National Parks in the USA to Explore in Summers

The United States is home to some of the most spectacular national parks in the world, offering a diverse range of landscapes and outdoor adventures. 

In the summer months, these parks come alive with vibrant colors, blooming wildflowers, and abundant wildlife, making it the perfect time to explore their natural beauty. From the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the rugged coastlines of Acadia, there is no shortage of awe-inspiring sights to discover. 

Join us on a journey through some of the best national parks in the USA to explore this summer and start planning your unforgettable outdoor adventure.

Key Takeaways

best national parks in usa summer

  1. Yellowstone National Park
  2. Yosemite National Park
  3. Grand Canyon National Park
  4. Zion National Park
  5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  6. Acadia National Park

1. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming, is renowned for its geothermal features and diverse wildlife. 

Established in 1872, it was the first national park in the world. Yellowstone spans over 2.2 million acres and sits atop a volcanic hotspot, resulting in its iconic geysers, hot springs, and mud pots.

Key Attractions

  • Old Faithful: Perhaps the park’s most famous feature, Old Faithful, is a predictable geyser that erupts approximately every 90 minutes, shooting water up to 180 feet in the air.
  • Grand Prismatic Spring: This vibrant hot spring is the largest in the United States and is known for its striking colors caused by pigmented bacteria in the water.
  • Wildlife: Yellowstone is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including bison, elk, grizzly bears, wolves, and more. The Lamar Valley is particularly famous for wildlife viewing.

Activities

  • Hiking: Yellowstone offers a variety of hiking trails for all skill levels, ranging from easy boardwalks to challenging backcountry routes. Popular hikes include the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Mount Washburn Trail.
  • Camping: The park features 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 campsites. Camping is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Yellowstone’s natural beauty.
  • Wildlife Watching: Joining a guided wildlife tour or simply exploring the park on your own can lead to unforgettable encounters with Yellowstone’s wildlife.

2. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, is a nature lover’s paradise and a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the United States in the summer. 

Covering an area of 748,436 acres, the park is best known for its stunning granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoia groves, and diverse wildlife.

Key Attractions

El Capitan - Yosemite National Park
  • El Capitan: One of the most iconic granite monoliths in the world, El Capitan is a favorite spot for rock climbers.
  • Half Dome: This granite dome rises nearly 5,000 feet above the valley floor and offers breathtaking views for hikers to its summit.
  • Yosemite Falls: One of the tallest waterfalls in North America, consisting of three cascades that drop a total of 2,425 feet.
  • Giant Sequoias: The park is home to several groves of these massive trees, including the Mariposa Grove, which features over 500 mature giant sequoias.

Activities

  • Hiking: Yosemite offers a variety of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to strenuous hikes like the Half Dome and the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls.
  • Rock Climbing: With its granite cliffs and challenging routes, Yosemite is a mecca for rock climbers of all skill levels.
  • Rafting: The Merced River, which flows through the park, offers whitewater rafting opportunities in the summer months.
  • Wildlife Viewing: Yosemite is home to various wildlife, including black bears, deer, coyotes, and a wide range of bird species.

Yosemite National Park is a place of incredible natural beauty and perfect for summer adventures. Whether hiking to a waterfall, climbing a granite cliff, or simply taking in the stunning views, Yosemite offers something for everyone to enjoy.

3. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is located in Arizona and covers over 1,217,000 acres of land. It is known for its stunning views and the massive Grand Canyon, carved by the Colorado River.

The Grand Canyon is a geological marvel, showcasing rock layers that reveal millions of years of Earth’s history. The canyon is about 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep.

Key Attractions

  • South Rim: The most visited part of the park, offering numerous lookout points and the iconic Grand Canyon Village. Visitors can enjoy panoramic canyon views and explore historic buildings like the El Tovar Hotel.
  • North Rim: Quieter and less developed than the South Rim, the North Rim offers a more secluded experience with equally breathtaking views. The North Rim Visitor Center provides information about the area and its wildlife.
  • Inner Canyon: Adventurous visitors can hike or ride mules down into the canyon to explore its depths. Popular trails include the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail, offering different perspectives of the canyon’s beauty.

Activities

  • Hiking: The Grand Canyon offers a variety of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks along the rim to strenuous hikes into the canyon. It’s essential to be prepared for changing weather and steep terrain.
  • River Rafting: The Colorado River offers thrilling rafting opportunities through the heart of the canyon. Multi-day rafting trips provide a unique perspective of the canyon’s vastness and beauty.
  • Scenic Drives: Scenic drives along the rim offer breathtaking views of the canyon. The Desert View Drive and Hermit Road are popular routes with numerous viewpoints and photo opportunities.

4. Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Located in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park is renowned for its stunning red cliffs, narrow slot canyons, and the Virgin River that flows through its towering rock formations. Summer is an ideal time to visit Zion, offering many outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts.

Covering an area of approximately 146,597 acres, Zion National Park is situated near the town of Springdale in Utah. It is known for its dramatic landscape characterized by deep canyons and rock formations.

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Key Attractions

  • Zion Canyon: Carved over millions of years by the Virgin River, Zion Canyon is the park’s most iconic feature. Visitors can explore the canyon by hiking the Zion Narrows, a stunning slot canyon hike that involves wading through the river.
  • Angels Landing: One of the most famous hikes in the park, Angels Landing offers breathtaking views of Zion Canyon. The trail is challenging, with steep drop-offs and narrow sections, but the panoramic views from the top are well worth the effort.
  • The Subway: This unique slot canyon features a series of tubular sections that resemble a subway tunnel. The hike to The Subway is strenuous and requires a permit, but it offers a truly unforgettable experience.

