There is no better place to spend your bleary January than in the USA. The country is full top-to-tail of incredible winter destinations, whether you want warm temperatures or fun winter activities in the snow. January travel is also tactical, being outside peak season for most destinations, meaning fewer crowds and better access to incredible attractions. A great example is the national parks, where hiking trails become almost empty. January in the USA is fabulous – you just need to know which places to visit.
Best Places To Visit In January In The USA
To help you get the most out of the year’s first month, we’ve compiled a list of the best places to visit in January in the US. These destinations are spread across the entire country – some snowy and wintery with classic activities like cross-country skiing, some mild with better access to hiking trails and attractions, and others hot, with beautiful beaches. Are you ready to plan your January vacation? Here is where you’ll meet your match.
1. South Padre Island
South Padre Island is a brilliant place to visit in January if you want sunny weather and a glorious vacation on a barrier island. In January, temperatures drop marginally, but you can still enjoy plenty of outdoor activities and beach days. There are just so many things to do in South Padre Island: birding, horseback riding, snorkeling, and more. It has 34 miles of coastline, bright white sands, and famously emerald waters. It truly is a gem of Texas, as it is the only tropical barrier island and has an impressive total of over 300 days of sunshine a year.
South Padre Island is ideal if you want to experience coastal living in Texas. When you visit in January, you’ll have barely any crowds. In March, all the spring break crowds descend on the town, and the small town gets seriously busy.
2. Key West
Who doesn’t love Key West? This stunning island city marks the end point of the beloved Florida Keys, a chain of barrier islands located on the southernmost point of Florida. Only 90 miles north of Cuba, Key West gets tropical temperatures all year round – so wave goodbye to cold weather and hello to sandy beaches. Key West has pastel-colored houses and is connected to mainland Florida by the famed Overseas Highway, which connects all the keys. It is known as a hub for diving and snorkeling, and if you are part of a niche group that likes to be underwater rather than on the beach, this is one of the best places to visit in January.
One of the most popular ways to visit this island is on a Miami to Key West road trip. You can also combine it with a trip to the nearby Everglades.
3. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is one of January’s most iconic and best places to visit. There are so many things to do in Death Valley, and we can guarantee that they are much more enjoyable in the 30s to 60s than in the sky-high mid-summer temperatures that Death Valley sees. The summer temperatures in Death Valley National Park get so high that there is a frequent danger-to-life warnings. So it is easily one of the best places to visit in January when warm weather is no barrier to enjoying all the park offers.
Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the USA. You can visit Badwater Basin, Dante’s View, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Racetrack Playa. The last one is the most mysterious, with rocks that mysteriously move themselves.
4. Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is another best place to visit in January to beat the holiday crowds. This Oregon beauty is one of the best US national parks, with its most famous money shot being the namesake crater lake that was dramatically formed by the ancient volcano Mount Mazama – which collapsed to leave Crater Lake behind. The park is centered around this lake, with a beautiful Rim Drive with viewpoints over volcanic formations. Many little islands are also on the lake, like Phantom Ship and Wizard Island. Crater Lake National Park is one of the best weekend destinations in January.
Crater Lake National Park is undoubtedly most famed for its bright blue waters and serene atmosphere. It is hard to believe that Crater Lake National Park was once home to a raging volcano. Of course, Crater Lake is also the deepest lake in the USA, another exciting reason to visit. It averages a staggering 31 meters deep and is one of the top 10 deepest lakes in the world.
5. San Diego
The vibrant city of San Diego does not get enough love for our liking. We’ve frequently covered the city, from the best beaches in San Diego to a tell-all guide on where to stay in San Diego. Los Angeles can step aside for a bit – it’s time to give San Diego its well-deserved recognition, especially as one of the best places to visit in January. San Diego’s winning factor is its gorgeous year-round climate, which makes it one of the best places to visit in winter. And when you couple that with over 70 miles of beautiful beaches, it is easy to see why it is such a sought-after place to visit in January. San Diego is a city break meets beach destination.
San Diego has attractions like the Hotel de Coronado, Balboa Park, and the USS Midway Museum. There’s also the beautiful Torrey Pines State National Reserve and plenty of opportunities to spot sea lions.
6. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park has a beautiful 2.2 million-acre collection and is a designated national elk refuge. It holds the grand title of the world’s first-ever national park and was established in 1872. Yellowstone National Park quickly grew a reputation for its hydrothermal and geological attractions, including Old Faithful – a massive geyser. And its park boundaries actually contain around half of the world’s active geysers. Yellowstone has a wow factor for history and nature lovers alike. Yellowstone National Park is best explored by car, where you can stop to admire and embark on its best Yellowstone hikes.
So, why visit in the off-season? What makes Yellowstone so great to see in January? In short, you skip the crowds. Yellowstone is one of the most visited national parks in the USA. This means that it gets hectic in peak season. In winter, you will have road closures to contend with, and you are best using a 4WD vehicle. However, the main road between the north and northeast entrances remains open, and you can still visit the park’s highlights. Just carefully research where to stay in Yellowstone and see which attractions are most accessible. Yellowstone National Park is definitely an adventure in winter.
7. Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is one of the best places to visit in early January. This national park is home to the most enormous cacti in the USA, and the saguaro plant has quickly become a symbol of America’s ancient Wild West era. Party because of this, Saguaro National Park has become a bucket list national park for people to visit in the USA. The cacti live up to 250 years old and grow to the size of trees – pretty cool, right?
Winter months are the best time to visit this park, as it means you can enjoy the hikes and cacti views without collapsing with heat exhaustion (which is a genuine risk). It is located just outside Tucson, and you don’t need a car if you are nifty on a pedal bike or a good hiker. Saguaro National Park is one of the most accessible parks in the USA.
8. Lake Tahoe
Nowhere quite beats Lake Tahoe in the winter months, and it is easily one of the top places to visit in January if you like ski resorts and outdoor winter activities. Lake Tahoe is renowned for world-class skiing and transforms annually into a winter wonderland. You can hit the slopes or enjoy cross-country skiing; winter sports are some of the best things to do in the area. Lake Tahoe is a stunning freshwater lake that straddles the California and Nevada borders. While in the summer, the lake’s beaches attract swimmers and sunbathers, by mid-January, the winter weather turns it into a haven for winter fun with snow sports and ski resorts galore.
Lake Tahoe is an ideal short getaway in January. It has also been used in hundreds of TV shows and movies, thanks to its pristine blue waters and classic backdrop of alpine scenery. As we said, beating Lake Tahoe is hard when you want a ski vacation in the USA. It’s one of the country’s best cold-weather destinations.
9. Zion National Park
Zion National Park might not have warm weather in January, with temperatures dropping below 40 F. However, since the park becomes almost unbearably busy and hot in the summer season, January is about as off-peak and quiet as possible. If you dress for the cold, you can still tackle some of the best hikes in Zion, and you are almost guaranteed to have them to yourself. Zion National Park has some stunning attractions, including the Emerald Pools, Canyon Overlook Trail, and even the Narrows are accessible in January if you have suitable equipment.
Zion National Park sees around 4.5 million annual visitors, and by visiting in January, you can skirt most of these. It means quieter trails and better accommodation, with more spaces and cheaper rates. You can find out where to stay in Zion in advance and snag the best deals.
10. Hunting Island State Park
Hunting Island State Park is the most popular state park in South Carolina. It rose to sharp fame after being used for most of the Vietnam War scenes in Forrest Gump and is now loved for its 5 miles of stunning white sand beaches and characteristic lighthouse. It sees over a million visitors annually and is easily one of the best places to visit in January. You can hike through boardwalks on thousands of acres of marshlands and even climb Hunting Island Lighthouse.
In January, temperatures drop, but if you dress for the weather, you can still enjoy many outdoor activities – just without the crowds. Things like horseback riding on the beach, kayaking, and fossil hunting are all ten times more enjoyable in winter when you have the scenery practically to yourself.
11. White Sands National Park
White Sands National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit during the holiday season. For a winter break, White Sands National Park is perfect. It is bright white as the world’s largest gypsum dune field – acres upon acres of white crystals. And with its New Mexico location, it is one of the leading warm-weather destinations to pick. Think of it as a hot version of a snow day. It has year-round warm temperatures, and you can go sand sledding, horseback, riding, or on 4WD experiences.
