Visiting America’s most popular National Parks in the past few years has become a daunting challenge due to overcrowding and limited time frames for optimal weather. But, we’ve found ways to avoid those challenges! These are the best times to visit each park to get the most out of your National Park experience!
In the past few years, there’s been a massive influx in tourists wanting to explore America’s most popular National Parks. You can thank the National Park Service’s 100th Anniversary and the Covid Pandemic that forced millions of bored Americans out of their houses to get some fresh air and see the magnificent National Treasures. Because of this the most popular National Parks are busting at the seams with visitors.
Some issues even we’ve faced is having to wait in long lines of cars waiting just to get into the park. Or, trying to find parking at trailheads or pullouts to get an epic shot of wildlife or scenic views. Let’s not forget the hiking trails themselves that leave us wondering if we’re at nature’s version of the Mall of America.
But, if you know when to visit our most popular National Parks, your experience will be a much more memorable one!
So, let’s grab your calendar and start planning your National Parks road trip!
Best Times to Visit America’s Most Popular National Parks
What to consider when planning your National Park visits:
- Will you be traveling solo or with family?
- Are your travel times based on school vacations?
- Can you travel on your own time instead of when the boss tells you?
- Do you rely on weather for travel?
The reason I bring up those points is if you’re bound by strict schedules and weather, some of my recommendations may not work for you depending on where you’re traveling from. Knowing this, you may want to plan them for future visits.
These assessments of when we think are the best times to visit popular National Parks based on crowds, weather, seasonal changes and wildlife movement.
This blog article contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is our east coast favorite. Tucked in along Maine’s rocky coastline that looks out to the North Atlantic, this park will give you the perspective of how some of our immigrants came to America.
Most think the best time to visit Acadia National Park is during the summer months of late May through August. The kids are out of school and the weather is just absolutely amazing. However, know that’s when Acadia is at it’s busiest.
If you have a little more latitude in your road trip planning, the best time to visit Acadia is after Labor Day but before Fall foliage season arrives. The kids will be in school and the leaf peepers will yet to trek their way to Downeast Maine.
Want to know what to do at Acadia National Park? Check out Travel CzN’s Top 10 Things to Do in Acadia National Park:
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty 5 which is reason enough why it’s one of America’s most popular National Parks. Where else can you enjoy one of the best outdoor adventure venues and visit five parks National Parks in the same area? Because of that, Arches is, quite literally, busting at the seams with people at various times of the year.
Based on our experience and according to U.S. News and World Report, the best time to visit Arches National Park is “April through May and September through October, when daytime temperatures average about 60 to 80 degrees. In the summer, temperatures can exceed 100 degrees, which can make exploring the park’s trails very uncomfortable.” We played at nearby Moab in April and the crowds were considerably less. And the trails were totally awesome because there is little traffic on the road and the trails!
Bryce Canyon National Park
A four hour drive from Arches but still in the state of Utah is the ever-present Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon is popular for two reasons; it’s proximity to Moab and Bryce is one of Utah’s Mighty 5 as is Arches (above).
VisitUtah.com claims, “there is no best time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park. Choosing the best time to visit Bryce Canyon just depends on what you’re looking for”. The summer months are the most popular time to visit Bryce for families because the kids are on summer vacation. Spring and Fall is a great time because the Park typically has fewer people; making for better hiking and exploring. Winter offers beautiful snowy views of white dusting the red rocks and lots of winter activities.
Bryce Canyon daylight temps in the summer are quite comfortable. While Spring and Autumn also has warm daytime temperatures, temperatures at night can plummet. And of course, winter is cold and may be snowy. One important thing to realize is at higher elevations, snow is possible any time of the year at Bryce Canyon.
So, in our opinion, the best time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park is in the Spring and Fall months. Just be prepared by bringing a warm jacket, hat and gloves
Headed to Arches or Bryce Canyon? Make sure you check out our Moab Utah Ultimate Adventure Guide:
Denali National Park
Denali National Park, previously known as Mount McKinley, is like no other National Park in the United States. Over 6 million acres of Alaska wilderness with glaciers, tundra and masses of evergreen, Denali is popular for many reasons. The massive park is home to grizzly bears, moose and caribou, wolves and sheep. But the star of the show is Mount McKinley reigning at 20,310′ in elevation; the highest in the continent.
