Baby, It's Cold Outside: Your Southern Guide to Winter Fun
Summer travel is so popular, we forget that winter is indeed a great time to hit the road! Discover for yourself the many events, activities, and destinations of the South that are perfect for a wintertime excursion.
After the holidays, winter seems to overstay his welcome, and it feels like this cold presence just never goes away. Our natural response is to hunker down in our homes and sip hot tea until spring arrives, but that is no fun! The South offers interesting things to do no matter the season. Get moving and take this opportunity to scope out some cool destinations.
Bluegrass in Winter
Kentucky is the South’s most northern state, and although it regularly gets snow in the winter, it still offers some unique sites that are great for exploring during the winter months. No one can deny that visiting a distillery is an acceptable activity any time of year, buy perfect for winter months. Distilling in Kentucky is as old as religion and you can experience a sample of that heritage at Corsair Distillery in downtown Bowling Green. Part of the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, this independent micro distillery specializes in handcrafted batches of spirits and whiskey. A more family-friendly option in Bowling Green would be to head to the 80,000 sq. ft. Kentucky Museum, that is dedicated to the history, art, and culture of Kentucky’s past and present. Don’t miss the sweet history of Duncan Hines, the cake-mix king.
In nearby Louisville, one could see the giant baseball bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, and take the tour. There is the legendary Louisville Zoo, and the Speed Art Museum with the oldest, largest, and foremost museum of art in Kentucky. Discover the city’s best kept secret in Louisville Mega Cavern which is an old cavern that is now used like a building; one of the largest “buildings” in the state of Kentucky! 100 feet underground you can go on a two-hour zip line tour, challenge yourself on the aerial ropes course, take the Historic Tram Tour, or test your bike at the Bike Park with 45 trails, jump lines, slaloms, and more; you can even take a relaxing 1.5 hour electric bike tour if doing bike flips is not your thing.
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It is no secret: it rarely snows in the South. That does not mean you can’t find snow here; you just need to know where to look. North Carolina ski resorts are the perfect place to experience the fun of snow skiing or snowboarding. Resorts like Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain, Appalachian, Cataloochee (better known as Maggie Valley N.C.), Sapphire Valley N.C., and Wolf Ridge, utilize snow-making machines, so even if there isn’t any of the white stuff at home, there is bound to be skiing in North Carolina. Beech Mountain Ski Resort has the highest elevation of any North Carolina resort with 16 trails and 95 skiable acres. It also boasts the only high-speed quad lift to get skiers up the mountain fast. When Mother Nature does not provide the snow, Beech Mountain Resort will make it.
It is always a snow day at Snow Mountain just outside of Atlanta. This winter wonderland just minutes from the big city has snow tubing runs for individuals, as well as a family run. There is a place to throw snowballs, build snowmen, and even roast s’mores. LanierWorld, off the coast of Georgia, is a waterpark in summer and is then transformed into a winter wonderland. The water slides change into the perfect surface for sleds, and there is snow tubing in the wave pool. There is even a section for building snowmen and maybe even packing a few snowballs. Ober Gatlinburg is Tennessee’s best-known ski resort, and has the Ski Mountain Coaster, ice-skating, and snow tubing. A special snow zone called Cubbies is for little ones to enjoy the fun without being run over by the big kids.
Point your skis to Alabama to find snow. About an hour and a half from Birmingham is a small town called Mentone. The elevation of the mountain is 1,800 feet, so it can be a bit colder there than down in the valley. Cloudmont Ski Resort does not wait for Mother Nature - the resort has advanced snowmaking equipment. As long as the temperature gets below 28, there is snow for skiing or just playing around.
“Snowbird” is a term for a person who migrates from the northern states during winter and heads south for warmer temperatures. Each year, Alabama's Gulf Coast plays host to these winter visitors. Snowbirds stay busy with a variety of activities like fishing tournaments, day trips, golfing and soaking in the sun of the Gulf of Mexico. Lazy days on the Gulf have their appeal, but there are also plenty of attractions - it is up to you. The winter months offer all types of entertainment from symphonies to theater, jazz to Dixieland, you name it. Festivals, parades, and art exhibits are aplenty to help you decide how to spend your time while visiting beautiful Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. February 18th, Orange Beach will put on their 26th Annual Seafood Festival; enjoy shrimp, seafood gumbo, crab cakes, lobster rolls, oysters, crab bisque and so much more. In between stuffing yourself with shrimp, check out their car show, and nearly 100 vendors of arts and crafts.
