US Southwest National Parks in May

Check out these vacation ideas for visiting US Southwest National Parks in May that include guides, tips, activities, and packing checklists. US Southwest National Parks in the spring is one of the best seasons to enjoy sun, blue skies, and moderate temperatures.

Whether you’re a photographer, a nature enthusiast, or a thrill-seeker, the National Parks in the American Southwest promise an unforgettable exploration of the great outdoors.

American Southwest National Parks in May

National Parks should be on your list of May vacation ideas in the US. We have teamed up with other travelers to share what it’s like visiting specific Southwest National Parks in May.

The number one tip we have is to be prepared for the weather and temperatures for the time you’ll be visiting. Each park will have different conditions in May so it’s important to check the weather in advance!

Use our US National Park Packing List to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting in late spring! Grab your free printable packing checklist by clicking the image below!

National Parks packing list for spring summer fall and winter
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Spring Clothing & Gear for Southwest National Parks

When planning your spring vacation in the Southwest USA, remember that conditions vary on the location and elevation of each National Park. Be sure to check the specific park website for more detailed information about visiting in May!

Here’s a list of clothing we recommend for most of the Southwest National Parks in May. It’s important to stay hydrated and use sun protection when visiting any of these parks in late spring!

spring hiking gear

US Southwest National Parks in May

If you’re planning a US National Park vacation, be sure to check out the US National Park Pass: the cost, how it saves money, and where you can buy the pass.

NOTE: There are three US National Parks requiring reservations (and one National Monument) during the month of May in the Southwest.

  • Arches National Park – Timed Entry Ticket
  • Rocky Mountain National Park – Timed Entry Permit (beginning mid-May)
  • Yosemite National Park – Timed Entry Ticket for weekends and holidays AND Hiking Permit for Half Dome
  • Zion National Park – Hiking Permits for Angels Landing chains section, Left Fork Subway, and 16-mile Narrows Trail
  • Muir Wood National Monument – Parking Reservation

We have teamed with other travelers to provide this list of Southwest National Parks to visit in May in these states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.

Cathedral Valley at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah
Capitol Reef Cathedral Valley in Utah

Capitol Reef National Park in May

Capitol Reef is one of the more underrated Utah National Parks, but it is worth a visit. Capitol Reef National Park weather in May is a wonderful time to visit the area with highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s. It’s not so warm that you can’t go for a hike, but it is not so cold that you are freezing if you start early or stay out for sunset.

May is also before the crowds come to Utah for summer. While Capitol Reef has less visitors than Utah’s better known parks, you’ll find it’s easy to spend a day exploring the park on a Utah road trip.

Without even having to pay for entrance to the park, you can drive through Capitol Reef and stop to hike to Hickman Bridge. If the weather has been dry and you have a vehicle that can handle the Capitol Reef Cathedral Valley dirt roads, drive out to Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon.

If you want to stay and explore more of the area, Hanksville is right outside of the park and offers a few lodging options including Whispering Sands Motel. While in Hanksville, you can also visit the colorful Bentonite Hills located along the boundary of Capitol Reef. (Photo and Recommendation by Christine, Live Love Run Travel)

Capitol Reef Lodging & Tours

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in May

What I like most about Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico is that it offers both surface and underground exploration. If you plan to hike, make sure it is early morning in order to beat the heat. Afternoon temperatures in May will hit the high 90s.

Next, pick up your timed-entry tickets from the visitor’s center. A reservation is required for both the self-guided tours and ranger-guided tours. Plan to get tickets 30 days in advance, as they sell out quickly. Before entering the caverns for your tour, peruse the park’s exhibits, explaining the caverns’ formations.

It’s easy to escape the Chihuahuan desert heat at Carlsbad Caverns. Cavern temperatures average 56 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Using the Natural Entrance Trail, descend 750 feet below the surface, or you can take the elevator directly to the Big Room to explore the cavern at your own pace.

Our visit to the Big Room was truly amazing. Seeing the massive stalagmites, stalactites, columns, and draperies of flowstone was otherworldly. Booking a ranger-led King’s Palace tour is a good option if you have extra time.

Don’t miss the bat flight program in the park’s amphitheater in the evening. The sight of thousands of bats flying out at sunset is truly breathtaking. No matter what you decide to do at Carlsbad Caverns, you are sure to be left with lasting memories. (Photo and Recommendation by Wendy, Travel the Parks)

Where to Stay Near Carlsbad Caverns

Death Valley National Park, California
Death Valley National Park in California

Death Valley National Park in May

May is the last month you can comfortably visit Death Valley National Park in California before the deadly summer heat sets in. Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth and summers are just plain brutal. But the arid valley is one of the most beautiful places in the United States, which leads people to flock to it every year in search of brilliant desert scenery.

