, Drink, and Eat at the Christkindlmarket

There is almost nothing more festive than Chicago’s own Christkindlmarket (50 W Washington St)!

The yearly market is modeled after the 16th-century holiday market in Nuremberg, Germany.

You’ll love the beautiful gifts, delicious foods, and all the opportunities to make lasting holiday memories with friends and family.

The market truly is one of the best things to do in Illinois in winter.

Go Sledding at Soldier Field

The midwest can be hopelessly flat, which usually makes it tough to find a good sledding hill.

Luckily, Soldier Field (1410 S Museum Campus Dr) built a 220-foot sledding hill as part of their landscaping design.

Pull on your snow pants and a warm coat and sled down one of the biggest hills in the city.

Take a Speakeasy Cocktail Tour

If you’re wondering what to do in Illinois during the winter, you’ll probably find that bar-hopping is the simplest and warmest activity.

This 3-hour speakeasy tour is a luxury experience in Chicago.

Visit the most coveted speakeasies once visited by gangsters and bank robbers, and taste all the best cocktails the city has to offer.

Plus, you’ll hear the incredible Prohibition-era stories that make Chicago so unique.

Chicago Theatre sign and buildings

Things to Do in Central Illinois

If you’re wondering what to do in Illinois during winter, the central part of the state has small towns and mid-sized cities that offer plenty of activities for the season.

Featured below are towns like Springfield, Quincy, and Andalusia.

Head to Starved Rock for Unique Illinois Winter Activities

Starved Rock State Park is one of the best places in Illinois in winter.

If you are a more adventurous winter person, there are tons of opportunities for ice climbing, cross-country skiing, and hiking on miles of trails.

If you’re interested more in winter wildlife, Starved Rock State Park is a hot spot for bald eagles in the winter.

For the best Illinois winter getaway, you should not miss the #1 attraction in the state of Illinois!

Frozen waterfall in St. Louis Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Adventure at Ski Snowstar Winter Sports Park

If you’re planning the perfect Illinois winter vacation, make sure you stop by Ski Snowstar Winter Sports Park (9500 126th St W, Andalusia).

Some of the best winter sports are here, including skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and more.

The lift tickets and season passes are for sale on their website, so be sure to reserve ahead of time before you visit.

Check out the Soderstrom Castle

If you’d like to step back in time and explore the wintry wonder of a castle, including the Soderstrom Castle in your plans for a romantic getaway in Illinois in winter.

The stately towers, beautiful views, and charming atmosphere make the Soderstrom Castle a truly unique place to visit in Illinois in winter.

Visit the Historic Town of Springfield

Springfield is one of the best places to go in Illinois in winter because it’s a place for history buffs.

The hometown of Abraham Lincoln, many of the attractions in the town center around his life.

Even still, places like Custom Cup Coffee (319 E Monroe St) and Obed & Isaacs Microbrewery (625 S Second St) are fun spots to visit when you’re passing through.

Make sure to visit the Dana Thomas House (301 E Lawrence Ave), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, before you leave!

Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield at sunrise.

Visit the Washington Botanical Garden

Located in Springfield, Illinois, the Washington Botanical Garden (1740 W Fayette Ave) is a little oasis in the middle of winter.

The star of the garden is definitely the Conservatory, a 50-foot glass dome that houses more than 150 species of rare and exotic plants.

Enter the Conservatory to feel the warm air, enjoy a bright burst of greenery, and escape the winter’s chill.

Explore the Quaint Town of Quincy

Quincy is actually called “Gem City,” and for good reason.

This small, cozy town is a perfect place to go in winter in Illinois because the downtown area is gorgeous.

There are multiple historic areas of Quincy that you should explore when you visit: the Downtown Quincy Historic District and the South Side German Historic District.

As small as this town may be, you’re still in for a treat if you book a room at the cozy Stoney Creek Inn (3809 E Broadway St), perfect for winter!

Dark wood interiors, an indoor pool, and a sauna are all featured at the inn.

Quincy Memorial Bridge in winter, Quincy,IL.

Southern Illinois Winter Getaway

Southern Illinois, also known as the ‘’Little Egypt’, is home to many historic and cultural sites as well as beautiful sceneries.

And despite the winter weather, this region of the state has plenty of activities to offer that you can enjoy during the season.

Dine at the Oldest Cafe on Route 66

Illinois in the winter can be a brutally cold place.

That’s why you should make sure to get out of the cold and duck into Ariston Cafe for a hot coffee and a hearty sandwich.

Ariston Restaurant (413 Old Rte 66 N, Litchfield) is one of the oldest restaurants on the historic Route 66 highway.

Enjoy a delicious sandwich at this iconic American cafe.