Should you opt to head even further south, you can spend some time in the Keys. Key West, Florida is a great idea in winter. Summer can be too hot to enjoy, and sometimes you just cannot take the time off from work, so a beach vacation in winter not only saves you money, but thins out the crowds too. The Mile 0 Fest is a new music festival that takes place in winter at the Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater. Enjoy a sunset cruise, and just think how envious your coworkers will be! The Fury Water Adventures Commotion on the Ocean includes live music on deck, so you can dance the night away as you chase down the world famous Key West sunsets.
Yes, we are done with Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there are occasions to celebrate throughout the year. There is Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 21, Valentine’s Day on February 14, and President’s Day on February 18. Virginians take pride in their presidents. Eight future leaders of the United States were born in the Old Dominion — more than any other state — although some formed a much stronger bond than others did. All eight of the presidents have at least one still-standing Virginia home with which they are closely associated. Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, is a marvel in every way. From the landscaping and gardens to the architecture of the buildings, Monticello is one of the most visited places in Virginia, and you will enjoy touring it anytime of the year. Mount Vernon overlooks the Potomac River and offers breathtaking views. Actors in period costume roaming the grounds highlight George Washington’s 21-room mansion. Montpelier was the estate of the Father of the Constitution, James Madison. Recently undergoing a massive restoration, visitors can walk through the large Georgian-style mansion and explore the trails through James Madison’s Landmark Forest, a large parcel of woods that has gone largely undisturbed since 1790.
There is no doubt that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left a profound influence over everything in the South. His dedication to speaking out against injustice, inequality, poverty, and war left a resonance across the world. Museums and other cultural institutions plan special programming to mark this day. Most notably, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is built around the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. A visit to the museum, which contains two separate museums across the street from one another, is life changing. Down in Montgomery, Alabama, the newly erected Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice is another way to explore America’s history and a somber reminder of a past we should never forget. New Orleans, Atlanta and most cities and even small towns will host parades to commemorate the day. It is a perfect way to experience local culture.
Oh, the “day of love” that you either hate or love — Valentine’s Day. Either way, the day arrives every February 14th. So why not treat yourself, a friend, or a loved one to a great day? The oldest city in Georgia, Savannah, is quite the idyllic place and should you not be in love, you will fall for its wide streets, sheltered by ancient oaks dripping sultry moss. Stay in a historic bed and breakfast and take a carriage ride with the Madison Tour Company through the streets at dusk. The Old Town Trolley Tours are another great way to see the city. Knowledgeable tour guides will allow you to hop off and take your time at any of the 15 stops around the city.
Embrace these cold months with the attitude that you can do just about anything you set your heart on. Fun in the snow, historic sites, cultural museums and so much more are at your fingertips. So bundle up and prepare for a warm welcome to the South.
More Winter Attractions
Enjoy a bounty of experiences in the Blue Ridge town of Hendersonville, North Carolina. Main Street is vibrant and pedestrian- friendly with shopping, attractions, breweries and two dozen independently owned restaurants. Visit the Appalachian Pinball Museum and Team ECCO Aquarium & Shark Lab, or stroll the Art Gallery Trail. See one of North Carolina’s best views from Jump Off Rock, enjoy a show at Flat Rock Playhouse and visit a mountaintop winery on the Cheers! Trail.
Apalachicola Bay, FL
In the Florida Panhandle you’ll find the idyllic Apalachicola Bay. The coastal communities of Apalachicola, St. George Island, and Eastpoint make up the heart of Florida’s Forgotten Coast, rich with smalltown charm and big-hearted hospitality. These communities feature unspoiled nature, historic downtowns, local shops, unique art galleries, and fresh local seafood, all influenced by a maritime culture that has lasted for centuries. Relax on miles of unspoiled beaches, or in a charming B&B or inn.
National Museum of the Marine Corps
The National Museum of the Marine Corps is a lasting tribute to U.S. Marines--past, present and future. Adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, the exhibits surround visitors with irreplaceable artifacts, immersing them in the sights and sounds of Marines in action. Follow in the footsteps of Marines: from boot camp to the boot prints left in the sands of the Pacific Islands and on Vietnam’s Hill 881. Free admission and parking.
Explore the history and culture of Southwest Virginia at the Glencoe Mansion, Museum and Gallery in Radford, Virginia. Glencoe Mansion provides a three-in-one experience with House Museum, History Exhibits and Art Gallery. The museum is located in the historic home of Gen. Gabriel C. Wharton and his wife Nannie Radford Wharton, whose dynamic history is just now coming to light. Rotating history and art exhibits mean there is always something new to see.