When planning your visit to Denali National Park, it depends on what you want to do when you get there. Though Denali is a year-round National Park, most visitors visit during the summer months to hike, backpack, mountain climb and bike.
In June, the lodge and cabins open and the park shuttles are back in service. Summer is also the best time to see wildlife and the temperatures are comfortable. Let’s not forget those 20 hours of daylight each day allows for more adventures.
While being considered ‘crowded’ is relative at Denali, we recommend visiting Denali National Park either early June before the summer crowds arrive or late September when the kids are in school and the park prepares for its’ harsh winter season making getting there a challenge.
Grand Canyon National Park
We’ve learned from several sources that the best time of the year to visit the Grand Canyon is the Spring months; from March through May, and Fall months of September through November. Those are when it’s cooler and you have less crowds to deal with. If you decide to explore the Grand Canyon in the summer, be aware you will be amongst many more tourists and lodging availability will be limited.
Aside from the best time of the year to visit Grand Canyon National Park, Jurga at Full Suitcase shares the best time of the day to visit is “early in the morning as possible and staying late. Sunrises and sunsets are magical at the Grand Canyon! If you come early in the morning (ideally before 8-8.30 AM), it will also be easier to find a parking spot at the South Rim.”
If you’re wanting to visit the Rims at different times, Travel and Leisure breaks it down to which is the best times (and worst times) to visit each Rim based on weather and crowds.
Glacier National Park
North America’s Glacier National Park is one of the most popular; especially for those who don’t get too far from the northwest quadrant of the United States. Located in Montana on the Canadian border, Glacier covers over a million acres of mountain vast wilderness, dense forests, over 100 lakes, and valleys of green.
And, since it’s reigned in that region for over 170 million years, it’s not going anywhere so there’s no urgency to plan your visit. That said, it is wise to pay attention to this particular National Park’s schedule. Because face it, you’ll totally understand once you traverse Glacier’s Going to the Sun Road.
Per The Outbound, “the fall season…the weather’s fantastic, the surroundings are gorgeous, and the trails are quiet. The first week of September is probably one of the nicest times to visit Glacier.” And, “from September to October, the weather is moderate with warm sunny days and cool nights. But as October dawns, snow is likely to fall which may cause certain closures in the park.”
If you’re looking to get some great views of wildlife and Fall foliage, September and October are best. That said, be aware that the area outside the park lodging accommodations, restaurants and shopping close right after Labor Day. Therefore, you’ll need to bring your own food and prepare to camp on your own.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park never disappoints! Because of Grand Teton’s location and elevation, the best time to visit is from the middle of May to the end of September. The Park’s visitor centers will be open. And, the hiking trails, kayaking and fishing are accessible. Be aware, if you go later in October when winter starts to roll in, Grand Tetons National Park shuts down most of the roads inside the park and its’ facilities.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Situated on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains draw millions of visitors each year. Hence, why Great Smoky Mountain National Park has been deemed “America’s Most Visited National Park”.
Our friends Kyle and Olivia wrote in their article, Statistically, The Best Time to Visit Smoky Mountains National Park, “The best times to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the summer (June, July and August) and the fall. July is the busiest month of the summer season while October weekends draw those in search of autumn foliage.”
Seriously though, there is no bad time to explore the eastern Appalachian mountain region. In the Spring, animals, forests and wildflowers awaken from their long winter’s nap. Therefore, crowds are minimal. But, coupled with school vacations and warm temperatures in the summer make it appealing for families to enjoy the outdoors. And for those sticking around to see a spectacular show of Fall colors, the Great Smoky Mountains never disappoints. But, that alone draws many visitors from all over.
But, if you want to avoid crowds all together, nothing compares to the new fallen snow that dusts the mountains and trees that remind us of the Currier and Ives painting over Grandma’s fireplace mantle.
Through My Lens created this great 13:29 minute Great Smoky Mountains travel guide video:
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park reigns as king out west because of the monstrous 14ers, diverse climates and beautiful scenic landscapes.
