Travel spending across the U.S. decreased by nearly $500 billion in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of all the American jobs that were lost in 2020, 65% were related to the travel industry. But the U.S. travel industry — this year more than ever — is recuperating. According to a report from the U.S. Travel Association, vacation spending and hotel occupancy rates are nearly back up to their 2019 levels.
More than half (55%) of American adults stated they were planning to go on vacation by the end of this year. With travel restrictions lifted, where are they all planning to go? And since so many people are intending to travel this winter, which U.S. destinations are the most desirable (and, therefore, likely to be the most crowded)? We analyzed what people have been Googling in the last few months to find out. And like on most subjects, different states have different opinions, so we also looked to see if these answers varied between states.
Some of the most popular winter vacation destinations in the world can be found in the U.S. The extravagant winter wonderlands and holiday markets in cities like New York and Chicago; phenomenal skiing in places like Vail, Colorado, or Stowe, Vermont; and the not-so-wintery weather found in cities like Miami, Florida, and San Diego, California all draw people for their distinct experiences. However you might like to spend the last months of the year, there seems to be something in America for everyone.
Using Google Trends search data for a 90-day period between July and October 2022, we sought to discover which vacation destinations in the U.S. people are most interested in traveling to this winter. We also used data from Tripadvisor to narrow down which attractions were the most popular (most searched for) in each state.
Along with the most popular cities and states for winter travel and the top attractions in each state, we also wanted to get a better idea of what people most enjoy doing during their winter vacations in general. So, we compiled a list of the most popular winter vacation-related search terms, then used their individual search values to determine their desirability according to each state.
We found, for example, that people in Vermont searched for “winter vacation” and “skiing” more than residents in any other state. The state with the most interest in the most activities, however, was Wyoming:
Yet, even with interest in winter travel clearly on the rise in America, we discovered that not everyone is as eager to venture out. As colder winter months approach, people in 45 of 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) appear to be most interested in traveling within their own home state; the majority of people in four states don’t seem to be interested in traveling within the U.S. at all.
It isn’t hard to imagine that where you live throughout the year has a significant influence on what sort of climate you prefer when going on vacation. Even if people don’t want to go far, they still might want to escape the cold, heat, or landscape of their home states. This could be why we found a wide range of climates within the top five states people are most interested in traveling to this winter.
The top five most popular states for winter travel are:
As winter approaches, literally millions of snowbirds from across North America regularly flock to warmer destinations, such as California, Arizona, Texas, and, especially, Florida. It’s unsurprising that Florida — the Sunshine State — is at the very top of our list. Unlike casual vacationers, who might only stay for a short trip, Florida’s recurrent snowbird population has been known to regularly stay put for weeks at a time.
The most common place that people wanted to travel in almost every state was somewhere close to home within their own state. (We noted these states with an asterisk in our list below.) To see what inter-state travel is gearing up for, we also included each state’s second choice in the breakdown.
People in four states (Alaska, Wyoming, and the Dakotas) did not search enough during the specified time period to generate a definitive travel preference — not even for their own state. Therefore, we will consider people in these states to be “staying home” this coming winter.
Here’s where people in each state were most interested in traveling:
As mentioned above, we found that people in 45 of 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) were most interested in traveling within their own home state, and people in four states didn’t appear to have much interest (but not necessarily zero) in going anywhere.
Alongside residents of Alaska and Wyoming, residents of North and South Dakota appeared to be uninterested in traveling anywhere within the U.S this winter based on their search habits. Unlike Alaska and Wyoming, however, the Dakotas had no search activity whatsoever related to their states. This means that no one in any state was interested in traveling to either of the Dakotas — not even the Dakotans themselves.
Perhaps the stone faces of former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, depicted on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial are just not of much interest to people, especially in winter.
The lack of interest in traveling to the Dakotas could also be the lingering effect of the severe COVID-19 outbreak that followed the 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a gathering of nearly half a million people hosted by a small town in western South Dakota. Two months after the August rally, North Dakota had the highest COVID-19 infection rate per capita in the world. In South Dakota, the death rate had also soared to global heights. Due to a slow, ineffectual response by the states’ governments and the ongoing spread of misinformation related to vaccines, the Dakotas struggled much longer than other states to get a handle on the COVID-19 threat.
