If you are looking for a travel destination where you can enjoy outdoor adventure, check out these national park vacation ideas.
But, there are a few reasons we recommend you plan a vacation to the US National Parks in May.
First, spring break is over and everyone has returned to work and school in the US.
Also, in May, the weather is getting warmer, but still moderate enough to enjoy outdoor activities most of the day.
And finally, hotel rates are generally reasonable until Memorial Day weekend, when summer travel really begins.
We asked fellow travelers to help us compile a list of the best US National Parks to visit in May:
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WHAT TO PACK FOR A NATIONAL PARK VACATION IN THE SUMMER
DOWNLOAD our US National Park checklists to make it easy to pack what you need for your next trip!
1. US National Parks Pass
You can order passes online or get them at any of these Federal Recreation Areas.
→ BUY THE PASS AT REI and they will donate 10% of sales to the National Park Foundation.
2. Hiking Gear
- Hiking shoes & boots: → Check out our FAVORITE hiking shoes/boots!
- Hiking socks: → Check out the BEST SOCKS EVER!
- Walking stick or trekking poles
3. Clothing – Layers
- WATER: → We carry water bottles or hydration backpacks
- FOOD: → Check out our favorite healthy snacks
- Flashlight: → Check out the headlamps we like
- National Park maps
- Lip protection with sunscreen
- Polarized sunglasses
- Insect repellant
- Hand lotion
- Toilet paper (carry out in a bag – do not bury)
- Hand sanitizer
- First aid kit
- Bags to pack out trash
- Cell phone
- Portable charger
- Guide books
- Camera Gear – DOWNLOAD our free checklist!
- Photography gear for hiking
LIST OF US NATIONAL PARKS TO VISIT IN MAY
Arches National Park
May is one of the busiest times to visit Arches National Park. The Arches NPS website has good information on the best time of day to arrive to avoid traffic, and dates when the park will be busy due to holidays.
Arrive early: You’ll avoid lines at the entrance gate if you enter the park before 9:00 am, or after 3:00 pm.
Hike in the morning and evening: In May it’s best to hike the trails in Arches 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 photography: Taking photographs at Arches national park is a bucket-list activity. Use our guide to capture spectacular photos of arches, fins and other sandstone formations in this unique park.
Stargazing: 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.
- Arches National Park Travel Guide
- Arches & Canyonlands 3 Day Itinerary
- Arches in the Fall
- Arches in the Winter
- Arches National Park Hiking Trails
- Arches Packing List
- Where to Stay in Moab Near Arches
- Tours Near Moab, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park
May is one of our favorite times to visit 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 Cayon, you will want to pack and wear layers for the cool mornings and evenings.
The unique beauty in the park makes it a popular destination for photographing the views and landscape of Bryce Canyon. 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 hiking trails at Bryce Canyon 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.
- Bryce Canyon Travel Guide
- Bryce Canyon Photo Spots
- Bryce Canyon in the Fall
- Bryce Canyon in the Winter
- Navajo Loop Queen’s Garden Trail at Bryce Canyon
- Bryce Canyon Tours
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park in May is one of the more popular times people visit. Be sure to enter the park before 9 am or later in the afternoon after 3 pm to avoid the rush getting in the park.
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!
- Tips for Visiting Canyonlands National Park
- Things to Do at Canyonlands Island in the Sky
- Visit Needles Canyonlands
- Arches & Canyonlands 3 Day Itinerary
- Where to Stay Near Canyonlands
- TOURS Near Canyonlands
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park in May is one of the best times to visit. The summer crowds haven’t arrived yet, the weather will be moderate, and the orchards will be in bloom!
If you enjoy hiking, be sure to explore the various Capitol Reef hiking trails. 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.
If you have an SUV, 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
- 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!
- Airbnb Rentals near Capitol Reef – we like finding a place with a kitchen so we can prepare our own food.
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.
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 all that Grand Teton National Park has to offer. 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.
There are also fantastic Grand Teton photography spots 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:
- Elk Refuge Inn – this is right across from the refuge and the closes hotel to the park entrance – our favorite place to stay!
- Elk Country Inn – awesome property if you want to be in town.
- Jackson Apartment with Full Kitchen – we LOVE having a kitchen to prepare our meals!
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.
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.
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
- Hotels Near Great Smoky Mountains
- Vacation Rentals Near Great Smoky Mountains
- Tours Near Great Smoky Mountains
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.
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.
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 National Park starts to come alive in May, and is a good time to visit if you want to avoid the summer crowds, see raging waterfalls, watch active wildlife and enjoy the park without the annoying bugs!
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.
Use our Yellowstone packing list to help you as you plan your trip. You should always carry bear spray, water and rain gear if you’ll be hiking.
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!
Places to stay in West Yellowstone that we recommend:
Places to stay in Gardiner that we recommend:
Yellowstone Gateway Inn, Gardiner – full kitchen and comfy bed, one of our favorite places to stay!
Park Hotel Yellowstone, Gardiner – charming place to stay and loved by guests!
Absaroka Lodge, Gardiner – beautiful location with river views!
Places to stay in Cooke City or Silver Gate that we recommend:
Sunny Log Home on the Creek, Silver Gate (VRBO) – the most AMAZING location with an awesome fireplace and comfy bed!
High Country Motel and Cabins – local owners who love what they do, and make you feel so welcome!
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.
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
Yosemite National Park Lodging & Tours
- Hotels Near Yosemite National Park
- Vacation Rentals Near Yosemite National Park
- Tours Near Yosemite National Park
Zion National Park
Early and mid-May is a perfect time to visit Zion National Park. 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 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.
Photo and article by Mind The Travel
- Zion National Park Travel Guide
- Zion Hiking Trails
- Zion National Park in the Summer
- Zion National Park in the Fall
- Zion National Park in the Winter
- Zion National Park Tours
PLAN A US NATIONAL PARK VACATION
- National Park Vacation Ideas
- US National Park Bucket List Destinations
- List of National Parks by State
- Is the National Parks Pass a Good Deal?
- National Park Packing Lists for Summer and Winter
- 3 Day Itinerary and Photography Guide to Arches & Canyonlands
- Yellowstone Vacation Planner & 4 Day Itinerary
Summer Vacation Ideas
- US National Parks in the Summer
- US Summer Hiking Trails
- Summer Vacations in the Southwest
- Utah Summer Destinations to Visit
- Summer Road Trip Destinations
- Zion National Park in the Summer
- Oregon in the Summer
- Summer Packing List for US National Parks