17 BEST National Parks to Visit in January For Families

Pinterest Hidden Image

Are you ready to experience the majestic beauty of America’s national parks in the winter? Believe it or not, January can be the ideal time to make that happen. This post will show you the best national parks to visit in January, as well as provide expert tips and tricks for navigating the parks in the winter months.

With way fewer crowds during the off-peak season, exploring a national park in January can allow you to truly soak in the beauty and peace of the great outdoors rather than fight crowds.

No matter what corner of the United States you choose to explore, from snow-capped landscapes in the North to the warm waters of the South, there are plenty of amazing destinations for you and your family.

So, let’s dig in and chat all about the US National Parks in January!

17 BEST national parks to visit in January: Use this complete list to plan an epic winter family getaway to these beautiful national parks throughout the US!Pin

Table of Contents

Quick Tips for Visiting the Parks in January

  • Choose your adventure. Are you craving snow and chilly weather? Or is that the very thing you are hoping to avoid? Before you start planning, think about what weather suits your family best.
  • Check the park’s website. Look out for any winter-specific closures or seasonal restrictions.
  • Pack wisely. Depending on where you go, what you’ll need will vary. In general, however, plan to dress in layers and bring warm, waterproof gear.
  • Prep your car. Again, this varies depending on where you go, but if you’re headed for snow, make sure your vehicle is equipped for driving in potentially snowy or icy conditions.
  • Pre-book your stay. Whether you opt for a cabin or are taking your own RV, consider booking accommodations inside the park or nearby to avoid long commutes in potentially poor weather. 
  • Plan for shorter days. With daylight hours being shorter in the winter season, plan your activities accordingly and be sure to give yourself enough time to return to your accommodations before dark.
  • Be aware of holidays. If you are planning on traveling during New Years or Martin Luther King Day weekend, make sure to book accommodations well in advance.

The Best National Parks to Visit in January

I know January may seem like an odd time to visit national parks but trust me, it’s worth it! I was hesitant too, but my family and I took advantage of the tail end of winter break and had a great time! 

Unlike the summer season, we truly felt like we could immerse ourselves in nature and enjoy peace and quiet.

While you could make a case for pretty much any park, these are the best of the best options for January. They offer beautiful scenery, unique experiences, and fun for the whole family.

1. Everglades National Park

January is the best time to visit this gem in southern Florida. With temperatures hovering between 55 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit and hardly any rain, the Everglades is an ideal escape from colder climates.

family at the Shark Valley Everglades National Park entrance signPin

Visiting during the dry season has one other big benefit—way fewer mosquitoes and biting flies! Since you may still have to deal with these pests during dusk and dawn, make sure to pack bug spray as well as long-sleeved clothing or bug jackets.

Wildlife enthusiasts and birders will also love this park in January. As the water levels drop, you’ll easily spot animals clustered around the remaining water holes.

On the downside, the months between November and April are actually when the park is most crowded. While there are still potential spots for solitude throughout, you may want to look at another option if you are truly hoping to get away from people (hey, I get it!).

family walking the boardwalk on the Anhinga trail in Everglades NP, FloridaPin

The best things to do at Everglades National Park in January:

  • Explore the area on a guided tour. There are plenty of ways to explore the Everglades! Whether you prefer a boat tour, a photography tour, or a tram, try out one of these guided tour options.
  • Learn from a Ranger. Another must-do is signing up for one of the many ranger programs available! The park offers talks, walks, and hikes every day. Make sure to check out their calendar of events to see what is available during your January vacation! Plus, check out one of the visitor centers, which are open year-round.
  • Go fishing. There is one major benefit to fishing in the Everglades—you can experience fishing in both salt water and fresh water! Make sure to pay attention to the posted restrictions and warnings, and get a fishing permit first!
  • Watch for wildlife. Thanks to those dry season perks we talked about, it’s the perfect time for wildlife viewing! Keep your eyes open for the diverse animal life in this park, including reptiles like alligators, crocodiles, and snakes, as well as 40 different mammal species!
  • Go birding. Make sure to pack your binoculars because Everglades National Park is home to over 360 species of birds! The best time for birding is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when they are most active. Check out this birding guide for more info!
  • Hike one of the many trails. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a stroll on one of the many hiking trails available in the park. Just make sure to stay on designated paths!
  • Bike. For a different way to explore the park, hop on your bike and ride along one of the designated trails! Bike rentals are available on-site, but they are first come, first serve, so try and get there early to snag one! Plus, be sure to check out this biking guide before you go.

