15 Best National Parks to Visit in Summer

15 Best National Parks to Visit in Summer

Summer brings out both the heat and the crowds! As we’ve been road tripping around the US with a goal to visit every National Park (and all the National Park units), we realized that some parks are only open during a small window and some parks are just plain better during one season out of the year.

The dates and seasons for these parks may change year to year, but here’s a list of parks we think you should explore during the summer.

15 Best National Parks to Visit in Summer

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Last Updated: June 26, 2020

15 Best National Parks to VIsit in the Summer

Parks with Short Summer Seasons

A lot of the National Parks located further North have very limited seasons. Some of their winters last well into June or July. Snow keeps everything hidden away and much harder to navigate. These are some of the best parks to visit during the summer just because you can’t really see much in the winter.

Since they have such a short season compared to other parks, it’s best to prioritize them for summer! Be sure to check each parks’ site to get the most up-to-date information.

The iconic Going to the Sun Road typically opens late June or early July (check their site for the most recent info since the season can change year to year). Otherwise, what you can see in the park is very limited. Even if Going to the Sun Road is open, the hikes can have an even shorter season. When we went in late June, several hikes we wanted to do near Logan’s Pass were still snowed in.

Pro Tip: Bear Spray is a must at Glacier.

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These parks won’t get you away from the crowds, but the summer will give you the easiest access to the majority of the park. Roads are closed through Winter and it takes time for them to get them ready again for the summer crowds.

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North Cascades National Park is one the hardest national parks to access because there are no roads leading into the park. You can drive to the surrounding park units, but you will have to hike to step foot in the actual park. Because of this, you want to be sure the hikes are open and snow free to experience the beautiful wilderness! Check their site to see what is currently open. Also, if you’re there to see the blue color of the glacial lakes, like Diablo Lake.

Pro Tip: Diablo Lake changes color throughout the year and the color is best during late July or August after you get more glacial melt.

Diablo Lake North Cascades National Park WA USA // localadventurer.com
Happy Creek Trail - Day Hiking North Cascades National Park WA USA // localadventurer.com

4. Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

This National Park has portions that stay closed late into summer because of its high altitude. Once it’s open, you can explore volcanic landscapes.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

5. Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Summer brings wildflowers, bear grass, and beautiful views of the mountain (assuming you get lucky and the clouds aren’t around!). The bloom is limited and typically peaks in mid-July and August.

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More Parks with Limited Seasons

  • Denali National Park, AK
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park, AK 
  • Glacier Bay National Park, AK
  • Katmai National Park, AK
  • Kenai Fjords National Park, AK
  • Kobuk Valley National Park, AK 
  • Lake Clark National Park, AK 
  • Wrangell-St.Elias National Park and Preserve, AK
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Parks to Avoid the Heat

There are parks better enjoyed in the winter, and there are parks better enjoyed in the summer. As much as we love Joshua Tree and Death Valley, it can be miserable in the summer.

Last time we went during the turn of the season, we ended up spending a lot of time in the car with the AC blasting rather than exploring the park. These parks, however, are perfect for the summer!

6. Crater Lake National Park, OR

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US and has some of the bluest and cleanest water you’ll ever see! The weather stays temperate throughout the summer and you may even still find some patches of snow. Check their site to see what roads are open. The last time we went in the summer, parts of the loop road were still closed off.

Pro Tip: Diablo Lake changes color throughout the year and the color is best during late July or August after you get more glacial melt.

Crater Lake National Park Hiking // localadventurer.com
Things to See in Crater Lake National Park // localadventurer.com

7. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

Although the surrounding area may be hot and humid, you can escape into the world’s longest cave system and explore this other-worldly park.

The Virgin River stays cold year round, so summer is a great time to hike through the canyon. We still want to do the Subway, but the Narrows is still one of our favorite hikes in the US.

The Narrows Zion Utah National Parks

The Virgin River stays cold year round, so summer is a great time to hike through the canyon. We still want to do the Subway, but the Narrows is still one of our favorite hikes in the US.

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Some of the highlights of this park include the Lehman Caves, Bristlecone pines, the oldest living organisms on earth, and astronomy. This park is better when there are no lights!

The high elevation and extremely low light pollution make this one of the best places in the continental U.S. to see the Milky Way. It’s best to visit in the summer when the Milky Way is most visible in North America, plus when we were there in their busiest season, we weren’t competing with crowds.

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Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada - Essential Tips for Your Visit // localadventurer.com

Where to Avoid the Crowds

As awesome and beautiful as they are, forget the popular parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains. Take advantage of the less popular parks and you’ll find a quiet spot to yourselves. Feeling connected to nature is what we love most about the National Parks, not being elbow to elbow with other people.

11. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, ID

The remote location of this park along with its miles and miles of black lava really make it feel like you’ve left the planet! You can explore this park in near solitude and don’t forget to stick around to see the night sky too.

Great Sand Dunes is tucked against the Rockies and has the tallest sand dunes in North America. Get your hands on a sandboard for a truly unique experience or splash around in the creek to cool off from the heat.

13. Isle Royale National Park, MI

Take a Park Service operated ferry to this archipelago that makes its home in one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes. Wildlife is abundant in this untamed land! Be sure to note that all visitors do need to stop to hear a ranger-led discussion on the area.

Take a Park Service operated ferry to this archipelago that makes its home in one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes. Wildlife is abundant in this untamed land! Be sure to note that all visitors do need to stop to hear a ranger-led discussion on the area.

Channel Islands Kayaking

This park offers everything from a leisurely drive to jaw-dropping overlooks, to extreme rock climbing! Regardless of what you’re looking for, you’re sure to stay away from large crowds.

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Map of the Best National Parks to Visit in the Summer

Essential Tips

  • Not all National Park facilities are fully open yet. Check their site to see updates on closures.
  • An Annual National Park Pass will save you money if you plan on visiting multiple parks. It also saves you time at the gate.
  • Always have plenty of water with you.
  • Bring layers so you have the option to throw on layers if you’re cold or need protection from the sun.

Which National parks did you visit this summer? What did you like or dislike about them?

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15 Best National Parks to Visit in the Summer // localadventurer.com
15 Best National Parks to Visit in Summer

Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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