Winter weather can lead to travel delays, reduced hours and exhibit closures. But the benefits of traveling during the off-season range from reduced admission to less crowds. Here are ten destinations that pack an educational punch for families (especially homeschoolers who may have more ability to travel in the off-season) who are eager to get out of the house during the winter months.
Epcot in Lake Buena Vista, Florida
If you want to be entertained, the Disney Parks won’t disappoint. While each has educational elements, Epcot is my favorite park when it comes to fun, hands-on learning. From the Land Pavilion, where you learn about hydroponics, to the Sea Pavilion, to the World Showcase where you can travel the globe in a few short hours, Epcot is a homeschooler’s dream field trip.
Known as the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine is a great stop for those studying American History. Learn about pirates, alligators, and railroad tycoons before stopping at the fun and quirky Fountain of Youth.
Highlights in St. Augustine include Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Matanzas, Flagler College, and the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.
The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio
Typically a warm-weather attraction, The Wilds in southeastern Ohio is situated on over 9,000 acres of reclaimed land that was once strip mined. Now home to rare and endangered species from around the globe, visitors board a shuttle bus and head out to the open pasture to view the animals as they wander freely. Winter offers visitors a unique experience as the “Winter at the Wilds Tour” takes visitors from the pasture to behind the scenes to view the animals in their winter housing and exercise yards.
The Smokies, Tennessee
Visiting the Smoky Mountain National Park isn’t always feasible during the winter. Many of the mountain roads shut down, but you’ll find plenty to occupy your time in the towns that surround the park. One of my family’s favorite attractions is The Smoky Mountain Knife Works in Sevierville. Known as the world’s largest knife store, you’ll find a museum detailing the history of knives with an extensive collection housed inside.
Nearby you’ll find WonderWorks, The Titanic Experience, and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
Samaritan’s Purse Headquarters in Boone, NC
If you’ve gathered gift items for an Operation Christmas Child box, you’re probably familiar with this ministry by Franklin Graham. But what you may not know is that Samaritan’s Purse extends into other ministries as well. You can hear about each of them and get a glimpse of the Operation Christmas Child warehouse during a free campus tour.
The U.S. Disaster Relief unit is located a short drive away in North Wilkesboro, and offers visitors a glimpse of the process involved in mobilizing a team of disaster relief volunteers after the occurrence of a natural disaster.
Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, West Virginia
You may find it odd that I’ve added a ski resort on a list of educational places to visit during the winter, but stay with me. Not only can your family enjoy skiing together, you can also reserve a Snowcat tour which offers a behind the scenes glimpse of the snowmaking process.
Snowshoe Mountain is also situated in what’s a federally regulated Quiet Zone by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. This means cell service is limited, as the observatory listens to the skies for signs of life. The NRAO, located 30 minutes from Snowshoe, offers hands-on activities and StarLab planetarium sessions with guided bus tours of the telescopes, including the world’s largest moving telescope.
Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia
Reasonably priced with discounts for school groups and AAA members, your ticket to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley grants you access to the museum. The museum focuses on mountain life in the Appalachians to the Civil War period, an impressive miniatures collection, and changing special exhibits. If you visit after April, you can include a stroll along the grounds and a peek inside the Glen Burnie house. Families can easily spend an hour or two exploring the exhibits (more if the grounds and house are open) before heading into Winchester to explore the small town charm.
The Historic Triangle of Virginia
If you’re looking to delve into Early American and Colonial History, there’s no better place than the Historic Triangle of Virginia. Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, Plantation homes and other historic properties and national parks are all situated within an easy drive from one another. A trip to the area is like stepping back in time.
San Antonio, Texas
When you think of San Antonio, you probably think of the Alamo. However, did you know that the city has more missions that can be viewed along the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park?
In addition to the missions, the zoo, botanical gardens, Hemisfair, and Institute of Texan Culture provide plenty of exploration for a day or two.
U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Home to Space Camp and Aviation Challenge, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama is the perfect location for your budding astronaut to get a taste of what it’s like to blast into space. You can enjoy a simple visit of the museum, or sign up for one of their programs. Plan your visit accordingly to include a bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center and learn why Huntsville boasts the nickname Rocket City USA.
Have you visited any of the locations on this list? What destinations would you add?