Top U.S. winter destinations to buy a vacation home

Winter vacation destinations are trending

With an average 23% increase in November–January occupancy from 2016 to 2017, winter destinations across the U.S. delivered peak profits for vacation homeowners. If you’re in the market for a vacation home in a winter destination, read on. Vacasa’s winter destinations report highlights the 10 markets that should be at the top of your list.

When you find a vacation home you love and want to know its rental revenue potential, simply plug its address into our vacation rental income calculator and we’ll show you how much you could be earning with Vacasa.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a vacation home in winter destination markets:

Shop cold and buy hot

It’s typically best to shop for a winter vacation home during the winter rental season and buy during summer or fall. You can expect a lot more inventory to hit the market after peak season dies down. And when there are fewer guests on the books, transitioning the home to a new property management service will be easier.

Visiting a winter destination at the height of the season creates an opportunity for buyers to experience little things that are a big deal to guests. It’s a time for future homeowners to explore considerations that are unique to the market, such as internet connectivity, cell reception, road conditions, and access to activities, all of which can make or break someone’s winter vacation—and your reviews.

Local favorites deliver

In addition to big-name resort regions such as Park City, Utah, and Stowe, Vermont, vacation homeowners are seeing high returns with local favorites such as Oregon’s Mount Hood region and Big Bear Lake, California.

Local favorites tend to be drive-to markets, located within a few hours of a metropolitan area but still not major national players. These markets do well in times of economic downturn, or when increases in oil prices cause families to hit the road rather than fly.

Downhill isn’t everything

While it may be sacrilege for some to even consider, investing in a winter destination isn’t always about downhill skiing. One of our top markets to buy a vacation home—Leavenworth, Washington—is more popular with guests seeking that cozy cabin feel and holiday activities than the resort lifestyle.

But don’t worry. Investing in a Leavenworth vacation home wouldn’t mean you have to hang up your skis. It’s less than an hour’s drive from Steven’s Pass and Mission Ridge, two respectable Pacific Northwest mountain resorts. And with hundreds of miles of trails, it’s a dreamscape for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding.

Find the hidden gems

If you’re looking to buy a vacation home in a winter market next year, it can pay to look beyond the major resort areas. Consider lesser-known winter wonderlands that deliver consistent returns and increasingly extended opportunities for vacation rental revenue through off-season events such as fairs and music festivals.

Two destinations that tend to miss out on the national spotlight but consistently deliver high return on investment for vacation homeowners include Flagstaff, Arizona, and Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Often referred to as best-kept secrets, these markets have a dedicated fan base of guests willing to drive a little further to enjoy great skiing and shorter lift lines.

November is booming (and shoulder season occupancy is increasing)

From snowfall to resort activity, peak season occupancy trends in winter markets can be impacted by a number of factors—but they still have a story to tell. Looking at year-over-year (YOY) occupancy changes from 2016–2017 for our top 10 markets, we see a 17 percent average overall increase in winter season occupancy.

Between 2016 and 2017 there was an average 34 percent jump in November occupancy across our top 10 winter markets. It was a big snow season out West and in New England, but the snow didn’t start piling up in a memorable way until December and January in most markets, so we don’t believe that was the cause of the November spike.

2016–2017 winter season occupancy

YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

November

+34%

December

+1%

January

+16%

Winter season average

+17%

Another possibility is that property managers are now using advanced technologies to better market vacation homes, extending traditional booking seasons wherever they operate. There’s a trend of increased occupancy across the shoulder seasons in winter markets as well. Higher occupancy during traditionally slow times of year and longer busy seasons mean more tourism dollars for resort towns.

2016–2017 shoulder season occupancy

YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

April

+58%

May

+43%

September

+50%

October

+49%

Shoulder season average

+50%

Learn more about the top 10 winter destinations to invest in a vacation home

If you dream of owning property that delivers hot fires on cold winter nights—and a nice return on your investment—put these ten markets at the top of your list. (And be sure to visit them this season!)

1. Okemo/Ludlow, VT

Two hours south of Stowe, Ludlow is a quiet Vermont mountain village known for its vibrant history, friendly community, and natural beauty. Ludlow is home to Okemo Mountain Resort. Legendary among East Coast skiers, it boasts some of the best grooming in the world and was dubbed the nation’s best family resort by Parents Magazine. A small-but-mighty mountain market with affordable cabins and a growing booking season, this is an ideal region to buy a winter vacation home—especially if you’re willing to put in some work. The area saw a lot of construction in the ’70s and ’80s, and renovations help homes here stand out.

