Looking for a US national park to visit in late spring? Our round-up of the very best national parks to visit in May will help you choose a park (or parks!) to celebrate the last full month of spring.
The month of May brings beautiful weather to many parts of the country. With waterfalls flowing at full force, wildflowers blooming along trails and in meadows, and hills and woods a lush bright green, it’s a treat to be out in nature.
Especially since you do not have to contend with the crowds of summer in many parks, yet!
Bright sunshine and blue skies for the most part mean that you can leave the dark drab grey of winter behind and enjoy being out amidst the stunning scenery of some fabulous US national parks.
From Acadia, Shenandoah, and Great Smoky Mountains in the east, to Arches, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon in the west, you’ll find many choices for US national parks to visit in May.
Before we get started on our round-up, a reminder to get your National Parks Pass, if you don’t have one already. If you plan to visit three national parks (or more!) this year, the pass will likely save you money.
And now, let’s get started discovering the best national parks to visit in May!
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: Tennessee and North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is undoubtedly one of the best national parks to visit in May.
It’s one of the most ecologically diverse places in the country, filled with gushing waterfalls, lush green forests, and abundant animal life (including bears, deer, bobcats, and one of the few elk herds on the east coast).
With many preserved early American homesteads and over 850 miles of hiking trails, there’s something for everyone of all ages to appreciate.
May is not yet the busy tourist season, so crowds are much thinner than usual at the most-visited national park in the country.
Great Smokies weather in May: Average May temperatures range from highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s. It’s also the rainiest time of year, but the Smokies are rainy year-round. Bring rain gear and enjoy the lush environments!
What to do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: You can hike to the top of the tallest mountain along the Appalachian Trail, Clingman’s Dome. The trail is short but steep and offers spectacular 360-degree views of the Smokies.
No visit to the Great Smokies is complete without visiting a waterfall: there are dozens in the Smokies. Consider Laurel Falls, a short and easy hike to one of the most picturesque falls in the park.
Meigs Falls can be viewed from the road. Ramsey Cascades, Rainbow Falls, and Abrams Falls are other waterfalls to visit.
If hiking isn’t your thing, drive through Cades Cove, one of the earliest and best-preserved mountain settlement towns.
You should also check out the elk herd in the Cataloochee area of the park – elk are born in the spring, so you’ll have the chance to see newborn elk!
May is an excellent time to visit the park for wildflower viewing. There are over 1,500 species of wildflowers in the park and most of them reach peak bloom in May. Azaleas and rhododendrons will be in bloom as well.
Ask at a visitor center about wildflower walks to do when you visit, since flowers bloom at different times at different elevations in the park.
Good to know: Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the best road trips in the USA. If you have the time, drive up the parkway and visit Shenandoah National Park as well!
Where to Stay
There’s no lodging within the park, but nearby Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have tons of great options, like the scenic Inn on the River in Pigeon Forge.
Suggested by Maggie of Pink Caddy Travelogue
2. Grand Canyon National Park
One of the world’s seven natural wonders, the Grand Canyon is among the most popular national parks in the US and is worth visiting at least once in your life.
Carved over millions of years by the Colorado River, the canyon is ten miles across and over a mile deep in places.
With fewer crowds and cooler temperatures, May is the perfect time for a visit.
Grand Canyon weather in May: Temperatures during May are comfortable, with daytime highs at the upper rim reaching about 71°F. The North Rim is typically a few degrees cooler, and the bottom of the canyon is, of course, several degrees warmer.
The average rainfall is just two days during the month, so you should have plenty of gorgeous weather for hiking and excursions during your visit.
What to do in the Grand Canyon National Park: On May 15, the North Rim opens from its winter closure.
For visitors wanting to do a rim to rim hike, now is the time to do so before the hotter summer temperatures make hiking the inner canyon inadvisable.
White water rafting is particularly spectacular during the month.
The winter snow has melted into the Colorado River, making it icy cold. But the inner canyon temperatures (91°F) will be warm enough that you will be comfortable when you get splashed.
With the upcoming summer crowds, May is also the last opportunity to experience the Grand Canyon in a more peaceful atmosphere.
Not to say there won’t still be crowds, but you should be able to find a bit of solitude if you step away from the busy viewpoints.
And don’t forget to look for wildlife as spring will have brought new life into the canyon.
If you are an early riser, sunrise over the Grand Canyon can be magical. Mather Point is a great spot, or Yavapai Point.
Make sure you catch sunset at one of the viewpoints along the South Rim: Pima Point along Hermit Road is a great option, although you’ll need to take the shuttle in May. Desert View Drive is also a must-do!
Where to Stay
El Tovar Hotel at the South Rim is spectacular if you have your heart set on staying in the national park itself.
Or you can stay in the closest city, Tusayan, and enjoy The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon.
