There’s no need to hibernate now that the mercury has plunged—from twinkling lights or sleigh bells to the thrill of a downward plunge, it’s possible to satisfy your winter wonderland wanderlust this year. Whether it’s in your own backyard or farther afield, there’s plenty of seasonal fun to make spirits bright on the North Shore and beyond. Holiday bonus: For those who have vacation time to burn since they’ve been glued to a desk working from home, combine some fun and gift yourself a fun-filled getaway.
Here: Meet reindeer, snow leopards, arctic fox, and more at ZooLights at Stone Zoo, where thousands of twinkling holiday lights illuminate a canopy of trees across 26 acres. This year there’s even more sparkle, with large-scale lantern displays throughout the property in Stoneham.
There: The Berkshires offer up opportunities for breathtaking beauty at two historical properties: Winterlights at Naumkeag in Stockbridge, and NightWood at The Mount in Lenox. The former includes an illuminated path through the gardens with different “sets” and festive treats for sale. The latter transforms Edith Wharton’s former estate by curating several experiences with musical and lighting vignettes.
Treat yourself: Travel back in time to discover Main Street in Stockbridge, home to the Red Lion Inn’s more modern cousin, luxurious 17-room Maple Glen House. The Red Lion complex is part of Norman Rockwell’s idyllic “Home for Christmas” painting, and no holiday visit is complete without checking out live greenery and live music indoors and outside on the wraparound porch.
Trim the Tree
Here: Santa Claus is coming to Smolak Farms in North Andover, where families can grab precut trees, or cut their own. There’s no lap sitting this year, but socially distanced “selfies with St. Nick” tickets include cider donuts, ornament making, and a bag of feed to treat on-site reindeer. Other activities include stories and crafting with elves and a gingerbread house workshop.
There: One of Massachusetts’ few remaining tree farms, family-owned and run Mistletoe Christmas Tree Farm in Stow offers free hot cocoa and candy canes for each guest. They’re open additional weekdays this year for the work-from-home crowd’s flexible schedules.
Treat yourself: Lovingly restored 18th-century colonial Amerscot House Inn in Stow has just one suite and three bedrooms for the ultimate opportunity to unwind and stroll three acres of private woodlands.
There: Throw your skates in the car and head to Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Duck Pond, a seasonally built outdoor ice skating rink at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The outdoor living history museum features more than 37 restored buildings built between the 17th and 19th centuries. The city’s annual Vintage Christmas theme is Let the Magic Shine Through, which includes events like performances at the Music Hall, and a gingerbread house contest with displays throughout downtown and at the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center.
Treat yourself: Cozy up at the centrally located Sailmaker’s House, a restored antique home resplendent with modern accoutrements. Seasonal packages include skating passes.
Here: When the flakes start falling, gather up to 12 friends and head to Kimball Farm in Haverhill to meet two more: Mike and Mark, Belgian work horses who whisk sleighs joyfully through drifts.
There: Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont, is offering sleigh rides, historical holiday crafting, snacks, and meet-the-animals throughout December. There’s plenty to do in the noted outdoorsman’s hot spot, with skiing and snowboarding at Suicide Six.
Treat yourself: Unwind after a day on the slopes at Woodstock Inn & Resort, whose halls and hearths are festooned in holiday finery—including a life-sized gingerbread house in the lobby fit for human consumption and cohabitation. All guestrooms in the Tavern wing have wood-burning fireplaces to cozy up. (Sleigh ride options at both locations must be reserved in advance.)
Here: This year’s early snow is a good sign for thrill-seekers, who can gear up easily for local winter adventures. Ski Bradford is a gem for those just learning how to navigate the slopes, and Amesbury Sports Park offers up some of New England’s fastest tubing hills.
There: Got your ski legs? Head to the White Mountains, where several resorts with advanced trails are in or near Bartlett, New Hampshire. Cranmore Mountain also has snow tubing trails, or do as the locals do and hit up Eisenhower Hill at Crawford Notch State Park for tubing and sledding.
Treat yourself: Stays at the Bartlett Inn include passes or discounts for myriad winter activities, including Cranmore and Great Glen Trails at the base of Mount Washington (the outfitter offers snowshoeing, tubing, fatbiking, and more). The Bartlett Inn’s locale is perfect for cross-country skiers, too—there’s a connector trail right out the back door leading to Bear Notch Nordic Ski Network.
Take a Hike
Here: Into a slower pace? Winter is the perfect time to admire the brisk beauty of the region’s landscape without a crowd. Listen to the thump of your own footsteps and admire ocean views as you traverse the wooden boardwalk at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge; the wide wooden trails are easily accessible from Hellcat Wildlife Observation Area. Those who prefer trees to the seas will want to check out the 721 acres of pine needled paths at Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield, or the 12 miles of walking trails (including five that are baby carriage friendly) at America’s oldest working farm, Ipswich’s Appleton Farms.
There: Winter might be the most appropriate season to discover Robert Frost. His Derry, New Hampshire, farmstead makes for a light loop-trail walk with signage featuring historical highlights and his poetry, including the spot that inspired “The Road Not Taken.”
Treat yourself: Off-the-beaten-path Briar Barn Inn in Rowley frequently welcomes snowshoe and cross-country ski enthusiasts from Bradley Palmer and Appleton. After some outdoor fun, warm up with a sumptuous seasonal feast at on-site Grove restaurant, or cozy up with plush blankets, robes and slippers in front of in-room fireplaces.