10 best US national parks to visit in spring

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Spring can be special wherever you are, but there’s nothing like spring in the national parks. See how the snow melts into thundering cascades, admire meadows carpeted with wildflowers or take an epic hike while enjoying warm sun rays that promise summer is coming. Here are our 10 best national parks in the US to visit in spring.

1. Yosemite

  • State: California
  • Average high: 55°F (13°C)

An awe-inspiring feature, sheer rock faces frame the glacially shaped Yosemite Valley, accessible by car and brilliant year round. Yet it’s in spring the legendary waterfalls really make the scenery come to life. In particular, visit during May to see the big-ticket waterfalls — including Yosemite Falls (the tallest), Sentinel Falls, Ribbon Fall, Bridalveil Fall and Nevada Fall — crash into the valley at peak volumes. Early June can also be a spectacular time to visit, but the waterfalls may be completely dried up come August.

Water cascading over the brink of a waterfall and into Yosemite Valley
Face cascading waterfalls in Yosemite.

2. Joshua Tree

  • State: California
  • Average high: 80°F (27°C)

Some national parks get too hot to be fully appreciated in the summer. One of them, Joshua Tree makes up for it with a breathtaking spring season, when low-growing wildflowers carpet the landscape. The blooming can start at lower elevations as early as January, finishing high in the mountains in June. Highlights include the yellow Desert Gold, purple Desert Canterbury Bells and (below) pink California buckwheat.

Pink California buckwheat wildflower in full bloom
Joshua Tree — a spring wonderland.

3. Biscayne

  • State: Florida
  • Average high: 82°F (28°C)

It’s no secret to snowbirds that spring is the most pleasant time in South Florida. So pack your swimwear and put on your sunglasses for a trip to Biscayne National Park, near Miami. The setting might be surprising: 95% of the park is covered by water, with the Florida Reef and countless shipwrecks top draws for diving enthusiasts. For those who prefer to remain dry, a heritage cruise through Biscayne Bay also makes a lovely outing.

Grey lighthouse on narrow land strip shooting out into blue water in Biscayne National Park
Load up on vitamin D in Biscayne.

4. Guadalupe Mountains

Get your hiking shoes ready to discover Guadalupe Mountains, the top of Texas. Several tracks, ranging from easy to strenuous, depart from the Pine Springs Trailhead near the park headquarters. For maximum bragging rights, trek to the state’s highest point, the Guadalupe Peak, towering 8,751 feet (2,667 m) into the air.

The El Capitan peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park under a cloudy sky
Spring adventures await in Guadalupe Mountains.

5. Arches

  • State: Utah
  • Average high: 71°F (22°C)

Embrace some of the craziest rock formations within the National Park System. In the high deserts of the Colorado Plateau, Arches boasts more than 2,000 sandstone arches — an unparalleled collection — as well as balanced rocks and spires. Spring days, typically, are pleasantly warm and sunny, making it a pure joy to take in the eye-popping landscape. Just pay attention to that the desert climate involves big temperature drops after sunset.

Person walking under mammoth arch in Arches National Park
Marvel at rock formations in Arches.

6. Canyonlands

How about two for one? In Eastern Utah, Moab is an outdoor lover’s playground with Arches on one side and Canyonlands on the other. Enjoying the gorgeous spring weather, effortlessly hike the famous 0.6-mile (1 km) loop to the perched Mesa Arch, affording unmatched views of the landscape below, and far beyond.

View through the Mesa Arch overlooking the surrounding canyon-like desert landscape
Peek through Mesa Arch.

7. Hot Springs

  • State: Arkansas
  • Average high: 73°F (23°C)

Feeling cold after a long winter? This relaxation-oriented national park promises to heat you up. Treat yourself to the hot thermal pools (and maybe a few spa treatments?), inspect historic bathhouses and absorb lush mountain vistas. What makes Hot Springs extra lovely in early spring is the cherry blossom, adding pink hues to the experience. If you missed it, the summer-like temperatures are ample compensation.

Roadside overlook affording brilliant mountain vistas in Hot Springs National Park
Need to recharge? Hot Springs has you covered.

8. Pinnacles

  • State: California
  • Average high: 72°F (22°C)

Hiking in Pinnacles during spring means guaranteed wildflower sightings. Over 80% of Pinnacles’ plants — from early bush poppies and buck brush to late orchids and roses — bloom between March and May. As the soil dries, clusters of pink-white California buckwheat turn into rust red, keeping the show going. Observing and smelling the landscape-painting flowers, you may even forget the rugged rock formations that the park is named after.

Rust-red California buckwheat along trail in Pinnacles National Park
Be inspired by the many flowers in Pinnacles.

9. Gateway Arch

  • State: Missouri
  • Average high: 67°F (19°C)

Flowers bloom in downtown St. Louis, too; visit Gateway Arch — the most unlikely national park within the system — and see for yourself. Framed by the Mississippi River and Interstate 44, roam through landscaped gardens, under the heights of the namesake arch, carefully curated to shine throughout the growing season. In particular, magnolia and redbud dominate during the first half of spring.

People crossing the green lawns under the rising Gateway Arch in St. Louis
Gateway Arch — a national park for the city slicker.

10. Great Smoky Mountains

We didn’t have a choice; we had to include Great Smoky Mountains, dubbed “Wildflower National Park” for its over 1,500 flowering plants. The diversity of species gives you a big window: Ephemerals kick off the blooming season as early as February, while other plants don’t emerge until fall. To experience the peak level, though, visit mid-April through early May. Sign up for the yearly Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage event — with guided walks and presentations — to make your visit, if possible, even more vibrant.

Blooming trillium surrounded by green vegetation in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Admire wildflowers in the Smokies (here, trillium).

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