The US National Park System is one of the most well-known tourist attractions in the world, and for good reason! The national parks are bursting with incredible natural wonders and make for a great “outdoorsy” alternative to urban travel. There are a lot of national parks though, so when planning a summer vacation it can be a little overwhelming to choose which ones to explore. I’ve made it easy for you by putting together this guide on the 11 best national parks to visit in summer! For each park, you will find helpful planning information and insider tips on the top things to do.
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11 Best National Parks to Visit in Summer
I visited every single US national park with my husband during an epic 2017 road trip. We lived in a van for 7 months and you can see our national parks itinerary and route here. We have since gone on to visit many of the national parks numerous more times, so you can rest assured that our recommendations are from firsthand experience.
This blog post is all about the best national parks to visit in summer. You might think all national parks would be a great choice to visit in the summer, but I’d actually recommend saving some of the hotter desert destinations like Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona for the spring. If you’re looking for more national park inspiration, check out my recommended spring southwest road trip here, which visits Moab, Arches National Park, and Bryce Canyon. I also have guides on the other 3 seasons, check them out!
- 9 Best National Parks to Visit in Spring
- 12 Best National Parks to Visit in Fall
- 12 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter
And if you’re on a mission to visit as many national parks as possible, I suggest grabbing my free printable national park checklist!
Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is without a doubt one of the best summer national park destinations. Summer brings perfect temperatures, wildflowers, easier access to the backcountry, and tour operators that can help you do pretty much whatever you can dream of. With such a short season of good weather in Alaska, June through September is by far the best time to visit the park.
Kenai Fjords Location
Southern Alaska, near the town of Seward. Click here for Google Maps directions.
How To Get To Kenai Fjords National Park
The most common way to access Kenai Fjords National Park is by driving a car 2.5 hours south from Anchorage. Alternatively, a railway connects Anchorage and Seward during the summer months (May – September).
Where to stay in Kenai Fjords National Park
There are a few options of where to stay in nearby Seward to give you a good base to access the park. There are only a few hotels in the town but the Harbor 360 Hotel has the best views over the harbor as the name suggests and offers rooms with views over the harbor or over the mountains. Being a mountain town there are some great vacation rentals including wonderful cabins to chose from like this Swedish-style cabin named The Doll House, it is just outside of Seward within the National Park at Bear Creek. If you prefer to camp there are quite a few campgrounds in Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward City Campgrounds are a group of campsites managed by the city or head within the park to Lower Skilak Lake Campground. Book via The Dyrt and use my code Renee90 to get a free 90-day trial.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Kenai Fjords
Kenai Fjords National Park offers guests some of the most diverse activities in all of the national park system in the United States. Due to its proximity to the ocean as well as the mountains, you will not run out of things to do while in the Kenai Fjords/Seward area. Below you will find some of my favorites.
Due to the rugged and glacier-covered backcountry terrain, there are not a lot of maintained trails in Kenai Fjords National Park. In fact, there are two. The Exit Glacier Trail is a short and easy 2-mile roundtrip hike to the base of Exit Glacier. If you’re looking for something a little more strenuous, the 8-mile roundtrip hike up 4000 feet of elevation on the Harding Icefield is one of the most beautiful hikes in the whole National Park system. Check out our full guide on the best hiking boots for both women and men here.
See Glaciers on a Boat Tours
Taking a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park is a very popular tourist activity. There are multiple options for these tours ranging in length and distance from the Seward harbor, so find a time frame that works for you and book ahead if possible to avoid disappointment. On these tours, you will spend some time looking for wildlife, including whales, puffins, bald eagles, and more. You will also cruise up close to some of Kenai Fjords’ incredible tidewater glaciers, pretty amazing!
Take a Scenic Flight
With a park the size of Kenai Fjords, the only way to see most of it is by air. There are tour operators offering helicopter and small plane flights over the park and its expansive landscape. This 60-minute flight cruises over the Chugach National Forest. There is also a shorter, more affordable helicopter flight available with a 15-minute touch down on Godwin Glacier. The flights are definitely a pricey activity, but well worth treating yourself to this unforgettable experience.
