Hiking is always a great way to get outdoors and explore during the spring season. Here are the best National Parks in the USA to hike.
Come spring, the days grow longer, the weather gets warmer, and our national parks become ripe with opportunities for exploration. Springtime is ideal for getting out in nature, but these top national parks offer so much more than just spring blooms and mild weather conditions.
In 2023, plan a trip for April 15th to the 23rd, when all National Park entry fees are waived in honor of National Park Week. From an uncrowded Half Dome hike to a picturesque fjord all to yourself, here are the top-rated national parks to visit in the USA during spring.
Top Picks for You
Yosemite National Park
The spring thaw rapidly melts the snow, fueling Yosemite National Park’s peak waterfall season. By April, even the smallest creeks gush with water, and the park’s iconic waterfalls flow at full throttle. Mirror Lake fills to the brim, offering a stunning reflection of Half Dome that can’t be seen during drier times of the year. Visit in late April or early May to catch the eruption of dogwood blossoms, which some would argue rival even the waterfalls.
INSIDER TIPTioga Road and Glacier Point Road are both typically closed until late May, but there’s still plenty to see in Yosemite Valley and Wawona.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Located on the edge of the Kenai Peninsula, the ice fields, icebergs, and glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park are spectacular in any season. But the park is perhaps the most awe-inspiring in the spring when gray whales return to Alaska to feed, and millions of birds begin their annual journey to the rookeries of the rocky coasts. It’s also a likely time to observe black bears in their natural habitat. Boat tours depart from nearby Seward to take guests deeper into the park starting mid-March, but trips out to Exit Glacier are best completed by foot—through Exit Glacier Guides—to get up close and personal with this natural wonder. Make sure to swing by the park’s visitor center for information to help plan your visit.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With more than 1,600 types of flowering plants, more than any other North American park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is often referred to as “Wildflower National Park.” The mild weather, warm temperatures, and reduced haze in spring make for ideal visiting conditions, but don’t expect fewer people. As one of the most visited national park in the U.S, Great Smokey is popular year-round, especially at the Mountain Farm Museum where visitors can explore a re-creation of an authentic Appalachian mountain farmstead.
Another spring bonus? Synchronous fireflies live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and their mating season, when all the males flash at the same time, lasts for approximately 2-3 weeks in the spring.
INSIDER TIPApril 26–29 is the Wildflower Pilgrimage at Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The annual event showcases a variety of wildflower, fauna, and natural history walks, as well as art classes, photographic tours, and seminars.
Joshua Tree National Park
There’s nothing quite like desert flowers in the spring. While Joshua Tree National Park’s namesake trees are mesmerizing in their own right, the ocotillo, or vine cactus, steals the show and makes this one of the best national parks to visit during the spring season. The tall, spindly plant busts into unexpected crimson flowers with enough spring rain. Springtime visitors also appreciate the more humane temperatures than in the summer, ideal for rock climbing and hiking, along with crisp, campfire-worthy evenings.
INSIDER TIPThe 40 species of reptiles residing in Joshua Tree National Park are most abundant in spring. Look for them basking atop boulders along the Ryan Mountain Trail or other elevated sites.
Zion National Park
Easily one of the most dramatically beautiful landscapes on the planet, Zion National Park’s cooler spring temperatures make for more pleasurable hiking along its many exposed (read: scorching hot) trails, like Emerald Pools Trail. Spring visitors to Zion enjoy fewer crowds, spectacular high-volume waterfalls courtesy of the snow melt, and rare glimpses of green contrasting against the sun-drenched orange rock. And the canyoneering is just as good, if not better, as in the summer and fall when it’s more likely to score a room at the popular Zion Lodge in the park. Stop by the visitor center for hiking trail maps and information on visiting the park.
INSIDER TIPHeat exhaustion is still a risk in Zion in the spring, when temperatures reach 90 degrees. But dress in layers because spring’s variable temps can drop as much as 30 degrees in the evening.
Death Valley National Park
The hottest place on the planet in the summer (temperatures top 120 degrees), Death Valley National Park in the spring provides a warm and welcome reprieve from the chill of winter. The scenery borders on otherworldly with vast sand dunes and towering peaks leading up to the highest point in the park, Telescope Peak Summit (11,049 feet elevation). Spring break and Easter can get crowded, but seeing the blankets of desert wildflower blooms in this stark landscape is worth it.
INSIDER TIPKeep tabs on how the wildflowers are coming along on the park’s website. Peak season usually lasts about two weeks, typically in late March and early April.
Arches National Park
With the highest density of natural stone arches in the world (more than 2,000 of them), driving through Arches National Park is a surreal experience. You’re likely to feel like you have it to yourself in March and early April, even on the heavily trafficked Colorado River Scenic Byway (Highway 128). Temperatures are a mild 60 degrees, and the La Sal Mountains are still snow-capped, which makes for startling photos of the orange sandstone arches and clear blue sky.
