When you visit a US National Park in the summer, it’s important to plan ahead because the parks will be busy. Summer is when most people plan their vacations.
Take a look at these US National Park vacation ideas to get you started on where to go for your next summer trip.
As you schedule your daily itineraries, our best tip is to start your day early! In the morning you’ll beat the crowds, enjoy outdoor activities in the cooler part of the day, and take photos in the best light.
We have teamed with other travelers to provide a list of fun US national parks to visit in the summer to help you plan your vacation.
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National Park Packing List
When you are visiting US National Parks 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 lists for spring, summer, fall and winter!
- Merrell Moab hiking shoes or Oboz hiking shoes
- Darn Tough hiking socks
- Water – carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack
- Healthy food that’s portable and filling!
- Columbia fleece jacket
- Wicking, quick-drying clothing
- Lip balm with UV protection
- Sun protection – sunscreen (even in the winter) and a sunhat
- UV sunglasses are good for summer and winter
- Travel hand sanitizer
- Flashlight or headlamp
- US National Park travel guides and maps
- First aid kit
- Insect repellent
- Camera gear – DOWNLOAD the free checklist!
VISIT US NATIONAL PARKS IN THE SUMMER
We’ve created a guide for finding the best National Parks to visit by month.
To help you plan your national park vacation, it’s important to know what to expect during each season and month of the year.
Here’s a handy list of US National Parks to visit during specific months in the summer:
Arches National Park in the Summer
Arches National Park is small, but it packs a lot of punch with some of the best hiking in Utah. You will find several iconic sites in Arches. Delicate Arch is the most popular arch, and it is even on the Utah license plate.
The hike to Delicate Arch is 3.2 miles long round trip and takes about an hour each way as you climb 500 feet in elevation. You will be surprised at just how big delicate arch is standing at 46 feet high and 32 feet wide making it the largest free standing arch in the park.
Keep in mind that an Arches National Park summer vacation is a popular time to go, but it’s also the hottest so be prepared. Make sure if you are planning on hiking that you are carrying plenty of water and also have a hat to block out the sun. It was 102 degrees when I was in the park and the sun was scorching.
If you are looking for something cooler to do, you can drive the Arches Scenic Drive (28.3 miles) and see many of the sites this way. But really the best way to see the park is to go on one of the Arches hikes. Article by American SW Obsessed
Where to Stay Near Arches National Park
Badlands National Park in the Summer
My favorite national park to visit in summer is undoubtedly the Badlands in South Dakota. Located near to the quirky town of Wall – another essential stop on any South Dakota itinerary – the Badlands is easily reached from both Rapid City and Souix Falls.
I personally love visiting Badlands National Park in summer because, unlike some more famous national parks (I’m looking at you Yellowstone), there are fewer crowds at this park. And Badlands is a park that is difficult to visit in winter because of the bad weather.
In the summer there are plenty of easy and accessible hikes that you can take. But the most famous hike at Badlands is the Notch Trail. To complete the Notch Trail you must descend a rather scary and steep ladder to get onto the trail. This is not a trail I would want to tackle in bad weather so summer is the perfect time to complete it! Article by Wandermust Family
Badlands National Park Lodging & Tours
- Hotels in Wall, SD Near Badlands NP
- Vacation Rentals Near Badlands NP
- Tours Near Badlands National Park
Crater Lake National Park in the Summer
Crater Lake National Park is covered in snow much of the year. However, during warmer summer months, the snow melts and allows access to parts of the park that are typically closed.
Lodging and Tours Near Crater Lake National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the Summer
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the only national park in Ohio. It’s located near both Cleveland and Akron in North Central Ohio, and provides a welcome break from the city as Ohio residents and visitors immerse themselves in nature throughout the year. You can’t go wrong by visiting during any season, but summer is a great time to plan your trip.
My favorite things to do in the park are: Visit Brandywine Falls – Brandywine Falls is visible via the Brandywine Gorge Trail or along a partially accessible wooden boardwalk from the Brandywine Falls parking area. The falls are very popular, I suggest arriving well before 10 a.m. or wait until the crowds have dissipated and the day has cooled and enjoy a late afternoon or evening stroll.
Take a train ride on board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad – View the park and learn about its history via the climate-controlled train that takes you from one end of the park to the other, stopping along the way so you can get out and explore if you desire.
Stop at Szalay’s Sweet Corn Farm and Market – This robust roadside market features a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as local homemade goods. If you wish to picnic in the park, you’ll find plenty of options available. Article by Travel Inspired Living
Cuyahoga Valley NP Lodging
Gates of the Arctic National Park in the Summer
While visiting Gates of the Arctic National Park in winter would be stunning, travel would be much more difficult. Summer provides the accessibility needed to reach this remote national park in Alaska.
