No one would ever be mad at you for dreaming of summer visits to National Parks, but if you take your family to a hot and overcrowded park, you may get more than angry side-eye glances from loved ones. Spending time outdoors in nature in the summer is never a bad idea, but you need to know the best National Parks to visit in summer to have the best family vacation possible. These parks should balance phenomenal natural elements like waterfalls, geysers, mountains, wildlife, and more with ideal temperatures, and offer you space to move around without bumping shoulders with throngs of other tourists. Here are the 8 top National Parks to visit in summer!
1. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Whether you are most excited to jump into one of the deepest and cleanest lakes in the world or hike the switchback trails up to the top of Wizard Island, a small volcano in the middle of the lake, Crater Lake is not only the best national park to visit in summer because it’s stunningly beautiful beneath the warm summer sun but because visiting at any other time of year can be difficult logistically as the rim of this spectacular area gets very snowy and very hard to access.
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
There’s no denying that intense crowds descend upon Yellowstone during the summer months, but it’s still one of the best U.S. National Parks to visit in summer because it’s so massive. You can easily find spots to have all to yourself, wildlife to view and photograph, natural splendor like geysers and thermal pools to stand before, and rivers perfect for fishing in a National Park, all without having throngs of others nearby. Bonus points if you wake up early to enter before the line of cars forms, especially at the West entrance, and observe the bison and elk on the plains as the sun slowly burns off the dew and fog of a pre-dawn morning. It’s a stunning and serene scene!
3. Glacier National Park, Montana
There are 6 stunning glaciers here in the most underrated National Park in the country, but there were 150 as recently as 150 years ago. Some predict the ice could be gone within this decade, so not only is Glacier National Park the best national park to visit in the summer, but it’s also the best park to visit RIGHT NOW. Summer is when the famed Going-to-the-sun road is open, when it’s not impassable due to snowfall, so make a plan to visit Montana this summer, or as soon as possible, to go fishing and to bear witness to the bears, mountain goats, waterfalls, wildflowers, lakes, and grandeur of the glaciers…while you still can.
4. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
The namesake dunes, especially Mount Baldy which rises over 120 feet above sea level, are impressive, but there’s more than just piles of sand at the U.S. National Park that’s one of the smallest and newest. Over 370 species of birds migrate through here, wildflowers bloom, and there are beaches for swimming and water sports. And best of all, unlike other great National Parks that are far from everyday life (and airports), Indiana Dunes is an easy 45-minute drive from Chicago.
5. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
Bald eagles and falcons, a river perfect for whitewater rafting, trails for epic mountain biking and a wide range of hikes, one iconic and extremely photogenic steel arch bridge, stellar gorge views, and the distinction of being off the beaten path in America’s newest National Park make New River Gorge one of the National Parks to visit in summer.
6. Olympic National Park, Washington
This remote park is extremely special because even though you will be only a couple of hours from Seattle, you will feel like you are visiting a whole new, wild world when spending time in this best national park to visit in the summer. You’ll have access to a misty rainforest, miles of rugged and thoroughly undeveloped coastline dramatically littered with massive fallen trees, hot springs, snow-peaked mountains, and the westernmost point of the continental U.S. There is nothing quite like a summer vacation on the Olympic Peninsula.
7. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Full disclosure, it is smoking hot in South Dakota in the summer but if your family car has strong air conditioner, The Badlands is one of the best U.S. National Parks to visit in summer because the Martian-like landscapes become more evocative in the high heat of summer and the bison traffic jams are still a treat, the prairie dogs still adorable (and loud), and the chance to look for dinosaur fossils is too good to pass up while on summer vacation.
8. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
If you dream of a National Park adventure this summer that is decidedly off the grid, the crystalline lakes, glorious mountains, steaming fumaroles, meadows choke full of wildflowers, and striking volcanoes found in this National Park that’s a day trip drive from either Sacramento or Reno will provide memories to last a lifetime.
Need more vacation inspiration? Check out these 9 summer family trip ideas.