Wildflowers and sunshine make their appearance after a long spring at many US national parks. Grab your layers, hiking gear and get ready for scenic drives and epic views. With fewer crowds and spectacular weather these, are the very best national parks to visit in May!
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May is a fabulous time for a vacation to a national park. It’s just before the busy summer season so you avoid super long lines, and offers a slight reprieve from the excessive heat that invades most national parks during the summer.
In most locations, the dreary springtime rain has receded, making way for sunshine and national park bliss. If you’re looking for the best national parks to visit in May, here’s your list!
From coast to coast and even some locations outside the continental US, these amazing national parks welcome you during May.
Must-see video: best national parks to visit in May
Map of the best national parks to visit in May
If you’re a visual person, use this map to help you plan your trip. Pinch and zoom in to see the regions you may want to explore. 🙂
By the way, I haven’t been everywhere (yet), so I’ve called in some help with this guide from some of my fellow travel writers. Enjoy 🙂
Best national parks to visit in May
Starting this list off with a bang!💥 The landscapes across the US are incredibly diverse, meaning it can be hard to choose out of the best national parks in the USA. Let’s start with a few of my favorites. 🙂
1. Arches National Park, Utah
Average temp: high 79, low 49
One of the best national parks to visit in May is Arches National Park, located in eastern Utah. The weather is fabulous this time of year and the crowds are much lighter than in the peak of summer.
Seeing Delicate Arch is a highlight for most visitors to the park, and it’s also one of the best hikes in Arches National Park. At 3 miles round trip and rated as moderate, this hike isn’t for every skill level, as it climbs in elevation nearly the entire time.
Wear grippy hiking shoes to hike to Delicate Arch to most easily get around as the slick rock is tricky with steep cliffs, especially at the arch. Watch young kids closely during this hike!
Other must-do’s within Arches National Park are the scenic drive, which will take 1-2 hours, depending on how many stops you take. The Windows area of the park is nice for families or those hoping to see a lot without hiking.
Several large arches are located at The Windows, and you can eve climb through them, which is fun for kids and adults alike.
Note that April through October you’ll need to have a reservation for a timed entry into the park. Alternatively, you can enter the park prior to 7am or after 4pm without a reservation.
Arches is an awesome starting point for an Utah national parks road trip. Enjoy all 5 amazing and unique parks in Utah. May is a great time for such an adventure!
Recommended by me – Nikki of Inspired Routes
2. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Average temp: high 57, low 29
Planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park in May is a terrific time to go to enjoy the park with fewer crowds than summer and fall. Most of the roads open May 1, and all are open by mid-May, conditions and weather permitting.
The 42-mile full scenic drive loop road takes you to all the best points of interest around the park. Planning a full day for this drive provides time to enjoy the views and capture pictures at each stop!
The Grand Teton weather in May is still very cold with highs around 60 and lows around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s important to dress in layers and pack winter clothing because it can still rain and even snow in May!
Grand Teton is one of the best national parks to visit in spring because it’s a terrific time to see wildlife. Be aware of the area closures due to bear activity and other wildlife management, and follow instructions on any posted signs.
Please be a responsible wildlife observer by maintaining a safe distance of at least 100 yards from wolves and bears, and 25 yards from all other wildlife.
The lower elevation hiking trails may be muddy, and the higher elevation trails, like Inspiration Point Grand Teton, will still be covered with snow. May is an active time for bears and cubs. It’s recommended to hike with at least 3 people, make noise, and carry bear spray!
Reservations are required for camping at Grand Teton National Park. The Gros Ventre Campground is open May 1, with the others opening mid to late May. There are hotels, vacation rentals and RV Parks in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming area.
Recommended by Jamie of Photo Jeepers
3. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (a favorite on this list of best national parks to visit in May)
Average temp: high 51, low 30
When you are planning things to do in Denver, be sure to add Rocky Mountain National Park to your travel bucket list.
May is the perfect time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The temperature is just starting to get warm and pleasant during this time of year. The weather in May makes outdoor activities like hiking, biking and camping even more enjoyable as the days are sunnier and much less windy.
One of the best easy hikes is the Alberta Falls Trail, which takes you through the forest, aspen trees and onto Alberta Falls. Here you can take a breath and enjoy a snack or light lunch.
Continue the trail past Alberta Falls and you have many choices of lakes to visit: Dream Lake, Emerald Lake or Mills Lake. All of these lakes provide stunning mountain views and clear waters!
