I’ve extensively traveled across the USA and abroad, and my guide will point you to the best places to visit in January!
This epic round-up features warm weather retreats, winter sports resorts, uncrowded getaways, and seasonal festivals. I cover several popular destinations, as well as hidden gems you won’t want to miss. Plus, I share resources and travel tips to make it easy to plan your January vacation!
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11 Best Places to Visit in January in the USA
Death Valley National Park, California
Dodge high temperatures and admire the desert beauty of America’s lowest point.
Death Valley National Park is infamous for its arid heat. But average January temperatures range from the 60s (F) in the day to around 40 in the evenings. You may, ironically, want to bring warm clothes to Death Valley!
Stroll up the sand dunes at Mesquite Flat. Wander the wavy rock formations near Zabriskie Point. Take in the epic vistas from Dante’s View. These are just a few of the fascinating places awaiting you in this California national park.
Enjoy the best of the Appalachian alpine in this Tennessee town.
This mountain town in Tennessee is one of the best places to take a winter getaway. A visit in January avoids the large crowds around the Gatlinburg Winter Magic Festival in November and the holiday season. Still, there will be millions of lights up everywhere.
Gatlinburg is also the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nothing is quite so charming as the frosty stillness of the Appalachian alpine forests. The colder temperatures also make retiring to a rustic log cabin at the end of the day that much cozier!
San Diego, California
Bask in the sun and surf the waves in So Cal’s southernmost city.
San Diego is great any time of the year, but January is one of my favorite times to visit. Winters here see warm weather, and who wouldn’t love the bragging rights of surfing on a January vacation? The crowds are also at their lowest during this time of year.
There’s something for everyone in San Diego, too. History buffs will love visiting the USS Midway Museum. Families will want to add trips to SeaWorld and Legoland. The smaller beach towns around San Diego are fantastic places for seaside attractions — Oceanside is my favorite.
Back in town, there’s the sophisticated Gaslamp Quarter, a downtown neighborhood with plenty of entertainment. There’s also no shortage of fantastic restaurants and breweries in the greater San Diego area.
Lake Tahoe, California, and Nevada
Carve through powder on the slopes above America’s favorite alpine lake.
Lake Tahoe is another of California’s many charming winter destinations. The Golden State does, however, share this stunning sapphire lake with the Silver State, Nevada. It’s one of the best places to visit if you love ski resorts, winter hikes, and alpine ambiance. January is the snowiest month of the year, seeing 43 to 46 inches on average!
The lake doesn’t freeze in winter, but there are some great spots for ice skating around town such as Heavenly Village and Edgewood on Ice.
There are also a ton of great restaurants, bars, and breweries. Boutique hotels and ski lodges abound. Basecamp Tahoe South is a favorite of mine. It offers super cozy rooms, as well as an on-site restaurant and a gift shop with awesome swag.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
See stately saguaro cacti at this national park near Tucson, Arizona.
Arizona’s Saguaro National Park is a great destination to visit in the winter. Temperatures are tolerable and it’s not too crowded, either. The park bears the name of the towering saguaro cactus, but there are also several other species of this prickly plant here.
The park near Tucson has two separate districts. Most of the cacti lie in the western Tucson Mountain District. The eastern Rincon District is closer to town but has a more remote feeling. It’s also the only place in Saguaro National Park where camping is allowed. You’ll need to pack in everything, though, because there are no camping facilities.
Key West, Florida
Unlock the door to summer fun even in January in Key West.
Key West is one of the best places in Florida and with good reason. It’s one of the few tropical regions in America and the perfect place for aquatic activities such as sailing, snorkeling, and parasailing. These activities continue even in the dead of winter.
There’s plenty to do back on land, too. Key West also hosts several festivals in late January. The Key West Food & Wine Fest is a great place for foodies. The Mile 0 music festival provides foot-stomping country and Americana tunes to while the evening away. Sometimes, though, just sitting in the Florida sun on the beach is better than anything!
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana
Spend a few days of the first month of the year in America’s first national park.
Yellowstone is one of the best US national parks and is worth visiting any time of the year. Most people choose summer, but January shows a different side of life here. It’s a great time for wildlife viewing because snow in the mountains drives many of the area’s most famous four-footed residents to lower altitudes.
Yellowstone’s famous thermal pools are off-limits for bathing, but there are still some great ways to drive off the cold weather. Hot springs in the surrounding areas, for one, are often available year-round. There are also several cozy cabin-style lodgings to settle down for the night.
