Arches - best national park to visit in Summer

Best US National Parks to visit in summer | 2021 USA Travel Guide

The United States abounds with breathtaking scenery, stunning landscapes, and vibrant wildlife. With hundreds of national and state parks, choosing the best ones for your next trip might be tough.

In this travel guide, travel bloggers share their favorite US National Parks to visit in summer as well as useful tips, accommodation recommendations, and the best things to do there.

Find inspiration for you next summer trip, whether you are looking for a backpacking adventure, a romantic getaway, a comfortable family vacation, or something in between, you’ll find the perfect national park to visit this summer.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on any links and make a purchase, I’ll get a small commission, at no cost to you.

best US national parks in summer

1 – North Cascades National Park

Maple Pass Trail North Cascades National Park

By Matt & Alysha from West Coast Wayfarers

North Cascades National Park is a hidden gem, getting far less traffic and fanfare than the two other National Parks in Washington State – Mt. Rainier and Olympic. But it’s well worth the journey to the northwest corner of Washington to experience the jagged rocky peaks, blue-green alpine lakes, and winding scenic highway that make the North Cascades special. The season is short, especially if you want to go hiking, so summer is the best time to visit. 

Unlike most national parks, there aren’t a whole lot of services inside the park boundaries. If you’re up for camping, try to snag a site at Colonial Creek or Newhalem campgrounds, the two main campgrounds in the park (both are reservable six months in advance). Remember, there are no services inside the park, which means you’ll need to pick up your food and supplies before you enter the park. 

If camping isn’t your thing, look at the town of Winthrop, which is on the other side of the mountains, but is a perfect home base for exploring the North Cascades. Plus, there are plenty of cool places to stay and places to eat and drink in Winthrop, unlike the small towns on the west side of the Cascades. 

There are two things you should make sure to tackle on your North Cascades trip. 

First, drive Highway 20 all the way from Marblemount to Winthrop, stopping at Diablo Lake and Washington Pass to take in the views. 

Next is hiking. Hiking in the North Cascades is a treat, and there are options for both new hikers and grizzled trail veterans. Blue Lake and Thunder Knob are great options for new hikers and hikers with kids, while the trek to Hidden Lake Fire Lookout and the Maple Pass Loop are two of the best hikes on the West Coast. 

If you have more time, tackle another one of the park’s hikes, or take a day trip out to Stehekin, a small community only accessible by boat (or by hiking in), or head to Ross Lake Resort to rent a kayak and explore on the water.

2 – Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon

By Diane from Travels With Eli

Seeing Bryce Canyon National Park for the first time is something you will never forget. The intricate rock spires, called hoodoos, are awe-inspiring. Located at an elevation of 8,000 feet, Bryce Canyon never gets too hot, making it the perfect National Park to visit in the summer. 

Two hiking trails that shouldn’t be missed are the Rim and Queen’s Garden Trail.

The Rim trail starts at Sunset Point and goes a mile along the edge of the canyon to Inspiration Point. The views of the canyon and the hoodoos are incredible. There is a shuttle bus that runs from Inspiration Point back to Sunset Point but it is worth it to hike both ways because your view of the canyon is completely different each way. 

Queen’s Garden Trail takes you down into the canyon where you can hike through several tunnels and view the hoodoos up close.  

Bryce Canyon has a great paved multi-use path. The path goes from Bryce Canyon city all the way through the National Park to Inspiration Point. The bike path is a great way to escape the crowds and see the park. Bike rentals are available in town.

The best lodging is located inside the National Park. The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is a grand historic lodge that offers guest rooms in the lodge or rustic cabins. There are several campgrounds inside the park that accommodate both RVs and tent campers. Many spots are first-come-first-serve but some can be reserved during the busy season. There are no sewer, water, or electric hook-ups at either campground.

If you can’t get reservations inside the park, Ruby’s Inn is a great option right outside the park entrance with hotel and camping options.

For more information read our Guide to Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.