Visit Cedarhurst Center for the Arts

Another great place to see in Illinois in winter is  The Cedarhurst Center for the Arts (2600 Richview Road, Mt Vernon),  a 33,000-acre cultural center that comes with art galleries, a learning center, and a performance hall.

If you go here during the winter, especially in December, you’ll be able to catch The Lights– an annual event featuring around one million holiday lights. 

The whole area transforms into a winter wonderland and you can enjoy lots of family-friendly activities like a holiday movie showing, photos with Santa, art activities, games, and more.

Photograph Mary’s River Covered Bridge

Lots of people prefer covered bridges in the fall, but of all the places to visit in Illinois during winter, covered bridges are some of the best.

Mary’s River Covered Bridge (US Rte 50) is located between Briarhill Rd and Surman Ln.

It was built in 1854 and was key for tolls and agricultural transport.

The covered bridge is a historical site and has a lovely picnic area to rest and set up the perfect photograph!

Hike in Giant City State Park

Winter hiking is some of the best and most serene hiking, especially if you come prepared with enough layers.

One of the best spots to hike in Illinois in winter is at Giant City State Park (235 Giant City Rd, Makanda).

This southern Illinois natural area is a treat to explore in the winter.

Find miles of trails, wildlife sightings, and so much more in this amazing state park.

Have a Tasting at Blue Sky Vineyard

A chill winter’s day is a perfect time to indulge in a glass of local wine.

Blue Sky Vineyard (3150 S Rocky Comfort Rd, Makanda) is a staple of the southern Illinois wine country.

Visit the vineyard, sample some of the best wines in the region, and even take a few bottles home with you as souvenirs!

This winery is a ‘true taste of Tuscany,’ even in the dead of winter.

Final Thoughts

We hope this guide helps you discover what to do in Illinois in winter for your next trip. 

Feel free to share your experience or favorite places in the state in the comments below.

San Diego in December: Festive Activities and Holiday Events

Small House with gift boxes and holiday tree in Spanish Village Art Center, San Diego, California

Try traveling to San Diego in December if you don’t like the chilly winter weather but are seeking a fantastic getaway location during the season.

Throughout the month, San Diego experiences pleasant, sunny weather with temperatures ranging from 49 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

This makes it convenient for exploring the city, where you’ll find many festivals and activities for the holidays.

To help plan your trip, this guide will discuss the festive things you can do in San Diego in December including Christmas-themed events, shows, lights, parades, and more.

Sightseeing tours, winter camping, winter surfing, and whale viewing are also included.

You may also enjoy our guide to California in December.

San Diego also made it to our list of warm places to visit in December in the USA.

Festive Activities and Holiday Events in San Diego in December

Check out all the holiday events and activities lined up during the month- including the Winter Wonderland Festival, San Diego’s Santa Run, and holiday parades.

Winter Wonderland Festival

The annual Winter Wonderland Festival is sponsored by the California Center for the Arts (340 N Escondido Blvd) and is a treat for the entire family to play in real snow and sip on holiday drinks at Santa’s Cafe.

While here, partake in artists-led holiday crafting activities and shop the works of local artists. 

Holidays at Legoland

Experience Holidays at Legoland (One LEGOLAND Dr) which features lots of Christmas-themed and kid-friendly activities.

Kids can take photos with special characters like LEGO Gingerbread man and LEGO Santa.

There’s also a 30-foot LEGO Christmas tree, holiday treats, rides, and live music.

The event starts from November 19 to January 2.

Botanic Garden Lightscape

The Botanic Garden Lightscape (300 Quail Gardens Dr) is a must-see when you visit San Diego in December. 

Bring the entire family and escape into a world of beautiful colors and magical sounds. 

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes as the walking path is one mile around the garden.

Tip: The path is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs.

Santa Run

If you are looking for fun things to do in San Diego in December, participate in the 5K San Deigo Santa Run (875 Garnet Ave(. 

When you run, you will receive Santa Swag which includes a Santa Suit, sunglasses, a custom bib, chip time result, and a complimentary drink ticket (redeemed at Mavericks Beach Club).

Santa Run is stroller friendly and has a dedicated area for dogs (Santa’s helpers).

Encinitas Holiday Parade

Visit Santa Claus in San Diego at the Encinitas Holiday Parade (Coast Highway 101).

This San Diego Christmas event is for all ages and kicks off with a tree lighting ceremony at the Lumberyard shopping center courtyard and moves from D Street to J Street.

Old Town Holiday Lights

Old Town (4010 Twiggs St) in San Diego in winter is unique because the summer crowds are gone, but the authentic rich history of the birthplace of California remains. 

Stroll through the historic Old Town or take a hop-on hop-off trolley tour to experience beautiful holiday lights and decorations.

Holiday lights and Christmas ornaments hanging at Mexican-style houses in Old Town San Diego California

Balboa Park

See San Diego in December and enjoy holiday performances and twinkling lights at Balboa Park December Nights (1549 El Prado). 

