The Best National Parks to Visit by Season

Best season to visit each national park

When planning a trip to the national parks one of the most important things to consider is the time of year that you are planning your visit. Most national parks have an optimal time to visit based on factors such as weather, crowd levels, and road closures.

In this article, I cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by two lists that illustrate the best months to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit the National Parks by month

Below is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year. Each national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times.

These guides take many factors into consideration: weather, crowd levels, special events, fall colors, the best time to go hiking, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at least one occasion.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best National Parks to visit by month:

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Complete list of the National Parks

This guide covers the best time to visit each national park based on weather, crowd levels, and my personal experiences in the parks. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month by month. I list each of the national parks we have visited in alphabetical order and indicate the best months to visit each of these parks.

This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

There are two different ways to use these tables.

If you have a particular month or season that you are planning your trip, you can look at that column (for example: May) and the parks that are listed for that month make great options for your trip.

If you have a park that you would like to visit (for example, Bryce Canyon National Park), scroll down to Bryce Canyon and the months listed are the best times to visit this park.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best parks to visit by month

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit national parks by month

  • Arches National Park (Utah): January, March, November, December
  • Badlands National Park (South Dakota): April, October
  • Big Bend National Park (Texas): March, April, November
  • Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah): March, April, November
  • Canyonlands National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Capitol Reef National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico): February, July, August, September
  • Congaree National Park (South Carolina): March, May, November
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): January, April, June, November, December
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina & Tennessee): May, September, October
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California): January, February, November
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park (California): June, July, August
  • Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado): May, September
  • New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia): June, October
  • Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona): February, April, November
  • Pinnacles National Park (California): March, April, November
  • Saguaro National Park (Arizona): January, February, May
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (California): June, July, August
  • Shenandoah National Park (Virginia): May, September, October
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota): June, July, September, October
  • White Sands National Park (New Mexico): February, March, November
  • Zion National Park (Utah): January, October, November, December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

The Best National Parks to Visit in March

If you are seeking the best national parks to visit in March, this guide’s for you! It will detail eight beautiful National Parks to visit in March, why you should go to them, and what to expect during this month.

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

Planning a trip to America’s national parks in March but don’t know which ones to visit? March brings warmer temperatures to most of the US. Travel begins to pick up during this month both because of the warmer weather and because families are hitting the road for spring break. There are many great national parks to visit in March which I cover in this guide plus eight bonus parks and two road trip ideas that links several of these national parks together.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This guide is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time so I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Visiting the National Parks in March

March is a great month to visit the national parks. With the warmer temperatures and the beginning of spring, the list of parks that you can visit without braving freezing temperatures gets larger. The days are getting longer, flowers start to bloom, and in some parts of the US, trees begin to get their first leaves.

Overall, park visitation still remains low for the year but there are a few hotspots that get busier as people visit the national parks for spring break. Even so, crowds are still quieter than the summer which is the busiest time to visit most national parks.

Best National Parks in March

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Arches National Park

Location: Utah

This small, easy to visit national park is a joy to explore. It’s also the feature photo for this post.

You can see several arches and unique rock formations without ever stepping out of your car. With just a little bit of walking you can visit many of the top sights in Arches National Park such as the Windows and Double Arch. And for those who like hiking don’t miss the Devils Garden Trail, a thrilling hike where you get to see eight arches and hike on a primitive trail.

Why visit Arches in March: March is a great time to visit Arches National Park because the weather is getting warmer and crowds are still relatively low for the year. In 2022, Arches National Park had 142,000 visitors in March. Peak visitation for that year was in May when 172,000 people visited the park. If you want to visit Arches with even lower crowds plan your visit from December through February but be prepared for freezing temperatures.

Weather: In March, the average high is 62°F and the average low is 37°F. Rainfall is very low. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 7:25 pm.

Top experiences: Hike to Delicate Arch, see Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace, visit Double Arch, Turret Arch, and Windows Arch, hike Park Avenue.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Devils Garden Trail. To reach Landscape Arch, one of the most iconic arches in the park, it is only 1.6 miles round trip. But for the ultimate adventure, continue past Landscape Arch to Double O Arch and Dark Angel and return on the Primitive Trail.

How much time do you need? One day in Arches is all you need to see the highlights but it will be a very busy day. With two to three days, you can visit the park at a more leisurely pace or go off the beaten path.

Plan your visit

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Canyonlands National Park

Location: Utah

Canyonlands National Park is one of my favorite national parks. Why? The landscapes, the hiking trails, and the off the beaten path experiences make this one of the top parks for those who crave adventure.

Journey below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa for an unforgettable experience. Drive the twisting Shafer Canyon switchbacks onto the White Rim and then spend a few days driving through remote landscapes. Called the White Rim Road, this is one of the best experiences in the national park system.

You can also explore The Needles, where zebra-striped rocks form one of the most unique hiking destinations in the US.

Why visit Canyonlands in March: Just like Arches, park visitation remains relatively low and the warmer temperatures make March a better time to visit than the winter months. Canyonlands only gets a fraction of the visitors that flood Arches National Park so this park will feel delightfully empty compared to Arches. March is also a good time to drive the White Rim Road since permits are a little easier to get than late spring through early fall.

Weather: The average high is 54°F and the average low is 35°F. Rainfall is low. Even though Canyonlands sits next to Arches National Park it is at a higher elevation so the temperatures are a bit lower here.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 7:25 pm.

Top experiences: Visit the overlooks on Island in the Sky, watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, go hiking in The Needles, drive Shafer Canyon Road, hike below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa, and explore The Maze.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This is a 100-mile unpaved road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes 2 to 3 days to do this drive. It can be done in the winter but snow can close Shafer Canyon Road and cold temperatures will make camping uncomfortable for some people.

How much time do you need? You need at least two full days in Canyonlands National Park. Spend one day in Island in the Sky and one day in the Needles. But even more time is better if you want to venture deeper into the park.

Plan your visit

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Capitol Reef National Park

Location: Utah

Capitol Reef National Park is an underrated gem in the national park system.

This national park is full of many wonderful surprises. With an amazing scenic drive, hiking trails that rival those in Zion, rugged, remote areas to explore by 4×4, short, easy slot canyons, historical landmarks, and even delicious pie, this is another one of my favorite national parks.

Most people drive right through the heart of the park visiting the sights along Highway 24 which are nice. But those who venture farther into the park either on the hiking trails or the backcountry roads are rewarded with incredible views of remote, rugged landscapes.

Why visit Capitol Reef in March: Temperatures are finally getting a bit warmer and crowd visitation is relatively low. You could still have some cold mornings but Capitol Reef warms up nicely during the day and the cooler temperatures make this a great time to go hiking.

Weather: In March, the average high is 57°F and the average low is 34°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 7:30 pm.

Top experiences: Drive the 16-mile round-trip drive along Scenic Drive, drive Capitol Gorge Road, hike to Hickman Bridge, and watch the sunset from Sunset Point, hike to Cassidy Arch, and Loop the Fold.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure, drive the Cathedral Valley Loop. This rugged, remote district of Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best backcountry experiences in the national parks if you like exploring by 4WD.

How much time do you need? Plan to spend three to four days in Capitol Reef. This gives you enough time to explore and hike the trails in the core of the park (along Scenic Drive and Highway 24) and venture into the backcountry, either in Cathedral Valley or by looping the fold.

Plan your visit

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is a fantasyland of hoodoos, bizarre rock formations, and sandstone pillars.

This is an extraordinary place to visit and its unique landscape sets it apart from other national parks. Although Bryce Canyon may not have the same sweeping, expansive vistas as the Grand Canyon, it’s still a breathtaking experience the first time you see this view.

Why visit Bryce Canyon in March: For the chance to see Bryce Canyon with a dusting of snow. Temperatures are a bit warmer than January and February but snowfall is a possibility especially at the beginning of the month so you don’t have to brave frigid temps for the chance to see Bryce Canyon covered in snow.

Weather: In March, the average high is 46°F and the average low is 23°F. There is a good chance of snow and on average Bryce Canyon receives about 13 inches of snow in March. Bryce Canyon has the highest elevation of the parks in Utah’s Mighty 5 making this the coolest one to visit (pun intended).

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 7:35 pm.

Top experiences: Some of the best viewpoints are right along the rim which is easily accessible by car or the shuttle (mid-April to mid-September): Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point. Hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop, a 3-mile hike past some of the best scenery in the park. Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point are also nice viewpoints.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, an 8-mile strenuous hike.

How much time do you need? One day is all you need to see the views from the rim and hike one to two short trails in the park. I recommend another day or two for additional time to hike into the canyon. You won’t regret it.

Plan your visit

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Pinnacles National Park

Location: California

Pinnacles National Park preserves and protects the mountains on the eastern end of Salinas Valley. These mountains are the remnants of an extinct volcano. The rocky pinnacles are a popular rock climbing destination and wildflowers in the spring draw the biggest crowds of the year. This park is also one of the few locations where you can spot the California condor in the wild.

This is one of the newest national parks (it became a national park in 2013) and least visited national parks (it was the 15th least visited park in 2022 with 275,023 visitors).

Why visit Pinnacles in March: March through May is the peak blooming season for the flowers in Pinnacles National Park. 

Weather: The average high is 68°F and the average low is 38°F. March is the end of the rainy season getting about 3 inches of rain during this month.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 7:12 pm.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: See the wildflowers in the spring, hike the High Peaks Loop, hike the Bear Gulch Cave Trail, explore the Balconies cave, spot California condors, enjoy the view from Condor Gulch Overlook, and go rock climbing.

How much time do you need? Pinnacles National Park can be visited in one busy day but for the best experience spend two days here which gives you enough time to visit both sections of the park.

Plan your visit

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Big Bend National Park

Location: Texas

Isolated, remote, wild, and rugged…this is Big Bend National Park.

Located in the southwestern corner of Texas within the Chihuahuan Desert is an extraordinary mountain range that is a haven for hikers, backpackers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

This is one of the most remote parks in the lower 48 states so crowd levels tend to be low all year. Even when it is at its busiest, Big Bend feels rather quiet.

Why visit Big Bend in March: We visited Big Bend in March and had a great experience. The weather was warm and in early March, crowds are low. The second and third weeks in March get busy because this is when Texans go on spring break. If you can, plan your visit for the first week in March to take advantage of great weather and low crowds.

Weather: The average high is 74°F and the average low is 47°F. Rainfall is very low especially this time of year. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 8 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Top experiences: Hike the Lost Mine Trail, go star gazing, hike Santa Elena Canyon, go for a drive on Maxwell Scenic Drive, visit Boquillas del Carmen, hike to Balanced Rock, and hike to Emory Peak, the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure in Big Bend go on a half-day to multi-day canoeing trip on the Rio Grande.

How much time do you need? Spend at least three to four days in the park. Because of its large size and remote location, it takes a while to get here and you need a few days to explore it, so four days should work for most people.

Plan your visit

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Congaree National Park

Location: South Carolina

Congaree National Park protects the oldest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States.

This is one of the smallest, least visited national parks in the United States (it was the 12th least visited park in 2022 with 204,522 visitors). A visit here is quick and easy to plan.

Walk the boardwalk trail through the forest, go kayaking or canoeing on Cedar Creek, go birdwatching and fishing, and, if you like, venture farther into the park on a number of other woodland trails.

Why visit Congaree in March: This is a good time to visit Congaree because it’s warm and mosquitoes aren’t too much of an issue (the worst time for mosquitoes is from late spring through summer). March is one of the wetter months to visit Congaree so there is also a good chance that you will see some flooding in the forests which is a very unique sight to see (the peak time for flooding is the winter months).

Weather: In March, the average high is 68°F and the average low is 43°F. Rainfall is above average for the year with park getting about 4 inches of rain this month.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 7:30 pm.

Top experiences: Walk the Boardwalk Loop Trail, go canoeing or kayaking on Cedar Creek, hike the Weston Loop Trail, and hike to the General Greene Tree.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure go on a multi-day canoe trip on the Congaree River.

How much time do you need? One day in Congaree is all you need to see the highlights. Walk the boardwalk trails and go for a canoe trip on Cedar Creek.

Plan your visit

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. White Sands National Park

Location: New Mexico

White Sands is a small, easy, fun park to visit. This national park protects the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Sledding on the dunes is one of the best things to do here but you can also hike out farther into the dunes on several different hiking trails or take a ranger-guided tour.

