Best National Parks to Visit in January

If you need a reason to visit a national park in January, how about considering the cost? To mark Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the National Parks Service waives the cost of admission on many of the country's national parks. So, if the short January days and the cold weather have you yearning for sunshine and a long walk outdoors, here are some of the best national parks to visit in January.

Biscayne National Park, FL

biscayne national park

Just south of Miami, in the Upper Keys, is Biscayne National Park - the best place for a January boat ride. Nearly 95 percent of this national park is actually underwater, with lots of mangrove forests, coral islands, and gorgeous waterways to explore. Winter is the perfect time to visit, as it’s the driest time of year in the state. Biscayne National Underwater Park Inc. has a number of boat excursions available, from tours to the Boca Chita Lighthouse or to Elliot Island Key . You can also arrange for reef diving or snorkeling trips. If you want to head on your own, you can also rent kayaks or canoes for the day and poke around the mangroves all by yourself. Call head for reservations, as all the Biscayne National Park boat trips are very popular.

Big Bend National Park, TX

big bend national parkIf you’re looking to escape the snow and cold, how about soaking in the natural hot springs in Big Bend National Park, west of San Antonio. From the trailhead, you can hike in about a half mile to the Hot Springs Historic District . The water is heated to about 105 degrees, and its mineral waters are said to have therapeutic properties. 

Plan to spend some time in Big Bend at night, too, because its stargazing makes it one of best national parks to visit in January. The park’s remote location, clear skies, and desert climate make it an excellent place to soak in the beauty of the night skies. From Big Bend, astronomers say you can see as far away as two million light years, all the way to the Andromeda galaxy. Bring a sweater, as the desert can get chilly at night, and don’t forget a pair of binoculars.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA

joshua tree national parkJoshua Tree National Park is near Palm Springs and offers a starkly beautiful desert landscape. Winter is a good time to visit, with the temperatures much more comfortable than during the heat of summer. January is also a great time to sign up for one of the highly popular Keys Ranch guided walking tours. The tour tells the story of William F. Keys and his wife Frances, who first settled in this corner of the Mojave Desert . It takes you through the home where they raised their five children, as well as the orchards they planted and the school house. Make sure to reserve ahead, as the tour often sells out.

Haleakala National Park, HI

Haleakala National ParkIf you really want to escape from winter weather, why not go all out and head to Hawaii. The Haleakala National Park on Maui (Hana offers the best access) is one of the best national parks to visit in January for its stunning views. The park’s Summit Area is simply breathtaking. There are a number of areas you can hike around the top of the Haleakala volcano and take in long views of the reds, oranges, and browns of rich volcanic soil. All around, especially on the drive up, you will find an almost endless landscape of desert shrubs, including the silversword, a plant that only grows on Haleakala.

Haleakala is Hawaiian for "House of the Sun," so try to be on the summit at sunrise or sunset, both of which are spectacular. Bring a jacket, as the temperature can get chilly at these hours, and be aware that park services are closed. It is best to plan to arrive early and bring your camera . Pack a picnic breakfast and stick around for a hike along the Pu`u`ula`ula Summit trail where you will get 360 degree views of the sky, desert and volcano.


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