The wildflowers are also in bloom during this time of year, adding extra beauty to all the incredible mountain views that await visitors. You can see these wildflowers at the end of Ouzel Falls. It’s truly one of the best national parks to visit in May!
If you’re planning to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park, you can stay in Estes Park, which is the nearest town. Book the Blue Door Inn for a budget stay or check out Hotel Estes for mid-range accommodation. In Estes Park, you can also find plenty of great restaurants, shops, and entertainment.
No matter what your plans are for Colorado, visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in May is a must-do for anyone looking to experience some of the best scenery Colorado has to offer!
Recommended by Pafoua of Her Wanderful World
4. Kings Canyon National Park, California
Average temp: high 53, low 20
If you’re looking for the best national parks to visit in May, look no further than Kings Canyon in California. One of the most underrated national parks, it’s often overshadowed by it’s sister park, Sequoia National Park.
It’s one of the most unique national parks because it has such a variety of scenery. Massive Sequoia trees are prevalent throughout parts of the park. Yet it also holds the deepest canyon in North America, with amazing views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
By visiting Kings Canyon National Park in May, you can expect nice weather during the day and cool temperatures at night, often even freezing. Pack layers for hiking and sightseeing, as you’ll need them!
Some of the best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park are seeing the tallest Sequoia tree – Grant Tree. Crazy that it’s in this park instead of Sequoia! You can actually compare the two parks for benefits of each: Sequoia vs Kings Canyon.
You’ll also want to take the Kings Canyon Scenic Drive through the canyon for incredible views! When you get to Roads End, check out the Muir Rock, Zumwalt Meadow and if you have time, hike the 7.8 miles round trip to Mist Falls.
Kings Canyon National Park is located just an hour from Fresno, where there are plenty of hotels and vacation rentals, especially in May before peak tourism season begins.
Recommended by me – Nikki of Inspired Routes
5. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Average temp: high 71, low 51
Easily one of the best national parks in the USA to visit in May, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a gorgeous natural oasis that sits in between the cities of Akron and Cleveland in Ohio.
It also is nestled along the Cuyahoga River and is known for the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath.
However, other fun things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park include a trip to Ledges Overlook, a visit to Brandywine Falls, a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and a stop at the Canal Exploration Center.
After all, this fun little museum does an amazing job of recounting the fascinating history of the Erie Canal from the 19th century.
And while this park is amazing at any time of year, May is an exceptionally good time to visit. Not only will the area’s waterfalls be at their most majestic, due to runoff from snow, but the park becomes inundated with stunning wildflowers.
Just be sure to pack a rain jacket since the area receives around 9 days of rain throughout the month. Although, daily highs are generally a pleasant 71 F while lows dip down to around 51 F.
And for an ultimate weekend of solitude, book a room at the Inn At Brandywine Falls. After all, this historic bed and breakfast sits inside the park, dates back to 1848 and features rustic rooms that include complimentary breakfast.
Recommended by Linda of Midwest Explored
6. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (a must-see and one of the best national parks in USA)
Average temp: high 59, low 43
When visiting Glacier Bay National Park in May, you’ll experience the exit of winter and the awakening of spring. May brings the least amount of rainfall, and you’ll enjoy the mountains still frosted with snow.
Encompassing 3,000,000 acres, visitors can only access the UNESCO world heritage site by plane or boat. Most who visit do so on an Alaska cruise from Vancouver or Seattle. Icefields cover 25% of its land mass in the park, which cruise passengers come to see.
Only 2 large cruise ships can enter the park daily, and a park ranger accompanies the voyage. During the 9-hour sail, you could see humpback whales, bald eagles and harbor seals that bask on giant icebergs.
Be prepared to spend hours on deck (or on your balcony) admiring the pristine landscape. You’ll reach the glaciers at the end of the bay. The ship may pull up to several glaciers, depending on your captain’s preference.
These include John Hopkins, Grand Pacific, Lamplugh and Margerie Glaciers. John Hopkins provides a vital breeding ground for harbor seals. As a result, vessels can only access the mouth of the bay.
Of the tidewater glaciers, Margerie is the most photogenic. With constant calving action (ice breaking off the glacier’s toe), its ice glistens in beautiful shades of blue and aqua.
If you’re planning to visit by plane, flights leave from Juneau and land in Gustavus. Here, you can stay at Glacier Bay Lodge, the only accommodation inside the park.