Why visit White Sands in March: White Sands is one of the warmer national parks to visit in March and with temperatures in the low 70s the weather is great for hiking and exploring. We visited White Sands in March and had a wonderful experience. It’s cool enough to do a long hike without getting hot and the mild midday temperatures make this a great time to spend all day on the dunes. Just be aware that March is the busiest month to visit the park.

Weather: In March, the average high is 71°F and the average low is 33°F. This is one of the driest months to visit the park.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 7:15 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Dunes Drive, go sledding in the gypsum dunes, walk the Dune Life Nature Trail, take a ranger-guided hike, and go backcountry tent camping. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Alkali Flat Trail. This trail makes a 4.5-mile loop through the gypsum dunefield. It’s the longest, toughest hike in the park but your treat is stunning views of untouched dunes.

How much time do you need? For the best experience, plan on spending one full day in White Sands National Park. Hike the Alkali Flat Trail first thing in the morning, before the crowds arrive and the temperatures climb. Midday, go sledding on the dunes and have a picnic lunch. You can also do one of the shorter hiking trails. At the end of the day, take the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll.

Plan your visit

4 more parks to visit in March

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

I would have included Zion as a top pick for March since the weather is gorgeous this time of year, but, and this is a big but, crowd levels skyrocket in March. In 2022, about 170,000 people visited Zion in February. In March, that number grew to 446,000 people. And that wasn’t even the highest month for visitation…June was a busier month with 570,000 visitors! 

The trend for traffic to jump from February to March is not unique to 2022. This has been occurring for the last 20 years.

If you plan to do a Mighty 5 road trip in March (it’s a great one!) you can include Zion, just be prepared for large crowds.

Grand Canyon National Park

In March, temperatures are beginning to warm up and with that the Grand Canyon begins to draw more crowds. Even though visitation picks up in March, it’s still a lot quieter to visit the park now than during the busy summer months.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

The weather is pretty much perfect in Saguaro in March with daily highs of 75°F and low rainfall. But this is the by far busiest month of the year to visit the park so keep that in mind while planning your visit.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Like Saguaro, March is the busiest month to visit Carlsbad Caverns. But the weather is pleasant and this is a great time for a Texas-New Mexico road trip so if you also have plans to visit Guadalupe Mountains, White Sands, and/or Big Bend, it is worth including Carlsbad Caverns in your travel plans.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in March

Chiricahua National Monument

The most noticeable natural features in the park are the rhyolite rock pinnacles for which the monument was created to protect. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base, seemingly ready to topple over at any time.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Carved into a cliff 1,500 feet above the ground and featuring more than 20 rooms constructed in multiple stories, it’s a remarkably example of Sinaguan architecture. Today a short trail takes you to a viewing spot below the ruins, and museum exhibits help you imagine what life was like in this unforgiving desert landscape.

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot is an ancient village or pueblo built by the Sinagua. The pueblo consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures. The first buildings were built around A.D. 1000. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The people left the area around 1400.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

You can see many of Canyon de Chelly’s top sights from the rim roads but you’ll get a deeper understanding of its significance on a jeep tour with a Navajo guide. The only self-guided hike, the White House Trail, zigzags 600 feet down (and back up) to the spectacular White House ruins. Don’t miss the staggeringly tall spire known as Spider Rock; it rises 830 feet from the canyon floor.

March road trip ideas

Here are two great road trip ideas for March. The best time for both of these is in early March to avoid spring break traffic. If you are planning your visit for spring break, make your reservations well in advance because this can be a busy time to visit some of these national parks.

Texas & New Mexico

Combine Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, and White Sands into one big road trip. Start in Las Cruces, New Mexico or El Paso, Texas and drive this loop.

Utah’s Mighty 5

Visiting all of Utah’s Mighty 5 (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks) is one of America’s best road trips. To do this, you need 10 days or more.

Saguaro

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

Top 10 National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

The chance to spot a bear, bison, or bald eagle in the wild is one of the major reasons RVers visit America’s 63 national parks

The sky is broad, the land is rugged, and the air fills your lungs with joy. But for many adventurers, the true appeal of a trek through a national park is the fine detail: the living flora and fauna often rare and unusual that quietly populate the landscape.

U.S. national parks are each home to an average of 415 species of wildlife—often hundreds more—and over a thousand different plants. Yet there’s not really such a thing as the average national park. Each has its unique characters, families, sights, and sounds. From tiny but tough pikas to trumpeter swans and Dutchman’s breeches, these wild expanses are full of surprises.

So where are most of those surprises found? A recent report from vacation rental site Casago analyzed National Park Service data to find out which parks have the most wildlife and plants per 100 km² (38.61021585 square miles) and which have the greatest biodiversity overall.

Casago sourced the number of species of amphibians, birds, fishes, mammals, and reptiles in each national park from the National Park Service’s Integrated Resource Management Applications (IRMA) portal. They combined the figures to give the total number of animals overall and per 100 km² in each park and calculated additional figures just including birds. And then they did the same for plant species.

Dear in Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key findings

  • Congaree in South Carolina has the greatest density of wildlife species with 362 per 100 km²
  • However, Biscayne in Florida has more overall: a total of 1,002
  • Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico boasts 194 bird species per 100 km², the highest density
  • Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio has the densest plant biodiversity of all at 935 species per 100 km²
  • The Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee have the highest number of plant species overall: 2,278.
Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Number of species per square kilometer: 362

Life of all kinds from tiny synchronous fireflies to 160-foot-tall loblolly pines crowds this park’s bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem 18 miles from Columbia, South Carolina’s capital. Congaree is also laced with rivers and lakes that sustain its astonishing biodiversity. 

Paddling the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail is a great way to look for wildlife. Most commonly you see what we call the creepy-crawlies including fishing spiders with leg spans wider than your palm and red-bellied water snakes. Other residents you might encounter include barred owls, river otters, pileated woodpeckers, and sometimes, alligators gliding on the water.

2. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Number of species per square kilometer: 317

Located 20 miles southwest of Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a mixed ecosystem of oak-hickory forest, meadows, and wetlands sheltering a variety of animals. From the boardwalk at Beaver Marsh watch for water-loving mammals (river otters, muskrats, beavers) or snapping turtles that can weigh as much as 55 pounds each. It’s neat to see the old-timers covered in moss. 

More than 200 bird species live or migrate through the park including nesting peregrine falcons (near the Route 82 Bridge) and bald eagles (hike the Towpath Trail north from Station Road Trailhead). Check the park website for occasional birding walks or ranger talks.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Number of species per square kilometer: 286

The poster child for Carlsbad Caverns is the Brazilian free-tailed bat. Every summer, hundreds of thousands of the furry, big-eared creatures roost in these honeycombed limestone caves in southeastern New Mexico attracting crowds at sunset with their spectacular outflight. But it’s just as exciting to come just before dawn and watch the bats return; the bats tuck their wings and execute speedy dives back into the caverns.

The Brazilians are one of 17 bat species that nest at Carlsbad. You might also encounter ringtails (a small, raccoon-like mammal), porcupines, peccaries, and cave swallows.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Pinnacles National Park, California

Number of species per square kilometer: 255

Driven to the brink of extinction in the 1980s, the mighty California condor now soars again over this landscape of twisty volcanic peaks in central California. Intense recovery efforts including a captive breeding program and the establishment of two distinctive wild-flying populations have brought the population of the largest birds in North America from just 22 in in 1982 to 347 condors today. 

Eighty-nine of the birds are thought to live in and around Pinnacles. If you have binoculars, you have a good chance of seeing condors flying over the ridge behind the main campground in the mornings and evenings.

Other Pinnacles standouts include golden eagles, peregrine falcons, an exceptionally high density of prairie falcons, and more than 400 species of bees.

5. Acadia National Park, Maine 

Number of species per square kilometer: 242

The Atlantic Ocean meets the cliff-lined Maine coast at this popular park on Mount Desert Island providing habitat for wildlife with feet and flippers. From the shore or a sea kayak (try Castine Kayak Adventures or Coastal Kayaking Tours) scan the water for the dorsal fins of harbor porpoises and the sleek heads of harbor and gray seals.

On land, you might spot beavers, snowshoe hares, or if you’re lucky a mink or bobcat. In between in the intertidal zone tide pools hold translucent anemones, sea urchins, snails, and sea stars. Acadia also draws loons and songbirds and fall, rangers and volunteers conduct an annual hawk watch from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia’s highest point.

Pronghorns near Wind Cave National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Number of species per square kilometer: 235 

Located at the edge of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest this park may be best known for its unique boxwork cave geology. But wildlife watchers also come for the herds of American bison, elk, and pronghorns grazing above on the mixed-grass prairie. 

Wind Cave is part of an ecosystem restoration and species recovery program that’s been going since the early 20th century. Populations of all three ungulates have rebounded since then and in 2007, biologists also returned the critically endangered black-footed ferret to the grasslands. Drive the 3.7-mile Bison Flats Road or hike the steep, challenging Boland Ridge Trail for the best chance to see animals.

7. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Number of species per square kilometer: 223 

Contrary to its name, water makes up 99 percent of this park located on and around a seven-island archipelago some 70 miles off the coast of Florida. Visitors must catch a seaplane or ferry from Key West to get to this remote part of the Florida Keys but they’re rewarded with excellent coral reef and seagrass habitats. 

The part of the park’s name that does make sense: Five species of threatened or endangered sea turtles (Tortugas in Spanish) nest here; visitors might see them swimming or on the sandy beaches.

Book a snorkeling or scuba diving excursion to explore the reefs where green sea turtles, nurse sharks, barracudas, and decorator crabs live amid elkhorn and staghorn corals. Divers can also access the Windjammer wreck site where an iron-hulled ship that sank in 1907 provides a home for marine life. 

8. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Number of species per square kilometer: 219

In western Colorado, the 2,722 vertical feet between this sparsley visited park’s canyon rim and the Gunnison River below support multiple wildlife habitats. Experienced climbers and hikers who venture into the inner canyon, find collared lizards and mule deer near the rim and bighorn sheep scampering along the middle of the cliffs. Trails are extremely steep, covered with poison ivy and require a wilderness permit to use.

It’s easier to access the Gunnison River by driving down East Portal Road where anglers fish for brown and rainbow trout and nature-lovers might run into river otters and ringtails. 

9. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Number of species per square kilometer: 217

Located in central Kentucky this national park holds the longest known underground cave system in the world. Mammoth’s 426 miles of caverns are home to 160 species from animals that merely visit (think bats) to those that can’t live anywhere else. Long-legged cave crickets pick their way up the walls, eerily eyeless white cave fish swim the underground waterways, and black-spotted orange cave salamanders lurk under rocks. 

If you’re going into the cave system, stop and slowly look around. You might see some of the small, inconspicuous vertebrates that are thriving in complete darkness.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Number of species per square kilometer: 215 

The glowing orange hoodoos and rocky walls of Bryce Canyon National Park might seem stark but the arid Utah landscape teems with life. Scan carefully for short-horned and side-blotched lizards basking among the boulders and look out for the venomous Great Basin rattlesnake under the canyon rim. 

Small, furry mammals like the golden-mantled ground squirrel, Uinta chipmunk, and Utah prairie dog are easy to see throughout the park but you’re less likely to spot larger predators such as mountain lions and black bears.

Take only memories

A wildlife trip to a national park makes for a welcome alternative to urban life and the computer screen. But to stand your best chance of spotting some gems and avoiding harm to the park’s natural life, leave no trace.

  • People only, no pets
  • Keep quiet and stay still where possible
  • Dress in natural tones and don’t wear scent
  • Keep your distance and never feed wildlife
  • Take only memories (and photos); leave only footprints
  • And don’t forget to look at the clouds

Worth Pondering…

Nature is a mutable cloud which is always and never the same.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Complete Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Spot North America’s largest bird in California’s smallest park

Pinnacles National Park checks all the boxes for nature lovers. Thirty miles of hiking trails from gentle creek-side strolls to stiff cliff-hanging switchbacks, giant monoliths, rust-colored rock cloaked in a kaleidoscope of lichen.

There’s beauty everywhere you look. About 100 varieties of wildflowers bloom throughout the year and more than 180 bird species including North America’s largest bird, the critically endangered California condor and its majestic roughly 10-foot wingspan can be spotted in the park. A concerto of calling quails, gobbling turkeys, drumming woodpeckers, and whistling hummingbirds are also present.