2. Death Valley National Park

Don’t let the name scare you away—Death Valley National Park is a must-visit in January! This desert park in California offers some of the most unique and awe-inspiring landscapes in all of the United States. 

NPS welcome sign, Death Valley National Park, CaliforniaPin

And don’t worry about crowds—a winter trip here means you’ll have more space to yourself.

Known as the hottest place in North America, January is a great time to take in the sights of Death Valley without having to endure extreme heat. 

paved road in Death Valley National Park, CaliforniaPin

You’ll enjoy moderate temperatures, with the average temperature ranging from 50 – 65 degrees during the day. Expect evenings to be quite chilly, however, at about 40 degrees. Also, be prepared for possible rain or even snow. You’ll want to bring warm clothes and waterproof gear, just in case.

Additionally, this is a great park for families with young kids because so many of the sites can be reached by car. These scenic drives are a great way to see the park with the kids safely strapped into the back (and a great opportunity to let little ones nap while you explore!).

Death Valley National Park, California rocky landscapePin

The best things to do at Death Valley National Park in January:

  • Drive the scenic roads. Thankfully, there is no shortage of scenic drives in this park! The most popular, and my personal favorite, is Artists Drive, a gorgeous 9-mile drive with plenty of dramatic turns. Up for a workout? You can also bike the road! There are plenty of other roads to drive too. Just make sure to check out the road conditions and road closures page in advance.
  • See where Star Wars was filmed. While on your Artists Drive, make sure to check out Artists Palette. This is where some scenes of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope were shot!
  • Visit Badwater Basin. This is the lowest point in North America and a must-see while visiting the park. During winter, you can walk out onto the salt flats without worrying about extreme heat. For the best views, you’ll need to take a fairly short hike (between 1 – 1.5 miles depending on your route) onto the salt flats.
  • Take a hike. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from, ranging from easy to strenuous. In January, you’ll want to stick to hikes at lower elevations, as snow and ice can acclimate on the higher elevation points.
  • Hike to Ubehebe Crater. This mile-wide crater was formed by a volcanic explosion thousands of years ago and is a sight to behold! Enjoy the view from the top of the rim, or take the Ubehebe Crater Trail for a closer look.
  • Stargaze. With little light pollution, Death Valley National Park is a prime spot for stargazing, particularly in the winter months. In fact, the park was awarded the highest level of certification from the International Dark-Sky Association as a Gold Tier. Bring your telescope or just lay out a blanket and enjoy the view! You can also attend one of the night sky events held by the park rangers.

3. Big Bend National Park

Located in south Texas, Big Bend National Park is the perfect destination for a January visit. This unique park offers stunning desert landscapes, rugged mountains, and lovely views of the Rio Grande River that runs through it.

three kids posing by Big Bend National Park sign in TexasPin
Welcome to Big Bend National Park! One of the top 10 largest US parks outside of Alaska.

You’ll also enjoy moderate temperatures during winter months, making it an ideal time to visit. You can expect daytime temperatures to average around 50 – 60 degrees and evening temperatures dipping down to the low 40s. 

While rare, snow is possible at higher elevations in the park, so make sure to check weather reports before your trip.

kids sitting on rocks in the Rio Grande at the end of the Santa Elena Canyon Trail hikePin
my family at the end of the beautiful (but in my opinion harrowing) Santa Elena Canyon trail

Big Bend, so named for a “big bend” in the Rio Grande river, offers not only beautiful scenery, but a variety of activities for all ages. 

Unlike some other parks, however, Big Bend’s mild temperatures in the winter make it a popular spot to visit in January. Be prepared for some crowds, and make sure to have a reservation in advance, particularly for camping and lodging

Here are some of the top things to do at Big Bend National Park in January:

