Visiting US National Parks in May

We’ve got some great ideas for visiting US National Parks in May.

If you’re looking for US National Park vacation ideas, May is great time because spring break is over, the weather is getting warmer and hotel rates are generally reasonable until Memorial Day weekend.

We asked fellow travelers to help us compile a list of the best US National Parks to visit in May.

national parks in may
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National Park Packing List

When you are visiting any national park it is important to be prepared. This includes wearing the proper clothes and shoes to be comfortable for the climate and the terrain.

→ CHECK OUT: National park packing list for summer and winter

For most national parks you will want to bring:

VISIT US NATIONAL PARKS IN MAY

Check out our guide for finding the best National Parks to visit by month.

During each season and month of the year, national parks will have different activities and services available.

Arches National Park

May is one of the busiest times for visiting Arches National Park. BUT it will be crowded so our big tip is to arrive EARLY. Once the parking lots are full, the park will close until later in the afternoon.

Milky Way over fins in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah

In May it’s best to explore the Arches National Park hiking trails in the morning or evening when the weather is cooler. You’ll want to dress in layers since the mornings and evenings get cold in the high desert elevation.

Arches national park photography is a bucket-list activity. Use our guide to capture spectacular photos of arches, fins and other sandstone formations in this unique park.

Due to its remote location, accessibility, altitude and clear skies, Arches National Park is one of the best places to see the stars in the night sky. In May, you’ll be able to see and photograph the Milky Way.

Where to Stay Near Arches:

Arches National Park Camping

There are no hotels in Arches so most people stay in the nearby town of Moab. There are all types of lodging in and near Moab from budget-friendly hotels to higher-prices resorts. You’ll also find vacation rentals, a hostel, campgrounds and RV parks.

→ Where to Stay Near Arches National Park

  • Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Moab – we enjoyed our stay and highly recommend this hotel due to its location close to Arches.
  • Purple Sage – our all-time favorite place to stay in Moab – walking distance to shopping, full kitchen, and only 8 units so you don’t feel lost in a large hotel. 
  • Red Cliffs Lodge – rooms up to 6 people – located 17 miles from Moab, this lodge is known for its beautiful location, winery and activities like horseback riding, fishing and more!
  • Vacation Rentals – we really like rentals with a kitchen, washer and dryer and amenities like a swimming pool and hot tub.

Bryce Canyon National Park

May is one of our favorite times for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park . The daytime temperatures are in the mid-60s which is perfect for outdoor activities. Due to the higher elevation at Bryce Canyon, you will want to pack and wear layers for the cool mornings and evenings.

Thor's Hammer from above at Bryce Canyon.

The unique beauty in the park makes it a popular destination for photographing the Bryce Canyon views. When you drive the scenic road, be sure to go all the way to Rainbow Point and work your way back toward the amphitheater.

Hiking or horseback riding among the hoodoos at Bryce is a must-do experience. One of our favorite Bryce Canyon hikes is the Navajo Queen’s Loop.

Bryce Canyon is a dark sky park so be sure to take the time to stay out one evening to see about 7,500 stars in the sky. There are astronomy programs which include viewing the stars with a telescope, and full moon hikes at the park. Check the NPS website for the full schedule. 

Where to Stay near Bryce Canyon:

Canyonlands National Park

Visiting Canyonlands National Park in May is one of the more popular times people visit. Be sure to enter the park early or later in the afternoon to avoid the rush getting in the park. 

Watch the sunrise at Canyonlands near Moab, Utah.

May is one of the best times to explore Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky and Needles Canyonlands.

You MUST also take a side trip to visit and photograph the views from Dead Horse Point State Park. It’s a short distance from the Island in the Sky entrance and worth the time!

Stargazing at Canyonlands is worth the effort to enjoy the park after dark!

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park in the spring is one of the best times to visit.  In May the summer crowds haven’t arrived yet, the weather will be moderate, and the orchards will be in bloom!

Temples of the Sun and Moon in Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef NP.