Suggested by Jenny of Traveling in Focus
Planning a visit to Las Vegas? The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular day trips from Vegas, whether you visit the South Rim or the West Rim (which is closer but not part of the national park).
If you do not want to drive, book a coach tour to the South Rim: it’s a long day, but if a day is all you can spare, you should still go for it if you haven’t yet seen the Grand Canyon.
Or, for a bucket-list experience, adventurous visitors can book a helicopter tour that will fly you through the canyon over the Colorado River and land on a bluff at the West Rim for a champagne toast before heading back!
3. Arches National Park
Arches National Park is a beautiful national park located in eastern Utah. It is known for its many sandstone arches, beautiful red and orange rock colors, and incredible scenic views.
May is a great time to visit Arches National Park because it’s right before the weather starts getting really hot.
May is one of the most busy times of year at Arches, though, so explore early and late to beat the worst of the crowds.
Arches weather in May: The highs in Arches National Park in May are often in the 70s Fahrenheit, and the lows in the 50s. This means it’s a great time to go hiking during the day, and stargazing at night.
There isn’t much rain during this time of year, but it could be windy, so be prepared with a windbreaker.
What to do in Arches National Park: There are plenty of amazing things to do in Arches National Park during the month of May.
One of the best things to do is go hiking. The most popular trails to hike are Devil’s Garden, the Windows, and Park Avenue.
Devil’s Garden is an 8 mile loop where you can see some of the most famous arches in the whole park. The trail can be a bit challenging, so it’s not recommended to bring young children.
You can always hike to Landscape or Double O arch on this trail and then turn around: this will help you avoid some of the more tricky sections.
The Windows is another great hike to enjoy in Arches. It is only a one-mile loop and takes you to three really impressive arches in the park. It is a fairly easy trail, but does have a bit of elevation gain, so be prepared.
Park Avenue is another great hike in the area, you can do it as an out-and-back trail or if you have two vehicles you can park at the other side and only do it one way. It’s a one-mile trail that follows some spectacular tall rock faces that remind people of buildings.
Delicate Arch is the busiest spot in the park, so if you plan to do the 3.2-mile round trip hike to see it up close, get a really early start: the park is open 24 hours.
Another amazing thing to do in Arches is either hike to or park at a viewpoint and enjoy the sunset or sunrise. If you are enjoying the sunset, you can then stay later to enjoy the stars. Arches is a dark sky park, so stargazing is really impressive here.
Where to Stay
The Hoodoo Moab is one of the best places to stay near Arches. It is a gorgeous hotel by Hilton and offers clean rooms, a great breakfast, and awesome views from some rooms.
Suggested by Jessica of Unearth the Voyage
Planning to visit more than one national park in the next 12 months? Consider buying the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass!
Valid at over 2,000 federal recreation sites all across the USA, the pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees, and day use fees for a driver and passengers in a personal vehicle at areas that charge per vehicle, and for up to four adults at sites that charge per person. Children ages 15 or under are free.
The pass is valid for 12 months from the month of purchase.
4. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of the most-visited national parks in the country. The park gets millions of visitors each year, and many of them come during the summer months.
But here are three reasons to visit Yosemite in May.
First, Yosemite is known worldwide for its waterfalls, which are especially beautiful in spring when snowmelt increases their flow and volume.
Second, the weather is more comfortable for hiking or camping. Spring marks the beginning of summer, which means warmer days and cooler nights. yet the days aren’t too hot and the nights aren’t too cold.
Third, Yosemite in May is less crowded than the summertime and you’ll avoid bugs too.
Yosemite weather in May: The weather in Yosemite in May is cool and pleasant.
The average high temperature is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius), but daytime highs are usually in the 70s, and nighttime lows in the 40s.
Rain, and even the occasional snowstorm, are possible in May, but not common.
What to do in Yosemite National Park: There are many fun things to do in Yosemite in May: it’s one of the best months of the year to visit the park!
Yosemite Valley is the top place to visit in the park in May, as it is year round.
Here you can view Yosemite Falls in all its majesty as it tumbles 2,425 feet down. Do the Lower Yosemite Fall loop hike: it’s easy and about one mile. Expect to get wet!
Bridalveil Fall is another stunning Yosemite waterfall you can view in the valley. A short walk leads to the bottom of the fall, which plunges 620 feet down. The flow is fearsome in the spring, and you will definitely get drenched!
Although hiking and backpacking are still limited in May due to snow, trails in the Hetch Hetchy area and Wawona are usually clear.
In Yosemite Valley, the Mirror Lake Loop is a lovely hike, offering great views of Half Dome and El Capitan. Cook’s Meadow is another easy trail.