👉 Heads Up: Most roads through Yellowstone are closed during winter. Access the park from Montana or plan to book a private snowcoach tour.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Explore Northern Utah’s winter wonderland which has a little something for everyone.
Salt Lake City, Utah is one of the best places to visit in January if you love winter sports. Nearby Park City is famous for its ski resorts, including Deer Valley and Park City Mountain. Plus, Sundance Film Festival starts in mid-January. What could be more fun than a day of skiing topped off with a movie and a steaming cup of hot chocolate?
Salt Lake City itself has plenty to do and see. Tons of trendy restaurants and breweries offer great food, drinks, and company. SLC also has more budget-friendly accommodations if Park City prices and five-star ski resorts are beyond your means.
Zion National Park, Utah
Wander amidst the stunning beauty of southern Utah’s most famous canyons.
Zion National Park is a paradise of rugged natural beauty. It’s a popular summer destination, but also one of the best places to visit in January. The occasional light dusting of snow makes the already beautiful landscapes here even more enchanting!
Fewer crowds also mean lower prices on accommodations, which book up well in advance during the peak season. You can also park your own car at popular trailheads during the winter, giving you a level of freedom impossible any other time of the year.
The nearby city of St. George is a great jumping-off point for exploring Zion (and other nearby national parks in Utah). There are a number of hotels, restaurants, and bars, and the park is just an hour away.
Get a taste of the Bavarian Alps in the coziest town in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
Leavenworth is one of the best towns in Washington and is the perfect place to get a last taste of Christmas. Holiday crowds have come and gone, but the festive lights remain up throughout the month. The Washington town’s distinctive Bavarian aesthetics only add to the charm, transporting you to the German Alps.
Holiday cheer isn’t the only thing to taste in Leavenworth, though. Beer gardens and restaurants serve up hearty German cuisine. Local watering holes brew up the best of old and new beer styles, as well as ciders and wine. Some restaurants even have live oompah music, although this is, for many people, more of an acquired taste.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i
Experience a tropical winter amidst active volcanoes and lush vegetation.
Summer is peak season at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, like many places in the state. But coming here in January is a great way to beat the big crowds that descend on the Big Island later in the year.
Several scenic overlooks offer stunning views of the Halema’uma’u Crater lava lake. Sunset is the best time to see it! Hiking trails here make for great day hikes. This park also offers free entry on Martin Luther King Day (January 16), as do the other national parks on this list!
10 Best Places to Visit in January (International)
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Discover the diverse and vibrant capital city of Vietnam.
Vietnam’s capital city is another awesome place to visit in January. It’s the driest month of the year and the temperatures hover in the high 70s (F). The city has a unique collection of architecture, from Buddhist temples to Catholic cathedrals and modern skyscrapers.
Traditional markets offer a fantastic variety of fruits, vegetables, and more. Street food here is delicious and diverse. Vietnam is also the home of pho, so how could you pass up a bowl or two while here?
Experience the city where ancient history is an everyday part of life.
Athens, Greece often has warm weather during its winters, like many entries on this list. Take a tour of the Acropolis, then explore the city’s many museums.
There’s an entire galaxy of Greek food awaiting you in Athens. Souvlaki, the ever-present street food, is a satisfying standby. Delectable desserts like baklava and galaktoboureko (a custard pie) are the perfect end to any meal. It’s impossible to go hungry when you go to Athens!
Day cruises to nearby islands (such as the stunning Aegina) are a great way to see some of the lesser-known Greek Isles. Expect to hear bells and the haunting majesty of Byzantine chant from the local Orthodox churches, especially on Saturday evenings.
📚 Related Reading: Greece Travel Insurance | 5 Best Sites to Search [in 2023]
Brave the winter weather for unbeatable northern lights experiences!
Reykjavik, Iceland is one of the best places to visit in January for northern lights viewing. The island’s northerly latitude gives it a distinctive advantage for seeing this spectral sight. The Blue Lagoon, a little further from town, is a great place to pass the daylight hours while waiting for night to fall.
Reykjavik itself is a charming city that feels more like a giant small town. Brightly colored buildings house local businesses and cafes. Pick up an authentic wool sweater, then spend some time in a coffee shop before braving the elements again.
Wander the winter wonderland streets of this Swiss city.
Zurich is one of the best places to visit in January for a classic European winter experience. The surrounding countryside often lays asleep, blanketed in snow. The mountains offer an endless array of skiing opportunities.
