A photo of Pinnacle Peak in Mount Rainier National park in winter covered in snow.

11 of the Best National Parks to Visit in January

Hey there, adventurers and nature enthusiasts! As we shake off the holiday season and dive into the heart of winter, there’s no better time to explore America’s national parks’ stunning beauty and serene landscapes. These National Parks to visit in January will offer you tons of rewards with zero crowds.

I mean, January is often overlooked as a time to adventure and is a hidden gem for many park-goers.

It’s a month where the crowds thin, the air is crisp, and the natural world offers a quiet, reflective beauty. From the snow-dusted cliffs of Zion to the tranquil, wildlife-rich waters of the Everglades, each park reveals its unique winter persona in January.

So, grab your coats, lace up those hiking boots, and embark on a journey to discover the top national parks to visit in January, where the chill in the air only adds to the magic and majesty of these natural wonders!

Your Guide to the Top National Parks to Visit in January

We’re diving into 11 incredible national parks to visit in January. There are indeed more, but I have to diversify the list too. National Parks left off that are great in January include Yosemite, Saguaro National Park, Guadalupe Mountains, Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, any of the caves, and White Sands.

The hard part about writing is you have to choose to leave some off, or it’ll just be the same 50 National Parks to visit each article (we always leave off Hot Springs, haha.)

Snowy trees all in a row with clouds behind them.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Which national parks to go to in January?

Mount Rainier National Park

Visiting in January means experiencing Mount Rainier in its full winter glory. The park is a snowy paradise for winter sports enthusiasts, offering snowshoeing, skiing, and snowboarding opportunities. The snow-covered landscape is breathtaking, especially around Paradise, one of Earth’s snowiest places.

Winter also brings challenges, including road closures and the need for tire chains. Before their trip, visitors should check weather conditions and road statuses and be prepared for extreme winter weather.

Overall, it’s one of my favorite National Parks to visit in January.

A hiker enjoys the snowy views at Mount Rainier. The hiker is alone on the snowfield with trees to her left and mountains behind.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Three things to know:

  • All vehicles MUST carry chains, no matter your car type.
  • The park gates close at 5pm, so you must be driving down from Paradise Visitor Center by 4:30pm.
  • Make sure to have snowshoes, or you won’t get too far/won’t have as good of a time.

My suggestions for winter hiking gear

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park presents a moody and lush winter scene. The park’s diverse ecosystems range from rainforests to mountain peaks and coastal areas, all of which take on a different character in winter. With its moss-laden trees, the Hoh Rainforest becomes even more enchanting with the winter rains.

Winter storms along the coast create dramatic seascapes, perfect for photography. The higher elevations receive heavy snowfall, making Hurricane Ridge a popular spot for snowshoeing and skiing. Visitors should be prepared for wet conditions and variable weather.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Three things to know:

  • Your crowds will be small, so don’t anticipate many lines or crowded trails.
  • The rainforest looks so much better during/after the rain. It’s incredibly vibrant and way better than in the summer.
  • If you hike out to Shi Shi Beach, the trail is muddier than you can imagine. So come prepared.
A little cove near Shi Shi Beach with various rock formations and trees.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Channel Islands National Park

January is a unique time to visit the Channel Islands, offering a serene escape from the mainland. Winter weather can be unpredictable, with cooler temperatures and rougher seas making ferry crossings more adventurous.

This is an excellent time for whale watching as gray and humpback whales migrate through the area. On the islands, visitors can enjoy hiking trails with fewer crowds, offering peaceful exploration. Birdwatching is also exceptional during this time, with many seabirds nesting on the islands. However, visitors should be prepared for variable weather and limited island services.

Book your trip to any of these National Parks

Three things to know:

  • Potato Harbor is the best place to watch the sunset and is only a 2.5-mile moderately easy hike from the campground.
  • If you bring a wagon with all your gear, it’s not a far walk to the first campground. Many people had the most outrageous camping supplies, and my girlfriend and I just had our backpacking gear.
  • Book some adventures while there. We did kayaking and had a blast!

Great Sand Dunes National Park

January at Great Sand Dunes is a time of stark beauty and solitude. The sand dunes can be covered in snow, creating a surreal landscape contrasting with the clear blue skies. It’s a cold month, so visitors should dress warmly, but the winter light is perfect for photography.

Activities like sledding or sandboarding down the dunes can be uniquely enjoyable with a layer of snow. Visitors should be prepared for cold temperatures and be aware that some park facilities may be limited during winter.

