Yes, the nights are long and the temperature is falling, but that's no reason to hibernate. Take cold comfort in the fact that there are so many soul-satisfying ways—both inside and outdoors—to beat the winter blues this season. From skiing and sleigh riding to the West (Wisp) to casino hopping and bird watching to the East (Atlantic City, Cape May) and even garden touring to the North (Longwood Gardens, Winterthur), here are a variety of day trips and weekend getaways to suit you this winter, whatever your budget or bliss.
GET A LIFT
With a 700-foot vertical drop, 32 trails for fledgling snow bunnies or Bode Miller-types, and an average snowfall of 100-inches a year (not to mention superior snowmaking technology), the Wisp Resort at Deep Creek Lake (296 Marsh Hill Rd., McHenry, 301-387-4911), in the heart of Garrett County's Allegheny Mountains, is a world-class destination for outdoor fun. The skiing, which usually kicks off the day after Thanksgiving and runs through March, is always excellent here with well-groomed trails and an expertly run ski school with top-flight instruction. Lift tickets are $59 for adults during peak season (Dec. 19-March 14) and $39 for children.
In addition to schussing, other outdoor activities abound, including tubing at Bear Claw Snow Tubing Park (10 tube shoots, no skill required), snowmobile tours of bucolic Western Maryland (guided tours and kid-sized mini snowmobiles are available), snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. All equipment can be rented through Wisp's well-stocked Nordic Center.
Your best bet for lodging in the area is to stay right on the slopes at the cozy Wisp Resort hotel (800-462-9477), where average room rates for double occupancy are a reasonable $129 for an overnight stay and include an indoor pool, a spa (where you can enjoy a de-knotting neck and back treatment after a day of skiing), and the new "Mountain Coaster," a combination roller coaster and Alpine slide and only one of two on the East Coast.
If you have worked up an appetite after all that exercise, head to Smiley's Pizzeria (72 Fort Dr., McHenry, 301-387-0059), an area staple featuring half-price pizza on Thursdays and an arcade to occupy the kids. For more adult vittles, the Santa Fe Grille (75 Visitor's Center Dr., McHenry, 301-387-2182) serves up Southwestern fare and great margaritas. For charm and affordable lunches (steak, fries, and a salad for $11.50), the Cornish Manor (830 Memorial Dr., Oakland, 301-334-6499) set inside a historic 1868 summer "cottage" can't be beat. As for après-ski activities? Don't be fooled by this seemingly sleepy ski spot—last year, Wisp won "Best Nightlife" in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast from onthesnow.com.
For a walk on the wild side and a one-of-a-kind adventure about three miles from Wisp, Husky Power Dogsledding (2008 Bumble Bee Rd., Accident, 301-746-7200), offers entertaining and educational dog sledding and dog wheeling. Join Czar, Buzz, Bandit, and the other adorable huskies and malamutes, who, along with owners Linda and Mike Herdering, will teach you the ins and outs of dog mushing in Western Maryland. Tours are by reservation only, and prices vary.
About 15 miles from Wisp, you can travel back in time to visit Oakland's Pleasant Valley Dream Rides (1689 Pleasant Valley Rd., Oakland, 301-334-1688) and hop on a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh ride with jaw-dropping views of Backbone Mountain. Rates are $14 per person. Kids 3-12 are $10. Reservations required.
And for a horse of a different color, consider a visit to the BlueBell Farm Alpacas (1285 Hare Hollow Rd., Grantsville, 301-895-3476) to mix and mingle with Cappuccino, Coolidge, or one of the farm's many alpacas as they graze the high mountains of scenic Grantsville. Should you find yourself short a sweater on the slopes, you can buy one here made out of alpaca wool to bring back to your lodge.
You can also commune with nature by taking a first-rate winter's walk through Swallow Falls State Park (222 Herrington Ln., Oakland, 301-387-6938). Hike along the Loop trail along the Youghiogheny River for a breathtaking view of the 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls, Maryland's tallest waterfall, or marvel at the view of the hemlock and pine boughs laden with icicles.