If you enjoy hiking, be sure to explore the various Capitol Reef hikes. You’ll hike to arches, through slot canyons, and be rewarded with endless views. In May, you’ll want to dress in layers since the morning and evening temperatures get cold in this part of Utah. 

Be sure to stop at the Gifford Home for some salsa, ice cream, pie, and cinnamon rolls. We recommend you do this early in the day before the yummy stuff is sold out. The Fruita district is a fabulous area to have a picnic, watch the horses and enjoy the wildlife strolling through the orchards. Continue past Fruita to explore the Capitol Reef scenic drive!

If you have a high clearance 4WD vehicle, then a drive out and back via the Caineville Wash Road to the Temples of the Sun and Moon is a fun half day trip. This part of the dirt road is maintained, but there are sections of rock ledges, washes and sand that require a higher clearance than a regular car. DO NOT venture out to Cathedral Valley if it’s been raining heavily. The washes will be impassible, and you don’t want to get stuck in a remote area that has no cell service!

Places to Stay Near Capitol Reef

Places to Stay at Capitol Reef National Park

  • Capitol Reef Resort – this is where we stay! Make it a unique experience and stay in a teepee or covered wagon!
  • Austin’s Chuckwagon Motel – basic rooms and cabins with a deli and store right on the property which is so convenient!
  • VRBO Vacation Rentals – we like finding a place with a kitchen so we can prepare our own food.
  • RV Share Rentals – enjoy the convenience of having an RV delivered to you at Capitol Reef!

Grand Canyon National Park

May is the perfect month to visit Grand Canyon National Park. Winters get snowy and cold and summers get horribly hot, but May is right in the middle. Nights and early mornings can be chilly, but the days are warm and pleasant.

Grand Canyon and Colorado River below the rim.

The Colorado River is running well in the late spring, so it is a great time to take a whitewater rafting trip through the canyon.

The warm days also make for great hiking weather and this is the best time of the year to hike down into the canyon. The most popular trail from the South Rim down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom is the Bright Angel Trail. The hike, which involves going up and down a series of steep switchbacks, can get unpleasantly hot in summer. In May, though, it is lovely. Seeing the canyon from below the rim is an incredible experience and even if you don’t get a reservation for Phantom Ranch, doing part of the trail as a day hike is well worthwhile. 

Grand Canyon is truly as grand as the name suggests, and experiencing it in the perfect May weather is seeing it at its very best. Check out my Grand Canyon Guide HERE! Photo and article by Parks Collecting

Grand Canyon Lodging & Tours

Grand Teton National Park

May is a wonderful time to experience Grand Teton National Park in the spring. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise if you like to camp, hike, bike, or fish. The weather at Grand Teton in May can be unpredictable. Be prepared for sun and snow. Keep your eye on the forecast, but at the least, you should pack and wear layers and have a fleece jacket, hat and gloves available.

Grizzly bear and cubs at Grand Teton in May.

There are also fantastic spots to photograph Grand Teton National Park for those who enjoy nature photography. The wildflowers and wildlife come alive in May at Grand Teton!

Our favorite places to see and photograph the beauty of Grand Teton is Schwabacher Landing, Oxbow Bend, Jackson Lake, Mormon Row barns, Signal Hill and the wildflower fields near Pilgrim Creek Road. 

You can explore the park on your own or sign up for river rafting or wildlife safari tours.

Where to Stay in Jackson near Grand Teton:

Where to stay near Grand Teton National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park, located in southern Colorado, has an incredible combination of fun activities and wonderful views. This National Park is truly unlike any other in the United States, and you’ll have an epic adventure when you visit.

The vast landscape of sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

People go to Colorado to snowboard in winter. However, they also go to Colorado to sandboard in Summer! The Great Sand Dunes has ENORMOUS sand dunes that you can actually slide down on a sled or sandboard! There are a few rental companies located just outside the park, and please try a sled or sandboard, you will have the time of your life sliding down the huge dunes in the beautiful weather.

When you’ve had your fun on a sled or sandboard, then stop to have a picnic and enjoy the scene in front of you. Inexplicably, there are enormous sand dunes at the base of a staggeringly tall section of the Rocky Mountains. These two things combine with the great blue sky and make for an incredible landscape. Bring your camera when you visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. You’ll have the adventure of a lifetime and have some beautiful pictures to remember the trip.

