When exploring the great outdoors, the United States boasts an impressive array of national parks that offer spectacular summer adventures. From towering mountains to breathtaking coastlines, these protected areas showcase the country’s diverse landscapes and provide endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. This article highlights some of the best national parks in the United States, why they’re so amazing, and when the best time to visit is.
Why Should You Believe Us?
Our friend Allie helped us write this for you. She’s an outdoor enthusiast if there ever was one, and has special expertise in national parks. She has worked at four national parks (Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Zion, and Bryce Canyon), and she has visited several others (Glacier, Grand Canyon, Olympic). We have first-hand information for you, and you can feel confident using our guide to plan your next family vacation.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho:
Yellowstone National Park is a true gem. Spanning three states, it is renowned for its geothermal wonders, including the iconic Old Faithful geyser. The park’s design nurtures both wildlife protection as well as accessibility, making it one the best places in the country to see wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, and bison. And if wildlife happens to not be out that day, the colorful geothermal features are always on display.
May, June, and September months offer pleasant weather, thinner crowds, and opportunities to witness wildlife and vibrant spring or fall colors. It is important to research openings of these parks due to snow pack. Most areas of Yellowstone are only accessible by snowmobile during the winter months, while the Idaho entrance is the only one in operation at this time.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona:
A visit to the Grand Canyon National Park is a humbling experience. Carved by the mighty Colorado River, this immense canyon stretches for miles. It reveals stunning rock formations and vibrant layers of color. Hike along the rim trails for breathtaking vistas, or venture into the canyon itself for a more immersive experience. Don’t miss the chance to catch a mesmerizing sunset over the canyon’s dramatic landscape.
For Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, the best times are late spring (April to May) and early fall (September to October) when temperatures are more moderate and visitor numbers are lower. Be aware that the North Rim entrance closes once snow hits, so plan accordingly.
Acadia National Park, Maine:
Acadia National Park is a picturesque coastal paradise located on Mount Desert Island. The park offers a unique blend of rugged granite cliffs, pristine lakes, and dense forests.
Explore the network of hiking trails, including the famous Jordan Pond Path and Precipice Trail, which provide stunning coastline views and surrounding islands. For a memorable experience, climb to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and be one of the first in the United States to witness the sunrise.
Olympic National Park, Washington:
Olympic National Park is a true natural wonderland with its diverse ecosystems. This park has everything from rugged coastlines to temperate rainforests and snow-capped mountains. Explore the breathtaking beaches of Rialto or Ruby Beach, hike through the ancient Hoh Rainforest or venture to Hurricane Ridge for panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. Olympic National Park offers many outdoor activities, including camping, fishing, and wildlife spotting.
Olympic National Park in Washington is ideal to visit from June to September, providing better weather and access to hiking trails and coastal areas.
Zion National Park, Utah:
Zion National Park is a sanctuary of breathtaking beauty, captivating visitors with its towering cliffs, deep canyons, and lush greenery. What makes Zion genuinely remarkable is its stunning red and white Navajo sandstone formations. These formations rise majestically against the blue sky, creating a dramatic and awe-inspiring backdrop. The park is famous for its iconic landmarks, such as Angels Landing and The Narrows. These hikes offer exhilarating hiking experiences and panoramic vistas. As visitors venture into the narrow slot canyons and hike along the emerald Virgin River, they are immersed in a world of natural wonder and tranquility.
The park’s diverse ecosystems support a remarkable array of plant and animal life, including desert bighorn sheep and numerous bird species. With its enchanting landscapes, thrilling trails, and a sense of serenity, Zion National Park stands as a testament to nature’s extraordinary power and beauty, beckoning adventurers and nature lovers from around the globe.
Zion National Park in Utah is best enjoyed in April, May, and September when temperatures are cooler and visitor numbers are relatively lower. However, from May-September, the canyon is only accessible by a free shuttle, so plan accordingly. During the slower months, the scenic Zion Canyon closes once it reaches max capacity everyday, so be sure to get an early start.
Glacier National Park, Montana:
Glacier National Park is a pristine wilderness in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. Known as the Crown of the Continent, this park is famous for its sparkling lakes, towering peaks, and over 700 miles of hiking trails. Drive along the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road, take a boat tour on the stunning Lake McDonald, or hike to the iconic Grinnell Glacier. Wildlife enthusiasts will delight in spotting grizzly bears, moose, and mountain goats.
Glacier National Park in Montana is recommended in June or September, offering fewer crowds, pleasant weather, and hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities. This is when the Going to the Sun Road is open.
Yosemite National Park, California:
Yosemite National Park holds a special place among nature’s marvels, captivating visitors with its awe-inspiring landscapes and unique features. What sets Yosemite apart is its iconic granite cliffs that seem to touch the sky – drawing climbers and adventurers from all corners of the globe. Yosemite’s El Capitan is the largest cliff face in North America – towering over 3,000 ft.