But that’s definitely not all! There are many other activities available in the park that are worth checking out. Tour operators offer guided hikes through the rugged Kenai Fjords National Park backcountry, kayak tours to get up close and personal with the glacier, fishing tours, and more! The visitor center in Seward has a range of brochures for you to browse and find the best activities for you, but I highly recommend booking ahead if you can to avoid missing out. You can explore the canopy of Stoney Creek in the mountains on this aerial adventure tour, or if you prefer to stay on the ground take a wilderness dog sled tour and learn about dog mushing. Viator has a lot of options for you to book in advance.
Mount Rainier National Park
As a resident of Seattle I may be a little biased, but it’s hard to beat Mount Rainier National Park in the summer months. Due to heavy winter snowfall, a lot of the park is inaccessible until around June. Once that clears out, the wildflowers spring up and the park takes on a whole new life until it once again succumbs to winter’s slumber. John Muir once said “Of all the fire mountains which like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest”, and it’s hard to argue with him, it really is an absolute dream.
Mount Rainier Location
Mount Rainier is location approximately 2.5 hours southeast of Seattle, Washington. Click here for Google Maps directions.
Did you know? Mount Rainier is an active volcano! The pacific northwest is home to a long chain of volcanoes which provide hikers and mountaineers alike with incredible views, climbs, and memories.
How to Get To Mount Rainier National Park
The only way to get to the park is by personal vehicle. There are 3 main entrances to the national park, and two more without entrance stations. Which you choose to enter will depend on what you want to see, how long you have in the park, and your direction of travel. During summer weekends, traffic can get pretty crazy. I recommend entering the park as early as possible so you can secure a parking spot at your desired trail head or parking lot.
Where To Stay In Mount Rainier National Park
There are a few options to stay in the park, hotels are limited but there are a few hotels to choose from just outside the park. There are more options if you go for a vacation rental, most properties are rural cabins and there are some beautiful ones available. This spacious Chipmunk Cabin in the forest sleeps 6 and has a great outside space with fire pit and roomy seating. If you prefer to opt for camping there are a few campgrounds to pitch a tent. Cougar Rock Campground is near Paradise or pitch at Bumping Lake Campground for lakeside views. Book via The Dyrt for a free 90-day trial.
For more ideas on where to stay my Washingtons Cabins and Treehouses post has loads of options in the area.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier is a hiker’s paradise. There truly aren’t many places better for it in my opinion. The abundance of wildflowers in summer months, paired with views of the towering 14,000+ foot Mount Rainier is a sight to behold and keeps me going back multiple times each summer. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but below you will find some of my favorite hiking trails in each area of the park.
Explore The Paradise Area
There are many trails that leave from the visitor center at Paradise. My favorite is the Skyline Loop Trail, which is around 5 miles long (1,450 feet of elevation gain) and will take you through the best of the area and return back to where you started at the parking lot. There are a few nice, short trails worth checking out if you don’t have time to do the whole Skyline Loop Trail, including Nisqually Vista Trail and the Moraine Trail. Alternatively, you can just walk as far up the Skyline Loop Trail as you like and then turn around.
Explore The Sunrise Area
Similar to Paradise, Sunrise is a large parking lot with a visitor center and lodge. Multiple trails leave from here and it’s one of my favorite hiking areas in the park. For something short and sweet, I recommend the Silver Forest Trail (1.9-mile). Despite the name, you will not be stuck in a forest, but instead have open views of Mount Rainier for most of the way and come across a lot of wildflowers.
A hike to the Burroughs is something worth doing for those wanting to get closer to Mount Rainier and don’t mind some elevation gain. There are three burroughs, and you can walk just to the first, or as far as the third. Personally, my favorite views are from the second or third, so I recommend at least going that far.
Another popular hike in the Sunrise area is Fremont Lookout. This 5.6-mile roundtrip hike has gorgeous views of Mount Rainier. Keep in mind that it often gets large crowds, so go midweek and avoid holidays.
Explore Tipsoo Lakes
The Tipsoo Lakes area offers a couple of great hiking options with views that are to die for. Take the short and flat 0.8-mile roundtrip hike on the Tipsoo Lake Loop, or if you’re feeling a little more active you can complete the Naches Peak Loop Trail which is around 3.5-miles roundtrip.
