After a long winter’s hibernation, a national park adventure is one of the best family vacation ideas for spring. In March, April, and May, national parks tend to not be as hot and crowded as they are during peak summer travel, which means plenty of outdoor space to stretch out, burn off energy, and social distance. As an added bonus, April brings National Park Week (usually the third week of April), an annual celebration that brings free admission for all plus special junior ranger programs for kids.
Best National Parks in Spring
Springtime is prime time to marvel at wildflowers, spot baby wildlife, hit the hiking trails, and enjoy seasonal waterfalls. Here are 20 of the best national parks in spring throughout the United States. Whether you’re planning a family-friendly spring break trip, an adult-family get together, your first family camping trip, or a couples escape, these exceptional public lands will help you reconnect and reboot.
Eastern United States
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, West Virginia
In January 2021, New River Gorge was elevated to National Park status, focusing national attention on the natural beauty of one of West Virginia’s most beloved playgrounds. Adventures on the Gorge CEO Roger Wilson says, “The New River is one of those places that gets under your skin and stays with you, especially if you’re someone who enjoys outdoor activities.” Spring at New River Gorge National Park means whitewater through deep canyons, the perfect backdrop for thrilling family rafting trips.
Where to Stay: Situated along the New River Gorge rim, Adventures on the Gorge serves as a basecamp for family-friendly adventures such as hiking, biking, climbing, swimming, and paddling. The range of accommodations from camping to unique private luxury cabins ensure safe options for your family.
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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Spring at Shenandoah National Park brings blooming wildflowers and trees, flowing waterfalls, and migrating songbirds. Only 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah is an easy escape from the bustle of the city. A park hallmark is Skyline Drive, the scenic family road trip byway that runs 105 miles north and south along the mountaintop ridge. To escape any April showers, duck into Luray Caverns, located just outside park boundaries, for a cave exploration filled with towering stone formations and massive caverns.
Where to Stay: Massanutten Resort occupies 6,000 acres in the Shenandoah Valley just minutes from both the national park and Skyline Drive with its year-round activities including water parks, biking, golf, skiing, and snow sports. Accommodations at the resort range from modest hotel rooms to multi-bedroom luxury condos.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Each spring, the hollows of Great Smoky Mountains National Park bloom with ephemerals such as trillium, lady slipper orchids, bleeding hearts, violets, and other native flora. For more than 70 years, wildflower enthusiasts have enjoyed the show during the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. Later in spring, synchronous fireflies light up the woodland glens.
Where to Stay: Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort is a 300-room hotel situated on 20 acres next door to Dollywood theme park. Just 10 miles from the national park entrance, DreamMore embraces families with Southern hospitality, a farmhouse restaurant, large rooms with bunk beds, rocking chairs on the front porch, spectacular Great Smoky Mountains views, and stargazing berms on the lawn.
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Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway is one among the most scenic drives in the Eastern U.S. Designed to “lie gently upon the land,” this national park corridor stretches from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering scenic mountain views and plenty of hiking opportunities along the way.
“Spring on the Blue Ridge Parkway is going to be big to see the greening of the mountains and wildflower displays,” says Landis Taylor of Explore Asheville. Families will find a mix of wildflowers and tree blossoms, including dwarf iris, tulips, violets, and various species of rhododendrons and dogwood trees. Taylor notes Craggy Gardens (Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 364.6) has a particularly spectacular rhododendron bloom in late spring.
Where to Stay: A luxurious hotel built in 1913, the Omni Grove Park Inn offers sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, historic Arts and Crafts style rooms, and a subterranean spa.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Spring in the Everglades comes towards the end of its dry season, and is the best time for wildlife viewing (along with fewer mosquitos) in Everglades National Park. Birds from all over North America—and the world—flock to southern Florida to escape the cold, nest, lay eggs, and care for their young. Manatee bob up and down, grazing on seagrass. Frogs and toads gather and sing in a loud chorus. Spring is also American alligator courtship season, when you might glimpse (from a safe distance, of course) the mating rituals that can last for several hours.
