Once spring has sprung, it’s time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. And what better way to experience nature than in some of our magnificent national parks? This year, plan a trip for April 15-16 or 22-23, when all park entry fees are waived in honor of National Park Week. We’ve picked the 10 best national parks for springtime revelry, from Tennessee to Alaska to California.
Yosemite National Park
Spring comes quickly at Yosemite National Park, with the melting snow fueling peak waterfall season. By April, even the smallest creeks gush with water, and the park’s iconic waterfalls flow at full throttle. Mirror Lake fills to the brim, offering a stunning reflection of Half Dome that can’t be seen during drier times of the year. Visit in late April or early May to catch the eruption of dogwood blossoms, which some would argue rival even the waterfalls.
Insider Tip: Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Roads typically remain closed until late May, but there’s still plenty to see in Yosemite Valley and Wawona.
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Kenai Fjords National Park
Located on the edge of the Kenai Peninsula, the ice fields, icebergs, and glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park are spectacular in any season. But the park is perhaps the most awe-inspiring in the spring when gray whales return to Alaska to feed, and millions of birds begin their annual journey to the rookeries of the rocky coasts. It’s also a likely time to observe black bears in their natural habitat.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With 1,500 types of flowering plants, more than any other North American park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee is often referred to as Wildflower National Park. The milder temperatures and reduced haze in spring make for ideal visiting conditions, but don’t expect fewer people. As the most visited national park in the US, Great Smokey is popular year-round.
Insider Tip: April 11–15 is the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage at Great Smokey National Park. The annual event showcases a variety of wildflower, fauna, and natural history walks, as well as art classes, photographic tours, and seminars.
Joshua Tree National Park
Head to California for the unique sight of desert flowers in the spring. While Joshua Tree National Park’s namesake greenery is mesmerizing in its own right, the ocotillo, or vine cactus, steals the show. With enough spring rain, the tall, spindly plant busts into unexpected crimson flowers. Springtime visitors also appreciate the more humane temperatures than in the summer, ideal for rock climbing and bouldering, along with crisp, campfire-worthy evenings.
Insider Tip: The 18 species of lizards residing in Joshua Tree National Park are most abundant in spring. Look for them basking atop boulders or other elevated sites.
Zion National Park
Easily one of the most dramatically beautiful landscapes on the planet, Zion National Park’s cooler spring temperatures make for more pleasurable hiking along its many exposed (read: scorching hot) trails. Spring visitors to this Utah park enjoy fewer crowds, spectacular high-volume waterfalls courtesy of the snow melt, and rare glimpses of green contrasting against the sun-drenched orange rock. And the canyoneering is just as good, if not better, as in the summer and fall.
Insider Tip: Heat exhaustion is still a risk in Zion in the spring, when temperatures can reach 90 degrees. But dress in layers because spring’s variable temps can drop as much as 30 degrees in the evening.
For the rest of the best national parks to see in spring, visit Fodor's.