Mount Rainier Roadside Views
If you can’t, or don’t feel like hiking, you’re in luck because Mount Rainier offers some pretty incredible roadside views throughout the park. You could spend a whole day entering via the southwest or northeast entrances and following the ring road around Mount Rainier. There are many beautiful roadside views along the way, and I recommend making stops at Sunrise, Paradise, Reflection Lakes, and Tipsoo Lake at the very least. If time allows, I definitely suggest adding on a few days to your Washington trip and visiting Olympic National Park while you’re in the state.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Next up on this list of the best national parks to visit in summer is Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky Mountain was the first national park that I spent a lot of time in after moving to the US. Living only an hour or so away, I visited the park often, taking advantage of its beautiful trails and roadside views. Although Rocky Mountain can be enjoyed in any season, without a doubt it is one of the best summer national parks in the country.
With the highest point in the park being Long’s Peak at 14,259 feet, you can imagine winter lingers here, but come July most snow has melted and backcountry travel becomes a lot more accessible. The park’s famous Trail Ridge Road, reaching an elevation of over 12,000 feet, is also accessible once again in summer and offers travelers an incredible drive between Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the West.
Rocky Mountain Location
Northern Colorado, around 1.5 hours from Denver Click here for Google Maps directions.
How To Get To Rocky Mountain National Park
There are four entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park, though the most popular by far is the Beaver Meadows entrance, around a 1.5-hour drive from Denver. If you don’t want to rent a vehicle, there is also a shuttle that runs from the airport in Denver to Estes Park, which is the gateway town near the entrance.
Where to Stay in Rocky Mountain National Park
There are a few hotel options to stay in the park if you look around Estes Park, Alpine Trail Ridge Inn is a great option close to some great hikes. If you want a private cabin there are plenty available including this Cabin on Fall River where you can sit on their swing in the trees and spot elk in the river. For campgrounds, you can find plenty on The Dyrt like Odessa Lake campground. Use this link for a free 90-day trial.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Rocky Mountain
There are many things to keep visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park busy in summer. The many lakes, rivers, mountains, and meadows offer guests access to a variety of activities no matter what you are into. There is even a tour specific to summer in the Rockies. Here are a few of my favorites.
Take a Hike
Summer hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park is hard to beat. There are so many lakes, valleys, meadows and peaks to explore on foot. Some of my favorite hikes in the park include Emerald Lake, Chasm Lake, Sky Pond, and Lawn Lake. If you are looking for just a short stroll instead, check out the Sprague Lake Trail, Bear Lake Nature Trail, and Lily Lake. All three of these are short, flat, and could be done by just about anyone. If you prefer a guide this tour takes you out to catch the sunrise and is led by a local historian and naturalist who has lived in the area for over 50 years. If you are less of an early riser the same guide offers an afternoon tour which can be customized by you depending on what you want to explore.
Summit a Mountain Peak
Colorado is famous for its culture around climbing the “14ers”. These are Colorado’s 58 peaks that are 14,000 feet or higher. Rocky Mountain National Park is home to one of them, Longs Peak. This is one of the most popular 14ers in the state due to its proximity to the large front-range cities. Don’t be fooled though, it’s no easy task. The standard Keyhole route is 15 miles and 5,000+ of elevation gain and has some exposed sections. This is an incredible adventure and one I highly recommend, but make sure you are prepared for the difficulties that come along with it.
Rocky Mountain National Park is famous for its high alpine fly fishing opportunities. The lakes and streams here have abundant trout of all sizes, just make sure to have the appropriate licenses before fishing in the state of Colorado and the national park. I always recommend catch and release practices to keep the fish stocks thriving.
TaKe A Horseback Riding Tour
There are outfitters that offer guided horseback tours within Rocky Mountain National Park. My sister and I did a full day tour which left from Estes Park, drove us into the national park, then we saddled up and enjoyed a scenic ride through some of the most gorgeous scenery. I cannot recommend this enough, especially if you’re a horse lover like myself!
Ride some of the longest ziplines in Colorado through the Rockies. You will zipline over 6,000 feet and soak up some sunshine while taking in the alpine views. All experiences are welcome including beginners. Remember to apply sunscreen before zipping off! Book your place here.
Crater Lake National Park
Another of the best national parks to visit in summer is Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in all of America (it’s a volcanic crater!) and one of the snowiest places in the US. It often takes until summer for all 43 feet of snow per year (on average) of it to melt. But, once the temperatures heat up and the ring road and amenities open for the season, this really is an awesome summer national park and one I recommend you throw on your road trip bucket list!
