Outdoor Adventures

Yellowstone river in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
National Parks

Best Times to Visit Major National Parks

Exploring Nature’s Finest: Optimal Seasons for National Park Visits

Visiting national parks is a quintessential American adventure, offering a chance to witness some of the most stunning landscapes and diverse ecosystems in the world. However, planning the perfect trip involves more than just choosing a destination; timing is crucial. The best times to visit these natural wonders can mean the difference between a crowded, uncomfortable experience and a peaceful, awe-inspiring journey. This guide highlights the ideal times to visit some of the most famous national parks in the United States, based on factors like weather, crowd sizes, and natural events.

Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

National Park Best Time to Visit Reasons
Yellowstone National Park Late April to early June, September to early October Mild weather, fewer crowds, active wildlife
Yosemite National Park May, September Flowing waterfalls, pleasant weather, fewer visitors
Grand Canyon National Park March to May, September to November Cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, ideal hiking conditions
Zion National Park April to June, September to November Comfortable temperatures, fewer crowds
Glacier National Park Late June to mid-September Warm weather, open park roads, full access to hiking trails
Rocky Mountain National Park June to September Warm weather, blooming wildflowers, open trails and facilities
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Late September to mid-November, mid-April to early June Fall foliage, blooming wildflowers
Grand Teton National Park Mid-May to late September Open facilities and trails, warm weather, wildlife viewing opportunities
Acadia National Park Late spring (May to June), fall (September to October) Cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, vibrant fall foliage
Arches National Park March to May, September to November Mild temperatures, fewer crowds

Yellowstone National Park

Landscape view of the Chromatic Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
Landscape view of the Chromatic Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, is renowned for its geothermal features, diverse wildlife, and expansive landscapes. The best times to visit Yellowstone are from late April to early June and from September to early October. During these shoulder months, visitors can enjoy mild weather and fewer crowds, making wildlife spotting more frequent and enjoyable.

Spring in Yellowstone brings the park to life with blooming wildflowers and active animals. Bears come out of hibernation, and bison give birth to their calves, offering a unique glimpse into the park’s wildlife. Fall, on the other hand, showcases the park in a different light with its vibrant autumn colors and the elk rutting season. Both seasons provide excellent opportunities for photography, hiking, and soaking in the serene environment without the overwhelming summer crowds.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley with El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, and Bridalveil Fall, California
A beautiful view of Yosemite Valley with El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, and Bridalveil Fall, California, USA

Yosemite National Park, famous for its stunning granite cliffs, waterfalls, and giant sequoias, is best visited in May and September. These months offer the perfect balance of accessibility and tranquility, as the park is less crowded compared to the peak summer months.

In May, the waterfalls are at their most powerful, fueled by melting snow from the Sierra Nevada. The park’s meadows are lush and green, making it an ideal time for photography and sightseeing. September, while signaling the end of summer, provides pleasant weather for hiking and exploring. The crowds thin out, and the temperatures are more comfortable, allowing for a more relaxed visit.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA at dawn from the south rim.

One of the most iconic landscapes in the United States, the Grand Canyon, is best visited from March to May and September to November. During these periods, the temperatures are cooler, and the crowds are significantly smaller than in the peak summer months.

Spring and fall are ideal for hiking the numerous trails that wind through the canyon. The cooler temperatures make the strenuous hikes more manageable, and the views are just as breathtaking. Additionally, these months offer opportunities to experience the park’s wildlife and witness stunning sunrises and sunsets without the large summer crowds.

Zion National Park

Mountain road in Zion National Park in the fall
Mountain road in Zion National Park in the fall

Zion National Park, known for its towering red cliffs and narrow canyons, is best visited between April and June and September to November. These shoulder seasons offer comfortable temperatures and fewer crowds, making it an excellent time for hiking and exploring.

Spring in Zion brings blooming wildflowers and flowing rivers, enhancing the park’s already spectacular scenery. Fall offers a different kind of beauty with its colorful foliage and cooler temperatures, perfect for hiking popular trails like Angels Landing and The Narrows.

Glacier National Park

Picturesque rocky peaks of the Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Picturesque rocky peaks of the Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

Glacier National Park, with its rugged mountains, alpine meadows, and pristine lakes, is best visited from late June to mid-September. This period offers warm weather and ensures that all park roads, including the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, are open.

