The 8 Best National Parks to Explore in Spring

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Colorful wildflowers in the spring.

SPRING IS A TIME OF WILDFLOWERS, PERFECT TEMPERATURES AND LONG SUNNY DAYS. HERE ARE THE 8 BEST NATIONAL PARKS TO EXPLORE DURING THIS VIBRANT SEASON.

 



For us, two people who grew up in the high mountains of Colorado, spring has always been this slightly awkward time of the year. This is mostly due to the fact that during spring the landscape is in this in-between phase: for example, usually the snow has melted just enough to make skiing not really possible, but still not enough to make hiking even remotely fun. In reality, you couldn't really do much in terms of adventure until May and even then there was still a chance of a late spring snowstorm rolling in and blanketing the mountains in one last winter dusting.


It honestly took us moving to California to realize that spring was in fact a great time of the year to head outdoors and do some exciting adventures, especially activities such as canyoneering, hiking and backpacking.


Overall, we would say that in the spring the desert national parks really hit their stride and become absolute wonderlands for exploring. Think comfortable daytime temperatures, blooming wildflowers, open and dry trails and great camping conditions. In fact, of the 8 best spring national parks below, 5 of them are located in the desert.


So if you are looking to head out on a national park adventure during the months of March, April or May - including maybe on a spring break trip - then make sure to check these 8 national parks out.



💬 INSIDER TIP: if planning to visit multiple national parks, not just in the spring but any time of the year, then we highly suggest purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass, which costs $80. This annual pass gets you into ALL national parks and national monuments, as well as national historical parks and sites, national preserves and national recreation areas.



➳ You can learn more and purchase your America the Beautiful Annual Pass here.




 


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8 BEST NATIONAL PARKS TO EXPLORE IN SPRING

 






1 | Capitol Reef National Park


As mentioned above, desert national parks really shine during the springtime. And this is especially true in Capitol Reef National Park, one of the five national parks found in the state of Utah.


Capitol Reef is famous for its wide array of unique desert landscapes - from the Waterpocket Fold (a wrinkle on the earth that extends for nearly 100 miles) to multi-colored rock domes to deep, slotty red canyons, the whole national park is just begging to be explored, especially on foot.


During the spring season, the weather is nice and temperate - think mid-50s (13° C) during the day and lots of sunshine. Similarly, during this time of year the flowers are starting to bloom and everything is lush and green. We recommend spending a couple of days exploring the park (at least 3) and heading out to all of the different areas; including, Cathedral Valley, home of the famous rock structures the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: there are a couple of camping areas in the national park; including, a large campground with all of the amenities (water, bathrooms, etc.) in the main Fruita area of the park, as well as a more rugged campground in Cathedral Valley and one off of Notom-Bullfrog Road.



► Explore our full Capitol Reef National Park Adventure Guide.



DETAILS


| WHERE: Utah


| COST TO ENTER: $20, good for 7 days





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


Capitol Reef National Park has a good number of hiking trails available, from the easy to the more difficult, all the way up to multi-day backpacking trips. Some of the best trails to head out on include Cassidy Arch, which is 1.7 miles round trip (and also a great trail for canyoneering), the Chimney Rock Loop, which is 3.6 miles round trip, and Hickman Bridge, which is a short hike (less than a mile long) that gives you great views of the historic Fruita area.


While hiking is a great option for exploring the national park - especially the area near Fruita, we also recommend checking out some of Capitol Reef's exciting canyoneering routes. The park has a lot of different routes available, from relatively short and easy canyons all the way up to highly technical, full-day adventures. Some of the best canyoneering routes in Capitol Reef are Stegosaur Slot, which has an amazing slot canyon section; The Wives, which is actually 7 different canyoneering routes all in the same area (we especially liked Wife 5); and Pandora's Box, which is extremely technical, but also a whole lot of fun.



➳ You can find all the canyoneering beta for Capitol Reef here.



💬 INSIDER TIP: besides exploring the stunning rock canyons, also give yourself some time to check out the historic town of Fruita, which is located in the middle of the national park. There you can explore some of the old buildings, pick fresh fruit, and after March 14th even buy a homemade pie.





