If you are seeking the best national parks to visit in January, this guide’s for you! It will detail fifteen beautiful US National Parks to visit in January, why you should go to them, and what to expect during winter.
Most people flock to the parks in the summer, but I love visiting the national parks in winter as it is usually the low-season and you can feel like you have the whole park to yourself!
This guide lists an array of US parks to visit in January, from one in Ohio to several in the west. If you’re traveling at the end of the year, don’t miss our guide to the best national parks to visit in December!
Because we selected merely fifteen parks, we have left off some great ones like Shenandoah National Park (my home state national park), the Grand Canyon, or Big Bend.
Here is our curated list of the best national parks to visit in January in the United States.
US National Parks in January Worth Visiting
Haleakala National Park
Location: Maui, Hawaii
January average temperature: highs around 76F and lows around 68F in Kahului
Go there for: amazing sunrise views, unique plants (silversword), hiking
Haleakala National Park is located on the island of Maui, the second-largest island in the Hawaiian Island chain. You can see Haleakala, the dormant volcano and main attraction of the park, rising above the landscape from almost anywhere on the island.
The most popular area to visit is the summit, where you will marvel at the breathtaking views of Haleakala Crater and the surrounding landscape.
At the summit, there is a visitor’s center and parking lot. To hike down into the crater, you can take either the Halemau‘u trail or the Sliding Sands trail. If you reserve in advance, you can even stay at a cabin inside the crater.
One of the most popular activities at Haleakala National Park in winter is to hike to see the sunrise at the summit. This requires advance reservation, so you will need to reserve your spot on the park’s website.
Make sure to have warm clothes as the summit is often below freezing before dawn. The gorgeous views of the sun peeking over the clouds is one you won’t soon forget. Visiting Haleakala National Park in January is a great option because… well, it’s Hawaii and always a good option!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Location: Big Island, Hawaii
January average temperature: highs around 68F and lows around 48F in the park
Go there for: volcanic landscapes, hiking, camping, Chain of Craters driving tour from Kilauea to the sea
This national park includes two of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, as well as an incredible range of some of the most unique geological, cultural, and biological landscapes.
There are a huge range of activities you can do in the park, like hiking, camping, driving, and picnicking. If you want to wake up to amazing caldera views, you can stay at the Volcano House Hotel, located on the edge of the Kilauea caldera.
While at the park, you may be able to see molten lava, although this is not always possible. In 2018, there was a huge eruption that changed the landscape of the park forever.
Volcanoes National Park closed down many areas and since then the park has been in recovery mode, but has been able to reopen many things. Make sure to check what things are and aren’t open as you plan your visit.
Everglades National Park
January average temperature: highs around 77F and lows around 53F
Go there for: lower humidity, birdwatching, and clear skies
The Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. Visiting the Everglades in January is perfect because it is during the dry season, which means less humidity and warm weather that attracts many animals. It is definitely one of the best warm places to visit in the USA in winter.
The park is huge, covering 1.5 million acres, so there are many different sections you can visit, especially if visiting the Everglades in winter when everything is open in the park.
READ ALSO: Best US national parks to visit in December
There is a huge range of ecosystems, including freshwater, marl prairies, pinelands, coastal lowlands, marine, and estuarine.
Because of the low water levels, you are more likely to spot animals that live in the sloughs, like alligators! Birdwatching is also a highlight to do here in January, as many birds have migrated south for the winter.
Acadia National Park
January average temperature: highs around 35F and lows around 14F
Go there for: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, scenic drives
Acadia National Park stretches along the rocky headlands of the Atlantic coastline. Even though it’s one of the top 10 most-visited national parks, you can see its snowy, lesser-seen beauties if you visit Acadia National Park in January when there are fewer crowds and different landscapes.
Finding places to rent, including picturesque cottages near Acadia National Park, are easier and cheaper during the winter season than in high-season (summer).
Two sections of the Park Loop Road, Ocean Drive, and Jordan Pond Road, are open in the winter if you want to see beautiful scenery from the comfort of a warm car.
If you fancy some outdoor activities, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are very popular things to do in Acadia in winter.
If you want to hike, it is recommended you explore the carriage roads, Ship Harbor, or Ocean Path as the other hiking trails in Acadia become dangerously icy in winter. Snowmobiling and ice fishing are also popular winter activities in Acadia.
Without a doubt, Acadia National Park is one of the best places to visit in Maine and is a perfect winter destination for outdoor lovers.
Zion National Park
January average temperatures: highs around 55F and lows around 25F
Go there for: hiking, photography, scenic drives
Zion National Park is beautiful any time of year, but it can be especially magical in the winter. Zion is very crowded in the summer, but in winter, the crowds lessen and you can enjoy peaceful nature.
Since the park is located at low elevation, snow seldom accumulates on the canyon floor. There are great hiking and biking trails in Zion you can enjoy at any time of the year.
