If you’re looking to escape the winter chill, we’ve got a terrific list of the best places to visit in the Southwest in the winter. There are many US travel ideas in the Southwest to enjoy an amazing winter vacation!
The US Southwest is a region filled with stunning landscapes and cultural attractions to explore and photograph. Whether you’re hoping to soak up the sun in Santa Fe, hike in Sedona, or explore the red rocks of Utah, the Southwest in winter is a journey worth taking!
During the winter, the temperatures 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 around the trails in Bryce Canyon in Utah!
You’ll find so many places to go in the winter 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 winter 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 Winter 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 the Winter
Whether you’re an adventurer seeking thrilling outdoor activities, a culture enthusiast immersed in rich Native American history, or a nature lover searching for serene landscapes and unique flora and fauna, the Southwest USA caters to every traveler’s whims and fancies.
For this article, we’ve asked our travel friends to share their favorite places to visit in the winter in these Southwest states: Arizona, Southern California, New Mexico, and Southern Utah.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona in the Winter
Antelope Canyon is an intriguing natural wonder that offers year-round magic for its visitors. If you’re passing through the Southwest in winter, DON’T (I repeat, don’t!) miss out on visiting Antelope Canyon.
This is one of the best times to visit. The canyon’s charm shines even in winter, with the beauty of its red rocks sometimes sprinkled with snow for a stunning contrast.
There are three main sections to explore: Upper Antelope Canyon, Lower Antelope Canyon, and Canyon X. Upper Canyon is good for people with mobile issues and children, Lower Antelope Canyon is a bit more demanding, and Canyon X is great for anyone, and the least crowded of the bunch although slightly less colorful and dramatic.
If you’ve seen pictures of Antelope Canyon, you might be seeking the famous light that comes streaming down from the sky onto the orange sand below. However, the best time to witness its renowned light beams is from March to October, and it’s only in the Upper Canyon. The good news is, if you’re keen on avoiding crowds, the quieter months run from November to March, but the downside is that the light beams are unlikely during winter in Antelope Canyon.
Remember, no matter when you visit, you’ll need to take an Antelope Canyon Tour. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter any of the canyons by themselves. (Recommended by Nina, Where in the World is Nina)
Page Lodging & Tours
Arches National Park, Utah in the Winter
Arches National Park in Moab, Utah is one of the most iconic places in the Southwest—and it gets even more magical in the wintertime.
The weather at Arches National Park can get pretty frosty in the wintertime, with daily highs ranging from the mid-40s to the upper 50s and daily lows dipping into the lower 20s! It’s generally still pleasant enough to explore the park, but make sure to come prepared with lots of warm, cozy layers for the early mornings and evenings and don’t be surprised if you even encounter snow!
While you may have to bundle up while you’re visiting there are definitely a few positives to visiting in the winter. For one, you won’t have to share the park with the throngs of visitors that swarm the park in the summertime. For another, you’re required to make a reservation to be permitted to enter the park most of the year—but not in the wintertime!
During your time here, be sure to explore some of the best hikes in Arches National Park. For example, the Devil’s Garden Trail is a choose-your-own adventure that can take you past up to seven different natural arches and one sandstone column. Delicate Arch, the most iconic structure of the park’s eye-popping two thousand natural arches, is accessible along its very own trail, where you can crane your neck up at the 52-foot archway.
Arches is one of the most popular national parks but luckily, come winter, you’ll get to enjoy most of the trails to yourself. (Recommended by Jess, Uprooted Traveler)
Arches Winter Lodging & Tours
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah in the Winter
While it is very cold in Bryce Canyon in winter (expect temperatures of freezing or below), it is for sure one of the best places in the Southwest to travel in winter due to the beauty of seeing the National Park’s hoodoos covered in snow.
Crowds are also far less at this time of year which means visitors can enjoy a more magical, peaceful experience in Bryce Canyon and actually find a park at the start of the trailheads!
The Rim Trail overlooking the canyon below is a great place to start in winter. Don’t miss a magical Bryce Canyon sunrise from along the Rim Trail from Sunset Point during your trip.
If you are feeling more adventurous, hiking into the canyon to get a better look at the hoodoos is still possible during winter (depending on conditions) including completing the most popular trail in the National Park, Navajo Loop Queen’s Garden trail.
Note: there are sheer drop offs if you hike into the canyon and it can be very slippery in the snow so crampons might be necessary. Always check with the rangers for the latest trail conditions before hiking!