Glacier Bay is a bucket-list destination, and one of the best places to visit in US in May.
Recommended by Karen at Forever Karen
7. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Average temp: high 62, low 37
After a long, cold winter, Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula has unthawed, and its majestic beauty can be seen coming to life. There is no better place to see this than the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
For 42 miles, this protected parkland stretches along the shimmering emerald and turquoise Lake Superior. It draws visitors from far and wide to enjoy its iconic kaleidoscope cliffs, secluded beaches, powerful waterfalls, and hiking trails.
To experience the area’s beauty, you must check out one of the many hiking trails in Pictured Rocks.
One of the best hikes is the 10-mile Chapel Loop trail, which snakes along dramatic cliffs, past waterfalls, and even a beautiful secluded beach that looks like it’s been plucked from the Caribbean. May is a great time to visit because the crowds will be smaller, and spring brings a bounty of beautiful wildflowers.
Although winter is long gone by May, you should still pack layers and expect temperatures to average in the 60s during the day and 40s at night.
Since the area is large, it can be difficult to decide where to stay. To base yourself near many popular sights, it’s best to stay in the quaint town of Munising. Some great hotel options include The Beach Inn Motel and Roam Inn.
You’ll find rentals outside of town but be warned that although it might not look far on the map, there are many dirt roads that will force you to drive much slower than you’d expect.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is by far one of the best national parks to visit in May!
Recommended by Rebecca of Veggies Abroad
Best national parks in USA to see in May
Can you believe this list?! The fun part is, it keeps getting better! Let’s keep going with these amazing national parks!
8. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (one of the lesser-known of the best US national parks)
Average temp: high 67, low 39
While Mesa Verde National Park might be an afterthought for some travelers, it was actually the sixth-ever designated US national park.
This is because the preservation of this important historic site was a necessity since local settlers were robbing the cliff houses of important artifacts and selling them off to the highest bidder. The creation of the park made protecting the Ancestral Puebloans’ history a national priority.
Mesa Verde weather is pleasant year-round, due to its elevation and temperatures that remain slightly lower than nearby areas of Colorado and the four corners. You can expect highs in the mid-sixties, especially as the park’s higher sites.
Mesa Verde is one of the best national parks to visit in May, as the park fills up during the summer months.
This is, in part, due to its popularity with families since this is one of the few places in the US that is simultaneously a national park, an important historic site, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s also conveniently located near other important NPS sites like Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, as well as the Navajo sites of Monument Valley and the Four Corners. The park is accessible for road trips from nearby Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.
The hiking here is also better in May, as the cooler temperatures keep you from overheating in the middle of this high desert.
Things to do in May in Mesa Verde National Park include touring a cliff dwelling, going on one or two of the park’s hikes, and driving the Mesa Top Loop.
Stay in nearby Durango, Colorado. This fun mountain town boasts great street art, craft beer and a charming downtown. Check into the Strater Hotel for a luxurious time or choose one of the town’s kitschy motels.
Recommended by Stephanie of History Fangirl
9. Shenandoah National Park
Average temp: high 64, low 45
Shenandoah National Park is a natural beauty in May thanks to gorgeous mountain vistas, bucolic landscapes and rolling green hills. As temperatures rise and wildflowers begin to bloom, wild azaleas, pink lady’s slippers and buttercups line the hiking trails.
Enjoy a scenic drive along the park’s famed 105-mile Skyline Drive that meanders north to south across the length of the park. More than 75 overlooks and pull-offs urge visitors to stop and take in the far-reaching views. Range View Overlook (milepost 17.1) and Spitler Knob Overlook (milepost 48) are especially nice.
Across the park, there are hiking trails for all levels, including the fully-accessible Limberlost Trail and the South River Falls Trail, which leads to one of the most popular waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park. More than 500 miles of hiking trails criss-cross this national park.
There are 2 park visitor centers on Skyline Drive, including Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and Harry S. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center. Kids will love completing activities in a Junior Ranger booklet to earn a badge and get sworn in as a brand-new Junior Ranger.
Make it a weekend with a stay inside the park in a rustic cabin or modern guest room at one of two park lodges: Skyland or Big Meadows Lodge. Both lodges have a restaurant, outdoor terraces and easy access to popular hiking trails, like the Dark Hollow Falls Trail.
There are also four family campgrounds that can accommodate tents and travel trailers.
