15 Best National Parks to Visit in May (+ Travel Tips!)

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Are you looking to book a trip in late spring and are interested in the best national parks to visit in May? This guide details some amazing US parks to visit in May and why you should add them to your spring itinerary!

May is one of our favorite travel months. While Europe can be a bit pricey for May travel, the United States remains relatively affordable (until Memorial Day, that is) throughout May. It is the perfect time to visit a US national park before summer arrives!

This guide details our top picks for US National Parks in May and why you should visit each, including the average temperatures and seasonal things to do.

We picked a variety of parks, from some of the most popular national parks to some of the nation’s least-visited national parks.

Best national parks to visit in May
Best national parks to visit in May

There is far more to May than just Memorial Day car deals, barbecues with friends, and the end of school! These parks have so much to offer!

Let us know your favorite national park to visit in the spring in the comments! Visiting more than just parks? Be sure to check out our guide to the best places to visit in May in the USA as well!

US National Parks in May Worth Visiting

1. Yosemite National Park

Location: California
May Average Temperature: highs around 73F and lows around 44F
Go there for: powerful waterfalls, camping season, some of California’s best trails

Yosemite National Park in May
Yosemite National Park in May

Best known for its waterfalls, ancient giant sequoias, and granite monoliths, Yosemite National Park is indeed a great location, full of natural attractions that are available to all visitors.

The peak for Yosemite’s waterfalls is typically in mid-to-late May, so this month is the best one to visit them. Snow is generally present in most of the park, although it may seem like summer on certain days.

When it comes to activities in Yosemite in May, among the most famous ones are hiking, backpacking, camping, etc. Yosemite Valley day hikes are normally snow-free, but paths along the northern and southern rims appear to be icy or flooded.

The Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point is usually closed until late May but may be roughly halfway up to Union Point.

Depending on conditions, a few multi-night backpacking options are accessible in May in Yosemite.

The best trails are those leaving Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and Hetch Hetchy, but it’s doubtful you’ll be able to find a hike for more than two nights that doesn’t require substantial snow.

For camping, the only available campground that does not require a reservation beforehand is Camp 4. It works on a first-come, first-served basis and fills up every morning.

The Upper, Lower, and North Pines, Wawona, and Hodgdon Meadow, on the other hand, are the ones that work on a reservation system. Definitely put this park on your spring bucket list; it has some of the best California waterfalls and nature!

2. Saguaro National Park

Location: Arizona
May Average Temperature: highs around 91F and lows around 59F
Go there for: milder temperatures than summer, hiking and camping opportunities

Saguaro National Park in May
Saguaro National Park in May

This park is one of the treasures of Arizona, as it protects the Saguaro cactus over a vast area of the Sonoran Desert. The reason that we recommend visiting Saguaro National Park in May (earlier in May, to be honest) is because it is far too hot beyond May.

During May, we recommend visiting in the mornings or evenings and avoiding mid-day, especially toward the end of the month.

If you’re interested in strolling past a dense population of cacti, then the Valley View Overlook Trail is where you should head first. It’s an easy hiking trail in Saguaro NP and is comfortable not only for adults but also for kids and older nature lovers.

Those who are longing for overnight camping should be mindful that it is not permitted in Saguaro West, but it is allowed in Rincon Mountain District (Saguaro East).

For a little bit of history mixed with nature, check out the Signal Hill Petroglyphs. The drawings on these rocks are believed to date back to the prehistoric Hohokam people more than 800 years ago.

The hike to this spot is quite short (0.5 miles), but dogs are not permitted as it is an area of preservation.

Another special thing about May in Saguaro National Park is that cactus flowers start to bloom from mid-May up to early June, so plan your visit in the spring to witness this!

3. Mammoth Cave National Park

Location: Kentucky
May Average Temperature: highs around 79F and lows around 54F
Go there for: fewer tourists than during the summer months, perfect temperatures (but can be rainy!)

Mammoth Cave National Park in May
Mammoth Cave National Park in May

Mammoth Cave National Park is massive in its size and is the world’s largest known cave system. There is one lodge, two restaurants, and three campgrounds in Mammoth Cave NP. It is truly one of the most underrated parks in the United States.

