If you’re looking for the ultimate place to escape this summer with the family, visiting a national park or two is one of the best ways to spend the warmer months outdoors together.
The USA is home to some seriously breathtaking destinations, especially when you look at the myriad of national parks it boasts. Home to sky-high peaks, extensive deserts, cascading waterfalls, and pretty much everything in between, the national parks in the USA are some of the most beautiful places you’ll find in the entire world.
Whether you’re on the lookout for spots to spend a few days tucked away amid nature or a full-blown backpacking adventure to take advantage of the warm weather, here are some of the best national parks in the United States to visit during the summer months.
Looking for road trip ideas in different seasons?
- These are our favorite national parks to visit from December to March
- Spring can be the best month to visit these popular national parks March to May
- Catch these spectacular fall national parks from September to November
The Best US National Parks to Visit in Summer
1. Crater Lake National Park
The best time to visit this stunning Oregon national park for great weather and hiking is from July to September. The rest of the year, the landscape gets blanketed in snow, which is gorgeous to look at but makes it pretty difficult to access, especially when you consider snow can reach heights of 40 feet!
At Crater Lake, you’ll find an ancient lake that was formed over 7,000 years ago due to a massive eruption of a volcano that created a caldera. It is the deepest lake in the United States and has some of the bluest water you’ll ever see.
The best way to explore Crater Lake during the summer is by going on the most famous Oregon scenic drive – the 33-mile Scenic Rim Drive. Boating on the lake mid-summer is also possible.
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle in the summer (May 22 to October 31)
2. Kenai Fjords National Park
Even though it’s not very popular, Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska is one of the most beautiful national parks to visit in the summer.
Due to snowfall and extremely cold temperatures, this national park is closed during the winter months, making summer the ideal time to visit.
Here, you’ll find Exit Glacier, a humongous glacier you can drive over or explore on foot by following a pretty easy hiking trail that is only one mile long. The hike begins at the Nature Center and will take you all the way to the best viewpoints the park has to offer.
Another great way to explore this sensational Alaska national park is by booking a cruise around Kenai, which will take you to see fjords, gorgeous scenery, and wildlife.
As a tip, Kenai Fjords is a wonderful place to see wildlife, so keep your eyes out for moose, sea otters, killer whales, and black and brown bears.
Entrance Fee: There is no national park entry fee for Kenai Fjords National Park
3. Glacier National Park
Out of the 150 glaciers that Glacier National Park was once home to, only six remain today as a result of global warming. Sadly, scientists calculate that all of them will be gone over the next few years.
This means that now is the chance you have to see the glaciers the park still homes, and one of the best times of the year to do that is during the summer when temperatures are comfortable and the park remains accessible.
To get to Glacier National Park in Montana, you can drive through a gorgeous scenic road that will get you to the heart of the park. This road is actually only open from mid-June to early October, making summer and a small part of fall the only time of the year when this national park remains accessible.
Once inside the park, you can take up the chance of a lifetime to hike trails to see the glaciers from up close.
Other must-do activities include hiking to see wildlife, lakes, waterfalls, and streams as well as boating, fishing, and kayaking. Helicopter tours are also available during the summer in order to see the glaciers from the top!
As a bonus, Glacier National Park gets blanketed by colorful wildflowers during the summer months, making it a colorful treat to hike through!
Entrance Fee: 7-day permit for private vehicles in summer is $35
NB the park is continuing to pilot a vehicle reservation system with a $2 fee for Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor and the North Fork area of the park to reduce congestion (May to September – book here)
4. Yellowstone National Park
Even though Yellowstone is absolutely gorgeous year-round, the best season to experience its beauty in its full glory is during the summer months.
The main reason most people visit Yellowstone National Park is to see its famous geothermal sites, which include geysers, fumaroles, bubble mud pots, and hot springs.
Still, even though you definitely want to take up the chance to see them, don’t forget to explore the rest of the park’s landscapes as well, which you can do by hiking, boating, horseback riding, and biking!
