The Best US National Parks to Visit in the Summer

The 15 Best US National Parks to Visit in Summer

One of the most incredible things about the United States is how diverse the land is. In one place, there can be snowcapped mountains. In another, there are sandy beaches and blue water. Another still has lush forests. 

And sometimes you even find a spot that has all three!

The national parks in the US invite you to take in the exquisite beauty of the country, and summer is the season when many Americans and tourists alike come out to enjoy it all. 

Summer is the busiest season for many of the national parks, but you’ll also find that some national parks are best visited in the summer despite the congestion. Just remember to make reservations for activities and accommodations in advance and be prepared for crowds. But if you pick one of the best national parks to visit in summer from this list, you’re bound to have an amazing time, even if there are quite a few folks around.

The 15 Best US National Parks to Visit in Summer 

1. Take a Carriage Ride in Acadia National Park

Best National Parks to Visit in Summer: Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park may be open all year round, but the same can’t be said for all of its amenities. Some roads close for the winter and open back up in spring, while campgrounds close in fall and beaches in either fall or winter. Visitor centers close in fall and open throughout spring and early summer.

What makes Acadia National Park one of the best national parks to visit in the summer is the fact that summer is when you’ll find the most things to do in the park. Take a scenic carriage ride through the park’s historic carriage roads or bike along them. Take a dip at the beaches, or check out the animals in the tide pools! 


2. Enjoy the Water Around Channel Islands National Park

National Parks You Must Visit in Summer: Channel Islands National Park

You can visit the Channel Islands National Park in California any time of year and find tons of things to do and see. However, what makes this park a great national park to visit in summer is that it’s one of the best seasons for animal watching and water-based activities.

In summer, guests can experience ideal weather and water temperatures for sailing, snorkeling, swimming, and more. But this time of year is also when the animals are out and about. Blue and humpback whale watching season starts, and California sea lions and northern fur seals are just starting to pup. 


3. Marvel at the Wildflowers at Crater Lake National Park

Must-Visit National Parks in Summer: Crater Lake National Park

Like Acadia, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is another national park where the facilities are not all open throughout the year. But by mid-July, the park is typically opening up, and snow is creating less of an obstacle. 

Crater Lake is one of the best national parks to visit in the summer when you’ll find clear, blue water alongside 90 miles of trails going through diverse forests, which are bursting with life in the summer. 


4. Spend Long Days in the Sun at Denali National Park

Best National Parks to Visit in Summer: Denali National Park

With its Alaska location, Denali National Park is one of the most unique national parks to visit in summer. While many national parks around the United States are experiencing high temperatures in the summer, Denali National Park stays pretty mild, sometimes a bit on the cooler end. And while snow is melting for much of the US, it may still snow in Denali in the summer.

That said, summer is still the best time of year to visit Denali if you want to take advantage of its offerings. Bike the Denali Park Road, see the tallest mountain in North America, and meet Denali’s working sled dogs.


5. Ride the Going-to-the-Sun-Road at Glacier National Park

National Parks You Must Visit in Summer: Glacier National Park

Over in Montana, you’ll find Glacier National Park, another of the best national parks to visit in summer that experiences closures throughout the year that keep guests away, mainly when we’re talking about upper elevation. While the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is open year-round, the upper elevations don’t usually open until late June.

In addition to riding along that iconic road, summertime visitors can also enjoy hiking over 700 miles of trails, horseback riding excursions, boat tours on the park’s several lakes, and more. 


6. Spot Wildlife at Glacier Bay National Park

Must-Visit National Parks in Summer: Glacier Bay National Park

Not to be confused with Montana’s Glacier National Park, Glacier Bay National Park can be found over in Alaska and is another one of the best national parks to visit in summer, especially if your goal is to see wildlife. 

While you can expect some rainy, chilly days, summer in Glacier Bay brings about chances to see harbor seal pups, humpback and killer whales, brown and black bears, sea otters, mountain goats, deer, and more. 


7. Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best National Parks to Visit in Summer: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a national park to visit in summer if you’re looking for stunning views. The weather is warm and sunny, but if you come across any rain, you can just duck under the beautiful old-growth trees. 

For activities, you can try your hand at a ziplining tour, kayak Fontana Lake, hike to Rainbow Falls, give whitewater rafting a go, and much more. For adventurous folks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a perfect fit! 


