After visiting most of the US National Parks, I can truthfully say there isn’t a bad apple in the bushel. They all have something truly special and unique and I’m glad to have visited every one we have.
That said, there are some that are just extra special to me. And part of that is a certain time of year that makes them extra magical. Maybe it’s perfect weather or when crowds are lower, or perhaps it’s when all the facilities and areas of the park are open.
Here are some of our very favorite US National Parks by month of the year!
January: Saguaro National Park
Not too many of the US National Parks are super comfortable in terms of temperature and precipitation during the month of January, but Saguaro sure is. With average highs in the mid-60s and generally sunny and lovely days, it’s the perfect time to explore the Sonoran Desert. We loved enjoying the gorgeous light and massive cacti with relatively low crowds and minus the crazy heat.
February: Death Valley National Park
Another fantastic desert wonder to explore in the cooler months is Death Valley. While Death Valley can actually get surprisingly chilly in the dead of winter, it’s usually plenty pleasant during the day in February. It’s much more pleasant exploring the lowest point in North America and some of the stunningly colorful formations when temperatures aren’t in the triple digits.
March: Grand Canyon National Park
There’s not really a bad time to visit the iconic Grand Canyon, but each season is a bit different. Winter can be stunning with snow dusting the red rock, and the North Rim is open in the summer and early fall months. Still, we love the Grand Canyon in the spring, when snowmelt is coming down, days are still pleasantly cool, and there might still be a bit of snow clinging on. Plus, it’s before the big summer rush, so crowds are usually much more manageable, too. (If it’s still cold, it’s still great to visit – here’s a one-day guide to the Grand Canyon in winter.)
April: Zion National Park or Badlands National Park
I have a soft spot in my heart for Zion – there’s something about the red rock coupled with valley vistas that speak to my soul. For such a big name park, though, the most popular area – Zion Canyon – is fairly compact. Which means that it can feel quite crowded during peak visitation months. April is a fantastic time when the weather is usually very pleasant (and not yet super hot!), the shuttles are running, but crowds aren’t yet crazy.
Alternatively, Badlands is another fantastic springtime park. Again, the weather tends to be pleasant, the crowds aren’t at their peak, and the desert landscape is perfect to explore with contrasting shades and colors.
Truly, a number of parks are wonderful during the springtime shoulder months so it’s a perfect time to choose some to explore before the height of summer travel.
May: Yosemite National Park
We’ve visited Yosemite close to a dozen times, and in ever season. And I truly think there’s no bad time to visit – it’s stunning in all its colors and weather patterns. Still, there’s something special about visiting Yosemite in the month of May. Springtime snowmelt usually has the waterfalls gushing, and wildflowers start to bloom later in the month. Crowds are much lower than the June/July/August months, and the weather is usually perfection.
June: Rocky Mountain National Park
Many people love the mountains in the winter, but as a non-skier, I cannot get enough of them in the summertime. There’s something about the crisp mountain air with blooming flowers and warm sunshine that just makes me swoon. The meadows come to life with wildflowers, and the famed Trail Ridge Road (also known as Highway to the Sky, the highest continuously paved road in North America) is typically open the entire month.
July: Olympic National Park
With several rainforest areas, visitors to Olympic National Park are never guaranteed a dry vacation. Still, July is the time when it’s most likely to happen. Sun peeking through club moss, shining over tide pools, and reaching up to the mountainous area of Hurricane Ridge (which is open throughout the summer) is absolutely magical. It’s truly a special time to visit this incredibly diverse park.
August: Glacier National Park
Some years – including perhaps this one – the full length of Going to the Sun Road doesn’t open until early or perhaps even mid-July. So visiting in August is a safe bet to experience the full glory of this incredible scenic drive, as well as the beautiful mountain vistas that shine in late summer glory. It’s a perfect time to enjoy the lakes and hikes and shimmering beauty of this park.
September: Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks
Fall shoulder season is great for many parks, but it’s especially helpful for super popular ones like Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The two parks are located right next to each other, so it makes sense to visit them in a single trip. The Tetons shine during September with early fall colors, while Yellowstone tends to have comfortable weather with fewer visitors. It’s an incredible time to visit both of these popular parks.
October: Acadia National Park
Being the only national park in the northeast United States, Acadia shines as a crown jewel for fall foliage. The colors are spectacular, and the small town charm and coziness can’t be beat. It’s a wonderful time to explore without the hordes of summer, too.
November: Joshua Tree or Big Bend
November starts to bring cold, fickle, and often wet weather to many parts of the country, so it’s a great time to enjoy the desert when it’s dry and cool(er). Joshua Tree, with its limited shade, is perfect for exploring the many wonderful rocks and climbing areas for all ages. And Big Bend is perfect again for it’s wide open spaces (with little shade) and stunning vistas.
December: Everglades National Park
Southern Florida has two main seasons – wet and dry, and December is the start of the latter. Winter tends to bring cool, drier weather that’s extremely comfortable for walking trails and spotting the plentiful wildlife. It’s a great time to take advantage of the lower humidity to explore some beautiful areas.
There you have it! Our favorite US National Parks for every month. I’d love to hear your favorite parks, as well as your favored months to visit them!
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Great article. It brings back many happy memories of my past road trips in the USA.
One extra tip is for Death Valley. For those people who want to visit during the hottest period, to take a selfie next to the digital thermometer, then July is the time to visit.
A word of warning, it is extremely hot, with no humidity. Exiting the vehicle when it is 120C+ is like opening an oven door. Drink plenty of water when outside, you will not notice how much sweat you lose, as it evaporates straight away. Do not stay in the sun for long, you burn quickly. Stay on the main roads in case your vehicle overheats, as help will not be far away.
Death Valley is a fantastic place, and even though I have been many times, I still have not seen all I need to see.
These are terrific tips! We love our photo next to the thermometer!