The Best and
Worst States for
Published: January 9th, 2019
Many people dread winter. Not us - those of us who enjoy the outdoors wait for it each year. Winter brings new activities, frontiers, views and challenges. There's something uniquely satisfying about conquering a mountain at high speeds on a set of skis, or pulling a fish out of the ice you're standing on.
Winter states aren't all created equal. So how did we go about ranking the best to the worst? For starters, all 25 states on this list have an average winter temperature below freezing - any higher than that and it's not really a winter state.
Next we ranked states based on climate data like average annual snowfall, average number of clear winter days. We also took a look at access to public land and water, because both of those usually lead to more opportunity and more fun.
Many of these will make sense and a couple may surprise you - but the data did the work. If you want to take a look at the data that ranks these states and how we weighted each category, scroll to the bottom of this page.
Wyoming topped our list as the top state for outdoor winter activities, and for good reason. This state has some of the most public land acreage in the country, and is one of five mountain states on our list. Wyoming is home to natural winter wonders like Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park, where you can almost every outdoor activity winter has to offer. Yellowstone offers opportunities to view nature in rare form, including sighting animal species like wolves and buffalo. Yellowstone is the first US national park, and it also boasts Devils Tower, the first national monument.
Top winter activities: dog sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling, hiking
Utah is home to winter destinations like Park City, a nationally renowned ski resort that also offers 400 miles of trails for mountain biking and hiking. Head over to Olympic Park and you can also try your hand at bobsledding on the 2002 Olympic Winter Games track. For those looking to get off the beaten path and avoid the crowds, Utah also offers five national parks with plenty of solitude.
Top winter activities: snow biking, snowmobiling, downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing, hiking
Colorado may be the most visited and well-known winter state in the country. It's the top skiing and snowboarding destination in the countrym with 28 ski resorts to choose from. Colorado also has more than 300 days of sunshine per year, and has almost 24 million acres of public land. Knowing it's so sunny, we don't mind that Colorado also gets about 68 inches of snow per year. Even if you're not a skiier or snowboarder there's plenty to do outside in winter, from visiting hot springs to ice fishing and ice skating.
Top winter activities: downhill skiing and snowboarding, ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sledding, hiking
Idaho offers just about everything that the other top-ranked states do. Similar to Montana, Idaho is lesser-known and lesser-traveled than some of the top states as well. The state offers more than 18 million acres of skiiable terrain across 18 resorts. Beyond skiing, you can also do cool things like snowshoe through the Boise National Forest until you reach Bonneville Hot Springs. Don't worry, it's only a mile trek - and the springs are worth it.
Top winter activities: dog sledding, downhill skiing and snowboarding, fat biking, snowshoeing,
Montana is the last mountain state on our list, and it has more than 27 million acres of public land for you to explore. The state is still a bit of a hidden gem, you won't find the same crowds here as you will in Colorado, but it has some of the country's best natural resources. Big Sky Resort and Whitefish Mountain offer thousands of acres of skiiable terrain with plenty of annual snowfall. You can also cross-country ski just about anywhere in Montana, and explore its back country by snowmobile, skis, dogsled or snowshoe.
Top winter activities: downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, fat biking
Alaska is the top-ranked site on our list that's not a mountain state, and for good reason. If you're spending winter in Alaska, bundle up, because average winter temperatures are in the single-digits, but that didn't stop it from ranking near the top in several other categories. Alaska ranked in the top-5 on our list in terms of annual snowfall, square miles of water access, and it's the clear front-runner in terms of public land acreage with 224 million acres available. Because Alaska is in the Arctic Circle, its winter days are short - especially in it's northernmost cities. However, ask any local and the "winter nights" are far less prounounced as you move south toward cities like Anchorage.
Top winter activities: dog sledding, downhill skiing and snowboarding, fat biking, snowmobiling, ice fishing
Minnesota is promoted as the "land of 10,000 lakes," and according to its Department of Natural Resources it lives up to the name with a total of 11,842 lakes of 10 acres or more. With this kind of lake area, Minnesota is one of the best places in the country to try ice fishing. It's also home to thousands of miles of trails for activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. While it's not on the level of the mountain states on our list, it also offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the Midwest.
