7 Family-Friendly Holiday Excursions and Winter Trips

Book a staycation or pack up the kids and head to the mountains—or a historic village—for quality time and family fun.

The indoor water park at Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg (Courtesy photo)

Great Wolf Lodge

Approximate drive time from Arlington: 2 hours, 15 minutes (145 miles)

It’s always 84 degrees inside the water park at Great Wolf Lodge, regardless of the temperature outside, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip the white stuff during your visit. In mid-November, the resort launched Snowland, a seasonal celebration with lights, trees, snowflakes and themed activities, from songs to crafts. Visits to the resort include unlimited time in the water park, which features a large wave pool and fast slides for older kids, and a cub pool for swimmers who are just starting out.  Youngsters can also enjoy free activities such as daily kids’ yoga, shows and art projects, and a nightly story time and dance party to get the last few wiggles out—plus on-site bowling, an arcade and other family fun for additional fees. Soon, the DMV will soon have yet another Great Wolf option; a new lodge is set to open in Perryville, Maryland, in August 2023. Insider tip: Cyber Monday often offers deep discounts on rooms. // 549 E. Rochambeau Drive, Williamsburg, Virginia


ICE! at the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor (Courtesy photo)

Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center

Approximate drive time from Arlington: 25 minutes (15 miles)

Perched along the banks of the Potomac at National Harbor, The Gaylord is one of the region’s largest hotels, with more than 2,000 rooms. The resort caters to families with a junior Olympic-size pool and arcade; an interactive sports bar with duckpin bowling, bocce and other group games; and an 80s-themed pop-up experience called Replay Rooftop, featuring retro arcade games, and plenty of neon backdrops for family photo opps. Each night, the hotel hosts a fountain-and-light show in its soaring 19-story atrium. The Gaylord is known for its ever-changing roster of interactive installations, including the annual holiday-themed ICE! exhibit—a chilly, immersive winter wonderland that includes a slide carved entirely from ice, and this year highlights scenes from A Christmas Story. Families will also find an outdoor skating rink and bumper cars, live entertainment and holiday-focused classes as part of the Gaylord’s Christmas Village and Winter Square events through the end of 2022. National Harbor is home to dozens of restaurants, shopping and entertainment, including the 180-foot-tall Capital Wheel, which is open year-round. Insider tip: Resort guests can pay to access the ICE! attraction daily before it opens to the public by securing an Extra Cool Hour pass. //201 Waterfront St., Oxon Hill, Maryland

Winterwander Boarshead November172022

A light tunnel along the Boar’s Head’s Winter Wander of Lights (Courtesy photo)

Boar’s Head Resort

Approximate drive time from Arlington: 2 hours (112 miles)

A half-mile path carved out of this Charlottesville resort’s 570 acres shines brightest during the winter holidays. The Winter Wander Trail of Lights, which last season attracted 40,000 visitors, features millions of lights and pieces of original art along a flat loop around the resort’s Heritage Lake. Guests can sip cocoa by the bonfire, visit with Santa and search for hidden baby boars as part of the resort’s scavenger hunt along the twinkling walkway. Overnight visitors also have access to all of the resort’s on-site amenities, including outdoor heated swimming pools, an 18-hole year-round golf course and a kid’s club. Boar’s Head also hosts holiday events such as Breakfast with Santa—complete with a horse-drawn carriage ride—and gingerbread-house workshops. Insider tip: Overnight guests enjoy unlimited access to the Winter Wander Trail (access otherwise requires timed tickets). // 200 Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, Virginia


Holiday lights at the Williamsburg Inn (Courtesy photo)

Williamsburg Inn

Approximate drive time from Arlington: 2 hours, 20 minutes (152 miles)

