Best National Parks to Visit in the Spring
Looking for ideas on the best national parks to visit in the spring? Spring is one of the best time of the year to head out on an adventure in the USA, especially if gawk-inspiring vistas is what you’re after but you don’t necessarily want to share them with hoards of people.
Whether you’re looking for desert magic, mountainous terrains lined by wildflowers or some serious beach goodness, here are the best national parks to visit in the spring!
Best National Parks to Visit in the Spring
Redwood National Park
One of the best national parks to visit in the spring season is Redwood National Park, which is one of the most unique places to visit in California! The park only sees about 500,000 visitors every year, making it an area of relative solitude in the spring season, considering visitation numbers from other popular parks.
Spring is a great time to visit because it’s located on the California Coast, where the weather is temperate and mild. I also love the variety of terrain in the park – one minute I could be walking along the rugged coastline, and the next, walking among the lush green ferns and towering trees!
One of the best things to do here is go hiking among the tall trees! Some of my favorite trails include Fern Canyon Trail, Boy Scout Tree Trail, and Stout Grove Trail. If it’s raining (it’s in the Pacific Northwest after all!) I like to take one of the many scenic drives in the park. Avenue of Giants is a historic route in the park with tons of fun stops, but I especially love Cal-Barrel Road for its rugged and natural scenery.
Finally, no trip to the Redwoods is complete without a weekend of camping! My favorite campground near the park is Patrick’s Point State Park which has access to lots of different sections of the park, and also amenities like groceries and gas.
National park recommended by Emily Mandagie @ The Mandagies
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
As a local, spring is my favorite time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for two reasons: wildflowers and waterfalls.
The Smokies are home to over 100 waterfalls. During spring, when torrential rains hit a couple of times a week, these cascades are at their peak flows. I always like to do the Deep Creek Waterfall Loop at this time of year – it’s one of the quickest hikes in the smokies that takes you to three of the park’s most beautiful falls.
If you’re more interested in summits and views, spring brings amazing wildflower hikes. My favorites are mountain laurels (March-June) and rhododendrons (June-July above 5,500 feet). You’ll find early rhodo blooms around Rocky Top and late-season blooms in Deep Gap. Lonesome Pine Overlook is an epic mountain laurel hike as early as mid-March.
The one downside to spring in the Smokies is the weather can be rainy. Luckily it tends to be wet a few times a week, with dry days in between. But if you’re planning hikes with river crossings, expect very high water.
On the flipside, rain keeps the crowds away and turns everything the most vibrant green I’ve ever seen. It brings moody, atmospheric fog to the high-elevation pine forests. This is also a great time of year for backpacking, since you can get a last-minute permit at any shelter or campsite you want.
Finally, spring in the Smokies means bear cubs! Yes, it can be a bit unnerving to stumble upon a mother and her cubs, but the cubs are adorable and the mothers are more afraid of you than you are of them. Baby deer and elk are another highlight.
National park recommended by Carrie Mann @ Trains Planes and Tuk Tuks
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton is one of the most beautiful, and sometimes overlooked, national parks in America. Springtime in the Tetons is dramatically different than all other times of the year. And while it’s not your
typical spring break destination, here’s why it’s one of the best national parks to visit in the spring.
If you visit Grand Teton in March or April, there will be places that are closed to the public. The area is still thawing out and you won’t be sitting by the lake in your swimsuit. But don’t let that stop you because the park is open year-round. And if you’re wondering why to visit a place that is practically shut down, it’s because you’ll have a private viewing.
What I recommend is setting up base in Jackson, Wyoming. You’ll be a short 5-mile drive from Grand Teton. And Jackson is filled with things to do. Spring ski season is in full effect and you can enjoy some of the nation’s best skiing, with warmer temperatures than you would typically endure in winter. Bring an RV or rent a modern cabin at the Fireside Resort. Or splurge on the hotel Jackson. And after hitting the slopes, treat yourself at one of the delicious restaurants in downtown Jackson.
From Jackson, you can make the short trek into Grand Teton. You’ll be able to view the gorgeous snow-capped mountains and get your picture in front of the famous T.A. Moulton Barn without a crowd of tourists in your background. This is also a great time for private wildlife viewing.
Grand Teton can get super crowded in the summer and fall months. If you love snowy seasons, a trip to Grand Teton in the spring may be right up your alley. Book a ranger-led snowshoe walk or snowmobiling tour, and you’ll do something not many people ever get to experience.
National park recommended by Brittany Stretchbery @ Family On Standby
Sequoia National Park
Located in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada in California, Sequoia National Park is a must visit when travelling the West Coast.