3 – Virgin Islands National Park

Denis Bay in Virgin Islands National Park

By Theresa from Fueled by Wanderlust

Virgin Islands National Park, located on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is an excellent destination for a summer trip. This otherworldly Caribbean island features idyllic beaches, amazing views, and hikes for all abilities.

A summer trip to Virgin Islands National Park means you’ll see the island’s native red flamboyant trees in full bloom. You also may encounter the Sahara dust that shows up in the air at times during this season. While not typically enough to harm respiratory health or visibility, the dust does keep tropical storms at bay and makes for some incredible sunsets.

The top activity in Virgin Islands National Park is going to the beach. The most popular white-sand beaches are along the expanse of North Shore Road. Several of them, including Maho, Trunk, and Honeymoon, have kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and snorkel gear on-site to rent. Definitely take the opportunity to paddle through St. John’s super clear waters, or snorkel to find corals and sea turtles.

When you need a break from the beach, there are more than twenty hiking trails on St. John to check out. There are paths for all skill levels, many of which pass colonial plantation ruins or offer incredible sea views.  For a challenge, try a five-mile hike along the Reef Bay Trail, or do a short one-hundred-foot climb to the Peace Hill Windmill

St. John is a mountainous island, so there is beautiful scenery to be found everywhere. Along the North Shore in particular, the Trunk and Maho Bay Overlooks offer famous views of the beaches down below.   

While the main hotel near Virgin Islands National Park is The Westin, the majority of visitors opt for vacation rentals perched in the hills throughout the island. Stay in the Coral Bay area for more tranquility, or the Cruz Bay area for more restaurants and nightlife.

4 – Olympic National Park

Ruby Beach

By Debbie from World Adventurists

One of the best National Parks to visit during the summer is Olympic National Park, located in Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. With over 900,000 acres of varied ecosystems, Olympic National Park is one of the gems of the rugged PNW.

Hiking, beachcombing at low tide, exploring the mystical Hoh Rainforest (recognized as a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO), and enjoying the mountain views and wildflowers make the park irresistible. 

One of the best and easiest hiking trails within the park is the Sol Duc Falls Nature Trail. It is a 1.6-mile hike to a popular waterfall. Hurricane Ridge is another popular spot for hiking. The three main trails, Big Meadow Trail, Cirque Rim Trail, and High Ridge Trail are suitable for all fitness levels. You will be spoiled with views of glaciers and sub-alpine meadows.

The most popular beach in Olympic National Park is Ruby beach, named for the ruby-like crystals in the sand. The incredible amount of driftwood and sea stacks make Ruby beach extra special.

One of the popular lodges to stay at within the park is the Kalaloch Lodge, only a few steps away from Kalaloch beach. If camping is more your style, the Kalaloch Campground is one of the larger and popular campgrounds in the park.

Olympic National Park is the most visited National Park in Washington. It is best to get an early start on the day if you would like to avoid crowds.

5 – Grand Teton National Park

Snake River Overlook Grand Teton National Park

By Jen from Glasses and Boarding Passes

Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park is often ranked as one of the best national parks in the US, making it perfect for a summer vacation! With stunning mountains, countless hiking trails, and plenty of access to water activities, it’s easy to see why!

To appreciate the mountains in all their glory, watching the sunrise light up the tips of Teton Range is a must-do while you visit. The best viewpoints are at Mormon Row, Snake River Overlook, or Oxbow Bend. Arrive before sunrise to get a good spot and dress warmly!

Of course, there are tons of amazing hiking trails to explore. Great beginner-level hikes include Moose Ponds and the Jenny Lake Loop. The Taggart Lake Loop involves a little more elevation but is a beautiful moderate hike. For an adventure into the backcountry, try the trails to Cascade Canyon or Delta Lake.

If you want to spend some time relaxing, try floating down Snake River. The river cuts right through the park, offering beautiful vistas. You’re likely to see some wildlife drinking at the shore, too!