Don’t let Pinnacles National Park’s status as California’s smallest and least-visited national park fool you. This mesmerizing volcanic wilderness on the southern edge of central California’s Gabilan Mountain Range is a hot spot for ecological diversity and outdoor recreation. It is blanketed by a vast network of chaparral forests, pine and oak woodlands, golden grasslands, and 3,000-foot peaks. The park is where Chalon, Mutsun, and other Native Americans lived and used bedrock mortars to grind acorns and pine nuts for millennia.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long overshadowed by its ever-popular park brethren—Yosemite, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon top the in-state visitor list—Pinnacles holds a unique title of its own: California’s youngest national park. When the 26,674-acre wonderland achieved national park status in 2013, Pinnacles became America’s 59th national park and the Golden State’s ninth such accreditation, the most of any state. The designation shed the park’s longstanding national monument rank assigned by President Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago.

A prime illustration of tectonic plate movement, Pinnacles National Park formed about 23 million years ago after numerous eruptions of the Neenach volcanic field near present-day Lancaster, California, 195 miles southeast of the park. In cooperation with the San Andreas Fault, the park traveled north to its current address over millions of years where wind and water erosion have since shaped its eye-popping matrix of rock-strewn terrain. To this day, scientists estimate that Pinnacles is migrating northwest at a rate of 1.5 to 2 inches per year—or, the same speed that our fingernails grow.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a state teeming with natural beauty and park options, Pinnacles’ 41 square miles of spellbinding topography flies under the radar and can be explored relatively crowd-free most of the year especially on weekdays. In 2022, there were 275,023 visitors in the park, an uptick from its historical average of 150,000 to 200,000 people. Still, last year’s figure marked the eighth-lowest head count for national parks in the Lower 48.

For many park visitors, condors and caves is what sets Pinnacles apart from the rest of the national park system. The California condor, one of the rarest birds in the world is often seen soaring over Pinnacles. “And there are two talus caves that are unusual as they are technically above ground. When visiting this moving mountain just find a sunny spot to take in the wonder around you!

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip

Just east of the Salinas Valley, Pinnacles’ low-key status stems from its semisecluded location in central California. The park has two entrances—the east and west—with no connecting road between the two. To get from one side to the other, you must exit and drive around the park which takes about an hour and a half.

To access the west entrance, take Highway 101 either south from San Francisco or north from Los Angeles to Soledad. From there, you’ll take Highway 146 east to the gate. To access the east entrance, travel Highway 101 south to Highway 25 south. If traveling from the north, you’ll access Highway 25 through Hollister; if traveling from the south, you’ll connect to Highway 25 near King City.

A great time to visit Pinnacles is between mid-February and early June when the weather is moderate and the wildflowers are showy. Visitation numbers tend to peak at this time especially on weekends. For solitude, arrive early on a weekday and you’ll have no problem with crowds or parking.

As an alternative, a fall visit is recommended. I would aim for October or early November. It has often cooled off by that point but the evenings have not become cold yet. All of Bear Gulch Cave is open at that point and you may also see male tarantulas on the move looking for a mate.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If planning a summer trip, brace yourself for hot and dry weather with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees. Park rangers suggest visitors wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen and drink a liter of water per hour of hiking. You’ll need layers come winter (the park’s cool and wet season) but you’ll have the park all to yourself. No matter the season, pack a pair of binoculars for potential California condor sightings and don’t forget your long-lens camera.

The park’s two talus caves are a top attraction: balconies, best reached through the west entrance and Bear Gulch, best reached from the east entrance. Home to active bat colonies, be sure to check Pinnacles’ website in alignment with their seasonal openings. When the bat population is hibernating in fall, winter, and spring, caves are typically open; if it’s pupping season after bats are born—usually mid-May to mid-July—caves will temporarily close to protect the mammals.

Fun fact: Bear Gulch Cave has the largest maternity colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats, a sensitive species between San Francisco and Mexico.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Important note: The caves are not accessible for visitors with mobility issues and require a bit of rock scrambling. Those prone to claustrophobia should reconsider as well due to the maze—albeit brief—of low ceilings and tight passageways. Park officials ask that you bring a headlamp or flashlight to navigate the momentarily dark crevices (iPhones work as well but it helps to be hands-free). Of course, talk with your health care provider before you go to see what’s best for you.

If entering from the west entrance, stop at the West Visitor Pinnacles Contact Station for books and trail maps, to speak with a ranger, and brush up on the park’s history via the 10-minute park film. The Prewett Point Trail, a new accessible trail delivering panoramas of the High Peaks and Balconies Cliffs, starts at the visitor station. On the park’s east side, a section of the Bench Trail was recently paved for wheelchair access. It, too, provides High Peaks views.

Bear Gulch Nature Center and West Visitor Center are open based on staff availability.

San Benito Wine Country near the east entrance to Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay and eat

There are no restaurants, gas stations, or lodging in Pinnacles. On the east side of the park, Pinnacles Campground offers a combination of 134 tent, RV, and group camping sites in a serene setting of blue, valley, and coast live oak trees. A camp store sells minimal groceries; you’d be better off packing a picnic lunch prior to your arrival.

Several small gateway towns—Soledad (10 miles), King City (30 miles), Hollister (65 miles), and Salinas (37 miles)—have a variety of restaurants and accommodations.

Outside the park, fun area pit stops include the charming Soledad Mission, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, a museum and memorial dedicated to the renowned local author. For added fun, download a map of The Artichoke Trail, a collection of 40 restaurants, farm stands, and markets celebrating Monterey County’s widely grown vegetable.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do

Spot a California condor

Seasoned birders and avian newbies alike travel to Pinnacles each year for one reason: the chance to spot a California condor, one of North America’s rarest birds. In the 1980s, Pinnacles’ year-round banner bird was on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss, hunters, and poisoning from lead ammunition in carrion or animal remains, a condor’s main food source. To save the endangered species, conservationists captured 22 birds remaining in the wild and placed them in a breeding program. Considered an ideal habitat for the high-flying vulture, Pinnacles was chosen as a release site in 2003 and two captive-bred birds were set free inside the park. Today, the population has rebounded to 89 condors in the central California flock, many of which fly through the park.

With a nearly 10-foot wingspan, the ability to ride thermal updrafts to 15,000 feet, a top-end flight speed of 55 mph—covering some 200 miles in a single day—the massive scavenger (which can weigh up to 20 pounds) is a spectacle to witness as it drifts above the park’s surplus of volcanic peaks. One of the best spots to look for condors is in the High Peaks before 11 am. If you sit and wait while looking up at the sky, you may find them. In the park’s east section, condors frequently cruise thermal winds southeast of the campground.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pro tip for spotting your first condor

Learn the difference between a condor and a turkey vulture. They look similar in the sky. However, a condor’s airplane-esque wingspan is about 4 feet wider than its ever-abundant park relative.

From underwing, condor feathers form a striking white triangle on their leading edge whereas a turkey vulture has a silver-gray plumage on its trailing edge. Flight patterns differ in that a condor has a flat and steady aerial style; a turkey vulture’s pattern is V-shaped and rocking. Binoculars will help you detect the disparity in head color, too, both of which are bald. Adult condors have a yellowish-orange or pinkish head and appear as if they’re wearing a black feather boa; adult turkey vultures have bright red heads.

The biggest identifier between the two birds is man-made: All California condors (save for wild-born juveniles) don at least one numbered wing tag—and many sport two—to track health, behavior, and nesting sites in and around the park.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike to a cave

There’s no better place to appreciate the geologic wonder of Pinnacles than by visiting one of its two main talus caves: Balconies Cave and Bear Gulch Cave. They were formed when a medley of jumbled rockfall—thousand-ton boulders and other volcanic leftovers from the cliffs above— roofed in the steep and narrow fracture-and-fault-made canyons below.

Legend has it that Tiburcio Vásquez, the infamous California bandito, hid in the sometimes-pitch-black caves while evading the law in the 1800s. This was more than a half-century before the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived in the 1930s building a system of steps, trails, and passageways.

The shortest cave to reach is Balconies Cave, best accessed from the Chaparral Parking Area in the park’s west district where the easy-to-moderate Balconies Trail will lead you to the cavern in 0.7 miles. Turn on your flashlight or headlamp as you crawl under boulders and scramble through the uneven ground in the dark—you’ll be through it all in five minutes, so be sure to enjoy the thrill of rushing water (depending on the season) and dance between darkness and light enveloping you. Return to the parking lot via the scenic Balconies Cliffs Trail, completing a 2.4-mile loop.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park in the Bear Gulch lot in the east district to begin your adventure to the Bear Gulch Cave. After a half-mile jaunt, turn left on the Moses Spring Trail (0.7 miles) which winds its way through dramatic pinnacles, some miniature caves and rock debris covered in multicolored lichen en route to the cave’s mossy entrance.

The deeper you get inside of the cave, the narrower the trail walls become. Fret not; white arrows will direct you as you cross puddles, climb stairs, bend, and dip your way through the damp rock jumble eventually letting you out at the Bear Gulch Reservoir, a picture-perfect oasis to have lunch and rest. When you’re finished, hike back through the cave or take the short Rim Trail route back to your car.

The park’s diversity of lichen is one of the more overlooked aspects of Pinnacles, so be on the lookout. Lichens are an interesting organism that is part fungus, part algae, and they adhere to rock. At Pinnacles, they display a kaleidoscopic array of colors through the park.

For the venturesome parkgoer, it’s possible to hike the entire park in a single day on a 9-mile-or-so loop from either side and see everything Pinnacles has to offer: Both caves, the High Peaks, Bear Gulch Reservoir, and the trickling Chalone Creek, one of the park’s flattest strolls on the Old Pinnacles Trail.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird watching

Pinnacles’ varied ecosystem as well as its position on the migratory Pacific Flyway reveal a variety of birding opportunities. Peregrine and prairie falcons are known to nest cliffside on the Balconies Trail (tip: Look for white excrement painting its cliff walls). The greater roadrunner can often be seen dashing after snakes and lizards on the park’s paved roads. California quail, acorn woodpeckers, golden eagles, wild turkey, great horned owls, and a variety of hummingbirds are common park residents.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildflowers

From March to May, Pinnacles’ hillsides burst into bloom revealing more than 100 species of bright-colored wildflowers. California buckwheat, elegant clarkia, bush poppy, and larkspur paint the park in a rocky rainbow blossom. For adventurists, Pinnacles’ volcanic breccia rock affords plentiful climbing routes, but only for the well-trained climber. Far removed from the pollution of artificial light, the park’s uber-dark setting displays some of the clearest night skies in central California for stargazers.

Check this out to learn more:

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facts box

Park location: East of Central California’s Salinas Valley

Area: 26,674 acres

Highest peak: North Chalone Peak at 3,304 feet above sea level

Lowest valley: South Chalone Creek at 824 feet above sea level

Miles of trails: 30-plus miles

Main attraction: Balconies and Bear Gulch Caves

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cost: $30 per-vehicle entrance fee, valid for seven straight days; $25 for motorcycles; $15 for bicycles or walk-in entry; $55 for Pinnacles annual passes

Best way to see: On foot by hiking one of its 15 trails

When to go to: Mid-February through mid-May for mild weather and splashy wildflowers

Worth Pondering…

Looking back across the long cycles of change through which the land has been shaped into its present form, let us realize that these geographical revolutions are not events wholly of the dim past, but that they are still in progress.

—Sir Archibald Geikie, Scottish geologist (1835-1924)

The Best National Parks to Visit in November

Wondering where to travel in November? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in November!

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or at lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

Planning a trip to the national parks in November and don’t know which ones to visit? The cooler weather in November makes this one of the best times of the year to visit the parks across the southern part of the US. Road trip through Utah’s Mighty 5, go sledding on sand as white as the snow, and explore the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. In this guide, I list 12 wonderful national parks to visit in November plus four bonus parks.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in November

By November, the weather has turned colder and the days are getting much shorter. But this cool weather is a great time to visit the national parks across the southern half of the US.

Crowds tend to be low in the national parks in November because of the cool weather and the upcoming holiday season. You can take advantage of this and visit some of the most popular parks in the US with low crowds.

