The vast national park system offers incredible trails, views for miles, lush evergreens, and a thriving ecosystem. It’s a wonderful thing to immerse yourself in nature and take in these sights. And as with anything, there are more favorable times to go depending on weather and tourism trends.
Here are some of the best months to visit these national parks so you can plan your next visit.
Yellowstone Park in January
Trying to make a reservation to visit this national treasure in the summer may be a daunting task, which makes non-peak times often more desirable.
In January the park is a winter wonderland, and there is still plenty to do in the 2.2 million acres that stretches through Wyoming and parts of Idaho and Montana. The area is home to elk, bison, moose, to name a few. Look for wildlife or visit some of Yellowstone's incredible geysers. The plains may look even more beautiful covered in snow and the geysers’ steam even more prominent against the cold air.
There are also winter activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling within the park. Lodging within the park is limited in the winter and there are seasonal road closures, but you’ll also have fewer crowds in your way as you enjoy the national gem.
Zion National Park in April
Spring is a good time to head out west to Zion National Park in Utah. The weather may be cooler in the early morning and evening, but you’ll avoid extreme heat. The reds and oranges of the rock formations in the park are a beautiful contrast to the wildflowers that start to pop out as spring arrives. The melting snow means the rivers are robust.
Pro tip: Head to nearby Bryce Canyon as part of your national park road trip , which is about an hour’s drive from Zion.
Grand Canyon in May
One of the most amazing natural wonders in the United States is the Grand Canyon. It’s a favorite among visitors to the national parks and can get crowded — people flock to see the millions of years of geological history in the rock.
The month of May could be a good time to visit when rainfall is low and temperatures are warm but not too hot. The park also plans to open the Grand Canyon’s North Rim in mid-May, which may be less crowded than the more popular South Rim. The National Park Service indicates that only 10% of the park’s guests visit the north area.
Sequoia National Park in May
Some may be surprised to learn that a national park in California has to deal with snow and ice melt, but that can be a concern for visitors to Sequoia National Park in the winter.
Instead, try and visit in late May just before larger crowds start to arrive. You may be able to see plenty of wildflowers that begin to bloom as the days get warmer and the snow melts. There’s also the possibility of snow, even in May, and the temperatures may still be chilly, but it’s all worth it to be among the trees.
Pro tip: Sequoia National Park is less than a five hour’s drive from either Los Angeles or San Francisco. When traveling, make sure to use one of the best travel credit cards for potential rewards on purchases ranging from rental cars to hotels.
Badlands National Park in July
Dubbed the “land of stone and light,” this national park in South Dakota is home to beautiful rock formations from the deposits and erosion of hundreds of thousands of years. The unique landscape also is home to plenty of fossils and there’s a fossil preparation lab for visitors to see the work of paleontologists in the park.
These lands, situated on 244,000 acres, were once home to ancient horses and rhinos. Bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets roam the land freely today.
Denali National Park in August
Alaska temperatures reach into the mid-50s by August, making this time in summer a great choice to plan your visit if you prefer cooler (but not too cold) temps. The average temperatures during the winter at the park are around 6 degrees.
Denali is far north, which means the area has the benefit of almost 18 hours of sun by August to get the most out of the daylight hours with a sunset after 9:30 p.m. That allows for plenty of hiking, fishing, and nature watching before settling down at one of the park’s campsites.
Shenandoah National Park in October
Nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is a great spot to see the leaves changing colors in the fall. Visitors may want to check out Skyline Drive, which is 105 miles of scenic driving through the mountains with beautiful views. You can also go fishing and hiking if you prefer to get out of your car and explore.
October is a busy month, but it’s worth it to take in the vast views and incredible fall foliage.
Pro tip: When budgeting for an excursion in nature, you may want to factor in waterproof hiking shoes, a large water bottle, and a well-functioning backpack to make your trip a little more comfortable.
Rocky Mountain National Park in October
Located in northern Colorado along the Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park boasts some of the most stunning colors in the fall. There are plenty of different hiking options to take in the mix of crunching leaves underfoot and the foliage in all the hues. Trails include hikes to lakes and waterfalls, or you can journey to one of the several mountain summits, including the top of the Continental Divide.
There are five major campgrounds with plenty of options to spend a night in the park whether you are camping in a tent, trailers, or RV.
Pro tip: If you’re planning RV travel with your pet, be sure to acclimate your furry friend ahead of time, bring lots of extra treats, and inquire about pet-specific rules of the park.
Joshua Tree National Park in November
Located in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park touches both the Mojave and Colorado deserts, which means high temperatures in the summer months. In fact, the average high in July and August is 99 degrees. But by November, the desert cools a bit a decent 72 degrees, giving visitors the perfect weather to explore the park and see its famous Joshua trees.
Palm Springs is only a short drive away if you would prefer to stay in a local town instead of camping out under the stars.
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in December
If you’re trying to get away from the cold and snow of December, include Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on your itinerary for a trip to the warm islands.
The Hawaiian national park, located on the Big Island and includes two of the world’s most active volcanoes. Visitors can either take day hikes throughout the park to observe the volcanoes and other nature or stay the night at the historic Volcano House.
Pro tip: For those who are focused on how to save money , Costco Hawaii has some of the most unique items to purchase and where you can get surf boards, leis, and even fresh poke.
No matter the season, there are amazing experiences to be had at the national parks around the U.S. Planning your excursion based on a specific month is a good idea — so you can pack according to the weather and know if crowds are expected. Whether you visit during peak season or when it’s more quiet, it’s likely the nature surrounding you will make the biggest impression.
Look into getting an annual park entrance pass that’s good for national parks across the country. Plan ahead as some parks may require reservations during peak days. Enjoy exploring.
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