One excellent activity in this park is to take one of the historic tours that are offered to reach the inside of the cave.

There are several options and places to visit, but the most famous ones are the Historic, Gothic Avenue, and Mammoth Passage. Each one of these has a different focus and tour theme, so do your research prior to your visit.

Another interesting spot in the park is Sloan’s Crossing Pond, an easy boardwalk trail. Being just a 0.4-mile round trip with hardly any elevation, it’s a convenient choice for all ages and capabilities.

Mammoth Cave is also home to one of America’s last remaining rural ferries. It’s the Green River Ferry, and it’s been in operation since 1934. A ride on it is essential when visiting Mammoth Cave National Park in May or any time of the year!

You will find many information placards that will detail the history of the cave and what to expect once inside.  Visiting in May is a great option for the Kentucky national park as kids are still in school and it is far less crowded if you venture there during the week.

4. Zion National Park

Location: Utah
May Average Temperature: highs around 69F and lows around 42F
Go there for: camping and hiking galore, variety of colors during spring

Zion National Park in May
Zion National Park in May // © Pernelle Voyage / Shutterstock.com

Visiting Zion National Park in May is a great choice if you’re after awe-inspiring views as it’s the time of the year when the unique reds are mixed with various hues of green inside the Utah park.

Hiking is an ideal way to spend your time in Zion. Ranging from relatively easy to challenging, Zion National Park offers trails that lead to amazingly beautiful views overlooking canyons that were formed by the Virgin River and some extreme weather back in the day.

The list of trails is long, but the most renowned ones are Angels Landing, Zion Narrows, Watchman Trail, etc.

Angels Landing Trailhead’s parking lot can get packed first thing in the morning, so make sure you get there early. Otherwise, you can hike one of the lesser-known trails in Zion, like The Subway.

Also, keep in mind that this trail is considered difficult for some.  It is even more challenging during winter in Zion – but it is always free of snow in late spring, making it one of the best national parks to visit in May.

Since May can become a little crowded in Zion, you may want to consider taking a bicycle ride to avoid the shuttle bus and the dismal traffic situation that can occur.

In addition to the aforementioned popular activities, rock climbing and canyoneering are quite popular, and there are numerous tours available for them.

Another wonderful option to see and experience Zion National Park is to go camping.

You can even rent the gear to go camping locally in Springdale and other cities or inside the park itself.  Zion is a great place to visit in the US in March, April, and May—every month during spring!

5. Glacier Bay National Park

Location: Alaska
May Average Temperature: highs around 54F and lows around 38F
Go there for: birdwatching, mild temperatures, hiking season starts

Glacier Bay National Park in May
Glacier Bay National Park in May // © Ungnoi Lookjeab / Shutterstock.com

Glacier Bay National Park is known to have a maritime climate, which makes the winters cool and mild, and summers quite moist. However, May is one of the driest months there (but there is still, on average, 12 days of rain).

Just like the name suggests, this park is all about glaciers! So, most of the visitors come to this Alaska national park to see one of the park’s nine giant tidewater glaciers that flow down from the mountains to the ocean.

Witnessing these huge natural phenomena up close is a favorite activity for everyone who ventures to this park.

Some other popular activities to do when visiting Glacier Bay National Park in May include hiking activities, kayaking, birdwatching, and just taking in the views of the Glacier Bay Mountains. 

Hiking trails in Glacier Bay National Park range from the 1-mile Forest Trail, which features a lush forest, to the 8-mile-long Bartlett Lake Trail, a rugged hike to a tranquil lake. 

At Bartlett Cove, where the park service visitor center is located, kayak rentals are also available for both day trips around the city and multi-day trips going deep into the park.

Another beloved activity to do during May at Glacier Bay National Park is birdwatching. The diverse ecosystem of the park allows for a wide range of species, including rainforest species such as the American three-toed woodpecker and neotropical migrant warblers, thrushes, and other songbirds (over 281 species).

Seabird colonies of gulls, guillemots, puffins, and cormorants also inhabit the islands and cliffs.

