10 Best National Parks to Visit in Spring

From waterfalls to wildflowers, these Western landscapes are not to be missed in spring

By Jessica Mordo, Sunset


Waterfall Wonders at Yosemite National Park, CA

In a park known for its towering sequoias and epic mountain walls, it’s hardly surprising that two of the country’s tallest waterfalls call Yosemite home. And thanks to winter thaw, they typically go off in spring (especially after a season of massive precipitation). Now’s your chance to witness the majesty of Yosemite Falls (pictured) and Sentinel Falls, with the park at its serene best before the summer crowds start filing into the park come June.


Dramatic Desert Flora at Saguaro National Park, AZ

Fact: Desert temperatures are at their most enjoyable in spring. An even more fun fact: Spring also heralds a burst of desert wildflowers, adding a multitude of colors to the cactus-dotted wonderland of Saguaro. Poppies, penstemons, marigolds, and cactus blooms are but a few of the florals popping this time of year.


Riding Waves at Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

While Colorado’s winters are famed for ski runs and its summers prized for mountain biking and alpine hiking, the spring shoulder season is often overlooked, and that’s a shame (but also an opportunity). Alongside Great Sand Dunes, Medano Creek gets flooded by snowmelt from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, resulting in a landscape that can be best described as a beach vacation in the mountains. “Surf” the undulating dunes while they aren’t too hot for your bare feet to bear, followed by a refreshing dip in the creek; rinse and repeat.


Cool, Uncrowded Adventures at Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Grand Canyon visits peak in summer, but so do temperatures. Spring is the perfect time for mild days (albeit sometimes chilly nights) and wild times whitewater rafting, biking, and hiking. While the North Rim is still closed until mid-June, the South Rim is cleared of snow by late March, making it a gloriously uncrowded destination for explorations down into the canyon.


Going Batty at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

There aren’t too many places that offer above- and below-ground worlds to explore; Carlsbad Caverns is the total package. Atop the desert floor, rugged canyons, blooming cacti, and reptiles rate among the top sights to see. But it’s the underground network of more than 100 caves dotted with stalactites that make this park a truly unparalleled experience. Springtime bonus: April and May bring a preponderance of bats to the caverns. 17 species, including Mexican free-tailed bats (pictured), live in the park and at this time of year, swarm out of the caves at dusk in swirling loops for hours.


Lush, Lush Life at Redwood National Park, CA

Right after a wet winter, there’s nothing quite like an ancient forest at its most verdant and alive. Come witness it for yourself at this treasure trove of old-growth redwood trees, spring flowers, and forest critters. And when you’re done exploring the ins and outs of the woods, head to the nearby coast to glimpse gray whales migrating north.


Top-Rate River Rafting at Big Bend National Park, TX

In the southwest corner of Texas, Big Bend's swath of desert-meets-mountains upholds that old “everything feels bigger in Texas” chestnut: the canyons here are vast, the vistas are wide, and the night skies are expansive and crammed with stars. However, in spring, the park is as much about its larger-than-life features as it is about the details: hiking trails are less crowded, cacti are blooming, multitudes of birds take refuge, and the Rio Grande’s flow is at its peak, making Big Bend one of the West’s best rafting destinations.


Spring Safari at Olympic National Park, WA

You thought Alaska was the go-to for a wildlife-viewing adventure of a lifetime, but the truth is you don’t have to travel that far north to get a North American safari experience. Olympic National Park, on the northwest coast of Washington State, affords you opportunities to see a wide variety of animals in spring: gray whales on the move, black bears out of hibernation, bastions of birds overhead, and more rainforest creatures out and about.


Vertical Gardens at Zion National Park, UT

Zion is renowned for its slot canyon-riddled landscapes, bucket-list hikes, and astounding array of wildlife (including nearly 300 species of birds). However, spring adds a seasonal feature to the park’s impressive lineup of attractions: canyon walls covered in hanging gardens of wildflowers, brought on by spring rains. Hello, eye candy!


SoCal Desert Stunners at Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree is gorgeous any time of year, but in early spring, the desert puts on quite the show: wildflowers carpet the landscape, bursting into full bloom by April and May. Pair that with some of the West’s starriest skies, most dramatic rock formations, stretches of cholla cactus as far as the eye can see, and the perfect pairing of warm days and crisp nights, and you’ve got the ultimate spring break destination. Oh, and lest we forget, spring is prime time for bird watching here, too.
Travel, National Parks

See more at: Sunset
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  2. 10 Insider Secrets to Optimize Your National Park Visit
  3. Best National Parks: Avoid the Crowds



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10 Best National Parks to Visit in Spring
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