Make sure to spend some time just driving around the park’s scenic Teton Park Road, which runs right along the foothills of the mountains. There are numerous turnouts where you can stop and take photos or have a sunset picnic. 

You can stay in the park at one of several lodges or reserve a campsite to sleep under the stars! The town of Jackson is about 45 minutes away and has many hotels and rental home options as well.

6 – Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park

By Ruma from The Holiday Story

The Kenai Fjords National Park in the US is located on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. The area of the park is 669,984 acres. Many marines and terrestrial animals like brown and black bears, moose, sea otters, killer whales, etc., are found here. The park was established in 1980 and is the 5th most visited park in Alaska. 

It is best to visit the park in summer because the days are longer. The average range of temperature is 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit. The park’s main attraction, the Exit Glacier, is closed in winter due to heavy snow.

Some of the nearby places to visit in Kenai Fjords National Park are Harding Icefield, Seaward, Waterfront Park, Russian River Falls, etc. 

You can do many activities like joining a ranger-led program, flightseeing over the Fjords, Kenai Fjords cruise ride, kayaking in the park, visiting the Exit Glacier and whale watching. Also, make sure not to miss hiking one of the many trails found near the park, like the Resurrection River trail (25.9 km), Harding Icefield trail (6.1 km), or Exit Glacier Paved path (1.5 km).

In addition, Kenai has many viewpoints around it worth visiting, like Chugach State Park, Portage Glacier, and Girdwood.

When you visit Kenai Fjords National Park, the best places to stay are Steller Bed and Breakfast, Alaska’s Point of View, or Box Canyons Cabins. 

Camping grounds around Kenai Fjords are Exit Glacier Campground, Gwin’s Lodge, Seward City Campground, Russian River, Williwaw Campground, and Miller’s Landing.

7 – Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone National Park

By Sean from Living Out Lau

There is no better US national park to visit in the summer than Yellowstone National Park, the first and oldest national park in the United States. Spawning a total of three US states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho), the 3,500-square-mile park rests on top of a volcanic hotspot. As a result, many of the best attractions in Yellowstone National Park are jaw-dropping geothermal features such as geysers, hot springs, and mud volcanoes.

In fact, one of the must-see attractions in Yellowstone is the Old Faithful Geyser. Old Faithful earned its widely recognized name by erupting every 60 to 90 minutes, often to a height of about 185 feet.

Another unmissable sight is the Grand Prismatic Spring (or GPS for short), the largest hot spring in the United States. However, this isn’t your typical hot spring where you can bathe in because of its scorching temperature. In fact, the scorching temperature has created an iconic multi-color look for the GPS, something that is truly unique to Yellowstone National Park.

Other than its incredible geothermal features, Yellowstone is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Visitors will undoubtedly see the bisons that roam the park freely (hopefully not in a wildlife traffic jam). If you are lucky, you might even see the iconic grizzly bears that call Yellowstone National Park their home.

When visiting Yellowstone, it is imperative to stay inside the park for the optimal experience. There are only a handful of lodges inside the park and the Old Faithful Inn is the best one!

8 – Denali National Park

visiting denali national park

By Riley from The Parks Expert

Denali National Park is best to visit in the summer when wildlife are active and the only park road is open to travel. 

It’s important to note that only buses may travel beyond Mile 15 of the Denali Park Road. Be sure to reserve your bus ticket before you arrive! Most of the hiking trails begin within the first 15 miles if you have limited time or aren’t interested in hiking off-trail. All the hikes in Denali National Park are special, but Savage Alpine is my personal favorite.

In addition to hiking, the drive through Denali is beautiful. If you have the time, I’d highly recommend taking a bus at least as far as the Eielson Visitor Center, 66 miles in. The views of the mountain from here are spectacular! 

There are overnight accommodations in the nearby towns of Healy and McKinley Village. You can also stay in campgrounds in the park or in lodges at the end of the road in Kantishna. Some campgrounds in Denali accommodate RVs. Backpacking is also common in the park, though there are no established backcountry trails or campsites so make sure you are prepared.

