1. Yosemite National Park | California
Spring has sprung at Yosemite National Park when the snow melts, fueling the park’s peak waterfall season. By April, even the park’s smallest creeks gush with water, and the iconic waterfalls flow at full force. Mirror Lake fills to the brim, proudly showcasing the reflection of Half Dome that can’t be seen during drier times of the year.
Tip: Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Roads usually remain closed until late May, however there’s still plenty to see in Yosemite Valley and Wawona.
2. Kenai Fjords National Park | Alaska
Alaska may be best known for it’s ice fields, icebergs, and glaciers, all of which can be found in Kenai Fjords National Park. But in the spring is when gray whales return to Alaska to feed, and millions of birds start their annual journey to the rookeries of the rocky coast. It’s also a time where black bears come out into their natural habitat, sea otters bob along the current, sea lines sun themselves on the rocks, puffins skim along the waters, and Dall porpoises frolick in the bow waves of boats.
Tip: Most visitors reach the park via the city of Seward, 130 miles south of Anchorage, either by car or using the Alaska Railroad.
3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park | New Mexico
Avoiding crowds at National Parks in the spring can prove to be futile, however planning a trip to Carlsbad Caverns is a different story. Carlsbad Caverns may not be the most popular national park, but it has plenty to offer. Explore a world 700 feet below the world’s surface and visit the 3rd and 7th largest cave chambers in the world. Giant rooms of limestone, stalagmites, stalactites, cave pearls, and underground lakes can be found at this reclusive site. Visitors can follow the twists and turns of famous cave rooms, tunnels, and even some unexplained noises. Seventeen species of bats also live in the park and many make appearances in April and May, including Mexican Free-tailed Bats.
Tip: Carlsbad Caverns is big, really big. Set aside at least a day to see the entire cave.
4. Cuyahoga Valley National Park | Ohio
Solitude, serenity, seclusion. These three words sum up Cuyahoga Valley National Park, surrounded by rivers, farmlands, and green hillsides. This quiet beauty is so astonishing, it may be hard to believe it is so close to the busy cities of Akron and Cleveland. This is easy to forget, however, once you take in the wildflowers and flowing waterfalls—such as the 60-foot Brandywine Falls, which is accessible by a nature hike. The spring only amplifies the experience of visiting Cuyahoga Valley, when flowers burst with color, rolling hills are covered in green, and newborn wildlife is frolicking nearby.
Tip: Visitors can take scenic train rides to learn the land’s history, and guided tours for bird watching. The area also offers camping, boating, canoeing, and horseback riding.
5. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park | Florida
Ok, so this isn’t a National Park but it still made the list because it is awesome.
The first undersea park in the United States, of course belongs in the state of Florida. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles. Mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks may be a part of this national park, however many come here for the coral reefs and their associated marine life. This can be enjoyed from a glass-bottom boat tour or visitors can get up close and personal to the marine life by scuba diving or snorkeling. Spring in Key Largo means beautiful sunshine-filled days and warm waters for a pleasant underwater adventure.
Tip: Explore the artifacts from a 1715 Spanish shipwreck at Cannon Beach, where there is an underwater view of Florida history.
6. Grand Canyon National Park | Arizona
You know it’s spring in the Grand Canyon when the daytime temperatures begin to cool and the crowds begin to thin; which makes this an ideal time to plan a desert adventure. Avoid the hordes of tourists and limited lodging in summer months, and instead plan your spring break retreat in Arizona, or more specifically the Grand Canyon. As one of the most popular parks in the United States, this landmark doesn’t disappoint. Created by the uplifting of the Colorado Plateau and the erosion caused by the Colorado River, the canyon is 277 miles long, and in places 10 miles wide. It’s not just it’s enormous size, but also the canyon’s shapes and colors that create a picturesque scene. It’s no wonder nearly 5 million people flock to the Grand Canyon National Park each year.
Tip: Although you may expect the Grand Canyon to be warm during the spring, temperatures can fluctuate drastically between the low of 50s and highs of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Pack plenty of layers.
7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Tennessee & North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, receiving approximately 9 million visitors per year—almost double that of the Grand Canyon! Luckily if you visit this national park in the spring, you will avoid their two peak seasons—mid-summer and the entire month of October. When all the snow has melted except on the mountain peaks and flowers are in full bloom is the nicest time of year to travel to the Great Smoky Mountains. A hike through the old growth forests will lead you past wildflower fields, beautiful waterfalls, and probably a number of deer, elk, and black bear sightings.
