Play Outside This Winter at These Festivals and Carnivals

Snow sculptures, a giant snow slide, a 70-foot-tall ice palace, a hoedown—join the party at 5 festivals celebrating all things winter.

Mother and daughter holding sparklers at a winter event

by NEA Member Benefits


Warm up to winter and fend off cabin fever at exciting winter festivals and carnivals in Philadelphia; St. Paul; Nashville; Saranac Lake, New York; and Florence, Oregon, as these destinations morph into winter wonderlands every year and make great low-cost getaways.

Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest in Philadelphia (Nov. 21, 2019–Feb. 29, 2020)

RiverRink Winterfest
Photo courtesy of Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (Matt Stanley)

If your winter dream conjures up cozy fireside settings, you’re in luck. Philadelphia’s colorfully lit Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest sets up camp November 21, 2019 through February 29, 2020 around an ice-skating rink on the Delaware River waterfront. Warm up and sip hot chocolate in mini-chalets, gather around outdoor firepits and toast s’mores, or grab a rocking chair and feast on hearty winter fare on a wraparound cabin porch, warmed by blankets and heat lamps. If you’d like to hone your ice-skating skills, lessons are offered daily, and a kids lounge has arcade games to keep the brood busy. Live music and movie nights ramp up the holiday fun. (Ice-skating admission: $4; skate rental: $10)

Plan your trip: Visit Philadelphia | Pennsylvania Tourism
Driving distances: 40 minutes from Wilmington, Delaware | 1 hour 30 minutes from Newark and Jersey City, New Jersey | 2 hours from New York City and Baltimore, Maryland | 2 hours 30 minutes from Washington, D.C. | 3 hours 30 minutes from Hartford, Connecticut
Where to stay: Red Roof Plus+ Philadelphia Airport | Alexander Inn | Holiday Inn Express Philadelphia Penns Landing

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival in Saranac, New York (Jan 31-Feb. 9, 2020)

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival in Saranac, New York
Photo courtesy of David Lippitt/Mark Kurtz Photography

Does winter cabin fever ever give you the urge to throw heavy things? (Or, watch someone else do so?) You can channel that urge competitively and safely at New York’s Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. What began in 1897 in the Adirondacks as a one-day winter carnival is now a 10-day festival, with highlights including a ladies’ frying pan toss. Marvel at the festival’s showpiece, a dazzling ice palace, or watch hardy athletes engage in sports, such as curling, snow volleyball and snowshoe softball. Take a deep dive into the carnival’s two parades, plays and concerts, and enjoy the fireworks and keep the carbs coming at the chocolate festival and bake sale. (Some events have fees, which vary; there is no charge to visit the ice palace.)

Plan your trip: Saranac Lake Area-Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism | New York State Tourism
Driving distances: 1 hour 30 minutes from Burlington, Vermont | 3 hours from Albany, New York | 4 hours from Concord, New Hampshire | 5  hours from Boston, Massachusetts | 5 hours 15 minutes from Rochester, New York
Where to stay: Best Western Saranac Lake | Lake House, Lake Placid | High Peaks Resort Lake Placid

St. Paul Winter Carnival in St. Paul, Minnesota (Jan. 23–Feb. 2, 2020)

St. Paul Winter Carnival in St. Paul, Minnesota
Photo courtesy of Christine Wischt/Saint Paul Winter Carnival

Do you like ice palaces, snow sculptures and feline fun? Then make Minnesota’s St. Paul Winter Carnival your winter destination! For 10 days, enjoy the carnival’s winter wonderland of ice and snow sculptures, a giant snow slide, and a 70-foot-tall ice palace. Choose from three parades, cheer or run the half-marathon, and join robot-lovers at the autonomous snowplow competition. Or, prowl around indoors at the Saintly City Cat Show, held over a weekend during the carnival. (Most winter carnival events are free. Saintly City Cat Show admission: $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and children.)

Plan your trip: St. Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau | Minnesota Tourism

Driving distances: 20 minutes from Minneapolis | 1 hour 30 minutes from Rochester, Minnesota | 3 hours 40 minutes hours from Des Moines, Iowa | 4 hours from Madison, Wisconsin, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Where to stay: LivINN Hotel St. Paul | Best Western Plus Como Park Hotel | Holiday Inn St. Paul Hotel Downtown

Winter Music Festival in Florence, Oregon (January 24–26, 2020)

If you’re looking for a West Coast winter wonderland, the charming coastal town of Florence, Oregon, hosts its annual three-day Winter Music Festival in January. Complete with bands and jam sessions, local and international artists perform music ranging from folk rock, folk and country to bluegrass and gospel. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to play an instrument, bring it to workshops hosted by musicians Janet Wellington, Annie Savage, Jim Hurst and the True North Duo. Afterward, fuel up at the pie sale and then scout the artisan fair for unique, locally made finds such as wood art, hand-woven and tie-dye clothing, organic herbal products, art and handmade jewelry. (Tickets for performances start at $24. Workshops cost $20; free for main stage show ticketholders.)

Plan your trip: Florence Tourism | Oregon Tourism Commission
Driving distances: 1 hour 30 minutes from Eugene, Oregon | 2 hours from Corvallis, Oregon | 2 hours 30 minutes from Salem, Oregon | 3 hours from Portland, Oregon | 3 hours 30 minutes from Medford, Oregon
Where to stay: The Lighthouse Inn | Quality Inn | Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center

GLOW Holiday in Nashville, Tennessee (Nov. 22–Dec. 31, 2019)

Brought to us from the people behind Rock the Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival comes the newest event to brighten up the cold Christmas season in Music City: GLOW Holiday. Held at First Tennessee Park, home of the popular Nashville Sounds festival, this new event will feature “the tallest Christmas tree in the South” at more than 100 feet! There will also be hundreds of huge sculptures decked in more than 4 million lights. You'll can peek inside Santa’s workshop, get your picture taken with him and listen to stories told by Mrs. Clause. Or, go ice skating around a three-story frozen fortress. Complete last-minute shopping at the Winterfest Market, which will showcase more than 25 local craft vendors. (General admission is $24, $16 for children 3–12 and $22 for seniors 65+; save a few bucks with a Family Pack ticket for two adults and two kids at $72. Ice skating and a tube park priced separately.)

Plan your trip: Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation | Tennessee Department of Tourism

Driving distances: 2 hours from Huntsville, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee | 3 hours from Louisville, Kentucky; Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee | 4 hours from Tupelo, Mississippi
Where to stay: Red Roof Plus+ Nashville Airport | Comfort Inn Downtown Nashville-Vanderbilt | Quality Inn

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