I will never forget the moment we entered the park I immediately had to abruptly slam on the brakes of my car for a bear that crossed my path. An hour later, I was lucky enough to see a mama bear with two little ones.
Make sure to visit the park during spring so you can enjoy the green oasis of nature to the fullest. Spring is also the best time if you are an adventure seeker and planning to climb Mount Whitney (the tallest mountain in the “lower 48” states). The High Sierra Trail leaves from Giant Forest on the west side of Sequoia National Park, and is about 60 miles (100 km) one-way. It takes a minimum of 6 days (one way) or 10 days (round trip) to complete.
Another great attraction in Sequoia National Park and also the most famous one, is General Sherman, the world’s largest tree by volume. He is between 2,300 and 2,700 years old and the star of the park! Don’t forget to drive through the Tunnel Log, which is in fact the log of a real Sequoia tree! I swear it will be worth the wait!
National park recommended by Stephanie @ Stéphanie, Bey Of Travel
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park, which is in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States, is one of the most diverse national parks that we’ve ever explored. Within its borders, you’ll find the beautiful Pacific Coast, rugged alpine terrain littered with gorgeous alpine lakes, and some of the largest temperate rainforests in the country.
Because it is coastal, the weather in Olympic National Park is milder than the other National Parks in Washington State – Mt. Rainier and the North Cascades. Summer, the warmest and driest time to visit, is also the most popular, and the park is overrun with tourists from all corners of the world eager to explore. Spring is a lovely time to visit the park as long as you’re prepared for a little bit of rain, because you’ll avoid the peak-summer crowds. In the spring, it will be slightly cooler and wetter, sure, but you’re in the rainforest, so isn’t rain part of the experience anyway?
On your Olympic National Park itinerary, you’re going to want to explore all of the different ecosystems the park has to offer. Hike Hurricane Hill at Hurricane Ridge, part of the alpine region, for a quick three mile hike up to a viewpoint with panoramic views that include Victoria, BC, Mt. Baker, and the Olympic Range. Explore the rugged Pacific Coast, stopping at Cape Flattery, the northwestern-most point in the contiguous United States, and Shi Shi Beach, a sandy beach that stretches for miles with all sorts of tidepools, driftwood, and sea stacks to admire.
Whatever you do, don’t miss a sunset hike to Hole-in-the-Wall at Rialto Beach. It was the highlight on our latest trip. It’s a short stroll along the beach featuring all sorts of picturesque sea stacks. Make sure to look up – we saw two bald eagles!
Last, but certainly not least, head to the Hoh Rainforest and take the short, family-friendly trail through the Hall of Mosses to admire the mosses, ferns, and old growth trees in one of the largest temperate rainforests in the country.
National park recommended by Matt Hansen @ West Coast Wayfarers
Yosemite National Park
Spring is a simply awesome time to visit Yosemite National Park, California. The crowds of the summer season haven’t yet arrived but the park puts on some of its greatest natural displays. The thawing snow means that the waterfalls in the park can be truly spectacular and you’ll start to see plants and trees bloom. The weather is usually mild in Yosemite in spring – you may be a late-season snowfall or some rain, but that just makes the waterfalls better!
This is one of the best national parks to visit in the spring, especially April. National Parks weeks is usually held this month which means that entry fees are waived for a week! You’ll need to check the weather, as the higher roads to Tioga Pass, Mariposa Grove, and Glacier Point Roads won’t open until sometime between early May and late June, but for the most part, the park is open. It’s probably best, though to plan your visit to drive through the Tunnel into the Park – Tunnel View is one of the most spectacular reveals no matter what the season and plan for day hikes.
Bridalveil Waterfalls is also stunning in spring. My favorite thing about seeing Yosemite in spring is the dogwood trees in bloom. A great place to see them is on the banks of the river Merced. They look like snowflakes!
I’d normally recommend staying in the canvas sided tent cabins in Curry Village, but as it’s likely to still be a little chilly in spring (we had some snow when we visited in May), we’d opt to stay in the Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite’s luxury hotel – it’s seriously cozy and serves up a fabulous Sunday brunch in the dining room.
Whatever time of year you visit Yosemite, it’s a stunning landscape that you will never forget.
National park recommended by Sarah Carter @ Let’s Grow Cook
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is one of our favorite places in the entire U.S.A and one of the best national parks to visit in the spring. Its remote and rugged Maine location pairs panoramic views of its signature rocky coastline from scenic drives and trail summits with an abundance of wild places to explore at all activity levels.