HOW TO GET TO CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK


Capitol Reef is likely the hardest to reach of the five national parks in Utah due to its rather remote location. The closest “big” towns are Hanksville and Torrey, and while both do have grocery stores and lodging options, they don't have much else. Otherwise, the closest major cities are Salt Lake City, Utah which is approximately 3.5 hours away, and Las Vegas, Nevada, which is about 5 hours away.




Glowing red rocks at sunrise in Capitol Reef

EXPLORE MORE | OUR ULTIMATE ADVENTURE GUIDE TO CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK IN UTAH






2 | Canyonlands National Park


Another Utah national park that is equally as beautiful during the springtime is Canyonlands. This large park is actually split into four sections known as "districts." The most popular district to visit is Island in the Sky, which has some amazing hiking trails and off-road vehicle and mountain biking routes (most notably the White Rim Trail). The other three districts are The Needles, which is a bit further south of Island in the Sky, The Maze, which is extremely rugged, and Horseshoe Canyon, which is equally as rugged as The Maze, but it gives visitors the chance to view some of the best rock art in North America.


Canyonlands National Park is full of amazing adventures - from hiking to backpacking to mountain biking to floating. And the springtime is definitely one of the best times to partake in these exciting activities for the weather is absolutely perfect (mid-70s and sunny), the flowers are all blooming and the roads and trails are usually dry and ready to explore.



► Explore our full Canyonlands National Park Adventure Guide.



DETAILS


| WHERE: Utah


| COST TO ENTER: $30, good for 7 days





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


In the springtime, you really can't go wrong with adventuring in the park. This includes heading out on one of the numerous hiking trails either in the Island in the Sky District or the Needles District, doing a multi-day backpacking trip in The Maze, or hopping on your mountain bike and tackling the entire White Rim Trail, which is 100 miles in length and usually takes 3-4 days from start to finish.


Some of the best hiking trails to take on in Canyonlands National Park are Upheaval Dome, which is a short hike that gives you the chance to get a closer view of the park's interesting geology, Mesa Arch, which is the go-to spot for sunrise, and Confluence Overlook, a long trail in The Needles District that ends above the confluence (meeting point) of the mighty Green and Colorado Rivers.


➳ You can find more hiking trails in the national park here.





HOW TO GET TO CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK


Because Canyonlands is split into four districts - The Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and Horseshoe Canyon - it depends more on which area you specifically want to head to when looking at distances and driving directions to the park. The closest large cities to Canyonlands are Moab, Utah, which is one hour from the Island in the Sky and 1.5 hours from The Needles Districts and Salt Lake City, Utah, which is 4 hours from the Island in the Sky District and 5 hours from The Needles District, and a whopping 8 hours from The Maze/Horseshoe Canyon (they are quite close). In fact, the closest town to The Maze and Horseshoe Canyon is Hanksville, Utah - which is still 4.5 hours away!




Golden hour in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

EXPLORE MORE | OUR ULTIMATE ADVENTURE GUIDE TO CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK IN UTAH






3 | Zion National Park


While Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks are two amazing Utah national parks to explore in spring, they aren't the only ones. Zion National Park - which is likely the most popular national park to visit in the state - truly comes alive once the weather starts to warm up. Flowers begin to bloom, rivers start to rush, waterfalls start to trickle and rumble down the canyon walls and everything starts to turn a lovely shade of green.


💬 INSIDER TIP: the month of March is when many kids in the USA have Spring Break (a week off from school). During this month Zion National Park can become quite busy, therefore if you can, consider visiting in April or May instead.



DETAILS


| WHERE: Utah


| COST TO ENTER: $35, good for 7 days





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN ZION NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


Spring is a great time to head out onto the trails in the park. This includes making your way up the famous Angels Landing Trail, which many believe is one of the most dangerous (but beautiful) trails in the whole National Park System. While Angels Landing is great, it is not the only trail worth doing. Some other fun trails to explore include Overlook Canyon (check to make sure it is open beforehand), the Emerald Pools (various trails available), and The Narrows (also make sure the trail is open).