Explore Okemo and Ludlow vacation rentals.

Market size

2,000+ rental units

Median annual rental revenue

$32,020

Median home price

$273,600

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+19%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+106%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+37.6%

Cap rate

6.1%

2. Mount Hood, OR

A one-hour drive from Portland, Oregon, the Mount Hood vacation rental region is home to hundreds of miles of backcountry trails and three popular ski resorts: Timberline, Mt. Hood Skibowl, and Mt. Hood Meadows. If Timberline Lodge looks familiar when you visit, that’s because it was featured in the popular 1980 film The Shining, based on the Stephen King novel. But with moderate home prices, a steady stream of year-round guests, and a cap rate of nearly 6%, there’s nothing to be scared of in this market, especially in the town of Government Camp, which saw the area’s largest increase in guest occupancy.

Explore Mount Hood vacation rentals.

Market size

320+ rental units

Median annual rental revenue

$31,440

Median home price

$336,500

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+11%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+37%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+16%

Cap rate

5.9%

3. Leavenworth, WA

Nestled in Washington State’s scenic North Central Cascades just two hours from Seattle, Leavenworth features Bavarian architecture and laid-back alpine style. Proximity to town or the Wenatchee River drives up home costs but doesn’t necessarily impact demand, which is steady across the region. In Leavenworth, occupancy and amenities dictate rental revenue. It’s better to have five small bedrooms than three big ones, and adding a hot tub can increase your rental revenue up to 25 percent.

Explore Leavenworth vacation rentals.

Market size

500+ rental units

Median annual rental revenue

$34,940

Median home price

$380,400

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+15%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+21%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+20%

Cap rate

5.6%

4. Park City, UT

Home to the legendary Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resorts, and hosting the star-studded Sundance Film Festival each winter, Park City is in a league of its own. Vacation rentals in Park City are top performers, but buyers who are willing to invest for the future will see better ROI in the up-and-coming areas just outside of town. Consider nearby Deer Valley Resort and new developments near the Jordanelle Reservoir and Heber-Kamas border. There are a lot of great places to buy vacation rental property near Park City if you’re patient—they’ll be ideal rental income drivers in a few years.

Explore Park City vacation rentals.

Market size

5,900+ rental units

Median annual rental revenue

$50,410

Median home price

$557,700

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+12%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+52%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+22%

Cap rate

5.5%

5. Steamboat Springs, CO

Steamboat Springs is world-renowned for being a winter wonderland, thanks to its namesake resort. Steamboat Springs Ski Resort offers over 3,600 ft. of vertical rise and its longest run, coined “Why Not,” is more than three miles long. Non-skiers enjoy the area’s snowshoeing, tubing, snowmobile tours, and numerous geothermal hot springs. Driven by a booming November and January, Steamboat Springs saw a 26 percent increase in winter occupancy from 2016–2017—the second highest winter leap of our top 10 markets.

Explore Steamboat Springs vacation rentals.

Market size

3,300+ rental units

Median annual rental revenue

$42,230

Median home price

$549,500

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+26%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+32%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+25%

Cap rate

5.1%

6. Big Bear Lake, CA

California’s Big Bear Lake area is a four-season vacation rental destination nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, 7,000 feet above sea level. This popular haven for outdoor enthusiasts is a two-hour drive from Los Angeles and San Diego through some of the state’s most beautiful scenery. Home to the pristine Big Bear Lake and commanding 63 inches of snow and nearly 300 sunny days each year, this area offers Southern Californians easy access to world-class skiing at Snow Summit Mountain and Bear Mountain Resort. Big Bear Lake is a beloved mountain market with even bigger potential as growing demand meets an expanding booking season.

Explore Big Bear Lake vacation rentals.

Market size

4,000+ rental units

Median annual rental revenue

$28,430

Median home price

$337,000

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+1%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+55%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+19%

Cap rate

4.6%

7. Pagosa Springs, CO

Flying under the radar in a state boasting some of the world’s most famous mountain resorts, and tucked into the upper basin of the San Juan Mountains along the Colorado Sunbelt, Pagosa Springs is one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets. But with nearby Wolf Creek ski resort offering some of the longest runs in Colorado, and surrounded by over three million acres of national forest, wilderness preserve, and tribal lands, this rugged resort town offers boundless adventure for guests—and big opportunity for vacation homeowners. With a 47 percent YOY increase in occupancy, this hidden gem won’t stay secret long.