The spring is a perfect time to visit because the area will have started to thaw from winter, but you won’t encounter the mobs of tourists that descend in the summertime. We have visited both with family and exclusively for hiking, and both experiences were absolutely unparalleled. A must-see no matter what kind of visit you’re planning is the Jordan Pond (pictured), which has an easy and flat paved trail surrounding its 3.3-mile loop.
You also can’t miss hiking up to the Bubbles, a really neat rock formation that seems to be teetering precariously off the side of the mountain. However, keep in mind that these two activities are some of the most popular things to do in the area, so be sure to get there early! If you’re seeking a challenging hike, check out Acadia’s less-trafficked Pemetic Mountain Trail.
You’ll avoid crowds (which can be significant, even though spring is a great time to visit due to it being shoulder season!) and will get amazing wraparound vistas of the ocean, the North Maine Woods, and beyond.
Another popular activity is watching the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain. You won’t have to reserve parking in advance due to it not being peak season yet, but also be sure to plan ahead to ensure you can get a spot. Overall, budget enough time to drive aimlessly around Park Loop Road, the main road in the park. It’s absolutely breathtaking, and one of the best things to do, especially if you’re short on time.
National park recommended by Tegan + Alex @ Why Not Walk Travel Guides
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is a very unique place to visit. It is one of the hottest places in the world and holds the world air temperature record of 134.1 °F (56.7 °C). That is the highest temperature ever measured on the planet Earth! Therefore, the spring is the ideal time to visit Death Valley (summer temperatures are simply too high).
If you want to enjoy the best of the Death Valley, visit:
- Zabriskie Point (probably the most beautiful place in Death Valley) – a place with unique and colorful landscape formations. The colors are the best after sunrise and before sunset.
- Badwater Basin – the lowest elevation place in North America (282 feet below sea level).
- Artists Drive – one-way, 9-mile drive through eroded, colorful desert hills.
- Devils Golf Course – an area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires.
Another amazing thing to do in Death Valley is stargazing! There is absolutely no light pollution, so the night sky is simply magical! I have never seen a more beautiful night sky than in Death Valley. We have spent hours stargazing and taking pictures of the Milky Way.
If you plan any walks/hikes in Death Valley, always make sure to bring enough water and wear a hat/cap. I can recommend the Golden Canyon for hiking.
National park recommended by Adriana Plotzerová @ Svatbeni.cz
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in the spring. The south rim can get very crowded in the summer months and be very cold in winter. Spring is just perfect. I visited in May and it was warm during the day on the south rim (chilly at night, but not unpleasant) and not too hot at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon.
I did a rafting trip through the upper canyon from Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch and, although the Colorado River was cold (it always is!), the days were sunny and warm and we didn’t even bother with our tents at night, just camping straight on sandy beaches.
At the end of the trip, I hiked the Bright Angel Trail from the river to the rim, and, again, the weather was perfect. Even if you don’t do a multi-day rafting trip or get to stay at Phantom Ranch, you should definitely hike part of the Bright Angel Trail – being below the rim, surrounded by the enormous canyon is truly awe-inspiring.
At the south rim, there are plenty of vantage points to enjoy canyon views. Take a park shuttle along the rim to the west to Hermit’s Rest or drive the Desert View road to the east to the Desert View Watchtower. There are multiple viewpoints of the canyon in both directions. If you get up for sunrise or stay for sunset (which I recommend), wear layers, as spring mornings and evenings can be chilly.
One important thing to note if you plan to visit Grand Canyon National Park in spring is that the canyon’s south rim is open year round, but the north rim, which is higher in altitude, doesn’t usually open until mid-May, as it gets snowed in over winter.
National park recommended by James Ian @ Parks Collecting
Channel Islands National Park
Located off the coast of Southern California, Channel Islands National Park is one of the hidden gems of the national park system.
The park is made up of five remote islands, which are only accessible by boat or plane. No matter when you visit, crowds are nonexistent, which makes the Channel Islands an incredible place to find peace and solitude.
The best way to visit is on a day trip to Channel Islands. The two most easily accessed islands are Anacapa and Santa Cruz Island. Anacapa Island is the closest to the mainland. It’s home to a lighthouse, thousands of birds, and the famous Inspiration Point viewpoint, which requires an easy 1.5-mile hike.
Santa Cruz island is one of the bigger islands and offers easier overnight camping spots. In Santa Cruz, you can kayak, snorkel, and have a lazy picnic at the beach. One of my favorite hikes on the island is the Del Norte Overlook – a 3-mile hike that gives you stunning ocean views the entire way. The hike is difficult, I huffed and puffed while we gained a bunch of elevation, but the views were incredible.