White Sands National Park is also home to the world’s most giant fossilized footprints that date back to the Ice Age, providing more than 20,000 years of humanity in this region. You can stay near Las Cruces or Tularosa or head to El Paso.
12. Big Sky
Montana is beautiful all year round, but January really takes the biscuit. And Big Sky is the state’s highlight. It is renowned as one of the USA’s leading resorts for skiing, and you can spot elk, big horn sheep, and more when you aren’t zipping down slopes at full blast. It is a little luxurious, but we recommend a visit if you fancy a high-end January getaway.
Big Sky is the best place for a ski getaway, and you can also combine it with a visit to Yellowstone National Park. What a win.
13. Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island is part of the beautiful South Carolina Lowcountry. It has 12 miles of stunning beaches, a traditional coastline, a classic red and white Harbor Town Lighthouse, and a scenic golf course. Hilton Head Island is somewhere you can escape the hecticness of US cities and embrace a slower pace of life. And it has the bonus of being much less mainstream and quieter in the way of tourists – especially in its January low season.
Temperatures hover at around 60 F on Hilton Head Island, perfect for beach walks so long as you have a couple of layers. Hilton Head Island is the ideal quirky getaway in January if you don’t want intense sun and heat but love coastal scenery. You can even see dolphins.
14. Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes is a Californian town in the sought-after Sierra Nevada mountains. It is a hotspot for multi-day hiking and stunning alpine views in spring and summer. While in winter, it transforms into a leading getaway for winter snow sports like skiing and snowboarding. From Mammoth Lakes, you can visit the Devil’s Postpile National Monument and see the limestone towers at Mono Lake. Mammoth Lakes isn’t far from Yosemite National Park either, making it an excellent base for a more extended period.
If you fancy a Californian ski break – a phrase you rarely hear – then Mammoth Lakes is your best bet. It is also ideal for exploring eastern California’s attractions that are a little ambitious for fulfilling day trips from LA or San Francisco. Mammoth Lakes is snow sports heaven and an excellent base for day trips.
15. Payette National Forest
Payette National Forest is a 2.3 million-acre forest in Idaho and a beautiful place to hike, camp, and come face-to-face (or as close as comfortable) with hundreds of classic American animals. You can spot deer, elk, mountain lions, bears, coyotes, and cute, small animals like river otters and snowshoe hares. It also creates ‘open play areas’, where suitable vehicles can tackle winter snow tracks. You can just check out the Payette Winter Travel Map for road guidance.
If you want a winter forest getaway in January, snowy Payette National Forest is a brilliant option. It has really accessible forest roads if you have a 4WD with suitable adjustments, and it is really geared up for winter guests with its Winter Travel Map. You can enjoy cross-country skiing and different snow activities as well.
16. Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is a collection of seven islands with a historic Fort Jefferson on the largest. It is also a hotspot for marine life and has some stunning coral reefs. Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most unique places to visit in the USA, not just in January but all year round. Why? Because it is incredibly challenging to reach, requiring you to charter a boat or seaplane. Most national parks in the USA have nearly millions of visitors, while 80,000 visitors make it to Dry Tortugas National Park annually. You can book tours from Key West by ferry or organize private transport, and there’s camping onsite at the Garden Key campground.
January is one of the best times to visit this hard-to-reach park, as the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean are quieter from November to April – e.g., outside of hurricane season.
Aspen is beautiful. The mountain town is a hub of winter activities, and the whole of the USA holds its breath until winter finally arrives at Aspen again. Most of the best things to do are snow-related, and you can enjoy superb skiing and snowboarding. That’s not to mention nearby spots like Glenwood Hot Springs, where you can day trip to and enjoy naturally heated pools. When better to do so than in the height of winter?
Aspen is a must if you are a passionate snow sports lover. January is quite busy, as winter is Aspen’s peak season. However, March and December are some of the most active months, so you won’t be absolutely crushed by crowds. Start the new year in style – heading full pelt down an Aspen mountain.