In Wawona, hike the easy Big Trees Loop Trail in Mariposa Grove, or the Wawona Meadow Loop, where you may see wildflowers such as the bright orange California poppies, shooting stars, and other flowers.
In Hetch Hetchy, Wapama and Tueeulala Falls are in full flow. The hike to Wapama Falls is 5 miles round trip and rated moderate. The trail offers great views of both falls, plus wildflowers in the spring.
Good to know: Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are usually closed until very late May or early June.
Where to Stay
There are many great airbnbs to stay at near Yosemite but the best one is Clouds Rest Cabin.
Yosemite Valley Lodge is an excellent lodging option right in the village. It’s located close to Yosemite Falls, and has an onsite restaurant.
Suggested by Rasika of Bae Area And Beyond
Looking for a rental car for your national park trip? Compare prices, find your car, and book on Discover Cars! They search numerous car rental agencies, from brand to budget, to offer you the best choices for your trip.
Check availability and book your car now!
5. Olympic National Park
Tucked away in the northwest corner of Washington State, Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse national parks in the country.
Within its boundaries, you’ll find rugged beaches on the Pacific Ocean, coastal temperate rainforest, roaring waterfalls, and wildflower meadows and crystal clear alpine lakes.
May is the perfect time to visit Olympic National Park for two reasons.
First is the weather. Unlike other parks in the northern United States, which are largely inaccessible in the winter and spring due to snow, most of Olympic National Park is at or around sea level.
Which means the majority of the best things to do in Olympic National Park are accessible in May!
Waterfalls in the park will be bursting at the seams with all the fresh snowmelt, and the rainforests will be coming to life with new growth.
Second are the crowds. The crowds during the summer have set records over the past several years, and it’s not uncommon to wait an hour or more at peak times to enter the Hoh Rainforest.
In May, crowds will be far thinner, and you’ll be able to soak up the solitude of the rainforest without the ambient noise of hundreds of other visitors nearby.
Olympic weather in May: Expect it to be be damp and cool (temperatures in the 50s and 60s Fahrenheit during the day, with rain every other day or so).
What to do in Olympic National Park: When it comes to visiting the park in May, you should focus on the beaches, coastal rainforest, and the Sol Duc Valley.
The best beaches in the park are located around Forks, a small former timber town which is now famous for its role in the Twilight saga.
Make sure to hike along Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall, which is especially spectacular if it’s a clear afternoon. Two other worthwhile beaches are Second Beach and Ruby Beach.
If you’re looking for waterfalls, which are at peak flow in May, head to the Sol Duc Valley near Lake Crescent. Both Marymere Falls – a short hike from the shores of Lake Crescent – and Sol Duc Falls are worth the short hike to access.
Last, but certainly not least, is the coastal temperate rainforest that calls this corner of the country home.
The Hoh Rainforest is one of the best examples of this natural phenomenon, and the Hall of Mosses is a short hike with interpretive signage that is a great introduction to the ecosystem.
Where to Stay
The best places to stay near the park are Port Angeles on the northern end, near Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge, and Forks on the western end, near the beaches and rainforests.
Both have a variety of lodging options, from simple motels to rural retreats. Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles is just over a mile from the park visitor center and offers spacious, well-appointed rooms.
Suggested by Matt of Wheatless Wanderlust
6. Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the top New England destinations to visit in the summer, but from an insider’s perspective, May is actually one of the best months to visit.
Experiencing Acadia in May allows you to enjoy everything the park has to offer while avoiding the peak season crowds, for a more peaceful adventure.
Acadia weather in May: May is when Maine finally starts to come alive again after a long winter season, and with 14-15 hour days, temperatures averaging a lovely 65°F during the afternoons, and only about 7 days of rain throughout the month, it’s an ideal time to hit the trails and visit the top attractions.
What to do in Acadia National Park: One of the best things to do in Acadia in May is to explore the gardens, as everything begins to bloom this time of the year.
The Wild Gardens of Acadia showcases over 400 species of plants that are native to Mount Desert Island, where the park is located.
The beginning of May also brings the opening of the Asticou Azalea Garden, which puts on amazing displays of spring flowers, including azaleas and rhododendrons.
To see them in peak bloom, you’ll want to plan your visit toward the end of the month.
May is also when the famous Jordan Pond House restaurant inside the park opens for the season!
Since the crowds haven’t yet settled in, this is a great month to snatch up one of their coveted tables and enjoy their iconic popovers at a table overlooking Jordan Pond.
One of the most famous landmarks inside the park is Bass Harbor Lighthouse, and during the summer months, it can be challenging to get a parking spot for sunset, which is the best time to visit.
During the month of May, however, you’re unlikely to run into any crowds, allowing you to enjoy the moment and snap some beautiful photos.
And of course, you can’t leave Acadia without experiencing sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, which is one of the first places to view the sun coming up from the horizon in the entire United States.
