Summer is right around the corner—seemingly endless sunny days, warmer weather, and well deserved time away from work. With summer at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it is now a better time than ever to begin planning a getaway. Summer is the prime time of year to visit some of the most naturally stunning places on the planet.
Lucky for us, the United States has many of these destinations spread across the state in the form of National Parks. We’ve compiled the best of the best National Parks to visit during the summertime. So without further adieu, here are 12 of the best National Parks for summer vacation.
Isle Royal National Park | Michigan
It is likely Isle Royal National Park isn’t the first national park you’d think to visit. After all, the island is mostly known for its immigrant wolves and moose, rather than its beautiful surroundings. Yet there is much to be discovered on Isle Royal. This is evident in the fact that Isle Royale visitors typically stay here 3.5 days, compared to the average national park visit of 4 hours. Just to get to Isle Royale requires a boat ride, which shows how far removed it is from the hustle and bustle of the city and suburbia. Once on the island, hikers share the land with wolves and moose–who arrived on the island in the early to mid 1900’s. One-day departures visits are possible, however it is highly recommended to stay longer to truly appreciate the 165 miles of trails and natural beauty at Isle Royal.
Houghton County Memorial Airport, Michigan and Duluth International Airport, Minnesota
Make reservations for passenger boats well in advance from Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan or Grand Portage, Minnesota.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park | California
A visit to Sequoia will remind you just how small we are in this great, big world. This national park is known for its big trees, long canyons, ever-expanding greenery, and endless hiking opportunities. Even the most avid hiker will need to come back to Sequoia to explore more, as the park has over 800 miles of trails—offering more to see and explore than any other national park in the nation. Admire the scale and grandeur of these red giants and explore the many hiking paths that wind through the woody groves of the peaceful forest. Because of the sheer number of hiking trails, plan for at least a few days to get the true Sequoia experience.
Fresno/Yosemite International Airport (81 miles), California.
Visit the Giant Forest in Kings Canyon to see five out of the ten largest trees in the world, including the General Sherman tree, the second largest tree on Earth.
Katmai National Park | Alaska
When people think of Alaska, they likely think of a snow-covered landscape. However, Alaska is equally as stunning in the summer, when the snow has mostly thawed and wildlife is more active than ever. The Katmai National Park is the perfect place to visit to experience the pure beauty of Alaska. From the 15 volcanoes to the largest population of protected brown bears, Katmai has multiple points of interest. Let’s also not forget the abundant hiking opportunities, such as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes—which descends into the Ukak River. Katmai requires a boat or plane to reach, which should be kept in mind when planning the logistics and duration of your trip.
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to King Salmon Airport (35 miles), Alaska.
If you are eager to spot a brown bear, plan your vacation for July when the sockeye salmon spawn draws the almost 2,000 brown bears for feeding.
Crater Lake National Park | Oregon
There is nothing truly more mesmerizing than miles of pristine, deep blue water. Crater Lake National Park offers 21 miles of the bluest water you may see in your lifetime. Not only is the water clean, but so is the air surrounding Crater Lake—which allows visitors to see more than 100 miles at some points in the park. The lake was created after a volcanic eruption, Mount Mazama, around 5700 B.C. and is now a nationwide attraction. With over 100 miles of hiking trails, visitors can stroll through hemlock, pine, and fir trees, while also keeping their eyes peeled for the black bears, deer, bobcats, and marmots that call the surrounding area home.
Portland International Airport (270 miles) Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, Oregon (80 miles)
Hike the Mount Scott Trail, dubbed the most beautiful trail in the park that offers a panoramic view of Crater Lake.
Acadia National Park | Maine
It may be at the northern most tip of the east coast, but Acadia National Park is worth a summer visit. This park offers a bit of everything from sandy beaches to granite peaks to hardwood forests. First discovered by Samuel de Champlain in 1604, this summer-destination wasn’t rediscovered again until the mid 19th century, when yachts anchored in the rocky harbors to enjoy the scenery. Although it is on the smaller-scale when it comes to national arks, Acadia is one of the most visited national parks in the country. Each year, almost two and a half million people flock here which speaks to how spectacular this park truly is.
Bangor International Airport (49 miles) or Portland International Airport (184 miles), Maine.
Biking is not permitted on park trails or the scenic Park Loop Road. Instead bikers can ride on any of the carriage roads that wind through the heart of the park.
Shenandoah National Park | Virginia
Shenandoah may be known for its fall foliage, but the park is equally as spectacular in the summer. With the Blue Ridge Mountains nearby, the park’s temperatures are as much as 10 degrees cooler than in the valley—allowing for a more enjoyable hiking experience. With over 500 miles of trails to explore, Shenandoah takes hikers past a dozen waterfalls, scenic vistas, and staggering mountains. The ultimate gem of Shenandoah National Park may be Skyline Drive–a National Scenic Byway that runs through the park, though this is more congested during the summer.