You will walk, mingle, and grab some delicious food during the two-night event as you enjoy the lights and other Christmas activities. 

Listen to a free organ concert of your favorite holiday covers at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion by The Spreckels Organ Society organists.

Over 300,000 people attend this free holiday event each year to explore the 1200-acre park full of walking paths, museums, and gardens.

Balboa State Park in San Diego California

La Jolla Christmas Parade

The La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival are part of the San Diego winter events you can look forward to. 

The outdoor fun takes place at Kline & Gerard in downtown La Jolla and includes games, crafts, and food.

Be sure to stop by the recreation center to take a photo with Santa.

Holiday Pet Parade

Enjoy live music and watch The Gaslamp Pet Parade (starting at 401 K St), where the cutest holiday-attired pets compete for prizes and boasting rights at the Pet Expo.

The Pet Parade is free and open to the public and travels up Fifth avenue and ends at the MLK Promenade Park. 

You are encouraged to enter your holiday-dressed pet to walk in the parade, and the first 350 entries will receive complimentary pet-friendly goodie bags. 

Arrive early to score a good spot to see the parade and peruse the pet expo.

Parade of Lights

The San Diego Parade of Lights (1449 Cesar E. Chavez Pkwy) is one of the favorite things to do in San Diego in December for locals and travelers alike. 

Be a part of an honored tradition and watch over 80 boats parade around the bay with their holiday lights.

More than 100,000 residents and visitors each year migrate to San Diego’s shores for this free event that lasts 90 minutes.

Holiday Bowl Parade

The Holiday Bowl Parade (California Street) is at the top of the list of things to do in San Diego during winter.

This annual event is a long tradition where the downtown streets of San Diego come alive with marching bands, floats, and the largest balloon parade in America. 

The festivities begin with a 5K run/walk, and participants who make it to the finish line receive a medal at the end of the event.

The free street-side viewing attracts 100,000 spectators annually.

Christmas in Old Poway Park

Escape back in time while you enjoy live music and caroling and visit Santa in Poway’s Christmas in the Park (14134 Midland Rd). 

The family will love the children’s crafts, model trains, and tasty holiday treats. 

Board the Steam locomotive train and take the loop around the park at night to see the Christmas tree. 

Christmas tree lighting and Santa’s arrival are two highlights when thinking of things to do in San Diego in winter.


Other Things to Do in San Diego in December

In this list, you’ll find more things to do in San Diego, California in December including ice skating, winter camping, holiday bar hopping, and tours.

Visiting San Diego on a budget? Check this guide.

Torrey Pines State Park

Winter hiking in Torrey Pines is a treat in December because with fewer crowds, it may feel like you have the trails all to yourself. 

Hike the Guy Fleming trail for panoramic views and an easy loop.

Take the trail to the beach to see a scenic view that stretches 4.5 miles, where people come to fish, sunbathe, swim, and surf. 

Broken hill in Torrey Pines State Park, San Diego, California

Winter Camping

With waterfront RV camping and a wide range of activities and amenities, no wonder Campland on the Bay (2211 Pacific Beach Dr) is a favorite location for winter camping.

Located only 14 minutes from Downtown San Diego and 21 minutes from Torrey Pines State Park, there’s so much to see and do. 

Tents camping is allowed, so you don’t even need an RV if you are thinking about San Diego winter camping in December.

Liberty Station

You can count on great food and a full calendar of activities in December at Liberty Station (2820 Historic Decatur Rd).

Plenty of activities for the entire family include crafts and woodworking for the kids and several workshops for adults.

Visit some of San Diego’s best restaurants, including sushi, ramen, bakery, and specialty cheeses, which offer seasonal holiday menu items.

This is a foodie’s heaven, and the biggest challenge may be what to choose to eat from so many options. 

The weather is nice in December so enjoy the outdoor seating while you eat.

Explore the Spanish Village Art Center

The Spanish Village Art Center (1770 Village Pl) at Balboa State Park features art exhibits and crafts from local artisans.

You can shop here for gifts like handblown glass ornaments, baskets, jewelry, and more.

This place is also known for its quaint houses and colorful tiles that get vibrant and festive when decked out in holiday-themed ornaments like gift boxes, lights, and trees during the season.

Small House with gift boxes and holiday tree in Spanish Village Art Center, San Diego, California

Old Globe Theatre

If you are visiting San Diego in December, you must bring the children to a viewing of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas at The Old Globe Theatre (1363 Old Globe Way).

The entire family will love seeing Dr. Seuss’ storybook classic come to life on stage as the theater transforms into Whoville.

Matinees present a great time of day to bring the younger watchers, and while here, be sure to explore the rest of the park. 