During peak season, reservations are required to drive to the summit, but for most of May, you won’t need a reservation!
Where to Stay
The best town to stay near Acadia National Park is Bar Harbor, which is only a short drive from the park.
One of the best hotels to stay in is the Little Fig Hotel, a beautifully designed hotel that’s walkable to everything in town.
Suggested by Samantha of New England Wanderlust
7. Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is a wonderful park to explore, with miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, wildlife, and spectacular scenery.
May is a fantastic time to visit, with abundant wildflowers, leafing trees, and wildlife that is out and about.
Shenandoah weather in May: May can still be a variable month in terms of weather, with the potential for both warm sunny days and rainy or even snowy days.
In general, temperatures are between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit in May.
Check the forecast before your trip, and always be prepared for inclement weather, especially while you’re out on the trails.
What to do in Shenandoah National Park: A great way to see a good amount of the park is to take a cruise down Skyline Drive. There are tons of lookout points where you can stop and marvel at the amazing vistas.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife: May is a great time to see the park’s residents in their natural habitat.
Dawn and dusk are the times animals are most active, so you’ll have the best chance to spot them then. Always maintain a safe distance between yourself and any wildlife you see.
Spring is also a great time for birdwatching. Grab your binoculars and try to spot some of the local birds as well as migratory birds on their way north.
Lastly, Shenandoah is known for its amazing hiking, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail!
Check out some of the trails in the park, such as Dark Hollow Falls (one of the best waterfall hikes in Shenandoah) or Stony Man. If you are a serious hiker, try the famed Old Rag Hike, but note that you will need to reserve an Old Rag day-hike ticket to do this hike.
Where to Stay
To really immerse yourself in the outdoors, stay at Skyland or Big Meadows Lodge, two popular lodges inside the park that offer nature literally on your doorstep.
Hotel Laurance in Luray is a historic boutique hotel that offers rooms with outside decks.
Suggested by Megan of Virginia Travel Tips
8. Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is notable in that it mainly protects human dwellings. The park contains over 4,700 archaeological sites, with some of the best-preserved ancient cliff dwellings in the world.
May is a wonderful time to visit this unique park, with the winter chill receding but the crowds of summer not in evidence. The tour season for the cliff dwellings opens in May. Roads through the park are also open.
Mesa Verde weather in May: Expect daytime highs in the high 60s and low 70s Fahrenheit, perfect for exploring. Nighttime lows drop into the low to mid 40s.
May is one of the drier months of the year, but, given the high elevations at the park, the occasional snowstorm can still occur, so keep an eye on the weather forecast and bring layers.
What to do in Mesa Verde National Park: Start your visit by stepping into the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center, for information on road and trail conditions and an orientation to the park.
A guided cliff dwelling tour is one of the most popular things to do in Mesa Verde. You can buy tour tickets on recreation.gov online, and we suggest buying them as soon as they are available for the date you plan to take the tour!
Cliff Palace and Long House, the two largest cliff dwellings in the park, can be toured, although exact dates for each season vary. Spruce Tree House, the third-largest house, can currently only be seen from overlooks near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.
Drive the Cliff Palace Loop Road to view the cliff dwellings from overlooks. You can snap great photos on this drive.
There are several hikes you can do in Mesa Verde, to explore the canyons and ridges. Step House is a one-mile paved trail to a cliff dwelling that you can see without a tour ticket.
Far View Sites is an easy walk through a forest of pinyon and juniper. Along the way, you’ll see mesa-top pithouses and an ancient reservoir.
Finally, Petroglyph Point Trail, a little more challenging, offers great views of Spruce Canyon and Navajo Canyon, along with a panel of petroglyphs worth the trek.
Where to Stay
The Far View Lodge is located in the center of the park, and is open all through May.
The town of Cortez, located less than 15 minutes from the park, has several motels, including Hampton Inn, which offers comfortable air-conditioned rooms.
Suggested by us
9. Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National Park, home to giant ancient trees, is situated in the far north coast of California. The complex also includes three state redwood parks: Prairie Creek, Del Norte Coast, and Jedediah Smith.
Aside from the coastal redwoods, the parks are also home to rugged rivers, coastline, and oak woodlands.
Whilst the park is nice all year round due to the temperate California coast weather, May through September is considered the best time to hike, with mild temperatures.
Spring starts in April, and you’ll likely see flowers in bloom in the parks in May, from trillium to showy purple lupine at Bald Hills, as well as bright pink rhododendron, which looks lovely against the redwoods.
The park is far less crowded than other well-known parks in the state, with even fewer footfalls in spring than summer. Visitors get to experience nature in peace and quiet.
Redwood weather in May: Temperatures of 54 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit can be expected, with no more than 2.1 inches of rain throughout the month.