INSIDER TIPStargazing in and around Arches is world-class, thanks to minimal light pollution. In spring, the sky is particularly clear.
Shenandoah National Park
With more than 200,000 forested acres (almost all of which are open to backcountry camping with a permit), Shenandoah National Park is most popular while the leaves are changing to their fall colors. Spring sees some of the fewest visitors but displays the most unique beauty during the season, thanks to the park’s 862 species of wildflowers. Visitor facilities and services re-open for the year in March, and the wildflower display begins in late March, continuing to summer.
INSIDER TIPTake a ride on Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that winds through the park, in May, when the pink azaleas bloom in the forest alongside the road. Stop by the visitor center to pick up a Shenandoah National Park Map to help plan your visit.
Glacier National Park
Northern Montana can be chilly in the spring, with temperatures in the 30s and 40s, but that just means fewer visitors at Glacier National Park, making for an unforgettable wildlife experience. In the spring, you’ll see more critters than people at Glacier, including bears, moose, elk, and sheep. Most of the park’s one million acres are accessible in the spring, with only a portion closed on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
INSIDER TIPIn late May, after the Going-to-the-Sun Road is plowed and before it’s opened to cars, Glacier encourages cyclists to bike the engineering masterpiece that weaves 50 miles through the park’s wild interior, offering stellar views of the Glacier National Park mountains.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
It’s no secret that spring is the best time of the year to ski in Colorado, thanks both to weather and mild temperatures, but the mountains aren’t the only slopes of note. Great Sand Dunes National Park serves up 30 square miles of enormous sand dunes—the biggest in North America. Visitors can hike them (some peaks as high as 750 feet), sled, and snowboard down them. The best time for sand dune down-hilling is in the spring before the sand gets too hot to touch and preferably right after a rainstorm, which gives the sand the most stability.
INSIDER TIPThe San Luis Valley can get windy in spring, so plan for morning outings—easier staying at the Great Sand Dunes Lodge at the park entrance—before the wind kicks up.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades are a birder’s paradise come spring, when birds from around the world flock to this 1.5-million-acre wetland preserve. Although it’s open year-round, Everglades National Park comes alive in spring as alligators begin their courtship rituals, and the cool waves from munching manatees set the background for singing toads and nesting birds. Kayak tours through Nine Mile Pond put visitors in the thick of it, while the Anhinga Trail offers an on-land option for wildlife viewing safe from the water’s edge. Stop by the Everglades National Park Visitor Center for more information to help plan your visit.
INSIDER TIPPlan a day trip to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to get a better understanding of the Seminole people, their culture, and their history in the Everglades.
Big Bend National Park
Spring is the most popular time to visit Big Bend National Park, and for some very obvious heat-advisory-avoiding reasons. Spring in this southwestern slice of Texas is stunning, where cool nights give rise to sunrises over the craggy Chisos Mountains. Days are spent dipping comfortably in the hot springs, while nights are for stargazing among the park’s International Dark Sky Association-protected sky.
INSIDER TIPTaking a whole day to traverse the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, stopping at all the scenic overlooks, and hiking whenever possible will turn this 30-mile drive into a lifelong memory.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
WHERE: West Virginia
As America’s 63rd national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve didn’t take long to impress visitors when it was designated a national park in 2020. This West Virginia park is home to the longest steel span in the western hemisphere—the New River Gorge Bridge—as well as the largest waterfall on the New River—Sandstone Falls. The waterfalls flow fully in spring when the wildflowers pop up just in time for Spring Nature Fling between April and May.
INSIDER TIPSnap the best picture of New River Gorge Bridge by either booking a rafting trip on New River or staking out a sunrise spot along the Canyon Rim Visitor’s Center.
Olympic National Park
Winter rains make this one of the best national parks to visit in spring, as flora and fauna come out in strong force once the weather warms and skies begin to clear. Roosevelt Elk can be seen traipsing through the rainforest as the bright pink Pacific Rhododendrons pop their heads above the soil during spring. Rafting the spring rapids of the Sol Duc River is a great way to soak in the season, while visits to the Jamestown S’Klallam Village offer a history lesson about the region and the S’Klallam tribe’s contribution to it throughout the years.
INSIDER TIPBook a room at the Lake Crescent Lodge so you’ll have access to the amazing sunset views from the fir-paneled dining room.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways
This national park is the nation’s first to protect a river system, and there’s no better time to visit these Missouri riverways than when the waters are flowing smoothly during spring. Float trips along the Current and Jacks Fork rivers are just getting started in late spring, but fishing trips and hiking trails along the rivers are great ways to experience the water earlier in the season. Alley Spring is particularly beautiful this time of year, where vibrant blossoms frame the historic Alley Mill in springtime splendor.
INSIDER TIPFloat trips range from 2-16 hours in length, where you’ll explore the more than 300 caves and springs in this national park.