Visit La Casa de Estudillo

If you want to get a taste of history and experience the feel of San Diego during the 1800s, head to La Casa Estudillo (4001 Mason St. Old Town), one of San Diego’s oldest houses.

This historic home is built in 1827 featuring Spanish architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Note that the place is not open for visits during Christmas and New Year’s eve.

La Casa de Estudillo in Old Town San Diego, California

Nason’s Beer Hall 

During the season, Nason’s Beer Hall (570 J Street) is decked out in Christmas decor and holiday lights.

They serve draft and bottled beers, cocktails, as well as food for brunch and dinner.

And one great thing about this place is they have food menu items for your dogs, should you bring them.

Polite Provisions

Polite Provisions (4696 30th St) transforms into a Christmas-themed pop-up bar and features festive decorations and lights.

You can go to this retro-style bar and get some of their seasonally-themed drinks- like the Snow Ball Old Fashion which is a mix of things like butterscotch rye, spiced Demerara, wormwood bitters, and Orange Zest.

Winter Surfing

Colder water, giant waves, and smaller crowds are what you can expect if you are looking for San Diego winter surfing. 

Because there are fewer people, the waters become your playground to surf in San Diego in December, particularly at La Jolla and Encinitas. 

The consistent waves stay soft and mellow and are favorable for beginners.

For advanced surfers looking for more of a challenge, head to La Jolla (Black Beach), Oceanside, and Grandview for bigger swells and incredible waves. 

View of the ocean and buff covered in greens at Beacon's Beach, San Diego, California

Whale Watching

San Diego in the winter means the migration of gray whales from Alaska to Mexico.

Take a 90-minute seal tour and watch 20,000 whales migrate to warmer waters.

Whale watching is a fantastic experience that you can witness starting mid-December.

Relax and encounter some of the best views of San Diego by land and water. 

A Day Trip to Julian

San Diego winter activities should include taking a day trip to Julian to enjoy a warm cup of apple cider and a slice of apple pie on a Saturday in December. 

This small mountain town with its apple orchards is just over an hour’s drive northeast of San Diego, where you can explore charming neighborhoods and enjoy wandering Christmas carolers. 

Julian is one of San Diego’s scenic treasures, with hiking trails, winter camping, and rich California history. 

Ice Skating by the Sea

On the beautiful Island of Coronado, Ice skating in San Diego in the winter has become another tradition that starts in late November and continues through December at Hotel Del Coronado (1500 Orange Ave). 

Watch incredible views of the Pacific Ocean while you skate.

Reserve your spot rink-side as you warm up around the roaring fire pit, and order your favorite holiday drink and snacks.

Final Thoughts

Did you enjoy our list of activities and events in San Francisco in December? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Aside from San Diego, you may also want to explore more places in California like the ones in the guide below.

San Francisco in December: Festive Activities and Holiday Events

Night view of a giant Christmas tree in San Francisco, California

The holiday season is in full swing, and there’s an air of excitement and celebration in San Francisco in December.

If you’re planning to visit, this guide will explore all the festive things to do in San Francisco during the month including Christmas-themed events, shows, lights, parades, and more.

Also on this list are some of the city’s great restaurants and bars that are worth visiting for their special holiday features and seasonal menus.

Looking to visit more places in San Francisco? Read this 3 days itinerary and California in December.

Holiday Events and Festive Activities in San Francisco in December

Check out all the holiday events and activities lined up during the month, from tree lighting and window displays to Christmas Carol and Winterfest.

Fisherman’s Wharf Holiday Boat Parade

Starting at Pier 39, the largest parade of boats (75-100) on San Francisco Bay happens in December. 

A tradition since 1994, the waterfront transforms into a dazzling sight at the oldest, largest, and brightest holiday decoration parade.

After the parade, Jefferson Street, at the Sportfishing Harbor, is the place to be as the lights continue to be spectacular and prominent.

Santa in San Francisco

December is a busy month for Santa as he makes several appearances around San Francisco. 

Another place to be sure to see Santa is at Ghirardelli Square, where he is ready to meet and greet and is photo-ready.

While at Ghirardelli Square, grab some of the most famous chocolate around as you take in the sights, including charming repurposed restaurants and shops.


San Francisco’s Nutcracker

A holiday tradition since 1944, The San Francisco Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker is one of the most anticipated events in December. 

All performances are at the War Memorial Opera House (201 Van Ness Avenue), and the young and young at heart attend.

A Christmas Carol

San Francisco at Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a least one viewing of Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol at the American Conservatory Geary Theater (415 Geary Street​​).

One of the Bay Area’s favorite holiday performances includes a live cast and music you don’t want to miss. 

Christmas Tree Viewing 

The Bank of America Tower (55 California Street) is the most recognized tower on the West Coast, and its tree lighting ceremony draws a large crowd in San Francisco in December for the dazzling lights and the singers who perform.  

