Florida Man on the Run

2024’s Ten Best Spring National Parks

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Spring is one of the best times of the year to take a family vacation to a national park. Wildflowers are blooming, weather is warming up, and the crowds haven’t quite swarmed in yet. It is also a great time of year for a short family vacation as well thanks to spring break. In fact, this entire list is dedicated to finding the best national parks for spring break or any other spring vacation! These ten parks will provide a fantastic way to spend a week with the family, exploring the best spring national parks. Spread out across the entire country, I’m sure you’ll find a park near you!

10. Badlands National Park

Coming in at number 10 on my list of springtime national parks is Badlands National Park in South Dakota. This is a new addition to the list for 2024. I picked it this year thanks to the combination of its potential as a road trip destination, great weather in late spring, and low crowd numbers compared to most other parks during this time frame.

Sunset at the Badlands is one of the best spring national parks sunsets
It’s also a wonderful park for sunrise and sunset photos! Image courtesy of the NPS.

Badlands National Park is great for those who are looking for more isolation in a spring break national park trip. While the park does feature some “official” trails, much of the adventure (and isolation) is found off-trail. Badlands is one of a handful of parks in the system which has an open hike policy. This means you are free to go off trail as much as you want; with the caveat of being at your own risk. A few of these hikes, like Deer Haven, are well known routes. If you’ve never hiked off trail before, start with one of these.

Careful if you go wondering off into this! Image courtesy of the NPS.

Another amazing feature that makes Badlands worth a visit in the spring is the geology. While many places across the country have been carved down by erosion, the Badlands are fairly unique. The rugged terrain lies interspersed with the surrounding grasslands. Especially in the more verdant months of April/May, the color differences between the two is stunning. Combined with the wide open sky, and you’ve got a way to feel like you’re getting away from it all. Badlands also works great as part of a road trip through the Dakotas, which is featured as one of best cross-country road trips in America. Honestly what better way to see one of the best spring national parks than as part of an epic road trip!

9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley has now cracked two of my top ten lists. It features on my list of best winter national parks as well! The biggest reason that Cuyahoga Valley National park makes it onto a list of springtime national parks as well is the Great American Eclipse on April 8th. It is one of only two national parks (see the other below) which will get full totality. You’ll certainly see increased traffic to the park on that day, so make sure you get your spot staked out early!

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a real treat in the park. Image courtesy of the NPS.

One of the more unique aspects of the park is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. This train runs through the park and is a fantastic way to see the park without much effort. The train takes about 50 minutes to run one way, so you can easily ride the train in the park and still explore for the rest of the day. Tickets are relatively inexpensive as well, which makes it something the whole family can do and why it’s one of the best national parks for spring break.

The Towpath Trail might be one of the most accessible long distance trails in the park service! Image courtesy of the NPS.

There is also a surprising amount of hiking available throughout the park. I’ve rated Cuyahoga Valley as one of the best parks for accessibility thanks to the miles of wheelchair accessible trails. Many of these trails are also open to bikers as well, including the very popular Towpath Trail. April and May are the best months for visiting thanks to the warming weather and reduced chance for any late spring snows. The eclipse might have gotten the park on my list of best spring national parks but I’m betting it stays in 2025!

8. Hot Springs National Park

Prior to the creation of Gateway Arch National Park, Hot Springs National Park held the distinction of being the smallest park by size in the NPS. While it has since lost that distinction, it retains it’s designation as the oldest “federally protected land reserved for recreation” in the country. Another distinction it holds in 2024 is the best national park to witness the Great American Eclipse. Totality will be the longer at Hot Springs than Cuyahoga by a whopping 4 seconds!

This national park is a unique mix not found anywhere else in the country. Image courtesy of the NPS.

Despite it’s small size, Hot Springs is arguably one of the most unique parks in the country. The national park lands surround the northern portion of the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. In many ways, it as if the town and park are preserved together. The star attraction bathhouses are operated on behalf of the park service and sit on park land. You can also simply enjoy springs like the Hot Water Cascade, even if you can’t soak in it. There are also a number of free fountains around town to fill up a bottle (or jug) to take back home with you!