Top winter activities: snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, dog sledding, downhill skiing and snowboarding
Other than Alaska, no winter states have access to more water than Michigan. Home to the great lakes, as well as inland lakes and rivers, Michigan offers all kinds of opportunities for ice fishing and other activities on the hard water like snowmobiling. The northern part of the lower peninsula offers plenty of ski resorts that offer other activities like snowshoeing, fat tire biking and cross-country skiing. If you travel to the upper peninsula you'll find Mount Bohemia, home to some of the most untamed and untouched skiing in the entire country. The state also offers more than 6,500 groomed snowmobiling trails, one of the most impressive systems in the country.
Top winter activities: snowmobiling, ice fishing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing, fat biking
Ranking behind only Alaska and Michigan on our list in terms of water access, Wisconsin is another midwest state that offers a lot to do in the winter. Wisconsin is home to great ice fishing opportunities across these lakes, targeting freshwater species like walleye, perch and even sturgeon. It also offers dog sledding opportunities, including the annual Merrill Winterfest Dogsled Race. Wisconsin also has plenty of snowmobile and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails available.
Top winter activities: ice fishing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing and snowboarding
Maine comes in as the top New England state on our list, and it has a lot more to offer than lobster. It gets some of the most annual snowfall out of any state on our list, and ranks in the top-5 in terms of square miles of water access. While Maine doesn't have as much public land as the states above it on this list, it still offers fun activities like snowmobiling across its thousands of miles of trails, skiing at resorts like Sugarloaf and snowshoeing at historic Acadia National Park.
Top winter activities: snowmobiling, ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding, fat biking, downhill skiing and snowboarding
11. South Dakota
South Dakota was in the middle of the pack on our list in terms of almost every category measured, from public land to clear days per month in winter. Black Hills is where you'll find most of the winter wonderland fun in South Dakota. In Black Hills there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun like snowmobiling and even downhill skiing and snowboarding. The state's public parks also offer opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Top winter activities: snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing
12. North Dakota
Next to Alaska, North Dakota has the coldest average temperature out of any state on our list. However, it's not quite the same winter state that Fargo depicted. With cold temperatures like this, North Dakota has great opportunities for ice fishing throughout the winter season. You can find ice house rentals for fishing, with plenty of comfort - and most importantly, heat. You can also explore North Dakota by exploring the more than 2,000 miles of groomed trails by snowmobile, snowshoe or cross-country skis.
Top winter activities: downhill skiing and snowboarding, ice fishing, snowmobiling,
13. New Hampshire
The size of the state of New Hampshire hurt its placement on this list a bit, but it makes up for it with the second-most annual snowfall out of any state on our list. The state ranks in the middle of the pack for public land acreage and water area, but the data doesn't tell the full picture. New Hampshire has a solid number of quality downhill ski and snowboard resorts that also offer cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Top winter activities: downhill skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing
While Massachussetts is a small state without much of any public land acreage, it does have a respectable amount to do outside during winter. The state's parks have more than 70 trails for cross-country skiing and it has 12 downhill skiing and snowboarinding areas. There's also plenty of sled hills throughout the state and an impressive amount of snowmobiling terrain.
Top winter activities: downhill skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling
Pennsylvania has more than 120 state parks and plenty of water available for ice fishing. If you're looking to hit the trails by snowmobile, check out the Allegheny Snowmobile Loop, a 114-mile trail system that connects to Allegheny National Forest, which has a total of about 365 miles of snowmobile trails.
Top winter activities: ice fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing
Despite being a Midwest state, we were surprised to see Illinois ranking second-last in terms of annual snowfall. However, Illinois has some plenty of public land acreage, including the Pere Marquette State Park, which offers 8,000 acres of land access. It just doesn't have as much public land as some of its Midwest neighbors.