Photo and article by Ruhls of the Road

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Nestled in the heart of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is the most visited National Park in the U.S., and for good reason. The park is free to enter, and it encompasses some of the most awe-inspiring mountains in all of America. While many people may think that the Smokies are at their best in autumn, I believe May is one of the best times to visit due to the temperate weather, low tourist traffic, and diverse array of wildflowers that bloom at the end of the month.

Vibrant colors you'll see in May at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Growing up thirty minutes away from the Townsend, TN entrance to GSMNP, I was lucky to be able to visit the Smokies anytime I wanted. May is my absolute favorite time to visit the park because tourism is just starting to pick up, so the roads and trails are far less crowded than they are in the heart of summer or fall. By May, all of the trees are a lush green, and some of the most spectacular wildflowers in all of the park bloom in a small window between late-May and early to mid-June.

Brilliant orange flame azaleas, purple Catawba rhododendron, and pink and white mountain laurel blooms dot the landscape of many popular hiking trails in the park, adding pops of brilliant color to the mountains. So, as a local, I’m letting you in on a secret—visit the Smokies in May and you’ll be able to take in all the beauty of the park without having to worry about big crowds or sky-high hotel prices. You can thank me later!

Pro tip: if you want to extend your trip and explore some more incredible views nearby the Smokies, be sure to check out the Blue Ridge Parkway, which borders the north end of GSMNP and is also at its peak in May!

Photo and article by The Adventure Feed

Great Smoky Mountains Lodging & Tours

Redwood National Park

May is the perfect time to go to Redwood National Park in California, when the rains have stopped and summer tourists have yet to descend. 

Foggy scene at Redwood National Park.

Redwood National Park belongs to a network of national and state parks along the northern California coast that protect old-growth redwood forests in this region. These are massive, ancient trees–some more than 370 feet tall and 2000 years old–that awe adults and children alike. 

Though the redwoods are the most famous feature, the many miles of trails in the park also wind along hills, coastlines, rivers and beaches. There’s a terrain for every taste, all of it gorgeous. 

If hiking, biking or horseback riding the trails isn’t your style, you can raft and kayak the rivers or take a scenic drive. Along the way, you may see fields of lupine and other wildflowers, or wildlife such as Roosevelt Elk and seals. In May, you might even catch sight of migrating whales as you stand on the high bluffs edging the water.

Now if you’re looking for tropical weather, a visit in May may not be for you—temperatures top out in the mid-60s. For everyone else, the redwoods that have been standing for centuries are in northern California waiting for you.

Article by Bella Bird Journeys

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful year-round destination, but the Virginia park really shines in May. Mild mid-Atlantic weather is at it’s best in mid-to-late spring, with moderate temperatures and rainfall. Skyline Drive, which follows a ridge down the center of the park, is clear of ice and snow and lined with lush green foliage. 

The beauty of Shenandoah National Park in May.

All of Shenandoah’s lodges, campgrounds, and Visitor Centers, which close in winter, are open by late May. These facilities make it easy to enjoy a day trip to Shenandoah National Park or to plan a longer multi-night visit. Happily, local schools are still in session and the tourist season has not ramped up to its full summer strength. Weekdays are especially quiet and welcoming in May and early June. 

May weather generally creates excellent conditions on park trails. Spring rains are frequent enough to add drama and beauty to the park’s waterfalls. Virginia wildflowers like mountain laurel and azalea add beauty while green hills are a perfect backdrop to summit views and photos. Of course, rainy weather can arrive at any time, so be sure to pack a raincoat and waterproof boots to handle whatever nature throws your way.

Photo and article by Fun in Fairfax VA

Where to Stay Near Shenandoah National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone in the spring is a good time to visit if you want to avoid the summer crowds. May is our favorite month to see raging Yellowstone waterfalls, watch active wildlife and enjoy the park without the annoying bugs!

Mom black bear and two cubs at Yellowstone.