This is a fantastic month to visit Utah’s Mighty 5 (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches). It can be chilly this time of year but this is my favorite month to visit these parks since they less crowded than in September or October. A dusting of snow in these parks which is possible makes them even more beautiful. For the warmest weather and lower crowds go at the beginning of November.

I have a long list of parks to share with you, so let’s get started.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information we provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Since roads can close in the national parks at any time, I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Best National Parks in November

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Canyonlands National Park

Location: Utah

Canyonlands National Park is one of my favorite national parks. Why? The landscapes, the hiking trails, and the off the beaten path experiences make this one of the top parks for those who desire adventure.

Explore the Island in the Sky, the most popular area of Canyonlands. Visit the overlooks on the mesa, hike the short trails, and if you want to do a longer hike, you can hike below the rim or hike the Syncline Loop. Journey below the rim for an unforgettable experience. Drive the twisting Shafer Canyon switchbacks onto the White Rim and then spend a few days driving through remote landscapes. Called the White Rim Road, this is one of the best experiences in the national park system.

You can also explore The Needles where zebra-striped rocks form one of the most unique hiking destinations in the US.

Why visit Canyonlands in November: November is one of the quietest months of the year to visit Canyonlands. It can be chilly if not downright cold in November so go early in the month for the warmest temperatures (or go in October, but it will be more crowded). If you want to drive the White Rim Road, this is one of the easiest months of the year to get a permit.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 50°F and the average low is 33°F. Precipitation is very low and could fall as light snow. On warmer than average days, the temperature can get up into the 60s. Canyonlands is colder than its nearby neighbor Arches National Park since it sits at a higher elevation.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

Top experiences: Visit the overlooks on Island in the Sky, watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, go hiking in The Needles, drive Shafer Canyon Road, hike below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa, and explore The Maze.

Ultimate adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This is a 100-mile unpaved road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes 2 to 3 days to do this drive.

How much time do you need? You need at least two full days in Canyonlands National Park. Spend one day in Island in the Sky and one day in the Needles. But even more time is better if you want to venture deeper into the park.

Plan your visit

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Arches National Park

Location: Utah

Arches National Park is a beautiful wonderland of arches, rock formations, and short hiking trails. Not only will you find over 2,000 arches here but you will also see hoodoos, fins of sandstone rocks, massive mesas, and balanced rocks.

This small park is easy to visit. One main road runs through the heart of park. You can see the highlights of the park right from this road or by taking short hikes but for those who want to venture deeper into the park, there are several very cool hikes to choose from.

Hiking to Delicate Arch is one of the top experiences in Arches National Park but the Devils Garden Trail is another great hike to add to your to do list.

Why visit Arches in November: Like Canyonlands, this is off-season in the park and one of the quietest months of the year.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: In November, the average high is 56°F and the average low is 33°F. During periods of unseasonably warm weather, daytime temperatures can get into the 70s. Rainfall is very low.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

Top experiences: Hike to Delicate Arch, see Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace, visit Double Arch, Turret Arch, Windows Arch, and hike Park Avenue.

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Devils Garden Trail. To reach Landscape Arch, one of the most iconic arches in the park, it is only 1.6 miles round trip. But for the ultimate adventure continue past Landscape Arch to Double O Arch and Dark Angel and return on the Primitive Trail.

How much time do you need? One day in Arches is all you need to see the highlights but it will be a very busy day. With two to three days, you can visit the park at a more leisurely pace or go off the beaten path.

Plan your visit

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is an extraordinary place to visit and its unique landscape sets it apart from other national parks. Although Bryce Canyon may not have the same sweeping, expansive vistas as the Grand Canyon, it’s still a breathtaking experience the first time you see this view.

This park is small and easy to explore. You can simply enjoy the view from the rim or venture down into the fantasyland of hoodoos and sandstone pillars.

In November, you have a chance to see Bryce Canyon covered with snow, a magical sight to see.

Why visit Bryce Canyon in November: For the chance to see Bryce Canyon with a dusting of snow. The amount of snowfall increases in December but daytime high’s struggle to get above freezing. I like November since the weather is warmer than the winter months but you still have a chance to see Bryce Canyon with snow.

Weather: In November, the average high is 46°F and the average low is 23°F. There is a good chance of snow and on average Bryce Canyon receives about 10 inches of snow in November. Bryce Canyon has the highest elevation of the parks in Utah’s Mighty 5, making this the coolest one to visit.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:10 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.

Top experiences: Some of the best viewpoints are along the rim and easy to access by car: Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point. Hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop, a 3-mile hike past some of the best scenery in the park. Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point are also nice viewpoints.

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, an 8-mile strenuous hike.

How much time do you need? One day is all you need to see the views from the rim and hike one to two short trails in the park. But I recommend an additional day or two.

Plan your visit

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Capitol Reef National Park

Location: Utah

Capitol Reef National Park may be one of the least visited national parks in Utah but don’t let that fool you. This underrated park has not one but three spectacular scenic drive, hiking trails that rival those in Zion, and landscapes that are some of the most beautiful in the United States.

Most people drive right through the heart of the park visiting the sights along Highway 24 which is an enjoyable experience. But the real adventures lie beyond this highway. Drive through the remote Cathedral Valley or Loop the Fold, a scenic drive that leads to hidden slot canyons and big viewpoints.

Why visit capitol Reef in November: Temperatures are chilly this time of year but crowds are very low. We visited Capitol Reef in early November and absolutely loved it. The weather was pleasant with high temperatures in the 70s.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: In November, the average high is 51°F and the average low is 30°F. A light dusting of snow is possible.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:10 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.

Top experiences: Drive the 16-mile round-trip drive along Scenic Drive, drive Capitol Gorge Road, hike to Hickman Bridge, and watch the sunset from Sunset Point, hike to Cassidy Arch, and Loop the Fold.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure, drive the Cathedral Valley Loop. This rugged, remote district of Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best backcountry experiences in the national parks if you like exploring by 4WD.

How much time do you need? Plan to spend three to four days in Capitol Reef. This gives you enough time to explore and hike the trails in the core of the park (along Scenic Drive and Highway 24) and venture into the backcountry either in Cathedral Valley or by looping the fold.

Plan your visit

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Zion National Park

Location: Utah

Zion National Park is a hiker’s paradise. This relatively small park is packed with some of the most thrilling trails in the United States.

Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows are two bucket-list worthy hikes that attract thousands of visitors every year. Angels Landing is one of the most popular destinations in Zion. Everyone who hikes Angels Landing requires a permit. You also need a permit to hike the Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava going upstream in the Virgin River. Since high water may prevent travel in the Narrows, check the park’s current conditions before you start your day.

But there are also numerous short, family-friendly hikes to choose from as well as multi-day backpacking adventures and hikes that require canyoneering experience.

Zion is also one of the most popular parks in the US to visit. For the best experience, plan on visiting the park in the shoulder season. November is one of the best months of the year to visit Zion since the weather is still relatively warm and crowds are lower than many other months of the year.

Why visit Zion in November: To avoid the crowds. This is one of the quietest months to visit the park in terms of visitation. The weather is also fantastic for hiking.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 64°F and the average low is 37°. Temperatures can get into the 80s on unusually warm days. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise and sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm which gives you 10 hours of daylight.

Top experiences: Hike Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Riverside Trail, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Canyon Overlook. One of the best experiences in the park is hiking the Zion Narrows.

Ultimate adventure: There are several to choose from. Hike the Zion Narrows from the top-down as a long day hike or a two-day backpacking trip. The Subway is another strenuous but gorgeous hike, and you will need canyoneering experience for this one. The West Rim Trail is a great two-day backpacking trip or a one day mega-hike.

How much time do you need? If you like to hike, plan to spend at least 3 to 4 days in Zion National Park. You can do three big hikes (one each morning) or use two of the days for a multi-day backpacking adventure. This also gives you time to explore Kolob Canyons at the northern section of the park.

Plan your visit

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. White Sands National Park

Location: New Mexico

White Sands National Park protects the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Sledding on the dunes is one of the best things to do here but you can also hike out farther into the dunes on several different hiking trails or take a ranger-guided tour.

Why visit White Sands in November: The weather is relatively warm and crowds tend to be low in November.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: In November, the average high is 67°F and the average low is 30°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Dunes Drive, go sledding in the gypsum dunes, walk the Dune Life Nature Trail, take a ranger-guided hike, and go backcountry tent camping. 

Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Alkali Flat Trail. This trail makes a 4.5-mile loop through the gypsum dunefield. It’s the longest, toughest hike in the park but your treat is stunning views of untouched dunes.

How much time do you need? For the best experience, plan on spending one full day in White Sands National Park. Hike the Alkali Flat Trail first thing in the morning before the crowds arrive and the temperatures climb. Midday, go sledding on the dunes and have a picnic lunch. You can also do one of the shorter hiking trails. At the end of the day, take the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll.

Plan your visit

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited parks in the US with people from all around the world traveling here to see this natural wonder.

Words and photos cannot accurately describe what it is like to look out across the Grand Canyon for the first time. This is a place that needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate the immense beauty and grandeur of this place.

In mid-October, the North Rim closes once the snow begins to fall. So in November, the South Rim is where you will spend your time. Along the South Rim, roads and hiking trails lead to jaw-dropping views of the Grand Canyon. You also have the option to hike below the rim or take a helicopter tour for different perspectives of the Grand Canyon.

Why visit the Grand Canyon in November: The Grand Canyon is busy all year, November tends to be one of the least visited months to visit this park. If you have plans to hike the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trail loop, November is a great time to do it when temperatures are cooler. Once you get below the rim closer to the Colorado River, the air temperature is much warmer.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 53°F and the average low is 25°F. There is a small chance you could see a dusting of snow in November.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm.

Top experiences: Visit the South Rim viewpoints, watch the sunset, hike below the rim on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail, and take a flightseeing tour.

Ultimate adventure: In the winter, hike the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails as one big loop. This is a big day hike and only those who are very fit with lots of hiking experience should attempt it.

How much time do you need? I recommend spending three to four days on the South Rim to visit the highlights. Three days gives you enough time to visit the best overlooks on the South Rim, go on a helicopter ride, and spend some time hiking below the rim.

Plan your visit

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Petrified Forest National Park

Location: Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park is named for the petrified wood that dates back millions of years to a time when this land was lush and fertile.

But there is more to this park than looking at chunks of crystallized wood. The Painted Desert and the Blue Forest with their colorful, zebra-striped hills are a beautiful sight to see. There are also a few great trails to hike which are perfect for all ages and ability levels.

Why visit Petrified Forest in November: The weather is a bit on the cool side in November but crowds are low which is worthly bonus. If you have plans to road trip through the American Southwest this month, Petrified Forest National Park is nice add-on.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 58°F and the average low is 28°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:50 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.

Top experiences: View the Painted Desert from the overlooks, see the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock, see the Teepees on Petrified Forest Road, walk the Blue Mesa Trail, and see the petrified wood at Crystal Forest and along the Giant Logs Trail.

Ultimate adventure: The Blue Forest hike is a favorite experience in Petrified Forest National Park. This 3-mile trail takes you through the badlands, one of the most beautiful parts of the park.

How much time do you need? One day is plenty of time to drive through the park, visit the overlooks, and hike a few short trails but I recommend a second day to explore hikes you missed on the first day.

Plan your visit

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Congaree National Park

Location: South Carolina

Congaree National Park protects the oldest bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. Often mistaken for a swamp this floodplain is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country.

This small national park is quick and easy to visit. With just a few hours, you can walk the boardwalk trail but with more time there are longer trails to hike and you can go canoeing or kayaking on Cedar Creek, one of the best experiences in the park.

Why visit Congaree in November: The weather is fantastic, crowds are low, and mosquitoes are not an issue. The park tends to be dry this time of year so the boardwalk trails and hiking trails are less likely to be flooded. We visited Congaree in November and the weather was ideal and the leaves were changing color.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: In November, the average high is 68°F and the average low is 42°F. With 3 inches of rain this is one of the driest months to visit Congaree.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm.

Top experiences: Walk the Boardwalk Loop Trail, go canoeing or kayaking on Cedar Creek, hike the Weston Loop Trail, and hike to the General Greene Tree.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure go on a multi-day canoe trip on the Congaree River.

How much time do you need? One day in Congaree is all you need to see the highlights. Walk the boardwalk trails and go for a canoe trip on Cedar Creek.