Top winter activities: snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing
In terms of average temperature, Nebraska has fairly mild winters averaging in the mid-20s farenheit. It also ranks among the states on our list with the lowest annual snowfall and square miles of water. However, it's ranked respectably in the middle of the pack for public land acreage. The Rock Bluff Run Trail at Indian Cave State Park is one of our favorite hikes in the state, and it's great to trek in winter as well.
Top winter activities: ice fishing, sledding, hiking
18. New York
You may associate the state of New York with images of its bustling cities, but venture north of NYC and the state has a lot of outdoor activities to offer. New York ranks in the top-5 states on our list in square miles of water access, but it ranks low on our list in terms of and has millions of acres of public land.
Top Winter activities: downhill skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling, hiking
Ohio has more than 60 locations for sledding and a healthy amount of trails for cross-country skiing trails and snowshoeing as well. The state does have some downhill ski and snowboard resorts, but they're nothing to write home about if you've experienced the large resorts other states have to offer. However, it does have plenty of ice fishing opportunities on both inland lakes like Mosquito Lake, or Lake Erie itself.
Top winter activities: sledding, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing
Considering its small size, Vermont packs a punch for winter activities. It has a respectable amount of public land acreage, water access and average number of clear days in winter. It's also near the top in terms of annual snowfall. And we must admit, Vermont happens to be a fun winter state for getting outdoors. You'll find all the fun winter activities in this small state, don't let this ranking fool you too much.
Top winter activities: downhill skiing and snowboarding, ice fishing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing
Technically, it barely made our criteria for inclusing on this list because its average winter temperature is barely below freezing. Kansas gets less annual snowfall than any other state on the list, and it doesn't have much access to public land, considering the state is mostly plain and prarie. Kansas doesn't have the outdoor vibe of its Midwest neighbors, but you can still find opportunities for outdoor fun away from the cold temps of northern states.
Top winter activities: hiking
Indiana gets some of the least snowfall out of any state on our list, and doesn't rank very highly in any of the other categories either. Indiana has two ski resorts in the state that are fairly small and have a vertical of less than 500 feet. Its lack of public land and water resources also hurt the opportunities for ice fishing, snowmobiling and other fun. Not to say you can't find these things in Indiana, you just have to work a little harder.
Top winter activities: sledding, downhill skiing and snowboarding
Connecticut's ranking near the bottom of this list is mostly because of its low access to public land and mediocre rankings in our other metrics. The state has a couple respectable ski hills, considering it's a non-mountain state. However, the lack of access to public land hurts its opportunities to get out on the trails and into the wilderness.
Top winter activities: downhill skiing and snowboarding, sledding
24. Rhode Island
Poor Rhode Island. It's barely cold enough to make our list, with an average winter temperature of 31.4 degrees farenheit, but it's just cold enough to place second-last on our list. The state ranks worst in terms of public land acreage (let's not also forget it's the smallest state in the country). Yawgoo Valley is the state's only ski mountain, but its peak is only 315 feet. You can find some good sledding, however, at Diamond Hill in Cumberland.
Top winter activities: sledding
Iowa doesn't have much water access to offer the winter outdoors enthusiast, but it does have plenty of ways to have fun when the temperatures drop. Iowa ranked in the bottom-5 states in terms of public land acreage and square miles of water, which contributed to its placement on this list. If you're looking for winter recreation, there are plenty of cross-country skiing trails. Despite it being a relatively flat state, there are a fair amount of downhill ski resorts as well. If you're looking to hop on a sled, try snowmobiling the Snow Pioneers Trail System to see Iowa's outdoor terrain and cozy towns.
Top winter activities: snowmobiling, downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing
Winter States Compare Table
Only states with average winter temperatures below 32 degrees farenheit made the list. States were ranked in each category with the following weight:
- Average annual snowfall (10%)
- Square miles of water (20%)
- Clear day ranking (20%)
- Public land ranking (30%)
- Mountain states (20%, all or nothing)