Are you looking for the best visit to National Parks in spring? If so, this will be your best guide. Not every National Park is perfect for every season. And although I always suggest exploring the parks, there are times I like to avoid the crowds and get off the beaten path. Keep on reading for 16 of the best National Parks in USA perfect for Spring. Remember that most parks have an entrance fee per vehicle, but you can purchase the America The Beautiful annual pass for a one time fee of $80. If you plan to visit at least 3 parks in 12 months, then the pass pays for itself.
Best National Parks in Southwest USA
Early spring, before or after school breaks take place, can be an ideal time to visit the Southwest. The early morning and nighttime temps will still drop quite low, but the warmth of the sunshine will be wonderful for outdoors daytime. You’ll need to stay away from water activities in this region in the early spring, but these parks will be some of the best U.S. national parks for day trips or for longer backcountry camping trips. Many of these you can combine into a single road trip experience.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
This desert park is made up of huge wave-like dunes of gypsum sand. The park is open 364 days (closed on Christmas Day), with typical operating hours from 9:00 am-5:00 pm in the spring. Make sure to check the park closure page for inclement weather and missile testing that can occasionally close the road for safety. Park entrance fees are $25 per vehicle. There are also additional nominal fees for backcountry camping.
Speaking of camping, the only type of camping at White Sands is primitive backcountry camping that requires a permit. There are no hotels within the park either. You will need to stay in a nearby town or find BLM land near Alamogordo or Las Cruces. Check out Oliver Lee State Park or Lincoln National Forest for campsites as well. The only food you will find inside the park is a small convenience store within the gift shop. So, you will want to pack a soft sided cooler with plenty of snacks and water for your time there.
With five established hiking trails, the dunes drive road for vehicles and bicycles, and the fun of sledding down the sand dunes you will love spending endless hours outside. Use waxed plastic sleds for the best sledding. Remember to wear sunglasses and maybe even a buff if the wind is kicked up. Keep in mind there is almost no shade in the entire park. Pack lots of water and sun protection and avoid hiking in temperatures above 85 degrees.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Go explore the ancient sea ledges, deep canyons, desert flora and fauna, and the “big room” in the caverns for another unique park visit. Currently, the park requires reservations and fees are $15 per person. Hiking into the big room must be started no later than 2:30 pm. Get there for open time at 8:00 am and you will be able to experience everything this park has to offer.
When you visit in the spring, you can expect windy conditions and mild temperatures. This park is situated in the Chuahuan Desert, so don’t expect shade. Sun protection is a must. Be aware that food options are limited within the park with only a few hot food options. However, there is no lodging available inside the park. If you wish to backcountry camp, you will need a permit. There is no overnight RV parking inside the park. Carlsbad sits about 20 miles from the park and offers several lodging options.
Explore the caverns and do some desert hiking. For a wildlife experience check out the bat flight programs that happen starting the end of May. There are a few night sky programs held each year, but are typically done in the fall.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
If you want to be impressed by the desert, head down to see the mighty saguaro cacti. This National Park is split into two sections and separated by downtown Tucson. Both are worth visiting, but have a different vibe. Park hours vary slightly in each section, but for the most part are open from sunrise to sunset. Temperatures get uncomfortably hot in late spring through early fall so plan accordingly. No matter the season, drink plenty of water as the desert is very dry.
A weekly vehicle pass is $25 and the park prefers a prepayment so cash handling is minimal. Day hiking is the most popular outdoor activity in Saguaro. However, if you want to wilderness hike and backcountry camp you can find plenty of adventure. There are cactus gardens on both sides of the park with easy trails. Camping is unavailable for vehicles and you must have a permit for backcountry camping. I highly recommend watching the sunset from Gates Pass on the west side of the park for incredible views. For the history lovers, check out Signal Hill for the petroglyphs.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree is located in the desert of Southern California, just 3 hours from LAX and right next door to Palm Springs. Be aware that due to the location of this park, visitation peaks during the spring. Temperatures are perfect during the spring months and the skies will likely be clear and crisp. A weekly pass is $30 per vehicle, and you can purchase your pass ahead of time online for expedited entrance. This is one of the best national parks to visit in March.
You won’t finding any lodging inside the park, but there are places to stay in nearby towns. You also won’t find any restaurants or grocery outlets inside the park. There are, however, picnic areas spread throughout. Packing your food in for a full day inside the park is easy to do, but as with all desert parks make sure to pack plenty of water no matter the season. Inside the park are 9 campgrounds as well as the option to backcountry camp with a permit.
You will see that Joshua Tree is very popular for campers and climbers. In addition to bouldering, there are also options for technical climbing and slack lining. Other outdoor activities include biking, birding, horseback riding, photography, and night sky viewing. This park is small, but packs a big punch with desert cholla cacti and unique Joshua Trees showing off. By far this is one of the top national parks in California.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Guadalupe, situated on the Texas – New Mexico border, can be paired with Carlsbad Caverns in the same day or weekend. Park hours are from 8:00-4:30 and are open year round. Pay the $10 entrance fee with the green envelopes at the entrance stations. This is a lesser known park, but it does fill up in the spring months due to the warm temps and blue skies.
There is no lodging or dining inside the park, but there are 3 year-round developed campgrounds trickled inside the park. Pine Springs Visitor Center is a great place to get your start with information about the park including maps and literature. This is the largest wilderness area in Texas with a diverse trail system, great for national park hiking. Guadalupe is a fantastic spot for night activities including star gazing and the nocturnal desert wildlife. There are a number of scenic drives worth scouting out to give you very different views and access to the park as well.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
This magical no-man’s land is close to nowhere, but the drives are well worth it for the big scenery and the wildness of adventure. Deep canyons and vast views make Big Bend one of the most beloved parks in the country. The Rio Grande serves as a natural international border between the states and Mexico. You will need a passport to cross the border. Mid-January through Mid-April is the busiest time to visit this park, but that’s due to optimal weather conditions. Plan ahead and keep a flexible itinerary.
The park is always open, no matter the time or the day with an entry fee of $30 per car, which is valid for 7 days. The park is very remote and there will be large chunks of time you will be without cellular service so download those maps! There are a variety of local outfitters to book horseback riding excursions, scenic flights, river floats (for partial day or multi-day adventures), shuttle service and more. Day hikes range from desert to mountain to river views.
Pets are NOT allowed on any of the trails. Backcountry permits and specific equipment rental are required for overnight river trips and camping. You will find people enjoying the park on bicycle, bird watching, stargazing, fishing, and participating in ranger programs.
There is only one lodge inside the park with reservations opening up on January 1st for the following year. Reservations fill up quickly for the spring months so this is a great park to plan a good old national parks road trip well in advance. In my opinion this is the best national park for spring break.
National Parks Out West
Not every park in the west experiences deep snows into the spring months. Although the higher elevations will still have beautiful snow scenes without terribly cold temps elsewhere in the park. A great way to beat the heat of the late spring and summer months, as well as the crowds, is to explore them during the early months of spring. These parks are most enjoyable in March and April as the Utah national parks can get really hot starting in May.
Death Valley National Park, California/Nevada
This is a park of extremes and what fun it is to experience them. Salt basins below sea level and peaks that soar into snow elevations give your eyes so much to absorb. Canyons, sand dunes and spring fed oases keep you guessing as to what you might experience next. This HUGE park has so much to offer and I would suggest at least 2 full days to explore. The park is open daily, year-round and with an entrance fee of $30 you have access for a full week. The easiest way to get to the park is via Las Vegas, but make sure you let yourself get off the beaten path in this vast park.
There are several campgrounds to choose from, some offering full hook-ups. You need reservations for Furnace Creek. Other sites rarely fill up and use automated machines for payment. Campgrounds are first come first serve and most higher elevation campgrounds are filled up on weekends even in the summers. There are 4 options for lodging inside the park, which are open all year. Or you may choose to daytrip to Death Valley from Las Vegas, which is about a 2.5 hour drive. Depending on where you are inside the park, you should be able to find breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, if you plan to visit the more remote parts of the park, pack in (and out) food for yourself including lots of water.
Death Valley is one of the best national parks for backcountry driving with hundreds of miles of unpaved roads leading to some incredible scenery and much solitude. There is no shortage of super spots for viewing the sunrise or sunset so make that a priority. Most visitors who love Death Valley love it for the night viewing. The star gazing is spectacular so make an attempt to visit during a new moon and bring your binoculars! During a full moon, have fun exploring the salt basin or even the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at night for a real adventure.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
This central Utah park is right in the heart of red rock country, boasting cliffs and canyons with views to die for. There is much to learn about the geologic process while enjoying the great outdoors together. The park is open all day, every day giving you the opportunity to experience each of the seasons in a unique way. You will pay an entrance fee of $20, and although the park is open every day, the visitor center does have some holiday closings. There are no restaurants or lodging inside Capital Reef, however there is one developed and two primitive campgrounds available. Look to the surrounding towns for eating and sleeping.
Day hiking is the most popular activity inside Capital Reef with various trail lengths and difficulty. If you’re looking to get off grid, there are also backpacking trails. The Cathedral Valley in the North end of the park is remote and rugged, perfect for those who like to get off the beaten path. Driving conditions vary depending on the weather conditions, so be prepared to investigate before you leave. Check out the 6-8 hour driving loop tour in Cathedral Valley. You will need a special permit for rock climbing and canyoneering.
Check out the orchards in the Fuita section of the park. You are welcome to wander through at any time, but the park service will post “u-pick” signs when trees are reading to be harvested. Use the self-pay station to properly weigh and pay for your harvest. In the spring months, depending on the weeks, you can find apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and apples in the glory of their flowering. Harvest won’t occur until the summer months from June to October.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands is split into 3 sections: Island in the Sky, the Maze, and the Needles all divided by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The Maze is the most remote and only accessible with a 4WD and high clearance vehicle. The park is open 365 days a a year, 24 hours a day, but beware of road closures during winter weather. The area this park is located is the high desert, which experiences wild temperature fluctuations and extreme heat in the summer months. In spring, you can expect up to 40 degree temperature swings in a single day. Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle.
There are no lodging or dining facilities inside the park, but you can find both in nearby Moab, closest to Island in the Sky, Monticello nearest the Needles and Green River or Hanksville closest to the Maze. There are two campgrounds inside the park, and there are extensive opportunities for backcountry camping. To get the most out of this national park, you will want to have a 4WD so you can see and experience incredible vistas and scenic drives.
Biking is a favorite activity in Canyonlands, but you must remain on designated roads. Pack and saddlestock horseback riding is allowed on all backcountry roads. There are varying degrees of hiking throughout the park to meet the desires of just about anyone. Technical climbing is allowed at the sandstone towers in Island of the Sky and no permit is needed. There are miles of flatwater boating perfect for canoes or kayaks. At Cataract Canyon there is a 14 miles stretch of whitewater rapids ranging from III-V if you’re looking for adventure. You must have a permit for all private river trips, which can be reserved up to four months in advance.
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah
This monument cover nearly 2 million acres of America’s public lands in southern Utah. Due to the remote areas of this park, it will be up to you to check road conditions, weather conditions, flash flood warnings, and wildlife sightings. There are 4 visitor centers to get your information with knowledgeable staff on hand to answer your questions. Most visitor center hours are 9 am – 4 pm, but are not open every day. Not only is Grand Staircase a wonderful place to recreate, but many scientists are there to explore and research as well.
Throughout Grand Staircase you will witness the preservation and conservation of outrageous geologic wonders as well as biological resources. Bold plateaus, multihued cliff and slot canyons aren’t the only contribution to this monument. This area is also rich in human history, and preserves this cultural historical ties to this land. One amazing feature of this land is that 90% of it has zero artificial light source. That means the night skies here are unparalleled.
In addition to primitive campgrounds, not suited for trailers larger than 25 feet, there are BLM areas for dispersed camping. Please check all rules and regulations and no matter where you camp, practice the Leave No Trace principles at all times. Other lodging and food can be found in nearby communities like Kanab, UT.
Something Special Inside Grand Escalante
One of the most popular hikes is “the wave”, but you must have a permit for day use to do it. Only 48 day use permits are granted per day for this strenuous 6.4 mile round trip hike. No campfires or overnight camping is allowed. It is up to you to recreate responsibly in this area. If the roads are wet you may need a 4WD vehicle with high clearance to get to the start of this hike. A popular off roading area is the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Great Sand Dunes is open every day of the year, so the only thing that may prevent you from exploring this amazing park is the weather. The early spring months still provide a lot of snowfall at these high elevations and the volatile winds in the afternoons can make the sand dunes less than ideal. Consider this park for May and visit the dunes in the morning for optimal conditions. Entrance fees cost $25 per vehicle and last for 7 days.
The campground is open from April-October and is by reservation, but there are no electric hook ups. There are no free in-person backpacking permits available. Purchase them online and it comes with an assigned parking lot. Follow all rules and regulations, noting specifically that campfires are not allowed. There is no lodging inside the park, but there are 4 nearby and many others within 45 minutes of the park. For picnicking there are 4 reservable day use sites and the Oasis restaurant and store are located next to the main park entrance, which is open April-October. It is the only food to be found within 25 miles of the park.
The most popular activities include hiking, sand boarding on the dunes and splashing in Medano Creek. In the spring the best hiking is on the dunes. If you are visiting in summer, you can find trails in the forests and alpine areas. For sand boarding and sand sledding, you will need to bring your own supplies or rent from an outfitter outside the park. Check out the Oasis store and Spin Drift. Have fun sliding down and climbing up, but stay away from any vegetation areas. Medano Creek will only have water once snow begins to melt, so expect the best conditions for flow in May. Beware of the no-see-ums that make their headline that time of year, though!
National Parks in the Southeast
If you are attempting to avoid the buggiest months inside the parks in the Southeast, your best bet is to visit in the early spring. The humidity is usually fairly low in the spring as well. Even in early March, I experienced 85 degree highs in the Everglades. Thankfully the muggy, steamy weather was nowhere to be found.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
This unbelievable park is actually a cluster of 7 islands found 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. It is one of the most remote parks and is only accessible by private boat, daily concession ferry, charter boats, or seaplane. The park is open all day every day, but your time is limited when you utilize the ferry or seaplane options. March is still part of the stormy season with higher winds and rougher seas. For optimal weather conditions try to visit in April and May before the temps and crowds rise and prior to hurricane season. The Garden Key Visitor Center is open from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, which is located inside Fort Jefferson. There is no cellular or wi-fi service at Dry Tortugas.
There are no restaurants, hotels, fuel stations, marine supplies, fishing supplies or other rentable gear in the park. You must come prepared for yourself and your group. There are limited concessions available for purchase on the ferry if you use that method. Private boaters can stay overnight on their vessels as long as they are anchored in an approved area. The limited primitive campsites close to the dock are first come, first-served. If you plan to camp, you must do extensive planning and bring all your own supplies. You MUST carry out all trash upon departure.
Water Activities in Dry Tortugas National Park
Fishing is one of the beloved activities for the abundance of marine life. There are quite a few rules and regulations to follow, but they are well worth it for the experience. If you are older than 16, you must have a Florida fishing license purchased prior to arriving. If you bring your own boat to explore with, you must have a boating permit to enter the park. There is no anchoring allowed in the research areas and the mooring balls are for 2 hour day use only. Snorkeling and diving are also popular activities with the abundance of sea life to observe (never touch!) during your visit. Note that compressed air tanks are NOT allowed on the ferry, so bring those via personal or charter boat if you choose to dive. For those who are staying overnight, don’t miss the opportunity to night dive/snorkel!
Everglades National Park, Florida
Many people consider America’s Everglades to be one giant swamp, but it’s actually a subtropical wilderness with water as the lifeblood of the many ecosystems found there. Filled with natural habitats and incredible wildlife, this park is a dream in the early spring months. March is a wonderful time to visit before the high daytime temperatures become too oppressive. This park follows a wet/dry season pattern, with dry season ending in March. The 3 park entrances are NOT connected and 4 visitor centers are spread out. The entry cost is $30 per vehicle and lasts for 7 consecutive days.
There are two campgrounds available from the Homestead entrance that can accommodate tents and RV’s. You may camp in the wilderness with a permit. Advance reservations are opened up on a rolling basis. You can also rent eco tents in advance as another adventure option.
There is no shortage of outdoor activities for every age and ability within the park. If you enjoy riding bikes, look in to the Shark Valley area and the Snake Bight Trail near Flamingo. Everglades is a bird watchers paradise during the dry season. Most of the park is water, so boating, kayaking, and canoeing are an obvious choice for exploring. You can also charter boats out of Flamingo for salt water or fresh water fishing. Guided boat tours get you deeper into the park with a wealth of information and unobstructed views. Trails for walking or hiking can be found throughout.
Thousands of people a year flock to the Everglades for an Airboat tour. There are 3 operators located between Miami and Shark Valley with daily tours varying in length. Some offer private tours as well. Bring your sunscreen and bug spray and enjoy the ride!
Biscayne National Park, Florida
In the same neighborhood as Miami, Biscayne National Park is a water wonderland of a park. The stunning teal and aquamarine waters, coral reefs, and tiny islands make this park a dream in springtime. This park is comprised primarily of water, and so it is open 24 hours a day every day. The visitor center, however, is open from 9-5 most days including major holidays. There are no entrance fees to this park, but if you wish to camp on Elliott Key or Boca Chita Key, you will pay a $25 overnight fee. Both require a boat to get there. This is a subtropical location, so know that hurricane season is from June-November.
There are no restaurants or lodging options other than remote camping as discussed above. The visitor center does have a few pick up food items, but you will need to come prepared. Boat tours and ranger tours are available for added enjoyment. Locals and visitors alike come for the fishing, snorkeling and diving. These undeveloped Florida keys give people the chance to explore in a more relaxed setting. The park preserves marine habitats and supports world class fishing such as spiny lobster, snapper, grouper, tarpon, and bonefish. The shorelines are mangrove fringed and perfect for kayaking. Snorkeling and diving around some of the parks shipwrecks is a favorite, as well as the coral reefs in the immediate area.
The Biscayne National Institute offers ecotours for snorkeling and exploring Boca Chita Key. The boat cruises are well worth the time and money for the views and the fresh air, getting out into some of the untouched areas of our beautiful country. Depending on the way you want to spend your time, you could do 1-2 days here and still want to return.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree is best known for the east coast’s largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest. Waters from the Congaree River and Wateree River sweep through with deep nutrients that nourish the ecosystems and create a place for champion trees to flourish. The park is open for exploration every day, all day and there are no entrance fees. The best times to visit are in winter, spring and late fall when the humidity dies down and the bugs aren’t AS bad. You do need to be aware that flooding can occur, which essentially makes the boardwalks unusable so check the Congaree River conditions near the park.
There is no lodging or food service in the park. Columbia, SC is just 30 minutes from the park where you can find hotels and restaurants and plenty of other outdoor activities. Front country camping is allowed through an online reservation only. There are no RV camping spots at the park, only tent camping. Feel free to backcountry camp with a free permit and reach those spots by foot or by kayak. Open fires are not permitted in the backcountry. As with all camping, practice the Leave No Trace principles.
The best way to experience Congaree National Park is on foot or by paddle. There are boardwalk trails as well as paths, both long and short. Enjoy the wilderness by getting out on a kayak or canoe for a serene paddle. You may fish in all areas of Congaree with a valid SC fishing license. There are regulations on what type of bait can be used in order to preserve the natural ecosystems already in place, so check that out before dropping your line. One of the coolest experiences inside Congaree National Park is to view the synchronous fireflies put on a show, which happens for about two weeks starting in mid-May. Like most other parks, there are ranger led programs that get you deeper into the park and into the history of what you are experiencing.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Located just 75 miles from our nation’s capital this park offers epic sunset views, waterfall hikes and quiet hollows to explore. There is only one public road that traverses North to South (or vice versa) called Skyline drive. It is well worth it to do the entire drive. Although the park is open year-round, most facilities open in March. Keep in mind that roads will close if the weather warrants it.
An entrance pass is required and can be purchase online prior to arrival or at one of the entrance gates for $30 per vehicle, which will last for 7 consecutive days. Springtime temps can vary drastically and while many days will warm up to 70 degrees, it is not uncommon for March to bring lots of snowfall. This park is glorious in April and May, though, and perfect for hiking conditions. Keep a raincoat with you and enjoy bursting waterfalls releasing all of that snow runoff! The wildflowers in spring are out of this world. The park boasts 862 species within its boundaries.
Inside Shenandoah National park in Spring
Hiking, biking, and camping are the favorite activities inside the park. You will find trails of every difficulty level. You can experience peak heights with incredible views or make your way down into the hollows for tucked away waterfalls and precious solitude. There are tons of opportunities for backcountry camping with permits and proper planning. Along Skyline Drive you will notice many cyclists challenging themselves around the twists and turns and the ups and downs.
Utilize the multiple waysides for quick food service that you will find along Skyline Drive. Or, take extra time to sit down at one of the in park restaurants. I recommend keeping a soft sided cooler with you for your adventures within the park. Pick up sandwiches and snacks at the waysides and keep on rollin’. There are 4 lodging options within the boundaries of the park ranging from premium hotel type rooms to rustic cabins. Five campgrounds with a variety of amenities are inside the park, but none offer electric hook ups. Campgrounds fill quickly in late spring and summer months, so make your reservations up to 6 months in advance.
Spring Travel Guide Tips
With any type of travel you need to consider and plan ahead. Before you leave to visit these beautiful, but remote National Parks, you must be prepared. Do your research ahead of time and be sure to pack all of the essentials you will need along the way. Spring brings all kinds of weather conditions, so be sure to check your favorite weather apps AND the main website page for each park for road closure and trail closure information. Wildlife can often be the best part of spring travels when all those babies are learning their new world. And most importantly, take the time to get off the grid and reconnect in nature. You will never regret that time away.