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Tips: Best Time of Year to Visit 15 Popular National Parks

| Updated Jan 19, 2020

When it comes to enjoying the splendor of America's 62 national parks, RVers know there's never a bad time to get out and enjoy them.

That being said, we're guessing that many of our RV Lifestyle Fellow Travelers would be interested in the very best time to visit the parks. 

Fortunately, the team at Best Life put together a compilation details when, exactly, you might want to plan specific public lands. 

Check out the list below:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
When to go: May-June or August-October

ecause it is located in a temperate Southeast climate, there aren't many bad times to visit this park. Best Life notes that it essentially comes down to personal preference — whether you want to drive through fiery fall colors during September in the Smokies or beat the summer crowds by visiting in May, travelers obviously have choices. (Be sure to check for road closures in the winter.)  Note: Cades Cove Loop Road (a winding 11-mile road that weaves around the park's impressive peaks) is closed through Feb. 29 this year. 

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
When to go: September-November or March-May

If you want to enjoy the grandeur of this Wonder of the World without the hordes (or heat), Best Life recommends visiting during fall or spring. The North Rim (about a five-hour drive from the South Rim) is often far less popular with tourists when compared to the South Rim (where the major viewpoints are) and offers unique views of oft-unseen features of the terrain, including Point Imperial and Cape Royal. 

White Sands National Park, New Mexico
When to go: March-June

In December 2019, this area officially became a national park. It features a 275-square-mile sea of rare white gypsum (not sand!) dunes that look like something out of a dream. Because White Sands is located in the desert of New Mexico, summer months can be far too hot for many. The spring is much more mild and is the time when the yuccas bloom with lovely white flowers. Best Life warns to check out the area for high winds before setting out. 

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
When to go: May or September-October

The most popular months to visit this park are June to September. If you want to avoid the crowds and find some solitude amongst the mountains, try making reservations for May (when winter snows are melting and new spring growth is happening in lower elevations of the park) or October (when the park is wrapped in autumnal colors and the cool crispness of winter is on the horizon).

Zion National Park, Utah
When to go: January-May or September-December

Best Life recommends avoiding the summer months, if possible. This is the most crowded time for Zion, meaning trails bogged down by visitors, among other things. Instead, visit Zion in the fall, spring, and yes, winter too. Even in January, mild temperatures average in the mid-50s. There may be snow on the ground — and food and lodging may be harder to come by since some businesses close for the season — but there will be barely anyone else there, giving you a national park almost all to yourself.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
When to go: November-May

Although the summer months are the busiest, they aren't the greatest for wildlife viewing. Rather, according to Best Life, March and April are the best months to view bears, while the winter months are ideal for wolves and bighorn sheep  —so consider visiting Yellowstone, and specifically the Lamar Valley, in the winter or spring. There won't be many other people there, and the road through the park will be open for you to enjoy (without the bumper-to-bumper traffic).

Yosemite National Park, California
When to go: April-June or September-November

Best Life reports you'd be remiss to not visit this granite-filled valley in the spring to see the wildflowers bloom and the waterfalls cascade from the forest. Of note,  Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road (beyond Badger Pass) are closed during the winter months, but reopen in May, giving visitors maximum access to Yosemite.

Acadia National Park, Maine
When to go: September-November

Since spring on Maine's coast is often filled with soggy rain and lots of fog, Best Life recommends visiting Acadia during the fall, when the air is clear and so are the crowds. 

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
When to go: September

 Located in the rugged western nook of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this park boasts more than 200 miles of trails and some of the most scenic vistas (think alpine lakes enveloped in craggy peaks) in the world. But that makes this park quite popular. According to Best Life (and park rangers), September is the best month to visit. It's less crowded, the colors of flowers and foliage are beautiful, there is still bountiful wildlife to see (because the elk haven't migrated and the bears aren't hibernating), and the summer thunderstorm season has subsided.

Olympic National Park, Washington
When to go: May-June or September

Because of its vastly different biological profile, there are certain reasons to visit Olympic National Park at different times of the year. Best Life says spring (May-June) is the best for bird watching and catching a glimpse of wild black bears, but the spring months also bring with them drizzly, foggy Pacific Northwest weather. September offers drier days and the opportunity to see Roosevelt elk in their natural habitat during breeding season. But no matter when you visit, no trip to Olympic National Park is complete without a drive up to Hurricane Ridge (closed during the winter months).

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
When to go: May-September

Unlike the other four national parks located in the southern Utah desert, Bryce Canyon is unique in the sense that you should visit in the summer months, according to Best Life. Because it sits at a higher elevation, Bryce Canyon often experiences cooler temperatures in comparison to other desert locations.

Glacier National Park, Montana
When to go: July-September

Glacier is another that is at its best during peak summer season, when the rain season has ended and the snow has melted from higher elevations. Best Life also recommends taking the scenic drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile stretch that crosses the Continental Divide and cruises along the shores of Saint Mary Lake.

Joshua Tree National Park, California
When to go: March-May

Because Joshua Tree National Park is located in the Mojave Desert, Best Life says there's definitely a time to not visit: the summer. Although families tend to gather here in the hottest months of the year, it's recommended that you plan your trip in early spring when temperatures are much more mild, the desert wildflowers are blooming, and the crowds are thinned out. 

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
When to go: October-November

Due to its close proximity to Cleveland, it attracts a high amount of annual visitors seeking a quiet respite in nature away from the urban hustle. And although the park has few seasonal restrictions, the best time of the year to visit has to be fall, when autumnal colors paint the dense forests in warm colors that overlook waterways such as Brandywine Falls. And for more stunning cascades, browse through the 15 Waterfalls So Magical You Won't Believe They're in the U.S.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
When to go: September-March

This one probably won't be on many RVer's bucket lists (at least in their respective RVs), but Best Life put it on this list as one of the most impressive parks America offers. And to make it even more remarkable, the park is home to the summits of two of the world's most active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. To truly enjoy its tropical splendor, avoid the summer crowds (and the rainy season) by visiting in the fall.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2020-01-19

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

One Response to “Tips: Best Time of Year to Visit 15 Popular National Parks”

January 20, 2020at10:43 pm, Bev Parkison said:

Yellowstone often closes their roads due to ice in fall and winter and Lamar Valley is not accessible. We were there for a week in late September/early October and never got to see it. I believe it was open two days out of the seven we were there. Had we known, we would have planned accordingly. Just know that if you visit this time of year all areas may not be open.

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