Crater Lake Location
South-central Oregon, about 4 hours from Portland. Click here for Google Maps directions.
How To Get To Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake can be accessed via its north or south entrance stations. Those driving 4 hours from Portland (OR) will enter the park to the north, while visitors coming up from California will likely be entering via the south entrance station. You could shave off travel time by flying into Bend (OR) and drive only 2 hours south from there, but typically flights will be more expensive than flying into a larger city like Portland or Sacramento. Compare flights using Skyscanner and Kayak for rental cars to find the best deals available.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Crater Lake
There are many things for visitors to do during the summer months in Crater Lake National Park. Temperatures typically hover around the low 70s during the day, making for perfect weather to recreate within the park. Here are some activities I recommend for your visit to Crater Lake.
Drive Crater Lake’s Rim Road
The famous rim road around Crater Lake National Park is 33 miles long and typically opens fully in July. It features 30 roadside viewpoints, 5 picnic areas, and access to many of the park’s hiking trails. While you could drive this in a little over an hour without stopping, I suggest allowing half a day to really stop and take advantage of those beautiful viewpoints along the way.
The National Park Service also offers ranger-led tours around the rim road in old school trolleys that depart from the visitor center. They take 2 hours and are narrated by rangers who tell stories and share information about the park. Definitely check this out if you would like to learn a little more about the park’s geology and history. More information on these tours here.
Bike Crater Lake’s Rim Road
Another great way to see the rim road is by bike. This will allow you to take it at a slower pace and really enjoy the views along the way. There are quite a few hilly sections though, so I recommend this mainly for more experienced riders.
Take a Hike
There are many amazing trails scattered throughout the park, most offering insane views of Crater Lake and the sprawling landscape in the distance. Some of my favorite hiking trails include the Garfield Peak Trail (3.4-miles) on the south rim, The Watchman Peak Trail (1.8-miles), Plaikni Falls (2-miles), and the Mount Scott Trail (4.2-miles) which is the highest point in the park.
Cruise To Wizard Island
During the summer months, it is possible to take a boat tour to get up close with Wizard Island, the large cone-shaped island in the Crater Lake caldera. There are 8 tours per day, 2 of which stop for 3 hours on the island itself. More information about the tours here.
Grand Teton National Park
It’s no secret that I LOVE Grand Teton National Park. In fact, after visiting every US national park in 2017, I ranked Grand Teton #1 out of all the parks. I recommend Grand Teton National Park in any season, but it is by far one of the best national parks to visit in summer. There’s just something for everyone. Whether you’re a hardcore adventurer, or just looking for a leisurely way to experience one of the most beautiful places on earth, Grand Teton has you covered!
Grand Teton Location
North-western Wyoming, near the town of Jackson. Click here for Google Maps directions.
How To Get To Grand Teton National Park
Due to its remote location, Grand Teton National Park is not the easiest to access. There is an airport in Jackson Hole which is right outside the national park, though it’s small and can be quite expensive to fly into. The next best option is to fly into Salt Lake City (Utah) and drive 5 hours to the national park. Alternatively, you can fly into Denver, but the drive from here is 8.5 hours and pretty boring. The final option is to fly into Bozeman (Montana) and drive down either through or around Yellowstone National Park.
Compare flights using Skyscanner and Kayak for rental cars to find the best deals available.
Where to stay in Grand Teton National Park
The hotel options in Grand Teton are really incredible with prices being less budget-friendly but definitely worth the splurge, Alpenhof in Teton Village has lodge luxury vibes and huge rooms, Super 8 by Wyndham Jackson is a little kinder to the wallet and is based in Jackson Hole. To rent cabins in the area you are more likely to find better options in Teton Village, like this bright and spacious condo with access to a pool and jacuzzi. For campgrounds in the area check The Dyrt, Gros Ventre Campground is a great option near Jackson. You can also check out my guide on how to find free campgrounds.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Grand Teton
Grand Teton National Park has no shortage of things to do in summer. Do you like water? No problem, there’s plenty of that. Mountains? Some of the most beautiful on earth. Wildlife? Grand Teton is full of it. Visitors to Grand Teton during the summer months really are in for a treat, though make sure you make lodging reservations ahead of time as it can get quite busy. Below are some of my top recommendations of things to do in Grand Teton National Park.