Interestingly, only people from New Hampshire — searching most for Florida, then Maine — appeared to be exclusively interested in vacationing elsewhere this winter. One theory is that the intense and variable winter weather in New Hampshire drives people away during the colder months. A winter storm in New Hampshire can range from a moderate snowfall to a full-on blizzard with blinding snow that lasts several days. It isn’t uncommon for people to become stranded in their cars or trapped in their homes, often without electricity. The after-effects of such storms can include burdensome snow accumulation, extremely cold temperatures, heavy snow and ice coating tree branches or power lines, closed highways and blocked roads, as well as coastal flooding and beach erosion. A trip to sunny Florida or coastal next-door-neighbor Maine could offer a respite from the storms for those in New Hampshire.
We took 15 of the country’s most popular major cities and, based on each city’s total search value, ranked them according to their popularity for winter travel planning. Here’s how they measured up:
While people weren’t necessarily interested in traveling to other parts of Nevada, we did find that people were very keen on visiting Las Vegas — in fact, Sin City received more than three times the amount of searches the state of Nevada received. This could be due to the fact that most of Nevada (80-90%) is still mostly uninhabited land owned by the federal government.
Colorado had more than four times the amount of searches compared to its capital city, Denver. Denver isn’t nearly as popular a destination for winter skiing as mountain cities like Aspen and Vail, which could explain people’s higher level of interest in the state in general.
When it came to winter vacation interest in California, San Diego accumulated more searches than its much larger and more densely populated neighbor up the coast, Los Angeles. And just as Florida turned out to be the overall most-searched-for state, Miami (its second largest city) was found to be the city of most interest to winter wanderers. The most likely conclusion: people want to travel somewhere warm (and often coastal) where they can be outside in the winter.
Following the same “homebody” trend we found with our most-searched-for states, Floridians were the ones most looking to vacation in Miami; Californians were the ones most looking to vacation in San Diego; and New Yorkers were the ones most looking to vacation in New York City.
Just knowing where people want to unwind in the winter is great. But we also wanted to know what people were interested in doing once they got to their vacation spot. By analyzing search data from Tripadvisor, we determined what attraction most people are researching in each state. We uncovered a range of preferences, from famous historical sites and state capitals to museums to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Accounting for 11 separate attractions on our list, museums appeared to be a big hit. As an important aspect of culture and history (not only in the U.S.), museums can be either public or private and can range from well-known establishments belonging to the Smithsonian Institution, to smaller local galleries or collections. In 2020, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was the most visited museum in the U.S. It was beaten out for the most-searched attraction in New York in our study, though, by the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
The popularity of museums in the U.S. could be due to their potential impartiality. A 2021 public opinion poll, on whether museums in the U.S. have a determined political agenda, found that almost half of respondents believed museums do hold certain points of view but do not necessarily have a political agenda. This likely makes them more approachable to people from across the political spectrum. However, only 35% of poll participants believed these institutions are wholly non-partisan.
A significant portion of this list (20 of 51) are destinations or activities related to nature or the outdoors. According to the U.S. Forest Service, more than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives, spending an average of $646 billion each year on outdoor-related travel and activities, and as a result, creating nearly 6.1 million highly sought-after jobs.
Surprisingly, only one national park made the list: Yellowstone. It was, however, the most popular attraction for both Montana and Wyoming. In the past two years, many people have been favoring outdoor activities and rural destinations over big cities, and this emphasis on nature and outdoor recreation is reflected in the popularity of U.S. national parks. Yellowstone National Park, for instance, had over 3.5 million visitors in 2021, marking a 40% increase compared to 2021 and a 15% increase compared to 2019.
Alaska, one of our top five most-searched states, lands outside of the warm, sunny climate common in other popular states. However, its draw may be because of its wild beauty. According to Kampgrounds of America (the largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds in the world), wintertime might be the best time to visit Alaska — largely because of the state’s plethora of unique snowy activities you won’t find anywhere else. Some of the most popular activities include the following.
Besides an array of beautiful foliage, don’t be surprised if you spot animal tracks in fresh snow. Many animals that are extinct (or nearly so) in the continental U.S. have established large, healthy populations in Alaska, such as gray wolves, caribou, and bison. It’s common to spot bald eagles, moose, mule deer, and Dall sheep, as well.
Long before trains and automobiles, Native Alaskans relied on their loyal dogs for transportation, and a lot of care and practice goes into running a dog sled team. Whether you want to watch a race or go on a dog-led tour of the wilderness yourself, winter is the best time of the year for dog sledding.