The buildings of Bathhouse Row represent some of the finest architecture of the early 20th century! Image courtesy of the NPS

As the oldest protected recreation land in the country, naturally Hot Springs has quite the history. From being a traditional spot for baseball spring training, to being haunted by the likes of Al Capone, the city has quite the story. If you’re a history buff, then Hot Springs might very well be the best national park for spring. Many of the bathhouses were built before the establishment of the park proper in 1921. There are also a number of museums in town, including the Gangster Museum of America. All in all, Hot Springs is a great place to make a spring break national park trip in 2024!

7. Saguaro National Park

Situated outside of Tucson, Arizona, this is one of the finest national parks to take your spring break vacation. You’ll have full access to the amenities that Tucson offers, while still having a national park to explore. This makes for a visit that can combine the breathtaking and stark nature of Saguaro National Park with the vibrant city life of Tucson.

The cactus blooms are a sign of life in the desert. Image courtesy of the NPS.

One of the biggest draws to the park are it’s namesake Saguaros. These gigantic cactuses are impressive sights to behold. They are also increasingly endangered outside of the protection of the park. During the spring months, their blooms are some of the prettiest desert flowers. In fact, the park explodes with the color of wildflowers. You can hike through one of the many washes to spot wildflowers, or along trails like Ridgeview Trail. The park also offers interpretive guided walks throughout the spring, most of which are accessible as well!

These giant cactus are an iconic part of the American Southwest. Image courtesy of the NPS.

For those who want a more isolated experience, Saguaro offers that as well. All of the camping in the park requires backcountry hiking. Many of these hikes are long or strenuous, however, the payoffs are huge. Not only will you escape the more crowded parts of the park, but you’ll gain an experience unlike any other. The backcountry hikes of Saguaro offer views found no where else in the park and a challenge for any experienced hiker. It’s definitely a great way to spend spring break.

6. Death Valley National Park

Don’t let Death Valley’s reputation for blazing hot weather deter you from visiting this park. The stark beauty of Death Valley can truly be a wonder to behold. Visiting in the spring can help you beat the heat. That will allow you to enjoy the park for longer stretches during the day, though you still need to keep an eye on the weather. The sun doesn’t just go away because it’s springtime! Also, if you visit soon you might even find some water thanks to the usually high amounts of rainfall the valley has received in the last year!

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are spectacular at sunrise. Image courtesy NPS.

Exploring during the day means you should be up for sunrise. The stark vistas of the park make for some particularly beautiful sunrises. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes offer up a fantastic spot to catch sunrise. The Mesquite trees should be at their greenest, providing a nice contrast to the tans, browns, pinks, and reds of the landscape. A trek along the salt flats of Badwater Basin is much nicer in the spring than the heat of the summer. When your day reaches its end, head out to Dantes View. You’ll look down into Badwater Basin, more than 5,500 feet below while the sunsets behind the Panamint Range.

The lowest point on earth is beautiful in its own way

The best part about ending up at Dantes View is that you’ll also have one of the best night time views as well! Much like Big Bend National Park above, Death Valley is an International Dark Sky Park. Bring a light jacket and settle in for stunning views of the night sky. Another excellent spot would be the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. Even Badwater Basin can be amazing at night, especially if you’re there at the full moon. This is what truly makes Death Valley one of the best national parks for spring break. From the moment you wake up, until you go to sleep, there is an adventure to be had.

5. Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park falls four spots this year, thanks to some pretty stiff competition. Though the weather can vary in early spring, usually by May it is simply hard not to go outside and hike. In fact, more than any other season Spring is the perfect time to go hiking at Shenandoah. South River Falls Trail is fantastic for birdwatching or wildflowers. Tanners Ridge Road is easier than South River and likely to be less crowded if you’re wanting to avoid people. If you’re seeking a long spring hike (that’s not the Appalachian Trail) then walk Sugarloaf Loop, which will bloom with mountain laurel in late spring.

The Appalachian Trail comes alive with flowers in the spring. Image courtesy NPS.

Speaking of wildflowers, that’s one of the prime reasons to visit Shenandoah National Park for spring break. Many of the 800+ varieties will start to bloom in April. The wildflower show continues for months afterwards. Peak wildflower season at Shenandoah is mid-May when they celebrate Wildflower Weekend. If you want to check out all the different wildflowers you can see in the park, look over this handy wildflower calendar!