Tip: Hiking and adventures aside, March, April, and May are an exciting time in the town of Gatlinburg with a calendar jam-packed with events such as Gatlinburg Smoky Mountain Wine Fest, Gatlinburg Beans and Cornbread Blast, Gatlinburg Craft Festival, and the annual Smoky Mountain Trout Tournament.
8. Arches National Park | Utah
With the highest density of natural stone arches in the world (more than 2,000 of them in total), driving through Arches National Park is an unbelievable experience. In March, and even early April, the park is nearly desolate. Temperatures are cooler, usually in the sixties, and the La Sal Mountains are still snow-capped, which will make your photos even more unique than your friends. Spring is also a time of renewal, and you can see this in the blooming flowers. Arches doesn’t need to be your only stop on this spring break itinerary. Canyonlands National Park is conveniently located close by and also is worth a visit.
Tip: Devil’s Garden Campground, the only campground in Arches National Park, fills up in advance from March through October. Book a site in advance if you will be camping.
9. Olympic National Park | Washington
Olympic National Park has it all: mountains, rainforests, and coastline. Agove all rises Mount Olympus, named by a British fur trader who, upon viewing the mountain at sunset in 1788, thought it could nothing less than a dwelling place for the gods. The sites at Olympic National Park are pretty godly, including 11 major rivers, waterfalls, flower-laden meadows and trout-filled lakes. Then there are the dripping rain forests, both Hoh and Quinault. This mossy, other-worldly realm features old-growth trees that soar more than 20 stories high and 73-miles of wave-battered, driftwood-strewn beaches. Early spring in the lowlands of this park continues to be the best time of year for viewing Roosevelt Elk and black bears. It is also the best time of year to visit the Olympic National Park tide pools, when animals like the Giant Green Anemone make their appearances.
Tip: The 5,200 ft. Hurricane Ridge allows for breathtaking views of the Olympics and Strait Juan de Fuca. As far as hiking trails are concerned, hurricane Hill wanders beside alpine meadows with plenty of overlooks.
10. Badlands National Park | South Dakota
The winters in Badlands National Park experience frigid temperatures, dropping as low as an icy 6 degrees, but spring is a different story. Temperatures start to rise to 60 degrees before the summer gives way to hotter, and sometimes even unbearable temperatures. Yet people flock to this park for its unique geological formations of layered sand and rock. Badlands consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. It is the definition of desolation: where you can look for miles and see no sign of civilization. Aside from incredible geology, Badlands is also a must-see for the clarity of the Milky Way Galaxy, stars and satellites above. Light pollution from nearby cities isn’t an issue, in fact, on any given night one camping under the stars could see over 7,500 stars in the Badlands night sky.
Tip: Some of the worst blizzards have been known to occur early to mid April. March is your safest month to plan a spring trip to the Badlands—often plagued by unpredictable weather year-round.
11. Death Valley National Park | California
Springtime may be the most popular time to visit Death Valley National Park, but it is also worth fighting the crowds for the possibility of spring wildflowers. When winter brings rain, the desert can put on an impressive floral display, usually peaking in late March to early April. Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States, covering 3.4 million acres of desert. Yet the stark and varied landscape, with rounded, fuzzy-textured hills next to sharp-edged peaks, is a draw for many people looking to take in all its natural beauty. Even though the name suggests a harsh, hot, hell-hole, Death Valley is quite the opposite: filled with water-sculpted canyons, extinct volcanic craters, singing sand dunes, and plenty of endemic wildlife.
Tip: From late February until early April, lodging within a 100-mile radius is usually booked solid and campgrounds fill before noon, especially on weekends.
12. Joshua Tree National Park | California
When first approaching Joshua Tree National Park, it appears as a long strip of desert. But it is much more than that. While the park is full of history and amazing geology, springtime is the ideal time to visit. Late February prompts the abundance of Joshua Trees to bloom with large, creamy flowers. The rest of the park also experiences their annual flowers blooming along the trails. By April and May, the cacti are bursting with bright colors. Birdwatchers can also rejoice, because springtime is the best season for this hobby.
Tip: Book your campsite in advance. October through May are the most popular months to visit Joshua Tree National Park and therefor campsites fill up in advance.