It's hard to picture these cities without snow on the ground. But take our word for it: their summer alter egos are sunny, gorgeous and full of fun things to do.
Whether it’s because we love heading there to ski or just because they have a reputation for brutal winters, there are some cities across the US that are difficult to even picture without snow on the ground. But it turns out that some of these winter cities have truly amazing summers that don’t get as much attention. When a place has to be buttoned up (literally) for so much of the year, the residents tend to really revel in the warmer months, leading to some of the most spectacular summers you can find anywhere. Between the great weather and nonstop festivals and things to do, summers up north are a great time of year for residents and visitors alike.
Here are six cities that may be famous for their grueling winters, but deserve a lot more credit for their summer months.
1. Anchorage, AK
Extreme outdoors folks head to Alaska for the snow and skiing, but this part of the country is truly gorgeous in the summer months. Take the train up to Denali or rent a car and explore Kenai Fjords National Park. Rent a bike and circle Anchorage on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and keep your eyes peeled for moose. Drive up Flattop Mountain for views of the whole city. In June and July, the Alaska Baseball League provides an opportunity for a relaxing evening’s entertainment. Current MLB stars like Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Judge once played here.
On Saturdays, spend the morning at the Anchorage Farmers Market, stocking up on all kinds of local flavor. Though early summer is great, August and early September are actually the perfect time to discover the United States’ final frontier. The Alaska State Fair takes place just outside of Anchorage in Palmer and is one of the best in the country. Beluga Whales can often be seen in Turnagain Arm or at Point Woronzof Park. Chugach State Park and National Forest offer a wide variety of outdoor opportunities.
2. Denver, CO
Like most cities with long, grueling winters, Denver lives it up in the summer months. Once the thaw happens, this city comes alive as its residents relish in the few short months of warmth. If your budget doesn’t stretch to include a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, check out their Film on the Rocks series for a much more wallet-friendly way to experience this stunning location. Denver has a ton of beautiful public outdoor space, from Confluence Park to Founder’s Green; they’ve all got a packed summer lineup up for free music and movies, plus markets and pop-ups.
Explore Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge within minutes of the city and of course, Rocky Mountain National Park is just 80 or so miles out of town. If you have a car, the drive to and up Mount Evans is one you’ll never forget. The highest paved road in North America is normally open Memorial Day to Labor Day, and takes you to the summit of this mountain, 14,264 feet above sea level.
3. Jackson Hole, WY
This winter ski mecca has so much to offer in summer. An outdoorsy person’s paradise, there’s pretty much nothing you can’t do outside in Jackson Hole in the summer. Widely recognized as a bucket list destination for hikers, Grand Teton National Park has 240 miles of trails to explore. Give your legs a rest and head out on the Snake River for some of the best whitewater rafting anywhere in the country. Or make like the old West and try a horseback riding tour.
When you’ve exhausted all your energy, head to the Granite Hot Springs for a rejuvenating dip in the revitalizing waters. In the evening, head to the Jackson Hole Rodeo, held on Wednesday and Saturday nights Memorial Day through Labor Day. For dinner, you might check out one of the four breweries in town or the famous pizzas at Pinky G’s. There are also numerous chuck wagons, camp-fire-style options that let you pretend you’re living in the Old West.
4. Superior, WI & Duluth, MN
Regularly pointed to as some of the snowiest, coldest spots in the country, the shores of Lake Superior are positively radiant in the summer. These two cities separated by the narrow St. Louis Bay at the far western edge of the Great Lakes share some of the most wonderful hidden summer gems. Park Point, with Wisconsin and Minnesota sides, is one of the largest freshwater sand bars in the world. Head just a ways out of town to get out on the water and explore the stunning Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
The 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland shoreline are home to many historic lighthouses as well as the jaw-droppingly beautiful sea caves. Formed by centuries of waves, freezing and thawing, these sandstone caves bring visitors from all over the world. Back on dry land, take a train ride. Duluth is fortunate to have two fun options: Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad runs along the St. Louis River Estuary, while the North Shore Scenic Railroad offers beautiful views of Lake Superior. One of the most scenic walkways in the country, the Duluth Lakewalk stretches for seven miles along Lake Superior. On Wednesday nights, take in free concerts in Superior in parks and locations all across town. Superior has a thriving arts community and you’ll find plenty of workshops to explore.
5. Burlington, VT
Closer to three Canadian cities than it is to any major US city, Burlington is a town that tends to get overlooked in favor of its nearby ski resorts. But this charming winter city has a secret identity – as a summer paradise. Perched right on the shore of Lake Champlain and with so much of the state in driving distance, it’s the perfect spot to serve as a summer home base to explore all the beauty of Vermont. For access to the water, check out Bayside State Park. Rent a bike and check out the Burlington Bike Path and Island Line Bike Trail, which runs along and over Lake Champlain. If you’re up for a tougher challenge, head to Catamount Outdoor Family Center to mountain bike on land that gives you views of the Green Mountains and the Winooski River Valley to the East and the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain to the West.
The state is abundant with berry growers and summer is the perfect time to pick blueberries, boysenberries, cherries, gooseberries and more. For the adults, all those fruits tend to make some truly delicious wines and there are vineyards all over that invite you to visit and sample. Have one of the freshest meals ever with Burger Night at Bread and Butter Farm. ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain is a hands-on learning environment your kids will totally love.
6. Buffalo, NY
There is something happening somewhere in Buffalo every night of the week in the summer. There’s free admission to the art museum, gallery walks and tons of free concerts, most of which are outdoors. Head to the gorgeous Canalside area to find everything from dance performances to free movies and everything in between. Slow Roll Buffalo is a slow-paced bike ride to explore different parts of the city. Every Monday night the group checks out a new neighborhood. On Tuesday nights, head to Larkin Square for a food truck festival and go back on Wednesday nights for free live music. For a retro experience, check out Transit Drive-In, an old school drive-in theater that shows movies rain or shine.
There are at least 12 state parks within quick driving distance of Buffalo, but if you only go to one, make it Letchworth State Park. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,â€ this stunning spot has gorges, waterfalls and nearly 70 miles of hiking trails. Of course, no visit to this area would be complete without a trip to Niagara Falls. Plan extra time to head to Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole State Parks.
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