Summer is the perfect time for hiking, with all trails accessible and wildflowers in full bloom. Visitors can also enjoy the park’s numerous lakes and rivers, either by boating, fishing, or simply enjoying the stunning views. Wildlife is active during this time, providing excellent opportunities for spotting bears, mountain goats, and other animals.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake and reflection with mountains in snow around at autumn. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA.
Dream Lake and reflection with mountains in snow around at autumn. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA.

Rocky Mountain National Park, with its majestic peaks and diverse ecosystems, is best visited from June to September. During these months, the snow has melted, the temperatures are warm, and the wildflowers are in full bloom.

Summer in Rocky Mountain National Park offers the best conditions for hiking, with all trails open and accessible. The park’s numerous campgrounds and facilities are fully operational, making it an ideal time for camping and outdoor activities. Additionally, wildlife is abundant, and visitors can often spot elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA overlooking the Newfound Pass in autumn.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA overlooking the Newfound Pass in autumn.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, known for its mist-covered mountains and rich biodiversity, is best visited from late September to mid-November and mid-April to early June. These periods offer the best weather and natural beauty, with fall foliage and spring wildflowers.

Fall is particularly stunning in the Smokies, with the park’s forests transforming into a sea of reds, oranges, and yellows. Spring, on the other hand, brings blooming wildflowers and fresh greenery, making it an excellent time for hiking and photography. Both seasons provide a tranquil experience, with fewer visitors compared to the busy summer months.

Grand Teton Mountains National Park

A view of Mount Moran reflecting in the Snake River

Grand Teton National Park, with its dramatic mountain landscapes and abundant wildlife, is best visited from mid-May to late September. During this time, all facilities and trails are open, and the weather is warm.

Spring and early summer offer excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, with many animals active and visible. The park’s lakes and rivers are also ideal for boating and fishing during these months. Fall brings a different kind of beauty, with the aspen trees turning golden and the park’s landscapes bathed in warm autumn light.

Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park
Bar Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, located on the rugged coast of Maine, is best visited in late spring (May to June) and fall (September to October). These periods offer cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, and vibrant fall foliage.

Spring in Acadia is beautiful, with blooming wildflowers and fresh greenery. The park’s numerous trails and carriage roads are ideal for hiking and biking. Fall, however, is arguably the best time to visit, with the park’s forests ablaze with color and the cool, crisp air perfect for outdoor activities.

Arches National Park

People from behind hiking the desert Arches National Park in Utah
People from behind hiking the desert Arches National Park in Utah

Arches National Park, famous for its more than 2,000 natural stone arches, is best visited from March to May and September to November. These periods offer mild temperatures and fewer crowds compared to the hot summer months.

Spring and fall are ideal for exploring the park’s numerous trails and viewpoints. The weather is pleasant, making hiking and photography enjoyable. Additionally, the park’s stunning rock formations are highlighted by the low angle of the sun, creating dramatic and beautiful landscapes.

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Photo of White Sands National Park
National Parks

Discover Hidden Gems: 5 Underrated National Parks in the US

Are you tired of crowded tourist hotspots and seeking a unique adventure in the heart of nature? Look no further! In this blog post, we’ll take you off the beaten path to uncover five hidden gems among the US national parks. These underrated destinations offer awe-inspiring landscapes, abundant wildlife, and unforgettable experiences. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and let’s embark on a journey to these lesser traveled to National Parks!

Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

1. Biscayne National Park (Florida)

Where Land Meets Sea

Welcome to Biscayne National Park, a hidden paradise on the coast of Southern Florida. With its turquoise waters, lush mangrove forests, and vibrant coral reefs, this park is a haven for snorkelers, divers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Dive into crystal-clear waters to witness stunning underwater ecosystems teeming with colorful fish and explore shipwrecks from centuries past. Don’t miss the chance to kayak through mangrove trails or embark on a scenic boat tour, where you might spot playful dolphins or graceful manatees. Biscayne National Park is where land meets sea, and adventure meets tranquility.

Top Attractions in Biscayne National Park

  • Snorkeling and Scuba Diving: Biscayne National Park is renowned for its crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs. Visitors can explore the underwater world, encountering colorful fish, coral formations, and other marine life. The Maritime Heritage Trail, a series of shipwrecks, is also popular among divers.
  • Boca Chita Key: This island within the park is home to the iconic Boca Chita Lighthouse, which offers stunning views of Biscayne Bay. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse for panoramic vistas, relax on the beach, or enjoy a picnic.
  • Elliott Key: The largest island in the park, Elliott Key, offers beautiful sandy beaches, nature trails, and opportunities for boating and camping. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy outdoor activities.
  • Dante Fascell Visitor Center: Located on the mainland, the visitor center provides an excellent introduction to the park. It offers informative exhibits, ranger-led programs, and educational displays about the park’s diverse ecosystems and wildlife.
  • Boat Tours and Kayaking: Exploring Biscayne National Park by boat or kayak is a fantastic way to experience its unique landscapes. Several companies offer guided tours, allowing visitors to navigate through mangrove forests, shallow flats, and the stunning coastline.