The weather is pleasant, and perfect for exploring outdoors comfortably.
What to do in Redwood National and State Parks: Scenic drives in the parks that are must-dos include the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and Howland Hill Road, where you can get up close to the redwoods without hiking.
Walk through the giants on the trail through the Tall Trees Grove. It’s a truly incredible walk, where centuries of history and life can be seen in the sheer size of the trees. You’ll need to apply for a permit.
Fern Canyon is another popular spot and is located in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Scenes from Jurassic Park 2 were filmed at Fern Canyon. You’ll love walking through the lush canyon, with lush ferns and dripping moisture.
Wear waterproof footwear and apply for a permit well in advance if you plan to drive up to Fern Canyon.
Since Redwood National Park is a coastal park, a visit to the beach should be on the cards. Gold Bluff Beach is very close to Fern Canyon and worth a visit for a coastal stroll.
If you visit in a good bloom year when the lupines are at peak, make the effort to drive Bald Hills Road. You’ll be captivated by the carpet of purple. The scenery is otherwise beautiful as well.
Where to Stay
Just 30 minutes from the redwoods in Orick, stay at Elk Meadow Cabins. A perfect self-catering set-up where elks can be seen almost all of the time roaming around the land! Sit on the deck whilst enjoying wildlife watching.
Suggested by Karen of Travel Mad Mum
10. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Located on the Cuyahoga River between the cities of Akron and Cleveland, Cuyahoga Valley National Park rolling hills and thick forests, with a rich diversity of flora and fauna.
May is a great time to visit the four-season park. The weather is wonderful for outdoor exploration, and you’ll likely see lots of wildflowers along the trails.
Cuyahoga Valley weather in May: The park features daytime highs in the high 60s in May, with overnight lows dropping into the high 40s.
Be sure to bring rain gear, because an average of 15 days of rain is forecast for the month.
What to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park: The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail runs for about 20 miles through the park, and walking or biking this historic path is one of the top things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
You can access the path at several points, and walk or bike as much of it as you like. Some sections of the path also allow horse riding.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a cool way to experience the park. The route, along the Cuyahoga River, offers beautiful scenery and the opportunity to spot wildlife and birds. Many visitors bike the Townpath Trail one way, and take the train back.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, with over 125 miles of trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels.
Hike the Brandywine Gorge Loop and view the beautiful Brandywine Falls en route, or hike to Blue Hen Falls on the Buckeye Trail from the Boston Mill Visitor Center.
If you enjoy birding, you’ll want to bring your binoculars or zoom lens. More than 200 species of birds have been spotted in the park, including bald eagles and great blue herons.
Beaver Marsh, Horseshoe Pond, and the Ledges are popular birdwatching areas in the park.
Where to Stay
Stanford House and the Inn at Brandywine Falls are right inside the park. Both places are open year round.
Sheraton Suites Akron in Cuyahoga Falls is about a 15-minute drive from the park. The hotel overlooks the gorge of the Cuyahoga River, and offers spacious rooms and an indoor pool.
Suggested by us
11. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park offers spectacular views of the majestic Teton Range and is one of the best US parks to visit in May.
Located in northwestern Wyoming, this park boasts an alpine terrain filled with shimmering lakes, hordes of wildlife, and dramatic peaks.
May is an ideal time to enjoy the park’s fully opened status without the crowds.
With mildly chilly temperatures and the last of the snowmelt, May is just warm enough to start exploring the wide array of outdoor activities available.
As springtime ushers in new beginnings, you may witness the wondrous sight of bears, bison, moose, and elk migrating with their young ones by their side.
Grand Teton weather in May: May may be labeled as springtime at Grand Teton, but cool temperatures with lows in the 30s Fahrenheit and highs only reaching the 60s persist.
Take full advantage of the comfortable daytime temperatures and finish your activities before nightfall, when the temperature drops.
Pack wisely, because the park may see rain or even snow in May.
What to do in Grand Teton National Park: Grand Teton National Park offers a range of activities and experiences for guests, from hiking trails, boat tours, and scenic drives to marvel at the jagged Teton Mountain range.
Go kayaking on popular waterways like Jenny Lake. Or hike Inspiration Point for a breathtaking view: take the shuttle boat across the lake to shorten the hike. Note that trails in the park may be muddy and slick in the spring.
Signal Mountain and Jackson Lake Overlook offer scenic vistas, and the park’s glacial lake hikes are perfect for exploring the lush alpine forests.
Photographers must not overlook the breathtaking sunrises at the Snake River Overlook. Here’s where Ansel Adams took his iconic photo in 1942.
Oxbow Bend is another wondrous spot to take a snapshot of the river with Mount Moran in the background. When conditions are right, the reflection of the mountain in the water makes for an epic photo!