You can drive the Dalton Highway and hike into the park, float in on the Noatak or Kobuk Rivers, or (most popularly) fly into Anaktuvuk Pass. No matter which access point you choose, stunning adventure awaits.
The wilderness of Gates of the Arctic National Park is unlike any other, and visiting in summer provides the best opportunities for exploration. Perhaps you’ll see wolves, caribou, or musk oxen roaming alongside you while golden eagles and ravens fly overhead? Summer is also a great time for scenic flights and bear viewing. The possibilities are nearly endless. Photo and article by Rileys Roves
Glacier Bay National Park in the Summer
Summer is really the best (only) time to visit Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. Due to the remarkably cold temperatures of Alaska’s Inside Passage and where the park is located, summer is the only time you can visit comfortably.
Visiting the park relatively early in the season, as we did, has its positives and negatives. On the positive side, the tourist crowds are much smaller, and there’s likely to still be some snow on the mountains (which leads to great opportunities for photographing the stunning scenic landscapes).
On the downside, the weather can still be very chilly at night and in the morning, and some wildlife (especially Grizzly Bears) may not be visible yet. Still, we saw plenty of Alaskan Animals during our visit in early June, including bald eagles, orcas, sea lions, seals, sea otters, two kinds of puffins, mountain goats, and more.
As its name would indicate, the park is home to glaciers galore. We especially enjoyed climbing on Reid Glacier and watching cool ice calving off the 250-foot tall Margerie Glacier. There are also several impressive hiking trails through the park’s lush old growth forest, interpretive park ranger lectures, and an excellent introduction to indigenous Tlingit art and history at the Huna Tribal House in Bartlett Cove. Photo and article by Green Global Travel
Grand Teton National Park in the Summer
Grand Teton National Park, with its jagged peaks softened by snow year-round, is a perfect summer destination. Whether you like to camp, hike, bike, or fish, it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise.
Photographing Grand Teton National Park is something you must do! One of the famous locations is the Snake River Overlook… you might recognize the view; Ansel Adams captured the winding waterway and it’s one of his most famous images. Another recognizable view is of the John Moulton and T.A. Moulton barns, which are the most photographed barns in America. Located in Mormon Row, their structures are framed by the mountain range in the background.
If you want to know some history of the park, make sure you visit Menor’s Ferry. It was designated an Historic District in 1969 and named for a character and homesteader named William D. Menor. Don’t miss the general store and the Maud Noble cabin. Grand Teton National Park is a simply stunning adventure and one you won’t want to miss. Article by The Local Tourist
Where to Stay Near Grand Teton
- Where to stay near Grand Teton National Park
- 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.
- Vacation Rentals – we LOVE having a kitchen to prepare our meals!
- Hotels in Jackson Hole
Great Basin National Park in the Summer
Great Basin National Park is definitely underrated. It’s the only national park in Nevada, the home to Nevada’s only glacier, and one of the only places in the US to see Bristlecone trees in the US. It also happens to be one of my favorite national parks.
Some of the must-dos are a Lehman Cave tour, a hike to the Alpine Lakes, Bristlecones (the oldest living things on Earth), and glacier. And if you’re up for it, summiting Wheeler Peak, the second-highest peak in Nevada. This is a pretty impressive park for it’s size and location which happens to be the literal middle of nowhere, right along America’s Loneliest Highway.
It’s best to visit in the summer because of accessibility due to its elevation. Most of the park is closed in winter because of snow levels. The first time we visited we went in June, and there was still snow on the Bristlecone Trail. It also gets pretty cool at night, so be prepared for that.
If you plan on doing a Lehman Cave tour and are visiting with more than one person, reserve tickets online before going. The tours fill up and they may not have any openings on the day of at the visitor center, but you can always check. Photo and article by Red Around the World
Great Basin National Park Lodging
Great Smoky Mountains National Park In the Summer
Did you know that the blooming Azaleas in mid to late June on Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the reason you can visit this beautiful national park today?
That’s right. Harlan Kelsey, charged with developing the National Parks discovered the flaming Azalea bloom and determined these beautiful Appalachian mountains should be preserved for generations to come.
If you are an avid hiker, then summer is a great time to hike to Gregory Bald and see this stunning view. Don’t worry, if you can’t see yourself making an 11.6 mile hike in mid-June, there are plenty of other amazing hikes and scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains during the summer for you to enjoy.
Your family will also love driving through Cades Cove, visiting Dollywood’s Splash Country, and cooling off with an easy white water float on the Little Pigeon River. Photo and article by Veravise
Great Smoky Mountains Lodging & Tours
- Hotels Near Great Smoky Mountains
- Vacation Rentals Near Great Smoky Mountains
- Tours Near Great Smoky Mountains
North Cascades National Park in the Summer
Washington State is full of spectacular National Parks. If you drive two and a half hours north of Seattle towards the Canadian border, you’ll find the most underrated park in the state, North Cascades National Park.
