Winter makes for dramatic road trips. Even the familiar can seem new and surprising when the landscape is transformed, naked and swaddled in snow. Just stock up on the antifreeze and bump up the heater — a road trip in winter can be rewarding, but unpredictable conditions can sometimes sneak up on you.
But don't let the challenges keep you from playing on mountains draped in powder, or from nearby winter festivals that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
For the biggest and most impressive of these winter celebrations, head to Quebec City, recommends Charlie Leocha, a travel expert and columnist for Consumertraveler.com. "Quebec City hosts an absolutely spectacular winter carnival that is not to be missed," he says.Video: Staying safe in winter weather (on this page)
Road trips from the city north along the St. Lawrence River offer a host of other options for an extended weekend trip. "Visit Montmorency Falls, which freezes solid during the winter," says Leocha. "A little further you come to the town of Sainte-Anne, which has the most important pilgrimage cathedral in Canada. Then you get to Mont-Sainte-Anne, which is a big, unique ski area where you can ski down both sides of the mountain.Video: Tips for driving in ice and snow (on this page)
"Some trails curve down the mountain, and there are these areas that drop where you feel like you're going to ski right into the St. Lawrence River," says Leocha.
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Eric Peterson, a Frommer's writer and guidebook author for a few mountain states, enjoys the variation in activities provided by the upscale mountain retreat of Devil's Thumb Ranch, in Tabernash, Colo. "If somebody in the group doesn't want to go skiing, they can go get a massage or take a dip in one of the year-round hot tubs," says Peterson. "It's pretty luxurious." Or for something more private, try the cabins down the road, owned and operated by the same company.
Or get up close and personal with nature on a trip that begins at Yellowstone National Park and ends in Jackson Hole, Wyo., 56 miles to the south. "Yellowstone gets 100,000 visitors in the winter, and gets 3 million in the summer," says Peterson. "You typically have to take a snow coach into Old Faithful. You get to watch it blow up by yourself sometimes.
"There's also great cross-country skiing, and great snowshoeing. And there are pretty good chances of seeing bison, wolves, elk, moose, otter," says Peterson. "It's tremendous — it's a totally different world than in the summertime there."
For a more varied landscape and itinerary, Leocha recommends starting a trip in Reno, Nev., spending some time at the shows or gambling, then driving through the desert to the California winter wonderland of Mammoth Mountain, which has one of the longest ski seasons in the country. "I like the way the landscape changes, says Leocha. "You go from the lushness of Lake Tahoe and you drop across the dry desert, and it becomes almost a lunar landscape."
We've selected here some of the best winter road trips in North America. Most are in the U.S., but a few choice options are in Canada, where they know a little something about fun in the snow. Some are destinations, where the drive can be dramatic, and part of the attraction. Others are tours that feature multiple stops along the route, all of which reward a visit.
Whichever option you choose, don't forget those tire chains.
© 2012 Forbes.com