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5 National Parks to Visit This Summer

James Nichols |

Summer is the perfect time to explore the breathtaking beauty of America's National Parks. With warm weather and long days, it's an ideal season for outdoor adventures. Here are five fantastic parks to consider for your summer getaway:

1. Yellowstone National Park

Why Visit: Yellowstone, the first national park in the world, is a treasure trove of geothermal wonders, diverse wildlife, and stunning landscapes. Summer offers the best weather to explore its vast terrain.

Highlights:

  • Old Faithful: Witness the iconic geyser erupt, a must-see spectacle.
  • Grand Prismatic Spring: Marvel at the vibrant colors of the largest hot spring in the U.S.
  • Wildlife Watching: Spot bison, elk, bears, and wolves in their natural habitat.
  • Hiking: Enjoy scenic trails like Fairy Falls and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Tips:

  • Arrive Early: Beat the crowds by visiting popular sites early in the morning.
  • Stay Hydrated: The high elevation can be dehydrating, so drink plenty of water.
  • Bear Safety: Carry bear spray and make noise while hiking to avoid surprising wildlife.

2. Acadia National Park

Why Visit: Located on the rugged coast of Maine, Acadia offers a unique combination of ocean views, forested trails, and granite peaks.

Highlights:

  • Cadillac Mountain: Hike or drive to the summit for breathtaking sunrise views.
  • Jordan Pond: Enjoy a leisurely walk around the clear, glacial lake and have tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House.
  • Carriage Roads: Bike or stroll along the historic, tree-lined roads designed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
  • Sand Beach: Relax on this beautiful sandy beach nestled between rocky cliffs.

Tips:

  • Tide Schedule: Check the tide schedule for activities like exploring tide pools.
  • Camping Reservations: Book your campsite early as spots fill up quickly.
  • Local Seafood: Don't miss out on fresh Maine lobster and other local seafood.

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Why Visit: Straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains are known for their misty blue ridges, diverse plant and animal life, and rich Appalachian culture.

Highlights:

  • Cades Cove: Drive through this scenic valley to see historic buildings and wildlife.
  • Clingmans Dome: Hike to the highest point in the park for panoramic views.
  • Waterfalls: Explore trails leading to picturesque waterfalls like Laurel Falls and Abrams Falls.
  • Wildflowers: Admire the stunning array of summer wildflowers.

Tips:

  • Avoid Crowds: Visit mid-week and explore lesser-known trails.
  • Weather: Be prepared for sudden changes in weather, especially at higher elevations.
  • Ranger Programs: Attend ranger-led programs to learn more about the park’s history and ecology.

4. Glacier National Park

Why Visit: Known as the "Crown of the Continent," Glacier National Park in Montana offers dramatic mountain scenery, pristine lakes, and over 700 miles of trails.

Highlights:

  • Going-to-the-Sun Road: Drive this spectacular route for unparalleled views and access to many trailheads.
  • Grinnell Glacier: Hike to this stunning glacier for an up-close look at a disappearing natural wonder.
  • Lake McDonald: Enjoy kayaking, canoeing, or simply relaxing by the largest lake in the park.
  • Wildlife Viewing: Look for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and moose.

Tips:

  • Early Start: Begin your day early to secure parking and avoid peak heat.
  • Trail Conditions: Check for trail conditions and closures before heading out.
  • Layer Up: Weather can vary greatly, so wear layers to stay comfortable.

5. Zion National Park

Why Visit: Zion, located in southern Utah, is renowned for its towering sandstone cliffs, narrow canyons, and diverse hiking opportunities.

Highlights:

  • The Narrows: Hike through the Virgin River in this iconic slot canyon.
  • Angels Landing: Challenge yourself with this thrilling hike offering breathtaking views.
  • Zion Canyon Scenic Drive: Take in the scenery from the comfort of your car or shuttle.
  • Emerald Pools: Explore a series of beautiful pools and waterfalls.

Tips:

  • Permits: Some hikes, like The Narrows and Angels Landing, require permits, so plan ahead.
  • Hydration: Carry plenty of water, especially during the hot summer months.
  • Shuttle System: Use the park’s shuttle system to access popular trailheads and reduce congestion.

Final Thoughts

Each of these parks offers unique experiences and unforgettable adventures. Remember to respect the natural environment, follow Leave No Trace principles, and be prepared for varying weather conditions. Whether you're hiking through majestic mountains, exploring vibrant coastlines, or discovering hidden waterfalls, America's National Parks provide endless opportunities for summer exploration and enjoyment. Happy adventuring!