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WHILE THERE IS NEVER A BAD TIME FOR A NATIONAL PARK ADVENTURE, THE SUMMER MONTHS (JUNE - AUGUST) MIGHT JUST BE THE BEST FOR OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES LIKE HIKING AND BACKPACKING. BELOW ARE 8 OF THE BEST NATIONAL PARKS TO VISIT ONCE SUMMER ARRIVES.
While there really isn't a bad time to plan an epic national park adventure, in our opinion, the hot summer months might just be the best time to head out into nature and explore some of the best landscapes the USA has to offer.
And just like the fact that many of the USA's more southern national parks (especially the ones in the desert) really shine in the colder winter months (November - February), once summer rolls around, the national parks up in the northern part of the country really start to bloom and become an absolute wonderland for adventurers. Especially for adventurers and travelers who are looking to check out high mountain lakes, rushing waterfalls, blooming wildflowers, and vibrant green meadows. Plus, the warmer summer months are also the best times to see the abundant wildlife that calls the country's national parks home; including, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, bears and wolves.
So if you are planning a national park adventure this summer and are still trying to figure out where to explore, then keep reading for our recommended list of the 8 best national parks to visit in the summer.
1 | Mount Rainier National Park
The USA's fourth national park (it was established in 1899), is famous for being the home of the eponymous monolith Mount Rainier - which is actually not a mountain but a stratovolcano. The national park also includes hundreds of miles of trails, beautiful mountain valleys, actual glaciers (including two of the biggest glaciers in the country), and over 90,000 acres of old growth forest.
And once the summer months come around, the national park starts to come alive with dozens of multi-colored wildflowers and the many waterfalls really start to flow. In our opinion, if you can handle higher crowds, then Mount Rainier National Park might just be one of the best park's to explore between the months of June and August.
COST TO ENTER: $30 per vehicle
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
By far some of the best adventures in the park include hiking along one of the many trails - including the famous Wonderland Trail, which circles all of Mount Rainier along its 100 mile course.
Other popular trails within Mount Rainier National Park are the Silver Falls Trail (3 miles), the Naches Peak Loop Trail (3.5 miles), Glacier Basin Trail, which is one of the best places to see summer wildflowers (7 miles), and Tolmie Peak Trail, which heads by some mountain lakes before topping out at a fire lookout tower (6.5 miles).
If hiking isn't your thing, then other popular outdoor activities in Mount Rainier National Park include checking out the numerous historical buildings (the entire national park was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1997), road biking along the many national park roads (bikes are not allowed on any trails), and fishing at the various mountain lakes and streams.
HOW TO GET TO MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
The closest big city to Mount Rainier National Park is Seattle, Washington. From downtown Seattle, it takes between 2 hours and 2.5 hours to reach the national park entrance. There are a couple of entrances to the park, but usually the most popular one is the Nisqually Entrance. From downtown Seattle, it takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach the Nisqually park entrance station.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: during the summer season (especially July - August) the park entrances can get bogged down with cars and even take up to an hour to get through. If you are planning to explore the park during the busy season, try to arrive early in the day or visit during the work week.
EXPLORE MORE | THE ULTIMATE HIKING GUIDE TO CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN IN WASHINGTON
2 | North Cascades National Park
Located in the far northern half of the state of Washington, North Cascades National Park is actually the largest park in the entire Cascade Range. This stunningly rugged national park is famous for high mountain peaks, an expansive glacial system (the largest in the lower 48 states), numerous waterways, and vast forests that contain the highest degree of flora (plant) biodiversity of any American national park.
While this national park is absolutely beautiful, because of its overall lack of services and more remote location, it doesn't get nearly as many visitors as its national park neighbors Mount Rainier and Olympic. This is great news if you are someone who is looking to explore the high mountain valleys and see the numerous colorful wildflowers, but don't want to deal with crowds of people.
► Explore our full adventure guide on North Cascades National Park.
COST TO ENTER: free! But you do have to pay for camping.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK
One of the best ways to experience the beauty of North Cascades National Park is to head out on one of the many hiking trails. Some of the best trails to explore include Diablo Lake Trail (7.6 miles), Easy Pass Trail (7.4 miles), Cascade Pass Trail (3.7 miles) and Hidden Lake (4.5 miles).
Another option is to head out on the trails for a multi-day adventure on one of the many amazing backpacking routes. A few of the most popular backcountry trails to explore include Big Beaver Trail, which is an easy 24.6 mile route through an old-growth forest, the East Bank Trail, which is an easy 31-mile route that takes you by Ross Lake, and the Desolation Peak Trail, which is a strenuous and steep hike up to the famous Desolation Peak fire lookout tower where Beatnik poet Jack Kerouac once lived and worked.
HOW TO GET TO NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK
Though it is located in the complete opposite direction as Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park also only takes about 2 to 2.5 hours to reach from Seattle, Washington. The closest entrance to downtown Seattle is the west entrance, which is located off of Highway 20 near the town of Marblemount.
EXPLORE MORE | CHECK OUT OUR FREE NATIONAL PARK CHECKLIST TO KEEP TRACK OF WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN
3 | Denali National Park and Preserve
Centered around Denali - the highest mountain in all of North America (it stands at 20,310 feet or 6,190 meters) - this stunning Alaskan national park is one of the best places to head to once the summer season arrives.
Between the months of June and August, most of the park is open to visitors and almost all of the park's services (including campgrounds) and trails are open for exploring. This includes the famous Denali Park Road which can be driven in a private vehicle up to Savage River (15 miles) or on a park bus (three options available) that goes the full 92 miles.
Along the main park road, you have the option to stop off at various hiking trails, check out the park's visitor centers, see the park's numerous wildlife - which includes grizzly bears, wolves, moose and Dall's sheep - and of course, get a view of the Mountain.
COST TO ENTER: $15 per person
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE
Because Denali National Park was originally established to protect the endangered Dall's sheep, the park has very little infrastructure. In fact, besides the one park road - Denali Park Road - there is nowhere else to drive. Instead, most adventurers must be prepared to explore the massive park (it encompasses 4.7 million acres) by foot.
Similarly, besides a few established trails by the park visitor centers, most of the hiking and backpacking will be done totally without a trail (aka come super prepared). You can learn more about exploring Denali National Park by foot here (including how to deal with the resident bear population).