The Fairbanks World Ice Art Championships — one of the largest ice sculpture contests in the world — typically kicks off at the beginning of March.
There are many hot spring sites to choose from, but the Chena Hot Springs in Fairbanks is one of the most popular. The temperature regularly drops below freezing, so soaking in a steamy hot spring when it’s snowing outside is an experience you might only find in Alaska.
Despite being less popular during winter seasons, Alaska also has many beautiful national parks. Each of these parks has something unique to offer during the winter:
According to Statista, winter sports are those performed on snow or ice; some of their examples include ice hockey, figure skating, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, speed skating, Alpine skiing, bobsledding, and snowmobiling. Based on our analysis of Google Trends search data, we compiled a list of the most popular winter activities, many of which mirrored Statista’s list of examples.
Here are the top ten:
Skiing, which takes both the second and third places on our list, is clearly a common pastime. In 2022, there are 462 ski resorts in the U.S., with 49 in New York state alone. And mountainside activities aren’t limited to skiing, either: snowboarding, snow tubing, and sitting inside a ski resort with a book and a cup of cocoa can often be done in the same space. Annually, 18.1 million Americans participate in skiing, 7.96 million go snowboarding, and 3.18 million go snowshoeing, which didn’t quite make the cut on our list. But, at number eight, “winter vacation” implies that it doesn’t matter as much what happens at their vacation spot, as many people just want to go somewhere.
Ice hockey, which has long been associated with the northern U.S. and Canada, is also growing in mainstream popularity. There are 2,041 ice hockey rinks in the U.S., and about 2.31 million Americans play ice hockey in everything from pick-up games to the National Hockey League. On average, U.S. sales of ice hockey equipment total about $112 million annually. Hockey itself didn’t make our list, which makes sense since the sport is generally done indoors these days. However, ice skating and ice rink, numbers one and four on our list, are two important components of the sport.
By breaking down the data even further, we were able to better understand not just where people in each state were interested in spending their vacations, but also how they were going to spend their time while on vacation. At times, finding winter-related terms that didn’t overlap with Christmas or other holidays was difficult. The list below doesn’t account for winter activities more popular in warmer climates, which is where many are hoping to spend their holiday season based on our analysis of the most researched states. Nonetheless, through our analysis, we were able to identify where people were most interested in an assortment of snowy activities.
Here are the 19 most popular winter activities and their accompanying states:
Despite the lack of interest in travel, people in Wyoming are clearly interested in doing a lot at home this winter. Five of our winter-related activities were found to be of most interest to people in Wyoming:
Alaska followed closely behind, most interested in three of our major terms:
Vermont (winter vacation and skiing) and Maine (pond hockey and winter cabin) were both number one for two of our winter-related activity search terms.
When it comes to exciting winter recreation, one could argue that Wyoming has the most to offer, given that many of the state's most popular activities according to the Wyoming Office of Tourism also turned up on our list. For comparison, here’s the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s top ten list:
Whether you're taking a ski trip, doing some snowmobiling, or just hunkering down at home this winter, safety and preparedness should be at the top of your priority list. If traveling to a state with extreme winter weather — such as Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, or New Hampshire — be sure to do your own research and bring the appropriate equipment. Readying your home and vehicles for a sudden winter storm is highly important, as well. Here is some useful winter preparedness information provided by the Red Cross, and our guide to disaster preparedness should the worst-case scenario strike.
By analyzing Google Trends search data, we sought to identify which states and cities people across the U.S. were most interested in traveling to this winter. We looked at a 90-day time period (July 12, 2022–October 12, 2022) and used the numerical search values to determine which states and cities were searched for the most by people in each state. Then, we analyzed the data to discover which states and cities people were most interested in visiting during their winter vacation. Based on an analysis of Google Trends search data, we also compiled a list of the most popular winter activities, overall and in which state these were most popular. Lastly, we analyzed search data from Tripadvisor to determine the most popular attractions in each state.
Innerbody Research is committed to providing objective, science-based suggestions, and research to help our readers make more informed decisions regarding health and wellness. We invested the time and effort into creating this report to give readers a look into which states and cities within the U.S. people are most interested in traveling to this winter, as well as which winter activities are the most popular overall and in each state. We hope to reach as many people as possible by making this information widely available. As such, please feel free to share our content for educational, editorial, or discussion purposes. We only ask that you link back to this page and credit the author as Innerbody.com.
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