Activities

  • Hiking: Zion National Park offers a variety of hiking trails for all skill levels. In addition to Angels Landing and The Subway, popular hikes include the Emerald Pools Trail, Observation Point, and the Canyon Overlook Trail.
  • Rock Climbing: With its towering sandstone cliffs, Zion is a paradise for rock climbers. Climbing routes are available for all levels of experience, and guided climbing tours are also available.
  • Canyoneering: Zion’s slot canyons offer a unique canyoneering experience. Guided tours are available for those new to the sport, while experienced canyoners can explore on their own with a permit.

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and rich biodiversity. As one of the most visited national parks in the USA, it offers a plethora of activities and attractions, making it an ideal destination for summer exploration.

Encompassing over 800 square miles, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its mist-covered mountains, ancient forests, and diverse wildlife. The park is easily accessible, with several entrances allowing visitors to explore its wonders from various vantage points.

Key Attractions

  • Clingmans Dome: Standing at 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park and offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and forests. The Clingmans Dome Observation Tower provides a breathtaking vantage point for sunrise and sunset.
  • Cades Cove: This picturesque valley is surrounded by mountains and features historic buildings, including churches and homesteads dating back to the 19th century. Cades Cove is a popular spot for wildlife viewing, especially white-tailed deer and black bears.
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: This scenic drive offers stunning views of waterfalls, old-growth forests, and historic buildings. The trail is also popular for hiking, with several trailheads leading to destinations such as Grotto Falls and Rainbow Falls.
  • Newfound Gap: Located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Newfound Gap offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. The Appalachian Trail crosses through Newfound Gap, making it a popular spot for hikers.

Activities

  • Hiking: The park features over 800 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging treks. Popular hikes include the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte and the Laurel Falls Trail.
  • Wildlife Viewing: The park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including black bears, deer, and elk. Visitors can often spot wildlife along the park’s roads and hiking trails.
  • Fishing: The park offers excellent fishing opportunities in its many streams and rivers. Anglers can fish for trout, bass, and other species.
  • Scenic Drives: The park features several scenic drives, including the Newfound Gap Road and the Cades Cove Loop Road. These drives offer stunning views of the park’s landscapes and wildlife.

6. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, located primarily on Mount Desert Island in Maine, is a picturesque destination known for its rugged coastlines, lush forests, and granite peaks. Established in 1919, Acadia is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi River and offers a wide range of outdoor activities for summer visitors.

Acadia National Park covers approximately 49,000 acres along the Maine coast. It is located near the town of Bar Harbor, making it easily accessible for visitors.

Key Attractions

  • Cadillac Mountain: Visit Cadillac Mountain to witness breathtaking sunrise and sunset views. It’s the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and offers panoramic views of the park and surrounding islands.
  • Jordan Pond: Explore the crystal-clear waters of Jordan Pond, surrounded by picturesque mountains. Enjoy a leisurely walk around the pond or indulge in a traditional afternoon tea at Jordan Pond House.
  • Thunder Hole: Experience the power of the ocean at Thunder Hole, where waves crash against the rocky shoreline, creating a thunderous sound. The best time to visit is during high tide.
  • Park Loop Road: Drive along the scenic Park Loop Road, which offers access to many of the park’s attractions, including Sand Beach, Otter Cliff, and Jordan Pond.

Activities

  • Hiking: Explore over 120 miles of hiking trails that wind through forests, along rugged coastlines, and up mountains. The Precipice Trail and the Beehive Trail offer challenging climbs with rewarding views.
  • Biking: Cycle along the park’s carriage roads, which were designed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Enjoy the scenic views as you ride past bridges, lakes, and forests.
  • Boating: Rent a kayak or canoe and explore the park’s coastline from the water. You can also join a guided boat tour to learn about the park’s history and wildlife.
  • Wildlife Viewing: Acadia National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, moose, foxes, and bald eagles. Keep an eye out for these animals as you explore the park.

Tips

  • Pack Accordingly: Summer weather in national parks can vary, so pack layers and be prepared for changes in temperature. Remember sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water, especially at high altitudes. Carry a refillable water bottle and refill it at designated water stations.
  • Plan Ahead: Popular national parks can get crowded in the summer, so make campground or lodging reservations in advance. Check the park’s website for any alerts or closures that may affect your visit.
  • Leave No Trace: Help preserve these natural wonders by following the principles of Leave No Trace. Pack out all trash, stay on designated trails, and respect wildlife.
  • Join Ranger Programs: Many national parks offer ranger-led programs and guided hikes. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn more about the park’s history, geology, and wildlife.
  • Use Official Park Websites: For the most up-to-date information on park hours, activities, and trail conditions, visit the official website of the national park you plan to visit.

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Conclusion

Summer is the perfect time to explore the natural wonders of America’s national parks. Whether you’re captivated by the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone, the towering cliffs of Yosemite, or the rugged beauty of the Grand Canyon, these parks offer endless opportunities for adventure and discovery. 

From hiking and camping to wildlife viewing and scenic drives, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. So, pack your bags, hit the road, and experience the beauty of these national treasures for yourself this summer!

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