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The 8 Best National Parks to Explore in Spring

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Colorful wildflowers in the spring.

SPRING IS A TIME OF WILDFLOWERS, PERFECT TEMPERATURES AND LONG SUNNY DAYS. HERE ARE THE 8 BEST NATIONAL PARKS TO EXPLORE DURING THIS VIBRANT SEASON.

 



For us, two people who grew up in the high mountains of Colorado, spring has always been this slightly awkward time of the year. This is mostly due to the fact that during spring the landscape is in this in-between phase: for example, usually the snow has melted just enough to make skiing not really possible, but still not enough to make hiking even remotely fun. In reality, you couldn't really do much in terms of adventure until May and even then there was still a chance of a late spring snowstorm rolling in and blanketing the mountains in one last winter dusting.


It honestly took us moving to California to realize that spring was in fact a great time of the year to head outdoors and do some exciting adventures, especially activities such as canyoneering, hiking and backpacking.


Overall, we would say that in the spring the desert national parks really hit their stride and become absolute wonderlands for exploring. Think comfortable daytime temperatures, blooming wildflowers, open and dry trails and great camping conditions. In fact, of the 8 best spring national parks below, 5 of them are located in the desert.


So if you are looking to head out on a national park adventure during the months of March, April or May - including maybe on a spring break trip - then make sure to check these 8 national parks out.



💬 INSIDER TIP: if planning to visit multiple national parks, not just in the spring but any time of the year, then we highly suggest purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass, which costs $80. This annual pass gets you into ALL national parks and national monuments, as well as national historical parks and sites, national preserves and national recreation areas.



➳ You can learn more and purchase your America the Beautiful Annual Pass here.




 


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8 BEST NATIONAL PARKS TO EXPLORE IN SPRING

 






1 | Capitol Reef National Park


As mentioned above, desert national parks really shine during the springtime. And this is especially true in Capitol Reef National Park, one of the five national parks found in the state of Utah.


Capitol Reef is famous for its wide array of unique desert landscapes - from the Waterpocket Fold (a wrinkle on the earth that extends for nearly 100 miles) to multi-colored rock domes to deep, slotty red canyons, the whole national park is just begging to be explored, especially on foot.


During the spring season, the weather is nice and temperate - think mid-50s (13° C) during the day and lots of sunshine. Similarly, during this time of year the flowers are starting to bloom and everything is lush and green. We recommend spending a couple of days exploring the park (at least 3) and heading out to all of the different areas; including, Cathedral Valley, home of the famous rock structures the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: there are a couple of camping areas in the national park; including, a large campground with all of the amenities (water, bathrooms, etc.) in the main Fruita area of the park, as well as a more rugged campground in Cathedral Valley and one off of Notom-Bullfrog Road.





DETAILS


| WHERE: Utah


| COST TO ENTER: $20, good for 7 days





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


Capitol Reef National Park has a good number of hiking trails available, from the easy to the more difficult, all the way up to multi-day backpacking trips. Some of the best trails to head out on include Cassidy Arch, which is 1.7 miles round trip (and also a great trail for canyoneering), the Chimney Rock Loop, which is 3.6 miles round trip, and Hickman Bridge, which is a short hike (less than a mile long) that gives you great views of the historic Fruita area.


While hiking is a great option for exploring the national park - especially the area near Fruita, we also recommend checking out some of Capitol Reef's exciting canyoneering routes. The park has a lot of different routes available, from relatively short and easy canyons all the way up to highly technical, full-day adventures. Some of the best canyoneering routes in Capitol Reef are Stegosaur Slot, which has an amazing slot canyon section; The Wives, which is actually 7 different canyoneering routes all in the same area (we especially liked Wife 5); and Pandora's Box, which is extremely technical, but also a whole lot of fun.



➳ You can find all the canyoneering beta for Capitol Reef here.



💬 INSIDER TIP: besides exploring the stunning rock canyons, also give yourself some time to check out the historic town of Fruita, which is located in the middle of the national park. There you can explore some of the old buildings, pick fresh fruit, and after March 14th even buy a homemade pie.





HOW TO GET TO CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK


Capitol Reef is likely the hardest to reach of the five national parks in Utah due to its rather remote location. The closest “big” towns are Hanksville and Torrey, and while both do have grocery stores and lodging options, they don't have much else. Otherwise, the closest major cities are Salt Lake City, Utah which is approximately 3.5 hours away, and Las Vegas, Nevada, which is about 5 hours away.




