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14 Best Places to Visit in the U.S. in January

In January, most people are looking at booking trips for the upcoming year, but this month can be a great time to travel. It’s usually easier to find more affordable airfare, and trips can be a lot more enjoyable without as many people traveling. You might take advantage of the chance to shake off the winter blues, or perhaps you want to delve into the magic of winter with a white wonderland for all sorts of activities, from skiing and snowshoeing to sledding and sleigh rides. No matter what kind of trip you’re looking for, whether it’s time to soak up the sun and the sand or enjoy the snow, you’re sure to find the perfect place to go in January on this list.

Lake Tahoe, California Heavenly Mountain - South Lake Tahoe
Credit: Heavenly Mountain - South Lake Tahoe by skiheavenly.com

Lake Tahoe, California

Straddling the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is a paradise for outdoor adventures all year round, but if you’re looking for the ultimate destination for winter activities, it’s hard to beat. It’s home to some of the country’s best ski resorts, like Heavenly Valley, in addition to a wide range of other snow sports that can often be enjoyed under bright blue skies. This area gets an average of 300 days of sunshine and between 210 and 220 inches of snow annually, although the higher elevations can get up to 500 inches a year. Look forward to sledding, snowshoeing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice skating, and more. Afterward, you’ll find world-class spas for pampering, a long list of impressive dining options, and all sorts of entertainment, from live concerts to gambling on the Nevada side.

Cannon Beach, Oregon Cannon Beach, Oregon
Credit: Cannon Beach, Oregon by © Glebtarro | Dreamstime.com

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach is one of the most beautiful beach towns along the Oregon Coast, with numerous sea stacks just offshore, like the iconic 235-foot-high Haystack Rock, formed by a volcanic lava flow and basalt deposits millions of years ago. January is the perfect time to visit for storm watching, with spectacular winter storms resulting in powerful waves that crash against the monolith and along the shore. Gray whales pass by early in the month, too. During calm weather, you can look forward to great beachcombing and tranquil strolls across the sand. As high tides and storms sometimes bring surprises, keep an eye out for old glass floats and other treasures. In the small, charming downtown area, there are some fantastic galleries, shops, and seafood eateries.

Key West, Florida Fort Zachary Taylor Park, Key West
Credit: Fort Zachary Taylor Park, Key West by © SimonDannhauer | Dreamstime.com

Key West, Florida

Key West offers the chance to enjoy a tropical location without leaving the continental U.S., and January is the ideal time to visit, with hurricane season long past and temperatures idyllic, hovering around 75 degrees. Slip into island time, relaxing by the clear turquoise water, and perhaps while enjoying the best conch fritters you’ll find anywhere. If you want to get active, sail, snorkel, or float and then check out attractions like the Ernest Hemingway House before catching an iconic sunset at Mallory Square, a former warehouse area with a nightly celebration and sunset-watching ritual that includes live entertainment, shops, and eateries. 

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin Kalahari Resort, Wisconsin Dells
Credit: Kalahari Resort, Wisconsin Dells by Kalahari Resorts & Conventions

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Dells is the world’s undisputed waterpark capital, with indoor waterparks that are ideal during the frigid winters here. Popular among families who want to escape the Midwest cold, there are many options, from the African-themed Kalahari Resort, which also has a bowling alley, cinema, and a spa, to Chula Vista Resort, the Wilderness Resort Waterpark, and the Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park with nine towering waterslides, a lazy river, a huge hot tub, and more. When you’ve had enough of all the water fun, you might enjoy the Asgard Underworld Arcade.

Lake George, New York Ice castles in Lake George, New York
Credit: Ice castles in Lake George, New York by © Jason Ondreicka | Dreamstime.com

Lake George, New York

On the East Coast, Lake George in the Adirondacks of New York offers a romantic winter getaway for those who want to be immersed in a snowy wonderland. Visitors can also enjoy the Winter Realm “wintertainment destination” with ice sculptures in igloos, a free play snow yard, an ice skating rink, a Polar Ice Bar, and more. Ice fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding are available in the area, too, along with the Adirondack Winery Lake George Tasting Room, a candlemaking studio, shops, and eateries.

Laguna Beach, California Laguna Beach, California
Credit: Laguna Beach, California by © Falcon1708 | Dreamstime.com

Laguna Beach, California

If you want to take advantage of the Southern California sunshine, the art colony of Laguna Beach is a great place to do it. Just over 50 miles south of Los Angeles, you’ll find countless art galleries and an art museum, along with rooftop lounges and eateries for enjoying a drink or a bite with a backdrop of a colorful sunset. Crystal Cove State Park is its crown jewel, with 3.5 miles of unspoiled, uninterrupted coastline and miles of scenic trails to hike. At Crescent Bay Point Park, you’ll have a great vantage point for whale watching with both gray whales and humpbacks around in January.

Methow Valley, Washington Methow Valley Balloon Festival in Winthrop, WA
Credit: Methow Valley Balloon Festival in Winthrop, WA by © Gretchen Thompson | Dreamstime.com

Methow Valley, Washington

The Methow Valley may not be as well known as many winter destinations, but that just means it’s one of Washington’s best places to visit away from the crowds. Located in north central Washington, it has a high-desert climate famous for dry, powdery snow and sunny days with bright blue skies, more than 200 of them per year. The Methow Trails network offers over 120 miles of groomed trails and is the biggest cross-country ski area in North America. Sun Mountain Resort offers a sledding hill and horse-drawn sleigh rides along with a fireplace-heated miner’s tent for hot cocoa or dinner. The old western town of Winthrop is fun to explore any time of year with its historic wooden boardwalks, boutiques, saloons, and eateries.

