23/02/2024

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29 of the Best Places to Travel in December (USA Edition)

12 min read
29 of the Best Places to Travel in December (USA Edition)

With the end of the year comes a new world of travel possibilities. You can spend December fully embracing the chill of the season, or find a warm getaway if that’s more your style! Good thing the United States offers opportunities for travelers of all types, with appealing destinations scattered throughout the country. 

Starting from the West Coast and heading east, here’s a list of the top 29 destinations to visit this December:

West

1. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua trees in nevada

Winter is without a doubt the best time to see the deserts in California. Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best places to visit in the colder months. The park’s temperatures range on average by December from near 40 degrees Fahrenheit overnight to near 60 by afternoon, which makes daytime hiking and rock climbing infinitely more enjoyable than the unbearable summertime heat. 

Read Next: What to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

Deserts make up around a quarter of the state, so there are plenty of others as well. Check out this BMTM post for some of the best deserts in California.

2. Death Valley National Park, California & Nevada

death valley national park in winter

If you’ve been dying to check out Death Valley (see what I did there?) but are a little nervous about its famously scorching temperatures, consider going in December! All throughout the winter months, the area sees a dip in its usually high temps, making it much more enjoyable for hikers.

Death Valley National Park is home to some seriously out-of-this-world landscapes that you definitely don’t want to miss out on. From the colorful Artist’s Palette to the stunning Golden Canyon, there’s plenty to see and do in Death Valley. Even though December is one of the best times to visit this incredible national park, it’s not typically crowded, so you can enjoy some of the best spots without worrying about overwhelming crowds cramping your style.

3. Mendocino County, California

fort bragg glass beach

While Mendocino County is famous for having weather reminiscent of eternal spring, December sees chilly temperatures that are cold enough to bundle up for but warm enough to be able to get outside and enjoy the area’s moody coastline.

Mendocino County is the perfect December getaway for nature lovers and anyone who loves the cozy vibe of the beginning of winter. Fort Bragg is home to the legendary Glass Beach, which gets its name from the layer of colorful sea glass that washes up on its shore. In Mendocino, you can check out Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, Van Damme State Park, Mendocino Headlands State Park, and other stunning natural areas.

4. Truckee, California

Truckee in the winter is a snowy wonderland and absolutely beautiful when the snow settles. You’ll want to check out the lake views at Donner Memorial State Park, hike the Truckee River Regional Park Legacy Trail, and dive in the Emerald Pools swimming hole — it’ll be cold, but so very refreshing. Lake Tahoe and Reno are only day trips away, and Donner Pass is a historic experience to drive through. There’s also fun to be had with snowboarding, skiing, and ice skating!

If you get snowed in though and must spend time indoors, there are plenty of neat museums, breweries, and coffee shops to fill your heart. Check out this amazing list of things to do in Truckee.

5. Sun Valley, Idaho

Idaho is one the country’s best-kept secrets, and December is especially a great time to visit the state. Sun Valley gives you the opportunity to see some of the most picturesque winter landscapes in the United States. Throughout December, the nearby Sawtooth Mountains get that much more magical when a new layer of snow decorates the scenery. With fantastic skiing opportunities, naturally occurring hot springs, and hospitable locals, Sun Valley is one of the most ideal trips for a cozy December getaway.

6. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

As the least populated state, Wyoming may be the ideal destination to get some peace and quiet. Yellowstone National Park is beautiful no matter what time of year, but especially so during the winter. There’s a reason why the park is one of BMTM’s bucket list–worthy road trip stops!

Many roads may be closed during the month, but the oen between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance is open all year. Check out the park’s webpage for more information.

7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

TETONS

Head 30 miles south of Yellowstone and you’ll find Grand Teton National Park, which can be enjoyed just as much in December. Most of it is only reachable by cross-country ski or snowshoe during this time of the year, but the isolation is more than worth it.

8. San Juan County, Utah

valley of the gods

Many people thinking of December trips may not consider Utah. Lucky for you (and your wallet!), there’s so much to explore in the state’s off season. The temperatures in the area dip to highs only in the 40s Fahrenheit and lows in the 20s in December, making the weather chilly but bearable. If you want a trip full of exploration, San Juan County’s Valley of the Gods is BLM land, meaning you can camp in any of the road pulloffs (provided you leave no trace). If you decide to hike in any of Utah’s national parks, be sure you’re prepared for potentially icy conditions.

9. Moab, Utah

Moab sits between two of Utah’s best national parks: Arches and Canyonlands, so this charming town surrounded by red-rock landscapes is a great pick for December adventurers. Not only can you hit up popular places like Delicate Arch and Mesa Arch without seeing too many crowds, but the chilly weather here isn’t too frigid to put a damper on your trip.