The park’s magnificent waterfalls, including the mighty Yosemite Falls, create a symphony of roaring cascades that leave visitors in wonder. Adding to its allure are the ancient giant sequoia groves. In these groves, colossal trees reach toward the heavens, reminding us of the grandeur and resilience of nature. Yosemite National Park’s harmonious blend of towering cliffs, thunderous waterfalls, and majestic trees is a testament to the enduring power and beauty of the natural world.
For Yosemite National Park in California, May and September are favorable months with manageable crowds and beautiful natural scenery. If you plan to travel there in the winter time, be aware that the east entrance (Tioga Road) is closed.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado:
Rocky Mountain National Park stands out as a true gem among America’s national parks. Its majestic peaks, diverse ecosystems, and abundant wildlife quickly captivate visitors. What makes the park truly remarkable is its awe-inspiring mountain range. This range stretches for over 400 miles and boasts over 60 towering peaks exceeding 12,000 feet in elevation.
The park’s pristine alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls, and lush meadows add to its scenic allure. Rocky Mountain National Park is renowned for its accessibility to alpine biodiversity above 12,000 ft. The alpine is typically only attained through mountaineering which requires gear and skill. At Rocky however, Trail Ridge Road takes you to the top of the peaks itself, allowing folks of all backgrounds to experience the alpine.
Also due to the park’s healthy elk population, seeing some is practically a guarantee. With its breathtaking vistas, tranquil wilderness, and abundant wildlife, Rocky Mountain National Park offers an unforgettable experience and stands as a testament to the unparalleled beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
This park in Colorado is best visited in June or September when wildflowers bloom, the trails are less crowded, and Trail Ridge Road is still open to vehicles.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah:
Bryce Canyon National Park is a place of otherworldly beauty, mesmerizing visitors with its unique geological formations and vibrant colors. What sets Bryce Canyon apart is its remarkable collection of hoodoos and tall and slender rock spires that dot the landscape in a breathtaking display. These intricate formations, sculpted by the forces of erosion, create an ethereal and surreal atmosphere unlike any other. The rocks come alive as the sun casts its golden rays on the hoodoos, showcasing a stunning palette of reds, oranges, and pinks.
The park’s expansive viewpoints, such as Sunrise Point and Inspiration Point, offer awe-inspiring vistas that stretch for miles. These viewpoints provide glimpses of the intricate maze of hoodoos and deep canyons below. Bryce Canyon National Park is a visual feast and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a network of trails that allow visitors to hike and even ride horses amidst the captivating formations. With its enchanting landscapes and geological wonders, Bryce Canyon National Park stands out as a place of natural splendor and an unforgettable destination.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is enjoyable in June and September, with comfortable temperatures and fewer visitors compared to the peak summer season.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina:
The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the United States. Spanning over 500,000 acres, it encompasses diverse ecosystems, including ancient forests, cascading waterfalls, and majestic mountain peaks.
The park is known for its ethereal smoky haze from releasing volatile organic compounds from the abundant vegetation. This atmospheric phenomenon adds a sense of mystique and serenity to the landscape. The park also boasts a rich biodiversity, with over 10,000 species documented.
Hikers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts are captivated by the park’s extensive trail network, offering unforgettable experiences and panoramic vistas. Exploring the historic cabins scattered throughout Cades Cove or immersing oneself in the vibrant colors of fall foliage along the Appalachian Trail. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park never fails to leave visitors in awe of its natural splendor.
Finally, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina is less crowded in May and September, providing pleasant weather for exploring diverse ecosystems and hiking trails.
Safety Precautions and Guidelines:
Visitors must be aware of several safety precautions and guidelines when visiting national parks in the summer. Nationalparks.org offers valuable insights in this regard. Firstly, visitors should stay informed about weather conditions, which can change rapidly, especially in mountainous areas. It’s recommended to check the weather forecast beforehand and be prepared for temperature fluctuations, thunderstorms, or heat waves. Additionally, it’s important to carry and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated in hot and arid environments.
Visitors should also be cautious of hazards such as wildlife encounters, uneven terrains, or slippery surfaces near water bodies. Protecting safe from wildlife, staying on designated trails, and wearing appropriate footwear are essential precautions. It’s also advised to pack essential supplies like sunscreen, insect repellent, and a first aid kit. Furthermore, visitors should know park rules and regulations. These rules and regulations include camping restrictions, fire safety, and proper waste disposal to preserve and protect the park’s natural resources. Adhering to these safety precautions and guidelines allows visitors to have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Before you plan a trip, remember to always call the park to get up to date information. Due to these parks still being susceptible to natural conditions, closures are very common.
In conclusion, the United States has an extraordinary collection of national parks providing incredible summer adventures. No matter what you’re seeking, each national park promises a unique and unforgettable experience. They invite visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty and serenity of the great American outdoors.
So, pack your bags, lace up your boots, and embark on a summer journey to these national parks. You are in for an adventure that will leave you in awe of nature’s splendor.