Top Hotels near Biscayne National Park

  • Beach Haus Key Biscayne: Great for families! Beach Haus Key Biscayne is a highly-rated aparthotel with a variety of room options to suit different needs. It is located near the beach and offers amenities such as a pool, free parking, and a kitchen.
  • The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne: If you’re looking for a private beach! The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami is an upscale resort on the beach with a variety of amenities and room options to suit different needs and budgets. It is also located near Key Biscayne Beaches, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, and Crandon Park. The resort is a 28-minute drive from Miami International Airport.

Best Tours in Biscayne National Park

  • Boat Tour of Historic Stiltsville: Embark on a unique and memorable boat tour to Stiltsville, a historic neighborhood on the water inside Biscayne National Park, and experience the vibrant sights and culture of Miami along the way.

Fun Fact

Biscayne National Park is home to the world’s third-largest coral reef system. The park encompasses over 173,000 acres of marine and terrestrial environments, with about 95% of the park being underwater. The coral reefs in Biscayne National Park are teeming with diverse marine life, including over 200 species of fish and various species of corals, sponges, and sea turtles. It’s a fantastic destination for snorkeling, scuba diving, and exploring the vibrant underwater world.

2. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

The Majestic Floodplain Forest

Nestled in South Carolina, Congaree National Park is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. It boasts the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. As you wander through the elevated boardwalks and hiking trails, you’ll find yourself surrounded by towering trees, tranquil waterways, and a symphony of bird calls. Congaree offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in nature’s tranquility and witness the delicate balance of the floodplain forest ecosystem. Canoe or kayak along the Congaree River for a different perspective and a chance to spot fascinating wildlife. Congaree National Park is a majestic escape into the heart of nature.

Top Attractions in Congaree National Park

  • Boardwalk Loop Trail: This 2.4-mile loop trail is a popular attraction for visitors. It takes you through a section of the park’s old-growth bottomland hardwood forest, allowing you to experience the towering trees, including some of the tallest in the eastern United States. The elevated boardwalk makes it easy to navigate through the swampy terrain.
  • Canoeing and Kayaking: Congaree National Park is known for its waterways, and exploring by canoe or kayak is a great way to experience the park’s wilderness. Paddling along Cedar Creek provides an opportunity to observe the park’s flora and fauna up close, including cypress trees, birds, turtles, and possibly even alligators.
  • Weston Lake Loop Trail: This 4.4-mile loop trail offers a chance to explore a different part of the park. It takes you around Weston Lake, providing scenic views and opportunities for birdwatching. The trail passes through various habitats, including wetlands and pine forests.
  • Ranger-Guided Programs: The park offers a range of ranger-led programs and guided hikes, providing educational and interpretive experiences. These programs cover various topics, such as the park’s ecology, cultural history, and nighttime explorations.
  • Wilderness Camping: Congaree National Park offers designated backcountry campsites for those looking to spend a night immersed in nature. Camping permits are required, and visitors can enjoy a serene and peaceful experience in the park’s remote areas.

Top Hotels near Congaree National Park

  • Graduate Columbia: The Graduate Columbia, S.C. is a highly-rated Art Deco hotel in Downtown Columbia, near the University of South Carolina. The hotel has a 9.4/10 rating on Expedia and is considered “Exceptional”.
  • Hotel Trundle: It is a small boutique hotel in Downtown Columbia, South Carolina. It is close to the University of South Carolina and other popular attractions. It’s a 16-minute drive from Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

Fun Fact

A lesser-known fact about Congaree National Park is that it contains the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. These ancient trees, including towering bald cypress and water tupelo, can reach impressive heights and diameters. Some of the trees in Congaree National Park are estimated to be over 1,000 years old. This makes the park a remarkable living museum of the forest ecosystems that once covered vast areas of the southeastern region. Additionally, the park is home to one of the highest canopies of deciduous trees in the world, creating a unique and awe-inspiring natural environment.

