Visiting California National Parks in May

Explore forests, mountains, deserts, and coastlines when visiting California National Parks in May. When planning a vacation to visit the California National Parks in late spring, check out this list of things to see, do, and photograph at all nine National Parks!

The mild temperatures and relatively few rainy days in May create ideal conditions to see waterfalls at their peak flow, towering sequoias, or desert landscapes. May is also ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, camping, and stargazing.

Visiting California National Parks in May

There are nine National Parks in California, more than any other state. Each California National Park has its own unique weather patterns and ecosystem, so be sure to check the specific weather conditions of the National Park you’re visiting in May and dress accordingly.

Use our US National Park Packing List to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for the specific park you’ll visit for the weather and temperatures for the time you’ll be there! 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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Tips For Planning a May Vacation to California National Parks

When planning a California vacation in May, be sure a National Park or two are on the list! Due to the varied climates and weather around the state, visiting National Parks in California during the month of May can be different depending on the location.

Packing layers is a must as May temperatures can vary widely from day to night. Include lightweight, breathable fabrics for daytime exploration and warmer layers for the cooler evenings. A sturdy pair of hiking boots will ensure your feet are protected on all types of terrain, and don’t forget a high-SPF sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat to shield you from the sun.

Additionally, packing a reusable water bottle will keep you hydrated during your adventures. Lastly, a good camera or smartphone for photos can help you capture the breathtaking landscapes and memories from your trip.

We recommend the Guide Along App to hear fun behind-the scenes stories and local tips that play automatically as you drive around the California National Parks. It’s like having a Ranger in the car with you!

California National Parks in May

California is a terrific vacation destination any time of year. The weather and temperatures in May are just right to enjoy the outdoors.

In May there are some National Park required reservations for Yosemite National Park and Muir Woods National Monument. It’s always best to check the specific park website for the most updated information for the time you’ll visit. We’ll detail the specific reservations needed below.

We asked our travel friends to share their tips, things to do, and experiences for planning an May vacation to the nine California National Parks.

Channel Islands National Park in California
Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park in May

Channel Islands National Park is located about 11 miles off the coast of Ventura, California. It’s comprised of 5 islands: Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Because of its isolation and unique wildlife, the park has been called the Galapagos of North America.

In May you’ll experience mile weather with daytime temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to low 70s Fahrenheit, and cooler nights, ensures comfortable conditions for all outdoor activities.

The islands are only accessible by boat, with Santa Cruz Island being the most visited. In May, boats leave regularly from Oxnard, Ventura, and Santa Barbara. However, visiting isn’t as easy as hopping on a boat, you need to plan.

Be sure to bring your own food, water, and any gear you may need. These islands do not have restaurants, hotels, or stores. (Recommendation by Dave & Jamie, Photo Jeepers)

Channel Islands Lodging & Tours

Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park in May

Visiting Death Valley in May means the start of the hot season. Even though days can climb to higher than 100°F, May is still doable. This just means exploring in the cooler morning or later afternoons, especially if you have health considerations.

A few ‘musts’ for your list are: seeing the sunrise at Zabriskie Point, walking on the huge salt flats at Badwater Basin (the lowest spot in North America), and driving through colorful Artist’s Drive. 

For hiking at Death Valley National Park, an awesome trail that happens to be my favorite is the shorter but unique Natural Bridge. Just be prepared to head down a long, unpaved road to get there. But it’s worth it.  Or hike Golden Canyon to see amazing views and photos of the famous Star Wars film location. If you’re really lucky you may even get to experience rare and beautiful desert wildflowers. 