Explore Pagosa Springs vacation rentals.

Market size

795+ rental units

Median annual rental revenue

$21,720

Median home price

$287,500

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+20%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+90%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+47%

Cap rate

4.5%

8. Flagstaff, AZ

Located about 150 miles north of the sun-soaked Phoenix area, Flagstaff sits at an elevation of roughly 7,000 feet, giving it a four-season, high desert climate unlike most of the state. During winter, vacation rental guests flock to Flagstaff to shred fresh powder at the Arizona Snowbowl. Offering postcard-perfect hiking trails as well as the snowy San Francisco Peaks, and located only 80 miles from Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff offers year-round opportunity for vacation homeowners.

Explore Flagstaff vacation rentals.

Market size

780+ rental units

Median annual rental income

$23,380

Median home price

$349,900

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+7%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+20%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+16%

Cap rate

4.5%

9. Stowe, VT

Known by many as the "Ski Capital of the East," Stowe is a small town offering big opportunity for vacation home buyers. Stowe is located in north-central Vermont and is more or less equidistant from Albany, New York; Boston, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; and Portland, Maine. Train and bus access to nearby Waterbury, just 10 miles south of Stowe, makes this one of the most easily accessible ski towns for vacation rental guests on the East Coast. Stowe experienced a 51 percent YOY jump in shoulder season occupancy. Like many others on this list, it is becoming increasingly popular as a multi-season destination, which is great news for the town as well as for those looking to own a vacation home there.

Explore Stowe vacation rentals.

Market size

900+ rental units

Median annual rental revenue

$37,120

Median home price

$593,200

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+30%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+51%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+30%

Cap rate

4.3%

10. North Lake Tahoe, CA

The North Lake Tahoe vacation rental region—which includes towns such as Truckee, Tahoe City, Kings Beach, Olympic Valley, and Norden—boasts some of the Sierra Nevada’s best mountain resorts. Visitors traveling from the crowded cities and bustling suburbs of the Sacramento Valley and beyond come here for the snow—and when they want accommodations a little outside the typical resort communities along the Lake Tahoe shore. North Lake Tahoe boasts 6,000 acres, 270 trails, 43 lifts, eight mountain peaks, and six terrain parks. With lower home prices and lighter regulations than nearby South Lake Tahoe, this area is a winter wonderland for vacation homeowners who want a home that delivers big on mountain experiences and occupancy in a growing market.

Explore North Lake Tahoe vacation rentals.

Market size

4,500+ rental units

Median annual rental revenue

$37,160

Median home price

$646,200

Winter season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+19%

Shoulder season YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+38%

Total YOY occupancy change 2016–2017

+24%

Cap rate

3.9%

Methodology

For this report, we looked at U.S. vacation rental markets with the highest average occupancy by month from November to January. We narrowed that list to over 150 snow markets. Finally, we ordered our list by cap rate—a figure for comparing return on investment—to help determine the top ten.

Read related article: What is cap rate and why is it important?

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* This document is for information and illustrative purposes only. It is not intended to provide “investment advice” or a “recommendation” regarding a course of action. The discussion is general in nature and has not taken into account your personal financial position or objectives. You should consult a licensed financial advisor or other professional to discuss your specific situation.

Estimated rental income figures and home sale prices are based on historical averages; for any specific property, the actual revenue, purchase price, and cap rate may differ materially from estimated amounts and depend on a wide range of factors outside Vacasa's knowledge or control, such as the property's condition, layout, and furnishings; expenses associated with the acquisition and ownership of the property (such as property taxes, utility fees, HOA fees, insurance fees, and mortgage-related expenses); rental calendar availability; existing and future regulations; current and future economic, social, and political trends and conditions; and weather and environmental factors. These estimates do not take into account the potential impact of state income taxes.

Vacasa makes no representations or warranties, express or implied, about the accuracy of this document. Furthermore, Vacasa has no obligation to update, modify or amend this document or to otherwise notify users in the event that any opinion, assumption, forecast or estimate set forth herein changes or subsequently becomes inaccurate. Therefore, you should not place undue reliance on statements in this document.