Whether you are a nature lover or a history buff, there are a variety of places to visit in the Southwest in December. The Southwest offers so many US travel ideas, and yes, even in the winter!
This region, with its iconic landscapes and rich cultural tapestry, offers an assortment of adventures that you wouldn’t want to miss. You can enjoy the sun in Santa Fe, hike in Sedona, or explore the red rocks of Utah’s National Parks!
The weather and temperatures in December in the Southwest are moderate for most areas in Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Utah, and Southern California. You can also enjoy winter activities like snowshoeing in the higher elevation areas like Bryce Canyon in Utah!
We’ve asked our travel friends to share their favorite places to visit in December in these Southwest states: Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Southern Utah. You’ll find so many places to go in December in the American Southwest that the hard part will be deciding what NOT to add to your bucket list!
The key to enjoying your Southwest USA December vacation is being prepared with the right clothing and gear for the activities you want to do! Grab your free winter vacation packing list printable by clicking the image below!
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Packing for a December Vacation in the US Southwest
If you’re planning a winter road trip through the Southwest, you need to be prepared for unpredictable or bad weather by packing winter road trip supplies like a car emergency kit, windshield de-icer, snow brush + ice scraper, flashlight, etc.
We recommend outdoor winter clothing that includes insulated layers for the cold mornings and evenings, and a fleece jacket for daytime activities when the sun is out and temperatures aren’t freezing!
Click the graphic below to see the Winter Hiking Gear we use and recommend to enjoy outdoor winter activities when visiting the Southwest!
Places to Visit in the Southwest in December
For this article, we’ve asked our travel friends to share their favorite places to visit in December in these Southwest states: Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Southern Utah.
After reading about all these fun locations to visit, you’ll find yourself ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through the American Southwest!
Bisbee, Arizona in December
Old Bisbee, Arizona is an eclectic old mining town perfect for a December getaway. Tucked into the Mule Mountains in the southwestern corner of the state it has a delightful mix of history, art, and gorgeous landscapes, all under a mild, sun-soaked sky.
Daytime temps hover between the 50s and low 60s, making it absolutely perfect for outdoor activities! Spend time exploring the historic district of town, a walkable area filled with great shops and restaurants, winding streets, endless staircases, and hidden street art.
If you enjoy history, don’t miss the Copper Queen Mine Tour. Put on a hard hat and delve underground to experience mining life from back in the day. Nearby, you can check out the Lavender Pit which serves as a grand testament to Bisbee’s copper mining past. While you can’t tour it, it’s worth a stop. Also fun is the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour, held every night at 7pm, whether you’re into hauntings or not!
For a more vigorous activity, hike up Youngblood Hill to a shrine filled with memorabilia, crosses, and candles. It’s been there since 1980 and shares an intimate glimpse of local spirituality. The wide-angle view of Old Bisbee from the top makes it the perfect spot to enjoy the lunch you’ve packed for your day hike.
Bisbee’s unique vibe, amplified by a community of artists and musicians, blends funky architecture with contemporary art and multicultural influences. You’re guaranteed a memorable experience with lots of sunshine. (Recommended by Heather, This Noshtalgic Life)
Where to Stay in Bisbee
Jerome, Arizona in December
Unlike Phoenix, Jerome gets a bit of a wintery chill in December. But, unlike Flagstaff, it doesn’t get cold enough to stop you from exploring. This small historic town offers a distinctive blend of Old West ambiance and a friendly, artsy community that makes it a must-visit destination during the holiday season.
Originally a mining town, the streets of Jerome are narrow and winding. Where there used to be saloons and brothels, now the streets are filled with art galleries, boutique shops, charming cafés, and bars featuring live bands playing the blues.
Visit the former Douglas Mansion and learn about the town’s mining past. Or, if you’re brave enough, take a ghost tour and venture into the spine-tingling haunted cemetery.
For a dose of the arts, the Jerome Art Walk takes place on the first Saturday of each month. It’s a fantastic opportunity to explore local art, meet artists, and perhaps even find a unique holiday gift.
Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or love exploring haunted places, this quirky little town has something special to offer during the festive season. (Recommended by Sckylar, Adventuring Dreamers)
Where to Stay in Jerome
Kanab, Utah in December
While most people choose to visit Kanab, Utah, in the summer months, visiting in December can be just as exciting! Kanab is a very popular destination in Southern Utah, making it often highly crowded.
When you visit during the off-season in December, you’ll likely have far fewer crowds to deal with, resulting in a much more pleasant trip. You can also capture unique Kanab photos, especially if there’s snow!
Snowfall is possible, with average temperatures ranging from the high 20s to mid-40s (°F) in December, so be sure to pack warm clothes. However, if you are lucky enough to catch a snowfall here, the contrast of red rocks with white snow is stunning!
A few of the most popular things to do in Kanab in December are:
- Taking a winter hike. There are multiple trails to choose from in the area, but our favorite was the Toadstool Hoodoos trail.
- Explore Belly of the Dragon. This is a must-see for anyone visiting the Kanab area!
- Climb to the Moqui Caves. These popular sand caves outside of Kanab are a fun place to hang out!
No matter what you choose to do, you’re sure to have a great time in Kanab!(Recommended by Janae, Adventures With TuckNae)
Kanab Lodging & Tours
Lake Havasu, Arizona in December
If warm lake days are what you need this winter then Lake Havasu City, Arizona has you covered for a low-key December holiday. Lake Havasu City is best known as a spring break destination but the #1 attraction year-round in the London Bridge.
That’s right, you don’t have to fly over the Atlantic to grab a pint and delicious fish and chips with your mates. Lake Havasu’s English Village offers a toned-down London experience much closer to home.
For the holidays, the city adds giant merry wreaths and red bows to the picturesque bridge which makes those infamous red phone booth photos really pop.
Don’t miss the Holiday Boat Parade of Light in Bridgewater Channel on the second Saturday of December. But don’t fret if you can’t make the Boat Parade because the Annual Festival of Lights at the Lake Havasu Resort is open daily from late November through early January. With over 500k lights and free admission, it is a family-friendly festive thing to do in Lake Havasu in winter. (Recommended by Kara, Trying To Unwind)
Lake Havasu City Lodging & Tours
Las Vegas, Nevada in December
Las Vegas offers two outstanding reasons to visit in December: the city puts up some extravagant holiday displays and decorations AND the cooler weather mean you can enjoy Nevada’s natural wonders!
Head to the Strip for a casino winter wonderland. The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village is a family-friendly lights display, while the Bellagio Botanical Garden is transformed with gingerbread cottage, Christmas tres, and dazzling lights.
Outside the Strip, visit Red Rock Canyon in the late afternoon to catch a dramatic winter sunset. Or take a selfie trip to Seven Magic Mountains!
Typical December weather in Las Vegas is mild, with temperatures in the 40s to 50s. December is a wetter-than-usual month in Vegas, but ‘wet’ for Las Vegas is dry for many other parts of the U.S, so rain shouldn’t spoil your holiday! (Recommended by Lindsey, Queer Adventurers)
Las Vegas Lodging & Tours
Moab, Utah in December
If you’re looking for one of the best places to visit in the Southwestern US in December then you can’t beat Moab, Utah. After all, this incredible desert town is relatively quiet throughout the month. You can visit nearby Arches National Park and Canyonlands without the crowds.
Additionally, the weather in Moab in winter is much cooler. In fact, highs in Moab in December are only around 45 F during the day and 21 F at night. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about sweating to death while you try iconic hikes like Delicate Arch, Fisher Towers, White Rim Overlook, and more.
You can even go mountain biking on Slickrock Trail since many bike shops are open all winter long. Finally, refuel with Thai cuisine at Singha Thai, grab a homemade pizza from Antica Forma, or sample a cocktail at La Sal House since all of these amazing businesses are open in December. (Recommended by Meg, Fox in the Forest)
Moab Winter Lodging
Page, Arizona in December
The quiet border town of Page, Arizona may not be recognizable by name, but it’s home to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, two of Arizona’s most famous natural wonders.