  • Take a scenic drive. Similar to Death Valley, there is no shortage of beautiful drives in this park. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a must-do, offering stunning views of the Chisos Mountains and various historical sites.
  • Go hiking. There are so many hiking trails to choose from, ranging from easy to difficult. Make sure to check weather conditions before heading out, and bring plenty of water with you. My top two recommendations for the best hikes are Lone Mountain Loop and Santa Elena Canyon Trail (beautiful, but it also has a cliff edge that made me VERY nervous with kids), but there are dozens of other hikes available too!
  • Snap an iconic photo. While there are plenty of spots to grab great pics at Big Bend, it’s hard to beat Balanced Rock—an iconic rock formation that offers an easy hike and amazing views.
  • Enjoy stargazing. One of the best things about getting into nature is enjoying the vast starry sky at night! At Big Bend, in particular, you can get some fantastic views of constellations, shooting stars, and more since the park has the darkest night skies of any park in the lower 48 states! Whether you want to view the skies on your own or check out one of Big Bend’s Night Skies Programs, this is a must-do!
  • Relax at a hot spring. After a day of exploring, take some time to soak in one of Big Bend’s natural hot springs. These pools are known for their healing properties and are naturally heated to about 105 degrees year-round, thanks to geothermal processes.

4. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park may be most famous for its colorful hot springs and geysers, but it has so much more to offer! In fact, January can be a fantastic time to visit this park since the summer crowds have died down, and you can experience the stunning landscape in a more peaceful setting.

family in front of West Yellowstone entrance sign at Yellowstone NPPin
my family in Yellowstone in September (we’d be wearing a LOT more clothing in January!)

While you won’t be fighting the crowds here at the world’s first National Park, you’ll have another variable to contend with here…the weather! In January, temperatures are definitely frigid, with daytime temperatures typically in the mid-20s. The evenings have even cooler temperatures, so it’s absolutely essential to pack warm clothing and gear.

Outside of freezing temperatures, you’ll also have to prepare for potential winter storms. There are about 9 days of snowfall during January on average, so chances of seeing a winter wonderland are high!

snowy welcome sign, Yellowstone National ParkPin

However, there’s no denying the scenery is gorgeous and serene. And, while you may not be able to enjoy all that Yellowstone can offer in warmer months, there is still plenty to see and enjoy here!

Here are some of the top things you’ll want to do while visiting Yellowstone National Park in January:

  • Witness Old Faithful. No trip to Yellowstone is complete without catching a glimpse of Old Faithful, the park’s most famous geyser. During January, you can expect to see eruptions about every 90 minutes.
  • Go snowshoeing or skiing. There are plenty of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Yellowstone during the winter months. These activities allow you to see remote areas of the park that are otherwise inaccessible.
  • Book a snowmobile tour. Since most park roads are closed to car traffic due to weather conditions, a snowmobile tour is a great way to see more of the park. If you are traveling with younger children, try the snowcoach tours instead—it’s a great way to enjoy the views and keep warm at the same time!
  • Visit the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This stunning canyon is a must-see, no matter what time of year you visit! In January, it’s likely to be blanketed with snow, making it even more picturesque. Make sure to stop at the Canyon Village Visitor Center for some great information and exhibits too.
  • Explore Mammoth Hot Springs. During January, you’ll be able to see this pretty area up close without fighting through crowds. Make sure to check out the Historic District for some cool history!
  • See wildlife. Even in the winter, you may be able to see some of Yellowstone’s incredible wildlife! Keep an eye out for bison, elk, moose, and even wolves during your visit. The animals often traverse the snow-covered roadways in this season, giving you the chance for up-close sightings that are typically impossible during other seasons.
  • Head to Grand Teton National Park. If possible, leave a day or two on your itinerary to explore nearby Grand Teton! Here you can take a fun snowshoeing tour with a ranger and take in stunning views of the Teton Mountains. With fewer visitors during this time of year, you’ll feel like you have the park all to yourself. It’s a great opportunity to experience the quieter side of Yellowstone’s famous neighbor!

5. Zion National Park

Zion is a must-see park for any outdoor enthusiast, and during January is no exception! The cooler temperatures and smaller crowds make it an excellent time to visit. Plus, the park itself is still bursting with life and color, making for incredible views.

family next to the Zion National Park Kolob Canyon sign in UtahPin
Zion NP…in September

Zion’s average January temperatures range from 40 – 50 degrees during the day, with cooler evenings that can dip into the freezing range. It also is at the peak of the wet season for Zion, so rain is likely. However, due to its lower elevation, snow is rare in the main canyon area, giving you plenty of opportunity to explore outdoors if you have waterproof gear.

