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10 Festivals for Your First Road Trip of the Year

Ways to Celebrate Winter—or Escape From It—this January

What’s the best way to cope with the post-holiday blues, the approach of tax season, and the onset of the winter doldrums? Escape with a getaway to one of these 10 festivals across the nation this January. Some help you embrace the season; others take you away from it. All, however, are sure to distract you from the chill.

Stowe Winter Carnival, Stowe, VT

The Stowe Winter Carnival, held every year since 1974, is one of the reasons people brave the chill to visit Vermont’s winter wonderland in mid-January. You can watch professional ice carvers create beautiful, complex designs during the ice-carving competition, and then take part in a round of snow volleyball (stopping now and then to make snow angels). There’s also a ski race (Super G Schuss), a snow golf tournament, a movie night, a kids’ carnival, a youth hockey tournament, and several other games and competitions—including those for adults as well as kids. After all that chilly fun, warm up at an after party in one of the area’s pubs.

Alternate: Monument Square in Racine, Wisconsin, is the site of, the Big Chill, one of the country’s biggest snow-sculpture competitions. It’s held in mid-January.

Sundance Film Festival, Park City, UT

The preeminent, mid-January Sundance Film Festival began modestly in 1978; over the years, it’s grown exponentially, and now shows documentaries, international films, shorts, and features to audiences of more than 50,000 every year, plus an online audience of more than 1 million. Festival winners are often among the best breakout films of each year. Screenings and events take place in close to 20 theaters and other venues throughout four Utah communities: Park City, Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Sundance Resort. There are also panel discussions with top filmmakers and other industry leaders, live music, and loads of celebrity sightings. Book well in advance; check for online festival packages and passes.

Alternate: In the first two weeks of January, more than 200 films from dozens of countries entertain movie-star attendees and the cinema buffs who adore them at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Special events, gala receptions, and a black-tie awards show add pizzazz to the star-studded oh-so California event.

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, NV

Beneath the tough exterior and calloused hands of a cowboy hides a creative and sensitive soul. OK, maybe not necessarily that sensitive, but many of the men and women who continue to make the West what it is are adept at sharing themselves in rhyme. Northeastern Nevada’s annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in late January both provides the chance to hear tales of life on the range turned into verse. Activities also included exhibits of Western art and gear; writing, cooking, and other workshops; films about the West; panel discussions of issues facing the region; ranch dances; and late-night jam sessions.

Alternate: Traditionally in Hawaii, Makahiki was the period following the harvesting season, when conflicts between villages ceased, tributes were paid, and sporting competitions were organized. This tradition is honored during the late-January Ka Moloka’i Makahiki in Kaunakakai Town on Molokai with music, dance, competitions on land and sea, and arts-and-crafts workshops.

Dixie National Livestock Show & Rodeo, Jackson, MS

Hang on to your hats, buckaroos. The late-January to mid-February Dixie National Rodeo and Livestock Show is a rip-snortin’ good time. World-champion cowboys sporting big belt buckles compete for big bucks in the ring. Also working hard for their money: rodeo clowns, bull doggers (a.k.a. steer wrestlers), barrel racers (horseback riders who navigate a course of barrels), and ropers. Outside the rodeo arena, take in a livestock show, watch one of the largest parades east of the Mississippi, or put on your best boots and head to the rodeo dance. When you tire of the arena’s dust and noise, stop by the Miss Dixie National Rodeo Queen Pageant, where one of the criteria is “horsemanship.”

Alternate: The late January Augusta Futurity rodeo event in is flavored with Georgia-style Southern hospitality. Events include cutting-horse competitions, championship bull riding, and a cowboy parade.

National Western Stock Show, Denver, CO

City-dwellers might find it hard to understand why more than 600,000 people come to this festival to see barnyard animals standing in pens and cages or running around a corral trying to get away from some guy on a horse. Still, for two weeks every mid January, the National Western Stock Show grabs Denver’s attention. Events include rodeos, livestock shows, horse shows, sheep-shearing competitions, a fiddle contest, and more. But the main event for some city-slickers is just staring in surprise at how big steak is on the hoof.

Alternate: The free Pennsylvania Farm Show, one of America’s largest indoor agricultural events (more than 400,000 spectators come to see nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibitors, and 300 commercial exhibits), takes place in Harrisburg over two weeks in early January.