Colorado hot springs
No clothing required when you have Colorado's hot springs to keep you warm. | Jordan Siemens/Stone/Getty Images
No clothing required when you have Colorado's hot springs to keep you warm. | Jordan Siemens/Stone/Getty Images

Combat Déjà Vu with These January Ideas and Festivities

Get out there and make time seem real again.

Gearing up for the first month of a new year, we usually get chills—and not just because of the cold. We’re excited about new adventures, new outlooks, and maybe even a new haircut. But this time around, with the pandemic still clouding everything it touches, January feels like…déjà vu. So we might as well lean into the familiar.

Perhaps we sit out the globetrotting for the moment and focus on our backyards. Maybe with some wacky sports in the winter capital of Minnesota (ice golf or beard-growing, anyone?). Ponder the environment at a new immersive space in Vegas or hang with wolves in a national park (from a safe distance). Soak weary bones in natural hot springs, pay tribute to those who paved the way for our civil rights, and cheer on some athletes achieving their dreams of competing in the Olympics. Continue to enjoy the twinkling lights of the holidays—who’s gonna stop us?—or retreat to our homes with a blanket, some hot chocolate, and a virtual festival or two. The name of the January game is “soothing.”

Freeze your Minnetonkas off in Minnesota (but in a fun way)

Minnesota may have some of the coldest winters in the Lower 48, but they know how to make the most of it. The Sandstone Ice Fest (Jan 7–8) offers ice-climbing clinics in Sandstone, while Icebox Days (Jan 13–16) in International Falls gets wacky with frozen-turkey bowling, canoe racing on ice, and a “Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run.”

The inaugural World Snow Sculpting Championship (Jan 18–23) has 12 teams competing against the backdrop of the St. Croix River in Stillwater, while the St. Paul Winter Carnival (Jan 28–Feb 6) has shenanigans from a beard-growing competition to ice-fishing tournaments, ice palaces, ice golf, dog coronations (why not?), and parades. It’s part of the Great Northern Festival, an 11-day extravaganza in Minneapolis and St. Paul, with additional events including outdoor orienteering challenges, climate-focused lectures, art exhibits carved out of ice, and live podcast recordings like On Being with Krista Tippett. Plus snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and skijoring, where competitors are pulled along on skis by dogs, who hopefully get plenty of treats for doing all the work.

...Or say hi to the sun somewhere warm

Maybe the cold isn’t for you. Luckily there’s also…not cold. Hawaii is open to visitors again—at least for now—and if you’re headed there, keep the local philosophy of mālama in mind (it means doing good). If Florida’s the goal, aim for January 15–16. That’s the Florida Manatee Festival in Crystal River, where you can get up close and personal with the adorable sea cows via paddleboard or clear kayak (they’ll swim right under you!). Sample local catches at the Florida Keys Seafood Festival (Jan 15–16), travel to Scotland with the Central Florida Scottish Highland Games (Jan 15–16), or do some beachfront ice-skating at St. Pete’s Winter Beach (through January 17). Winter activities on a beach? Well, that’s the best of both worlds.

Invent your own roadside road trip

Things are getting dicey again in pandemic-land, but that doesn’t mean you have to forfeit outdoor exploration. Make the (safe) journey the destination, say by hitting up some roadside attractions. Like an aviation pilgrimage to Atchison, Kansas, the one-time home of Amelia Earhart and the current home of a very cool earthwork of her likeness. In Connecticut, spin around a carousel museum in Bristol, with hundreds of antique treasures to dizzy and delight. Or be inspired by Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, where he penned many of his famous works—an 1874 building in American High Gothic style, you could also pretend it's haunted.

In Salem, New York, swing by the weathered barn-turned-bookstore and pick out a tome or two. Or explore a bookstore in the wilds of Big Sur, in a house once owned by author Henry Miller. Drive along metal sculptures on the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota, or perhaps happen upon the Klown Doll Museum in Plainview, Nebraska (some of you might opt to keep driving). When there, don’t forget to stop by the Serendipity Café, where the menu offers whatever they feel like cooking that day. No risk-taking here, as it’s always delicious.

Dance with wolves (from afar)

There’s no need to go to far-flung places for a safari: winter in our national parks comes with its own kind of animal magnetism. In Yellowstone, animals like bison, elk, and moose move down to lower elevations to forage—and after a dusting are much easier to spot against a blanket of white. (Watch for shed antlers in December and January.)

And right behind those massive herbivores, stalking their prey? Gray wolves. You might actually hear them first, howling into the still silence (also a plus of national parks in the winter). To see them, take a snowshoe safari, trekking as the animals do in an unrivaled backcountry experience. Or just keep your eyes peeled—you may see some couplings as courtship season is in February (if you want to see babies, they’ll pop out around April). Yellowstone is best for looking at lupines but you can also get lucky at Grand Teton, Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, and Katmai and Denali in Alaska.