Dark Hollow Falls is one of the best to visit after a springtime rain shower! Image courtesy NPS.

Crowds won’t have returned to the park in full force by spring break for most parts of the country. With that in mind, arriving during the week will keep crowds lower. You’ll find plenty of lodging in and around the park. If you can snag a room at Skyland or Big Meadows Lodge, I highly recommend it. Both are among the best national park lodges in the country! It makes them perfect for your spring break vacation at Shenandoah National Park. Both also provide easy access to Skyline Drive, which is one of the best scenic drives in the entire country as well.

4. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is in many ways a year-round park. It snagged the #1 spot on my top ten fall national parks, and is honestly great no matter when you choose to visit. Visitors can find a wide variety of conditions when visiting in the Spring. Many parts of the park, however, are just digging themselves out of the snow. Spring can come late to higher elevations of the park. In particular areas like Tuolumne Meadows may remain closed until late May. There is still plenty to explore, but be prepared to still have some crowds.

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View is an iconic view of the park

While the famous “Firefall” has come and gone by spring, the waters throughout the park are flowing strong. Spring is the best time of year to see the many waterfalls of Yosemite. Bridal Veil Falls is at full strength, thundering down the cliffside and filling the surrounding area with a cool mist. Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest in the world, flows at full force. Hikes to the top of Yosemite Falls are a challenge for every hiker, but provide some breathtaking views of the valley. Other waterfalls like Sentinel and Ribbon reach their peak flow in May. The melting snow in the mountains feeds these waterfalls for months during spring and early summer. A walk through Yosemite Valley in the spring might be one of the prettiest walks in the country.

Vernal Fall is at full force during the spring. Image courtesy NPS.

For those seeking to stay in Yosemite during the spring, your options enlarge greatly after mid-April. Many campgrounds are open year-round but mid-April sees most in the valley come open. These can go quickly, but are well worth trying to get. Camping in the valley makes it far easier to enjoy everything Yosemite has to offer. You can also try getting a room at a lodge. The Yosemite lodges are famous, though often reserved far in advance. No matter how you make your visit to the park, its easily one of the best spring national parks.

3. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the busiest spring break destinations. There is a pretty big reason for that: weather. After the Grand Canyon escapes the snows of winter, it’s ready to show off for the world. While it might still be a bit chilly at times in March, by April and May the park experiences some perfect weather. It makes for fantastic hikes along the rim or even down into the canyon. Those canyon hikes are difficult once the summer temps arrive, so if you’re looking to complete one of them spring is the best time of year to do so.

Sunrise over the Grand Canyon is a grand experience (and a great way to beat crowds). Image courtesy NPS.

Another factor to keep in mind is that for much of the spring, only the South Rim is open. Most visitors come here to begin with, with that being a big factor in the crowdedness. Make sure that you arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds. Alternatively, grab a room at one of the many lodges in the park. These can help you beat some of the half a million people who will visit on average each month. It also means you can get up early for sunrise! The park features a number of amazing sunrise locations. Taking a drive down Desert View Drive is the best way to get some unique views and some seclusion as well.

Hard to beat those canyon views no matter what time of year it is. Image courtesy NPS.

The beauty of Grand Canyon National Park during spring break is why it draws so many people. There is a reason why it’s on so many bucket lists. Nearly everywhere you look is an amazing vista. If you stay on the rim, it’s still a worthwhile trip. For those willing to brave the trek to the canyon floor, you’ll be able to escape the crowds and enjoy even more of what this fantastic park has to offer. It’s definitely one of the best spring national parks in America!

2. Joshua Tree National Park

The closest national park to Los Angeles and San Diego, it is the most popular of the national parks for spring breaks in California. Joshua Tree has rightfully earned that distinction for a variety of different reasons. The park is a wealth of unique environments, interesting geology, and thousands of years of history. It also represents one of best places to see it’s namesake plant, the Joshua Tree. For pretty much any visitor, you’ll find a way to make the most of your visit to the park.

Ryan Mountain is one of the major hikes inside Joshua Tree National Park. Image courtesy NPS.