But, when visiting Yellowstone in May, the weather can be very unpredictable. It’s common to enjoy sun and 60 degrees one day, then snow and bitter cold the next. Be prepared for rain, snow, wind and trails that are wet and muddy. Dress in layers, wear hiking boots, and carry a warm jacket.

We plan our trips to Yellowstone in May to see all the wildlife and their babies! It’s fun to see and photograph the bears with cubs and the bison with red dogs. But it’s so important to respect the wildlife and obey the guidelines so everyone can enjoy the experience, both humans and animals!

→ Use our Yellowstone Vacation planning guide to help you plan your trip.

Places to stay in West Yellowstone

Places to stay in Gardiner

Places to stay in Cooke City or Silver Gate

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is located in central California near the Nevada border.  The park has some of America’s most spectacular waterfalls, and they are at their peak in spring. As the snows melt on the higher slopes, the water comes pelting down with dramatic force into the lakes and rivers of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Waterfalls are awesome in May at Yosemite National Park.

Some waterfalls spring up in unexpected places as the geology shifts, while others come back to thunderous life after the winter freeze every year, and they tend to be at their most impressive in May.

The most famous and among the easiest to access is Yosemite Falls, with a car parking area nearby, and paved paths leading to this force of nature, with water tumbling down 2,425 feet, sending sprays of water all around.

A steeper hike that’s worth the effort is the combined Vernal Falls-Nevada Falls trail. It’s one of the most powerful falls in the park, and walking alongside it, you’ll see rainbows and mushrooms growing on the rocks adjacent, but at times, it’s so noisy, you’ll have to shout to hear your walking companions. The hike is very steep, so take it slowly, and it’s from 1.6miles to 8 miles long, depending on when you decide to turn back. It can also be joined with the famous John Muir trail for long-distance multi-day walks through the park.

Photo and article by Jetset Journeys → Check out Jill’s travel advice for travel planning!

Yosemite National Park Lodging & Tours

Zion National Park

Early and mid-May is a perfect time to visit Zion National Park in the spring. The weather in May is nice, school holidays usually start in late May-early June so the throngs of people have not shown up yet.

The stunning views at Zion National Park.

The valley of Zion Canyon surprises with green flora, crystal clear Virgin River, and abundant wildlife. If you have the opportunity to visit the park in May, you are sure to have an incredible trip, because it leaves you reconnected with nature and completely refreshed for your other adventures.

The primary benefit of visiting Zion in May is the breathtaking scenery. Enjoy the impressive red, pink and cream rocks of Zion, contrasted against the lush green ponderosa pine, quaking aspen, narrow-leaf cottonwood, douglas fir, and other plants. As the snow melts at high elevation, the Virgin River is fed with clean water, creating another mind-boggling contrast in the valley. Zion is particularly spectacular in the spring. The lighting in May can create marvelous sunrises and sunsets and is a great time for shooting outdoor photos.

Typically, late May is the busiest time in Zion National Park, and you will definitely notice the crowds. This often results in long lines for the shuttle buses, and more limited parking than at other times of the year. To avoid the stress and hassle of navigating the busy National Park, and for help getting off the beaten path, you’ll want to go as early as possible and consider visiting Kolob Canyon, a more isolated area of the park. Here’s a list of Zion hikes without the shuttle!

Photo and article by Mind The Travel

Where to Stay Near Zion

You definitely want to stay in Springdale which borders the entrance to Zion. Here are a few of our favorite places to stay at to Zion National Park:

  • Holiday Inn Express – our favorite place to stay with an outdoor pool and amenities you’d find in a high end hotel
  • Zion Lodge – we haven’t had a chance to stay here yet, but you can’t go wrong staying right IN the park!
  • Under Canvas Zion – if you want to experience a less crowded part of Zion, this is the place! It’s in the Kolob section of the park.
  • Vacation Rentals in Springdale – you’ll want to stay in Springdale so you’re close to the park entrance and can walk to shopping and restaurants. 
  • Rent an RV – have it dropped off at your vacation destination!
national park packing lists

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