Explore Grand Teton By Water
One of my favorite things to do is rent a kayak from the Jenny Lake boat dock. Here you are up close and personal with the mountains, giving you some pretty epic views while you get a nice arm workout. You can also rent a kayak from Colter Bay if you prefer to explore Jackson Lake instead. For an arm friendly option take this 13 mile scenic float trip along Snake River.
One of the most popular activities in the park is going on a raft trip down the Snake River. This is a unique way to explore the park and to see things that those who stick to the roads won’t. There are a few tour operators that run these trips. Some include lunch, dinner, or just the float trip depending on your needs. A quick search on Get Your Guide or Viator will give you plenty of options to choose from.
Another great option to explore Grand Teton on the water is to take a cruise on Jackson Lake. Tours leave from Colter Bay and can be booked as a regular cruise, a breakfast cruise, lunch cruise, or dinner cruise. The dining cruises have you stopping on Elk Island to enjoy your meal, which is a pretty amazing experience! Click here for more information.
Finally, you might choose to take it slow and enjoy an afternoon by the lake. String Lake is a great place to spend an afternoon with the family enjoying the sun, going for a swim, paddleboard, or whatever else you might want to do. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Explore Grand Teton By Foot
There is no shortage of amazing hiking trails in this part of the country. Grand Teton National Park may in fact be home to one of the best trails in the country in my opinion, the Paintbrush Canyon to Cascade Canyon Loop Trail. This trail is around 20 miles and includes 4000 feet of elevation gain, so I definitely recommend it only for those with a high fitness level and hiking experience. With that said, it’s one of the absolute best hikes I’ve ever done, though my legs at the end might disagree with me haha.
Don’t worry though, you don’t have to hike 20 miles to enjoy the beautiful scenery in Grand Teton. The Bearpaw and Trapper Lake Trail is around 8 miles and a good one for most people. It’s flat and has some great spots to sit down for a picnic lunch and enjoy the surrounding peaks from the lakeside. This trail will also avoid some of the insane crowds at some more popular trails, while not sacrificing views.
If you’re just looking for more of a leisurely stroll, you can’t go wrong with the Hidden Falls Trail. Take the scenic boat cruise from Jenny Lake dock to the other side of the lake, then it’s only a 1-mile roundtrip hike from there to the waterfall. Once you’re done, jump back on the boat again.
Explore Grand Teton By Air
One of the most amazing things we’ve done in the area is to take a scenic flight over Grand Teton National Park. The pilot took us all around the mountain range and up to Yellowstone which was such a memorable experience. Unfortunately the company we used no longer operates, but you can still book this tour with another operator to enjoy the same experience. For those early risers there is a sunrise hot air balloon ride from Jackson Hole that provides champagne to toast the morning while cruising over Grand Teton and Snake River, which sounds pretty perfect!
Explore Grand Teton By Car
Grand Teton National Park is one of the most vehicle-friendly parks in the country. You can enjoy insane roadside views from pretty much any part of the park from the comfort of your own vehicle if that’s what you want to do. Some roadside stops I recommend checking out are Oxbow Bend, Signal Mountain, Jenny Lake, Schwabacher Landing, Moulton Barns, and Snake River Overlook. You can also take a safari tour with a guide to spot some of the wildlife in the park including eagles, deer, and the occasional bear.
Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale is not one of the most popular national parks, but its beauty surprised me on my first visit in 2017. This remote island on Lake Superior is only accessed by boat and chock full of amazing lakeside camping sites and an impressive population of moose (over 500!) Being so far north and bordering on Canada, this is a great national park to visit in summer after the frigid winter temperatures have passed. I recommend visiting later in summer after the annoying mosquitoes have moved on, my only grievance during my trip there during the month of June.
Isle Royale Location
Lake Superior, Michigan. Click here for Google Maps directions.
How To Get To ISle Royale National Park
Isle Royale is only accessed via boat and by people only, no vehicles. Ferries run from 5 different locations throughout Michigan and Minnesota. The fastest way to access one of these locations is by flying into Houghton County Memorial Airport, though flights are limited to one a day with United. Alternatively, you could fly into nearby larger cities like Green Bay (WI), Duluth (MI), or even larger cities a bit further away like Minneapolis (MI), Detroit (MI), or Milwaukee (WI) and drive up.