Holiday Music and Christmas Tree at Pier 39

See the Christmas tree at Pier 39 lit up from late November to early January, decorated with special lights and ornaments.

There will be holiday music and if you want to explore the area, shopping and dining spots are also available.

Civic Center Plaza Annual Tree Lighting Event

See San Francisco’s City Hall lit up in beautiful holiday lights along with its big Christmas tree.

And on the first week of December, you can attend the annual Civic Center Plaza Tree Lighting just across the City Hall, which also features a magnificent Christmas tree and a beautiful light display.

It’s an event the whole family can enjoy as it includes a Christmas parade, a theater performance, and a toy giveaway for children.

San Francisco City Hall lit up for Christmas

Christmas Tree Lighting in Union Square

Macy’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting in Union Square is a big deal and kicks off in November and stays lit until the New Year.

The event is also ideal for Christmas shopping in the area since many sales are geared toward the event.

Union Square also features in our guide to date nights in San Francisco.

Night view of a giant Christmas tree in San Francisco, California

Macy’s Holiday Window Display

If you are wondering what to do in San Francisco in winter for the day, go see the Macy’s Holiday window display.

Since 1870, Macy’s has enchanted generations of spectators with its spectacular window displays for the Christmas holiday. 

While you are here, say hello to Santa, as he is always available for photo opportunities in Santaland.

Winterfest at Great America

Winterfest will amaze the entire family, home of one of the winter’s most significant festivals in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

With over seven million lights, giant toy soldiers, and rides for all ages, Winterfest at Great America is one of the best things to do in San Francisco in winter.

More Things to Do in San Francisco in December

This list features more activities you can do in San Francisco in December including guided tours, sightseeing spots, live music, shopping, and more.

For more things to do in San Francisco at any time of the year, visit this guide.

Muir Woods Half-Day Trip

Take a guided tour of the giant redwood trees and Muir Woods National Monument. 

The tour is 4 to 5 hours, and pick up from San Francisco is included. 

Extend your day, rent a bike to explore Sausalito, and return by ferry.

Presidio of San Francisco

Wear comfortable shoes, pack your lunch, and spend a perfect December day at Presidio—once an old army base and now a national park.

With 24-plus miles of hiking trails (one goes to the Golden Gate Bridge) and at least eight scenic park overlooks, Presidio offers a lot of history in their detailed guided and self-guided tour.

San Francisco Bus Tour

One of the best ways to see San Francisco in the winter is from the top deck of a big bus.

Take a hop-on hop-off bus tour and experience San Francisco at your own pace.

You can choose a 24 or 48-hour ticket, and there are several hidden gems on this tour, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco - red bridge over water on blue sky day

Free Days at the Museum

San Francisco’s things to do in December do not have to cost a lot or anything at all when you consider the museums offer free days to see their temporary or permanent collections. 

Consider visiting one each week as the free day varies per museum. 

For instance, The Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin St) has over 18,000 artifacts in their collection of at least 2000 you can see up close.

Take the Cable Car

San Francisco in December is unique and familiar through a cable car ride. 

You have two options; The Powell Hyde line is the most popular and a bit of a 

tourist attraction year-round.

The second, less crowded option but still a fantastic way to experience San Francisco is the California Street Cable Car at Van Ness.

Trolly riding in San Francisco c

Concerts and Live Music 

In December, winter activities in San Francisco include concerts and live music venues 

for music lovers.

The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the Fillmore, and the Hill Masonic Center are just three venues to see top performances in or around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Shopping and Sightseeing

Getting in the holiday spirit in San Francisco in December is a good idea for bargain hunters doing their Christmas shopping. 

Union Square is the heart of luxury shopping with the outdoor shopping mall, but each district has its array of shops to explore.

Haight Ashbury area shopping is excellent if you want something vintage and unique.

Pacific Heights has something for everyone: high-end fashion and showrooms, art galleries, and toy stores.

The Castro District

With all the things to see, do and eat, you can always expect an exciting and enjoyable time in the Castro District, one of San Francisco’s historic areas. 

Tour the welcoming LGBTQ+ community on foot as walking tours are readily available or on two wheels and see something unique at every turn. 

Legs with fishnets and red shoes sign in San Francisco Castro District

Sports Fans Delight

For Golden State Warrior sports fans, San Francisco winter activities must include seeing their favorite team as they grace the court in December at the Chase Center (1 Warriors Way) in San Francisco. 

Experience the purple and yellow fan rave during one of the most exciting times of the season.

Things to Do in San Francisco in Winter at Night

Ready for some nightlife fun in San Francisco? December’s cool weather is a great time to check out the city’s bars and night tours. 

You may also like our guide to San Francisco at night.

Brewster’s Miracle Pop-Up Bar

Just an hour’s drive from San Francisco, head to Brewsters Beer Garden (229 Water St, Petaluma) in December for its Miracle Christmas pop-up bar that runs until early January.