Top Tip – download the NPS App and save it for offline use to get the most out of your time in the park and easy access to maps
Entrance Fee: $35 for a 7-day pass for private vehicles
- We take you through exactly how to drive from Seattle and the west coast to Yellowstone
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
Home to over 300 miles of hikeable terrain, exceptionally beautiful alpine lakes, and glorious views of peaks as far as the eye can see, Rocky Mountain National Park is a haven when it comes to outdoor adventures.
Here, you can choose from a wide array of activities, with hiking being one of the most popular things to do within the park.
During the summer months, The Rockies in Colorado get blanketed with colorful wildflowers all over, which adds a pop of color to the already beautiful landscape.
Hikes at Rocky Mountain range from easy lakeside strolls like Bear Lake to tough challenges that will have you conquering fourteeners like Longs Peak.
Plus, during the summer months, the Trail Ridge Road, known as the “Highway to the Sky”, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Colorado, is fully open. This is easily one of the most scenic roads in the entire world!
Entrance Fee: $30 for 1 day in a private vehicle or $35 for 7 consecutive days
6. Yosemite National Park
Although Yosemite is accessible any time of the year, summer is the best time to see the park’s landscapes.
This is the time of the year when Tioga Road is open, which is one of the highest mountain passes in the United States and one that provides access to some of the most noteworthy highlights Yosemite has to offer.
Tioga Road, one of the most scenic drives in Northern California connects Yosemite National Park to many of the mining towns of the Sierra, taking you all along the mountains through lakes, hiking trailheads, meadows, and other glorious landscapes.
Here, you’ll get to see some of the best viewpoints Yosemite has to offer, including Half Dome and El Capitan.
Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle valid for 7 days
NB: timed reservations are no longer required to drive through Yosemite during summer peak hours; permits are only needed for hiking Half Dome
7. Denali National Park
Denali is the second-largest national park in the United States, and due to the fact it is located in Alaska, summer is the ideal time to visit weather-wise.
Denali National Park is known for its quintessential Alaskan nature, abundant wildlife you can only find in this part of the world, and glorious hiking opportunities.
When visiting the park, your chances of spotting deer, moose, and grizzly bears are pretty high!
Even though the park has about 90 miles worth of drivable roads, you can only cover 16 miles of them by self-driving. In order to explore further afield, you’ll need to take a guided tour, which is highly recommended to see more of Denali as well as get to learn about the unique landscapes and wildlife it harbors.
As a bonus, summer means that sunlight prevails pretty much all day, which gives you plenty of time to explore the park!
Entrance Fee: $15 per person aged 16 years and over
8. Mammoth Cave National Park
With over 365 miles and five levels of caves mapped out, Mammoth Cave National Park is home to one of the longest caves systems in the entire world. This is considering a huge portion of the caves have yet to be explored, which means its exact length still remains unknown.
During your visit to this extremely unique national park in Kentucky, you’ll get the chance to explore under the ground by making your way through cave passageways, buried cathedrals, and gigantic chambers.
There are plenty of cave tours available, with some being considered easy and kid-friendly to more challenging ones for avid cave explorers.
Aside from exploring underground, there are plenty of other things to do after you check out the caves, ranging from hiking trails, horseback riding opportunities, and even a zip line across the park!
There’s no wonder this is one of the most popular national parks on the east coast.
Entrance Fee: No park entry fee though tours are charged, cost varies depending on the tour chosen – $8 to $66
- Extend your time in Kentucky with these incredible scenic drives and byways
9. Hot Springs National Park
The main thing to do at Hot Springs is to soak up your worries away at the many ancient thermal springs spread all over, all of which come with gorgeous views of mountains.
Aside from that, Hot Springs is known for having a history of gambling and gangster activities. In fact, it was once Al Capone’s favorite vacation spot. Today, that’s just part of the park’s history, and all you’ll find is peaceful nature and historical sites to relax in.