18. Las Vegas
Vegas is an easy one to persuade people to visit. Sin City is one of the most famed cities in the world, and you can gamble, party, and sightsee to your heart’s content. It has a reputation for indulgence, which is easy to see just from looking at the hotels and places to stay in Las Vegas. You have everything from casinos to world-class golf courses. Talk about variety.
New Year’s Eve is an intense but insanely fun time to visit Las Vegas, so we’d suggest visiting from late December to early January. However, even late and mid-January have their draws, with plenty of events and action on the Strip. And that’s without factoring in all the fantastic things to do off the Strip, like day trips to kayak Emerald Cave and even to the Grand Canyon.
19. Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City is a great winter getaway. The historic city is the capital of Utah and is full of fascinating culture, including Mormon history and religious attractions. Salt Lake City is packed with things to do, including museums like the Natural History Museum of Utah, Salt Lake Utah Temple, This Is The Place Heritage Park, and the beautiful Red Butte Garden. Salt Lake City is packed with social and cultural history, and attractions are much quieter in its January off-season. You should also consider its fun winter activities, like nearby skiing and snowboarding resorts in its surrounding mountains.
Salt Lake City might not be the first January vacation you have in mind, but it is an excellent option for anyone who likes an adrenaline rush or is interested in Mormonism.
20. Big Island
Big Island is known for its things to do. The vast island is the largest on the Hawaiian archipelago, and it has everything from a volcano to black sand beaches and beaches renowned for surfing. You can fly to the Big Island directly from most US airports. And when you arrive, you have island town atmospheres and beautiful attractions like the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to keep you entertained.
January is the best time to visit Hawaii if you’d like to dodge the crowds, especially the flocks of tourists that come for the sun at Christmas. A warning: January is the wettest month on the Big Island. However, if you book an extended stay to maximize sightseeing opportunities in dry spells and don’t mind the excitement of tropical storms, it is an excellent destination for winter. The Big Island is wet, not cold. The rain actually adds to the dramatic scenery, especially in rainforest areas like Honua’Ula Forest Reserve and Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary.
21. New Orleans
For southern charm, look no further than swanky and ultra-cool New Orleans. Not familiar with the city? Well, rest assured there are plenty of things to do. New Orleans is called ‘the Big Easy’ because of its cool vibe, non-stop and colorful nightlife, brilliant cuisine, and great atmosphere. The action compiles heavily on Bourbon Street, a neon street of bars and parties that spill out onto the street. However, you’ve also got swamp tours to spot alligators, snakes, turtles and riverboat cruises to enjoy New Orleans from a waterfront view. And that’s not to mention the jazz and Creole food tours.
You can feel flat in January. That post-festive lull hits most people, and New Orleans is the perfect cure. Upbeat and in your face, the city is precisely the high-energy boost you need to get you out of a January slump.
Hello Miami. After a cold Christmas or busy festive period with relatives, the perfect antidote is a January blast in this coastal city. Miami’s beaches are unrivaled, and even in the height of winter, temperatures can still reach the low 70s. This means you can manage a beach day or two and enjoy a dip in rooftop pools (check out our guide on where to stay in Miami). Walk amidst art deco architecture on South Beach and walk through oceanfront parks. Miami’s party scene is never-resting, too, and even in late and mid-January, you’ll be able to enjoy great nights out.
Of course, none of this even factors in the day trip potential from this significant Florida city. You can head to the Everglades, Florida Keys, or north to Fort Lauderdale. Miami is far from just a cut-and-paste city break. It is a base to enjoy Florida and its highlights while making the most of January’s fewer crowds.
Charleston is best known for the Charleston dance, but the South Carolina city also has the first college, museum, playhouse, and golf course in the USA. Charleston is a hub of history and one of the most fascinating city breaks you can take in the country. It is the oldest city in South Carolina and was established in its present location in 1680 before being renamed Charleston from Charles Town in 1783. And in January, you can enjoy light snow flurries and barely any crowds. It is the perfect time to visit a city that offers many museums and indoor attractions – like the Gibbes Museum of Art, High Wire Distillery, and the Charleston Museum.