Lake Zurich may not freeze over, but ice-skating rinks in town more than makeup for it. A walk through the city streets is also undeniably charming. And, what could be better after a few hours out in the cold than a steaming cup of authentic Swiss hot chocolate?
Hit the slopes at one of the best ski resorts you’ve probably never heard of.
Everyone knows about winter sports in the Alps, but the Caucasus Mountains have their share of epic slopes, too. Gudauri is one of the premier ski resorts in the Republic of Georgia and has incredible views and excellent accommodations. It’s popular with locals but hasn’t gotten much recognition outside the country.
The famous Gergeti Church and Kazbegi Mountain are a short drive away. This lofty duo of man-made and natural edifices is one of the nation’s most photographed sites. A blanket of snow only adds to the grandeur.
The nearby village of Pasanauri is also reputed to have the most delicious khinkali in the country. You will know that this claim is well worth a personal investigation once you try these savory dumplings anywhere!
Explore the great indoors of Ireland with live music and warm company.
Dublin, Ireland may not be most people’s first choice for midwinter vacations, but that’s part of why it’s worth visiting at this time of year. You can skip the often long lines of popular attractions such as Trinity College’s Book of Kells display.
Late January is also a great time to visit Dublin if you love Irish music. TradFest at Temple Bar drives away the winter gloom with lively tunes and good times. The Irish are known for their wit and warmth, and few places in Dublin are better for experiencing this than a local pub. The beer is always cold, but an Irish coffee is another welcome way to warm up a little.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Switch out winter for summer with a safari on the Serengeti.
The Serengeti is one of the more remote entries on this list, but well worth the extra effort. Herds of wildebeest, pride of lions, and flocks of migratory birds await visitors here. Leopards, cheetahs, and other creatures are also out and about, though more elusive than some animals.
Tanzania’s location in the Southern Hemisphere means that what we call the “winter months” are actually summer. January falls in the brief dry season between the longer rainy seasons. Average temperatures range from 59° F at night to 81° F.
Uncover a world of tropical beaches and jungles, charming cities, and highland coffee plantations.
Costa Rica experiences its peak season in January, but it is well worth it to brave the crowds. It’s one of the safest countries in Central America, if not the safest. The country also has a variety of natural treasures, from sunny beaches to stunning national parks. Coffee plantation tours are a highlight of the highlands.
There are numerous fiestas and festivals around the country. Arrive in early January for the Fiestas de Palmares in Palmares de Alajuela. Move on to the Fiesta Patronal de San Cristo in Santa Cruz in mid-January. Finish up the month with the Festival de las Kobe near Jacó. You don’t have to do all three, of course, but there’s never a dull moment in January in Costa Rica.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Explore the streets (and the skies!) of Dubai during the “coldest” month of the year.
Dubai is one of the most popular destinations in the world. The soaring summer temperatures, though, are far from accommodating. But January temperatures plunge into the balmy 70s (F) during the day and even below 60 at night.
Thrill seekers will want to check out skydiving opportunities. Conditions are best for this activity in January. A more relaxing airborne alternative awaits aboard hot air balloon tours that hover over the dunes around sunset. There are also shopping festivals to peruse, as well as desert safaris for those content to stay on the ground.
Dubai has a reputation for prices almost as high as its skyscrapers, but there are budget options for lodgings and attractions as well. A simple stroll to take in the lofty cityscapes is one of the best things to do in Dubai for free!
Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland
Light up the night Viking-style at this fiery festival in Scotland’s scenic Shetland Islands.
Scotland’s Shetland Islands have a heritage that is more Scandinavian than Scottish. The town of Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa festival is one of the most flamboyant reminders of that heritage. Festivities include a torchlit procession with a replica longboat and participants dressed to the teeth like Viking warriors. Recent years have also seen a variety of thematic costumes.
The procession ends with the torching of the boat, followed by an evening of festivities at the various specially prepared halls. The next night, known as Hop Night, sees more drinking and dancing to drive away the winter cold.
Up Helly Aa is a rollicking good time, but be sure to inquire and make reservations well in advance. Lerwick is a tiny town and facilities are limited. The festival’s website will help you get everything arranged before you set sail.
FAQs About Where to Travel in January
Where should I travel in the USA in January?
📅 Month-by-Month Travel Inspiration:
- February Travel Destinations
- August Travel Destinations
- September Travel Destinations
- October Travel Destinations
- November Travel Destinations
- December Travel Destinations
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