Here are some top things to do while visiting Zion National Park in January:

  • Hike the Narrows. This iconic hike takes you through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, with walls towering up to 1,000 feet high! Part of this hike involves wading through Virgin River, and during January, the park recommends shoes with traction as well as a drysuit to hike safely. You can also easily explore a smaller one-mile section of the Narrows on a paved, stroller-friendly path starting at the Temple of Sinawava.
  • Explore other popular hikes. While some higher-elevation hikes may be closed, there are still plenty of lower-elevation trails to enjoy in January. Some top options include Riverside Walk, and the Lower Emerald Pool Trail. People ALWAYS recommend Angel’s Landing, too…but I’d never hike that thing ANY time of year, including January 😂…that’s one I’m fine looking at in pictures and keeping my feet on safer ground.
  • Take a scenic drive. The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway is a must-do for any visitor to the park! This scenic route takes you through tunnels carved into the mountain and along breathtaking viewpoints. Make sure to stop at the Visitor Center and Human History Museum if you get a chance!
  • Look for wildlife. While many animals may be in hibernation during a winter visit, you still have a chance to spot some of Zion’s incredible wildlife! Keep an eye out for mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, and even potentially eagles!
  • Experience winter activities. If you’re looking for even more adventure and a way to enjoy cold temperatures, consider snowshoeing or cross-country skiing up in the higher elevations. The park doesn’t offer rentals, so make sure to bring your own equipment or book an excursion with a touring company.
  • Snap some pics. With fewer crowds and the added beauty of winter, January is a great time to snap some stunning photos in Zion National Park. Make sure to bring your camera or phone along on all your adventures! You never know what breathtaking views you’ll come across.
  • Check out Bryce Canyon National Park. Want to extend the adventure? Head over to nearby Bryce Canyon NP, where you can enjoy stunning views of red rocks against the pristine white snow. Spend a half day here exploring the Visitor’s Center, Bryce Amphitheater, and a beautiful drive along the aptly named Southern Scenic Drive to Rainbow Point.

6. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a great place to visit in January! With average mild temperatures in the 50s and 60s during the day, it’s the perfect weather for outdoor activities such as hiking and exploring. Plus, with fewer visitors, you’ll have more opportunities to take in the park’s unique landscapes without feeling crowded.

Just keep in mind that Joshua Tree is situated in a desert. This means that while day temperatures are mild, the nights can get quite cold, with temperatures dropping into the 30s and even below freezing. Make sure to pack warm layers for your trip!

joshua tree national park landscape with a little snowPin

Additionally, this national park is definitely more remote than some of the other ones. You’ll need to make sure you are well-stocked on supplies such as food, water, and gas before you head into the park. 

Visitors should also be aware that there is very limited cell service, which honestly is usually a huge perk for my family! It makes for an easy way to get the kids off all those devices. 😉

Here are some top things to do while visiting Joshua Tree National Park in January:

  • Take a hike. There are plenty of beautiful hikes to enjoy here, many of which can be completed in under an hour (perfect for little legs!). Hidden Valley was our favorite. It’s a mile-long loop that takes you through a stunning landscape of granite boulders and Joshua Trees. Keep an eye out for signs with info about the area’s wildlife and plants.
  • Explore the Cholla Cactus Garden. This unique area is home to many different types of cacti, creating an otherworldly landscape that’s perfect for photos. This also is a fantastic place to catch the sunset—the cacti silhouettes against the sky look very cool!
  • Take a drive. There are many scenic drives in Joshua Tree, but Park Boulevard is a top choice to see the park’s highlights. This particular drive is also one of the best spots to spot the namesake Joshua Trees. I also recommend adding on the detour to Keys Views to get some pretty panoramas.
  • Try birding. This park is a popular spot for birdwatching! In January, you can expect to see winter species such as the white-crowned sparrow, cedar waxwing, and the dark-eyed junko, to name a few.
  • Experience solitude. One of the best things about visiting Joshua Tree in January is the opportunity to experience solitude and quiet. With fewer visitors, it’s easier to find a sense of peace while exploring this unique desert landscape.
  • Spot some constellations. Thanks to the shorter daytime hours in winter, January is a prime time to view the night sky. You can start stargazing as early as 5:30 pm in early January, giving plenty of opportunity to spot winter constellations such as Orion, Sirius, Gemini, and Taurus.

7. Dry Tortugas National Park

The seven islands that comprise Dry Tortugas National Park are a hidden gem of the National Park system. Located 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, it’s only accessible by boat or seaplane. However, this isolated location makes for an incredible and unique experience that’s worth the journey.