Where to Stay
Grand Teton National Park has five campgrounds, with Jenny Lake being the most popular and busiest. Those seeking conventional lodging can stay at Jackson Lake Lodge, with views of Jackson Lake and the mountains.
Elk Refuge Inn in Jackson is located just a 5-minute drive from the park entrance, and offers clean comfortable rooms, some with views of the National Elk Refuge across the road.
Suggested by Cat of Nomadicated
12. Kenai Fjords National Park
Offering a stunning variety of landscapes and several ways to explore, it’s no surprise Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park tops many bucket lists.
The vast majority of the park is accessible only via water, and it’s more than 50% covered in glacial ice!
While Kenai Fjords is primarily known as a summertime destination, May is a fantastic time to visit.
May is considered the “shoulder season,” when most park tours start running again, crowds are non-existent, and the weather is pleasant.
The Turnagain Arm, along the drive from Anchorage to Seward, is also jaw-droppingly beautiful this time of year.
Kenai Fjords weather in May: May is one of the driest months in this part of Alaska, but it is still Alaska, so always have a rain jacket!
Count on daytime temperatures in the 50s Fahrenheit, with overnight lows in the 30s and 40s, and progressively longer days as the month goes on.
What to do in Kenai Fjords National Park: As mentioned, Kenai Fjords is best explored by water.
Book a wildlife cruise to see glaciers, fjords, and abundant wildlife, from orcas and humpback whales to puffins and otters.
Major Marine and Kenai Fjords Tours are the two big players, both offering tours ranging from 4-8.5 hours.
For folks who prefer even more adventure, you can also book a combo cruise-kayaking excursion.
There are ways to explore this unique national park on land or from the air, too.
Visit Exit Glacier, one of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers. Several hiking trails here, ranging from less than one mile to over eight miles, get you closer to the glacier.
To see everything in one short, once-in-a-lifetime experience, consider booking a helicopter flightseeing tour over the park!
Where to Stay
The best place to stay is Hotel Seward, a historic hotel in the heart of town and within walking distance of just about everything, including the harbor.
Suggested by Taryn of Chasing Trail Blog
13. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most stunning national parks on the planet, with its abundant wildlife and unique landscapes. The thermal hot pots feature striking colors, and you’ll find scenic views around every corner.
In May, you can enjoy exploring the park before the large crowds of summer arrive.
May is the month when roads in the park and many hiking trails are typically open, especially if you visit in the second half of the month.
Yellowstone weather in May: Expect daytime highs in the low to mid 50s Fahrenheit. You’ll still need to dress warm, but most days in May you should be able to explore outdoors in comfort during the day.
Since May weather can be unpredictable, with rain or snow possible, bring layers and rain gear.
What to do in Yellowstone National Park: With its vast array of wildlife, scenery, and numerous activities, there’s no shortage of things to do in Yellowstone National Park in May.
Drive around the park to spot bison, elk, deer, moose, wolves, and bears. Each area of the park tends to attract different animals: it’s bison calving time in the Lamar Valley, and elk calving time at Mammoth Hot Springs.
It is almost a guarantee you will see bison and many other majestic animals. View wildlife from the safety of your car or from a safe distance.
With hundreds of miles of trails throughout the park, ranging from easy strolls on boardwalks to challenging hikes up mountainsides, you can enjoy a variety of different trails and views. In May, you’ll want to stick to lower elevation trails.
The geothermal activities in Yellowstone are a must-see. From Old Faithful Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring to steaming hot pools and bubbling mud pots; these natural wonders will take your breath away!
If you enjoy fishing, make sure to check out the different lakes and rivers. Fishing is great in and around the park. You’ll need a permit that you can get at one of the visitor centers.
If the weather is inclement, stop by the many visitor centers and museums, to view the exhibits and watch the films on the park’s history and features.
Where to Stay
There are great options for where to stay in Yellowstone.
Many visitors love to stay inside the park at the historic Old Faithful Inn or camp.
If you want something closer to the city, you will want to stay in West Yellowstone, which offers many different accommodations, restaurants, and shops.
Kelly Inn is located near the entrance to the park and offers clean comfortable rooms and an indoor pool.
Suggested by Candice of CS Ginger
14. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park, located in southwestern Utah, is famous for its stunning hoodoos, pink and orange rock spires that have eroded over millennia, thanks to Bryce’s unique climate.
May is a lovely time to visit Bryce. The park sits at a high elevation and experiences harsher winters than the other parks in the Mighty Five but by May, the snow will have melted on its trails.
The crowds of summer have yet to arrive and a smattering of spring wildflowers can be found throughout the park.
Bryce weather in May: With daily highs in the 60s Fahrenheit, and lows remaining above freezing most days, the weather in Bryce Canyon National Park in May is ideal for hiking.