Immerse yourself in Vegas

Las Vegas, aka Sin City, is a city built on escaping real life, and that includes a wealth of immersive experiences. Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart and Spiegelworld’s performance space-nightclub-restaurant Superfrico both opened this year, creating fantastic worlds to wander through. But the most recent experience eschews fantasy and turns its lens on reality: the 15,000-square-foot Arcadia Earth takes you through 15 tech-forward and Instagram-ready rooms focusing on problems facing Earth today, like water shortages, microplastics in the ocean, overfishing, and our reliance on meat. But rather than leaving the visitor feeling doomed and helpless, it offers solutions via QR code. Think of it as Earth 2.0.

(If you’re going to Vegas, why not go all in? We’ve got your guide to haunted places, cool shops, date night ideas and, sure, strip clubs.)

Witness history on the slopes of California

For snow bunnies—and elite athletes—California’s Mammoth Mountain is already a known entity, what with its numerous trails and all sorts of ways to traverse the slopes (which have already seen a fair amount of powder this winter). But this January, there’s even more reason to visit: beyond the new air service out of both Mammoth Lakes and Bishop airports, they’ll be hosting the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix from January 6–8, with an Olympic team naming ceremony for Snowboarding and Freeski to follow right after. Be a part of history as you witness the last qualifying competition for the Winter Olympics, held in February 2022 in Beijing.

In other California-skiing-upgrade news, Big Bear Mountain now has a ropes course, a mobile app, and a new and free trolley service; Mountain High added tubing lanes and a sledding area; and Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs has added a 100-foot moving carpet lift in the Children’s Learning Center.

Keep the holiday spirit going in New York

Just because it’s January doesn’t mean the magic of the holidays has to end. Catch the feeling in New York with a personal rooftop cabin at The Greens, a slice of the city with unrivaled views of boats and bridges, plus mezcal negronis and hearty fare (try the mac and cheese). Just below and right on Pier 15, Watermark also offers twinkly see-through cabins for their Winter Wonderland, with comfort food like fondue and coconut shrimp. Go for oysters and know you’re helping the planet: the shells are donated to the Billion Oyster Project to help restore oyster reefs to New York Harbor. For a fairytale afternoon, make a reservation for tea at the Baccarat Hotel, dripping with their namesake’s ornate crystal. Spring for the Champagne add-on—you deserve it.

The Rockefeller tree stays up a few days into the New Year; the Rockettes have shows through January 2nd. And if it’s lights you’re after, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens’ walk-through Lightscape is on through January 9, as is Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo. While you’re up at the zoo, be sure to sneak a peek at the six new Komodo dragons, the first time they’ve been successfully able to breed the endangered species of lizard in 122 years.

Soothe yourself with hot springs

We challenge you to find something more transporting in the winter than soaking your bones in nature’s warm water. If you visit Hot Springs, Arkansas, you might feel compelled: as you walk downtown, the vapors waft right out of grates in the ground. The historic town, surrounded by a national park, was once home to a row of bathhouses that attracted the likes of Al Capone and FDR—now most have been repurposed into things like museums and breweries (we’re not complaining). A couple still serve their original purpose though, plus now there’s a gangster museum.

If it’s hot springs you’re after, they’re also particularly great in Colorado, each filled with geothermal groundwater bubbling up to the surface. Get a cabin at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs or descend upon Iron Mountain Hot Springs, which offers 16 steamy pools. For something a little more rustic, hike three miles round-trip to Piedra River Hot Springs for a secluded clothing-optional soak.

Montana has natural hot springs for days, from hidden mountain pools to full-blown resorts. In the Pacific Northwest, many springs are surprisingly campable this time of year. In New Mexico, spring-hop though countless healing grottos, some clothing-optional, some shiny with obsidian. They don’t call it the Land of Enchantment for nothing.

Take a beat for MLK Jr. Day

January 17 marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an opportune time to reflect on the history of Civil Rights in our country and spend a day in service of others. In Arlington, Virginia, they’re celebrating his legacy with the 32nd Annual Advancing the Dream MLK Celebration (Jan 14–17); Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has MLK Holiday BR—a series of service projects and programs to honor the reverend’s work (Jan 12-17). In Montgomery, Alabama there's a creative lineup including an oratorical competition, jazz night, historical walk, parade and birthday party on the Capitol steps (Jan 12-17). 

For quiet reflection, try visiting a national monument. In Alabama, the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument is the cornerstone of the Birmingham Civil Rights District—which includes Dr. King’s headquarters at the A.G. Gaston Motel—while the Freedom Riders National Monument commemorates the violence faced by nonviolent protesters.

Beyond Alabama, you’ll find monuments commemorating Booker T. Washington in Virginia and pioneering military officer Charles Young in Ohio, plus nationwide sites dedicated to the slave trade, workers’ rights, women’s suffrage, LGBTQ liberation, and more.

Catch a virtual film festival

Sometimes nothing feels as good as doing…absolutely nothing. And the Sundance Film Festival (Jan 20–30) understands. It returns as a hybrid affair this January with 82 feature-length films, including the W. Kamau Bell-directed documentary We Need to Talk About Cosby and directorial debuts from Tig Notaro, Amy Poehler, Jesse Eisenberg, and Eva Longoria. Make some hot chocolate, pop some corn, and stay a while.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. Please point her to your favorite hot spring.