When the stars come out, head 40 minutes east of Wisp to the Frostburg State University Planetarium (101 Braddock Rd., Frostburg, 301-687-4270) for a free tour of the night sky (at 4 and 7 p.m. nightly, though schedules can vary) led by Frostburg State University physics professor and astronomer Bob Doyle.
BE A BEACH BUM
Baby, it's cold outside, but the beach can be a real winter hotspot. With chi-chi shopping (think Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co.), world class cuisine (Wolfgang Puck's American Grille, Bobby Flay Steak, Stephen Starr's Buddakan), and endless entertainment (recent headliners Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams), Atlantic City is Vegas by the sea. Take a stroll (or a roll on a wicker rolling chair under the warmth of a wool blanket) along the boardwalk, so named by Alexander Boardman, who invented the promenade as a way of allowing Victorian-era visitors to see the beach without tracking sand into the hotels. These days, the "boards" are the place to have your fortune told, buy salt water taffy at Steel's Fudge, or try your hand at blackjack. Superior Tours (410-602-1704, departing almost daily from Pikesville and Towson) offers the cheapest and most pleasant way to get there at $30 for a round-trip fare, $20-25 of which is reimbursed in "slot dollars."
With water, water, everywhere and plenty of drops to drink (try the frozen vodka at Tropicana's Red Square), the newest addition to the Atlantic City seascape is the towering $400 million Water Club Hotel (1 Renaissance Way, Atlantic City, NJ, 800-800-8817). Attached to the Borgata Casino (which is worth a visit for a gander at the glass Dale Chihuly chandeliers), the Water Club boasts five pools (including an indoor infinity-edge dipping pool), a two-story spa, and luxe guest rooms with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean. Go during the week if you can. Room rates start at an average of $149 during the week for double occupancy and spike on the weekends ($359 on average for a Saturday night), though it's worth checking the website (thewaterclubhotel.com) for specials and packages including the Up All Night Package, which includes a dinner buffet and tickets to the Borgata's Comedy Club. And if after all that gambling you need a good bargain, the Atlantic City Outlets (1931 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City, NJ, 609-872-7002) located at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway, offer premiere cut-rate shopping from places like Gap, Nike, J. Crew, and Coach.
Tired of the bright lights and big-city atmosphere of Atlantic City? Grab your binoculars and keep your eyes on the birdies just 30 miles south at the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge or Cape May Point State Park, where migrating songbirds and herons keep company with wintering waterfowl along the Atlantic "flyway." Cape May is one of North America's premiere places for bird watching. The Cape May Bird Observatory (701 E. Lake Dr., Cape May Point, NJ, 609-884-2736), under the auspices of the New Jersey Audubon Society, offers insightful guided tours and special winter workshops on everything from seabird identification to the history of birding.
REST, RELAX, RECREATE
For a truly first-class family vacation that won't take you too far from home but feels worlds away from the daily grind, nothing beats the luxury of the Travel + Leisure-ranked, five-star Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (1001 Lafayette Dr., Farmington, PA, 724-329-8555), set on 2,000 spectacular acres in the Laurel Highlands area of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Guests can stay in a range of lodgings (a typical guest room starts at $319 during the week) and dine at the celebrated Lautrec restaurant (winner of the prestigious Mobil Five-Star Award in 2009).
Winter adventures include a visit to the resort's very own Mystic Mountain, with 25 ski-ready acres, offering a variety of snow sports from downhill and cross-country skiing to snowshoeing. Dog sledding across the resort's pristine golf courses, cooking classes, and wine tasting are other options. The nightlife is equally abundant with Nemacolin's new WildSide entertainment emporium, including an indoor climbing wall, an eight-lane bowling alley, 65-plus arcade games, and an exotic bird habitat. And if that's not enough, Nemacolin's pet policy makes it fun for the whole family. Dogs under 30 pounds can stay at the resort. Larger dogs can board at Nemacolin's Woodlands Pet Resort & Spa (call 724-329-WOOF for reservations).