It’s one of the best national parks to visit in the spring because the weather in the Channel Islands is usually sunny but cool. Most importantly, spring tends to bring wildflowers to the islands! Wildflowers bloom at different times in each of the islands, but you’re likely to get wildflowers through the end of April.
National park recommended by Ale Leon @ Sea Salt and Fog
Arches National Park
In Utah’s most-visited national park — and arguably its best — Arches National Park offers otherworldly scenery mixed with mind-bending arches, spectacular hikes, and red rock structures that leave one wondering how they’re still standing. Whether you’re staying in the local town of Moab, which is only 5 minutes from the entrance, or one of the many free campsites near the park, you’re bound to have a blast exploring.
And there’s no better time to visit Arches than in the spring. Since the park is smack dab in the middle of the desert, summer days regularly tick into the triple digits and winter nights into the single digits. Its harsh climate is at its best during the spring months, when days are mild and nights are cool.
Another reason this is one of the best national parks to visit in the spring is that you’ll get the chance to see the few blooms inside the park. Although springtime can get quite crowded, the park’s expansive landscape and trails will make it seem like you’re one of only a few inside the park.
Although the park is known for its mind-bending arches, it’s even better with mild hikes along Devils Garden Trail, through Park Avenue and the Courthouse Towers, to the Petrified Dunes overlook in the distance, and up to the base of Balanced Rock, you’ll get a taste of every natural wonder inside Arches National Park.
National park recommended by Jarrod Heil @ Ramble Around The World
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is beautiful in all four seasons, but I like spring best of all! We’ve visited in the fall many times, but our trip last spring was especially beautiful because of the fresh mountain air, lack of bugs, and flowers starting to bloom. The park includes 300 square miles of beautiful mountains, peaks, valleys, and waterfalls.
There are a couple different entrance stations for the park. The closest one to DC is Front Royal Entrance Station, but that can get busy on beautiful days and you enter at the far north of the park. I recommend entering at Thornton Gap Entrance Station in the middle of Skyline drive so you have the option to go North or South. Skyline Drive is the iconic main road in the park, which is 105 miles long and acts as the “spine” of the mountain range.
The 2 most popular and stunning hikes are Hawsbill and Old Rag. They have sweeping, epic views. For kids, I recommend the hikes from the Pinnacles Picnic Ground to the Jewell Hollow Overlook. I love this one because it follows the real Appalachian Trail and you have beautiful views.
It is especially nice in the Spring because the trees are not fully grown in, so there are so many more views! If you want a fully accessible trail, check out the Limberlost Trail which is 1.3 miles, but there are no sweeping views. And for waterfalls, check out the Dark Hollow Falls Trail!
Where to Stay: The National Park offers cabins at the park, but they can book up quickly so make sure to check it out if you are interested. We’ve stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn Harrisonburg and it’s great for families and couples. I love that each suite has a kitchenette and there is also a pool and free breakfast. There are also tons more great places to explore in the Spring within 3 hours of DC!
National park recommended by Jennifer @ DC Family Travel
Canyonlands National Park
Right near the heart of Moab, Utah is the remote gem of Canyonlands National Park. Although this park is sparse in cellphone connection, it is plentiful in scenic hikes like the Mesa Arch and Upheaval Dome Trails, and incredible viewpoints like the White Rim Overlook. Spring is so ideal in one of Utah’s National Parks because the brutal summer heat of the desert has not set in yet, so you get to experience mild weather and way fewer crowds.
When I visited in the heat of summer, there were people, and my own sweat, everywhere, so a spring visit is perfect if you enjoy those classic 60-70 degree springtime temperatures.
Since crowds are thin, you can expect more availability in nearby campsites and pristine weather for a backpacking trip through the Island in the Sky and the Needles districts. The best things to do in the park are seeing Mesa Arch during sunrise, sunset at the Green River Overlook or the Murphy Point Trail, and if your car has 4×4 capabilities, take on the adventure of driving the 14-mile White Rim Road for the best views from the inside of the canyon.
I recommend spending more than just a single day here, so you can explore more than one district and see most of the top sights in the park! If you just spend a day, you’ll only scratch the surface of what makes this “mini” Grand Canyon so remarkable!
National park recommended by Aaren Prody @ What Do You Sea
Have you ever visited any of these national parks in spring? What was your experience like and what’s the next one you’re headed to?