5 Best National Parks to Visit in Spring
Camping and Hiking in the Best Underrated US National Parks in Spring
Maybe you’re already a national park fanatic, or maybe you have recently learned how incredible they are and you want to start checking them off. Whatever the case may be, spring is definitely a wonderful time to visit many US national parks.
The weather is generally nice in spring months in most parts of the US, which makes for extra fun hiking and comfortable camping. Plus, this is the lushest time of year to enjoy nature at its fullest.
With over 60 national parks to choose from throughout the US, how could you possibly choose just one to visit this spring? We’ve narrowed down the list for you, based on personal experience, so you can make the most of your national parks adventures this spring.
If you want to bring your dog along for the adventure too, lucky for you, some of the following parks are very dog friendly! Learn what to bring camping with your dog here. Let’s take a look at the best national parks to visit in spring! Included is some inspiration in case you still can’t decide to visit (wink wink).
Best National Parks to Visit in Spring
Let’s take a look at the top 5 national parks to visit in Spring so you can start planning some epic adventures. The US has so much to offer when it comes to nature; anyone who enjoys spending time outside will love visiting all these national parks.
1. Big Bend National Park West Texas
Texas’ most incredible gem, home to black bears, tarantulas, mountains, cacti, and more, is Big Bend National Park. This 801,163-acre park has a lot to offer, and spring is a great time to go exploring it. Being a desert and mountain range, temps are perfect for outdoor exploring this time of year.
There is an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle, which is valid for 7 days. You can also use the America the Beautiful Pass if you have one. If you don’t and you plan on visiting multiple national park sites, this pass is well worth it!
From personal experience, if you arrive early in the morning or later in the evening, it’s free (we still had our America the Beautiful Pass). There is no one around at this time, so no one to take any payments. However, there is no gate or anything blocking the road.
Take note that dogs are allowed in campsites and on paved roads, but they are not allowed on any of the hiking trails. Basically, anywhere your car can’t go, your dog can’t go.
Big Bend is a great choice when it comes to the best national parks to visit in spring. The temperature averages in the high 50s to low 80s. This is perfect if you plan on doing lots of hiking and possibly camping. Be prepared for much chillier nights if you’re camping though, as Big Bend is a desert!
There are four developed campsites in Big Bend National Park, as well as backcountry camping, but you do need a permit for that. We highly recommend booking well in advance as campsites do fill up quickly. If you want to be picky about your spot, you’ll need to book a few months in advance.
There are more than 150 miles of hiking trails available to you in Big Bend National Park. You can hike in the Chisos Mountains, find your way to Balanced rock, take the Ross Maxwell scenic drive, and more. Remember, no matter what time of year it is, you will always need plenty of water when you go hiking! And snacks are a must too to maintain your energy.
You can plan the ultimate trip with our complete Big Bend National Park guide!
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tennessee & North Carolina
Rolling green mountains, wild horses, lush forest, and more is what you can enjoy at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located in Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky comprises 522,427 acres. In spring you’ll witness the bloom of tons of beautiful wildflowers, making this a great time to visit.
There is no entrance fee for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but they are starting to charge for parking, so take note of this. The cost is about $5 per day or $15 per week. Because it is free, Great Smoky can be a busier national park than others. But great news for you, spring is the least crowded time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
This is another not-so-dog-friendly national park. However, there are two shorter walking paths you can enjoy with your dog. Your dog is also allowed on paved roads and in campgrounds.
There are several camping options in Great Smoky: backcountry, frontcountry, horse camps, and group camps. There are several developed frontcountry campgrounds with running water, toilets, fire grates, and picnic tables. Please note, there are no shower facilities within the park, but located in the surrounding area. RVs are allowed in select campgrounds, but there are no electric or water hookups.
If you want to enjoy the park without camping, check out this super cute Airbnb near Great Smoky Mountains for the perfect stay!
There are many trails to choose from in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of the most popular trails are Charlie’s Bunion, Rainbow Falls, and Chimney Tops. There are also multiple wonderful scenic drives here, which is another great way to see the park. Enjoy blooming wildflowers and lush trees in the spring here, either on the trails or on the scenic drives!
3. Shenandoah National Park Virginia
Mountain views, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and waterfalls are just a few of the best things to enjoy while visiting Shenandoah National Park. Located in northern Virginia, just over an hour outside of Washington DC, Shenandoah is a must-visit in the spring.