While May is surely hot – with an average high of 100 degrees (38 C) – the mornings are comfortable and a great time to get out on the hiking trails. The air is also incredibly dry, making a 90-degree day feel nowhere near as rough as a 90-degree day somewhere humid like Florida.  

Popular activities in Death Valley include climbing the extensive sand dunes at Mesquite Flats, walking amongst the sharp, salty rocks at the Devil’s Golf Course, and taking a scenic drive through the amazing colors at Artist’s Palette. In Death Valley you can also find the lowest point in the western hemisphere, Badwater Basin, the most visited attraction in the park.

Death Valley should be on your California Bucket List. It’s easy to visit as a day trip from Las Vegas or an overnight trip from elsewhere in the southwest. There are two large campgrounds as well as two hotels – The Inn at Death Valley and the Ranch at Death Valley – inside the park boundary, which will provide you with access to incredible stargazing to enjoy. (Photo and Recommendation by Chris, Around the World With Me)

Death Valley Lodging & Tours

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park in May

Visiting the Grand Canyon in Arizona, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world was high on my wish list and I am glad it got covered on a family trip to the US west coast.

Spring and fall are considered the best times of year to visit Grand Canyon National Park because daytime temperatures are typically lower and crowds are generally thinner. So May is great for this national park.

The Grand Canyon is vast so there is no single average temperature. But the average high at the South Rim in May is 71 degrees F, and the average low is 36 degrees F. You don’t need a reservation to enter the Grand Canyon but will pay an entrance fee from all gates.

There are many things to do in the Grand Canyon: take in the views of this vast canyon from different points. Desert View Drive is a must-see US National Park scenic drive!

For those who are adventurous, there are several hiking trails to tackle and May is good weather for that. You can take a bike tour, enjoy the starry nights and see the spectacular sunrise over the canyon. (Photo and Recommendation by Shweta, Zest In A Tote)

Grand Canyon Lodging & Tours

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park in May

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a true natural marvel that sports the tallest dunes in North America, all while being surrounded by Colorado mountains. As the snow slowly melts in late May, the waters of the infamous Medano Creek are at their peak.

Nature enthusiasts and families from far and wide come to relax in the refreshing creek and experience the interesting “surge flow” phenomenon. This is when tiny sand dams release and send a wave down the creek every 20 seconds or so.

This is also the time when the Great Sand Dunes revive from winter: Medano Pass Primitive road slowly reopens and the weather starts to allow campers to flood in and sleep under the stars.

Because of all of this unique natural wonder, the Great Sand Dunes National Park tends to fill up very quickly, so it is recommended to come on weekdays and make any reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.  (Photo and Recommendation by Alexandra, The Bucket List Mermaid)

Joshua Tree National Park in California
Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California

Joshua Tree National Park in May

If you’re planning a tour of the US Southwest National Parks in May, Joshua Tree National Park should undoubtedly be on your itinerary. Nestled between the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in Southern California, this park offers a unique blend of desert landscapes, stunning rock formations, and the iconic Joshua Trees. 

Visitors can embark on numerous trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging hikes, each offering distinct views of the park’s flora, fauna, and geology. For those interested in astronomy, Joshua Tree National Park is a haven for stargazing due to its remote location and dark skies. 

In May, Joshua Tree enjoys a warm climate, typically with temperatures in the 90s. However, don’t let that deter you. The low humidity makes it more comfortable than you might expect, and the clear, sunny days are perfect for exploring the park’s diverse terrain. However, to be on the safe side, it’s best to limit physical activity to the early morning or late afternoon.

While the park can get busy, especially on weekends and holidays, May tends to see slightly smaller crowds than the peak months of March and April. This means you’ll have a better chance of experiencing the serene beauty of Joshua Tree without too much disturbance.

Remember, while Joshua Tree National Park is open year-round, it’s wise to plan your visit ahead of time and make any necessary reservations. Always pack plenty of water, sunblock, and appropriate clothing to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. (Photo and Recommendation by Goya, Goya Galeotta)

Joshua Tree National Park Lodging & Tours

Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park in May

May is one of the best months to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, thanks to the mild weather, blooming wildflowers, and active wildlife. Plus, the crowds are much lower than in the incredibly busy summertime.

Many of the higher elevation trails and roads, like the famed Trail Ridge Road, have ice and snow at the beginning of the month, but typically become more accessible as the month wears on and the temperatures rise. 