Plan your visit

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Joshua Tree National Park

Location: California

With its desert scenery, hiking trails, hidden oases, scenic drives, rock climbing routes, and trees that look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book, Joshua Tree National Park is a joy to explore.

Hike the Arch Rock Trail, learn about the plants that thrive in the Mojave Desert on the Cap Rock Nature Trail, see Skull Rock, and go hiking in Hidden Valley. A favorite experience is hiking the Hall of Horrors and searching for the hidden slot canyon.

Why visit Joshua Tree National Park in November: For November, this is one of the warmest national parks on this list to visit. The conditions are perfect for hiking.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 67°F and the average low is 40°F. Rainfall is extremely low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:15 am and sunset is at 4:40 pm.

Top Experiences: Hike the Hall of Horrors, see Skull Rock, explore Hidden Valley, hike to an oasis, hike to Arch Rock and Heart Rock, drive Geology Tour Road, visit the Cholla Cactus Garden, and go stargazing.

How much time do you need? Ideally, you need at least two full days in Joshua Tree National Park. This gives you enough time to visit the highlights, go rock climbing or take a lesson, hike a few trails, and go on the scenic drives.

Plan your visit

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Pinnacles National Park

Location: California

Pinnacles National Park preserves and protects the mountains on the eastern end of Salinas Valley. These mountains are the remnants of an extinct volcano.

The rocky pinnacles are a popular rock climbing destination and this park is also one of the few locations where you can spot the California condor in the wild.

This is one of the newest national parks (it became a national park in 2013) and least visited national parks (it was the 19th least visited park in 2022).

Why visit Pinnacles in November: The weather is perfect for hiking and rock climbing. Pinnacles National Park is a very hot and dry place to visit during the summer and early fall with the temperature as high as 115°F on the hottest days. We visited Pinnacles in November and the weather was ideal.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 37°F. On unusually warm days the daytime temperature can get into the 80s. Rainfall is low at just over 1 inch. The wet season begins in December and lasts through March.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:40 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

Top Experiences: Hike the High Peaks Loop and the Bear Gulch Cave Trail, explore the Balconies cave, spot California condors, enjoy the view from Condor Gulch Overlook, and go rock climbing.

How much time do you need? Pinnacles National Park can be visited in one busy day but for the best experience, spend two days here, which gives you enough time to visit both sections of the park.

Plan your visit

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Big Bend National Park

Location: Texas

Big Bend National Park is located in southwestern Texas. The Rio Grande forms the border between Mexico and Big Bend National Park and Big Bend gets its name from the prominent bend in the Rio Grande on this border.

This national park protects the largest area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US as well as the Chisos Mountains. Big Bend is a top hiking destination with trails leading high into these mountains and into canyons along the Rio Grande.

Why visit Big Bend in November: By November, temperatures in the park are cooling off. The average high temperature is 70°F but during periods of unusually warm weather you could still see temperatures get into the 80’s. Rainfall is low.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 45°F. Rainfall is low with about ¾ of an inch.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 6 pm.

Top experiences: Hike the Lost Mine Trail, go star gazing, hike Santa Elena Canyon, go for a drive on Maxwell Scenic Drive, visit Boquillas del Carmen, hike to Balanced Rock, and hike to Emory Peak, the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure in Big Bend, go on a half-day to multi-day canoeing trip on the Rio Grande.

How much time do you need? Spend at least three to four days in the park. Because of its large size and remote location, it takes a while to get here and you need a few days to explore it, so four days should work for most people.

Plan your visit

One more parks to visit

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

In November, the weather is pretty much perfect in Saguaro National Park. The high temperature averages 75°F and rainfall is extremely low.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in November

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cowpens National Battlefield

Cowpens National Battlefield commemorates a decisive battle that helped turn the tide of war in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. On this field on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals, militia, and cavalry to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s force of British regulars. The battle at the Cow Pens is one of only a few successful double envelopments in history.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Memorial

The site of the Coronado National Monument features panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley which was the route believed to have been taken by the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado expedition. The scenic overlook at Montezuma Pass (elevation 6,575 feet) provides breathtaking views of the San Raphael Valley, the San Pedro Valley, and Mexico.

Tumacacori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home where Lee made his formal surrender and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County. The walking tour allows you to see all buildings which are original to the site and have been restored to their original condition. 

November road trip idea: Utah’s Mighty 5

November is a wonderful time to road trip to all five national parks in Utah (Mighty 5): Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.

Crowds are generally low this time of year which makes visiting these parks a pleasant experience. The mornings start off cold but it warms up nicely during the day and you could be hiking in 60 to 70 degree weather if you are here while it’s unusually warm. Or, the parks could get a dusting of snow which is very nice too just as long as you don’t mind cold temperatures. So, pack your shorts and your wide-brimmed hat and go on a road trip through Utah.

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

The Best National Parks to Visit in May

Wondering where to travel in May? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in May!

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning a trip to the U.S. national parks in May and don’t know which ones to visit? May is a beautiful time to visit the national parks now that the snow has melted across most of the country and roads have reopened. In this guide, I cover five great parks to visit plus five bonus parks and a road trip that links several of these parks together.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in May

May is an awesome time to visit the national parks. By May, warmer weather settles across most of the US. The snow has melted, the grass is green, the trees have leaves, and most roads are now open.

There are a handful of national parks that close their roads in late fall for snowfall and these roads don’t reopen until mid to late spring (or even early summer for some parks). You can still visit these parks in March and April but it is not until May that you have access to the full park.

May tends to be a busy month to visit the national parks but crowds are still lower than the summer months. If you want warm weather without massive crowds, May is a good time to plan your national parks trip.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Since roads can close in the national parks at any time, I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Best National Parks in May

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia

Shenandoah National Park preserves a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through the park, a road that twists and turns for 105 miles from north to south. For those who want to explore the park beyond Skyline Drive, 500 miles of hiking trails traverse the park.

Why visit Shenandoah in May: This is the best month to see wildflowers blooming in Shenandoah National Park. Plus, the weather is warm, the trees have leaves, and the entire park is lush and green.
Weather: The average high is 66°F and the average low is 46°F. Rainfall averages about 4.5 inches per month through the year and May is no different.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6 am and sunset is at 8:20 pm.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Drive Skyline Drive and visit the overlooks, hike to the top of Bearfence Mountain, visit Dark Hollow Falls, enjoy the view from Hawksbill Mountain, hike to Mary’s Rock, and hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure, hike Old Rag Mountain, a 9-mile loop trail.

Old Rag is generally considered a challenging route. The best time to hike this trail is May through October. You’ll need to leave pups at home—dogs aren’t allowed on this trail. From March 1-November 30, visitors to Old Rag Mountain including hikers on the Saddle, Ridge, and Ridge Access trails will need to obtain an Old Rag day-use ticket in advance.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many days do you need? You can drive the length of Skyline Drive in one day visiting the overlooks and hiking a trail or two. For a more leisurely experience or to do several more hikes, plan on spending two or more days in Shenandoah.

Plan your visit

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Saguaro National Park

Location: Arizona

Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District (East) and the Tucson Mountain District (West). Saguaro is a hot place to visit in May. So, why am I recommending it? Because this is the best time to see the Saguaro cactus in bloom.

The Saguaro cactus begins blooming in late April with peak blooming season in May. By the end of May into the first week of June, the blooming season ends.

Why visit Saguaro in May: To see the Saguaro cactus in bloom.

Weather: In May, the average high is 93°F and the average low is 60°F. Rainfall is extremely low.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 5:30 am and sunset is at 7:15 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Bajada Loop Drive, hike Valley View Overlook Trail and Desert Discovery Nature Trail, see the Signal Hill Petroglyphs, and drive the Cactus Forest Drive. Just outside of the park is the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum which is well worth the time.

How much time do you need? You will need two days to see the highlights of Saguaro National Park, one for each unit. With more time, you can go backpacking or hike the longer, more challenging hiking trails and visit the above mentioned Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Mesa Verde National Park

Location: Colorado

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. This park preserves the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and archeological sites that are hundreds of years old. Short hikes, scenic drives, and viewpoints make the to-do list but the best way to experience this park is to get up close with the cliff dwellings on a tour.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Mesa Verde in May: In May, the roads reopen in the park and ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings begin for the year. The weather is fantastic and crowds are lower than what you would see here during the summer months.
Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 43°F. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is 6 am and sunset is 8:15 pm.

Top experiences: Take a ranger guided tour of a cliff dwelling, see the Spruce Tree House, hike the Petroglyph Point Trail, drive Mesa Top Loop, explore the Far View sites, and hike the Point Lookout Trail.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many days do you need? One to two days are all you need to take a cliff dwelling tour and go on the scenic drives through the park. Consider spending a night or two in Morefield Campground just four miles from the park entrance. With 267 sites there’s always plenty of space and the campground rarely fills. 

Plan your visit

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Congaree National Park

Location: South Carolina

Congaree is hot and humid in May and with higher levels of mosquitoes, it’s not a great time to visit the park unless you want to see the synchronous fireflies.

With over 2,000 species found world-wide, there are only three species of synchronous fireflies that can be found in North America. Every year, Congaree National Park hosts synchronous fireflies for approximately two weeks between mid-May and mid-June. During this time visitors can experience an awe-inspiring display of synchronous flashing while the fireflies search for a mate. This special and unique phenomenon is extremely popluar. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In order to protect critical firefly habitat and provide optimum visitor experience, tickets are required to enter the park during for this event. A set number of vehicle passes are issued for each evening of the event. Vehicle passes for this event are distributed by lottery hosted at www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/300008.

Why visit Congaree in May: To see the synchronous fireflies.

Weather: The average high is 83°F and the average low is 60°F. On hotter than normal days, the high temperature can get up into the high-90s. In terms of rainfall, this is one of the drier months to visit the park but now that it is getting warmer expect humid weather. Mosquitoes can also be bad this time of year.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:20 am and sunset is at 8:20 pm.

Top experiences: Walk the Boardwalk Loop Trail, go canoeing or kayaking on Cedar Creek, hike the Weston Loop Trail, and hike to the General Greene Tree.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure, go on a multi-day canoe trip on the Congaree River.

How much time do you need? One day in Congaree is all you need to see the highlights. Walk the boardwalk trails and go for a canoe trip on Cedar Creek.

Plan your visit

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains runs through the center of the park and it is here that you will find some of the tallest peaks in eastern North America.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. In 2022, 13 million people visited this park. Second place wasn’t even close (that would be Grand Canyon with 4.7 million visitors).

In May of 2022, 1.3 million people visited this national park (you read that right…1.3 million people in one month). To put that into perspective, that’s about the same number of people that visited Capitol Reef National Park all year! And Capitol Reef was the 21st most visited national park lastt year.

And May isn’t even the busy time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The busy season is the summer months and peak visitation is July with 1.6 million visitors.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Great Smoky Mountains in May: For great weather and lower crowds than the summer months.

Weather: The average high is 68°F and the average low is 45°F. Rainfall is about average for the year with the park receiving about 7 inches of rain.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Top experiences: Enjoy the view from Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap, hike the Alum Trail to Mount LeConte, drive through Cades Cove, and drive the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many days do you need? You can drive the park’s main roads and visit the highlights of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in one day. To explore the parks more fully plan three to four days and avoid Cades Cove on the weekend. Trust me on that one.

Plan your visit

1 more National Parks to visit in May

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park was included in my series for the best parks to visit in April since that month is a great time to see wildflowers in the park. The weather in May is very good with average high temperatures in the low 80s and low rainfall but this tends to be the busiest month to visit Pinnacles so keep that in mind while planning your trip.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in May

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Known as an iron plantation, Hopewell Furnace illustrates how mining and producing iron ore spurred the United States to economic prosperity. Visitors to this Pennsylvania site can see demonstrations and hike the surrounding area which was originally farmland.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park

On the banks of the Pedernales River in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, the LBJ Ranch tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails.

May road trip idea

In 10 days, you can drive point-to-point from Washington DC to Gatlinburg, Tennessee visiting three national parks along the way—Shenandoah, New River Gorge, and Great Smoky Mountains. You can also drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month:

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

National Park Week: Discover the Beauty of America’s National Parks

From massive canyons to brilliantly-colored deserts, national parks offer some of America’s wildest and most iconic landscapes

When the US Congress established Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872, it was “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Its founding marked the birth of the US National Park System and eventually launched a worldwide movement to protect outdoor spaces and historical landmarks. Since 1904, some 15 billion visitors have explored the wild wonders of the America’s parks.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Park Week is happening April 22 to April 30 this year! Entrance fees will be waived on April 22, 2023, to kick off National Park Week.