Hiking in Joshua Tree is one of the most popular activities. The park has hundreds of miles of trails. Those visiting for during the springtime months should prioritize one of the many botanical trails. The hikes down these trails show off the beautiful trees, cactuses, and wildflowers found blooming across the park during the spring. Cottonwood Springs and Mastodon Peak Loop in particular feature great views and beautiful foliage as well. You can even seen an old gold mine on the hike! Spring is also an ideal time to try out more difficult hikes. Panorama Loop, Ryan Mountain, and Warren Peak are all great hikes for spring, so you can avoid hiking them in the extreme heat of summer.

There are miles of backroads to explore throughout the park. Image courtesy NPS.

The backcountry is also wide open for exploration. Roads such as the Geology Tour Road or the Queen Valley Roads are open for any kind of suitable off-road vehicles (such as a Subaru or Jeep). Those seeking an even more secluded experience could venture to Pinkham or Thermal Canyon. Joshua Tree features a wide array of camping options as well. Camping is a fantastic way to experience the park. This is due to the crisp desert nights and amazing star filled skies. No matter if you’re in a defined campground or exploring the backcountry, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best camping choices for a spring break national park trip!

1. Big Bend National Park

Big Bend jumps seven spots on from my 2023 list of best spring national parks. Hugging the banks of the Rio Grande, Big Bend offers a huge area to explore. In fact, it’s so much that even the park suggests more than a one day trip. Which I’d highly advise for 2024 since it is a fantastic place to see the Great American Eclipse on April 8th. The eclipse will be at about 95% coverage here, but you can also drive to another place in Texas to see the total eclipse and come back for more fun inside Big Bend National Park.

Take a float along the Rio Grande! Image courtesy NPS.

Spring brings big changes to Big Bend National Park. Temperatures start to rise, but not quite to summer levels. Wildflowers in all their glory begin to bloom, as early as February in some years. Plant lovers can find hikes all across the park, including Sam Nail Ranch, the wetlands of the Rio Grande Nature Trail, or the Lower Burro Mesa Trail to find persimmons. More out of the way areas can be accessed by one of the many scenic drives like Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. For those who loving being on the water, you can also take a trip down the Rio Grande itself. That’s a truly unique way to experience this wonderful park!

Spectacular night skies are normal at Big Bend National Park. Image courtesy NPS.

The remote location of Big Bend National Park also gives it amazing night skies. In fact, it has the darkest night skies of any national park in the lower 48. Visitors can enjoy them while camping throughout the park. Alternatively, you can join a ranger-led program that will be as educational as entertaining. Either way, I highly encourage you to take advantage. There are far too few places across the country where you can get such clear views of the Milky Way. Combined with the eclipse and it’s not only one of the best parks for astronomy fans but clearly earning it’s #1 spot on my list of best spring national parks.

Honorable Mentions for Best Spring National Parks in 2024

There are a few parks that are worth an additional consideration, even if they didn’t crack my top ten. The first group are those parks which will still have great views of the Great American Eclipse on April 8th. Gateway Arch in St. Louis will have 99% totality and is just a few minutes drive from full totality. Indiana Dunes and Acadia National Parks are also above 95% totality, making them good options as well if you’re nearby.

The apricot blooms at this Utah park just missed the cut for best spring national parks in 2024. Image courtesy of the NPS.

Two parks that fell off the list from 2023 are still great springtime national parks. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America’s best, no questions asked. Yet, as parks continue to receive more and more visitors, it becomes harder to recommend the park that receives nearly triple the number of people that the #2 park (Grand Canyon) receives. The other close call is a personal favorite of mine, Capitol Reef in Utah. It’s a wonderful park, but at least in 2024 it just doesn’t stack up against what some of the newcomers offer.

Wrapping Up The Best Spring National Parks for 2024

These are all fantastic national parks to visit for spring break, or really any time during the spring. What I think it great about this list is that it works no matter when your spring break falls. From early March through late April, and beyond, these parks shine. Wildflowers are in bloom, animals are out and about, and the weather is almost always perfect. Timing your visit for the spring also helps avoid the massive summer crowds. Though many of these parks still have people, its nothing compared to summer. In my opinion spring is the best time of year to visit our stellar national parks. Don’t just take my word for it though! Get out there and visit them yourself, then let me know in the comments which was your favorite!

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