Where to Stay: Opened in 2019, Flamingo Campground Eco-Tents are safari-style platform “glamping” tents located inside the national park. Tents have one queen or two double beds, a sitting area, floor fans, dressers, and electricity. In addition to accommodations, Flamingo Adventures also offers fishing, kayaking, boat tours, and unobstructed starry night views.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
A natural scenic refuge close to—yet worlds away—from Ohio’s urban centers of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the perfect spring backdrop for hiking, biking, and spotting wildlife. The park’s centerpiece is the 60-foot-tall Brandywine Falls, and there’s no better time to see it than in spring, when it’s fed by streams swollen with ice melt. There are plenty of hiking trails around the falls where you can see springtime vernal pools, breeding salamanders, and wildflowers.
Where to Stay: The Inn at Brandywine Falls is a small, six-room bed and breakfast that’s inside the national park and overlooks the waterfall. Each room includes an elegant candlelight breakfast with the rate.
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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Way up in the northwest corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula lies Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The 450-foot tall sandy bluff and sweeping beach along Lake Michigan offer both spectacular views and plenty of water recreation. Let the kids stretch their legs and burn off stored-up winter energy playing in the sand and running to the bottom of the dunes. Everyone will certainly sleep well at night following the long climb back to the top. In the springtime, cherry blossoms transform the surrounding Leelanau Peninsula.
Where to Stay: The Homestead is located in the woods six miles from Sleeping Bear Dunes. The resort offers a variety of accommodations including beachfront hotel rooms, condos, and rental homes, and has family-friendly activities for all seasons including hiking, skiing, golf, and lake fun.
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Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
What feels better than a warm soak after a long, cold winter? Hot Springs National Park celebrates its centennial in 2021, and families can join in the fun with a traditional thermal bathing experience in the park’s soothing mineral water. If the kids won’t sit still long enough for a soak, there are still places within Hot Springs National Park where they can get close and touch the water. And don’t worry: Even though the water is a truly hot 143 degrees Fahrenheit when it comes out of the ground, it’s cool enough to touch by the time it reaches the accessible pools.
Where to Stay: Hotel Hale is one of the historic bath houses within the national park. Built in 1892, this hotel on Bathhouse Row has rooms featuring thermal water baths from the springs. Families can step back in time with this uncommon experience that has access to all park facilities. Breakfast comes with every stay.
Mountains and West
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Spring is a great time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park—the wildflowers are starting to bloom, weather is mild, and best of all, the crowds are smaller than during the popular summer months. Ashley Cox, a spokesperson for Visit Estes Park, recommends heading to YMCA of the Rockies, noting that in addition to the beautiful surroundings, there are also plenty of activities for families, including archery, disc golf, challenge courses, and crafts.
Where to Stay: Spread out over 5,100 acres of rolling meadows, aspens, and spruce forests, YMCA of the Rockies offers scenic views in every direction. Families can rent lodge rooms or private cabins.
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Zion National Park, Utah
As the snow melts, Zion National Park’s waterfalls flow, the Virgin River swells, and wildflower and cottonwood trees bloom. If you avoid spring break and holidays, it will be less crowded than summertime. But in spring, it’s important to avoid slot canyon hikes as flash flooding can occur. Opt for the family-friendly Riverside Walk and look for early blooming wildflowers such as desert marigold, slickrock paintbrush, or western columbine. If your family is lucky, you just may catch a glimpse of baby animals including wild turkey chicks, mule deer fawns, and bighorn sheep.
Where to Stay: Beautiful and convenient Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort is a fantastic home base for family adventures. There are plenty of accommodations options here, including two-room cowboy log cabin suites, covered wagon glamping sites, and camping. The ranch offers a variety of recreation options as well, including swimming, horseback riding, ATV rentals, and tours.
Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah
Located north of Zion, Cedar Breaks National Monument is a 10,000-foot hidden gem, a wide red rock amphitheater similar to Bryce Canyon. Spring arrives a little later at this higher elevation, but when it does, the meadows blaze with the brilliant colors of wildflower blooms. Be sure to hike to Spectra Point to glimpse the oldest tree in the park—a Bristlecone pine estimated to be 1,500 years old.
Where to Stay: The rustic Point Supreme Campground lives up to its name. The campground is surrounded by wildflower meadows and has a designated night sky area for stargazing. Take the easy half mile hiking trail from the campground to the visitors center for stunning views of the Cedar Breaks amphitheater.
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Glacier National Park, Montana
With its northern Montana location on the border between the U.S. and Canada, spring is late arriving at Glacier National Park. Chillier temperatures drive down spring break prices, creating plenty of hotel deals at this time of year. Like many other mountain parks, spring means melting snow, rushing water, greening valleys, blooming flowers, and animals—lots of animals.
The park’s most famous drive, Going-to-the-Sun Road, does not open for vehicles until later in the year. However, Michelle Gaudet of Pursuit Collection has a workaround: “The most fun part of Glacier in spring is that the Going-to-the-Sun road is open for cycling before it opens to vehicles come summer. This is a bucket list experience!”
Where to Stay: The Glacier Park Lodge was the first hotel built by the Great Northern Railway. With its nearly 100 years of history, stepping inside is like stepping back in time. Douglas Fir logs tower over the lobby, a fire crackles in the stone fireplace, and guests linger to share stories of the day’s activities, whether that was a park adventure or staying close to the lodge to stroll in the gardens, enjoy a round of golf, or swim in the mountain-view pool.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
RV Industry Association’s (RVIA) campground expert Jeff Crider recommends Mesa Verde National Park, especially for people interested in Native American monuments and history. Tours of the cliff dwellings begin in May, but early spring travelers won’t miss out, since cliff dwelling structures like Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House can be viewed at overlooks year-round.
Prior to May, the park is quieter, with fewer crowds and more moderate temperatures. Crider also recommends a less visited site nearby: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument has the highest concentration of Native American archeological sites in the U.S.—more than 6,300 of them, including cliff dwellings, kivas, petroglyphs, and sacred springs.
Where to Stay: Kids and adults love the vintage-style rooms, lawn games, and grill areas at the Retro Inn at Mesa Verde. The motel is located in Cortez, Colorado, in between Mesa Verde and Canyons of the Ancients—and only 10 minutes from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. Breakfast is included with the room rate.
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Southwest United States
Big Bend National Park, Texas
As one of the least visited national parks in the country, Big Bend National Park is a perfect place for physical distancing. Springtime at Big Bend National Park means cooler temperatures, wildflowers, uncrowded hot springs, and plenty of migrating birds. And of course Big Bend National Park is always a great place to explore the Rio Grande River, which here is framed by sheer canyon walls.
Where to Stay: Chisos Mountains Lodge is the only hotel located inside Big Bend National Park. The mountain views and convenience to park facilities can’t be beat. The lodge features a number of room styles, including five Roosevelt Stone cottages (each with stone floors and three double beds) built in the early 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
With nearly 120 caves below the surface of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, families won’t have to worry about bad weather on a trip to this outdoors destination. Above ground, the yucca bloom, cacti send out yellow arms, and mescal plants blossom across the Chihuahuan Desert landscape. Below ground, stalactites line cave ceilings and decorative rock formations keep youngsters enthralled along the Big Room Trail. Carlsbad Caverns is famous for its bat flight program, and the Brazilian free-tailed bats make their migratory journey back to the park in late spring.