It’s a good idea to book your stay or camping spot ahead of time because many people visit this US Southwest National Park in May. Always bring lots of water, sunscreen, and a hat, and stick to the main areas to stay safe. Death Valley is unforgettable, with its stark, otherworldly  landscape—just make sure you prepare for the heat! (Photo and Recommendation by Jenn, Jenn Fisher Books)

Death Valley Lodging & Tours

Cholla Garden at Joshua Tree National Park
Cholla cactus garden at Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park in May

Joshua Tree is one of the best national parks in California to visit in May. It’s a terrific late spring vacation spot in the Southwest because the park has warmed up to the 80s during the day but still gets down into the 50s at night. If you are out in the morning or evening, you’ll want to wear layers so adjust for the changing temperatures.

You really only need one day in Joshua Tree, and it can make for a great day trip from Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and even Phoenix. Located not too far from Palm Springs, it’s also perfect for a weekend getaway to the area.

Once you are there, don’t miss the hike to Arch Rock and nearby Heart Rock. A sunrise or sunset in the Cholla Cactus Garden is another must if you are there at the right time of day, but it’s beautiful all day long. Stop by Skull Rock and consider a hike to Barker Dam to stretch your legs. Don’t miss the famous Joshua Trees along Park Boulevard on your way in and out of the park at the West Entrance Station. (Photo and Recommendation by Christine, Live Love Run Travel)

Joshua Tree National Park Lodging & Tours

Hiking trail at Lassen Volcanic National Park
Hiking at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park in May

Visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park in May offers a unique experience as the park transitions from the cold, snowy winter to the warmer, more accessible summer months. During this time, weather can be unpredictable, with daytime temperatures ranging from the low 40s to high 60s F, and occasional snow showers, especially at higher elevations.

Most of the park’s roads and trails, including the popular Lassen Peak trail, begin to open up, but visitors should be prepared for some snow-covered areas. Be aware that conditions change quickly in the spring so pack layers! Check current trail conditions and park advisories before planning their activities.

Hiking trails like Manzanita Lake offering stunning views and the chance to spot wildlife emerging after the winter months. Though some trails at higher elevations may still be snow-covered, they provide adventurous hikers with the rare opportunity to experience snow hiking and backcountry skiing.

Photography enthusiasts will find the contrast of the melting snow and the budding flora an excellent backdrop for captivating landscapes. Additionally, the park’s hydrothermal areas, such as Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works, are accessible and offer a glimpse into the volcanic activity that shaped this diverse landscape. (Recommendation by Dave & Jamie, Photo Jeepers)

Lassen Volcanic National Park Lodging

Muir Woods National Monument in California
Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument in May

Parking reservations are required all year at Muir Woods National Monument. You’ll need to reserve a 30-minute arrival window that guarantees a parking spot during that period. If you are in a standard sized vehicle, you are then welcome to stay until the park closes.

You can also use the Muir Woods Shuttle accessed from off-site parking into the park. Shuttle tickets are a small fee for guests 16 and older, while 15 and under are free. You need reservations for the arrival and departure ride, so don’t forget to make both! There is no wifi or cell phone service in the park, so download your tickets before you arrive.

In May, Muir Woods National Monument experiences a mild and pleasant climate, making it an ideal time for a visit. Temperatures typically range from lows in the mid-40s to highs in the mid-60s Fahrenheit. The weather is generally characterized by cool mornings and evenings, with warmer afternoons. Though rain is less common in May compared to the winter months, occasional light showers can occur, so visitors are advised to come prepared with layers and waterproof gear.

May is also an important month for conservation efforts at this Northern California vacation spot. In celebration of International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22nd, the park holds educational events and programs to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity and preserving natural habitats. You can join guided walks and talks to learn about the various flora and fauna found in Muir Woods and their significance to the ecosystem. (Recommendation by Dave & Jamie, Photo Jeepers)

San Francisco Lodging & Tours

unique rocks at Pinnacles National Park in California
Unique rocks at Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park in May

The May weather and temperatures at Pinnacles National Park typically ranges from cool mornings to warm afternoons, with average daytime temperatures hovering between 70°F to 80°F. It’s the perfect month of the year to enjoy outdoor activities at the park.