You may run into the occasional rainy day or snow in May at Bryce, so bring rain gear, and dress in layers.
What to do in Bryce Canyon National Park: At least once during your stay, get to the park bright and early to watch the sunrise at Sunset Point.
This overlook is usually significantly less busy than Sunrise Point and actually offers better views of the craggy spires, in the amphitheater below, being lit by the first rays of sun.
Hike the popular Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trails, which lead you below the rim of the canyon and underneath the hoodoos.
The Queen’s Garden Trail is especially unique, with several archways, carved into the sedimentary rock, through which you can hike.
If you’re looking for a longer and more challenging trail, the Fairyland Loop is an excellent choice. This trail is split fairly evenly along the edge of the canyon, overlooking the hoodoos, and below its rim, amongst the colorful rock formations.
Finally, be sure to carve out a night to do some stargazing in the park.
Because of the limited light pollution and high elevation, the park has been named as a Dark Sky Park. Luckily, the May skies are clear and perfect for trying to spot the Milky Way!
Where to Stay
Consider staying at the Happy Trails Bed and Breakfast in the nearby town of Tropic. It’s run by a very friendly family, who cooks up a delicious breakfast each day to help you fuel up for the trails.
Bybee’s Steppingstone Motel, also in Tropic, offers spacious air-conditioned rooms and is a 15-minute drive from the park.
Suggested by Jessica of Uprooted Traveler
15. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Located along part of the gorge of the Gunnison River, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park makes for a wonderful visit in May, with cooler temperatures and colorful wildflowers.
You can visit both the North and South Rims of the Black Canyon. The park offers spectacular scenery, and roads in the park are open.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison weather in May: Expect daytime highs in the low 70s Fahrenheit, and nighttime lows in the mid 40s. Temperatures at the bottom of the gorge are several degrees warmer.
The month of May is generally dry, although you could get the rare snowstorm.
What to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: The South Rim Drive is very scenic, and one of the top things to do in the park. Along the route, there are twelve overlooks, most involving short walks to get to the edge.
Hiking trails at the South Rim include the moderate Rim Rock Nature Trail, which offers lovely views of the canyon walls and the river, as well as the opportunity to view the flora of the area.
The Cedar Point Nature Trail is another must-do South Rim hike, It’s short — just .67 mile round trip — but you’ll get fabulous views of the Gunnison River from two overlooks en route, as well as views of the famous Painted Wall, the tallest cliff in Colorado.
The North Rim is less accessible than the South Rim, but also offers spectacular views. North Rim Drive is unpaved, but generally passable to passenger sedans. It features five overlooks.
Chasm View Nature Trail at the North Rim is short, but offers great views of the river and Painted Wall.
Adventurous visitors can explore the inner canyon and hike all the way down to the river and back. There are no marked trails and this super challenging activity is only for experienced hikers in excellent physical shape.
Where to Stay
Montrose is the town closest to the more popular South Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Hampton Inn Montrose is less than 10 miles from the park and offers spacious comfortable rooms and an indoor pool and spa.
Suggested by us
16. Sequoia National Park
Home to the largest trees on earth, Sequoia National Park is best known for its namesake – the giant sequoia tree. However, within the park, you’ll also find waterfalls, meadows, rivers, canyons, caves, and teeming wildlife.
While Sequoia is often considered a summer destination, spring is equally beautiful and comes with a fraction of the crowds.
In fact, many consider May to be the best time of the year to visit, as temperatures are warming, crowds are still manageable, and wildflowers are in bloom in the foothills.
Several trails and campgrounds open in May for the season, and more remote areas of the park become accessible.
In the foothills, marigolds, redbud trees, and California poppies are on full display.
Sequoia weather in May: By May, most (if not all) of the snow has melted and the days are getting warmer, with highs averaging 65°F and lows averaging 40°F.
Although precipitation in May isn’t common, be prepared for the occasional rain or snow.
What to do in Sequoia National Park: When visiting Sequoia in May, don’t miss popular attractions like the General Sherman Tree (the largest on earth by volume) and the Giant Forest Museum – both located in the Giant Forest section of the park.
The Big Trees Trail is an easy 1.3-mile loop hike that’s perfect for all ages and fitness levels. It traces the edge of a large meadow and weaves through groves of Giant Sequoias.
If you’re up for a challenge, get the blood pumping by climbing the 350+ steps to the top of Moro Rock to take in the spectacular views.
Tours of Crystal Cave begin in the middle of the month, so if you want to admire the formations in the marble cavern, plan to visit in the second half of the month.
Generals Highway, the super scenic road that connects Sequoia to Kings Canyon National Park, usually opens in May, so allow time to do the drive and enjoy the viewpoints!
Sequoia’s waterfalls are at their most powerful in late spring, so make sure to visit Tokopah Falls (1.7 mile hike each way), or Grizzly Falls, if you make it to Kings Canyon.