If you have the proper gear, camping is also an exciting adventure in Zion in winter. If you venture up to higher elevations in the park, you will find some snow that gives opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
The white snow on the red rocks makes for fantastic photo opportunities as well. If you prefer an easier adventure but still want to see amazing views, you can drive through Zion, and if you choose, can park at various parking lots to take short hikes to nearby attractions.
Death Valley National Park
Location: California, Nevada
January average temperature: highs in the upper 60s and lows in the upper 30s
Go there for: hiking, camping, stargazing, photography
Death Valley is known as one of the hottest places on Earth, but in the winter, it is a fantastic place to visit with great weather.
The park’s geology is fascinatingly beautiful, especially the colorful Artist’s Palette off of Artist’s Drive. Popular hikes include Golden Canyon and Desolation Canyon and lookouts like Dante’s View and Zabriskie Point. The clear air of winter in Death Valley is great for photographing the gorgeous landscapes.
At night, you can see a plethora of stars as the unobscured desert floor, cold, dry air, and low light pollution open up the skies to some of the best stargazing in the world.
Check out the star parties held at Death Valley where you can use local astronomy associations’ telescopes for looking deep into the universe.
In Furnace Creek, there is a visitor’s center, camping options, and lodge options, with naturally warm, spring-fed pools that are perfect for a winter swim. Death Valley is definitely one of the best national parks to visit in January in America.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
January average temperature: highs up to 50F and lows down to 10F, will be colder at higher elevations
Go there for: snowshoeing, cross-country and backcountry skiing and snowboarding, sledding, ranger-led snowshoeing
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a beautiful park tucked into the southern end of the Cascade mountain range. Its main feature is Lassen Peak, the world’s largest plug dome volcano. The park and visitor’s center is open year-round.
Lassen in winter is a beautiful place to visit to see snow. Since it is in the mountains, it gets a good amount of snowfall, great for outdoor winter activities.
You can sign up for a ranger-led snowshoe hike, or go sledding, cross-country, or backcountry skiing, and snowboarding. The southwest area of the park is open for camping year-round.
READ ALSO: Best US national parks to visit in February
You can also visit Sulphur Works, a hydrothermal site of naturally boiling mud pots and steam vents. Stargazing is also fantastic at Lassen Volcanic National Park in January because of the cold air and low light pollution.
Saguaro National Park
January average temperature: highs around 65F and lows around 39F
Go there for: hiking, horseback riding, backcountry camping
Many people think deserts are ugly and barren and don’t realize that, in fact, many deserts are teeming with unique plants and animals, especially the gorgeous deserts in Arizona.
Saguaro National Park in southeast Arizona is a perfect example of a desert abundant in beauty. Tall saguaros dot the colorful landscape and if you look closely, you can spot all kinds of different plants and wildlife species.
With over 165 miles of hiking trails in Saguaro ranging in all difficulty levels, there is a trail for everyone. Some trails are bike and horse-friendly if you’d like to experience the desert trails from a different point of view.
Backcountry camping is also available by permit. Signal Hill Petroglyph Area has over 200 prehistoric Native American petroglyphs that can be seen from the hiking trail.
READ ALSO: Best places to visit in Arizona
You can learn more about the different plant species of the park by the informational signs or a ranger-led talk at the Cactus Gardens. Saguaro National Park in winter and in January, specifically, is a great option if you want pleasantly cool temperatures with no snow.
Yellowstone National Park
Location: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
January average temperature: highs around 28F and lows around 3F
Go there for: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, photography
Yellowstone National Park in winter is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for an adventure, this is the place for you. Winter means fewer crowds, steaming geyser basins, and a lot of snow, perfect for interesting photography.
You can still visit many of the main sights at Yellowstone, including Old Faithful, but you will need to do it by snowmobile or snowcoach, as road access is closed.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are very popular activities in the winter at Yellowstone. There are Warming Huts around the park where you will be able to stop and rest while on a skiing or snowshoeing adventure.
The Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Mammoth Hotel, and Canyon Yurt Camp are open for accommodation in the wintertime, so you can spend more than one day at Yellowstone.
If you have the right clothes and equipment, a January visit to Yellowstone can be an exciting and fun adventure.
White Sands National Park
Location: New Mexico
January average temperature: highs around 60F and lows around 22F
Go there for: sand dune sledding, photography, picnics, hiking
White Sands National Park is a natural wonder of 275 square miles of white gypsum sand dunes. January in White Sands is a wonderful time to visit this park as temperatures are pleasantly cool and crowds are far less than in the summer.
Check out the visitor center first to learn more about the history and environment of this fascinating area. This park is a fantastic place for photography with its unique landscape.
Other popular activities include picnicking, hiking over the dunes, and driving the 8-mile scenic drive Dunes Drive. Along the way, you will find hiking trails, exhibits, and picnic areas.