No visit to Shenandoah National Park is complete without ordering a slice of the park’s signature mile-high blackberry ice cream pie at either of the in-park restaurants. Delicious.
Shenandoah is one of the best national parks to visit in spring, and May is specifically great based on weather and waterfalls!
Recommended by Erin of Go Hike Virginia
10. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Average temp: high 66, low 45
Badlands National Park has got to be one of the best national parks to visit in May! With beautiful daytime weather and limited crowds, you’ll love this adventure!
This is a park that’s easy to see in just one day, or you can spend 2-3 days hiking the park. Fun fact: Badlands National Park is actually an open hike park, meaning you don’t have to stick to a hiking trail.
See the main sights in the park by driving the scenic loop. It connects from Interstate 90 via South Dakota Highway 240, and will take at least an hour to complete. Be sure to stop at Panorama Point and Pinnacles Overlook for incredible views of the multi-colored rocky spires.
Other things to do in Badlands National Park include The Notch Trail, The Door Trail and The Window Trail. Wear layers of clothing and sturdy hiking shoes for this park, as the springtime sun will be warm but quickly turn chilly in the evenings.
Recommended by me – Nikki of Inspired Routes
11. Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
Average temp: high 64, low 46
Haleakala National Park can be found on the island of Maui. Since it’s Hawaii, there’s never really a bad time to visit but visiting Haleakala National Park in May during Maui’s shoulder season will help you avoid peak tourist season.
Haleakala has 2 entrances, the Kipahulu District on East Maui and the Summit District atop Haleakala Crater. In the Kipahulu District, expect days to be warm and sunny with an occasional afternoon sprinkle.
Here you can enjoy one of Maui’s best hikes, the Pipiwai Trail which takes you past distant waterfalls, through a dreamy bamboo forest and ultimately to the 400 foot Waimoku Falls.
Seven Sacred Pools is also not to be missed which is less than a mile hike from the Kipahulu campground within the National Park. You must reserve a campsite ahead of time.
The Summit District of Haleakala National sits at an elevation of 10,023 which is polar opposites compared to the Kipahulu District.
One of the most popular things to do on the summit is watch the sunrise above the clouds with the volcanic crater as your back drop. Book a stay at the Kula Lodge to avoid a long drive early in the morning if you plan on watching sunrise.
Another popular way to explore the summit is by hiking the Sliding Sands Trail which takes you down to the crater floor. Along the way you’ll pass by red, orange and purple cinder cones and the rare silversword plant which only grows on Haleakala, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island.
Haleakala is one of the best national parks in USA, and May is a fabulous time to go!
Recommended by Jess of I’m Jess Traveling
12. Redwoods National Park, California
Average temp: high 61, low 40
Redwoods State and National Parks is one of the most unique parks in the U.S. National Park Service. Not only is it the only national park that is cooperatively managed by state and federal services, but it also just so happens to be home to the tallest living organism on the planet, the mighty redwoods!
The best way to explore the area is to go on any of the incredible hikes in the redwoods.
For example, in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, head out on the Fern Canyon Trail. Not only will you get to walk past groves of redwoods, soaring 300+ feet in the air, but you’ll also walk through a lush canyon, dripping with ferns.
The canyon looks so prehistoric that it was actually used as a filming location for Jurassic Park: A Lost World.
Another awesome option is the Karl Knapp Loop trail, where you’ll not only get to pass under the impressive canopy of the redwoods, but actually through them- this trail uniquely has 2 tunnels carved out of fallen trees that you can hike through!
May is the perfect time to enjoy the spectacular scenery in the redwoods. The skies are finally drying up from the soggy springtime, the temperatures are warming up, and you’ll miss the majority of the summer crowds.
The parks are spread across a fairly wide swath of northern California, spanning more than 50 miles along the coastline, so it’s a good idea to pick a homebase that’s fairly centrally located.
Consider staying in Trinidad, which is conveniently located between the Redwoods State and National Parks and other popular redwoods sites, like Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Avenue of the Giants.
The Lost Whale Inn is the oceanfront bed and breakfast of your dreams, with oceanfront views, a private beach, and homemade breakfast whipped up by the sweet owners.
Recommended by Jessica of Uprooted Traveler
13. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota (an underrated spot on this list of best national parks to visit in May)
Average temp: high 63, low 40
Voyageurs National Park, located in the northernmost part of Minnesota, is one of the best US national parks in May. While the temperatures can fluctuate with lows in the 40s and highs in the mid-60s, summer activities begin to open up and the park comes to life.