It’s one of the more unique National Parks to visit in January.

Three things to know:

  • The park boasts the tallest sand dunes in North America, the area’s most striking feature. The dunes rise up to 750 feet tall and cover about 30 square miles.
  • Sandboarding and sand sledding on the dunes are popular and unique experiences. Hiking is also a favorite, with trails leading to the dunes and other areas in the park, like the grasslands, wetlands, and alpine forests. The park also offers excellent stargazing opportunities, as it has some of the darkest skies in the country.
  • Despite its name, the park isn’t just sand dunes. It encompasses diverse environments, including alpine lakes, tundra, forests, meadows, and wetlands. This diversity supports a variety of wildlife, from deer and elk to smaller animals like kangaroo rats and the endangered tiger beetle.

Sequoia National Park

January is a magical time to visit Sequoia National Park, one of the national parks to visit in January for those who love snowy landscapes and giant trees. The park’s famous giant sequoias, some of the largest trees on Earth, are a magnificent sight against the backdrop of snow.

Winter activities include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, allowing visitors to explore the peaceful, snow-blanketed forest.

sequoia national park congress trail
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Visitors should be prepared for winter driving conditions and check road closures before visiting, as snow can limit access to certain areas.

Three things to know:

  • You’re at elevation, so bring warm clothes and chains for your vehicles. The Sierra can get dumped on in the winter, and it’s best to come prepared. If you need a short hike, Moro Rock is a great one!
  • Campgrounds are closed for the most part. You might have to drive in and out every night.
  • The switchbacks on the southern entrance are likely closed, so you’ll have to enter via the Kings Canyon side.

Everglades National Park

January is one of the best times to visit the Everglades, with lower humidity, fewer mosquitoes, and pleasant temperatures. This season is ideal for wildlife viewing, especially for spotting wading birds and American alligators, as water levels are lower and animals congregate around water sources.

Popular activities include airboat tours, kayaking, and walking the boardwalk trails. It’s also the dry season, making it comfortable for camping and hiking.

two divers smiling at the camera
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Three things to know:

  • Everglades National Park is the largest tropical wilderness of any kind in the U.S. and the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River. This vast expanse of wetlands spans 1.5 million acres and is renowned for its rich biodiversity.
  • The Everglades serves as a critical habitat for numerous rare and endangered species. It is the only place in the world where American alligators and crocodiles coexist. Other notable species include the Florida panther, the West Indian manatee, and a variety of bird species, including the roseate spoonbill, wood stork, and several types of herons and egrets.
  • The park is ideal for boating, canoeing, and kayaking due to its extensive waterways. Exploring the park by water allows for an up-close experience with its unique aquatic environments.

Zion National Park

This is one of the best National Parks to visit in January. Zion National Park is a winter wonderland with fewer crowds, offering a serene and reflective experience. The park’s iconic sandstone cliffs are often dusted with snow, creating a stunning contrast against the red rocks.

The view looking down at Angels Landing inside Zion Canyon.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Hiking trails like The Narrows might be closed due to high water levels or ice, but others, such as the Watchman Trail, remain accessible, offering breathtaking views of the snow-covered terrain. Wildlife viewing is excellent during this time, as animals are more visible against the snowy backdrop.

Visitors should be prepared for cold temperatures and possible snow and ice on trails.

Three things to know:

  • You need a permit to hike Angels Landing, but getting one in the winter offers one of the best chances to do so.
  • The water in the narrows will be frigid, as could the air temps. If you go hiking, over-prepare.
  • This could be a winter adventure or have no snow at all. That’s Zion for ya!
zion to bryce canyon
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend is a perfect adventure spot in January, with mild temperatures ideal for hiking and exploring. The cooler weather is perfect for daytime activities like hiking the Chisos Mountains or exploring the Santa Elena Canyon. Winter also brings clearer skies, making stargazing a spectacular experience due to the park’s remote location.

Wildlife, including bird species from the northern regions, is more visible during this time. However, nights can be cold, so visitors should come prepared with appropriate gear.

Three things to know:

  • It’s one of the best places to view the night sky and shoot astrophotography. There’s almost no light pollution anywhere near it.
  • The park is uniquely positioned as it borders Mexico, with the Rio Grande serving as the international boundary. This proximity has led to collaborative conservation efforts between the United States and Mexico, emphasizing the importance of cross-border environmental and cultural connections.
  • Big Bend National Park is a geologist’s paradise, showcasing a fascinating geological history. The park features ancient limestone, volcanic formations, and fossilized remains of creatures from different geological eras.