3. North Cascades National Park (Washington)

A Mountain Wonderland

North Cascades National Park, located in Washington State, is a hidden gem that will leave you breathless. With its rugged peaks, cascading waterfalls, and pristine alpine lakes, this park is a haven for hikers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts. Lace up your hiking boots and explore trails that wind through majestic forests, leading you to breathtaking vistas and roaring waterfalls. With over 300 glaciers, North Cascades offers a unique opportunity to witness the raw power of nature. Whether you’re camping under starry skies or spotting elusive wildlife, North Cascades National Park is a mountain wonderland that will captivate your soul.

Top Attractions in North Cascades National Park

  • Cascade Pass: This iconic hiking trail offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. The trailhead is accessible from the North Cascades Highway, and the hike provides stunning vistas of the rugged peaks and alpine meadows.
  • Diablo Lake: Known for its stunning turquoise color, Diablo Lake is a popular attraction in the park. Visitors can enjoy scenic drives along Highway 20 or take a boat tour to appreciate the vibrant glacial meltwater that gives the lake its unique hue.
  • Ross Lake: Spanning over 20 miles, Ross Lake offers opportunities for boating, kayaking, and fishing. The lake is surrounded by pristine wilderness and provides access to numerous hiking trails and camping spots.
  • Hidden Lake Lookout: This challenging hike rewards adventurers with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the Hidden Lake below. The trail is renowned for its alpine wildflowers and is a must-do for experienced hikers.
  • Stehekin: Accessible only by boat, plane, or hiking, the remote community of Stehekin is a hidden gem within the park. Visitors can explore the picturesque valley, enjoy outdoor activities, and immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of the area.

Top Hotels near North Cascades National Park

  • Rolling Huts: Rolling Huts is a campground in Winthrop, Washington that offers a unique lodging experience in modern, minimalist cabins.
  • Ski-In Ski-Out Studio: A cozy and comfortable studio apartment in a rural setting, ideal for those seeking to unplug and enjoy nature. Located in Mazama, WA, at the base of the North Cascades Mountains and close to the Mazama Store, which has a local ambiance and delicious food.

Best Tours in North Cascades National Park

Fun Fact

A fun, lesser-known fact about North Cascades National Park is that it is home to one of the largest concentrations of glaciers in the contiguous United States. In fact, there are more glaciers in North Cascades National Park than in all other U.S. national parks combined. These glaciers have shaped the landscape over thousands of years, carving out deep valleys, creating stunning alpine lakes, and contributing to the park’s dramatic and rugged scenery. While some of the glaciers are easily visible from popular viewpoints and trails, many others are tucked away in remote and less-visited areas of the park, offering a sense of solitude and adventure for those willing to explore off the beaten path. The presence of these glaciers makes North Cascades National Park a unique and remarkable destination for experiencing glacial landscapes in the lower 48 states.

4. White Sands National Park (Colorado)

Nature’s Dazzling Masterpiece

Welcome to White Sands National Park, a hidden gem in New Mexico that will transport you to a surreal desert dreamscape. Picture vast stretches of white gypsum sand dunes that seem to go on forever. The ethereal beauty of this park is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Take a stroll on the glistening dunes, watch the sunset paint the landscape in warm hues, and feel the soft sand beneath your toes. Whether you’re sliding down the dunes or marveling at the unique plant and animal life that has adapted to this harsh environment, White Sands National Park is a nature’s dazzling masterpiece that will leave you in awe.

Top Attractions in White Sands National Park

  • Dune Drive: The Dune Drive is an 8-mile scenic road that takes you through the heart of the dune field. It offers an opportunity to enjoy panoramic views of the dunes from your vehicle and provides access to picnic areas and hiking trails.
  • Alkali Flat Trail: This 5-mile roundtrip trail takes you to the edge of the dune field and provides an immersive experience in the desert environment. It leads to the Alkali Flat, a dry lake bed where you can witness the expansive white sand stretching into the distance.
  • Sunset Stroll Nature Walk: This ranger-led nature walk takes place in the evening, allowing visitors to experience the unique flora and fauna of the park as the sun sets. The walk provides insight into the adaptations of plants and animals that survive in this harsh desert environment.
  • Full Moon Night Programs: During full moon nights, the park offers special programs where visitors can experience the dunes under the moonlight. These guided walks or ranger-led programs provide a magical and otherworldly experience.
  • Wildlife Viewing: While the desert may seem inhospitable, White Sands National Park is home to a surprising array of wildlife. Visitors may encounter animals such as roadrunners, kit foxes, lizards, and various bird species. Keep an eye out for animal tracks in the sand as you explore the dunes.