There are many things to do nearby, such as visit Sitka or head down to Ketchikan.  Alaska is truly epic.

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee and North Carolina
May Average Temperature: highs around 71F and lows around 45F
Go there for: hiking trails, wildflowers in bloom, Dollywood Splash Country opens

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in May
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in May © M Rose / Shutterstock.com

From March to May, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has comparably fewer crowds and is a great option to consider for a springtime trip to a US national park.

This is the most visited national park in the United States by numbers, actually!

Most of the well-known attractions in this Tennessee and North Carolina national park are open during the spring season.

One of the most amazing things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in May is to check out the wildflowers in bloom. White Trillium and Fire Pink are what you can see in places in the Smokies like Cades Cove, the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, and Greenbrier.

Over 1,500 varieties of flowering plants are found in Smoky Mountains National Park, and May is one of the best months of the year to see most of them. Don’t forget to take your camera with you to take some pictures of the Smokies’ spectacular spring wildflowers.

During the second week of May, nearby Dollywood Splash Country opens up, so you can have a great time in this Smoky Mountains water park – it is a great place to visit with kids.

This is the perfect launchpad for a road trip through the deep south!

7. Great Sand Dunes National Park

Location: Colorado
May Average Temperature: highs around 68F and lows around 39F
Go there for: milder temperatures for hiking, fewer visitors, stargazing opportunities

Great Sand Dunes National Park in May
Great Sand Dunes National Park in May

Great Sand Dunes is known for having the tallest sand dune in North America. If you’re an adventurer, you can try to hike up the 750-foot summit. Visitors claim that the views around there are surely worth the strenuous hike! 

Aside from hikers, people who love stargazing will most probably enjoy one of the greatest experiences of their lives in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Keep in mind that the park is open overnight, so to see the Milky Way, don’t rush to leave the Colorado park when the sun goes down. 

Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park in May allows travelers to escape the hot summer temperatures as May is milder, making it easier to go hiking and enjoy nature.

There are 21 campsites where you can rest and camp. You can also hike 7.4 miles round trip and reach beautiful Medano Lake, one of the main attractions in this park. There are also many cute Colorado mountain towns nearby that you can opt to check out!

Visiting Great Sand Dunes NP is a fantastic multi-day detour on a Colorado to California road trip (or even a long weekend from some of the bigger cities out west)!

8. Isle Royale National Park

Location: Michigan
May Average Temperature: highs around 57F and lows around 39F
Go there for: milder temperatures for hiking, fewer visitors, stargazing opportunities

Isle Royale National Park in May
Isle Royale National Park in May

There are 5 nationally designed parks and sights in Michigan but Isle Royale is the only national park. 

Isle Royale National Park welcomes more than 17,000 visitors each year and amazes all its guests with diverse wildlife and outdoor activities.

A great thing about this place is that even though it’s considered a national park it is not accessible for a lot of the year, meaning that it remains less-visited than other places.

One of the most common ways to explore the location is to enjoy a ferry ride.

There are a few available options to enjoy Isle Royale via boat, and each one of them differs with the duration, departure locations, etc. Make sure to search for the most convenient option prior to your visit. 

Another great way to spend your time in Isle Royale National Park in May is to go hiking. A trail known as Greenstone Ridge runs about 43 miles east of Lookout Louise before it heads west over the exposed ridges of the Greenstone. 

Some other beloved activities that guarantee a fun time in Isle Royale are kayaking, wildlife watching, visiting a lighthouse, and more.

9. Olympic National Park

Location: Washington
May Average Temperature: highs around 49F and lows around 33F
Go there for: dry season has arrived, many hiking opportunities

Olympic National Park in May - Best national parks to visit in May
Olympic National Park in May – Best national parks to visit in May

Located on the eponymous peninsula in Washington state, Olympic National Park has three types of ecosystems: Pacific shoreline, glacier-clad mountains, and forested valleys.

It has a coastline that is on the World Heritage Site list and it is the longest undeveloped one in the Lower 48 at 73 miles in length.