In 2016, inspired by the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, photographer Jonathan Irish visited every U.S. national park over 52 weeks.

“National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures,” says Irish. “It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.”

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since Irish’s journey, the National Parks Service has designated four additional parks:

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are now 63 spaces to explore across the country. Celebrate National Park Week with images of these priceless national treasures from the cliff dwelling of Mesa Verde in Colorado to the deep, dark recesses of New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns.

Arches National Park, Utah

With over 2,000 natural stone arches, Arches National Park is part of southern Utah’s extended canyon country, carved and shaped by weathering and erosion.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park is made up of jagged and striped rock formations. Striped in yellow, amber, and purple, the colorful eroded formations dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National, Texas

Recently named the world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve, Big Bend National Park’s hundred-mile views sweep across the hills, arroyos, and mesas of the West Texas Chihuahuan Desert.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah draws more than 2.7 million visitors a year thanks to its stunning geology of red arches and phantom-like spires called hoodoos.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The sun peeks through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. The largest and most undeveloped of Utah’s national parks, Canyonlands offers backcountry adventures, scenic landscapes, and two major rivers.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Escape the crowds by fording the shallow Fremont River (high-clearance vehicles only) and head out on a 58-mile dirt road loop into desolate Cathedral Valley, an austere landscape dominated by two sandstone sentinels, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

More than 119 caves are hidden beneath the surface of this national park in the Chihuahuan Desert. Cave scientists have explored at least 30 miles of passageways of the main cavern of Carlsbad and the investigation continues. Visitors may tour three of these miles on a paved trail.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park contains North America’s largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland forest. Boardwalk hikes and canoe tours are popular activities among the towering trees.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon National Park is a sprawling gorge of layers in pink, red, and orange hues revealing millions of years of geological history. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Fog lingers among the forested hills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park which spans the southern Appalachians along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Water and hydrocarbons exuded by trees produce the filmy smoke that gives the mountains their name.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

From 1914 to early 1915, Lassen Peak spewed steam and ashes in more than 150 eruptions. Now, the quieted volcano serves as a scenic backdrop to the park’s jigsaw-puzzle landscape of forest, lava beds, and lakes.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The sun sets early on Cliff Palace, the largest of the ancient stone-and-mortar cliff houses tucked into the park’s canyon walls. The only way to experience the fine detail of the construction is on a ranger-guided tour.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve spans more than 72,000 acres of wooded hills, deep ravines, and the Appalachian plateau. It was named the U.S.’s newest national park in 2020. 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Walking along the park’s trails, visitors can see hills made of bluish clay and the largest concentration of brilliantly colored petrified wood in the U.S.

Pinnacles National Park, California

Known for its spectacular rock formations, beautiful spring wildflowers, and large groups of endangered condors, Pinnacles National Park is a mecca for rock climbing and day hiking. It offers 32 miles of trails that climb through winding talus caves and shaded creeks.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park takes its name from the largest cacti in the United States. The park, which flanks Tucson, is home to millions of the cacti, which can grow up to 50 feet tall.

Sequoia National Park, California

Nestled in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Park is nearly 97 percent wilderness. It holds over 2,000 giant sequoia trees including General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree, measured by volume.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Located between the Shenandoah Valley in the west and the Piedmont region in the east, the park is an expanse of wooden hollows and breezy summits, waterfalls and mountain streams, more than 500 miles of hiking trails and nearly 80,000 acres of designated wilderness.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt is unique among the scenic parks in that it preserves not only an extraordinary landscape but also the memory of an extraordinary man. It honors the president who probably did more for the National Park Service than anyone before or since.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Park protects the largest gypsum dune on Earth, a remnant of bygone lakes and seas, a 275-square-mile basin that glitters white and stays cool to the touch. Visitors come to cruise the eight-mile Dunes Drive, hike one of the five established trails, or see the soft, translucent sand glow blue-white under a full moon.

Zion National Park, Utah

One of the most photographed views in Zion National Park is of Watchman Mountain from the Canyon Junction Bridge. Irish’s favorite spot is at the center of the bridge where the river leads the eye to the Watchman Spire in the background.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

10 Amazing Places to RV in April 2023

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in April

April, dressed in all his trim, hath put a spirit of youth in everything.

—William Shakespeare

From time immemorial, spring’s awakening has signaled to humanity the promise of new beginnings. In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, a love poem published in 1609, the prolific poet and playwright personifies the glorious month of April as the herald of youth, vitality, and hope. For the Bard, the coming of spring—the twittering birds, ambrosial flowers, and long-awaited sunny skies—brought with it all the delights of a fresh start.

We have made it to the fourth month of the year, the one we kick off by fooling acquaintances for sport. A warning to my readers: Watch out for tricksters in the RV travel realm.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in February and March. Also, check out my recommendations from April 2022 and May 2022.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Earth’s greatest geological showcase

Go into the great wide open. I’m talking about the Grand Canyon. The weather’s warmer, but not too hot, and the bugs—and masses of tourists—have yet to make an appearance. I call that the perfect Grand Canyon weather. Take a trip this spring to one of the seven natural wonders of the world to finally see the famous gaping red rock chasm in person. At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and one mile deep, it’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island and quite a bit more dramatic.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

‘But hey,’ you say, ‘that thing’s pretty big. I wouldn’t know where to begin.’ Fear not, I’ve got a comprehensive guide from how to get around, how to snag the Grand Canyon National Park Pass, where to camp, and much more. Even the best cities to use as base camp. Choose Sedona two hours away and soak in the energy of the vortexes while making it a red rock-themed vacation. But if you’re more inclined to park your RV and ride the rails, I’ve got you covered there too.

All this, plus gorgeous spring weather?

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Visit an often overlooked National Park

From one of the country’s most-visited national parks the Grand Canyon to one often overlooked. You might not even know it’s there: Theodore Roosevelt National Park appears as if out of nowhere where the plains meet the badlands, often inaccessible in the winter due to weather and unpredictable in the summer thanks to rainstorms. So, spring or early fall is your best bet. Broken into three parts: North, South, and Elkhorn Ranch come for the cabin where Roosevelt once lived and stay for the roaming bison and/, the Petrified Forest Loop.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And make sure you stop by Medora, the small Western town right outside the park which houses the visitor center. Every summer it produces a full-on open-air Broadway-style musical telling the history of Medora and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. But unlike Broadway, this one comes with deep fried things on sticks. This year the play runs from June 8 to September 10; tickets go on sale April 26.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Pick a perfect love at a tulip festival

Did you know tulips mean perfect love? The symbolism is derived from a Persian tale of deep romance. The name tulip is also derived from the Persian word for turban—because they kind of look like turbans. And all around the country there are festivals in their turban-esque honor.

In Washington, the Dutch have been planting tulips for over a century and the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival lasts all April with art shows, photo contests, brewery specials, petting zoos, cook-offs, and much more. Nearby in Woodburn, Oregon, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm runs through May 1 and includes tractor rides, wooden shoemaking demonstrations, hot air balloon rides, and farm wine tours.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout the last 92 years, millions of people have gathered to enjoy Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan (Don’t fly to Holland, drive your RV to Holland!). The festival is an eight-day experience like none other with over six million tulips blooming throughout the city and area attractions. Tulip Time has been heralded as the nation’s Best Flower Festival, America’s Best Small Town Festival, and even the 2017 – 2018 Tulip Festival of the Year!

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Red rock radiance in Sedona

Red Rock State Park, a Sedona-adjacent conservation park gives visitors a deeper look into the cultural and natural history of this popular area. Before you set out to explore the Oak Creek riparian zone or chase panoramic views from the trails stop by Red Rock’s Miller Visitor Center to gain a comprehensive understanding of the early human inhabitants of the area and the diverse birds and wildlife that call this park home. Hands-on exhibits are based on the theme of localized plant communities and help visitors understand the area before experiencing it.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find breathtaking trail experiences here that lead to popular iconic views of Sedona’s famous rust-covered peaks. The family-friendly trail network that meanders through Red Rock State Park will inspire thought and discussion about the world around you. This is a great park for anyone looking to gain first-hand cultural and natural knowledge through beautiful outdoor experiences.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Frogs love rain, but why does Rayne love frogs?

Out on the prairie in the heart of Acadiana sits the tiny old railroad town of Rayne. The little Cajun town has a population of about 8,000 as well as a big obsession with frogs.

Rayne loves frogs. Murals depicting the little amphibians are scattered throughout town from the interstate to the south side. Frogs grace the city’s official stationary and hang stylistically from the street lamps. Several businesses bear Frog City in their official names and little green figurines adorn coffee tables and bookshelves throughout the town. There is even an annually celebrated Frog Festival (51st annual; May 11-13, 2023).

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why does this love affair with the slimy, swamp-dwelling denizens exist?

This Louisiana town was once famous worldwide for supplying frogs to gourmet restaurants across the United States and even to the European continent. That bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana in scientific terms and ouaouaron in Cajun terms) inhabit the area around Rayne is no surprise since the amphibians thrive in bayous, rice fields, swamps, and ponds. What is surprising is that the Louisiana town was once famous worldwide for supplying frogs to gourmet restaurants across the United States and even to the European continent.

It seems natural that this bullfrog trade was initiated by Frenchmen and carried on by Acadians, two groups noted for their fondness for the tasty frog legs.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Born of Fire

Some 23 million years ago multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form what would become Pinnacles National Park. What remains is a unique landscape. Travelers journey through chaparral, oak woodlands, and canyon bottoms.

Rock climbers and the endangered California condor seem to love the spires of Pinnacles National Park, located about two hours south of San Francisco. The cliffs were shaped by multiple volcanic eruptions about 23 million years ago plus wind and water erosion over the millennia. But as old as all that is, Pinnacles is the newest national park in California joining the list in 2013.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A beautiful drive along Highway 101 or California State Route 25 gets you there past Big Sur, the coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, and the wine region in Monterey County. Once there, canyon bottoms full of piney chaparral and oak woodlands provide over 30 miles of trails. The most popular hike is the High Peaks Loop. For other wildlife fanatics, the easy Balconies Cave loop to the Talus Caves includes sightings of 13 types of bats (including the endangered Townsend’s big-eared bat) and opens up to an incredible vista of pinnacles.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. A fairytale destination

If walking through fields of blooming tulips isn’t on your bucket list, it certainly should be. Every April, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival turns the landscape of northwestern Washington into a rainbow. Whether or not you’re a flower fanatic, the region’s brilliant blooms and staggering peaks will make you feel like you’ve found the proverbial pot of gold. The festival hosts numerous fun events all month long from bike tours to barbecues to chili cook-offs. Popular farms to tour include RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town but be prepared for large crowds on the weekend.

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. #VISITCHATT

Nashville may have country music and Memphis is home to Elvis but Chattanooga exudes a natural beauty that makes it a Tennessee gem. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains on the Tennessee River, Chattanooga effortlessly blends outdoor activities, art, history, and a vibrant restaurant scene guaranteed to indulge your inner foodie.

Ride the Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain to explore Civil War sites, grab a bikeshare to pedal along the 16.1 mile Riverwalk or check out the huge contemporary sculptures in Montague Park. At sunset, stroll the Walnut St. pedestrian bridge (one of the longest in the world) and take in the hip North Shore before settling down at one of Chattanooga’s many microbreweries.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. A great basecamp

If you have been considering a trip to see some of the National Parks of Utah but don’t know where to start, consider Kanab. Located at the southern border of the state, Kanab is just a 35-minute drive to Zion and an hour and 20 minutes to Bryce Canyon. But, the tiny town is a gateway to even more than Utah’s most famous national parks. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park is only 30-minutes east where you can explore Utah’s world-renown slot canyons like Buckskin Gulch or scramble up the balanced rock formations at The Toadstools.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of just under 5,000 people, there are a surprisingly large number of accommodations in Kanab including outstanding RV resorts. Consider visiting in the off season when the crowds are low and the experiences are unique compared to the warmer months.