Where to Stay
In terms of Sequoia lodging, Wuksachi Lodge is generally open year-round, and John Muir Lodge is open seasonally between late March and October.
If you want to camp, Azalea Campground is open year-round.
Comfort Inn & Suites in Three Rivers is less than 5 miles from the park entrance, and offers comfortable rooms and a seasonal outdoor swimming pool.
Contributed by Jenna of Up and Away Magazine
17. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is located in the northern Rocky Mountains right along the Canadian border. May in Glacier is when the crowds are lighter and the park starts to come alive and wake up and bloom after a long winter.
Glacier weather in May: While May can be the perfect time to visit Glacier, it’s also important to note that the weather can be a bit unpredictable.
During an average year, May temperatures will typically reach highs between 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit.
The weather is primarily sunny, but if there’s precipitation in the valley, you can expect it to snow farther up in elevation.
What to do in Glacier National Park: While not all of the park’s many recreational options are available in May, you can still enjoy many of Glacier’s most popular activities, without the crowds.
Rafting the Flathead Rivers is one of the top things to do. The rivers are at their fullest in May, so what would usually be a half day tour will take 1.5 hours. Wetsuits are required for rafting in May.
Look for wildlife! While the park is less crowded with tourists, nature is able to roam more freely. If it’s a bear or moose you’re hoping to see, head to East Glacier.
Get out on the water. Boat tours across Glacier’s Lake McDonald begin mid-May. You can also bring your own canoe or kayak to use on the lake beginning the second Sunday in May.
Enjoy the Going to the Sun Road. Until the snow is completely cleared on Going to the Sun Road, the road will remain closed to motorists but it is fully open to cyclists and pedestrians.
Where to Stay
Whitefish, Montana is the best place to stay when visiting Glacier National Park during the shoulder season. Be sure to check out Grouse Mountain Lodge, which is open 365 days a year.
Suggested by Sara of Chris and Sara
18. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the country due to its location. Getting there is part of the adventure. In order to reach the park, you’ll need to take the boat taxi with Island Packers from either Oxnard or Ventura.
Visiting in May is advantageous because wind chill on the boats and islands will not be as bad as in winter. That said, it is still recommended to dress in layers.
Spring is when many seabirds are migrating or nesting, making bird watching popular at this time of year. The islands will also be at their greenest in the spring.
Channel Islands weather in May: Expect daytime highs in the high 60s Fahrenheit for the greater part, with lows in the 50s.
May is the start of dry season, so rain is very rare. You may run into the coastal fog, especially early in the day.
What to do in Channel Islands National Park: There are five islands that make up the park: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara.
The island you choose to visit will determine what there is to do. You also will need to decide if you are interested in a day trip or a multi day camping trip.
Most people pick one or two islands to visit for the day.
Things to do in Channel Islands National Park include many trail options for hiking and wildlife viewing.
Santa Cruz Island is popular for snorkeling, diving, and kayaking. Anacapa, one of the smallest islands, hosts the iconic lighthouse. Look for the rare Torrey pine on Santa Rosa.
Enjoy the ferry ride! The journey by boat is about an hour each way. However, you are nearly guaranteed to see dolphins, sea lions, or other marine life on the way, making the trip quite fun.
The wildlife is not limited to the ocean though.
Because of its isolated location, the Channel Islands are home to many species found nowhere else on earth. This includes the island fox. They are the largest mammal on the island (aside from humans) and frequently visit the campgrounds.
Where to Stay
If you visit as a day trip, a hotel in Ventura or Oxnard near the harbor would be best.
Hampton Inn Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard offers modern rooms and an outdoor pool.
Suggested by Taylor of Taytrum Travels
MORE INSPIRATION FOR US NATIONAL PARKS TRAVEL
Planning more visits to US national parks?
Discover the most exciting national parks in the west or plan a national parks road trip from Las Vegas: you’ll find more than a dozen national parks near Vegas to explore, from Utah’s Mighty 5 to the Grand Canyon.
Also read our articles on how to spend one day in Joshua Tree National Park and things to do in Death Valley National Park, including the must-do Artist’s Drive.
If you want national park choices by season, we have an extensive round-up of national parks to visit in the summer, plus national parks to visit in the fall, and US national parks that are perfect for winter visits.
Visiting a US national park in another month? Check out our other round-ups of the best national parks to visit by month!
- Best National Parks to Visit in January
- Best National Parks to Visit in February
- Best National Parks to Visit in March
- Best National Parks to Visit in April
- Best National Parks to Visit in June
- Best National Parks to Visit in September
And if you haven’t bought your National Parks Pass yet, get it now!
Buy online at REI.
Did you find this article informative? Pin it for later reference!