National Parks Mom family at the NPS sign for Dry Tortugas National Park, FloridaPin
our family at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Craving sunshine? As one of January’s warmest nation parks, this is the perfect place! Soak in vitamin D and enjoy sunny days with daytime highs around 75 degrees. But, there is a catch—winter months are much windier, which can create some potentially rough seas. However, the warm, dry temps make up for that, in my opinion! Just make sure to pack some motion sickness medication, just in case.

The most important thing to know about Dry Tortugas is you must come prepared.  There are no stores or restaurants, or even bathrooms or trashcans here, so you need to pack everything you’ll need for your visit. This includes food, water, sunscreen, clothing, sleeping gear, tents, first aid kids, and any other supplies you may need.

view of Fort Jefferson and a family snorkeling from the moat wall at Dry Tortugas National Park, FloridaPin
my family snorkeling around the perimeter of Fort Jefferson

Here are some things you can do at Dry Tortugas National Park in January:

  • Explore Fort Jefferson. The main (land) attraction at Dry Tortugas is Fort Jefferson, a massive 19th-century fortress. It was built to protect the Gulf of Mexico shipping lanes and is one of the largest masonry structures in the Western Hemisphere, made up of over 16 million bricks! Check it out on a self-guided tour or join a ranger-led one.
  • Snorkel or Scuba Dive. The crystal-clear waters surrounding Dry Tortugas make scuba diving and snorkeling some of the most popular activities. Keep an eye out for over 300 species of fish, coral reefs, and maybe even sharks, octopuses, or a sea turtle or two. It’s important to note that there are no rental options available on-site, so come prepared with your own gear in advance!
  • Go fishing. With 99% of this national park in the water, fishing is another very popular pastime here. Whether by boat or shore, you’ll have access to plenty of fish and the possibility of catching some great photo ops. Make sure everyone older than 16 has a fishing license and that you are aware of all the park’s photo ops.
  • Explore with kayaks or paddleboards. If the weather permits, consider exploring with vessels such as kayaks or paddleboards. There are no rentals on-site, however, so you’ll need to plan ahead. You can rent them in Key West and bring them with you to Dry Tortugas—just be aware of the regulations for which boats are permitted on the ferry (as of now, only those who are camping Dry Tortugas are able to do this). Once there, you’ll need to obtain a boating license at the Dock House Information Room. Your efforts will be well worth the peaceful views as you glide through the crystal clear water and enjoy viewing all the marine life below the surface!
  • Take a digital detox. With no cell service or wifi available, Dry Tortugas National Park is the perfect place to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature. Spend your days exploring, reading a book, or simply enjoying the peaceful surroundings.
  • Help the kids become junior rangers. The Junior Ranger program at Dry Tortugas National Park is a great way to get kids engaged and learn about the park’s history, marine wildlife, and conservation efforts. However, Dry Tortugas offers a second Junior Ranger program that many parks don’t have—the Underwater Explorer option. This program helps kids learn about water resources as well as the millions of unexplored underwater acres throughout the parks.
  • Camp under the stars. Camping on Dry Tortugas is an unforgettable experience! Only large group sites (over 10 people) are available for reservation through the National Park Service. The rest are all first come, first serve. In the event that a campsite is not available, there is an overflow area where you can stay with other campers until one of the 8 private sites are available. It’s definitely worth participating in, as you’ll wake up to the sound of waves crashing and start your day with a sunrise over this beautiful island paradise.

8. Biscayne National Park

If you want to explore the ocean but maybe not be quite as remote, I suggest Biscayne! Located just south of Miami, Florida, this National Park is a diverse and beautiful spot to visit year-round. However, I’d argue that January is perhaps the best time to explore this park as temperatures are mild and mosquito activity is at a low point (always a win!).

Plus, there is plenty to do here in the winter months. Although Biscayne National Park is the largest marine park in the National Park System, it offers a mix of land and water experiences, making it a perfect spot for the whole family.

lighthouse, Biscayne National Park, FloridaPin
Biscayne National Park, Florida

Here are some of the top activities to enjoy during your visit to Biscayne NP in January:

  • Snorkeling or Scuba Diving is a must-do in Biscayne National Park! With crystal-clear waters and an abundance of marine life, snorkeling or scuba diving will give you an up-close look at the park’s underwater wonders. The Maritime Heritage Trail is a family favorite as it allows you to explore shipwrecks and see how they have become new homes for marine life.
  • Kayaking or Canoeing are great ways to explore the park’s mangrove shorelines, islands, and shallow bays. There are plenty of options for both beginners and more advanced kayakers, but for a pretty, fairly easy route, I like Jones Lagoon. Despite the waters being quite shallow there, you can still see sting rays, jellyfish, and plenty of fish!
  • Boat Tours and Cruises offer a chance to see more of the park’s diverse ecosystems, including mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. There are several options available, such as glass-bottom boat tours or sailing excursions.
  • Fishing is another popular activity in Biscayne National Park. Whether you are new to fishing or a seasoned pro, there are plenty of opportunities to catch a variety of fish in the park’s waters. Just make sure to follow all fishing regulations and obtain a Florida fishing license if necessary.
  • Hiking and Camping on Elliott Key, the largest island in Biscayne National Park, is another great way to experience the park. You can also opt to camp at Boca Chita Key, which is smaller but more popular. Either island is only accessible by boat and offers campsites, picnic areas, and hiking trails for visitors to enjoy.
  • Visit the Dante Fascell Visitor Center to learn about the history and natural wonders of Biscayne National Park. The center offers educational exhibits, films, ranger-led programs, and Junior Ranger activities for kids.
shoreline at Biscayne National Park, FloridaPin
shoreline at Biscayne National Park

9. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Looking for a unique winter getaway? Head to Hawaii!

January is an excellent time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the Big Island of Hawaii. With temperate weather ranging from 65-80 degrees and fewer crowds, it’s a great time to explore this unique national park.

family standing beside the sign for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of HawaiiPin
our family at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii

This park is also home to two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, making it a must-visit destination for geology enthusiasts.

Here are some of the top things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:

  • Hiking is one of the best ways to experience Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are over 150 miles of trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging hikes through volcanic landscapes and rainforests. For day hikes, I recommend Carter Rim Trail. Our favorite section is the paved trail section that leads to the volcano—it offers some spectacular views and is easy enough for most kids.
  • Explore the backcountry. There are opportunities to roam, so plenty of opportunity to get some time in nature. You can also camp in the backcountry, but you are required to register for a permit and pay a small fee.
  • Drive along Chain of Craters Road to witness the incredible effects of past volcanic eruptions. This 18-mile stretch offers some gorgeous scenery and a chance for little ones to rest. You can stop at various overlooks and viewpoints along the way, including the Holei Sea Arch and Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs.
  • Take a scenic drive along Crater Rim Drive. Another great option is to take this route and see the park’s stunning landscapes, including lava fields, steam vents, and volcanic craters. You can also stop at the Visitor Center and Kilauea Overlook for more information and stunning views.
  • Explore lava tubes such as Thurston Lava Tube or Nahuku for a unique underground experience. These caves were formed by flowing lava, creating a natural wonder worth exploring. They are lit during the daytime hours, so if you are feeling adventurous, grab a flashlight for a nighttime stroll.
  • Attend a ranger-led program to learn about the park’s geology, history, and cultural significance. There are also special events held throughout the year, such as After Dark in the Park on select Tuesdays or stargazing programs. Check the daily calendar for what is available during your visit!

As with any national park, make sure to check the current conditions and closures before visiting. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a unique destination that offers an unforgettable experience year-round, but January is an excellent time to avoid crowds while enjoying all the park has to offer.

10. White Sands National Park

Located in New Mexico, White Sands National Park is a stunning desert landscape that you won’t find anywhere else. With temperatures averaging around 60 degrees, mostly clear skies, and way fewer crowds, January is an ideal time to visit this unique destination.

White Sands National Park is known for its vast white sand dunes that stretch for 275 square miles. You almost have to see it in person to believe it!

family at white sands national park sign, new mexicoPin

Here are some of the top activities for you and your family to enjoy during a visit to White Sands:

  • Sledding on the dunes is a popular activity for both kids and adults. Believe it or not, sledding on sand is just as fun (or more!) then sledding on snow. However, you’ll still want to follow the ranger’s recommendations for safe sand sledding to avoid any injuries—this official NPS video does a great job of explaining how to do it. You can bring your own sleds or purchase one at the gift shop and enjoy an exhilarating experience down the dunes.
  • Driving the sand dunes is another fun way to take in the views. The drive takes about 45 minutes, but there are plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy a picnic or snap some photos.
  • Hiking and backcountry camping are also popular in White Sands National Park. There are five established trails, ranging from easy to strenuous, that offer different perspectives of the dunes and surrounding landscape. Keep in mind that hiking on sand is quite a bit more challenging than paved roads or dirt-packed ones, so start small!
  • Attend a ranger-led program to learn about the park’s unique geology, plants, and animals. The Sunset Stroll is a popular tour where visitors can experience the dunes at twilight. If you time your trip correctly, you can also take advantage of a beautiful full moon stroll too!
  • Stargazing is a must-do in White Sands National Park. With low light pollution and clear skies, it’s an ideal location to observe the night sky. There are also special stargazing events held throughout the year.
  • Photography opportunities abound in White Sands National Park. The contrast of the white sand against blue skies creates stunning photos that can’t be created anywhere else! Just make sure to protect your camera from elements like sand when you are out in the dunes.