May is the perfect time to visit Olympic National Park because the winter rainy season has ended and the forest becomes drier and more accessible for visitors.

You can observe the rain forest on a short and easy hike in Olympic National Park from Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center via the Hall of Mosses Trail (0.8-mile trail).

Another popular spot for hiking is Hurricane Ridge where you can enjoy a picnic and admire the amazing views of Olympic Mountain. Also, you will have the opportunity to see North America’s largest elk (Roosevelt Elk) during your visit as they are prevalent during the spring months.

May in Olympic National Park is a great time to visit as accommodation tends to be cheaper than in the summer months. 

There are many Airbnbs near Olympic National Park (and hotels!) that you can call home for the duration of your stay.

10. Voyageurs National Park

Location: Minnesota
May Average Temperature: highs around 63F and lows around 39F
Go there for: much warmer, camping, several easy hikes accessible

Voyageurs National Park in May
Voyageurs National Park in May

For those who love camping, Voyageurs National Park is the perfect place for an experience in one of the most beautiful forests in North America and an ideal weekend trip from Minneapolis/St.Paul.

It’s mostly known for being dotted with small islands, forests, and Namakan and Kabetogama Lakes.

Some parts of Voyageurs National Park border Canada and during the springtime, especially in May, when the snow is melting and the temperatures are perfect, you can enjoy the short hiking trails like Blind Ash Bay Trail (2.5 miles), Echo Bay Trail (2.5 miles), Oberholtzer Trail (1.7 miles), and many others.

The National Park has front-country campsites that can be reserved ahead of time. There are 147 campsites available.

Also, there are many backcountry campsites that are also possible to reserve that are located on big lakes like Kabetogama, Rainy, and others. These are accessible by boat.

The Minnesota National Park also offers a wide range of activities like boating, canoeing, picnicking, paddling, historical and cultural sightseeing, and many more wonderful things.

You can also visit Ellsworth Rock Gardens, an interesting site that is located in the park and is where abstract sculptures are on display from renowned artist Jack Ellsworth.

11. Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia
May Average Temperature: highs around 64F and lows around 45F
Go there for: hiking opportunities, wildflowers everywhere, Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park in May
Shenandoah National Park in May

Located near the Blue Ridge Mountains in the state of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is covered with lush green forests, and wetlands, and has several waterfalls. There are also many beautiful mountains like Old Rag and Hawksbill.

Spring, especially May, is one of the best times for visiting Shenandoah National Park because crowds are fewer and the long Shenandoah winter has ended.

During the warm season, Shenandoah National Park offers many interesting and different hikes like Upper Hawksbill Trail (2.1 miles) that takes you to the highest point in Shenandoah National Park, Dark Hollow Falls Trail (1.4-mile), Old Rag Trail (9.2-mile hike), and many more. 

You will also get to admire the scenic road of Skyline Drive that passes through the entire length of the park.

The iconic road lasts 105 miles and during your drive, you can stop by and see many beautiful sites like the Shenandoah Valley Overlook, Indian Run Overlook, Franklin Cliffs Overlook, and many more. 

12. Pinnacles National Park

Location: California
May Average Temperature: highs around 78F and lows around 41F
Go there for: hiking, birdwatching, weather is comfortable

Pinnacles National Park in May
Pinnacles National Park in May

Pinnacles National Park is located east of Salinas Valley in the state of California and from East to the West, it is divided by rock formations and is only connected by foot trails.

The park is a paradise for hikers, campers, and mountain lovers because of the rugged and unusual-looking landscape mixed with colorful rocks. Pinnacles National Park has a lot to offer despite being a less-trodden national park.

May is one of the best months of the year to visit the national park because the weather isn’t too hot and allows you to enjoy it comfortably.

You can experience one of the many hiking trails in Pinnacles National Park like Bear Gulch Cave Trail (1.5 miles) that will take you to a hidden cave, South Wilderness Trail (6.5 miles) that passes through jaw-dropping valley oaks, Moses Spring to Rim Trail Loop (2.2 miles) that go through caves, a reservoir, and beautiful rock formations.