Moab doesn’t get very much snow, but the surrounding La Sal Mountains will likely be completely white this time of year. The color contrast between the white mountains and red-orange rock formations is a stunning sight that you only get in the wintertime.

Find out what else to do in Moab here.

10. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

If you want a December full of towering mountains, Colorado is the place to go. For one, the state is known for having the most “fourteeners” (mountains higher than 14,000 feet) in the country. 

While some parks close during this time of the year, Rocky Mountain National Park is open year-round. Though you can enjoy your trip here with just snowshoeing gear, there are opportunities for sledding and skiing too. The colder months are also ideal for watching wildlife like elk, moose, and deer. Check out the park’s page for more details on the winter activities you can do here. 

Colorado also makes for a fun road trip if you want to explore the state during your December trip. 

Southwest

11. Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona, is one of the United States’ hubs for everything spiritual, but it’s also a fantastic place to enjoy the outdoors in December. If you’re coming from a place that gets super cold in the winter, Sedona is a great escape to warmer temperatures without it being too hot.

Another huge plus of visiting Sedona in December is the laid-back atmosphere and thinner crowds. Head out for a hike to the Seven Sacred Pools or Devil’s Bridge, and you might be able to enjoy some solitude, as there won’t be as many hikers as there are in the warmer months.

Find out what else there is to do in Sedona here.

12. Bisti Badlands Wilderness, New Mexico

Want to see some otherworldly landscapes with names like “Alien’s Throne” and “Dragon Eggs”? Head out to the Bisti Badlands Wilderness in New Mexico for all that and more. This incredible slice of undisturbed nature is a must-see place in New Mexico because of its uniqueness. The Bisti Badlands are a whopping 45,000 acres, with no real trails or paths to follow, making it ideal for travelers seeking a truly rugged adventure.

You can visit the Bisti Badlands any time of year and find very few people, but December is especially ideal because of the mild weather and even fewer people. Make sure to bring a 4×4 vehicle and plenty of water!

13. Taos, New Mexico

After the heat of the New Mexican climate fades away, December brings a time of rich cultural activities to the state. Taos combines both the natural and traditional draws of New Mexico, as a historic town located a half-hour drive from mountains ideal for skiing. If you come around Christmas, you’ll be able to see luminarias light the streets and parks of the state.

Taos is also a hub for forward-thinking architecture and has an entire community of people with Earthships, a sustainable type of home with all kinds of neat, environmentally friendly features. Read more about the Taos Earthships here.

Check out this post for other things to do in New Mexico.

14. Albuquerque, New Mexico

If you like history, Albuquerque might be the best next vacation for you. Definitely take a walk through Old Town, check out the Albuquerque Museum, stay at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm, go to the Petroglyph National Monument, and watch a film at the historic KiMo Theatre.

But there’s plenty more to do if you’re not that into history, like snowshoe the Cibola National Forest, hike the Sandia Mountains, and get a view from above on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway.

15. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park is a desert area along the southwest Texan border with Mexico. This park is arguably the best place on this list to stargaze — it has the least light pollution of any other national park unit in the lower 48 states

The average temperatures in Big Bend range from a nighttime low of 39 degrees to a daytime high of 63 degrees Fahrenheit, though sudden periods of cold weather happen on occasion. According to the park’s website, the holidays are typically busy, so reservations for accommodations are highly recommended.

16. Fredericksburg, Texas

For a holiday experience with a German touch, check out Fredericksburg, home to the largest number of Texas German speakers. If you come in the latter part of December, you’ll be able to see the town decked out in full Christmas decorations — German Christmas pyramid included!

The town is also around 70 miles from other cities, such as San Antonio and Austin, making for a great roadtrip stop.

South

17. New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans has so much to offer beyond the Mardi Gras season. Besides being a great city for solo female travelers, it is just as full of energy in December as in February during Mardi Gras. Definitely go to the Bywater District, and maybe try some delicious vegan food! Here’s a great itinerary for exploring New Orleans, and a helpful packing list. As a plus, December is during the shoulder season, so you’ll be able to still find relatively good accommodation deals.

18. Florida Keys Road Trip

florida sailing school

If you’re craving a sense of freedom, the Florida Keys are the answer. You can drive the entire Overseas Highway and gaze out at the Atlantic Ocean the whole time, hopping from key to key. There’s plenty of things to do in Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine, and Key West, like sunset sails, snorkeling, and heading to the beaches. It’s America’s own slice of Caribbean paradise, with a special feel. (If you’re traveling solo, here’s everything you need to know.)