Where To Stay In Isle Royale National Park
All the campsites are park service ran and there are no hotels on the island. So read up on the beginners guide to backcountry camping and discover one of the beautiful lakeside sites.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Isle Royale
Being an island, Isle Royale is not your typical national park. Due to this, the landscape offers visitors some pretty unique opportunities that you won’t find at other national parks across the country. Below you will find some of my top recommendations for things to do during your visit to this beautiful island in the middle of nowhere.
Go For A Paddle
Isle Royale National Park’s many inlets, islands, and bays offer endless opportunities for experienced kayakers and canoeists. Due to the rough water that can strike at times, those with less experience are encouraged to explore one of the many inland lakes instead of the open waters around Isle Royale. Canoes and kayaks can be rented from both Rock Harbor and Windigo, or you can bring your own. More information here.
Did you know? Isle Royale is the only national park to close entirely for the winter.
Take a Backpacking Trip
During my visit, I opted for a 2-night backpacking trip around part of the island. This was an awesome experience and one I recommend for just about anyone. The terrain wasn’t all that difficult, and the views were gorgeous! I was even lucky enough to see a couple of moose during my journey. There are so many routes you can take, and your itinerary is only limited by your imagination (and availability).
I personally took the ferry to Rock Harbor (Suzy’s Cave is a popular hike here), then stayed the first night at Lane Cove, hiked to the top of Mount Ojibway on the second day, spent the second night at Daisy Farm Campground, and then hiked out to Rock Cove the third day. Both campgrounds offered beautiful views out over Lake Superior, but I especially loved Lane Cove because it was a much smaller campground and SO peaceful.
Fishing is a popular activity on Lake Superior and the Isle Royale area. There are fish in the inland lakes on Isle Royale, as well as plenty out in the open water in Lake Superior. The Rock Harbor Lodge offers fishing charters, or you can bring your own gear. Make sure to follow all regulations and get the appropriate licenses before fishing in Michigan waters.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park is one of the best summer national parks almost by necessity. Being so far north, winter grips this area of the country most of the year, leaving just a few short months for visitors to make the most of the area surrounding the tallest mountain in North America (over 20,000 feet!) Here you will find some of the best and most wild backcountry terrain in the world, incredible wildlife viewing opportunities, and an incredible view of the towering Mount Denali all throughout the park.
Halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska. Click here for Google Maps directions.
Where to stay in Denali National Park
Hotels are limited in the park but you can find some options close by. There are more options for cabin rentals ranging from super luxury to tiny woodsman cabins like this rustic Moose Cabin close to Cantwell. You can camp in the park itself and stay at Wonder Lake campground for lakeside sites.
How To Get To Denali National Park
Denali National Park is remote, around 4 hours driving time from Anchorage. Accessing the heart of the park is not as straightforward as most others. The only road into the park, Denali Park Road, is 92 miles long. A 15-mile paved section to Savage River can be driven by visitors in their private vehicles, but the only way to go the additional 72 miles is to take one of the buses operated by the National Park Service. These buses need to be reserved in advance. Find out more here.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Denali
Things are a little different in Denali. To make the most of your stay here, you really do need to plan ahead. Logistics are important to understand because showing up and expecting to get a campsite or drive wherever you want will end in disappointment. With that said, below are a few tips to get you started.
Take the Park Shuttle Bus
Being that the shuttle bus is the only way to get to the end of the only road in the park, it’s pretty much a must if you visit Denali National Park. There are multiple different shuttles, the narrated, unnarrated, and free bus. The narrated bus is definitely a cool experience as the driver will share interesting facts and history about the area along your journey. The unnarrated bus is cheaper and allows more flexibility for where you can get on and off along the way. From start to finish of Denali Park Road, the trip will usually take around 5 hours each way due to stops for wildlife, etc. The free bus only goes 15 miles to Savage River but is a good option for those without vehicles.
Personally, I did the narrated bus and really enjoyed it. We were lucky enough to see caribou, bear, and moose along the way and the driver stopped for us to view them for a while. Once we reached the end there are some short trails to some beautiful viewpoints to explore. Find more information about the buses here.