According to Fox in the Forest, Meg (Fox) suggests “the best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park between the middle of June until the middle of October.” However, due to the Park’s popularity for outdoor enthusiasts and travel bugs, the National Park Service had to implement a reservation system to minimize overcrowding throughout the Park.
If you plan to visit Rocky Mountain National Park from the end of May to the end of October, you’ll need to make an advanced reservation. This helps ensure each visitor will get the best enjoyment of this beautiful National Park.
Yellowstone National Park
There’s no doubt when you hear the words National Park, Yellowstone always reigns up there as being one of the most popular national parks to visit. And, having visited there years ago ourselves, we understand why.
This 3500 square miles super volcano hot spot is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Its’ hydrothermal environment spans into 3 states; Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. And of course, the biggest draws are Old Faithful geyser, hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, and travertine terraces. And of course, America’s iconic National Mammal, the American Bison reigns as king of the Park.
Summer seems to be the favorite for obvious reasons. Bison calves are born, the landscape is peppered with colorful wildflowers and the views are simply amazing! However, that’s when Yellowstone is at its’ peak with people. Tons of campers and road trippers pack well-known spots that used to be secret.
One of our favorite travel resources, Frommer’s cites in their When to Go in Yellowstone National Park, “Travel before June 15, if possible, or after mid-September. Labor Day used to represent a reliable slowdown in visitation, but in recent years, people have continued filling the park well into the fall season. If you can’t arrange an off-season visit, then go to the major attractions at off-peak hours when others are eating or sleeping.”
RELATED: Best Places to See Bison in America
Yosemite National Park
California’s Sierra Nevada mountains claims Yosemite National Park with its’ show-stopper towering sequoias, Tunnel View, the 620′ Bridalveil Fall, and respectable granite drop-offs of Half Dome and 3000′ drop El Capitan.
Though we’ve not been to Yosemite National Park yet, I’ve had to research when the best time is to visit this Park. I happened upon James Kaiser’s Best Times to Visit Yosemite National Park to see when to avoid crowds and beat the heat yet enjoy “all things outdoors”.
James quotes, “The best time to visit Yosemite National Park depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to see Yosemite Valley’s famous waterfalls, May and June are the best months to visit. Want to hike or backpack in the High Sierra? July and August can’t be beat. Looking to avoid the crowds in Yosemite? September offers great temperatures with far fewer visitors. And don’t forget winter, when the Yosemite Ski Area opens and you might catch a glimpse of the Natural Firefall.”
I mean, I couldn’t get a better assessment than what James offers to make your visit a splendid one!
Zion National Park
The first of Utah’s Mighty 5 and America’s 4th most visited National Park, the highly distinguished Zion National Park showcases its’ expansive 2000′ deep Zion Canyon, crimson cliffs, Emerald Pools, numerous nature-carved arches and the long-hike and wade through the famed Zion Narrows.
“Zion” has a generalized meaning of holy place or kingdom of heaven which explains why the dangerous hike to the top is called Angel’s Landing.
Zion National Parks claims as having the second largest freestanding natural arch in the world. Also, Zion’s Angel’s Landing is one of the most treacherous hikes. And the temperatures can plummet in the negative degrees Fahrenheit. Zion is home to almost 80 species of mammals.
Zion has a great list of reasons for its’ popularity; almost 4.5 million visitors per year! But, Zion’s popularity may determine when the best time of the year to visit this notable National Park.
Julia of Well Planned Journey cites, “The park gets less than 10% of its annual visitors from December to February. The rest of the year, called the “shoulder months”, average between 7,000 and 15,000 visitors per day. For those looking for great weather and fewer crowds, Spring and Fall are the best time to explore Zion National Park.”
Interested in touring Utah’s Mighty 5? Check out The West is Big! Travel 90 minute amazing video that will make you want to pack your bags to GO!
Wrapping up visiting America’s most popular National Parks
Wow! We hope this great resource helps you when planning your road trips to the most popular National Parks in the United States. This incredible collection will help you decide when is best for you and/or your family to get the BEST experience at your favorite National Parks!
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