Due to the snow and slippery conditions of the roads, it is essential to carry snow chains on your vehicle if you have an AWD or winter tires on if you are traveling in a 4WD. (Recommended by Bett, Utah Vacationers)
Bryce Canyon Winter Lodging & Tours
Catalina Island, California in the Winter
Desire a coastal vibe for your winter vacation? Catalina Island is an excellent destination in the Southwest in winter as the weather is mild and the crowds are less. The weather normally has a high in the low 60’s and lows in the mid-40s, with about 3-4 rainy days per month.
If you enjoy the outdoors, add Catalina Island to your California Bucket List! This is perfect weather to enjoy some of their outdoor adventures like hiking along its 165 miles of trails, exploring Catalina Island Bison Expedition, taking a boat tour on its crystal-clear waters, and so much more.
Catalina Island is known for its charming coastal towns. In fact, they have two: Two Harbors and Avalon. If you are looking to go hiking or take one of the boat tours, Two Harbors is a great town. Avalon is a bit more charming as it has a wide range of restaurants, shops, and attractions. Don’t fret if you’d like to experience both towns as you can either take a bus or power boat shuttle. (Recommended by Marquita, Marquita’s Travels)
Catalina Island Lodging & Tours
Death Valley National Park, California in the Winter
Death Valley National Park is an ideal winter destination for those looking to escape the cold and find adventure! Winter is the best time to visit this underrated National Park, as temperatures reach world record highs in the summer and relax to high 60’s in the winter Season.
Death Valley as a travel destination is great for so many reasons. It is one of the lesser visited California National Parks in the winter, making it easier to navigate and enjoy the views without crowds. Famous for its dunes, Death Valley actually has a lot more landscape variety than you might think.
A two or three day itinerary to Death Valley is the perfect amount of time here. Start off your day visiting the Mesquite Flat Dunes, as those get the busiest! Other must-see views and hikes in Death Valley are: Sidewinder Canyon, Artist’s Palette, Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin Salt Flats, and Dante’s View.
Accommodation options include established campgrounds, dispersed camping, hotels and unique stays nearby. (Recommended by Melissa, Miss Rover)
Death Valley Lodging & Tours
Highway 395, California in the Winter
Did you know that one of the best times to visit the California desert is in the winter season? This is when temperatures are cool but sunny (general highs are 40-50s, and lows 20-30s) and you don’t have to worry about overheating.
One of the best ways to experience this area is by taking a Highway 395 road trip. You may encounter the occasional snowstorm, but a quick check on the Caltrans Website can keep you safe and informed on the road.
Along the way, you can soak away your worries in the steamy hot springs of Wild Willy’s and Travertine. If it’s a snowy season, stop by Mammoth Lakes or Lake Tahoe for some skiing and snowboarding.
If you are a photography lover, the photo opportunities along the way are endless! Places like Mono Lake, Alabama Hills, Death Valley, and Hot Creek all look gorgeous in a light dusting of snow.
The winter is a great time to visit because there are few crowds. Most people visit during the fall and spring season. This means you get quiet trails, good hotel deals, and lots of beautiful landscapes to yourself on the open road! (Recommended by Emily, TheMandagies)
Los Angeles, California in the Winter
Los Angeles has year-round good weather, and winter is no exception. While temperatures might not reach the summertime highs, they remain mild with plenty of sunshine.
The winter rainy season runs from December through March, with January and February being the wettest months. But LA often surprises with occasional heatwaves, bringing summer-like warmth. Daytime temperatures range from the upper 60s°F while nights cool down to the upper 40s.
During winter, cooler temperatures make hiking more enjoyable with fewer crowds. Walk up to the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Park Observatory. From the top, enjoy the stunning views of the city.
Visiting Los Angeles allows you as well to enjoy both beach and mountain activities. Within about an hour and a half, you can switch from surfing to skiing or snowboarding on the nearby slopes. Plus, you can enjoy shorter lines on theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios.
As you plan for winter in LA, remember to dress in layers for flexibility during changing temperatures throughout the day. Look out for special winter pricing on tickets and accommodations, with lower hotel rates, often half of what you’d pay during the summer. All these add up to a spectacular Los Angeles winter vacation! (Recommended by Gladis, Happiness on the Way)
Los Angeles Lodging & Tours
Santa Fe, New Mexico in the Winter
Santa Fe is a fantastic place to visit in the winter. The capital of New Mexico, founded as a Spanish colony in 1610, has a rich history, interesting pueblo architecture, a thriving arts scene, delicious food, and a nearby ski area in Taos.
Santa Fe has a walkable Old Town downtown with hotels, museums, art galleries, shops, restaurants, and spas within just a few blocks. In the winter, the area is easy to navigate by foot.