Shenandoah National Park does require a $30 entrance fee per vehicle, but again you can use your America the Beautiful Pass here! In the spring, you’ll enjoy blooming wildflowers, tons of wildlife, and the lushest overlooks you can imagine.
Sitting at 199,173 acres, Shenandoah has a lot to see! One thing you must do while visiting is the Skyline Drive. This scenic route goes from top to bottom, giving you views of the best parts of the park, all from the comfort of your car.
Another great reason to visit Shenandoah is that it is one of the most dog-friendly national parks! With just a handful of trails prohibiting dogs, you and your pup will be able to explore so much of this park together.
All of the campgrounds in Shenandoah are open seasonally from early spring until late fall. There are several campgrounds to choose from, all of which require reservations to be made, preferably well in advance.
The campsites tend to fill up quickly, so make sure you don’t miss out! If you can, we highly recommend camping in Shenandoah National Park during the weekdays and trying to avoid weekends as they are generally much busier.
Along with the scenic Skyline Drive, there are tons of hiking trails to enjoy in Shenandoah National Park, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, which in total stretches over 2,000 miles throughout the eastern US. Some of the best day hikes in Shenandoah are Hawksbill Loop Trail, White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Trail Loop, and Lewis Falls Trail.
4. Congaree National Park South Carolina
This small, but mighty national park might not be the first to come to mind when you’re planning a nature trip, but it is still well worth visiting. Because Congaree National Park is so small, it tends to be way less crowded.
As one of the smallest national parks in the US, Congaree is a whopping 26,692.6 acres. While it's quite small, compared to some other national parks, it's still one of the best national parks to visit in spring!
Another bonus of visiting Congaree, besides being way less crowded, is the fact that it has no entrance fee! Plus, it is super dog-friendly, making for a great nature getaway with your pup. Here, dogs are allowed on all the hiking trails; just be aware of ticks.
The most beloved trail in Congaree National Park is the Boardwalk Trail. At a total distance of 2.6 miles, this trail will allow you to enjoy the best parts of the park, and it is wheelchair and stroller accessible! Another great trail is the Weston Lake Trail, which is 4.5 miles roundtrip. You can often find river otters on this trail!
There are two campgrounds in Congaree National Park, both of which require reservations. These are tent-only campgrounds, but if you plan on camping in your car or RV, there are many nearby campgrounds available. We stayed at Santee State Park in our rooftop tent and drove to Congaree during the day!
Check out some of the best campgrounds in South Carolina to create the ultimate camping road trip!
5. Hot Springs National Park Arkansas
Another small, but mighty, national park, is Hot Springs, located in Arkansas. Here you can enjoy lush, green rolling mountain views in the spring, along with beautiful flowers, and perfect hiking weather.
This is another free national park to visit! Just one more reason is it is one of the best national parks to visit in spring. Although its name might make you think there are natural hot springs to dip in, there actually aren’t any you’re allowed to get in due to unsafely high temperatures.
However, besides getting to enjoy the trails and views of Hot Springs National Park, you can also take yourself into the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas itself. In town, you will find multiple bathhouses to enjoy the spring water safely pumped into pools at relaxing temperatures.
Good news, this is another very dog-friendly national park! However, if you plan on visiting a bathhouse, make sure you have a safe place for your dog to stay. There are actually several doggy daycares in downtown Hot Springs.
A must-do hike in Hot Springs National Park is the Hot Springs Mountain Trail. At 1.7 miles, you’ll enjoy beautiful views and lush forest, as well as the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, an awesome observation tower! This costs $12 per person, or $9 if you have the America the Beautiful Pass (at the time of publication).
There is only one camping option in Hot Springs National Park, and that is Gulpha Gorge Campground. While it is the only option, it is thankfully a great one! Each site has a full hookup; electric, water, and sewer. You can also reach all the hikes from this campground by starting on the Gulpha Gorge Trail. There are also several hotels available in the town of Hot Springs if you would rather.
Check out our complete guide to Hot Springs National Park and start planning your trip!
Now you know the best national parks to visit in the spring, where will you be heading first? From mountains to deserts to forests, there’s something truly beautiful about all of these national parks. If you plan on camping in any of them, make sure you go prepared! Book ahead of time and secure your campsite.
Read Also: 21 Camping Essentials
Spring is a wonderful time to go hiking, camping, and exploring national parks. The flora and fauna start coming back to life, the weather is generally very nice, and it’s not too busy if you visit during the week. The US is an incredibly diverse country, and its national parks are well worth exploring.
Have you been to any national parks? What are some of your favorite hikes? We want to hear all about your adventures too!