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife while you visit and remember to view safely and from a distance! These are wild animals and they have been known to harm visitors who get too close.

Denali National Park is a place like no other, and I know you’ll have the best time.

9 – Arches National Park

Arches National Park Delicate Arch Sunset

By Mark and Kristen from Where Are Those Morgans

All of Utah’s stunning National Parks feature gaping canyons and rugged sandstone landscapes. But none are quite as extraordinary as Arches.

Weird and wonderful arched sandstone formations – created by wind and water erosion over millennia – are the perfect arena for hiking and photography.

Summer might be the busiest and hottest time of year to visit Arches but it’s also the best time of year for sunrises, sunsets, and staying out late for the remarkable starry night sky. 

Be sure to hit the best hikes at Arches National Park early in the morning and early evening to avoid intense heat around mid afternoon.

Start with the picturesque Windows section at sunrise, which features North Window, South Window, Turret Arch, and Double Arch. Either hike a very short and easy interpretive trail or enjoy from the parking lot.

Next up, get stuck into Arches’ most popular hike – Devil’s Garden Trail. 

This is an adventurous and interpretive 7.8-mile loop but it can also be used as an out-and-back trail as far as Landscape Arch for a total of 1.9 miles. There are 7 arches and 1 spire along the trail to collect.

Save one of the most spectacular views in all of Utah for last. Hike to Delicate Arch around 1-2 hours before sunset to get a good spot for the show. Watching the sun set behind Delicate Arch and its bowl-shaped depression is a truly unforgettable experience.

Top tip for Delicate Arch: Take a head torch and once the crowds disperse after sunset, stay for a beautiful and clear Milky Way display.

Nearby Moab is the best place to stay when visiting Arches National Park. Accommodation will be booked up early and expensive, so be sure to get in early. Expedition Lodge is a highly recommended hotel with excellent breakfast.

10 – Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef Fruta Gifford House and Barn

By Michelle Silvas Travel Tribe

One of the most family-friendly national parks, there is truly something for everyone here at Capitol Reef National Park. You can hike, see petroglyphs and trace more recent Mormon pioneer history all in a visit to the heart of majestic red rock country in southern Utah.

For the most amazing views of the cliffs, gorges, and domes along the unique Waterpocket Fold, take the almost eight-mile scenic drive. You’ll start in the Fruta area where you can catch a glimpse of past frontier life at Gifford house. Don’t miss a slice of their famous homemade pie! Drive past the barn and imagine what it was to carve out a life here. The last stretch of the scenic drive is a non-paved road to the trailhead of Capitol Gorge trail. Hike the 1.5-mile round trip path through a narrow gorge to enjoy amazing views of the sheer cliff face, the Pioneer Register, and remnants of ancient native petroglyphs.

For more of a challenge, you can come back down the scenic drive to tackle an unforgettable but challenging Grand Wash spur trail to the Cassidy Arch trail which forks off just less than a mile from the parking lot and leads you to the famous Cassidy Arch.

Or drive along Hwy 24 to the best short trail in the park to see Hickman Bridge. At just under two miles, this moderate hike has rewarding views of the natural bridge and Nels Johnson arch. On your way back to your hotel in Torry, stop at Panorama Point along Hwy 24. Drive down the gravel road until it dead ends at the lot for Gooseneck Overlook. You can enjoy the sunset by taking a short walk to the viewpoint here or walk to the nearby Sunset Point trail.

11 – Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park - views outside the El Tovar Hotel

By Lindley from Lindley Loraine

The Grand Canyon National Park is undoubtedly one of the most iconic national parks in the USA to visit in summer. It provides wild red rock backdrops, unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The vastness of this park should be on your bucket list! The best things to do include walking around the rim, hiking, and staying overnight if possible. Mather Point is one of my favorite spots for photos and provides a great view of the canyon. For a beautiful day hike, I’d recommend the North Kaibab Trail.