11. Virgin Islands National Park

Escape the winter cold and head to Virgin Islands National Park in January. Located on St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, this park offers a tropical paradise with beautiful blue skies and crystal clear water.

best national parks to visit in January: US Virgin Islands National Park written on a life preserverPin

In January, you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and pleasant weather, with average temperatures in the 80s. This is the perfect spot to soak up plenty of sunshine and replenish those vitamin D levels!

There is truly something for everyone in this gorgeous spot. The Virgin Islands National Park is an excellent destination for those who love to swim, snorkel, explore, or just relax on beautiful beaches.

Here are some of the activities you can enjoy during your trip to Virgin Islands NP in January:

  • Snorkeling and Scuba diving are very popular in Virgin Islands National Park, with crystal clear waters and colorful coral reefs to explore. You can rent equipment or join a guided tour to experience the best spots. Hawknest Bay is one popular option, where you can snorkel around the coral to spot schools of colorful fish. Cinnamon Bay, on the other hand, offers clear, open water perfect for beginners. Turtle sightings are common, so keep an eye out!
  • Hiking is another great way to experience the park’s natural beauty. There are over 20 hiking trails on St. John, ranging from easy beach walks to challenging hikes through tropical forests. Salt Pond is a great option for families with young children, as the hike takes about 20 minutes and is relatively flat. Looking for something more strenuous? Johnny Horn Trail is a challenge, but the beautiful views more than makeup for it!
  • Relax on a beautiful beach for a day of sun and sand. Trunk Bay is one of the most popular beaches in the park, known for its crystal-clear waters.
  • Learn about the island’s history at Annaberg Sugar Plantation, a restored 18th-century sugar plantation that offers guided tours and educational programs.
  • Birdwatching is a popular activity in Virgin Islands National Park, with over 140 species of birds to spot.

Even More National Parks to Explore in January

These national parks didn’t make my cut as the tippy-top picks, but they are still incredibly awesome options for this time of year!

12. Grand Canyon National Park

If you want to enjoy this famous park in solitude, January is probably the best time to go! You will likely have to contend with snow and ice in the park, but the South Rim is open as long as inclement weather doesn’t prevent it.

family selfie at the Grand CanyonPin
my family at the Grand Canyon (in 2020…how did you know? 😉

13. Saguaro National Park

Head to Tuscon and visit the famed saguaro cacti in their natural habitat. January offers comfortable hiking temperatures and can be a great time to see Saguaro National Park‘s wildlife.

girl jumping on a trail in Saguaro National ParkPin
Jump and play amongst the cacti in Saguaro NP

14. Yosemite National Park

If you are looking for solitude and pretty winter scenery,  Yosemite National Park can be a great choice. Enjoy exploring the peaceful trails without the crowds of summer. Plus, don’t miss the shuttle around Yosemite Valley, where you can spot beautiful views of the park.

family at Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, CaliforniaPin
at Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park

15. Rocky Mountain National Park

This park is a great option if you enjoy winter activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, and sledding. The park offers stunning views of snowy peaks and frozen lakes, but be sure to check for weather closures before heading out.

NPS welcome sign for Rocky Mountain National Park, ColoradoPin

16. Haleakala National Park

If you want to get outside the contiguous United States and enjoy some warm weather, it doesn’t get much better than Hawaii! January is a great time to visit Haleakala National Park, with warm temperatures and fewer crowds. Hike through lush forests and take in breathtaking views of the famous crater.

best national parks to visit in January: welcome sign for Haleakala National Park, HawaiiPin

17. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This park is a great option for those looking to experience winter in the mountains. Enjoy chilly (or even snowy!) hikes and cozy cabins, then visit the nearby towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge for some winter fun.

best national parks to visit in January: three kids next to great smoky mountains national parkPin

What to Bring When Visiting a US National Park in Winter

As you can tell from the above list of the best national parks to visit in January, the parks’ weather and amenities vary widely. However, this general packing list is the perfect place to start! And for some of our favorite park-travel gear, check out this article as well.