The lakes are typically thawed in early May from their winter freeze. You can get out to see the best of the park from the water by either bringing or renting your own craft, or hiring a local water taxi guide.
Keep an eye out for bald eagles! There are many nests throughout and you might even see the newly hatched young poking their heads up over the edge, waiting for their next meal.
The busy season in Voyageurs typically spans from Memorial Day to Labor Day, when visitors travel north to spend some time on the lakes. Enjoy tent camping at one of the many lakeside campsites or docking a houseboat to enjoy a similar view.
Take a tour and stop to explore the Ellsworth Rock Gardens. You’ll take in beautiful landscapes and get to check out areas much deeper into the park by adding these stops to your Voyageurs itinerary.
If you’re looking to do any hiking, come prepared with appropriate clothing. Ticks are common in some areas, so wearing long pants, even treated with a repellant like permethrin, is a must. You’ll also want to have plenty of layers prepared for the wide temperature fluctuations.
If you don’t want to spend the night at one of the many waterfront campsites throughout the park, head over to International Falls. Stay at the Cantilever Hotel, a unique little boutique hotel with a rooftop terrace right in town.
Recommended by Samantha of PA on Pause
14. Zion National Park, Utah
Average temp: high 77, low 45
Visiting Zion in May should be on every active vacationer’s bucket list. It’s one of the best times to visit Zion because the temperatures are perfect for camping, hiking and sight seeing. Yet the busy summer season hasn’t officially kicked off yet, meaning there will be fewer crowds during May.
With highs in the mid to upper 70’s, you can fill your days with hiking without overheating. You also don’t have to worry about slipping on ice or snow, unlike the winter in Zion. Bring grippy hiking shoes, trekking poles and a hiking backpack with the 10 essentials for your adventure in Zion.
The Narrows is one of the best hikes, although in the spring the water is really cold and can be moving quite quickly, making it dangerous. Ask park rangers the morning of your planned hike if it’s suitable based on water levels.
Of course, if you’re after the coveted Angels Landing, you’ll need a hiking permit.
If you’re looking for a shorter hike with phenomenal views, then the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion is perfect! This 1.0 mile hike is easy for most skill levels, and a favorite for visiting Zion with kids, too.
Zion is hands-down one of he best national parks to visit in May (or any time of year, for that matter 😉).
Recommended by me – Nikki of Inspired Routes
Best national parks to visit in May – continued
Just a few more fabulous parks to go. Do you have one in mind yet? Let’s continue with this epic list!
15. Yosemite National Park, California
Average temp: high 73, low 44
When most people think about Yosemite, they picture massive waterfalls gushing down the massive granite monoliths that frame the valley.
For visiting Yosemite in May, travelers will be in for a treat as the waterfalls will be flowing at their peak volume for the year. All the snow runoff from the upper elevations and peaks will be rushing down the mountain, to the delight of tourists visiting the park.
The month of May also signals the opening of all the major roads and access points to the park, which means you can easily take in the views from the top of Glacier Point.
Snow will have melted for the season, and the hiking trails in the park will be open for that adventurous hike up to Upper Yosemite Falls or on the Mist Trail.
May is a great time to visit the park as the tourist season will have yet to fully start, meaning that lines to get into the park with be shorter, and attractions will be less crowded.
This also means that accommodations inside the park and Yosemite’s surrounding towns are easier to reserve.
You’ll still want to book farther in advance if you want to score a room at the Rush Creek Lodge.
For those driving to the park from San Francisco, the roads are usually clear of snow by the start of May.
This means that you’ll get to the park sooner, so you will have time to stop at Mariposa Grove to see the giant Sequoia trees.
Yosemite should be at the top of your list if you are looking for the best national parks to visit in May.
Recommended by Gabriel of Chef Travel Guide
16. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Average temp: high 91, low 59
One of the best National Parks to visit in May is Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.
Located in southern Arizona, just outside the city of Tucson, the park is known for its endless groves of saguaro cacti and rugged brown and tan mountains covered in desert vegetation. Saguaro National Park protects the most expansive collection of saguaro cactus groves in the world.
Split into 2 distinct sections separated by the city of Tucson, Saguaro is one of the most accessible parks in the US. From Tucson International Airport it’s about a 30-minute drive to each entrance.
