January in the United States: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Average Temperatures in the United States in January

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January is deep winter across much of the United States, so you should expect very cold temperatures in New England, the Midwest, and the Mid-Atlantic states. You can also expect cold weather in states in the Southeast and Southwest, though temperatures are typically milder here than in the North and Midwest. Temperatures usually are connected to altitude, with destinations at higher elevations being colder. For mild temperatures, head to Hawaii, Arizona, or Florida.

No matter what you’re looking for, the United States has plenty to offer in January. Whether you’re hitting the slopes, escaping the cold, or just looking for an amazing vacation, you have tons of options, so take your pick.

United States Weather in January

To get a sense of the variation in weather across the United States, this list shows the average January temperatures for the top tourist destinations in the United States (High / Low):

  • New York City: 36 / 26 F (4 / -3 C)
  • Los Angeles: 67 / 9 F (19 / 9 C)
  • Chicago: 30 / 15 F (-1 / -9 C)
  • Washington, D.C: 42 / 27 F (6 / -2 C)
  • Las Vegas: 57 / 34 F (13 / 1C)
  • San Francisco: 57 / 44 F (14 / 7 C)
  • Hawaii: 82 / 67 F (28 / 20 C)
  • Grand Canyon: 41 / 18 F (5 / -8 C)
  • Orlando, Florida: 72 / 50 F (23 / 10 C)
  • Phoenix, Arizona: 68 / 45 F (20 / 6 C)
  • New Orleans: 63 / 42 F (17 / 6 C)

The average rainfall during January in top U.S. destinations is:

  • New York City: 3.7 inches
  • Los Angeles: 2.7 inches
  • Chicago: 1.7 inches
  • Washington D.C.: 2.8 inches
  • Las Vegas: .05 inches
  • San Francisco: 4.2 inches
  • Hawaii: 2.9 inches
  • Grand Canyon: 1.1 inches
  • Phoenix: .91 inches
  • New Orleans: 5.87 inches

Water temperatures in Hawaii, the place you'll most likely want to swim, in January are:

  • Maximum: 25.3 / 77.1 F
  • Average: 24.7 / 76.5 F
  • Minimum: 24.2 / 76 F

What to Pack

Packing is dependent on where you will be going and, of course, the weather and the activities you plan to do. In general, the south and west are more casual than the northeastern states. Cities will give you more opportunities to dress well (at least business casual) than in rural areas. The following tips may be something you haven't considered:

  • You'll need a hat, no matter where you go. If it's sunny a hat can shield you from the heat and glaring sun. If it is a cold place, you'll need a hat because you lose the most body warmth from your head.
  • Sunscreen is needed for both skiing and boating.
  • Except in resort areas, darker clothing is best for the season.
  • Weatherproof jackets and shoes are ideal for places where it may rain, snow or be foggy like San Francisco, New York City, and New Orleans.
  • Layering is always ideal whether it be under a warm coat for colder climates, or a light jacket for warmer climates. Even in the desert, you'll need a jacket for evenings as it cools down fast.
  • Walking shoes and footwear for sports you intend to participate in are must-pack items for January travel.

January Events in the United States

In the United States, the big winter holidays are celebrated in December, so there is very little to get in the way of your travel plans.

  • January events kick off with New Year's Day festivities such as the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, a city in Southern California near Los Angeles.
  • The world-famous Sundance Film Festival takes place in snowy Park City, Utah.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. MLK Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year and many people get out and do volunteer work on this day in honor of Dr. King. Many government offices are closed, but most businesses stay open and offer special discounts to commemorate the holiday. Schools in the U.S. sometimes gives students this day off, but it depends on the district.

Activities and Events For Snow Lovers

If you have a magical winter vacation in mind, there is no place like New York City, where the Christmas lights and decorations may still be up and it's possible to take a horse-drawn carriage through a snow-covered Central Park.

New York in the winter is definitely cold but it’s not quite as extreme as some other U.S. cities because it's on the coast and the temperature is regulated by the ocean. Boston and Chicago are two other popular destinations in the United States that have colder weather, thanks to the latter being located more to the north and the former in the west away from the ocean air. Both cities average below 36 degrees F during January and both get much colder at night. If you’re planning a trip to one of these cities in January, prepare for low temperatures and dress warmly!

If you are looking to get away for a weekend at the slopes, there are many ski destinations to pick from. Colorado is often considered the best state in the U.S. for a ski getaway, with Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and many other mountains; you’ll have your pick of locations! Utah is another popular place to ski with several famous mountains to choose from like Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort, which were both hosts during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. If you’re looking for the best ski trip destination on the East Coast, Vermont is the place to go with Stowe and Killington being some of the most well known.

Activities and Events For Beach Lovers

If you’re looking for a sunnier, milder place to visit in January, there are many cities to check out: Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New Orleans are some popular destinations. Las Vegas offers many indoor activities with world-class concerts and shows to check out—and, of course, gambling! San Francisco’s weather tends to be pretty mild throughout the year so any time is a great time to visit. L.A. is known for its sunny weather, but if you’re looking to avoid the extreme heat, January is one of the best times to visit. New Orleans is another popular destination to explore during the winter because humidity levels drop and the weather tends to be milder and visiting the famous city before Mardi Gras is a way to avoid the crowds.

Hawaii and Florida are also postcard-worthy places to get away from the cold in January. With temperatures averaging in the 70s and 80s, they are the perfect place to escape all that snow. With beautiful beaches, a plethora of theme parks, and incredible natural beauty, you really can’t go wrong with a trip to either of these favorite beach destinations. 

Activities and Events For Desert Lovers

Another favorite warm-weather destination is the deserts of Arizona, Southern New Mexico, and Nevada. January is a month where "snowbirds," retirees from the northern states who spend extended time in the warmer climates of Florida and Arizona, will flock to the desert to stay in RV's, vacation homes, resorts, and condos. Favorite winter activities are golf, hiking, Spring Training Baseball, and relaxing around the pool.

January Travel Tips

  • In warmer climates after the December holidays have passed, January is a time that retirees head for their winter retreats in Florida and Arizona, especially. It is a time when vacation rentals and resorts are very busy.
  • If you are flying in or out of airports in the northeastern United States, pay particular attention to the weather. Snowstorms can shut down road and air transportation.
  • In some areas, since the holidays have passed and children have returned to school, January is seen as a shoulder season and prices in places like Santa Fe, New Mexico and ski resort admissions tend to be lower.
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