There’s plenty to do and see in this underrated city. The city is easily accessible by Amtrak, flight, and car.
24. New York City
You don’t need us to tell you that you are never short of things to do in New York. This city is one of the best places you can visit in winter in the world – not just in the USA. The mega city is full of festive cheer and sparkling lights, especially if you stay in early January to catch the end of Christmas markets and decorations. Mid and late January are also great, with post-Christmas shopping sales and more attractions reopening. Plus, you can see all the classic attractions, like Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and the 9/11 Memorial.
You can easily find places to stay in New York, and for extra inspiration, see our guide on where to stay in New York. It is a popular January vacation for great reason.
25. Amelia Island
Amelia Island is one of the best weekend getaways in Florida, yet this beautiful barrier island is almost criminally overlooked internationally. The island has 13 miles of coastline, quiet in summer and deserted in winter. If you want a beach getaway with zero crowds, Amelia Island is a beautiful idea and one of your best choices. You don’t need a car to get around once you arrive at Amelia Island, and you can spend your vacation leisurely walking or biking around with stunning scenery.
Other activities on Amelia Island include swimming, kayaking, and bird watching. You can spot tons of wildlife, too. There are alligators, bobcats, turtles, and river otters. There are even bald eagles – the last thing you’d expect on a sandy barrier island. Amelia Island has one of Florida’s most unique coastal ecosystems and is a haven for nature lovers.
Who doesn’t love Sedona? This Arizona desert town is much loved for all its amazing things to do, which include hiking through red rock buttes and visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument. Sedona is also ideally located for a day trip to see the Grand Canyon, and you can enjoy the ski activities in Flagstaff in winter – just without those unbearable crowds. Sedona is basically the quieter Flagstaff alternative. And if you are confident driving in icy and snowy conditions and happy to rent a 4WD, you’ll love Sedona in January. The hikes in Sedona and the number of potential day trips are unreal.
For more inspiration, check out the leading hotels in Sedona. There are many places to stay, although book in advance because it is still a popular place to visit in January, despite Flagstaff getting the most attention. Remember to check out the Sedona Heritage Museum, Seven Sacred Pools, and all the art galleries.
FAQs: Places to Spend January in the USA
As you can see, January is best spent in the USA. Any of these 26 best places to visit in January will treat you to a fantastic time – whether you head to Aspen for winter sports, New Orleans for city culture, or Amelia Island for beaches. Before you go, though, check out these FAQs. You never know which bit of information could make all the difference.
What is the best state to go to in January?
If you want sun, you should head to Florida or California. If you’d prefer a snowy January vacation, head to Colorado, Montana, South Carolina, or New York.
Where in the US is it warm in January?
California and Florida are both still warm in January. Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii are also good choices for chasing warm weather.
Where is a good time to travel in January?
You can usually snag deals in early January – especially if you are willing to fly on the dreaded New Year’s Day. However, as a whole, the month is exceptionally modest in terms of budgeting for flights. And mid January should be when most attractions that close during holidays reopen.
Where is it warm to travel in January outside the US?
Anywhere in the southern hemisphere is a great option when looking for warm places outside the US to visit in January. Australia is in its peak summer at this time. South America and Central America are also hot at this time, and even some countries in Europe, like Cyprus, experience mild weather at this time.
Do you want a winter wonderland? Or a beautiful beach that you can bask on? There are so many incredible USA destinations to visit in January. We’ve worked hard to limit this guide to just the best 26. The diversity of the USA comes to light in January, and you can see the full scale of what the country offers tourists.
The USA has everything from winter outdoor activities at snowy resort towns to tropical paradises like the Big Island and stunning red rock scenery like Zion National Park. And that’s before we even mention city breaks – hello, New York and Las Vegas. The winter months really highlight these dramatically different experiences in the USA.
Hopefully, you are now excited to head off on your January holiday. Before you do, remember to check out our list of the 50 best places you can visit in the USA. We’ve also got resources on the best national parks, beaches, hikes, and road trips in the USA. We are super passionate about US travel, and our goal is to keep you as informed as possible, with all the best information just a click away. Have a fantastic time wherever you visit in January.