By Aaren Prody
Once the chill of winter starts to slowly slip away into spring, I am eager to explore the outdoors as soon as possible. While a handful of national parks are still dethawing during the springtime, there are some parks that are perfect candidates for a road trip with ideal temperatures, thinner crowds, and plenty of eye candy. So, if you’re keen to kickstart your adventures early or enjoy the stillness of this time of year, these are my top three national park recommendations to visit in the spring!
Zion National Park
The shadows in the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel gave us a brief moment of silence as we awaited the reveal of one of the most visited national parks in the country. As we contemplated the construction of what was coined an “improbable route” in the 1920s, our eyes squinted at the sheer magnitude of the hundred-foot-high canyon walls with a coursing river flowing between. Hungry for adventure, we followed the switchbacks into the park.
Southern Utah is one of my favorite hubs in the American Southwest. The striped sandstone cliffs towering over lush valleys make Zion, also known as the “Heavenly City,” a haven for those looking to bring on summer faster when the spring months come rolling in. Once the snow melts and runs off the canyon walls, into the Virgin River, you’ll be able to spot waterfalls—like on the Emerald Pools Trail. The waterfalls will be most powerful during this time of year since everything will dry up come summer. April also brings vibrant wildflowers like desert marigolds and Slickrock Indian paintbrushes that bring contrast to the burnt orange canyon walls.
There are many incredible ways to experience this awe-inspiring park, but the best way, as with any national park, is to hit the trails. Some of my favorite hikes in Zion are the Canyon Overlook Trail, Observation Point, and the Watchman Trail. The Zion Human History Museum has both permanent and rotating exhibits, which feature artifacts dating back as far as 7000 BCE, making Zion the oldest national park in Utah! For a more leisurely visit to Zion, drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway or Kolob Fingers Scenic Byway.
Yellowstone National Park
The repetitive thuds of my heart sang a song in my chest as I watched the massive, brown-coated bear sway on the dirt trail, pursuing the route back to her bush of berries. This was just the introduction of my encounters with Yellowstone’s other inhabitants. The powerful stances of frost-covered bison, the intensity in the eyes of a mighty elk, and the car-sized moose grazing in the fields made me feel infinitesimal.
Take advantage of the quieter spring season and explore Yellowstone—the world’s very first national park. Known as the “Disney of the National Parks,” a visit during the cooler months helps you avoid masses of tourists. Aside from fewer visitors, the waterfalls and rivers flow powerfully during this time. There are baby animals roaming left and right, and as the snow melts, you’ll be able to witness the park burst into a rainbow of hues while the mountains in the distance remain snow-capped. It’s any photographer’s dream. As massive as Yellowstone is, it would take a week or two to cover the entire park, but the best sights to see are the Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful Geyser, Lamar Valley, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Other exciting spots worth exploring are Artist Point, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Yellowstone Lake. During spring, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has wildlife in most areas of the park with bison, moose, black bears, grizzly bears, elk, and almost 300 species of birds. You’ll likely see most of the wildlife, especially bears, in the park at lower elevations since that’s where the snow melts first. Spotting wildlife is one of my favorite things to do in national parks and it requires little effort to see incredible things in Yellowstone. The park’s history dates back over 11,000 years, so be sure to explore historical locations like the Old Faithful Inn, Norris Geyser Basin, and the Northeast Entrance Station as they are key to understanding what makes this park so special.
Olympic National Park
Mud and moss squished quietly between the soles of my shoes as the Hoh Rain Forest Loop expanded in front of me—resembling the pages of a storybook.
West of Seattle is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in the National Park Service. Olympic National Park holds nearly one million acres of vast wilderness, rich human history, glacier-capped mountains, one of the largest temperate rainforests in the lower forty-eight, and miles of rugged coastline.
During the spring months, the Hoh Rainforest boasts vibrant moss-coated trees and sun-filled skies. If you go in the morning, the sun rays flowing through the forest will be an experience you’ll never forget.
Then, take a drive up to Hurricane Ridge and try to spot Mt. Baker, or take a stroll across the many picturesque beaches: La Push, Shi Shi Beach, Ruby Beach, or Second Beach. Hiking opportunities are plentiful, especially when it comes to waterfalls. Another name for the Olympic Peninsula is “The Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls,” so pack your waterproof gear and head to the Trail of Waterfalls to step into a temperate fairytale in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula.
Springtime is a beautiful season to travel in the United States before all the hustle and heat of summertime comes around. While you’re on your journey, be sure to talk with rangers for more in-depth advice while you’re in any of these parks. The knowledge they have is invaluable and has always taken me to amazing spots. Happy springtime travels!