Camp at Wonder Lake
Wonder Lake sits at mile 85 on Denali Park Road and is the most desirable campground in the park. Reservations are required, and only 28 sites are available. It’s the closest campground to Mount Denali, and the views over Wonder Lake to the mountain on a clear day are absolutely breathtaking. This is also a great way to break up the 10-hour roundtrip drive required to get to the end of Denali Park Rd. Check here for reservation information.
Take a Backpacking Trip
Denali is one of the most beautiful places imaginable, and exploring the backcountry on foot is an excellent way to really experience its wild landscape. Despite the size of the park, there are only a few short-maintained trails. A backpacking trip will require some planning, route finding, and backcountry travel experience. With that said, experienced hikers will enjoy a unique backpacking trip that they are sure to remember for years to come. Make sure to read up on bear safety before you go.
Take A Scenic Flight
Another of my favorite things in Denali was taking a scenic flight. Mine left from nearby Talkeetna (Talkeetna Air) and flew over the mountains and glaciers. I cannot recommend this experience enough, though is it quite expensive so save some extra money for the trip if you intend to do this. Book it here.
Take a tour
There are some really great tours in Denali National Park to really explore more of the area. You can take an ATV adventure in the wilderness, or go ziplining through the tundra. If you want to be more water based you can book a rafting experience here on the Nenana River. You can also book a guided tour with a local naturalist to learn about the flora and fauna in the park. Find more tours here and here.
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is actually one of the least visited parks, though its beauty sure isn’t a reflection of that. Come summer, glaciated peaks and blooming wildflowers offer visitors truly mesmerizing views. It has even earned the nickname “America’s Alps” and if you visit you will understand why!
North Cascades Location
The park is located in Northern Washington, about 2 hours from Seattle. Click here for Google Maps directions.
How To Get To North Cascades National Park
North Cascades is relatively easy to access by personal vehicle, being accessible by a ~2-hour drive from the Seattle (WA) airport. There is one main highway that connects the eastern and western boundaries of the park called the North Cascades Scenic Byway, and it’s one of the most beautiful drives in the country!
If you fly into Seattle you can easily book a rental car to get to the park. Use Skyscanner for flight comparisons and Kayak to compare deals on your car rentals.
Where to stay in North Cascades National Park
Options for hotels are limited in the park with the Mt Baker Hotel being the main choice just outside the park in Concrete. There are more options for cabins and houses in the park, this Skagit River Retreat house is spacious with cathedral ceilings and uninterrupted views of the mountains. You can also camp in the park and there are a lot of campgrounds to chose from. Colonial Creek South Campground is a great option. Book on The Dyrt for a 90-day free trial.
Best Things To Do During Summer In The North Cascades
As I mentioned earlier, North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the country, despite being within a couple of hundred miles of Seattle. The reason for this could be because on the surface there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot to do in the park without some serious hiking. It lacks facilities and infrastructure that make places such as Yosemite so popular. With that said, what makes this place special in my opinion is its abundant and otherworldly beautiful hiking opportunities. Below are some of my favorite hikes and activities to do during my time in the park.
Take a Hike
North Cascades National Park really is a hiker’s paradise. There are endless trails to explore, of all lengths and difficulties. Those looking for an easier stroll might consider checking out the Rainy Lake Trail (2-miles) or Trail of the Cedars (1-mile). For the more adventurous, the views along the Heather-Maple Pass Loop Trail (7.2-miles) and the Sourdough Mountain Trail (10.4-miles) are pretty incredible. Another of my favorites is Trappers Peak (10.2-miles), though be mindful that is a challenging trek!
Check out my Beginners Guide to Hiking and What to Wear Hiking as a Woman for tips and packing essentials.
Stehekin is a beautiful, historic, and remote town located at the northern end of Lake Chelan. The only way to access it is by foot, boat, or plane. I recommend taking the Lady of the Lake boat to Stehekin and staying a night at the North Cascades Lodge. Here you have access to some great hiking trails, bike trails, fishing, a restaurant, and a bakery that is to die for. This is a really great overnight or two-day trip if you are in the area.
Drive The North Cascades Scenic Byway
If sticking to your car is more your thing, the North Cascades Scenic Byway takes you west to east across North Cascades National Park and beyond. The views are stunning, and there are quite a few stops along the way worth checking out. Don’t miss Diablo Lake Overlook for an insane view over one of the most turquoise-colored lakes you will ever see!