Yellowstone National Park - Montana/Wyoming/Idaho Emerald Spring at Norris Geyser Basin trail area, during winter in Yellowstone National Park
Credit: Emerald Spring at Norris Geyser Basin trail area, during winter in Yellowstone National Park by © Atmosphere1 | Dreamstime.com

Yellowstone National Park - Montana/Wyoming/Idaho

Yellowstone is one of the country’s most spectacular national parks to visit in the winter, with everything from famous geysers like Old Faithful to abundant wildlife like moose, elk, bison, wolves, bighorn sheep, and bears. It’s jam-packed with visitors in the summer, with the vast majority arriving during this season. Only around 3 percent visit between November and March which means you can enjoy it at its most tranquil time, with the landscapes stunning under a blanket of snow. Instead of hiking, use the many trails for snowshoeing. As the park’s animals migrate from higher elevations to lower, less snow-packed elevations, in the winter, you’ll be able to see more of them, too.

Durango, Colorado Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Credit: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad by durangotrain.com

Durango, Colorado

Nestled in the southwest corner of Colorado, Durango offers just about every winter activity imaginable and then some. Just a short drive from downtown, Purgatory offers varied terrain ideal for all levels of skiers without the crowds. Sleigh rides, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, snow tubing, and ice skating are just a few of the other possibilities. One of the most popular attractions is the Cascade Canyon Winter Train excursion, which travels through an enchanting wonderland between mid-November and early May. If you’re here in early January, you can ride the special Polar Express for a journey to the “North Pole.” The Snowdown Festival kicks off in late January with costumes and all sorts of crazy contests like mini-golf through 13 bars.

Maui, Hawaii Sunrise whale watching tour with PacWhale Eco-Adventures
Credit: Sunrise whale watching tour with PacWhale Eco-Adventures by K.C. Dermody

Maui, Hawaii

With idyllic temperatures year-round, lush rainforests, and spectacular beaches, Maui is one of the most popular Hawaiian islands full of things to do. While the town of Lahaina was devasted by wildfire, there are still plenty of places you can go to enjoy it, all while helping to support the recovery effort. January is one of the peak months for whale watching, with humpback whales migrating here in huge numbers, often seen right off the shoreline. Visitors can get a closer look by joining a whale-watching tour with options in everything from small Zodiacs to large vessels. Paddleboarding is another fun activity; you might even get to paddle while watching one of the massive whales breach the water’s surface.

Girdwood, Alaska Winter in Girdwood, Alaska
Credit: Winter in Girdwood, Alaska by © Claire White | Dreamstime.com

Girdwood, Alaska

Less than a 50-minute drive from Anchorage International Airport, Girdwood offers some of the best downhill skiing and snowboarding in Alaska, with terrain for all experience levels and one of the biggest verticals in North America, as well as some of the best scenery and wildlife viewing in Alaska. Other winter activities can be enjoyed, too, including snowmobiling tours, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and flightseeing excursions that bring a bird’s-eye view of the soaring mountains, glaciers, gem-like lakes, and more. Just 15 minutes away is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you can see moose, reindeer, wood bison, wolves, musk ox, and other animals via a 1.5-mile-loop drive. Girdwood also offers a great apres-scene with everything from local craft brews at Girdwood Brewing Company to fine dining at Seven Glaciers on the mountain.

New Orleans, Louisiana Saint Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square in New Orleans
Credit: Saint Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square in New Orleans by © F11photo | Dreamstime.com

New Orleans, Louisiana

Summer in New Orleans can be brutally hot, but January offers pleasant temperatures hovering around the low to mid-60s, perfect for exploring the many sights and attractions. While the holidays are over, the party is just getting started here with the arrival of Mardi Gras. The first day of the carnival season, known as Twelfth Night, or the Epiphany, kicks off with three annual parades on January 6th. Of course, you can also explore the streets in the French Quarter, check out the famous Jackson Square, and enjoy beignets at Cafe du Monde. If you’re into museums, NOMA is one of the best in the country. Located in City Park, it features over 40,000 objects that span 5,000 years of art, most notable for its French and American art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works. Other top museums include the National WWII Museum, the New Orleans Jazz Museum, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. After dark, you’ll have a myriad of options when it comes to live music, too.

Estes Park, Colorado Estes Park
Credit: Estes Park by visitestespark.com

Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park is the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. It offers lots to do right in town, including the Mustang Mountain Coaster, which is open year-round, tours of the historic Stanley Hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining, and indoor rock climbing and swimming. Activities in the park include free guided snowshoeing tours, ice skating, ice fishing, and sledding. You’ll find lots of fun shops to explore and a ton of outstanding eateries, too. Plus, this is a great place for wildlife watching, with elk that roam right through town.

Culebra Island, Puerto Rico Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico
Credit: Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico by © Ivan Kokoulin | Dreamstime.com

Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

If you want to enjoy the Caribbean without the need for a passport, consider Culebra Island in Puerto Rico, part of the Spanish Virgin Islands. This is a place where you won’t find mega-resorts or shopping malls but rather more than 100 pristine white sandy beaches edged by brilliant turquoise water for snorkeling alongside green sea turtles and colorful fish. Divers can explore underwater caves, shipwrecks, and vibrant coral reefs. Flamenco Beach, often found on lists of the world’s best beaches, is located here, offering soft, white sands, palm trees that gently sway in the breeze, and idyllic, shallow, warm water that makes it look as if it was created for a Corona ad. The island is mostly undeveloped, with no chain hotels here, but there are small inns and numerous vacation rentals, along with shops and restaurants clustered around Ensenada Honda. 

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