All you need is 24-48 hours in Page, making it an easy stop on any Southwest USA road trip itinerary. Although Page remains dry in December, temperatures drop to their annual low, with average highs in the 40°s and lows in the 30°s.
Start your day with one of the best things to do in Page Arizona, a guided tour of Antelope Canyon, the most iconic slot canyon in the US. Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo land, and only accessible through approved tours. This bucket-list destination has become increasingly popular, so visiting in December will allow you to explore the otherworldly landscape without the crowds. Despite the off-season, be sure to book tickets in advance.
The second wonder of Page is Horseshoe Bend, a 270 degree curve in the Colorado River. The viewing platform is an easy half mile paved walk from the parking lot, making it easily accessible without much of a hike. Visit at sunset to end your day with one of the most memorable views in the Southwest. (Recommended by Anjelique, Quick Stays & Getaways)
Page Lodging & Tours
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona in December
Even in December, Petrified Forest National Park adds a splash of color to any southwest road trip or vacation. It features a colorful palette of oranges, pinks, reds, and purples.
Notably, this park in Arizona has one of the greatest concentrations of petrified logs on Earth. Many people come here to see these famous rocks, as well as fossilized dinosaurs and one thousand-year-old petroglyphs.
Interstate 40 cuts the park into northern and southern halves, but its proximity to the highway makes it a breeze to visit on a southern USA road trip. The Painted Desert Visitor Center, found on the northern side, is the beginning of a 28-mile route through the park with many stops for short walking trails and viewpoints. The Painted Desert Rim Trail is one of the best stops for a quick hike.
Dress in warm layers when you visit as temperatures can dip down to the mid-20s °F by night and low 50s °F during the day. (Recommended by Taylor, Taytrum Travels)
Lodging & Tours Near Petrified Forest
Santa Fe, New Mexico in December
One of the best places to visit in the US Southwest in December is Santa Fe, New Mexico. This city is famous for its tasty New Mexican food, lively art scene, rich history, and top-notch museums.
December is a special time in Santa Fe, with fantastic holiday celebrations to enjoy. One of the most famous is the Farolito Walk on Canyon Road, where paper lanterns, small bonfires, and music light up the streets on Christmas Eve.
Another fabulous reason to visit Santa Fe in December is because it’s home to one of the best ski resorts in New Mexico. The Ski Santa Fe resort is just a short 30-minute drive from the heart of the city, perfect for anyone looking to hit the slopes.
An additional reason to visit Santa Fe in December is because of its cool weather. You can expect daytime temperatures in the low 40s and nighttime temperatures in the high teens. This makes it a great choice for those who want a chilly holiday experience in the US Southwest in December.
Plus, the brisk temperatures make it an ideal time to enjoy some craft beer at one of Santa Fe’s excellent breweries in the area!
A trip to Santa Fe in December is well worth it due to the holiday festivities, winter sports, and weather! (Recommended by Abby, Trekking Price’s)
Santa Fe Lodging & Tours
Scottsdale, Arizona in December
One of the best places to visit in December is Scottsdale, Arizona. From the warm weather to the festive decorations and renowned dining to outdoor adventures, spending a weekend in Scottsdale at the end of the year will leave you with lasting memories.
The best place to stay in Scottsdale in December is the Omni Resort & Spa at Montelucia. There’s nothing like enjoying hot cocoa from the Omni’s Mbar by the fire pits and admiring the magical Christmas tree on the Cortijo Patio.
What’s great about staying at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia is that a New Year’s Eve prix fixe dinner is held at its Spanish restaurant, Prado. During this experience, guests can enjoy champagne, a five-course dinner, followed by music and celebrations at Mbar.