It is a hidden gem that gets just 30,000 visitors per year, compared to 3.1 million Olympic National Park visitors. It features 800 square miles full of jagged rocky peaks, 300 glaciers, stunning blue lakes, and some of the best summer recreation around. You’ll find roads into the park and hiking trails covered in snow through the end of June.
Once summer hits, the park comes alive. If hiking, camping, boating, or backpacking are your preferred summer activities, the North Cascades are the place for you. Rent a boat and paddle Ross Lake, then climb Desolation Peak to channel your inner Jack Kerouac for the ultimate day-long adventure.
Or you could hike to beautiful blue-green Rainy Lake. Extend your hike up and around Maple Pass for stunning views of the Cascade Range.
Last, but certainly not least, make the climb to a pristine perched lake and do an unforgettable overnight in a backcountry hut at Hidden Lake Lookout. Not into long hikes? Even the drive to Washington Pass Overlook is spectacular, and well worth the trip from Seattle. Photo and Article by Wheatless Wanderlust
Olympic National Park in the Summer
Visiting Olympic National Park in Washington is like exploring three national parks in one place. You can explore high alpine meadows in the shadow of snowcapped peaks, meander through dark and drippy temperate rainforests, and hike along the rocky coast of the Pacific Ocean. While summer is definitely the busy season in Olympic National Park, there is plenty of room to spread out and find solitude if you know where to look.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Summer
Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a special place in the national parks system. Not only is it named for the man who made these public wilderness places possible, but it’s also where his commitment to conservation was inspired.
Since the park is located in North Dakota, summer is an ideal time to visit. There’s a total of more than 70,000 acres of badlands spread over three units. The geography is rugged, and the park is known for its magnificent herds of bison and wild horses and its prairie dog towns. You can see much of the park through its scenic drives; the North Unit offers a 28-mile loop, and the South Unit a 36-mile drive.
There are also several hiking trails, from short treks to overlooks, to longer day hikes. Camping is available and you can pick up supplies in the tiny town of Medora. While you’re there, catch Medora Musical, the seasonal ode to the “Spirit of the Old West.” Photo and article by The Local Tourist
Yellowstone National Park in the Summer
A Yellowstone Summer vacation is a popular time to visit, mainly because most of the park is inaccessible during the months of October to April due to snow.
Summer at Yellowstone means the days are often warm and sunny, the plains around the Lamar and Hayden Valleys are teaming with wildlife, particularly bison, and with the warmth comes the opportunity to swim in the Boiling River.
Evenings don’t get too cold so you can stay longer in the park, enjoying sunsets or having dinner with the cowboys of Yellowstone at Roosevelt Lodge. If you are visiting Yellowstone with kids, then they have the opportunity to take part in the Ranger Program, something available across all National Parks. Check out these Yellowstone Summer tours!
In summer you also have the chance to camp on one of the park’s sites. Just make sure to follow the bear safety advice and keep your eyes peeled in early morning or at dusk for elk on the edge of the camp. The park can be a busy place in summer but it’s also most enjoyable during this time of year. Photo and article by Passports and Adventures
Places to stay in West Yellowstone
- Holiday Inn, West Yellowstone
- ClubHouse Inn, West Yellowstone
- Kelly Inn, West Yellowstone
- → CHECK OUT more West Yellowstone hotels!
Places to stay in Gardiner
- 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!
- → CHECK OUT more Gardiner hotels!
Places to stay in Cooke City or Silver Gate
- 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!
- Rent an RV – have it dropped off at your vacation destination!
Yosemite National Park in the summer. Photo Credit: She Dreams of Alpine
Yosemite National Park in the Summer
Yosemite National Park, located in the state of California, is one of the most iconic and well-known national parks in the entire United States. In the summer months, people flock from all over the world to visit Yosemite and see the tall granite walls in Yosemite Valley and hike some of Yosemite’s best hiking trails.
You could spend an entire week in Yosemite National Park and still only barely scratch the surface of everything it has to offer. If you only have a short time to explore the park be sure to grab camping permits way in advance as summer is the most popular time in Yosemite. Then be sure to check out some of Yosemite’s best hikes like the iconic Half Dome Hike (permit required to do the entire hike) and the Clouds Rest Hike (no permit needed, but amazing views).
Drive to iconic viewpoints like Glacier Point, and spend your evening enjoying the starry sky above you at camp. Be sure to take a peak at El Capitan at night (one of Yosemite’s tallest granite features), you may see lights moving high up on the wall, which are rock climbers perched high above the Yosemite Valley floor.
If you’re open to experiencing everything the park has to offer, your visit to Yosemite is bound to be full of drop dead gorgeous views, daring adventures, and peaceful evenings around a campsite fire. An experience your likely never to forget. Photo and article by She Dreams of Alpine
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