Aside from enjoying the natural hot springs and scenic driving in Arkansas, make sure you also take the chance to go on a few of the hikes available and tick off on visiting as many thermal baths set inside historical buildings, including the Bathhouse Rock.
Entrance Fee: Hot Springs National Park is free to enter, as are the historic buildings.
10. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the very few desert areas in Utah where the weather is bearable during the summer months, making this time of the year ideal for exploring the state’s desert magic.
Here, you’ll be able to find striking views of hoodoo amphitheaters, which are the main highlight of visiting Bryce Canyon. In fact, this national park is home to the largest collection of them in the entire world!
A few of the best viewpoints to see hoodoos and other striking rock formations include Natural Bridge, Rainbow Point, Bryce Point, and Yovimpa Point.
If you want to get closer to the hoodoos, there are plenty of excellent hiking trails that are doable during the summer season, including the Queen’s Garden to Navajo Loop, Peek-A-Boo Loop, and Fairyland Loop, to name just a few!
Entrance Fee: $35 for a private vehicle, valid for 7 days
Top Tip: We explain here how to visit all of the Utah Mighty 5 in one week – but be warned, you’ll need to plan this road trip well in advance to beat the crowds. You may want to consider some of the smaller stops and equally spectacular state parks in Utah, from Zion to Bryce Canyon and beyond.
11. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is gorgeous year-round, but due to weather conditions, summer is the best time to visit because you’ll find pleasant temperatures.
Plus, due to its northern location and mountainous terrain, snow can limit accessibility and activities any other time of the year, making summer the only time of the year you can visit that guarantees you’ll be able to see as much as possible.
Grand Teton is an absolute gem when it comes to nature. Home to an endless array of wildlife, beautiful idyllic lakes, and extraordinary wildlife, getting bored while exploring this national park is hard.
One of the best things to do at Grand Teton is driving the 42-mile loop around the park, which will give you the chance to see a few lakes, stand at scenic overlooks, and even detour to other roads that have plenty of fun trailheads.
Another must-do drive is Signal Mountain, which will take you all the way up to the mountain in order to get beautiful birds-eye views of the landscape.
Other fun experiences include kayaking Jenny Lake, visiting the historic Mormon barns at the Mormon Row Historic District, and of course, hiking as many trails as you possibly can!
Yellowstone might get the lion’s share of attention, but don’t miss Grand Teton off your Wyoming itinerary!
Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle for 7 days
12. Grand Canyon National Park
No national parks list would be complete without mentioning Grand Canyon National Park!
Home to one of the most iconic natural landmarks in the United States and one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World, the Grand Canyon is a must on pretty much every traveler’s bucket list.
Summer brings in tons of crowds to the South Rim section of the park, making the season not exactly ideal for visiting the Grand Canyon. However, the lesser-known North Rim section of the park is open during summer (it remains closed during winter).
This part of the Grand Canyon is only visited by about 10% of visitors to the park annually, which pretty much means you’ll get tons of hiking trails and viewpoints all to yourself! Undeniably one of the most scenic drives in Arizona and amongst the most epic and jaw-dropping views anywhere in the world.
We’d recommend including stops at Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend on a drive between Zion National Park and Grand Canyon for the ultimate summer national park road trip!
Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days
What are some other amazing national parks to visit in the summer season? If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave your recommendations in the comment section below!
More Tips for National Park Visits in the USA
- If you think you’ll be visiting 3 or more national parks (or NPS-managed properties) within 12 months, it makes complete sense to get yourself an America the Beautiful annual pass.
- Got a 4th Grader in the Family? Did you know this means ALL THE FAMILY can enjoy free entry to America’s national parks for 12 months? Get your “Every Kid Outdoors” pass as soon as they hit the 4th grade – learn more here.
- Never forget an important road trip item again! Make sure you download our road trip essentials checklist before your next family adventure.
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