After a long day, you might also consider treating yourself to a drink at El Tovar Hotel, which has grand windows that overlook the red canyon, it’s been there since 1905 and has some great history. You’ll be able to drive into the park after you pay the national park fee. You can camp at any of the designated areas. You can also park in the village and use the free busing system to jump on and jump off to get to the best sightseeing spots. 

Pro tip: get there early in the morning to beat the crowds! Make a trip out of the weekends, and use the AM hours to enjoy the park in its stillness. You’ll be able to see many of the animals like elks and foxes in the morning hours as well. Be aware of the heat, Arizona is notoriously hot. In the summer the temperatures consistently cross the three-digit mark.

12 – Yosemite National Park

Sentinel-Bridge-Yosemite-National-Park

By Julia from Well Planned Journey

Yosemite National Park is one of the best US national parks to visit in the summer. Much of the park is closed to visitors in the winter. As the weather warms, the park roads open, making the park fully accessible by summer.

The summer is the best time of year to explore the park’s hiking trails and backcountry areas that are closed the rest of the year. First-time visitors to Yosemite National Park can’t miss Yosemite Valley, the park’s main attraction. The best things to do in Yosemite Valley include seeing Yosemite Falls and views of El Capitan and Half Dome.

The best summer hikes include Nevada and Vernal Falls, Taft Point, and Sentinel Dome. Hikers looking for a challenge can trek to Cloud’s Rest or apply for a permit to hike the famous Half Dome.

Don’t miss exploring Tioga Pass Road and Glacier Point Road as they are closed from late fall to late spring. To escape the crowds of Yosemite Valley, consider spending a day relaxing by Tenaya Lake instead.

The best places to stay in Yosemite National Park in the summer include the Pines campgrounds or the Yosemite Valley Lodge. If you can’t get a reservation for a spot in the park, you can opt for an Airbnb outside the park instead!

Summer is a beautiful, but busy time to visit Yosemite. To avoid crowds, plan to start your day early or visit on weekdays.

13 – Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake Rocky Mountain

By Meg from Fox in the Forest

Rocky Mountain National Park is an outdoor lover’s paradise pretty much any time of the year, but visiting it is a real treat once summer hits. Think hiking trails covered by wildflowers, crystal-clear mountain lakes, rugged ridgelines, and the most beautiful views in Colorado to get an idea of what visiting this alpine paradise is like!

Rocky Mountain boasts over one hundred hiking trails, with options aplenty for both beginner and seasoned hikers. Even though it’d take a year to hike to some of the best viewpoints, a few great places for your first-time visit include Many Parks Overlook, the Gore Range Overlook, Sprague Lake, and Bear Lake.

If you’d rather not break a sweat, another fantastic activity to do that doesn’t require hiking shoes is to go on a scenic drive to hit the main viewpoints: Peak-to-Peak Highway and the famous Trail Ridge road traverse the park and are considered two of the most beautiful drives in Colorado (if not the entire USA!)

Rocky Mountain National Park is an outdoor lover’s paradise year-round, but it becomes extra special when summer arrives.

There are many housing options near Rocky Mountain in the nearby Estes Park and Grand Lake, but they’re not exactly easy on the wallet. For more budget-friendly accommodation options, look into towns like Lyons, Nederlands, or Boulder (they’re a bit further away, but will definitely save you money!).

Moreover, there are five campgrounds in the national park if a night spent under alpine skies sounds like your jam. These include: Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, and Moraine Park (which you can reserve in advance), and Timber Creek and Longs Peak Campground (first-come-first-serve).

14 – Acadia National Park

Jordan Pond

By Melissa from Navigation Junkie 

Acadia National Park sits along perhaps one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country, the coast of Maine. A trip to Acadia National Park should begin with a journey along Park Loop Drive. This drive will bring you to many of the top sights of the park, from Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and the summit of Cadillac Mountain. A stop at the summit of Cadillac Mountain will give you some of the most stunning views in the whole park.

