The 8 Top National Parks to Visit This Spring
Celebrate the season's warm weather and gorgeous blooms in these iconic parks.
Grab your camera and cross these national treasures off your list this season.
Shenandoah National Park
For a legendary spring road trip, you don't want to miss soaking in jaw-dropping views along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, says Everett Potter, a travel columnist for USA Today and author of Everett Potter's Travel Report. This scenic, 105-mile stretch snakes through the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering picture-perfect vantage points, eye-catching blooms, striking waterfalls and abundant wildlife (think: black bears, songbirds, deer and more). Plus, you can hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail, Potter explains. Even better, the park is just 75 miles southwest of the District of Columbia and 40 miles northwest of Charlottesville, Virginia, offering an easy and convenient weekend escape for city dwellers.
Arches National Park
Since the Northeast was pummeled by heavy snow this year, it's a smart idea to visit the Southwest, where the dry climate and high elevations allow for pleasant conditions for outdoor exploration, Potter says. He points to Arches National Park as particularly picturesque, with its mesmerizing red rock structures and more than 2,000 unique rock formations. For postcard-worthy views, head to Delicate Arch to enjoy a memorable hike or car ride. Another highlight: Devils Garden, a picturesque hiking trail that features a variety of heavy hitters, including Navajo Arch, Landscape Arch and Dark Angel. If you're on a budget, stay in nearby Moab, Utah, along U.S. Route 191, where cost-effective lodging options abound.
Redwood National Park
Spring marks a sweet spot for exploring Redwood National Park's scenic trails, with average highs in the low 60s. The picturesque Coastal Trail, spanning the western border of the park, is filled with redwood groves, captivating Pacific coastline views and sandy beaches. Other standouts include Gold BluffsBeach, Trillium Falls and Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which offers a route meandering past enchanting old-growth redwood trees. As an added bonus, the park offers a variety of ranger-led programs, from nature walks to campfire circles to expert-led kayak adventures. Plus, it's easy to enjoy stargazing without bursting your budget with four developed campgrounds and eight backcountry campsites.
Grand Canyon National Park
This iconic national park draws heavy tourist crowds year-round, with nearly 6 million annual visitors, but it's hard to resist the appeal of taking in awe-inspiring vistas of geological formations, gorges and other natural splendors in spring. Enjoy biking, white-water rafting and tagging along guided nature walks. Another highlight: exploring the Rim or Bright Angel trails. While the weather will likely be chilly in early May, the park offers a quintessential family bonding experience. After all, what beats camping and sleeping beneath the stars? There are plenty of cost-effective campgrounds available on a first-come, first-served basis along the South Rim, including the Desert View Campground.
Joshua Tree National Park
With otherworldly geologic structures, impressive low- and high-desert ecosystems (the Colorado and the Mojave), and rare species such as the cholla cactus and desert fan palms, Joshua Tree National Park caters to active types craving a thrilling hiking or mountain biking adventure. Spring is an excellent time to visit, with temperatures hovering in the high 80s versus the sizzling triple digits of summer. If you're a novice hiker, tackle the 1-mile Hidden Valley, and if you're yearning for a challenge, try the Ryan Mountain Trail, a more strenuous route that yields dramatic valley views at its peak. Best of all, the park is located 140 miles outside of LA and offers nine kid-friendly campgrounds to pick from.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws nature-seekers year-round, but spring is an especially enticing time to visit, when flowering plants and unique local flowers (think: crested dwarf irises and lady slipper orchids) are on full display. Surround yourself in beautiful blooms during the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, from April 11-15, Potter says. During the annual event, you can enjoy photography workshops and art lessons, plus you can attend evening lectures covering environmental conservation efforts, among other activities. And if your top goal is wildlife viewing, head to Cades Cove Loop, an 11-mile stretch where black bears, deer, coyotes and more creatures are often spotted.
Yellowstone National Park
While Yellowstone's most prized geological splendors – Mammoth Hot Spring and Old Faithful – enchant visitors year-round, there are other noteworthy attractions worth visiting, says Alexis Kelly, editor at Fodors.com. Trek the 1.3-mile Geyser Hill Loop boardwalk to view active thermal features, including the violent Giantess Geyser, "which erupts only a few times each year and spouts from 100 to 250 feet in the air for five to eight minutes once or twice hourly for 12 to 43 hours," she says. And to explore the park's impressive wildlife-filled landscapes, dotted with bison and bighorn sheep, head to Yellowstone Lake. As for lodging, there are 2,000-plus campsites; make your reservations early to ensure availability.
Rocky Mountain National Park
With staggering summits, some reaching over 14,000 feet, Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park delivers heart-pounding thrills year-round. If you're interested in viewing frosted mountain scenery – complete with snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes – arrive in April. Come May, the area bursts with colorful wildflowers, but keep in mind many trails may still be blanketed in snow. "For a bird's-eye view of the area, hitch a ride on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway," Kelly says. And sky-watchers shouldn't skip out on the night sky and astronomy programs, which begin in June, she adds. "Park rangers and local astronomers lead free 30- to 90-minute sessions observing constellations, the moon and the Milky Way," she explains.