The city is known for its Green Chile, which is the perfect appetizer to warm you on a cold day! Try it at La Choza, a top-rated spot. Check out some of these fun New Mexico Tours: Food Tours, Ghost Tours, and Walking Tours!
Visitors can drive an hour and a half north to ski in Taos Ski Valley, where you can find slopes for beginners and more advanced skiers. Visitors can also snowshoe in Carson National Forest.
In January and February, visitors can expect lows of 17 degrees Fahrenheit to highs of 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures start to warm a bit by March, with overnight lows averaging 26 degrees and highs averaging 55 degrees. (Recommended by Eleanor, Elevate Your Escapes)
Santa Fe Lodging & Tours
Scottsdale, Arizona in the Winter
With day time temperatures hanging out in the 70s, there’s no better time to visit Scottsdale, AZ than in February.
Over the years, Scottsdale has become a popular weekend getaway and bachelorette party destination. There are tons of beautiful resorts in the area as well as some of the best restaurants in the state. February is patio season in the valley, so enjoy the weather and dine al fresco.
As for things to do, Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall is a shopper’s paradise. From high-end, luxury brands to your everyday favorites, Fashion Square has it all. There’s also the 5th Avenue Shopping District which has local boutiques and galleries for those looking for something unique. The 5th Avenue Shopping District is also only a short distance away from Fashion Square, so you can easily walk between the two when the weather is nice.
Another great reason to visit Scottsdale in February is the Waste Management Open, an annual golfing tournament hosted in Scottsdale. The WMO is worth checking out even if you don’t care for golf as there’s often performers and live music at the event as well. Also, if you go on Monday or Tuesday, it’s free to attend. (Recommended by Timpani, Like the Drum)
Scottsdale Lodging & Tours
Sedona, Arizona in the Winter
Sedona is one of the best places to visit in the Southwest during the winter. The weather during this season is quite pleasant, with daytime temperatures usually hovering between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
This comfortable temperature makes it ideal for exploring all of Sedona’s outdoor activities without the sweltering heat of summer. What’s also amazing about traveling to Sedona in the winter is the reduced crowds.
Winter in Sedona also brings clear skies and abundant sunshine, creating the perfect conditions for enjoying the outdoors and capturing stunning photographs of the iconic red rock formations.
Whether you’re looking to enjoy a more leisurely stroll or a more challenging hike, Sedona offers a variety of hikes to immerse yourself in its breathtaking red rock landscapes.
For a more thrilling outdoor experience, don’t miss the must-do jeep tours in Sedona that navigate the rugged terrain, providing unforgettable views.
During the holidays, you can see amazing light displays at Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, and in February, there’s the Sedona International Film Festival for some entertainment. (Recommended by Kim, Traveling Swansons)
Lodging & Tours in Sedona, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona in the Winter
Winter is a great time to visit Tucson, due to the moderate daily temperatures around 60-70 degrees. Tucson is a medium-sized city in southern Arizona and is only a 90-minute drive from Phoenix.
There are a variety of things to do in Tucson whether you’re an avid adventurer, a culture enthusiast, or a foodie craving southwestern flavors.
One of the most popular US Southwest National Parks to visit in the winter is Saguaro National Park. The National Park is divided into two parts, the Tucson Mountain or West district and the Rincon Mountain or East district. The park’s locations bookend the city of Tucson making it perfect for a day trip from town.
Tucson also has a great restaurant and brewery scene. Some of the top breweries are Crooked Tooth, Pueblo Vida, and Borderlands brewing. For restaurants, you need to try some of the amazing Mexican food at Boca Tacos. (Recommended by Lauren, The Traveling Moore)
Tucson Lodging & Tours
White Sands National Park, New Mexico in the Winter
A great spot to visit in winter in the Southwest is White Sands National Park in New Mexico. First off, it’s a lot less crowded than in the summer, you’ll have the park almost to yourself.
The temperatures are a little cooler as well, so it’s more comfy for hiking in the White Sands. The winter weather at White Sands is often milder than summer, with temperatures between the 30s and 50s Fahrenheit. You can expect cloudless, sunshiney days that are perfect to explore.
You can explore the famous Playa Trail, the Interdune Boardwalk, or the more challenging Alkali Flat Trail. Make sure to hop by the Visitor’s Center to check out the museum about the history and wildlife of the White Sands.
When visiting this unique National Park in the Southwest, the nearby city of Alamogordo is where you can find the best hotels. The town has a zoo, year-round golfing, and there are two ski resorts less than an hour away! (Recommended by Sabrina, USAdventure)
Where to Stay Near White Sands National Park
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!