Here’s a tip—Zion and Bryce are both open year round and neither is particularly treacherous in the winter. In fact, according to the U.S. National Parks Service, even after a winter storm, snow usually melts within a few hours at lower elevations in Zion.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Georgia State Parks

Whether you are a first-time camper or an experienced backpacker, Georgia’s state parks have a campsite for you. Forty-one parks offer more than 2,700 campsites including tent-only areas, RV pull-through sites, primitive camping, and group camping areas. Rates average around $30–$35 per night. Most state parks have laundry facilities and sell camping supplies. If you’ve never camped before, don’t let that stop you. Several parks offer glamping yurts (a cross between a tent and a cabin).

The developed sites offer electrical and water hookups, grills or fire rings, and picnic tables. Some are specially designed just for tents while others have curved pull-throughs for large RVs. Modern comfort stations with hot showers, flush toilets, and electrical outlets are conveniently located. All campgrounds have dump stations and several offer cable TV hookups.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My favorite Georgia State Parks include:

  • Vogel (Blairsville): 34 cottages, 90 tent, trailer, and RV campsites, 18 walk-in campsites, and 1 pioneer campground. Plus, there is a general store on-site and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum is open seasonally. There are miniature golf and kayak, paddleboard, pedalboat, and aquacycle rentals available depending on the season. Read more from RVing with Rex on Vogel State Park.
  • Laura S. Walker (Waycross): 6 cottages, 44 tent, trailer, and RV campsites (site-specific), 4 group shelters (sleeps 75-165), 1 group camp (sleeps 142), and 1 pioneer campground. Read more from RVing with Rex on Laura S. Walker State Park.
  • Stephen C. Foster (Fargo): 9 cottages, 63 tent, trailer, and RV sites (some seasonal), and 1 pioneer campground. Read more from RVing with Rex on Stephen C. Foster State Park.

Worth Pondering…

Spring is the time of the year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations 

The Best National Parks to Visit in April

If you are seeking the best national parks to visit in April, this guide’s for you! It will detail eight beautiful National Parks to visit in April, why you should go to them, and what to expect during this month.

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous  National Park Service (NPS) offerings are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But 424 NPS units across the country also include national monuments, seashores, recreation areas, battlefields, and memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning a trip to America’s national parks in April but don’t know which ones to visit? April brings warmer temperatures to most of the US. Travel begins to pick up during this month both because of the warmer weather and because families are hitting the road for spring break. There are many great national parks to visit in April that I cover in this guide plus six bonus parks and a road trip that links several of these parks together.

About this National Park series

This guide is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time so I recommend getting updates on the National Park Service website while planning your trip. 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in April

If you are seeking the best national parks to visit in April, this guide’s for you! It will detail eight beautiful National Parks to visit in April, why you should go to them, and what to expect during this month.

April is a big month for spring break travel. The warmer weather also draws more crowds now that much of the country is warming up.

That warmer weather means that a bunch of parks are now warm enough to visit without facing freezing temperatures and the chance of snow. For the most part, you won’t need a warm coat and gloves to visit the majority of the national parks on this list and in some places, shorts and a t-shirt is what you’ll be packing in your RV.

If you want to visit the national parks with great weather and lower crowds that flood the parks in the summer months, April is a great time to plan your trip.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Arizona

People from around the world travel to the Grand Canyon, making it one of the most visited national parks in the U.S. It also makes the list of Seven Natural Wonders of the World and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For millions of years, the Colorado River has been carving out this massive canyon. Grand Canyon National Park is enormous and with four rims to visit, there are many different ways to visit this park.

In April, the North Rim is not yet open (it typically opens in mid-May). The South Rim is the most spectacular area of the park to visit in April with sweeping, iconic views of the Grand Canyon and several epic hiking trails to choose from.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit the Grand Canyon in April: In April, daytime highs finally climb up into the 60s and with a low chance of rain the weather is very pleasant this time of year. Crowds are large in April but not as big as they are in the summer months so if you want good weather and lower crowds, April is a good time to visit the Grand Canyon. This is also one of the best times to go hiking in the Grand Canyon since the days are cool, rainfall is low, and you have over 12 hours of daylight. 

Weather: The average high is 61°F and the average low is 29°F. April is one of the driest months of the year to visit the Grand Canyon.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 5:50 am and sunset is at 7 pm.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Visit the South Rim viewpoints, watch the sunset, hike below the rim on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail, raft the Colorado River, and take a flightseeing tour or a ranger-guided tour.

Ultimate adventure: Hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon. You can either hike a portion of the South Kaibab or Bright Angel trails out-and-back or combine them into one big loop. Called the rim to river to rim hike, only those who are very fit with lots of hiking experience should attempt it.

How many days do you need? I recommend spending three to four days on the South Rim to visit the highlights. Four days gives you enough time to visit the best overlooks on the South Rim, go on a helicopter ride, and spend some time hiking below the rim.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Badlands National Park

Location: South Dakota

Badlands National Park is a highly underrated park in the United States.

The colorful buttes, spires, and pinnacles create one of the most photogenic landscapes in the country (it’s the feature photo for this article). Bison and bighorn sheep roam the largest mixed-grass prairie in the United States. The sunrises and sunsets are magical, the hiking trails are short and sweet, and for those looking for more solitude, you can take your pick from a handful of backcountry experiences.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Badlands in April: In April, the weather is getting warmer and this is the last quiet month in the park before visitation really picks up. In 2022, 35,000 people visited Badlands in April and this number jumped to 100,000 in May and increased throughout the summer months. So, in April, you can take advantage of good weather and low crowds. 

Weather: The average high is 62°F and the average low is 35°F. April is the start of the rainy season. March is drier but with low temperatures and the chance of snow, I think April is a better time to visit. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6 am and sunset is at 7:30 pm.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Drive Badlands Loop Road and visit the overlooks, watch the sunrise and/or the sunset, hike the Notch Trail, hike the Door and Fossil Exhibit Trails, drive Sage Creek Rim Road, visit Roberts Prairie Dog Town, hike the Castle Trail, and count how many bison you can find.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate experience, venture into the backcountry. In Badlands National Park, you are permitted to hike off-trail and the Sage Creek Wilderness and Deer Haven Wilderness are great places to go hiking and spot wildlife.

How many days do you need? One day in Badlands National Park gives you just enough time to visit the highlights and hike a few short trails. Make sure you catch either sunrise or sunset in the park because these are one of the best times of day to look out across the landscape. To explore beyond the basics plan a second day.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Big Bend National Park

Location: Texas

Big Bend National Park is located in southwestern Texas. It bumps up against Mexico and the Rio Grande forms the border between Mexico and Big Bend National Park. Big Bend gets its name from the prominent bend in the Rio Grande on this border.

This national park protects the largest area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US as well as the Chisos Mountains. Big Bend is a top hiking destination in with trails leading high into these mountains and into canyons along the Rio Grande.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Big Bend in April: In April, crowds are diminishing (March tends to be the busiest month of the year to visit Big Bend) and the weather is warm and sunny. However, if you are here during a heat wave temperatures can get up into the 90s, even reaching 100 degrees, so early April is the better time of the month to visit in order to avoid these hotter temperatures. By May, this park really begins to heat up.

Weather: The average high is 82°F and the average low is 54°F. Rainfall is very low. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 8:20 pm.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Hike the Lost Mine Trail, go star gazing, hike Santa Elena Canyon, go for a drive on Maxwell Scenic Drive, visit Boquillas del Carmen, hike to Balanced Rock, and hike to Emory Peak, the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure in Big Bend, go on a half-day to multi-day canoeing trip on the Rio Grande.

How much time do you need? Spend at least three to four days in the park. Because of its large size and remote location, it takes a while to get here and you need a few days to explore it, so four days should work for most people.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Canyonlands National Park

Location: Utah

Canyonlands National Park is both the largest and the least visited national park in Utah. I also think that it is one of the most underrated national parks.

This enormous national park preserves the canyons, buttes, and mesas that have been carved out by the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Enjoy the overlooks at Island in the Sky, go hiking in The Needles, drive the White Rim Road, and photograph Mesa Arch at sunrise. The list of things to do here is long and wonderful whether you prefer to visit the overlooks, hike a trail or two, or venture into the backcountry.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Canyonlands in April: The weather is great for hiking and exploring and the crowd levels are increasing but not yet near their peak for the year.

Weather: The average high is 62°F and the average low is 40°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:40 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Visit the overlooks on Island in the Sky, watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, go hiking in The Needle, drive Shafer Canyon Road, hike below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa, and explore The Maze.

Ultimate adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This is a 100-mile unpaved road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes 2 to 3 days to do this drive.

How much time do you need? You need at least two full days in Canyonlands National Park. Spend one day in Island in the Sky and one day in the Needles. But more time is better if you want to venture deeper into the park.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Petrified Forest National Park

Location: Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park is small and easy to visit. This park is named for the petrified wood that dates back millions of years to a time when this land was lush and fertile.

But there is more to this park than looking at chunks of crystallized wood. The Painted Desert and the Blue Forest with their colorful, zebra-striped hills are a beautiful sight to see and they are very similar to Badlands National Park, mentioned earlier. There are also a few great trails to hike which are perfect for all ages and ability levels.

Petrified Forest is another park that can go on the underrated national parks list.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Petrified Forest in April: With highs near 70°F, this is one of the best months to visit Petrified Forest with regards to weather. It also makes a great addition to an Arizona or American Southwest road trip if you also plan to visit places like Monument Valley, Sedona, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Weather: The average high is 68°F and the average low is 35°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 5:45 am and sunset is at 6:50 pm.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: View the Painted Desert from the overlooks, see the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock, see the Teepees on Petrified Forest Road, hike the Blue Mesa Trail, and see the petrified wood at Crystal Forest and along the Giant Logs Trail.

Ultimate adventure: The Blue Forest hike is a favorite experience in Petrified Forest National Park. This 3-mile trail takes you through the badlands, one of the most beautiful parts of the park.

How much time do you need? One day is plenty of time to drive through the park, visit the overlooks, and hike a few short trails but I recommend a second day to explore hikes you missed on the first day.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Capitol Reef National Park

Location: Utah

With beautiful scenic drives, thrilling hikes, historical sites, backcountry roads, slot canyons, and unique desert landscapes, Capitol Reef National Park is an unexpectedly amazing national park to visit.

If you love the idea of leaving the crowds behind and exploring a vast, remote area, you have several options. Cathedral Valley with its sandstone monoliths and sweeping desert vistas is a beautiful, unique way to spend one day in Capitol Reef. Or you can Loop the Fold, another remote driving day along the waterpocket fold.

There are also slot canyons to explore, low-traffic hiking trails in remote areas of the park, and some of the most dramatic landscapes in Utah which you can see right from your car.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Capitol Reef in April: Because the weather is pretty close to perfect. In April, Capitol Reef gets an uptick in visitation but it’s not as busy as it will be in May and June.

Weather: The average high is 65°F and the average low is 39°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:50 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Drive the 16-mile round-trip drive along Scenic Drive, drive Capitol Gorge Road, hike to Hickman Bridge, and watch the sunset from Sunset Point, hike to Cassidy Arch, and Loop the Fold.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure, drive the Cathedral Valley Loop. This rugged, remote district of Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best backcountry experiences in the national parks if you like exploring by 4WD.

How much time do you need? Plan to spend three to four days in Capitol Reef. This gives you enough time to explore and hike the trails in the core of the park (along Scenic Drive and Highway 24) and venture into the backcountry either in Cathedral Valley or by looping the fold.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Pinnacles National Park

Location: California

Pinnacles National Park protects the mountains on the eastern end of Salinas Valley. These mountains are the remnants of an extinct volcano. The rocky pinnacles are a popular rock climbing destination and wildflowers in the spring draw the biggest crowds of the year. This park is also one of the few locations where you can spot the California condor in the wild.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Pinnacles in April: April is the best month to visit Pinnacles to see the wildflowers in bloom. Plus, the weather is fabulous.

Weather: In April, the average high is 72°F and the average low is 39°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 7:40 pm.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: See the wildflowers in the spring, hike the High Peaks Loop, hike the Bear Gulch Cave Trail, explore the Balconies cave, spot California condors, enjoy the view from Condor Gulch Overlook, and go rock climbing.

How much time do you need? Pinnacles National Park can be visited in one busy day but for the best experience spend two days here which gives you enough time to visit both sections of the park.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is small and easy to visit. With several days, you can hike through a garden of hoodoos, take in the view from multiple viewpoints, and thoroughly explore the park.