Other reasons to visit Scottsdale during December are that locals and visitors can enjoy the Scottsdazzle festive decorations and events in Old Town, see the Canal Convergence light and art show at the Scottsdale Waterfront, make memories at ZooLights at the Phoenix Zoo, enjoy Scottsdale’s best restaurants like The Mission and SumoMaya, conquer a fun hike from Camelback Mountain to the Gateway Trail, and visit Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden.
The weather in Scottsdale, AZ in December ranges from average highs in the upper 60s°F to average lows in the upper 30s°F with around two days of rain. Even though the weather is comfortable during the day, making it great for outdoor activities, travelers shouldn’t forget a jacket and warmer clothing for evenings. (Recommended by Taylor, Brown Eyed Flower Child)
Scottsdale Lodging & Tours
Sedona, Arizona in December
A fabulous place to visit in the US Southwest in December is Sedona, Arizona! Located approximately 2 hours from Phoenix, it is known for its vibrant red rock formations.
Sedona sees mild winter temperatures. The average low temperature of Sedona in December is 34° F and the average high temperature is 60° F. Winter is also Sedona’s low season, making it an even more ideal time to visit!
Top things to do in Sedona include hiking, pink jeep tours, and relaxation. Visitors also love catching a brilliant sunset over the unique mountain formations. This is a huge plus if you are lucky enough to be visiting while there is a light dusting of snow! (Recommended by Alyssa, An Apple A Plane)
Lodging & Tours in Sedona, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona in December
December is the beginning of the winter tourist season in Tucson, with temperatures in the mid-60s with only three days of rain. Saguaro National Park is located in the Sonoran Desert. December is one of the best months to enjoy this park since it has little shade.
See the saguaro cacti, the park’s namesake that can live 250+ years, on any trail in the park. For an easy hike, try the 2.4 mile King Canyon/Gold Mine Loop in the Western District. To see even more of Saguaro National Park, take an e-bike tour through the Eastern District.
Downtown Tucson is a great place to take a historic walking tour. Or visit the Pima Air & Space Museum, home to the “Aircraft Boneyard” full of decommissioned planes. National Park geeks can also drive an hour south to Tumacacori National Historic Park, where the indigenous O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache peoples lived with Christian missionaries.
For an off the beaten path place to stay, stay at the Cat Mountain Lodge, ten minutes from the west entrance to Saguaro National Park. Cat Mountain Lodge has that Southwest feel you expect in Tucson. This eco-friendly B&B is on a former ranch in the desert, and even has its own pet tortoise.
For a unique place to stay, try the independent Downtown Clifton Hotel in downtown Tucson. This quirky hotel has a bar/restaurant with craft cocktails and live music. Clifton has space to sit outside indoors or out, free parking, and air conditioning. For breakfast, head to Five Points Market within walking distance. (Recommended by Laura, Hi Friends It’s Laura)
Tucson Lodging & Tours
Valley of Fire, Nevada in December
December is the perfect time to explore Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, thanks to the clear skies and daily highs in the upper 50s—perfect for having some outdoor adventures!
The Valley of Fire is so-named for its vibrant rock formations, which range in fiery hues from burnt orange to cotton candy pink. One of the best ways to explore the park is on foot on any of its awesome hiking trails.
For example, the Fire Wave Trail leads you to a rock formation that looks like something from another planet (or possibly, from Candyland!), with pink, orange, and white swirls. Alternatively, the White Domes Trail takes you through a narrow slot canyon and past towering sandstone formations and natural arches.
The Valley of Fire is located less than an hour from Sin City, making this the perfect addition to any Las Vegas itinerary. Just plan on booking your getaway with plenty of leeway—Vegas tends to be quite busy during Christmas and New Years! (Recommended by Jessica, Uprooted Traveler)
CLICK TO SHOP FOR US NATIONAL PARK GUIDES & MAPS
Road Trip Packing List
Be sure to grab the Road Trip Packing List that includes items for comfort, organization, eating, and first aid to make the family vacation a success. You’ll also receive a Road Trip Itinerary to plan the day-to-day schedule of the trip! Simply click the graphic below to get your free copy!