Glowing red rocks at sunrise in Capitol Reef






2 | Canyonlands National Park


Another Utah national park that is equally as beautiful during the springtime is Canyonlands. This large park is actually split into four sections known as "districts." The most popular district to visit is Island in the Sky, which has some amazing hiking trails and off-road vehicle and mountain biking routes (most notably the White Rim Trail). The other three districts are The Needles, which is a bit further south of Island in the Sky, The Maze, which is extremely rugged, and Horseshoe Canyon, which is equally as rugged as The Maze, but it gives visitors the chance to view some of the best rock art in North America.


Canyonlands National Park is full of amazing adventures - from hiking to backpacking to mountain biking to floating. And the springtime is definitely one of the best times to partake in these exciting activities for the weather is absolutely perfect (mid-70s and sunny), the flowers are all blooming and the roads and trails are usually dry and ready to explore.





DETAILS


| WHERE: Utah


| COST TO ENTER: $30, good for 7 days





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


In the springtime, you really can't go wrong with adventuring in the park. This includes heading out on one of the numerous hiking trails either in the Island in the Sky District or the Needles District, doing a multi-day backpacking trip in The Maze, or hopping on your mountain bike and tackling the entire White Rim Trail, which is 100 miles in length and usually takes 3-4 days from start to finish.


Some of the best hiking trails to take on in Canyonlands National Park are Upheaval Dome, which is a short hike that gives you the chance to get a closer view of the park's interesting geology, Mesa Arch, which is the go-to spot for sunrise, and Confluence Overlook, a long trail in The Needles District that ends above the confluence (meeting point) of the mighty Green and Colorado Rivers.


➳ You can find more hiking trails in the national park here.





HOW TO GET TO CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK


Because Canyonlands is split into four districts - The Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and Horseshoe Canyon - it depends more on which area you specifically want to head to when looking at distances and driving directions to the park. The closest large cities to Canyonlands are Moab, Utah, which is one hour from the Island in the Sky and 1.5 hours from The Needles Districts and Salt Lake City, Utah, which is 4 hours from the Island in the Sky District and 5 hours from The Needles District, and a whopping 8 hours from The Maze/Horseshoe Canyon (they are quite close). In fact, the closest town to The Maze and Horseshoe Canyon is Hanksville, Utah - which is still 4.5 hours away!




Golden hour in Canyonlands National Park in Utah





3 | Zion National Park


While Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks are two amazing Utah national parks to explore in spring, they aren't the only ones. Zion National Park - which is likely the most popular national park to visit in the state - truly comes alive once the weather starts to warm up. Flowers begin to bloom, rivers start to rush, waterfalls start to trickle and rumble down the canyon walls and everything starts to turn a lovely shade of green.


💬 INSIDER TIP: the month of March is when many kids in the USA have Spring Break (a week off from school). During this month Zion National Park can become quite busy, therefore if you can, consider visiting in April or May instead.



DETAILS


| WHERE: Utah


| COST TO ENTER: $35, good for 7 days





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN ZION NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


Spring is a great time to head out onto the trails in the park. This includes making your way up the famous Angels Landing Trail, which many believe is one of the most dangerous (but beautiful) trails in the whole National Park System. While Angels Landing is great, it is not the only trail worth doing. Some other fun trails to explore include Overlook Canyon (check to make sure it is open beforehand), the Emerald Pools (various trails available), and The Narrows (also make sure the trail is open).


Now, if you are wanting to explore even more of the Zion canyon then consider putting on a harness and doing a bit of canyoneering. Some of the best canyoneering routes can be found in the main Zion canyon, including Pine Creek (a fantastic first canyon to take on), Lower Refrigerator Canyon (a short route that is a fun way to exit Angels Landing) and Englestead Canyon, a long, full-day canyon on the east side of the park. Finally, there is the Subway, which is one of the most photographed canyons in the park (see our photo of it below). While it is technically a canyoneering route, it is not extremely technical. But if you want to spend the day adventuring in an absolutely beautiful canyon, then we recommend adding the Subway to your Zion National Park itinerary.


If you are looking to plan a canyoneering trip in Zion make sure you get your canyoneering permit ahead of time. You can find all of the information on the park's permitting system at this link.



➳ You can find all the canyoneering beta for Zion National Park here.



❔ GOOD TO KNOW: even though the lower valley will be warm and clear, at the higher elevations, including the Kolob Canyon section, you still might have snow in the springtime. If you are looking to explore this part of Zion, make sure to come prepared with winter gear - including hats and gloves, crampons, and sturdy hiking boots.





HOW TO GET TO ZION NATIONAL PARK


Zion National Park is relatively easy to reach, at least in terms of the four other Utah National Parks. The closest cities are Saint George, Utah, which is less than an hour from the park’s west entrance, and Las Vegas, Nevada which is 2.5 hours from the national park. Both cities have sizable airports, with Las Vegas having many regularly running flights around the country.





Golden light in the colorful canyons on Zion National Park






4 | Joshua Tree National Park


This California national park is where two distinct desert ecosystems collide: the Mojave and the Colorado. Because of this melding, you can find a wide variety of interesting plants and animals within Joshua Tree National Park. Including, of course, the namesake Joshua tree. During the spring season, which runs from March to May, you can expect sunny days and comfortable temperatures (average highs are around 85° F (29° C) and lows are around 50° F (10° C). Spring is also when the desert wildflowers begin to bloom. In fact, if you are looking to head to the national park in early spring, you have a good chance of seeing bursting wildflowers at the lower elevations, most notably at Pinto Basin.



DETAILS


| WHERE: California


| COST TO ENTER: $30, good for 7 days



It is recommended that you purchase a digital park entrance pass before arriving at the national park. This can help you enter the park much quicker since Joshua Tree can get quite busy (especially in the spring). Once you purchase the digital pass, you must print or save it on your mobile device prior to arriving in the park. Purchase your digital park entrance pass on recreation.gov.





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


This desert park is full of exciting adventures. But by far the most common activities are hiking and climbing, both of which are in their prime during the spring season.


In terms of hiking trails, there are a good number of shorter hikes (3 miles or less) available throughout the park. This includes such trails as Barker Dam (1.1 miles round trip, good for bighorn sheep sightings), Hi-View (1.3 miles round trip, great for viewing the surrounding area and the namesake Joshua trees), and Ryan Ranch (1 mile round trip along an old ranch road). If you are looking for a more challenging hike, consider taking on the Lost Horse Loop Trail, which is 6.5 miles round trip, and great for people interested in learning more about the park's old mining past or Lost Palms Oasis Trail, which is 7.5 miles round trip and takes you down into a canyon with a remote fan palm oasis.



➳ You can find more hiking trails in Joshua Tree here.



If climbing is more of your thing, then this park should definitely be on your national park list for Joshua Tree offers around 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 boulder problems, and hundreds of natural gaps - perfect for crack climbing. Some of the best areas to head to are Sheep Pass and Echo Rock.



➳ Find all the beta on climbing in Joshua Tree National Park here.





HOW TO GET TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK


Joshua Tree National Park is one of the closest national parks to two major metropolises: Los Angeles and San Diego. From LA it is just over 2 hours to the national park’s northern entrance, while from San Diego it is 2.5 hours to the park’s north entrance and just over 3 hours to the park’s south entrance.




Glowing Joshua trees at dusk in California






5 | Redwood National and State Parks


While this park's claim to fame is definitely being the home of the world's tallest trees (the Redwoods), there is actually a whole lot more to explore. Redwoods National Park and State Parks (which is partly managed by the state of California) also protects wild rivers, wide open prairies, oak forests and 40 miles of stunning Pacific Ocean coastline.


Due to the park's close proximity to the ocean, the temperature doesn't change very much throughout the year. You can expect, on average, daily temperatures to be in the high-50s F (15° C) and low-60s F (17° C) year-round, but especially in the springtime. Spring is also the time of year when the main rainy season starts to end and the sun starts to poke out more often (though of course always come prepared for precipitation and slick trails any time of the year).



DETAILS


| WHERE: California


| COST TO ENTER: Free!! But you will need to pay to enter the state parks.







THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN REDWOODS NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


Hiking is by far the best way to explore this beautiful wooded national park. There are hundreds of miles of trails that crisscross the landscape, from the short and easy to the multi-hour and steep. Some of the best routes to explore are Boy Scout Tree Trail, which is 5.5 miles round-trip and takes you through old growth forests and past a waterfall, Fern Canyon Loop Trail, which is a short 1 mile hike down a river to a stunning fern-lined canyon, and finally, likely the best bang for your buck, the James Irvine Trail, which is 12 miles long and heads through many different ecosystems (including an old growth forest) before popping out at the Pacific Ocean.


💬 INSIDER TIP: in the springtime, another fantastic trail worth checking out is the Rhododendron Trail. This hike is 7.5 miles one-way (with multiple options for the hike back) and features gorgeous blooming rhododendron flowers between the months of April and July. Find the full hiking beta at this link.


If you are looking to explore more of the park but don't want to hike, consider hopping in your car and heading out on one of the many scenic driving loops. Some great ones are Howland Hill Road (10-miles long, quite narrow), Bald Hills Road (great for spotting wildlife, including elk, and spring flowers) and the Coastal Drive (about 9 miles in length, great for ocean views and spotting marine life, including seals).





HOW TO GET TO REDWOODS NATIONAL PARK


Located way up in the far northwest corner of California, Redwood National and State Parks takes quite a bit of time to reach. For starters, there really are no major cities nearby. The closest big cities with large airports are San Francisco, California, which is just over 5 hours to the south and Portland, Oregon, which is similarly just over 5 hours away to the north. Otherwise, the closest towns with any sort of services are Crescent City and Eureka, both of which are under an hour away.









6 | Death Valley National Park


This is a park of extremes: in the summer the temperatures can be some of the hottest on Earth, while the amount of water (or lack thereof) would make you believe nothing could possibly survive. But somehow life still abounds. And that is especially true in the springtime when the temperatures hover around 82° F (27° C) in March and 90° F (32° C) in April and you are more likely to experience spring thunderstorms. And in a good year, that little bit of precipitation may lead to blooming wildflowers in the heart of Death Valley.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: spring is the busiest season in Death Valley, but the park is big enough (3.4 million acres in size) that you can still definitely find quieter areas to explore and adventure in.



DETAILS


| WHERE: California and Nevada


| COST TO ENTER: $30, good for 7 days





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


This is an absolutely massive park that deserves a good number of days to fully explore (we believe at least 3). You can do a lot of different things in the park, from hiking around multi-colored rocks to exploring an old Boron processing site to rappelling down into a natural pool. Death Valley National Park is full of adventure and a whole lot of history - from the ancient to the very modern.


Some of the can't miss spots in the national park include Artists Palette, a stunning scenic vista, Zabriskie Point, another amazing vista with views of all the crazy layers that make up Death Valley, Badwater Basin, aka the lowest point in North America, and the Harmony Borax Works, a historic borax processing plant that was in operation until 1888. This plant led to the use of large mule-drawn wagons to cross from the desert floor all the way to the town of Mojave (165 miles away). You can learn more about the mule team route at the historic Borax Works and also along the aptly named 20-mule team canyon.


Besides some stunning vistas and interesting historical sites, other activities worth doing include canyoneering one of the national parks many (somewhat morbidly named) canyons. We have canyoneered in Death Valley multiple times and each trip leaves us wanting more. Some of the best canyoneering routes are Darwin Falls, which ends with a rappel into a beautiful pool, Rainbow Canyon, a rather short but beautiful half-day canyon, Coffin Canyon, fun rappels with one long 190-foot rappel, and Abysmal Canyon, which is a full (very long) day with 22 rappels, the longest of which is 250 feet.



➳ Find all of the Death Valley National Park canyoneering beta here.





HOW TO GET TO DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK


This large national park is located 3.5 hours east of Los Angeles and around 2 hours west of Las Vegas. Death Valley has multiple entrances: one on west Highway 190 near Trona/Searles Valley and Olancha (this is the closest entrance to Los Angeles) and one on east Highway 190 near the town of Death Valley Junction (this is the closest entrance to Las Vegas). There is also an entrance on Daylight Pass Road, which is a bit out of the way. The closest town to that entrance is Beatty.




Orange and pink sunrise colors on the mountains in Death Valley






7 | Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve


Home to the largest sand dunes in North America, this unique landscape is ripe for exploration. While you can still expect a bit of snowy weather in this part of Colorado in March, by mid-April you are more likely to experience sunny days and warm temperatures. During the late spring season, especially May, the famous Medano Creek - which runs right next to the sand dunes - really starts to flow. Outside of the famous dunes area, you will start to see blooming wildflowers and trees getting their bright green leaves back.


While Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve might not be the most famous of Colorado's four national parks (that title likely goes to Rocky Mountain National Park) it truly does shine during the spring months. Similarly, if you are looking for a fun, outdoor adventure, nothing really beats speeding down a tall sand dune on a waxed up sandboard - plus, during the spring, the sand is not too hot yet (because that is no fun).



DETAILS


| WHERE: Colorado


| COST TO ENTER: $25, good for 7 days



It is recommended that you purchase a digital park entrance pass before arriving at the park. This can help you enter the park much quicker since Great Sand Dunes NP can get quite busy. Once you purchase the digital pass, you must print or save it on your mobile device prior to arriving in the park. Purchase your digital park entrance pass on recreation.gov.





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


While there are a good number of hikes in the national park, we instead suggest spending most of your time simply exploring the dunes - both on your own two feet and on a sandboard. Similarly, this is one of the best places in the country to see stars (thanks to its very remote location), so if you have any interest in astronomy or star photography, we suggest hanging around after the sun goes down. Or even better, consider hiking out and pitching a tent in the middle of the dunes.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: you cannot rent sandboards or sand sleds in the national park. Instead, you will need to visit the few shops that do rent outdoor gear near the park. The closest spot is Oasis Store, which is 4 miles from the park visitor center. They are open spring through fall (their opening day is usually mid-March).





HOW TO GET TO GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK


The national park is located 3.5 hours from Denver, Colorado and almost 4 hours from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Closer to the park, the biggest towns are Alamosa (30 minutes away) and Salida (an hour and a half away). Both towns have all of the necessary services like hotels/motels, grocery stores and restaurants.



► Check out our article on road tripping through the rather kooky San Luis Valley, which Great Sand Dunes National Park sits in.




Fading light on a Great Sand Dunes National Park






8 | Shenandoah National Park


Even though it is located close to the bustling metropolises of the east coast, Shenandoah National Park feels like a world away. Measuring 200,000 acres in size, this park is a great spot to visit no matter the time of year. But for some of the prettiest colors (and the least amount of people) consider heading to the park in the springtime.


The typical spring season runs from the middle of March through the end of May. During this time of year the average temperatures range from 35°F (2° C) in March to 55°F (13° C) in May. While sunny skies are the norm, there is still a chance of spring storms, so always come prepared. But that precipitation leads to flourishing wildflowers, most of which start to bloom during these three months. In fact, Shenandoah National Park has over 850 different wildflower species within its borders.


💬 INSIDER TIP: spring is also a fantastic time to spot wildlife, including numerous migrating birds and bears coming out of hibernation.



DETAILS


| WHERE: Virginia


| COST TO ENTER: $30, good for 7 days


It is recommended that you purchase a digital park entrance pass before arriving at the park. This can help you enter the park much quicker since Shenandoah can get quite busy. Once you purchase the digital pass, you must print or save it on your mobile device prior to arriving in the park. Purchase your digital park entrance pass on recreation.gov.





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of trails to explore, so don't worry about not having enough to do. During the springtime some of the best hikes to take on are the South River Falls Trail, which is a 3.3 mile loop that leads to an 83-foot waterfall, the Doyles River Falls Trail, another waterfall-centric hike that is also 3.3 miles long, the Mountain Pass Loop Trail, which is 3.4 miles long and affords you great views of open woodlands often full of wildflowers, and the Old Rag Circuit, which is one of the most popular hikes in the entire park, but worth it for the fun rock scrambling and stunning views from the top.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: if looking to hike up Old Rag Mountain, you will need to get a day-use ticket ahead of time. You can learn more about that process here.





HOW TO GET TO SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK


This large national park is conveniently located just 1.5 hours from the large cities of Washington DC and

Richmond, Virginia. Closer to the park, you can find the town of Luray (home to Luray Caverns) and Stanardsville, both of which have all of the necessary services.










\\ Other National Parks Worth Visiting in the Spring



SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK


You can expect balmy temperatures, blooming flowers and cacti and beautiful sunny days in this national park that is actually split into two parts. We suggest exploring both and going for a nice hike among the towering giant saguaros.




BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK


Located way down in southern Texas, Big Bend National Park is a great spot to head to for a fun spring adventure (or spring break). Expect warm sunny days, verdant mountaintops and perfect river floating conditions.




DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK


While there might not be a "bad" season to visit Dry Tortugas, the springtime is definitely one of the best. The weather is warm and sunny - perfect for spending many hours snorkeling off the island or exploring the historic fort.




ORGAN PIPE CACTUS NATIONAL MONUMENT


Possibly one of our all-time favorite national parks in the whole park system, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a beautiful desert oasis full of life. In the spring you can see all of the wildflowers blooming as well as the many cactus varieties - including towering saguaros and the namesake organ pipe cactus.




Brilliant sunset colors on tall saguaro cactus



The spring season is sometimes a hit or miss in many parts of the USA. In the high mountains, spring is often referred to as "mud season" thanks to its awkwardly wet and muddy conditions. But for some parts of the USA, spring is the perfect time to do some exploring. This is especially true in the desert - including the southern deserts of Utah, California's southeast corner and down into southern Arizona.


These 8 national parks, which range from warm red rock country to vibrant green forests with the tallest trees in the world, are absolutely wonderful places to adventure between the months of March and May thanks to their balmy temperatures, blooming flowers and open trails.


We hope this article inspired you to add these 8 national parks to your list of places to explore. And if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment below or reach out to us directly.




 

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