With Tucson being right there, there are unlimited lodging options for your visit. There are no developed campgrounds in the park, but you can camp at Gilbert Ray Campground in nearby Tucson Mountain Park for similar views of this beautiful part of the world.
The average high in May gets up to about 92 degrees (33 C) with overnight lows around 63 (17 C). While this can still be quite hot out in the afternoon sun, it’s the desert so the air is dry. A 90-degree day in the desert is a lot more comfortable than an 80-degree day in Florida.
The cool mornings mean that morning hikes are delightful. Aim to be done with any major hikes before 2:00pm and you’ll barely notice the heat. From June to mid-September, daytime highs are well over 100 degrees and the heat starts to become dangerous.
May is really the last month you can pleasantly visit Saguaro until October.
A small and undeveloped park compared to others in the US, the best thing to do in Saguaro is to get out and hike the well-marked trails. Head to the top of Wasson Peak on the west side of the park for a beautiful view of southern Arizona.
Catching an epic desert sunset is another must-do while in the park. Saguaro is one of the best national parks to visit in spring, and one you won’t want to miss.
Recommended by Chris of Around the World with Me
17. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota (one of the best national parks to visit in spring)
Average temp: high 69, low 40
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is beautiful any time of year. May is stunning, as spring is starting to burst in North Dakota.
Summertime can be brutally hot, and winter can be frigid. In May, the temperatures are above freezing, and the bison, wild horses and prairie dogs are active in the park, making Theodore Roosevelt one of the best national parks to visit in spring.
The South Unit of the park sits in the charming town of Medora, population near 120. As you enter Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you will quickly see that it takes little time to view any wildlife.
Wear a sturdy pair of hiking shoes, as the hiking trails are open. View the wide-open skies that hover over the national park as you hike.
The North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National park is 45 minutes north of Medora, offering more of the beautiful Badlands of North Dakota. The town of Medora offers family-friendly lodging at the AmericInn.
After a fun day exploring the park, you can grab a bite to eat at the Little Missouri Dining & Saloon. Learn about the cowboys of North Dakota at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame & Museum in the town of Medora.
The museum does an excellent job showcasing the contributions that cowboys made to North Dakota’s culture, lifestyle, and legacy. The best part about a May visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is that the summer crowds have yet to arrive.
Recommended by Sara of Travel with Sara
18. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Average temp: high 53, low 28
Many would argue that May (late May in particular) is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone National Park. Summer crowds have not yet arrived but the snow is melting and the weather is warming. If you’re prepared to deal with frigid nights, there’s really no downside to visiting during May.
Most of Yellowstone’s roads and passes open for the season, and many hiking trails also become accessible – especially at lower elevations.
In terms of weather, days are pleasant and nights are cool. Daytime temperatures range between 50 and 60°F and nighttime temps typically hover around 30°F. Rain and snow are both a possibility, so it’s a good idea to arrive prepared.
A huge perk of visiting Yellowstone in May is the abundance of wildlife you’ll encounter. Bison are calving in Lamar Valley, and elk are calving near Mammoth Hot Springs. Wildflower season arrives in May, and the meadows are likely to be littered with fresh blooms. Many hiking trails also open during the month.
Of course, you can’t miss the Yellowstone icons – be sure to visit Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Yellowstone Lake. All 4 of these popular landmarks are open to the public during May.
As far as hiking goes, Fairly Falls is an easy 5-mile out-and-back trail that goes past Grand Prismatic Overlook. Or, for a more strenuous option, try the Seven Mile Hole Trail leading down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
There are numerous lodging options inside Yellowstone National Park. Canyon Lodge and Cabins and Grant Village Lodge are two good choices.
In terms of camping, many campgrounds remain closed in May, but Madison Campground typically opens in the first week of the month and Bridge Bay Campground opens mid-month.
Yellowstone Glamping is also a fabulous option, and there are several glamping sites that open in May just outside the park gates.
Yellowstone is a favorite within the park system, and one of the best national parks to visit in May to avoid the crowds.
Recommended by Jenna of Up and Away Magazine
19. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Average temp: high 69, low 43
One of the best US national parks is Great Smoky Mountains. With over 14 million visitors annually, to say this park is busy is an understatement!
The biggest months for visitors are June, July, August and October. Summer is peak travel season across the US, and October is busy because of the stunning fall foliage that blankets the Smoky Mountains.