The place gets decorated with mini Santa Clause, lights, gift boxes, and tinsels hanging by the ceiling and walls.

There are also holiday-themed drinks served like their Grinch’s Grog, a mix of rum, peppermint, and hot chocolate.

Cobb’s Comedy Club

Cobb’s Comedy Club (915 Columbus Ave) seats 400 and offers a flavor of old San Francisco and the city’s changing dynamic nightlife.

Celebrity comedians like Dave Chappelle, Russell Peters, Angela Johnson, and more have graced the club’s comedy mic.

For updated performers in December, be sure to check their events calendar.

Tinsel Time at Trade Routes 

From December through January, Trade Routes (1750 Polk St) hosts its annual Tinsel Time holiday pop-up.

The bar interior gets decked out in Christmas decor and lights along with some festive music.

They also serve a seasonal menu of delicious holiday cocktails and punch bowls.

Alcatraz Afterdark

Alcatraz is an entirely different experience at nightfall, and what better way to experience it than taking a tour?

This tour also provides access to captivating audio narrated by former guards and inmates.

Note that during the winter months, Alcatraz City Cruises only runs one tour a night to the island and is closed during Christmas.

Alcatraz on island San Francisco

Sippin’ Santa at Kona’s 

Want to spend your December night sipping some festive cocktails?

Head to Kona’s Street Market (32 3rd Street) for their annual pop-up, Sippin’ Santa.

The place gets decorated with holiday lights, trees, and tinsels for that Christmas vibe.

21st Amendment Brewery

If you are looking for good pub food, craft beer, and a great way to spend a casual San Francisco night with friends, then head over to 21st Amendment (563 2nd Street)

A combination of brewery and restaurant with several varieties of beers to sample.

Non-alcoholic beverages and veggie food choices are also available for non-drinking vegetarians.

Open seating for easy conversation, games, and lots of parking.

Tip: Order the sampler and be delighted with the many selections of seasonal winter beer. 

Alchemist Bar & Lounge

The Alchemist Bar and Lounge (​​679 3rd St) is a great place to have a night out as they serve food and drinks until midnight.

If you head here in December, you’ll see the place come alive with all the holiday lights that decorate the place.

Deck the Halls Bar

Deck the Halls Bar (546 Broadway) is a holiday pop-up bar that is open until Christmas Day.

There will be holiday lights, trees, as well as drinks served for the season.

One of the most famous is their Krampus shots, which is a mixture of stout, egg, sherry, rum, agave, and fire.

Non-alcoholic drinks like ciders are also served.

Rickshaw Stop

Rickshaw Stop (155 Fell St) is a popular spot for live music, dancing, and legit drinks.

If you are looking for an intimate dive feel to enjoy with close friends, Rickshaw is a great outlet to go at night in San Francisco.

You can find performances scheduled for the month of December on their website’s calendar.

The Chapel

The Chapel (777 Valencia St) is a church turned music venue that features live jazz with a soulful folk sound. 

You can check the venue’s calendar to see performances scheduled in December.

Tip: Sit 30 feet from the front for the best acoustic sound.

San Francisco Weather

The San Francisco winters are crisp but cozy enough to explore the beautiful city on foot or bike. 

Temps can drop in the 40s in the evening and go as high as 60 degrees mid-day.

Comfortable shoes and warm layering clothing are ideal for visiting San Francisco in the winter.

The city may also experience a bit of rain in December and in case it happens, check out things you can do in San Francisco on a rainy day.

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoy our list of activities and events in San Francisco in December.

Which one is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Winter in Montana: Fun Winter Activities & Snow Destinations

Scenic view of lake and snow with an sitting on a bench at Glacier National Park in winter

Winter in Montana is an experience you should have at least once. 

The state is absolutely breathtaking when blanketed in snow, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy no matter what your interests are. 

Montana is home to some of the best skiing in the country, and whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, there’s a slope that’s perfect for you.

If you’re not into hitting the slopes, you can always go for a scenic hike or build a snowman with the kids.

To help plan your trip, this guide listed down places to visit and activities you can do during winter in the state.

If you scheduled your trip earlier and are looking for things to do in Montana in November, read this guide.

Northwest Montana in Winter

Let’s start in the northwest of Montana, where the temps are freezing and the powder is fresh.

This region is a playground for outdoors enthusiasts hoping to ski, board, or even bike!

Things to Do in Whitefish, MT in Winter

Whitefish, Montana in winter is a great place to enjoy the snow and the cold.

There are many ways to stay busy here, from skiing and snowboarding to ice fishing and fat biking.

Plus, if you want to get the most out of your trip, you can spend a full day of activities in one of Montana’s winter resorts located in the area.