Now, if you are wanting to explore even more of the Zion canyon then consider putting on a harness and doing a bit of canyoneering. Some of the best canyoneering routes can be found in the main Zion canyon, including Pine Creek (a fantastic first canyon to take on), Lower Refrigerator Canyon (a short route that is a fun way to exit Angels Landing) and Englestead Canyon, a long, full-day canyon on the east side of the park. Finally, there is the Subway, which is one of the most photographed canyons in the park (see our photo of it below). While it is technically a canyoneering route, it is not extremely technical. But if you want to spend the day adventuring in an absolutely beautiful canyon, then we recommend adding the Subway to your Zion National Park itinerary.


If you are looking to plan a canyoneering trip in Zion make sure you get your canyoneering permit ahead of time. You can find all of the information on the park's permitting system at this link.



➳ You can find all the canyoneering beta for Zion National Park here.



❔ GOOD TO KNOW: even though the lower valley will be warm and clear, at the higher elevations, including the Kolob Canyon section, you still might have snow in the springtime. If you are looking to explore this part of Zion, make sure to come prepared with winter gear - including hats and gloves, crampons, and sturdy hiking boots.





HOW TO GET TO ZION NATIONAL PARK


Zion National Park is relatively easy to reach, at least in terms of the four other Utah National Parks. The closest cities are Saint George, Utah, which is less than an hour from the park’s west entrance, and Las Vegas, Nevada which is 2.5 hours from the national park. Both cities have sizable airports, with Las Vegas having many regularly running flights around the country.





Golden light in the colorful canyons on Zion National Park

EXPLORE MORE | THE ULTIMATE UTAH NATIONAL PARKS ROAD TRIP ROUTE GUIDE







4 | Joshua Tree National Park


This California national park is where two distinct desert ecosystems collide: the Mojave and the Colorado. Because of this melding, you can find a wide variety of interesting plants and animals within Joshua Tree National Park. Including, of course, the namesake Joshua tree. During the spring season, which runs from March to May, you can expect sunny days and comfortable temperatures (average highs are around 85° F (29° C) and lows are around 50° F (10° C). Spring is also when the desert wildflowers begin to bloom. In fact, if you are looking to head to the national park in early spring, you have a good chance of seeing bursting wildflowers at the lower elevations, most notably at Pinto Basin.



DETAILS


| WHERE: California


| COST TO ENTER: $30, good for 7 days



It is recommended that you purchase a digital park entrance pass before arriving at the national park. This can help you enter the park much quicker since Joshua Tree can get quite busy (especially in the spring). Once you purchase the digital pass, you must print or save it on your mobile device prior to arriving in the park. Purchase your digital park entrance pass on recreation.gov.





THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK IN THE SPRING


This desert park is full of exciting adventures. But by far the most common activities are hiking and climbing, both of which are in their prime during the spring season.


In terms of hiking trails, there are a good number of shorter hikes (3 miles or less) available throughout the park. This includes such trails as Barker Dam (1.1 miles round trip, good for bighorn sheep sightings), Hi-View (1.3 miles round trip, great for viewing the surrounding area and the namesake Joshua trees), and Ryan Ranch (1 mile round trip along an old ranch road). If you are looking for a more challenging hike, consider taking on the Lost Horse Loop Trail, which is 6.5 miles round trip, and great for people interested in learning more about the park's old mining past or Lost Palms Oasis Trail, which is 7.5 miles round trip and takes you down into a canyon with a remote fan palm oasis.



➳ You can find more hiking trails in Joshua Tree here.



If climbing is more of your thing, then this park should definitely be on your national park list for Joshua Tree offers around 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 boulder problems, and hundreds of natural gaps - perfect for crack climbing. Some of the best areas to head to are Sheep Pass and Echo Rock.



➳ Find all the beta on climbing in Joshua Tree National Park here.





HOW TO GET TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK


Joshua Tree National Park is one of the closest national parks to two major metropolises: Los Angeles and San Diego. From LA it is just over 2 hours to the national park’s northern entrance, while from San Diego it is 2.5 hours to the park’s north entrance and just over 3 hours to the park’s south entrance.