Read next:

Where to Stay in Marathon
Where to Stay in Key Largo
Where to Stay in Key West

19. St. Augustine, Florida

If you want a December trading snowboards for surfboards, few places fit the bill as perfectly as Florida. During the holiday season, St. Augustine is most known for its Nights of Lights, a free celebration during which the city is covered in lights! 

In general, you can enjoy Florida’s summer activities during the winter. Whether you want to learn how to sail in Ft. Myers or explore Cocoa Beach, the state has a ton to offer throughout the end of the year.

20. Savannah, Georgia

For a quaint Southern getaway, Savannah is an ideal destination. Shops selling holiday trinkets fill the hallmark River Street in December, offering the festive experience without the intense cold.

As a bonus, head about an hour and a half south to Georgia’s Jekyll Island for its annual Holly Jolly Jekyll festival. Throughout December, the island offers activities, ranging from a skating village to an array of light displays.

21. Charleston, South Carolina

Similar to the charm and historic landscape of Savannah, Charleston is a relaxing option for travelers this month. The city has a mild climate, giving visitors a slight chill of winter without the dramatic snowfall. Throughout December, the city hosts a celebration called the Holiday Festival of Lights, complete with lights, sculptures, and Santa!

22. Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville’s location lets you experience the best of the Appalachian’s winter scenery while keeping the conveniences of the city. Depending on the weather, some parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains may be closed.

But there are more things to do here than just day hike. Here are a few of the best free and budget-friendly things to do in Asheville. If you’re willing to spend some money, the Biltmore Estate hosts an annual Christmas at Biltmore celebration that’s made the city popular during the holiday season.

23. Nashville, Tennessee

Even though much of December is Nashville‘s low season, the city doesn’t lose any of its charm. Popular pastimes throughout the month include seeing the Christmas decorations at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and attending the annual Christmas Parade. If you come at the end of the month, you can catch Music City’s New Year’s Eve extravaganza.

This is also a fantastic budget destination in the US, as there are dozens of free things to do in Nashville.

Midwest

24. Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hocking Hills is an area in southeastern Ohio with some of the most dramatic topographic features in the Midwest. There are a ton of scenic preserves and parks in the area, the most famous being Hocking Hills State Park. In December, you may see snow and ice formations along the trails, adding to the beauty of the parks’ hikes.

25. Chicago, Illinois

There’s no denying that winters in Chicago can get very cold. However, December doesn’t suffer the brunt of the winter freeze, which makes it an excellent destination if you want to take advantage of some off-season deals. You’ll be able to see some of the city’s main holiday attractions, including light displays at the Lincoln Park Zoo and the traditional Christkindlmarket.

Chicago also has tons of free things to do, so between that and the off-season deals, December is the perfect time to visit Chicago on a budget. 

Northeast

26. New York, New York

If Hollywood has showed us anything, it’s that New York City is the quintessential place to spend the holiday season. And how can it not be iconic? From ice skating in the parks to holiday shopping down Fifth Avenue, NYC is a playground of festive activity.

If you’re intimidated by its reputation for being super expensive, consider all of these free things to do in the Big Apple, which can help offset some of the higher prices on things like food and accommodation.

27. Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, a piece of northeastern coastal land mostly on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, shines in December. Some of its roads close this month, so be aware of the park’s operating hours and seasons. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are a few of the popular activities this time of year, along with ice fishing (though that is mainly popular during the latter part of winter).

Off the Mainland

28. Maui, Hawai’i

road to hana

There isn’t really a bad time to visit Hawai’i, making it a popular destination for those with time off during the holiday season. Maui is a great spot to explore, especially solo (here are tips for how to experience Maui alone), with journeys like the Road to Hana to keep you busy.

Check out our Hawai’i guide for more tips as to how you can spend your December here. Not sure what to pack? We’ve got you covered with this perfect Hawai’i packing list.

29. Vieques, Puerto Rico

Thanks to its location south of the Tropic of Cancer, Puerto Rico is in a year-round state of summer. As one of two territories in the Caribbean that US citizens can enter without a passport, Puerto Rico is a perfect option for December travelers wanting to brush up on their Spanish. Most people visiting Vieques Island come to see Mosquito Bay, one of the five bioluminescent bays in the world. Come out here on a dark night to experience nature’s very own light show.

***

Regardless of where in the US you are, there is no one way to spend the month of December. With the holiday season in full swing, there’s bound to be a destination that’ll finish your year off in an unforgettable way.

Is there a place you want to visit this December? Let us know!

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