What’s a hoodoo? Hoodoo can also be defined as a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin. Geologically, hoodoos are found all around the world but they occur in the most abundance in Bryce Canyon. Here, hoodoos are the main ingredient of this unique landscape. The thousands of hoodoos in Bryce are what attract so many visitors every year.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Bryce Canyon in April: April is the end of the shoulder season in Bryce Canyon when the weather is cool and park visitation is still relatively low for the year. Go now, because in May, this park really begins to get busy. 

Weather: In April, the average temperature is 54°F and the average low is 29°F. There is a small chance of snow in April. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:50 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Some of the best viewpoints are right along the rim and easily accessible by car or the seasonal shuttle (mid-April to mid-September): Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point. Hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop, a 3-mile hike past some of the best scenery in the park. Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point are also nice viewpoints.

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, an 8-mile strenuous hike.

How much time do you need? One day is all you need to see the views from the rim and hike one to two short trails in the park. I recommend another day or two for additional time to hike into the canyon. You won’t regret it

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

2 more National Parks to visit in April

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is a great place to visit in April. The weather is perfect but higher crowd levels kept if off of the list above. However, if you are planning a visit to Canyonlands or the other national parks in Utah, its worth including Arches on your list just get an early start and expect busy parking lots and hiking trails.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

In April, the weather is just about perfect…daily highs of 75°F and one of the driest months of the year. However, those mosquitoes are starting to arrive and by the end of the month, the mosquito meter at Congaree with be ticking up to the mild to moderate levels.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in April

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

You can see many of Canyon de Chelly’s top sights from the rim roads, but you’ll get a deeper understanding of its significance on a jeep tour with a Navajo guide. The only self-guided hike, the White House Trail, zigzags 600 feet down (and back up) to the spectacular White House ruins. Don’t miss the staggeringly tall spire known as Spider Rock; it rises 830 feet from the canyon floor.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means rock mounds, massive Kachina means dancer while Sipapu, the second largest natural bridge in the state, means place of emergence. A nine-mile scenic drive overlooks the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Encompassing over 1.25 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah. Outdoor activities are what Glen Canyon is all about. There is something for everyone’s taste. 

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

April road trip idea

With 10 days, go on a road trip through four of the national parks in Utah—Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Arches National Park. This itinerary is perfect if you are looking for adventure, solitude, and unforgettable experiences. You also have enough time to journey into the backcountry where the real adventures await.

On this itinerary, you can also visit several state parks and national monuments in Utah which are just as great as the national parks. On this list are Natural Bridges National Monument and Dead Horse Point State Park.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More Information about the National Parks

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best National Parks to visit by month

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

The 15 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

Summer may be high season but these parks are at their best in the colder months

One of the best-kept secrets about America’s national parks is many are even better in winter. Whether you want to feel the satisfying crunch of snow under your boots or escape those chilly temps for a desert ramble, one thing’s for sure: You’ll be able to do so without the crowds that summer brings. Once-crowded trails turn into tranquil getaways. Quiet winter wonderlands showcase nature’s calm beauty. 

And no matter how great the other seasons are for a visit, a visit to your favorite fall foliage or spring wildflower destination is completely different in the depths of winter. Lack of foliage can bring long views.

Below, find the best national parks to visit in winter from the red hoodoos of Bryce Canyon to the stunning desertscape of Saguaro. Be sure to pack a few extra layers and remember to always double-check trail and road conditions before heading out. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Although the Grand Canyon is a southern park, its ridges are still blessed with snow in winter. Fog is typical in the early morning hours but afternoons are sunny. The canyon’s North Rim is closed to visitors but the South Rim is open year-round and is less crowded during this season.

Visitors can take a cell phone audio tour or use a GPS device for the park’s EarthCache program. EarthCaches are a type of geocache that provide participants with a learning experience in geosciences. By participating in the program, you will embark on an exploration of the unique geologic story that provides insights into the Grand Canyon.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Joshua Tree National Park, California

With the average temps exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, outdoor enthusiasts who love national parks but hate the heat will love the cooler climate of Joshua Tree during the winter. Temperatures can reach 60 degrees making it the opportune time to visit the otherwise-sweltering Joshua Tree. Just be aware that while daytime temps here are generally mild in the winter, nighttime temps in the desert can drop below freezing.

The park is a mecca for world-class rock climbers but it also offers scenic drives and family-friendly hiking trails that any visitor can enjoy. After perusing the Cholla Cactus Garden and scrambling up the enormous, monzogranite boulders along Arch Rock Nature Trail, settle in for some epic stargazing at one of the 500 campsites in Joshua Tree National Park.

Plan your visit here during the cooler months for comfortable hiking temps and incredible stargazing without the huge crowds.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Joshua Tree National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The famous, striking limestone formations at Carlsbad Caverns have often been compared to floating underground jellyfish or alcoves full of goblins and fairies—however you interpret them, they’re otherworldly. The best part about visiting this New Mexico locale in the winter months (apart from bypassing the crowds) is that the cave stays a balmy 56 degrees Fahrenheit, rain or shine. Ranger-led tours are available year-round or visitors can opt to check out the Natural Entrance and Big Room Trails on their own.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

While it may be hard to imagine, Bryce Canyon’s earthly spires are even more spectacular when dusted in snow. Bryce Canyon National Park also has ideal stargazing skies and the cold, dry air makes them all the more amazing. Saturday astronomy programs and full moon snowshoe adventures are a couple of the several incredible programs offered here during the winter season. Don your microspikes or snowshoes (available for rent at Ruby’s Inn) and travel between the two points on the Rim Trail then warm up on a views-for-days drive to Rainbow Point—elevation 9,115 feet.

Since the Park is situated at 8,000-9,000 feet, some of the roads and trails are closed due to snow and ice but there are still plenty of things to do especially if you time your visit with the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival (February 18-20, 2023). Just be sure to pack warm clothes and be prepared for winter conditions.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Make winter plans to visit a warmer locale in Arizona’s Petrified National Park where park-goers can see the Painted Desert, drive past Blue Mesa, and see the Crystal Forest up close.  The weather may be cold in winter but snow is rare. Don’t forget those warm layers for when temps drop at night.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Getting out in nature during an East Coast winter doesn’t have to mean shivering in a snowstorm for hours on end. America’s most visited park still gets attention after all its gorgeous leaves have dropped. The barren trees become fortresses of ice and snow—a true winter wonderland. Be aware that the main roads should remain clear but secondary ones may be closed. At night, stargaze by the fire at Cades Cove Campground.

Many people use Clingmans Dome Road (closed to vehicles December 1-March 31) for walking and cross-country skiing. The road starts 0.1 mile south of Newfound Gap.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion’s famous sandstone walls are often eclipsed by tourist throngs from spring through fall with 4.5 million people rushing into the 15-mile-long canyon each year. But with a light dusting of snow, the rust-colored cliffs visible from the Pa’rus Trail take on a magical quality and oft-crowded spots like Canyon Overlook are generally mob-free. Zion’s main road is normally closed to vehicles and serviced by a shuttle but in January, February, and parts of December you can drive your car through Zion Canyon. 

Temperatures are generally mild during the day which makes for lovely hiking. Best of all? Winter travelers can savor slow mornings, sipping coffee in a cozy western cabin at centrally located Zion Lodge. And Watchman Campground remains open all winter.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Big Bend National Park, Texas

One of America’s hottest parks (at least in terms of temperature), Big Bend is perfect for a winter visit. You can enjoy hikes into the Chisos Mountains, paddles along the Rio Grande, and some of the best star-gazing conditions in the U.S. While Big Bend’s high season is in winter—from October to April—this park is remote and doesn’t see a huge number of visitors, so you’ll still find plenty of solitude.

A natural wonder (especially in the mostly-flat Lone Star State), this park is named after a massive bend in the Rio Grande River that separates Texas from Mexico—and the far-flung locale has enough scenic diversity for a week-long journey or more.

Stay at the Chisos Mountains Lodge and marvel at high-elevation vistas of the craggy Window Formation as you hike through madrone trees and fragrant junipers. Then, soak your tired bones in the park’s historic hot springs, ideally as the sunset turns the famous Santa Elena Canyon into a hundred shades of amber.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Big Bend National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Enjoy the stunning desert landscape of Saguaro National Park at Tucson where visitors can experience the beauty of the largest cactus in the United States—the giant Saguaro cacti which can grow to be more than 45 feet tall and age over 200 years. Winter is the perfect time to visit Saguaro because the temperatures are mild with an average high of 65 degrees and the light gives the desert a golden glow—this is one of the warmest national parks to visit in winter. There are a variety of hiking options within the park.

And there are even more stunners in the area from the Sonora Desert Museum and Sabino Canyon to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park has some of America’s most breathtaking scenes. In winter, white snow contrasts with the red rocks and blue skies to create some stunning sights. While daytime temperatures often rise above 90 degrees in summer expect freezing temperatures in winter. Even scant snowfall can make trails and off-roads impassable so be sure to plan ahead. Stop at the Arches Visitor Center to check the conditions and get an orientation so you’re prepared for winter conditions.

For winter camping and hiking, the Devils Garden Campground is open year-round with 51 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis between November 1 and February 28 including restrooms and drinking water at the campground.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Open year-round to outdoor enthusiasts, White Sands National Park in New Mexico is one of the best National Parks to visit in the winter for many reasons. For one, it’s a less-visited park in general so you’re likely to see very few people so you can sled down the dunes all by yourself. Plus, as soon as you hike a little ways into the dunes, you’re unlikely to encounter other hikers. New Mexico does get chilly in winter, but it rarely sees a lot of snow this far south.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to White Sands National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Explore the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeast at Congaree National Park. South Carolina’s summers are hot and humid and the riverside habitat that makes up Congaree National Park is a favorite spot for mosquitoes. Visit in the cooler months, generally November to April, for mild temperatures and minimal mosquito levels. This is an ideal season to paddle, hike, or fish at the park.

Flooding is most frequent at this time of the year and can happen with little or no warning. It does not have to rain at Congaree for flooding to take place. Laying in a watershed the size of the state of Maryland, any significant rain in the upstate of South Carolina can cause a rise in water levels. Check the river gauges and the weather before you go.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Congaree National Park

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Pinnacles National Park, California

A relatively small park, Pinnacles still packs a punch—especially in the winter. The landscape features shaded, oak woodlands and exposed chaparral. There are canyon bottoms and talus caves you hike inside leaving the other side at the foot of tall rock spires.

You’ll find 15 different hiking options in the park. To check out the caves start at Chapparal (West Pinnacles) and take either the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop (easy), the Juniper Canyon Loop (hard) or the High Peaks to Balconies Cave Loop (hard).

You can have an excellent time at Pinnacles any time of year though winter is one of the best times to visit. From late spring to mid-autumn this region can be very hot making longer hikes difficult. The temperatures are much more pleasant in late autumn through winter and early spring.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Winter stretches itself from October through June at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Clear lakes become icy and volcanoes become topped with heavy snow and steam vents become especially smoky. For those seeking fun as well as beauty, winter activities are at their peak with sledding hills that offer mountain views, snowshoeing for beginners and experts, and backcountry skiing that can’t be beat.

More than half of the year Lassen is blanketed in snow. Although the park highway closes to through traffic during the winter months, the Southwest and Manzanita Lake areas remain accessible year-round. Visit the park’s year-round Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and enjoy the steep slopes in the Southwest Area or explore the gentler terrain in the Manzanita Lake area.

The old Lassen Ski Area located above the present-day Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center closed in 1994. The area is still used by backcountry skier and snowboarders.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Is there a more sublime snow experience than skiing or snowshoeing through the giant trees found in these two parks? Trails can be found in both the Giant Forest of Sequoia and Grant Grove in Kings Canyon.

According to park staff, many trails are suitable for snowshoeing when there’s adequate snow. You can rent snowshoes or bring your own. Purchase a map of ski trails at any visitor center and look for reflective markers on trees that show popular paths. When snowshoeing, stay clear of ski tracks. Check the park newspaper’s winter safety tips.

Rangers lead snowshoe hikes when conditions allow. The park provides the snowshoes; you bring warm layered clothing, waterproof boots, gloves, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, and a snack. The walks are moderately strenuous. Waterproof shoes are required. Walks last 1.5-2 hours and range from 1.5-2 miles in length.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Worth Pondering…

Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter.

—Henry David Thoreau