6 Best National Parks to Visit in the Summer

April 25, 2024

Call it corny or cliche, but timing is everything when it comes to visiting our country’s beautiful national parks. For example, rock up to Pinnacles National Park in early July, and you’ll find one of the park’s main attractions, Bear Gulch Cave, closed for bat pupping season. Yes, that’s actually a thing. Similarly, if you want to see Yellowstone’s world-famous wolves, winter is your best bet. Meanwhile, if the Everglades are calling and you must go, aim for November or April when the humidity is low and the skies are clear. Obviously, if you have kids in school, then June, July and August are the best months for a national park vacation. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Plenty of national parks shine their brightest during this popular window of time. From a preserve in Southern Alaska where you can watch salmon swim upstream to an Ohioan oasis boasting a historic railroad, here are six of the best national parks to visit in the summer.

Planning Your Summer? These are the Best National Parks to Visit

Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park on a cloudy summer day, with dramatic clouds.

1. Glacier National Park

Thanks to its high altitude, Glacier National Park is socked in with snow most of the year. In fact, Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the most scenic drives in the country, usually isn’t cleared until early July. Most years it closes for “the winter” before Halloween. Summer is also an ideal time to visit the crown of the continent because it’s when most of the park’s 700 miles of hiking trails, including the ADA-accessible Trail of Cedars, are open. But because the summer months are peak season you will need a vehicle reservation (book it online here) to drive through the park.

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Mountain Ridges Rise High Over The Pacific Ocean in Channel Islands National Park.

2. Channel Islands National Park

Located about 28 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, temperatures are pretty mild year-round in Channel Islands National Park. But if you want to see the largest mammal in the history of earth, you’ll have to come in the summer months when these five islands become home to 10% of the world’s population of blue whales. Mid-May through mid-September is also the best time to spot humpback whales. While they’re not as big, they’re even more Insta-worthy thanks to their tendency to show off by breaching up to 40 feet in the air.

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Brown Bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska

3. Katmai National Park

Welcoming less than 35,000 visitors annually, Alaska’s Katmai National Park is one of our least visited national parks. For that reason, it’s one of the best to visit in summer if you want to avoid crowds. You don’t need to worry about traffic jams because it’s pretty much only accessible via plane or boat. And if you visit in the summer, when Alaska’s weather is finally tolerable, you can also see one of nature’s coolest phenomena: spawning salmon. Naturally, this brings out the bears. According to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, bear watching at the world-famous Brooks Camp is the best during the months of July and September.

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4. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Ohio’s lone national park is special because it’s the only one in the country that has a non-profit heritage railroad for visitors. Typically operating from May 1 through July 31, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is one of the best ways to see this riverfront refuge situated halfway between Cleveland and Akron. In June and July, trains run every day except Mondays and Tuesdays. Tickets for the two-hour tour are $13 for children and $18 for adults. Pro tip: Buy your tickets at the box office to save a few bucks on fees.

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Two hikers overlook Crater Lake in Oregon.

5. Crater Lake National Park

If your bucket list includes taking a dip in the deepest lake in the U.S., and one of the clearest in the world, you’ll have to visit Crater Lake National Park in the summer. This is when the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the park’s only trail providing access to the lake, opens for visitors (usually mid-June through October). It’s also the only time of year when you can fish in the lake or take a boat tour to Wizard Island. Note: If you do plan on swimming, follow park rules. To keep the lake pure, goggles, lifejackets, wetsuits (the lake only warms up to 60℉), watercraft and pretty much everything besides a bathing suit is not permitted.

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Purple wildflowers line a trail with snow-capped Mount Rainer in the distance.

6. Mount Rainier National Park

Like Glacier, Mount Rainier National Park is really only accessible in the summer months when the snow has melted. It’s also a late bloomer. While April showers bring May flowers in lower elevation national parks like Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier’s impressive flora (there are 871 species of plants within the park) isn’t at its finest until late-July or early August. Of course, it all depends on the weather, so it pays to check the park’s webpage for wildflower status updates. This summer, for the first time, Mount Rainier National Park is requiring reservations for the popular Paradise and Sunrise Corridors, both of which look stunning when carpeted with wildflowers.

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KOA Author Katie JacksonKatie Jackson is a writer and media specialist based in Montana’s Big Sky Country. Living and working everywhere from New York to Nicaragua, Katie is no stranger to adventure. When she’s not traveling the world (or writing about it!) she’s busy chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus. Follow Katie’s travels on Instagram @katietalkstravel.


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