Biscayne National Park

An excellent National Park to visit in January is Biscayne National Park. It offers cooler and drier conditions, ideal for exploring the park’s marine environment. It’s a great time for snorkeling and scuba diving, with better visibility in the water.

Boating and fishing are popular activities, and visitors can enjoy the park’s islands, coral reefs, and mangrove shorelines. The weather is usually pleasant but can be variable, so it’s wise to check the forecast.

Three things to know:

  • It shelters over 500 species of fish, as well as sea turtles, manatees, and dolphins.
  • Beyond its natural wonders, the park has a rich cultural history. It includes evidence of 10,000 years of human history, from ancient Native American tribes to shipwrecks and remnants of early 20th-century homesteads.
  • Unlike most national parks, Biscayne National Park is predominantly water, with 95% of its area submerged. This makes it a haven for marine life and offers a unique park experience focused on aquatic adventures. The park includes the northernmost group of living coral reefs in the United States, making it an exceptional spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Death Valley National Park

Visiting Death Valley National Park in January is ideal due to the mild temperatures, a stark contrast to its extreme summer heat. As one of the national parks to visit in January, Death Valley offers a comfortable climate for exploring its unique desert landscapes, from salt flats to sand dunes and canyons.

Ubehebe Crater death valley
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Hiking and sightseeing are popular, with must-see spots like Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Winter also brings the chance of rare rain showers, which can lead to ephemeral wildflower blooms. You should still carry plenty of water and be prepared for variable desert conditions, which can be rugged terrain.

Three things to know:

  • The park is still recovering from the torrential rain in early 2023. Some roads are not open, but most main ones are.
  • Zabriskie Point for sunrise is amazing, and Artists Pallete is someplace you want to be for blue hour (either before sunrise or after sunset).
  • Bad Water Basin is one of the coolest spots for watching the Milky Way. You will love the tranquility and dark skies.
artists palette death valley best national parks near las vegas
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

FAQ: National Parks to Visit in January

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

It’s a decent time to go, but it also depends on what you plan to do. At the top of the South Rim, you’ll have winter-like conditions. But if you hike a couple of miles down, you’ll start to get warmer weather and can ditch the jacket.

If you’re just there to sightsee, it will be gorgeous, and you won’t regret it at all.

The silver bridge which crosses over the Colorado River at the bottom of the grand canyon .
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Is Yosemite worth visiting in January?

Yes and no. I would say that if Yosemite has snow on the ground and covering the trees and granite, it’s a must-see. However, I would skip it if it’s not showcasing a winter wonderland.

The days are very short inside Yosemite Valley, and you can find better things to do in the spring when the waterfalls are rushing, and top hikes are more accessible.

Is Arizona worth visiting in January?

Most definitely! Visiting Arizona in January is one of the best months to do so. You’ll have incredible weather, sunny skies, and plenty of opportunities to enjoy nature, lay by the pool, play golf, and so much more. If you’re considering a trip to Arizona in January, book it now!

Can you go to Bryce Canyon in winter?

Yes, you can! Bryce Canyon National Park, covered in snow, is idyllic. It’s actually one of the places I’ve wanted to go for a while but haven’t gotten the chance to visit in the winter. During the summer, it offers awesome hiking and plenty of adventures.

a small arch in bryce canyon national park

But for the winter, know that it’ll be quite cold and not a lot is open around it. So bring plenty of warm gear and check road conditions before traveling.

Can you go to Yellowstone in January?

Yellowstone National Park is unique in January because they close down most of the roads inside the park. If you want to see just a portion of it covered in snow, go do it! It’ll be incredibly memorable. See the map of their winter road openings.

Can you visit national parks in the winter?

For the most part, yes, you can! Only a few national parks are totally closed, with many of them in snowier climates partially closed down. What makes national parks remarkable is that they are federally operated, so they have the crews to plow roads and keep buildings open even during cold winters.

arches national park in winter with clouds in the sky
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

These National Parks to visit in January give adventurers and explorers a chance to experience crazy conditions that might not be otherwise available.

Final Thoughts on the National Parks to Visit in January

Whether you’re looking for a winter wonderland or a place to escape the cold and soak in the warm, these destinations are ripe for the picking. Enjoy your time in these majestic places, and stay safe out there!

Thanks for reading my article about the National Parks to visit in January.

Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Bio:

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside