With spring in full swing and summer looming on the horizon, it’s an ideal time to begin exploring the great outdoors. What better place than at one of our many U.S. National Parks? Some are well-known icons while others of these national treasures are more obscure. Regardless, all are unique and represent some of the most beautiful and scenic locations our nation has to offer. Here are the 10 best national parks to visit when the weather is warm.
This otherworldly sandbox of dunes, the tallest topping 750 feet, is set against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The park’s remote location paired with several peaks exceeding 13,000 feet and a few of the coveted “fourteeners” (those exceeding 14,000-feet) make for an adventure playground. Situated at just over 8,000 feet above sea level, it’s an ideal location for stargazing amidst a seemingly surreal landscape.
The rugged shores of Maine are like no other place in the lower forty-eight. Acadia is one of the smaller National Parks, but there is no shortage of diversity. It boasts a dramatic coastline, sheer granite peaks, and hardwood forests teeming with abundant wildlife. The mountains really do meet the sea, including Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic coast of the U.S. In addition to hiking trails and rock climbing options within the park, there are also 45 miles of carriage trails to explore on two wheels. Fun fact: Acadia was the first national park established east of the Mississippi River.
Spanning about a million acres in northern Montana, Glacier National Park is home to 15 active glaciers, hence its name. Going-to-the-Sun-Road is an engineering marvel and it’s only open during the warmer months. At nearly 50 miles long, it bisects the park and reaches its highest point at Logan Pass. The drive is an adventure in of itself, providing arguably some of the most beautiful views in the United States, if not the world. The park is home to mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, wolves, and grizzly bears. Hiking trails are plentiful and weave through alpine meadows. It truly is “The Crown of the Continent.”
Located just 75 miles west of our nation’s capital, this spectacular region is a popular destination for fall foliage seekers. However, we say you don’t have to wait until autumn to explore this gem of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park has over 500 miles of trails, including a 101-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. In addition to hiking, this is a mecca for whitewater rafting, camping, fishing, and climbing. Even if you’re not into outdoor recreation, Skyline Drive provides a scenic roadway experience that will take you the entire length of the 105-mile-long park.
Kenai Fjords, like most of Alaska’s National Parks, is best experienced in the warmer months. Dwindling glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield into the surrounding fjords. While hiking trails provide access to remote locations within the park, the decks of one of the many cruise ships and boat tours that traverse the waters off the coast provide access to calving glaciers and whale watching. Fun fact: The largest park in the largest state, Wrangell-St Elias, is bigger than the nine smallest states combined.
North Carolina and Tennessee
Nature abounds in this lush landscape that straddles two states. More commonly referred to as just the Smokies, the region gets its name from the prevalent fog that blankets the ridges almost every morning. Located in one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America, this area of the Appalachian Mountains is renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life. Hiking trails are numerous with many leading to scenic waterfalls and overlooks. Even the iconic Appalachian Trail traverses the spine of the park.
Located just 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park, this lesser-visited neighbor can provide an escape from the crowds. At 40 miles long, the Teton Range is a “grand” display of jagged peaks that owe their distinctive appearance to eons of weathering and the previous ice ages that shaped the iconic landscape. The park is named after the tallest peak in the range, Grand Teton, which rises 13,775 feet above sea level. Initially, the park only protected the namesake range before expanding in the mid-20th century to include the surrounding valley. For the adventurous, the wild and scenic Snake River winds its way through the park.
It’s one thing to walk among rocks that are billions of years old. It’s another to stroll beneath ancient living creatures that are thousands of years old. Not to be confused with Sequoia National Park, which is located farther inland and south of Redwood, this coastal haven can provide an oasis from the heat of summertime. These old-growth redwoods can tower over 300 feet above the forest floor. A multi-canopied effect is created by other trees, including spruce, fir, and hemlock. The park skirts the Pacific Ocean and showcases 37 miles of shoreline and beaches.
There’s no better way to escape the heat and humidity of the eastern United States than to literally take it underground. The world’s longest cave system contains more than 400 miles of explored passages and, during the summer months, rangers lead more than a dozen different tours. Looking for something a little off the beaten path in this subterranean labyrinth? Consider one of the wild cave tours. These are designed to showcase some of the more remote sections. If going underground isn’t for you, there are numerous activities above ground as well, with two rivers winding their way through the park.
Perched high in the mountains, the park is located outside of Estes Park, Colorado. Beginning at around 8,000 feet, the elevation within the park reaches its pinnacle atop Longs Peak at 14,259 feet. Trails range from easy hikes around clear mountain lakes to strenuous excursions. During June and July, the alpine meadows are ablaze with wildflowers while autumn sparks the aspen display as their leaves turn a golden yellow. Trail Ridge Road, completed in the 1930s, is another engineering marvel and one road trip that every person should experience; it crests at over 12,000 feet and leads to the Alpine Visitor’s Center, which is the highest in the entire National Park system.
Are the temperatures dropping? Here are the best National Parks to visit during the winter.
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