So by visiting the Smoky Mountains in May, you’re avoiding the busiest times of year while also benefitting from the nice spring weather. You’ll probably see more rain in May than in the summer or fall, but that just means wildflowers and lush waterfalls!
The best waterfalls in the park require hikes, but it’s so worth it! Hike 2.4 miles on Laurel Falls Trail, 2.6 miles round trip on Grotto Falls Smoky Mountains or 5.5 miles on Abrams Falls Trail. Wear good hiking shoes and hiking socks for these trails, along with trekking poles.
While in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be sure to visit Clingman’s Dome for 360-degree views of the Smokies. Stunning!
Gatlinburg is a great home base while exploring the park. With a vibrant downtown and plenty of places to eat, you’ll find hotels within walking distance. Try the Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg or Bearskin Lodge on the River for convenient locations.
Recommended by me – Nikki of Inspired Routes
20. Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland (a fun one on this list of best national parks to visit in May)
Average temp: high 71, low 54
May is the perfect time to visit Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland! Explore this barrier island without the extreme heat or the tourists that summer can bring. The park is protected and limits visitors, so avoiding peak season is a great idea!
Assateague sits just off the Eastern Shore of Maryland. You can reach it by driving, walking, or biking over the Verrazano Bridge that connects to the mainland near Ocean City.
Keep an eye out for wild ponies as soon as you cross the bridge. They roam the island freely and can be found in the marsh grasses, on the beaches, on the roads, really, just about anywhere. Other wildlife includes deer, fox and over 200 species of birds.
Bring your binoculars to help spot herons, egrets, and even bald eagles. Your best chance to see these birds are the trails through the sea grass on the bay side, the Marsh Nature Trail and the Forest Nature Trail.
You can easily do all of the trails in one day. But you’ll also want to explore the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. Pristine white sandy beaches are perfect for long walks, surfing, and swimming if it’s warm enough.
The weather in May can be fickle, so if you are set on going for a dip, bring a wetsuit. There are also options for kayaking and kite surfing.
The best place to stay for campers is on the island, be sure to reserve ahead of time.
There are not hotels or eateries on Assateague, so if you don’t bring your own food, it will give you a good excuse to eat at one of the crab restaurants in Ocean City. After all, you can’t leave the area without trying some of the famous Maryland Blue Crab!
Recommended by Denise of Chef Denise
21. Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Average temp: high 74, low 55
Volcanoes National Park is an absolute must-see as part of any Big Island road trip, especially in May. Not only is the weather warm and sunny with temperatures ranging between 60-80°F, but where else in the world can you explore one of the most active volcanoes in the world (Kilauea) amidst the jungle?
One of the most popular things to do in the park is the Kilauea Iki Trail, which is a 1.5-mile loop that takes you through the lush rainforest and across the volcanic crater to the Thurston Lava Tube. There are also 3 and 5-mile versions of this hike that provide similar views throughout.
If you’re looking for a driving route, be sure to do the Crater Rim Drive. The Crater Rim Drive is an 11-mile route that wraps around the rim of the Kilauea Caldera and provides stunning views of the volcano with stopping points along the way.
The Chain of Craters Road is also another popular driving route, which is a 38-mile round-trip drive that will take you to the coast.
If there’s been a recent eruption, you can revisit the park at night to watch the lava flow. The shortest trail is the Devastation Trail, which is an easy 2-mile out-and-back hike that takes you to one of the 3 main eruption viewing locations in the park.
Hilo is the closest main city to Volcanoes National Park. However, if you’re looking for the most immersive accommodation, the best option is to stay at Volcano House which is located in the park itself.
Volcanoes National Park is truly a one-of-a-kind and spectacular place to visit, and one of the most unique national parks in the US. Visiting in May provides the perfect climate to explore much of its natural beauty.
Recommended by Jina of By Jina Lee
Best national parks to visit in May
Whew! What a list, right?! Whether you love jagged mountains, wide open spaces or out-of-this-world landscapes, the USA has some pretty phenomenal parks!
There’s truly something for everyone on this list, no matter your vacation style.
Let’s review this list again, in a more succinct fashion…
National parks to visit in May
- Arches National Park, Utah
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- Kings Canyon National Park, California
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
- Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
- Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- Badlands National Park, South Dakota
- Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
- Redwoods National Park, California
- Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
- Zion National Park, Utah
- Yosemite National Park, California
- Saguaro National Park, Arizona
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
- Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
- Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Related content you might like:
26 Best National Parks to Visit in October
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