READ ALSO: Best US national parks to visit in March
Make sure you do perhaps the most exciting activity at the dunes: sledding! You can spend an exhilarating afternoon flying down the face of the dunes on a little sled.
Plastic sleds are available at the visitor center and don’t forget to grab extra wax to take with you! White Sands is one of the most adventurous US national parks to visit in January!
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
January average temperature: highs around 44F and lows around 29F
Go there for: hiking, camping, backpacking, birdwatching
Guadalupe Mountains National Park boasts the highest four mountain peaks in Texas, the world’s largest Permian fossil reef, and sand dunes. You can visit the park for day hikes or camp at Pine Springs Campground. This is one of the least visited parks in the US.
There are plenty of hiking trails at Guadalupe Mountains NP no matter your level, whether you want to stroll in a canyon or hike up to a peak.
One of the popular all-day hikes is climbing to the “Top of Texas” on the Guadalupe Peak Trail. This trail climbs 3,000 feet through a conifer forest, where you will be met with stunning views at the top of the peak.
If you like birdwatching, Guadalupe is a great place to go as there are over 300 species that either nest or migrate through the park each year. The best places to birdwatch are Frijole Ranch, Smith Springs Loop Trail, and McKittrick Canyon.
Winter in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a great time to birdwatch as many birds are migrating south. You can find more information about winter bird species at the Pine Springs Visitor Center.
Mesa Verde National Park
January average temperature: highs around 37F and lows around 16F
Go there for: exploring the cliff dwellings, hiking, photography, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing
Established in 1906, this amazing park preserves the archeological heritage of the Pueblo people who lived here from 600 to 1300 CE. There are over 600 cliff dwellings within the 5,000 preserved archeological sites.
There are many options for different hiking trails at Mesa Verde National Park, as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing once there is sufficient snow. Make sure to stop at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center first to get up-to-date information about where you are going in the park.
While the cliff-dwelling tours are closed at Mesa Verde National Park in January, you can still see the structures from different trails and overlooks as you take hikes through the quiet winter landscape.
If you prefer something less cold, there are several drives you can take in your car to see more of the park, like the Mesa Top Loop Road or the Cliff Palace/Balcony House Loop Road.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: North Carolina, Tennessee
January average temperature: highs around 40F and lows around 20F (can be different depending on elevation)
Go there for: hiking, wildlife viewing, camping
At over 500,000 acres and as the most-visited national park, the beautiful forested Great Smoky Mountains National Park is packed with things to do. January in Great Smoky Mountains NP has activities that include hiking, camping, drives, and wildlife viewing.
There are many beautiful hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to choose from depending on length, difficulty, and what you want to see. There are waterfalls, forested areas, and ridges with amazing views.
In the winter, since the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves, it is easier to see through the forest to things usually covered, such as old building foundations, walls, and different species of wildlife.
There are also many roads you can choose to drive along if you prefer to stay in the car. You can get a booklet as a tour guide which gives information about the history, wildlife, and plants that you are passing on the road. Make sure to check on road closures before you go as not all roads are open in January.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
January average temperature: highs around 37F and lows around 22F
Go there for: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hiking, train ride
Although Cuyahoga is close to the urban environments of Cleveland and Akron, the park itself is a wilderness sanctuary of hills, forests, and open meadows.
There are plenty of things to do year-round, including hiking and fishing, so winter in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is anything but boring!
There are over 125 miles of hiking trails at Cuyahoga Valley open all year. Ledges Trail is an especially scenic trail in the winter due to the dramatic icicle formations on the rocks along the trail.
READ MORE: Best national parks to visit in April
In the winter, you can add outdoor snow sports such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, sledding, downhill skiing, and snow tubing.
A unique feature of this national park is the National Park Scenic excursion on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad!
This train ride is a 2.5 hour round trip through the national park that gives exceptional views of the park from an interesting perspective.
Dry Tortugas National Park
January average temperature: highs around 75F and lows around 65F
Go there for: birdwatching, snorkeling, paddlesports
Seventy miles off of Key West, Dry Tortugas is the most remote national park, accessible only by boat or seaplane.
This is a riskier park to visit in the winter, as storms are common in the fall and early winter months, but if you go to Dry Tortugas in January (later in the month), you will hopefully catch good weather and low crowds, making it an underrated US national park.
Dry Tortugas has many interesting things to discover, such as the wildlife below the water, shipwrecks, coral reefs, kayaking, paddleboarding, and great birdwatching, especially in January as the birds are migrating south.
You can explore Fort Jefferson, one of the largest 19th-century forts in the US. At Fort Jefferson, you can also visit the Visitor’s Center where you can find more information about the park and its history.
There is nothing like starting off your new year by planning a trip to one of the US National Parks. We hope that our guide to the best national parks to visit in January has helped give you the push you need to book a trip to one!
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