The Best National Parks to Visit for Each Season
We asked our friends at the National Park Foundation to share some of the best seasons to visit certain U.S. national parks and why.
4 Min. Read | Hiking
North Cascades National Park, WA
Courtesy of North Cascades National Park Service Complex.
As far as we’re concerned, any time is a good time to visit our national parks. But we also know there are certain seasons when visiting one makes more sense or may offer more incentives. Whether it’s the best weather, less crowds, more interesting landscapes, or fun activities/events you won’t find during other times of the year, each season has something different to offer.
Get your hot cider ready because the weather is often ideal, the leaves are popping, it’s primetime hiking season, and the summer crowds are off on other adventures. A perfect time to come peep the view.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee)
With over 100 different kinds of native trees, you’ll be treated to one of the most brilliant displays of fall foliage ever seen. Experience it on a guided horseback or carriage ride, learn how they used to mill corn meal at one of two historic mills, or enjoy some of the many other activities America’s most visited park has to offer.
Meigs Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
Courtesy of National Park Service.
2. Acadia National Park (Maine)
Maine is beautiful year-round, but in fall it’s an experience unlike any other – especially at Acadia. Take an unforgettable scenic hike along the coastline. Go on a bike ride and peep the Maine foliage. Paddle away in the gorgeous Maine lakes and ponds. Explore the tidepools at Bar Island. Oh and don’t forget to check out those night skies, because September stargazing is a must.
3. Yosemite National Park (California)
Yosemite boasts a dazzling combination of evergreens, dogwood trees, and vines that wind all through the valley, creating an autumn color show that will take your breath away. Bring your binocs for some sweet bird watching, spend a night staring up at the stars, or hop a free shuttle to Mariposa Grove to visit the largest sequoia grove in the park, home to over 500 mature giant sequoias.
Yosemite National Park, CA
Courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/ruggybear/51685613250/in/photostream/
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Courtesy of National Parks Service/Zach Gorski.
Do you want to build a snowman? If you love snow like we do, some of these parks are awe-inspiring winter wonderlands that you need to see to believe. Plus, typically less people visit this time of year, so it can feel like you have the whole park to yourself.
4. Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
Red rocks, evergreen trees, and the dazzling white of freshly fallen snow create a gorgeous symphony of natural colors, making this winter spot one of the most beautiful in the country. You can enjoy activities like cross-country skiing and winter hiking, attend a 35+ year old winter festival that attracts snow lovers from around the world, or join other birders as they participate in the world’s longest running citizens science survey.
5. Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)
Whether you love snow or don’t get to see much of it where you are, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the US with an abundant snowfall to give you the winter outing of a lifetime. Mount Rainier offers a wide range of recreational activities including guided snowshoe walks, skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. Or you can simply grab some hot cocoa, sit back, and enjoy the winter show.
6. Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
One of Frosty’s top five, it’s one of the snowiest parks in the United States, receiving an average of 42 feet of snow per year. Not only does it make the environment feel almost magical, it creates ideal conditions for ranger-guided snowshoe walks, skiing along designated routes, sledding across the backcountry, and other fun winter activities. It also happens to be one of the most amazing places for an all-out family snowball fight. You’ve been warned.
Rim Village, Crater Lake National Park, OR
Courtesy of National Park Service/Stephanie Duwe.
Looking for an outside experience you’re likely to never forget? Visit one of these parks during this season and watch nature come alive on some of the world’s most stunning stages.
7. Joshua Tree National Park (California)
With two distinct desert ecosystems, visiting this park in spring is a great way to minimize the heat and view the incredible wildflowers that only bloom this time of year. Along with a variety of outside fun like birding, biking, rock climbing, and backpacking, you can also visit the Cottonwood Spring Oasis to see rushing waters and red-spotted toads, take in the unique geographical wonders, or go stargazing in this certified International Dark Sky Park and see the milky way for the first time.
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Courtesy of National Park Service/Hannah Schwalbe.
8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)
Springtime at Cuyahoga brings new leaves, blooming wildflowers, and ideal temps for hiking, biking, paddling, birding, fishing, and anything else you feel like doing. There’s also ranger-guided programs and opportunities for some stellar stargazing. And starting in mid-April, put on your sleuthing hat and follow clues to find hidden quest boxes in the Ohio & Erie Canalway. Along the way, you'll discover the area's natural treasures and cultural gems without need of a GPS. Kids love it.
9. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
When visiting one of the world’s most famous parks, spring is a great time to avoid big summer crowds and take advantage of longer daylight hours. But the real reason to visit this time of year are the incredible things this humongous park offers, including ranger-led programs, day hikes, overnight backpacking, and even biking the scenic roads. Plus, if you’re looking for something more adventurous, river rafting tours start booking as early as April.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Courtesy of National Park Service/Mark Lellouch.
North Fork Meadows, North Cascades National Park, WA
Courtesy of North Cascades National Park Service Complex.
It’s the most popular time of year to visit national parks – and with good reason. Kids are on vacation, the weather is great, and there are usually lots of fun things happening. If you’re looking for the season most people go to parks, this is the one.
10. North Cascades National Park (Washington)
Immerse yourself in an alpine wilderness. Hike among dense evergreen forests. Go car camping with the whole family. Whatever summer fun you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it here. Birders will love the 200+ species found in the area, campers and backpackers flock to the beautiful and varied terrain, and everyone will enjoy a trip to Stehekin, a stunning water passage with a crystal-clear lake that shines at its absolute best during the summer months.
11. Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)
With over 729,000 acres of freshwater and swampland and a unique mix of tropical and temperate plant life, this park is a national treasure nestled along Florida’s southwest coast. Catch a swamp buggy or airboat and get guided tours of the ins and outs of these massive wetlands, row your own way with a canoe or kayak, or treat yourself to some of the other activities like birding, biking, camping, and more. And if you’re feeling adventurous, take part in the Tamiami Trail Triathlon, a cooperative program between Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, and explore the rich mysteries of Southwest Florida.
12. Buffalo National River (Arkansas)
Home to America’s first national river and one of the few remaining undammed waterways, this park offers paddling experiences you won’t find anywhere else. Hop on your favorite horse at the Erbie Horse Camp and ride along the sparkling waters. Pick out a primetime picnic spot for an outdoor meal you’ll always remember. And don’t be surprised if you spot a few new friends, thanks to the park’s many different species of wildlife.
Centerpoint Trail, Buffalo National River, AR
Courtesy of Aaron Bates.