A great variety of specials and packages are also worth considering, including "The Girls' Getaway Package," which includes breakfast and spa treatments or the "Frank Lloyd Wright Package," which includes a visit to the famed architect's Fallingwater.
Looking for some place summery in the midst of winter? Try Longwood Gardens (1001 Longwood Rd., Kennett Square, PA, 800-737-5500), a world-renowned haven for plant lovers that draws an estimated 850,000 visitors a year. This horticultural showplace, on the grounds of Pierre S. du Pont's family estate, features 1,050 acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows, more than 11,000 plants, and is just as beautiful in winter as summer. Go early, and wear comfortable walking shoes, because you will want to see it all—from fountain shows to a fascinating exhibit on pollination ("The Buds and the Bees"). The holiday displays (from Nov. 26 through Jan. 10) are especially outstanding at Longwood, with half a million outdoor lights, ice skating shows, plus amaryllis, begonias, berried plants, paperwhites, and poinsettias by the thousands. If you plan on visiting the gardens during the Christmas season, you will need to pre-purchase timed tickets. In between looking at plants, be sure to make time to dine at the newly renovated Terrace Restaurant with farm-fresh fare. Locally grown mushrooms are king in Kennett Square and appear in everything from soup to falafel. Admission to Longwood is $16 for adults with a discount for seniors and students.
If you want to make a weekend of it, just down the road from Longwood is Winterthur Museum & Country Estate (5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE, 800-448-3883), the lavish former ancestral home of Henry Francis du Pont (voted "Best Place to Get Away" by Delaware Today magazine in 2009). In addition to a 60-acre naturalistic garden and a renowned research library, this American country estate showcases a first-rate collection of American furniture and decorative arts.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
About 20 minutes from the historic Brandywine Valley in West Chester, PA, you may want to doff your down jacket for the klieg lights and take a guided studio tour of the newly renovated QVC Studios (1200 Wilson Dr., West Chester, PA, 800-600-9900), and a glimpse into the empire of multimillion dollar electronic retailing. (Diamonique anyone?) Tours cost $7.50 per adult and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. No reservations are necessary for parties up to nine, and tours run five times a day beginning at 10:30 a.m.
If you're more of a culture vulture, the Brandywine River Museum (U.S. Route 1, Chadds Ford, PA, 610-388-2700), and the accompanying tour of the Chadds Ford home and studio of 20th century American painter N.C. Wyeth and his famous son, Andrew, is well worth the trip. With your regular museum admission, Andrew's granddaughter, Victoria Wyeth, gives free guided tours and insider's insights of the Wyeths' work twice a day, six days a week. (Holiday schedule may vary. Call ahead.)
While there are plenty of lodging options in the Brandywine area, one of our favorite spots is the charming Brandywine River Hotel (1609 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, PA, 800-274-9644) in the Historic Village of Chadds Ford and located within minutes of many of the area's attractions. Brandywine River's rooms start at $139. The hotel also runs specials, which include tickets to area attractions, afternoon tea, and spa services. The hotel is also pet friendly for pets under 20 pounds.
TAKE A STAYCATION
If you don't want to hit the road, Charm City offers plenty to do in your own hood. Try sledding on the hill in front of Baltimore County's Board of Education Building on Charles Street in Towson or the former ski slopes at Oregon Ridge (13401 Beaver Dam Rd., 410-887-1818) in Cockeysville. For working on that triple lutz, try Mt. Pleasant Ice Arena (6101 Hillen Rd., 410-984-4075). And if all you want to do is stay inside, treat yourself to a rich cup of Valrhona hot chocolate at Stone Mill Bakery (10751 Falls Rd., 410-821-1358) or a hot yoga class at Bikram Yoga Baltimore (40 Cranbrook Rd., 410-683-9642, and other locations).