December is a magical time of year in the United States, and there’s really no better way to cap off the year than by hitting the road!
Whether you’re looking to escape the cold at a tropical beach or embrace the snow on an epic ski trip, there are tons of incredible places to visit in the US in December.
Of course, holiday travel is huge this month. If you want to relish the festive season, you’ll find endless holiday cheer and special events in cities big and small. But if you’d prefer to avoid the crowds and costs that come with a Christmas vacation, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from, too.
Travel earlier in the month, and you’ll have the chance to explore the country’s best (and most popular) national parks and cities minus the crowds. Plus, in the lead-up to the holidays, you’ll find that many cities in the US host free concerts, festive markets, and holiday parades, while restaurants often serve up special menus and holiday treats all month long.
With so many wonderful places to visit in December, it might be tough to decide where to go! So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best places to visit in the US in December for you. Plan the ultimate December getaway and get ready to make some unforgettable memories!
5 Best Places to Visit in the USA in December
1. New Orleans, Louisiana
From noshing on beignets at Café du Monde to marveling at 18th-century buildings in the French Quarter, The Big Easy is a prime destination to visit year-round. But did you know it’s one of the best US cities to visit in December?
Book a trip to New Orleans in December, and you’ll find all sorts of festive and fun special events happening all month long. Plus, the city is all dressed up in twinkling lights and holiday displays, creating a truly magical atmosphere!
Starting at the beginning of the month, you can expect restaurants to mix up festive craft cocktails and serve up special menus, including traditional Reveillon dinners (a late-night multi-course holiday meal). Be sure to also attend one of the free classical and jazz concerts courtesy of the St. Louis Cathedral Concert Series and check out the spectacular light displays at the iconic Celebration in the Oaks and LUNA Fête.
Then there’s the Krewe of Jingle Christmas Parade, the boozy Running of the Santas pub crawl, and the Holiday Home Tour, which gives you a peek into the beautiful private homes in the Garden District. From thrilling college football games to festive cruises on the Mississippi, there’s tons going on in New Orleans in December!
2. Zion National Park
If you’ve visited Zion National Park during the peak months (April through October), you know that the crowds can be overwhelming. After all, this is one of the most popular national parks in the United States!
But visit Zion in December, and you’ll be rewarded with near-empty hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and iconic attractions. Brave the chilly temps, and you’ll quickly see why Zion National Park is one of the best places to visit in the US in December.
Plus, winter is the only time of year that you can cruise along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in your own car (aside from certain days, including the time between Christmas and New Year’s). The road is closed to private vehicles from March to November, so being able to travel at your own pace and stop whenever you want is a huge benefit of visiting in winter.
Another perk of visiting Zion in December is that your chances of snagging a coveted permit to hike Angels Landing or The Subway are much better compared to peak season months. But beware of Angels Landing if it’s icy, those dropoffs are no joke!
Of course, December is the coldest month of the year to visit Zion, with an average low of 30°F and high of 50°F. But bundle up, and you’re in for the trip of a lifetime. If you have extra time make sure you visit nearby Bryce Canyon National Park – another fabulous place in Southern Utah for a white Christmas!
3. Lake Placid
If you’re looking for epic winter destinations perfect for a year-end trip, Lake Placid is easily one of the best vacation spots in the US in December. Tucked away in the Adirondack Mountains, this quaint New York town is a mecca for adventure junkies, especially in the winter months.
Lake Placid has been a top winter destination since the early 1900s, and it even played host to the Winter Olympics back in 1932 and again in 1980. Fast-forward to today, and you can experience Lake Placid’s Olympic past at the Olympic Center, Olympic Jumping Complex, Mt. Van Hoevenberg, and Whiteface Mountain.
Take advantage of the powder-fresh snow, and hit the slopes of Whiteface Mountain, one of the top ski resorts in the country. If you prefer something a bit more mellow, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Mount Van Hoevenberg and beyond.
If you’re in town just to relax, that’s fine too. You’ll find all sorts of lovely lodges and pampering spas all around town, perfect for a carefree winter weekend away!
4. Leavenworth, Washington
Tucked away in Washington‘s Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth is famous for its authentic Bavarian Village lined with alpine-style buildings and German restaurants. There are plenty of reasons to visit Leavenworth year-round, but if you’re looking for magical Christmas destinations, this Washington hamlet is easily one of the best places to travel in the US in December!
Leavenworth is widely hailed as one of the best Christmas towns in the US, so expect plenty of twinkling lights and holiday cheer all month long thanks to the annual Village of Lights Christmastown event.
During this month-long event, you’ll have the chance to participate in all sorts of fun activities – from marveling at the half a million lights that adorn the town and taking photos with Santa to listening to carolers and snacking on all of the festive German treats.
If that’s not enough, you can spend your days checking out all of the nutcrackers at the quirky Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, enjoying mulled wine and spiced nuts at downtown’s restaurants, going sledding through the middle of town, visiting the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm – the list goes on and on.
To add to the magical atmosphere, December is a prime time to see this picture-perfect town blanketed in snow!
5. Key West, Florida
Located at the southwestern tip of the Florida Keys, Key West is easily one of the best warm places in the United States to visit in December. The average daytime temperature hovers around 76°F, making this one of the warmest wintertime destinations in the country!
That being said, the colder-than-usual ocean temperatures and mild rainfall might be off-putting to some. But if you visit Key West with an open mind, you won’t be disappointed. Plus, you may very well have perfect tropical weather during your entire trip.
Key West is stunning year-round, and you can easily while away the days snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters, soaking up the sun from a pristine beach, or lounging around your hotel pool. But December also offers all sorts of festive activities and events, too, creating a fun and unique juxtaposition to the tropical surroundings.
During the holidays, the entire island, including Duval Street, is decked out in aquatic-themed holiday decorations, making it even more charming than usual. If you’re in town in December, be sure to take the Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley to check out Key West’s best light displays.
Then there’s the Key West Holiday Parade the first week of December, the Lighted Boat Parade in mid-December, and the iconic New Year’s Eve Conch Shell Drop, to name a few fun events!