Top Hotels near White Sands National Park

  • The Classic Desert Aire Hotel: The Classic Desert Aire Hotel is a highly-rated, pet-friendly hotel in Alamogordo, New Mexico that is great for those on a budget! Also, its a 15 minutes drive from White Sands National Park.
  • White Sands Motel: Great mid-ranged priced motel. It’s close to several attractions, including the Flickinger Center for Performing Arts, Alamogordo, NM (ALM-White Sands Regional), New Mexico Museum of Space History, and Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center.
  • Home2 Suites By Hilton: 20 minutes from White Sands National Park, the hotel offers a variety of amenities, including a 24-hour fitness center, spa, business center, and free breakfast.

Fun Fact

A lesser-known fact about White Sands National Park is that it was used as a testing ground for the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II. In the early 1940s, a section of the park known as the “Jornada del Muerto” (Journey of the Dead Man) was chosen for the secret Trinity Test, which took place on July 16, 1945. The test resulted in the successful detonation of the first atomic bomb, marking a significant milestone in human history. Today, the park preserves this historical significance and provides visitors with a chance to explore the natural beauty of the dunes while reflecting on the pivotal role the area played in shaping world events.

5. Kings Canyon National Park (California)

The Majesty of the Sierra Nevada

Located in California, Kings Canyon National Park is a hidden treasure nestled in the embrace of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. With its towering granite cliffs, pristine lakes, and lush meadows, this park offers a majestic escape for nature enthusiasts. Lace up your boots and hike through ancient sequoia groves, where you’ll encounter trees that have stood tall for thousands of years. Marvel at the power of water as you explore the depths of Kings Canyon, home to breathtaking waterfalls and dramatic canyons. Kings Canyon National Park is a place where you can reconnect with nature’s grandeur and find solace in its serene beauty.

Top Attractions in Kings Canyon National Park

  • General Grant Grove: This grove is home to the General Grant Tree, one of the largest and oldest sequoias in the world. Visitors can walk among the towering giants and explore the nearby Grant Grove Visitor Center to learn about the park’s natural and cultural history.
  • Kings Canyon Scenic Byway: Also known as Highway 180, the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway offers breathtaking views as it winds through the park. The road takes you through dramatic canyons, towering cliffs, and dense forests, providing numerous opportunities for scenic stops and photo opportunities.
  • Zumwalt Meadow: This tranquil meadow is a picturesque spot for a leisurely walk. A one-mile loop trail leads you through the meadow, along the Kings River, and offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
  • Mist Falls: This popular hike takes you through lush forests along the South Fork of the Kings River. The highlight of the trail is Mist Falls, a powerful waterfall that cascades over granite rocks. The hike is about 8.5 miles roundtrip and provides stunning views along the way.
  • Rae Lakes Loop: For experienced hikers and backpackers, the Rae Lakes Loop is a challenging but rewarding multi-day trek. This 41-mile loop takes you through some of the park’s most scenic areas, including pristine lakes, alpine meadows, and high mountain passes.

Top Hotels near Kings Canyon National Park

  • Wuksachi Lodge: Great for hose who want a premier lodging experience. Wuksachi Lodge is a highly-rated hotel situated in the national park. Notable landmarks near the hotel include Lodgepole Visitor Center (3 minutes away), General Sherman Tree (6 minutes away), and The Congress Trail (9 minutes away).
  • Montecito Sequoia Lodge: Montecito Sequoia Lodge is a family-friendly ski-in/ski-out lodge. It is located near Buena Vista Peak (6 min drive), Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (11 min drive), and Big Stump Trail (16 min drive).

Best Tours in Kings Canyon National Park

Fun Fact

A fun, lesser-known fact about Kings Canyon National Park is that it is home to the largest remaining natural grove of the rare and endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. These magnificent animals, known for their impressive curved horns, inhabit the rugged and remote areas of the park. The population of Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep in Kings Canyon National Park is estimated to be around 600 individuals, making it an important stronghold for the species. The park’s vast wilderness and protected habitat provide a sanctuary for these iconic and elusive creatures. While encounters with the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep may require some luck and patience, spotting one of these rare animals can be a thrilling and memorable experience for visitors exploring the park’s backcountry.

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