Nested in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg’s living history center, this resort marks the holidays with special events, music and vintage decorations. Families can enjoy the carols of Christmastide (the period from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day), follow a wagon-drawn yule log through town and add their own ornament the inn’s 16-foot tall tree. The hotel also offers holiday teas, a Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes and an early supper on New Year’s Eve (perfect for those who won’t be partying late). Explore holiday traditions of yore with a guided tour of the dozens of Colonial Williamsburg properties decorated with wreaths and other holiday trimmings, or visit during December’s Grand Illumination weekends, which fete the season with fireworks, music and the lighting of the cressets (suspended street lamps). If the kids aren’t tired out by day’s end, guests at the inn have access to a heated outdoor pool, as well as an indoor pool located at The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg. Insider tip: Direct booking includes a pair of Colonial Williamsburg passes for full access to buildings, events and tours. // 136 Francis St. E., Williamsburg, Virginia


Skiing at Massanutten (Courtesy photo)


Approximate drive time from Arlington: 2 hours, 15 minutes (120 miles)

This 6,000-acre mountain resort is busy all winter long, inside and out.  Hit the slopes for skiing, snowboarding or tubing, or lace up to skate on the outdoor rink. Then warm up with a visit to the indoor water park, complete with slides, pools, lazy river floats and hot tubs. If it’s not snowy yet, rent a mountain bike to tour the property, play a round of mini golf or try out the new street curling area at the Massanutten Fitness & Rec Club. Activities such as jewelry making, live bingo and evening shows are geared for most ages, and holiday-themed events like wreath making and meals with Santa are now underway. Insider tip: The family-friendly Winter Splash Package includes two or more nights in a 1- or 2-bedroom condo, plus passes to the indoor water park. // 1822 Resort Drive, McGaheysville, Virginia


Night tubing at Wisp Resort in Western Maryland (Courtesy photo)

Wisp Resort

Approximate drive time from Arlington: 3 hours (179 miles)

This mountain resort near Deep Creek Lake boasts 33 slopes for skiing and snowboarding, as well as 12 snow tube chutes, with group and private lessons available for beginners. The mountain is lit for for night skiing and snowboarding four nights a week during the season. Late fall into the holidays is a perfect time for families to explore canopy tours, gem mining, disc golf and climbing at the Squirrels Den Play Area. Accommodations at The Lodge at Wisp are geared toward groups and families. Overnight guests also have access to the heated indoor pool facility. Insider tip: For a thrill, visitors age 8 and up can ride single on the Mountain Coaster, which twists and rolls 3,500 feet downhill along the eastern side of Wisp Mountain, all year long. // 296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, Maryland

Isabela Kronemberger Hxog4o5onfa Unsplash

Holiday fun at The Ritz includes gingerbread-house decorating and an afternoon “teddy bear tea” for kiddos. (Photo by Isabela Kronemberger on Unsplash)

Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City

Approximate drive time from Arlington: You’re already here!

Yes, it’s right here in your backyard (just steps from the Pentagon City Metro station), but the The Ritz makes staycationing kiddos feel special. Young guests receive a packet of games and crayons at check-in, including a location-specific scavenger hunt that encourages them to explore and get a special prize, like toy cars and branded chocolate treats. The hotel’s Mediterranean restaurant, Santé, has an extensive children’s menu and hosts a special teddy bear tea (with hot cocoa as an option) on weekends. Plus, there are in-room services such as cupcake decorating kits. Seasonal activities for families include breakfast with Santa and gingerbread-house-making workshops, and Metro is only a few stops to downtown D.C. for car-free sightseeing and museum exploring. Check out the new National Children’s Museum or the recently revamped National Air and Space Museum. Next door to the hotel is Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row), home of Northern Virginia’s largest outdoor ice skating rink, which offers rentals and private lessons  (reservations recommended). Parents can grab a drink at Origin Coffee Lab & Kitchen and watch the action on the ice from the ample seating in the plaza. Insider tip: The hotel has a private, secure mall entrance, which is always open and useful if you’re looking for a larger space where little ones can blow off steam, even when mall shops are closed. //1250 S. Hayes St, Arlington (Pentagon City)

Related Stories:

Categories: Travel