Washington Dulles International Airport (78 miles) or Charlottesville Albemarie Airport, VA (34 miles)
Hike into the “Big Meadow” in the evening hours to see the dramatic changing colors of the mountain sky and the numerous stars shimmering above. Available select Saturdays in the summer.
Channel Islands National Park | California
The journey just to get to the Channel Islands is magical. Your adventure starts with a short boat ride with a large pod of dolphins gleefully swimming in the boats wake. Next you are transported to a remote destination filled with native animals, beautiful hiking trails, and minimal people exploring alongside you. There are five different islands here for exploring, with over 145 plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Whether you are looking to hike, camp, kayak, fish, or whale watch, there’s something for everyone at Channel Islands National Park.
Los Angeles International Airport (68 miles) or Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (48 miles)
Visit San Miguel Island, the westernmost island-plateau. Here you can take the 16-mile hike to Point Bennett–one of the most isolated beaches in the entire world.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park | Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley National Park may be Ohio’s best kept secret. In fact, many people aren’t even familiar with it. This could be because it is a relatively new national park, only receiving this prestigious status in 2000. Now the park protects 33,000 acres between Cleveland and Akron and along the Cuyahoga River, and has plenty of reasons for exploring. Many come here to hike to the 70 waterfalls located here, including the famous Brandywine Falls, through the rolling hills and river gorges, and along the 186 miles of trails. Luckily, this park also does not experience extreme temperatures. In the summer, temperatures usually range from 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (occasionally into the 90s).
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (26 miles)
Brandywine Falls is a must-see when visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The waterfall is easy to get to and is the most impressive waterfall in the Lake Erie Watershed.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park | North Carolina, Tennessee
Sprawled across 800 square miles of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee lies the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—home to some of the oldest mountains in the entire world. With its stunning natural beauty, miles of hiking trails, and no entrance fee to enter the park, it is no wonder over 9 million people flock here each year. To put this number into perspective, this is twice as much foot traffic as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or Yellowstone National Park receives. With that said summer is more crowded than most seasons, and reservations for hotels should be booked far in advance.
McGhee-Tyson Airport (45 miles), Tennessee or Asheville Regional Airport (60 miles), North Carolina.
Drive on Roaring Fork for scenic views, roaring waters, and wildlife. Self-guided auto tours are available for $1 at the Sugarlands Nature Center.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park | Hawaii
The Hawai’I Volcanoes are unlike anything you’ll find at any other national park, consisting of five volcanoes–the result of 70 million years of volcanism. A visit here will give visitors a glimpse into millions of years of history and dramatic volcanic landscapes. Visitors can also partake in truly unique hiking and camping opportunities. The park itself is over 500 square miles—close to half the size of Rhode Island— and over half of that is protected as the Hawai’I Volcanoes Wildlife Area. Plan your stay in advance, as day trips from Hilo and Kona are not really practical to see veerything this park has to offer
Hilo International Airport (28 miles), Hawaii.
Stay the night in Volcano Village, just outside the park’s entrance, to get the full volcano-exploring experience. Because the park has so many hiking opportunities it is recommended to stay for multiple days.
Mount Rainier National Park| Washington
Winter may be for snowshoeing at Mount Rainier National Park but summer is all for exploring. Whether you’d like to explore the beauty of this park by car cruising along the White Pass and Chinook Scenic Byways or by foot, there is plenty to take in. Meander through tall trees while trekking to Silver Falls, or explore the unique ecosystem of the Temperate Rainforest at Carbon River. If wildflowers are your thing, the nature trails at Paradise are in peak season from mid-July to mid-August. Cap off your day with a scenic gondola ride up Mount Rainier.
Sea-Tac International Airport (64 miles), Washington
Hike the Sourdough Ridge Trail at sunrise to take in mountain views, alpine meadows, and sometimes even marmots. In the summer, hardy wildflowers can also be spotted.
Yellowstone National Park | Wyoming, Montana
You’ve likely heard of Yellowstone National Park, after all it’s known for its diverse landscape ranging from dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, green forests, and geysers–including the most famous, Old Faithful. It’s also known for its wildlife with bears, wolves, bison, elk, and antelope roaming freely. Yellowstone also attracts people with it’s beautiful waterfalls—one is so spectacular it is appropriately named Artist’s Point, 1,300 miles of trails, rafting, camping, and paleontological treasures. Yellowstone is also right smack dab in the middle of cowboy country, so you can also get your kicks at the local rodeo.
Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport (86 miles), Montana or Jackson Hole Airport (50), Wyoming
Hike the 7.2-mile Mount Washburn Trail from Dunraven Pass Picnic area to spot vibrant mountain flowers during July and August. If you hike early enough you may even spot peregrine falcons, elk, bighorn sheep, and mule deer.