  • Layers – The weather can change quickly in national parks, especially in winter, so it’s important to dress in layers that you can easily add or remove as needed.
  • Waterproof and sturdy hiking shoes Hiking trails can be wet and icy during this time of year, so make sure to wear waterproof and sturdy shoes for safety.
  • Sun protection – Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean the sun isn’t still strong! Make sure to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself from its rays.
  • Water and snacks Staying hydrated and fueled is important when exploring national parks in any season. Bring plenty of water and healthy snacks to keep you energized throughout your adventures.
  • Camera – National parks offer some of the most breathtaking views and wildlife sightings. Make sure to bring a camera to capture your memories and share them with others.
  • First aid kit – It’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand when exploring nature, just in case of any minor injuries.
  • Road trip activities – If you’re planning on taking advantage of scenic drives throughout the parks (and you should!), bring along some fun road trip activities for the kids to indulge in as you drive. While I wish I could say your little ones would be just as memorized by the views as you will…I don’t want to lie to you!

Safety Precautions When Visiting a US National Park in Winter

As with any outdoor adventure, it’s important to take safety precautions when visiting national parks in winter. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

First, make sure to check the weather and park conditions before heading out. Winter weather can be unpredictable, so make sure to check for any closures or hazardous conditions before heading out.

You’ll also want to make sure to dress appropriately and bring plenty of layers. As mentioned earlier, the weather can change quickly, so it’s important to be prepared for all conditions.

If you plan on participating in winter activities like skiing or snowshoeing, make sure to bring the right equipment and know how to use it. It’s always a good idea to have a map of the area and let someone know where you will be hiking or exploring.

I also strongly suggest you use a buddy system—don’t explore alone! But, if you really need that solitude (I get it!), make sure you tell another adult where you are going.

Lastly, make sure to follow all park rules and regulations, stay on designated trails, and respect wildlife. These parks are home to many animals, so it’s important to give them space and not disturb their natural habitats.

child playing at a dinosaur statue at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit in Big Bend National Park, TexasPin
Not the best example of “respecting wildlife” – thankfully this “wildlife” was a prehistoric replica 😉 found at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit Trail in Big Bend NP


Is January a good time to go to the Grand Canyon?

Yes and no—it depends on what you are hoping to do there. January can be a great time to visit the Grand Canyon if you want to enjoy stunning views without the crowds of summer. However, you will have to contend with snow and ice, so make sure to check park conditions before heading out. 

The South Rim is usually open in January, but weather can cause closures. Additionally, some activities and amenities may not be available during this time of year. For example, the North Rim is closed from mid-October to mid-May, so you won’t be able to access it in January.

view from South Rim, Grand Canyon National ParkPin
mind-boggling expansive vistas at South Rim, Grand Canyon

Is there any wildlife that is more active during the winter months?

Yes, there are some species that are more active (or at least easier to spot!) in winter than in other seasons. While some animals, like bears, are deep into their hibernation, other animals, such as elk and bison tend to congregate in lower elevations during the colder months, making them easier to spot.

You may also have a better chance of seeing animals like wolves or foxes, as their darker coats stand out against the snow.

fox in winter, Yellowstone National ParkPin
winter is a great time for wildlife viewing in many parks where they more easily stand out against a wintery landscape – like this fox in Yellowstone NP

Are there any special discounts or programs available for visiting national parks in January?

There are not any special discounts for park entry during the winter months. However, there are several free entrance days to the National Park System. One of these falls on January 16th, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Often, in park (or even out of park) lodging may have special discounts available in January if it’s the park’s off-season (think Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, and other parks that are cold at this time of year).

Old Faithful Snow Lodge in winterPin
Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the winter (one of the only lodges open during the winter months in Yellowstone NP) – Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


While January may not seem like the ideal time to visit national parks, I hope this article has shown you just how magical these destinations can be during the winter! Take advantage of the unique experience of visiting outside of peak season and truly enjoy nature.

Pin this article about the best national parks to visit in January for later! And if you found this article helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

17 BEST national parks to visit in January: Use this complete list to plan an epic winter family getaway to these beautiful national parks throughout the US!Pin
happy trails, heatherPin
Photo of author

About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

Leave a Comment