Ski at Whitefish Mountain Resort

If you’re looking to ski, snowboard, or snowshoe in Whitefish Montana, then the Whitefish Mountain Resort (1015 Glades Dr) is a must-visit.

Located in Big Mountain in northwest Montana, the resort gets more than 200 inches of snow during winter making it an ideal location for winter activities.

The resort also offers lift rides and ski lessons, as well as equipment rentals.

Ski boarder at sunset on snowy mountain

Go for a Bike Ride through the Snow

Winter fat biking is a popular pastime in Montana in the winter.

Guests can visit Whitefish Bike Retreat (​855 Beaver Lake Road, Whitefish) to rent a winter bike with fat tires and explore the snow-covered Whitefish trails.

The Whitefish Bike Retreat also offers lodging, guides, and everything you need to take a bike ride through the snow.

Take an Ice Fishing Lesson on Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake Charters (14980 MT Hwy 35, Bigfork) offers guided ice fishing lessons on Flathead Lake.

A guide will take your group out to the lake, show you how to drill a hole, and provide all the equipment you need for ice fishing.

It’s a great way to enjoy the winter weather while trying something new.

Winter Activities in Western Montana

Western Montana during winter is worth the visit because the landscape is absolutely stunning- blanketed in a layer of snow, the mountains and forests take on a whole new level of beauty. 

And there are few better ways to experience this than by strapping on a pair of skis or a snowboard and hitting the slopes. 

Below are more of the winter-worthy activities you can find in the region.

Experience Glacier National Park, Montana in Winter

One of the best places to visit in Montana during the winter is Glacier National Park.

You can simply enjoy the breathtaking views of the snow-covered peaks and valleys in the area.

The park also offers tons of natural trails that are perfect for cross-country skiing, but none are as majestic as Going-To-The-Sun Road.

Going-To-The-Sun Road is over 12 miles of great views of the glaciers, lakes, and wildlife that make up the park.

It can be difficult to do the whole road in one go, so it is suggested that you take on small parts of the road at a time, especially during the avalanche season.

Glacier National Park is also featured in our list of national parks for backpacking

Scenic view of lake and snow with an sitting on a bench at Glacier National Park in winter

See the Frozen Waterfall at Kootenai Falls

Kootenai Falls (Libby) is located in the Northwest corner of the state and is, at times, the coldest place in Montana.

Below freezing temperatures cause the river and the connected Kootenai Falls to freeze into a beautiful ice structure that shimmers in the sunlight.

Camp in a Yurt in the Swan Mountains

Yurtski offers unique camping options for Montana winter getaways in the Swan Mountains.

The yurts are canvas-sided tents with a wood-burning stove and all of the furnishings you need for a relaxing winter vacation.

They are positioned in the mountains and can be used as base camps for all kinds of skiing adventures both downhill and cross-country. 

Enjoy your Montana Winter Vacation in a Private Lodge

Downing Mountain Lodge (1017 Grubstake Road, Hamilton) offers beautiful wood cabin lodging in Western Montana.

You can choose a room at the main lodge or a private cabin that is all your own.

All lodging offers access to cozy fireplaces and access to the beautiful natural area surrounding the lodging, perfect for a hike, ski, or snowshoe through the snow.

West Yellowstone Snowmobile Packages 

Looking for things to do in west Yellowstone in winter? 

Take the Yellowstone Vacation Tours which offers a snowmobile tour of Yellowstone throughout the season in Montana.

A guide will provide you and your group with fully equipped snowmobiles and lead you through trails in Yellowstone National Park.

See the natural beauty of the park off the beaten path and enjoy the excitement of riding a snowmobile through the freshly fallen powder.

Snow Coach Tour in Yellowstone National Park

If you’re looking for west Yellowstone winter activities and snowmobiles don’t tickle your fancy, try a snow coach tour.

Snow coaches are giant raised vans equipped with snow treads so you can travel through the parts of the park that are closed to other guests.

The snow coach is heated and comfortable and features an experienced driver and tour guide to show you the side of Yellowstone you’ve never seen before.

You may also like our guide to the best national parks to visit in October which features Montana for the Yellowstone National Park.

Norris Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park in winter

Southwest Montana in Winter

In this section, we’ll cover activities and destinations in and around Bozeman, one of the most famous cities in Southwest Montana.

Things to do in Bozeman, MT in Winter

Bozeman is one of the places to visit in Montana in winter, especially if you want to go ice skating or snowshoeing or just relax in a hot spring.

Go for a Skate at the Outdoor Rink at Bogert Park

Bogert Park (S Church Ave & Bogert Pl, Bozeman) is a fantastic place to go in Montana in the winter.

The park hosts an outdoor rink every year for ice skaters of all ages to enjoy.

Guests are welcome to use the rink, which is covered from the elements, fenced in, and is free of charge.