Also, you will have a great opportunity to take birdwatching tours. There are over 200 species living in the area and calling the unique rock formations home.

13. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota
May Average Temperature: highs around 69F and lows around 40F
Go there for: hiking, comfortable temperatures, backcountry camping

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in May
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in May

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the habitat of mighty animals such as elk, bison, prairie dogs, and many others. The park is a dream place to visit in May, especially at the beginning of it, when the weather is just ideal after a harsh North Dakota winter.

May in Theodore Roosevelt National Park allows visitors to experience activities like backcountry camping, picnicking, hiking, and much more.

It is not only the most popular national park in North Dakota, but it is also the one that has the most variety in offerings.

The national park also gives the opportunity to visit historical sights like the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site hunting house, ND Cowboy Hall of Fame, Harold Schafer Heritage Center, and more. 

The 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive will let you pass by the park’s popular sights and see the wildlife calling it home. It is also possible to visit the Old West Cowtown in Medora, Badlands, and check out the panoramic view from Oxbow Overlook.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is also a great place for hiking in May. The park offers great hiking options with different levels like Skyline Vista (0.1 miles), Boicourt Overlook Trail (0.2 miles), Buck Hill (0.2 miles), and Sperati Point via the Achenbach Trail (North Unit 1 hour 1.5 miles). 

It is one of the best national parks to visit in May, hands down.

14. Yellowstone National Park

Location: Wyoming, Idaho, Montana
May Average Temperature: highs around 53F and lows around 28F
Go there for: hiking, winter is over, seeing the park before the summer crowds arrive

Yellowstone National Park in May
Yellowstone National Park in May // © Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com

The volcanic hot spot of Yellowstone National Park is one of the most visited parks in the United States because of its amazing nature and ecosystem, gushing geysers and hot springs, alpine rivers, and epic canyons. 

Because of the comfortable weather that is not too cold or not too hot, May is one of the best times to visit the spectacular park because it offers its visitors several activities to do.

It also offers the opportunity to see Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the park (and in North America).

The winter in Yellowstone will usually see snowfall up until April or May, so heading to the park in May allows you to (hopefully) miss that harsh winter!

You will have the chance to see the largest hot spring in the United States, the Grand Prismatic Spring. In addition, you can hike to beautiful Yellowstone Lake. In the evenings, it illuminates under the sky and can take on a pinkish hue.

Also, the famous park offers many wonderful and scenic hikes like Fairy Falls Trail, Storm Point Nature Trail, Pebble Creek, and more.  It is recommended to spend at least two days in Yellowstone… or more!

If you’re heading that way, be sure to check out our guide to the best Airbnbs near Yellowstone National Park. Our picks accommodate ANY budget.

15. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Location: Texas
May Average Temperature: highs around 67F and lows around 50F
Go there for: many hiking opportunities, comfortable temperatures

Guadalupe Mountains National Park in May
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in May

One of the best national parks in May is Guadalupe Mountains National Park – however, it is definitely recommended to visit in the earlier part of May as opposed to the end when it becomes significantly hotter.

The best time to visit the park is in the fall, so heading there in spring actually means you will miss many of the travelers and backpackers (not that many people go to this lesser-known Texas park in the first place).

Hiking is a fantastic thing to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in May.  Some of the best trails there are Guadalupe Peak, Marcus Overlook, Salt Basin Overlook, and McKittrick Canyon. There are no real ‘roads’ in this park – so getting around on foot is half of the fun!

We hope that you found the best national parks to visit in May useful for planning your upcoming spring travels. Do you have a favorite National Park in May? Let us know in the comments!

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Pin This US National Parks in May Guide

Are you on the hunt for the best national parks to visit in May? This guide uncovers our top picks for national parks in May. Some popular, some lesser-known! | Yosemite in May | National parks in spring | Yellowstone in May | Shenandoah in May | Smoky Mountains in May | Zion in May | Olympic National Park in May | Saguaro National Park in May | Great Sand Dunes National Park in May | California National Parks spring | Yosemite spring | Yellowstone spring | Shenandoah spring | Smokies in Spring

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