The unique geological landscape of Pinnacles National Park offers a variety of things to do like rock climbing and hiking the park’s extensive trail system ranging from easy strolls to strenuous treks. May is also an ideal time for wildflower viewing, with the park’s colorful blooms adding to the already stunning landscape.

The park is also home to several cultural sites, including remnants of the Chalon and Mutsun tribes who once inhabited the area. Check out the interpretive programs offered in May to gain a deeper understanding of the park’s past and present. (Recommendation by Dave & Jamie, Photo Jeepers)

Where to Stay Near Pinnacles National Park

Hiking at Redwoods National Park
Hiking at Redwoods National Park

Redwood National Park in May

You can find one of the most majestic places in the United States, tucked along the northern California border—Redwood National and State Parks. Here, you’ll find almost half of the world’s remaining redwood trees, the tallest living organisms on the planet that can tower over 350 feet.

May is an incredible time to visit—it’s lush and green from the springtime rain; the forest floor is carpeted with vibrant wildflowers; and the park remains uncrowded until around Memorial Day.

Take advantage of this time in the park to explore some of the best hikes in the Redwoods. For example, the Karl Knapp Trail takes you under some enormous redwoods, past primeval ferns, and even through two tunnels carved into fallen trees. Alternatively, Tall Trees Grove is home to what was once believed to be the tallest tree on the planet—the ancient 368-foot Libby Tree. (Photo and Recommendation by Jessica, Uprooted Traveler)

Redwood National Park Lodging

General Sherman Tree at Sequoia National Park
General Sherman Tree

Sequoia National Park in May

Sequoia National Park is located within the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, and is home to picturesque views and the giant sequoia trees.

May in Sequoia National Park offers mild temperatures, clear skies, vibrant wildflowers and lush greenery. It’s the perfect time to explore the park. However, don’t be surprised by the occasional late snow on higher trails.

You have to hike to the General Sherman Tree, and through the Giant Forrest. Also, don’t miss the chance to experience the panoramic views from Moro Rock. If you are interested in learning about the park, make sure to stop in at the Visitor Center and The Giant Forest Museum. Another fun stop is Tunnel Log, where you can drive through a fallen sequoia!

Dress for fluctuating temperatures, book lodging early to secure your spot as it gets busy nearing summer, and have your camera ready for wildlife sightings; including marmots, black bears, and mule deer. (Photo and Recommendation by Jared, Good Travel Days)

Sequoia & Kings Canyon Lodging

Vernal Falls along the Mist Trail at Yosemite
Vernal Falls along the Mist Trail

Yosemite National Park in May

May brings the height of spring to Yosemite National Park. This time of year is your best chance to spot wildlife and full flowing waterfalls before the onset of heavy summer crowds. You also find wildflowers starting to pop up in Yosemite Valley by the middle of May.

One of the best ways to experience Yosemite is to head out on a hike. Some of the higher elevation hiking is still snowbound in May, but lower elevation trails like the beautiful Mirror Lake Trail will be open. When comparing hiking in the UK to the US, Yosemite trails are the toughest to beat for their wild American beauty.

Follow the Mist Trail for an unforgettable rainbow-filled trek beside Vernal Falls. It’s a good idea to bring a poncho for this trail because you’re close enough to the waterfall to be caught in gusts of spray along the route. This is a moderate trek, but well worth the effort for the views from the top of the waterfall. 

Plan well ahead to camp in Yosemite Valley as the reservations here are typically scooped up fast. Private campgrounds outside of Yosemite Valley are often easier to secure. There are also hotels and vacation rentals in and near the national park. (Photo and Recommendation by Victoria, A Life Away)

Yosemite National Park Lodging and Tours

California Bucket List

In addition to the California National Parks we’ve listed above, check out even more must-do activities to add to your California Bucket List when visiting in May: things to see, do and taste all around the state! Grab the free download by clicking the graphic below!

California Bucket List optin

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