Bring a thermal-fueled picnic for a perfect winter afternoon at one of Bozeman’s best parks.

Escape the Winter Weather at the Museum of the Rockies

The Museum of the Rockies (600 W Kagy Blvd, Bozeman) is the state’s best museum and a great place to see all of the natural histories of Montana while escaping the cold.

The museum features a dinosaur exhibit with a world-class collection of bones and full skeletons.

One of the best things about the museum is its commitment to featuring native art and histories both as permanent exhibits and special collections.

Warm Up in the Bozeman Hot Springs

Escape the cold winter air with a dip in the Bozeman Hot Springs (81123 Gallatin Road


The hot springs have been used to heat the local bathhouse since the late 1800s and now there are 12 different pools to choose from.

Pools are all clothed and some are separated by age group for a more relaxing setting despite the icy temperatures of winter in Montana.

Go Snowshoeing Around Hyalite Canyon

Hyalite Canyon recreation area (Hyalite Canyon Road, Bozeman) has a handful of trails that are open for snowshoers in the winter.

You can rent snowshoes on site and choose the trail that is the right difficulty level for you.

Explore the trails, walk over frozen lakes, and enjoy the calming silence of a hike through the snow.

Picture of snowshoes in winter

Take an Ice Climbing Class to Explore the Frozen Frontier

Montana Alpine Guides (13 Enterprise Blvd) offers ice climbing courses for every level of climber.

The course provides everything you need to get climbing along with the expert guidance of an experienced instructor.

A variety of courses offered by Montana Alpine Guides allow you to climb key ice structures in and around Bozeman.

Big Sky, Montana

Big Sky is a mountain resort that’s just an hour-long drive through the Gallatin National Forest south of Bozeman.

The place features around 5850 acres of terrain for skiing.

Other Big Sky winter activities include snowmobiling, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and chairlift rides.

The ski resort is America’s largest and one of the places to see in Montana in winter.

Big Sky Mountain Village ski resort in dusk with the view of Lone Mountain covered in snow

South-Central Montana in Winter

The final region which offers dreamy Montana winter adventures in the south-central area.

This includes Billings.

Winter Activities In and Around Billings

There’s no shortage of fun activities to enjoy in Billings, Montana in winter.

Whether you want to sled, ski, or simply walk around in one of the city’s sites to enjoy the weather, this list will explore all the wintry things you can do.

Enjoy the Winter Brews on the Billings Brew Trail

The Billings Brew Trail is the only walkable brewery trail in Montana.

As you walk the trail, you will pass nine breweries including Angry Hanks (20 N 30th St., Billings) and Uberbrew (2305 Montana Ave.).

Most of these breweries offer food and seasonal beers that will warm you up during the cold Montana winter.

Go Sledding at Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park (301 Parkhill Dr, Billings) is a great place to go sledding in Billings.

The hills at Pioneer Park are steep enough for an exciting time, but not too steep that the entire family cannot enjoy them.

At 32 acres, the park features public-use bathrooms and shelters so you can enjoy an entire day sledding.

Custer Gallatin National Forest to Get Your Own Christmas Tree

The Custer Gallatin National Forest (Nye) is one of the only public lands where you can cut down your own Christmas tree.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you can purchase a $5 permit to cut your tree from the national forest.

The experience of walking around the forest and finding the perfect tree is straight out of a fairytale. 

Go Skiing at Red Lodge Mountain

Located just over an hour outside of Billings, Red Lodge Mountain (305 Ski Run Rd, Red Lodge) is a ski resort with everything you need for the full downhill skiing experience.

The hill has multiple runs of all difficulty levels spread all around the mountain so there is something for everyone.

Warm up around the fire of the lodge or spend the night in your private cabin. 

Winter Festivals in Montana

For more things to do in Montana during the winter, be sure to check out some of its winter festivals and events.

Whitefish Winter Carnival

Looking for things to do in Montana in February?

Held during the first weekend of the month, the Whitefish Winter Carnival is the biggest winter celebration in Montana.

Join in this fun event which features a parade, a penguin plunge, and even a snow sculpting contest.

It’s a free event that’s open to the public and can be enjoyed by the whole family.


SnoFlinga is an annual winter festival in Butte held around the last week of January and features dozens of ways to get out and enjoy Montana in the winter.

From a winter 5K to a bike race to an art fair, SnoFlinga has something for everyone.

SnoFlinga features everything that makes winter great from sports to music to food, it is one of the most activity-packed festivals in Montana.

Kids N Snow in West Yellowstone

Kids N Snow is a family-friendly event held in West Yellowstone on selected weekends during winter.

Families can enjoy activities and programs like ice skating, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing.

The event is held in a safe environment so little kids can join in the fun too.

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed all the things to do in Montana in winter listed in this guide.

And if you have a favorite winter destination in Montana, don’t forget to share them in the comments.