3. Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
Who knew the Grand Canyon was a portal to the North Pole? From November to January the Grand Canyon Railway transforms into the Polar Express Night Train, every night at 5:30 p.m. (from $38). Based on Chris Van Allsburg’s classic book, the magical ride—complete with hot chocolate, cookies, and story time—winds through forest and desert and passes an illuminated village where Santa waves to the awestruck faces pressed against the window before appearing on the train with gifts.
In daylight, the Grand Canyon invokes just as much childlike wonder when its red, blue, and purple striped walls pop against the crisp powder dusting the plateaus and ledges. Cooler temperatures mean fewer visitors—January is the quietest time to go, with a third of the visits seen at the park's peak in July, but you will be rewarded anytime in November through the end of February with less traffic and more peace.