Where to Stay: The family-friendly Carlsbad KOA opened in 2000 and, in addition to tent camping and RV sites, also features a number of cabins with memorable names like Bat Cave and Area 51. Kids can splash in the heated pool or play on the playground, and you can all end the day with a barbecue feast (complete with sides and dessert) that the owners will deliver to your site.
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Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Spring is the perfect time to slip in a visit before the triple-digit summertime temperatures descend at Tucson’s Saguaro National Park. The region’s giant saguaro cacti are an iconic symbol of the Southwest, and families are bound to see plenty of them along hiking trails and driving routes through the east or west section of the park. Spring is also when the giant saguaro produce dramatic white and yellow flowers that attract pollinating insects, birds, and bats.
Where to Stay: The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa offers a luxurious desert oasis. Set in the Sonoran Desert with sweeping views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, leisure amenities here include outdoor pools (with a swim-up bar for adults), waterslides for the kids, waterfall features, and plenty of lounge chairs.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Similar to Saguaro National Park, travelers will find cooler spring temperatures at Grand Canyon National Park. In fact, RVIA campground expert Jeff Crider says there’s even a chance of snow in spring along the South Rim: “It’s so beautiful to see the canyon that way, when there is a little snow along the rim and down a few hundred or a thousand feet or so.” The possibility of rain and snow, combined with more breezes and skies clear of haze and smog (that tends to drift from Las Vegas and Southern California) makes spring an ideal time to see the canyon in all its drama and beauty.
Where to Stay: The historic El Tovar Hotel opened in 1905 as one of the most elegant inns in the American West. Today, the El Tovar still holds a prestigious place on the rim of the Grand Canyon and offers panoramic views of the national park below.
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Death Valley National Park, California
The lowest point in North America is also the hottest and driest, making springtime an excellent time to visit Death Valley National Park ahead of the summer blaze. If the previous fall/winter brought rain and snow, then there is a good chance of wildflower displays in Death Valley in spring. If conditions are perfect, Death Valley fills with a riotous super bloom about once every decade.
Where to Stay: The Oasis at Death Valley is two hotels at one location. The Four Diamond Inn at Death Valley is a luxurious historic resort with a natural spring running through the hotel and a spring-fed pool. The Ranch at Death Valley is a former working ranch that’s been transformed into a 224-room family-friendly resort with horseback and carriage rides, 4×4 rentals, sport courts, and pool.
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Joshua Tree National Park, California
Summer gets hot in the desert, but spring is the perfect season to visit. With its location within 1,200 square miles of Mojave and Colorado deserts, spring truly is prime time at Joshua Tree National Park. Not only will you enjoy milder weather, you might also be treated to spectacular springtime displays of lupine, poppies, and (some years) even the Joshua tree blooms. Just stay clear of major spring holidays like Easter weekend to avoid lines to enter the park.
Where to Stay: Jumbo Rocks Campground—the name says it all. Located a short hike from Skull Rock (one of the coolest rock formations in Joshua Tree), this family-friendly campground is ringed by large boulders (the jumbo rocks). Kids can scramble for hours on the rocks, and then come back to rest by the campfire.
Yosemite National Park, California
As the snow melts in the high Sierras, rivers, waterfalls, and ponds swell in Yosemite National Park. Waterfalls throughout the park usually reach their peak in mid-May. RVIA’s campground expert Jeff Crider says, “May is also a really good month to see the dogwoods in bloom in Yosemite Valley.” Flowering dogwood trees are found all over the park, but to see the densest displays of these flowering trees, head to the Yosemite Valley.
Where to Stay: The Ahwahnee is set in a prime location in Yosemite Valley near the base of Half Dome. One of the crown jewels of National Park lodges, the Ahwahnee was designed to complement its sublime natural surroundings. Even if your family is not staying at the hotel, the Ahwahnee is worth a visit—perhaps as a destination dining spot. The Ahwahnee Dining Room offers breakfast and dinner daily as well as a Sunday Brunch (that my wife and I enjoyed on our honeymoon many years ago).