After viewing by car, make sure to get out and try some of Acadia’s hiking trails. The options are endless, but some great options include the Great Head Trail, Bubble Rock, or the Gorham Mountain Loop. One of the best and unique ways to view the coast of Acadia National Park is by boat. Visit Bar Harbor and jump aboard a Puffin and Lighthouse Cruise to explore the lighthouses surrounding the park and get some unparalleled views of the park, including Cadillac Mountain standing tall above Bar Harbor.

For accommodations, Acadia National Park boasts many camping options. If you are looking to say on site, Seawall Campgrounds is a great option and sits on the quieter side of Mount Desert Island, so you will find a little more privacy. For an even more secluded option, you can stay at Duck Harbor Campground. With only five primitive camp sites you will find peace and natural beauty overlooking Duck Harbor.

For an indoor option, Acadia Inn will get you within a half mile of Acadia NP with direct access to its hiking trails.   

15 – Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

By Victoria from Guide Your Travel

The Everglades National Park is located in southern Florida and consists of beautiful scenery and nature. With its variety of activities such as hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, and camping, a trip to the Everglades has a lot to offer for all types of travelers.

If you’re traveling with an RV you can choose between different campsites in the national park, however wild camping is also allowed in different areas although a permit is required. These wild camping spots are mostly reachable by boat and don’t have any facilities like toilets or freshwater access though so make sure to come prepared.

The Everglades National park is well known for its diverse wildlife. It’s a great spot to come for bird watching and you might even spot an alligator. The best way to see these animals is probably a guided canoe or kayak tour through the mangroves. A tour like this will take around three to four hours and costs around 90$ per person. If you are traveling with a group, you probably get a more affordable price and also your own guide for the group.

You might see some offers for airboat tours through the swampland as well. While these tours can be a lot of fun, they actually disturb the native animals and can be harmful to their habitat. An eco-friendly kayak tour is, therefore, a much better choice.

If you’re just interested in hiking or biking in the Everglades, you can choose between many different trips distributed throughout the national park area. For the best possible experience, you shouldn’t forget to bring mosquito spray, sunscreen as well as enough water to drink.

16 – Volcano National Park

Volcano National Park

By Jamie from Fly by the Seat of our Pants

Volcano National Park is one of the best parks to visit this summer because it is located in the perfect vacation destination!. The Big Island of Hawaii hosts an active volcano that, as recent as 2018, was creating miles and miles of new land. While the volcano is currently dormant, you never know when a new fissure will show the activity of the lava just below the surface.  The most recent flow of lava was actually outside of the national parkland so inside the park you can only find flows from past eruptions. 

Lava flow recently ruined what use to be a loop road through the park. However, you can still drive one way to explore the cooled lava across the road, which is younger than you are. Then drive the other direction to find Crater Rim road to the Puu Puai Overlook and Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook. 

 While there are trails you can follow for epic hikes, one of our favorite activities is just wandering through the lava fields in awe of the porous and hardened earth. Bring good shoes as the rock is sharp. Flip flops from the beach will not cut it in Volcano National Park. 

Inside Volcano National Park, you will be able to walk through lava tubes 18 feet in diameter (Thurston Lava Tube). Walkthrough steaming fields of sulfur. Warm your hands on steam vents that have been active for decades.  

Only a few miles outside Volcano National Park, you’ll find plenty of hotels and short-term rentals in a town called Volcano. Inside the park Volcano house, is the only lodging available. Here you are perched on the rim of Kilauea crater with a view toward Halema’uma’u crater.  Even if you don’t stay here, you’ll love eating in the restaurant or soaking in the views from the historic lobby. You can also rent a cabin or a tent (or bring one) to sleep on the property outside. 

If you are visiting Volcano National Park, read this family guide to the island of Hawaii to complete your vacation.

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