And luckily, there’s plenty of awesome trails to choose from, regardless of what time of the month you visit. For example, if you’re heading here when there’s still a fair amount of snow in the mountains, hike along the Bear Lake Loop, an easy and flat trail that provides impressive views of the surrounding pine tree forests and the Rockies that tower above. If you’re visiting towards the end of the month, the Chasm Lake Trail is an incredible hike, taking you up to jaw-dropping alpine lake that’s surrounded by rugged peaks. 

One important thing to note is that you are required to have timed entry permits to enter the park, starting on May 24. If you want to access trails or overlooks along the Bear Lake Corridor, you’ll need a timed entry permit to enter this area anytime between 5 AM and 6 PM. Any other area of the park requires a timed entry permit from 9 AM to 2 PM.  (Photo and Recommendation by Jessica, Uprooted Traveler)

Rocky Mountain National Park Lodging & Tours

Saguaro National Park in Arizona
Saguaro National Park in Arizona

Saguaro National Park in May

When visiting Tucson in Arizona, it’s hard to miss Saguaro National Park. This is because it’s located on both the West and East side of town. Saguaro National Park receives over a million visitors annually and for good reason!

This national park is easily accessible and has a lot of hikes that are great for all levels of fitness. A reminder that this is a desert, so when visiting here in May, the highs will be in the 90s. But that doesn’t mean it’s always hot. You can hike early in the morning and still get 60-degree weather.

The great thing about hiking here during the month of May is there will be clear skies and practically zero rain! This means you’ll have many great opportunities to capture a photo of one of the many cacti in the park.

In Saguaro National Park, you can do many activities like camping, hiking and there’s even some bike trails! (Photo and Recommendation by Phillip, Jaywalk The World)

Saguaro National Park Lodging & Tours

Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park in California

Yosemite National Park in May

May in Yosemite National Park in Northern California is pure magic! The park comes alive with bursts of vibrant wildflowers, turning the valley into a kaleidoscope of colors.

Yosemite Falls, in all its glory, is thundering with water from the melting snow, creating a spectacle you can’t take your eyes off. Be sure to add Yosemite Falls to your US waterfalls bucket list!

What’s awesome about May is the perfect weather—none of the summer heat and way fewer crowds. It’s like having the whole place to yourself. You can wander through meadows blanketed in flowers, follow trails without bumping into too many folks, and just soak in the tranquility.

And if you’re up for a thrilling hike, the Mist Trail is a must visit. The trail winds alongside the vibrant Merced River, surrounded by lush greenery, with rainbows dancing in the infamous mist from Vernal Falls.

And let’s not forget about the famous landmarks. El Capitan and Half Dome stand tall against the backdrop of blooming wildflowers, making every vista photo-worthy. Mirror Lake mirrors the grandeur of its surroundings perfectly, creating a serene oasis in the heart of the park.

Reservations this time of year are less restrictive and easier to secure. During May, advance reservations are required during peak hours during the weekends and on holidays, and are released seven days in advance. With the perfect weather, fewer crowds, and nature putting on its finest display, May in Yosemite is an adventure you won’t soon forget. (Photo and Recommendation by Rose, Rose Campau Blog)

Yosemite National Park Lodging and Tours

Zion National Park in Utah
Zion National Park in Utah

Zion National Park in May

The month of May is one of the best times to visit Zion National Park, located in southern Utah near Springdale and Kanab. Gone are the ice and snow that linger into April, and 75-80 degree daily highs mean you’ll get to enjoy hikes in the park that are too strenuous for the heat of Utah’s scorching summers.

May is a good time to hike Angel’s Landing, the West Rim Trail, and the Canyon Overlook Trail. The Zion National Park shuttle is the only way to access Zion Canyon where many of the most popular hikes are located. You’ll also need a permit to hike the chains section of Angel’s Landing.

It’s also an ideal month to see Zion’s waterfalls, like those at Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and the Temple of Sinawava since snowmelt from the surrounding mountains means more abundant water in the region.

If you are planning to do any of the water-based hikes in Zion, like the iconic Narrows or Subway hikes, you may want to plan your trip for the fall or winter. More water in the park can make for amazing waterfalls, but it can also cause dangerous conditions in the Virgin River. In general, there is a higher likelihood of the Narrows being closed down for safety in the spring months like May than at other times of the year.

However, because of the mild temperatures and rare desert waterfall viewing opportunities, May remains an excellent month to explore all “Mighty 5” Utah National Parks, including Zion! (Photo and Recommendation by Organized Adventurer)

Zion National Park Lodging & Tours


national park guides and maps

National Parks by State List

There is no better vacation than exploring National Parks in the USA. To make it easy, we’ve created this list of National Parks by state. Get the free printable of the list by clicking the graphic below!

get the free national parks by state list

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