8. Escape the Crowds in Isle Royale National Park

National Parks You Must Visit in Summer: Isle Royale National Park

On a remote island cluster in Lake Superior, you’ll find a national park that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves. Isle Royale National Park is only open from mid-April through the end of October, with the summer season being a prime time to go. 

This isolated wild paradise is a great choice for those who want to get away from it all. You can only access the park by ferry or seaplane, and there’s little cell reception on the island. While enjoying some peace and quiet, you can also take in the sights via guided boat tours, kayaking trips, scuba diving, and hiking. 


9. See the Bears at Katmai National Park

Must-Visit National Parks in Summer: Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park, another Alaska find, is one of the coolest national parks to visit in summer for those looking to spot wildlife. If you’re familiar with Fat Bear Week, that beloved tournament that crowns the fattest bear takes place in Katmai National Park & Preserve. 

Katmai is one of the premier brown bear viewing areas in the world, and summer through early fall is a perfect time to see these majestic animals. 


10. Cruise Around Kenai Fjords National Park

Best National Parks to Visit in Summer: Kenai Fjords National Park

One of the best times to visit Kenai Fjords National Park, another Alaskan national park, is summer, thanks to the long days of sunlight, lack of snow on the paths, and tons of animals coming out of their sleepy winter slumber.

During the summer, you can see the incredible fjords on a boat tour, or you can even challenge yourself by kayaking around on the clear waters, taking in the sight of glaciers all around you.


11. Hike Around Lassen Volcanic National Park

National Parks You Must Visit in Summer: Lassen Volcanic National Park

California is home to many incredible national parks, but we certainly wouldn’t recommend several of them for summer visits due to the intense heat. But summer is the best season to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park

By July, the park’s facilities are all opening up, and you’ll find that higher elevations are more accessible than earlier on in the year, which is great because July is also the time when you’ll start to see wildflowers blooming at higher elevations. Summer also marks the return of fun events at the park, like the Art, Wine, and Brew Fest!


12. Check Out the Glaciers at Mount Rainier National Park

Must-Visit National Parks in Summer: Mount Rainer National Park

Summer is a prime time to visit Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park. This national park is another where many facilities close down due to the snowy winter months, but summer is when things are opening back up and welcoming guests.

Take a scenic train or gondola ride, see the meadows become lush with wildflowers, and hike miles upon miles of beautiful trails.


13. Take in the Sights of North Cascades National Park

Best National Parks to Visit in Summer: North Cascades National Park

Also in Washington is the North Cascades National Park, another one of the coolest national parks to visit in summer, when the roads and trails are clearing of snow and facilities are opening back up. Hike through dense forests, around clear lakes, and over mountains capped with glaciers. 

The weather here never gets too hot, allowing you to spend your days in the sun in ways that you can’t with some other national parks in the US.


14. Look for the Waterfalls at Olympic National Park

National Parks You Must Visit in Summer: Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park in Washington is a truly diverse place to visit, making it another great national park to visit in summer. From old-growth rainforests to snowcapped mountains to scenic beaches, you can explore vast worlds in this pristine, prismatic park. 

Although this park can be extremely beautiful in the winter, you may find that roads are inaccessible and facilities are closed. You’ll have more luck seeing all there is to see at this park in the summer.


15. Explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Must-Visit National Parks in Summer: Kings Canyon National Parks

Technically speaking, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are two separate parks, but the National Parks Service lumps them together. Because the two California national parks are so easy to visit together, we’re going to lump them together here, too. Why vacation at one of the best national parks to visit in summer when you can vacation at two?

Hike through groves of giant sequoias, climb Moro Rock for a spectacular view, and take the drive along Kings Canyon Scenic Byway for even more amazing panoramas. 

There you have it! The 15 best national parks to visit in the summer. Which national park is your favorite for a summer trip? Let us know in the comments!


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Author

  • Jacqueline Gualtieri

    Jacqueline is a writer and editor pursuing the freelance life to explore the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, she spent her college years in Boston before settling down with her partner and puppy in Monterey, California.

    When she’s not writing, you can often find her planning her next trip. Road trips are her favorite, whether it’s driving across the country or simply exploring a new city in her own backyard. She loves uncovering the history of every new place she goes.

    Jacqueline has a restless passion for learning and makes it a goal to pick up a new skill every year. She’s picked up embroidery, crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching, but she’s hoping to master more languages to help her in her travels. She’s also a published author, with short stories and poetry appearing in several anthologies.

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