Glacier National Park
Without a doubt one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, Glacier National Park is one of the best summer national parks by far. Covered in snow for most of the year, Glacier really comes alive as the temperatures warm up, wildlife comes out, and the famous Going-To-The-Sun Road opens for the season.
Glacier is located in Northern Montana, about 35 minutes from the town of Whitefish. Click here for Google Maps directions.
Where to stay in Glacier National park
The better option for variety of choice is to book a cabin, there are plenty available ranging from tiny houses to huge luxurious cabins. Pocket friendly versions can be found like this timber cabin on the doorstep of the West entrance with a wraparound deck overlooking the forest, or this cottage that looks like something from a fairytale. If you prefer a hotel set up The Reclusive Moose Cabins at Columbia Falls are a good compromise.
There are also plenty of campgrounds available in Glacier National Park, The Dyrt has a good selection with reviews to help you choose the best for you. Many Glacier Campground on the east side of the park is at an elevation of 4,500 feet and beautiful views from each pitch, there are also a lot of facilities available on the site. Use my code Renee90 for a free 90-day trial for The Dyrt.
How To Get To Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is remote and quite far from any large cities. The nearest larger town with an airport is Kalispell, which is probably the most popular airport to fly into close to the park. From here it’s just a 45-minute drive to the West Glacier park entrance. You could also fly into Missoula, a larger city, and drive 2.5 hours from there.
If you fly in you can easily book a rental car to get to the park. Use Skyscanner for flight comparisons and Kayak to compare deals on your car rentals.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Glacier
With the giant St Mary Lake and Lake McDonald at either end of the park, a skyline of towering peaks, as well as countless rivers and streams, there’s no shortage of outdoor recreation activities available within Glacier National Park. Below are a few of my top recommendations of things to do in the park.
Drive The Going-To-The-Sun Road
If you are planning to do just one thing in Glacier National Park, it should be driving the Going-To-The-Sun-Road. This 50-mile scenic byway was completed in 1932 and runs connects the east and west sides of the park. It crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (6,646-feet) and travels by stunning mountain peaks, glacial lakes, cedar forests, and alpine tundra.
There are various pullouts and viewpoints along the Going-To-The-Sun-Road, as well as hiking opportunities for those who want to stretch their legs. Keep in mind that there are restrictions on the type of vehicles that can be driven along the Going-To-The-Sun-Road and there is no gas available anywhere in the park or along the scenic highway. Also note that due to a large increase in tourism to the park, as of 2021 you now require a ticket to drive the Going-To-The-Sun-Road. Click here for more information.
Go For A Hike
I’m sure you all know by now that I love hiking, and Glacier National Parks is one of my favorites for it! There are so many incredible hiking trails in this park and I have been blown away by every single one I’ve done. A few of my favorite more strenuous hikes include Iceberg Lake, The Highline Trail, and Grinnell Glacier. For something a little easier, Hidden Lake, St Mary Falls, and Avalanche Lake are good options. If you’re really looking for something more like a short stroll, check out Trail of the Cedars, Running Eagle Falls, and the trail around Swiftcurrent Lake. Due to the number of bears in the park, it’s a good idea to carry and know how to use bear spray.
Check out my Beginners Guide to Hiking and What to Wear Hiking as a Woman for tips and packing essentials, and my Hiking Shoes post will help with footwear choices.
Take A Boat Tour
Due to Glacier’s many lakes, there are 4 different areas from which you can take a boat tour. St Mary Lake, Lake McDonald, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier all offer boat tours, and they are an awesome way to get a unique perspective on the park that you won’t get from the road. If you are looking for a boat trip with more adrenaline you can also book a whitewater rafting trip finished off by a barbecue dinner on the riverbank, there is also a full day option for those with stamina! If you prefer something more sedate this scenic raft trip takes you along the calmer parts of the river so you can enjoy the scenery in peace.
Go Wildlife Spotting
In my experience, Glacier is one of the best places to spot wildlife. The most common that I have seen there are both grizzly and black bears, moose, elk, and bighorn sheep. One of the best places to spot bears in my experience has been driving the road to Many Glacier during dusk and dawn. Bring some binoculars or spotting scope to increase your chances! Bighorn sheep can often be spotted up near the Logan Pass parking lot.
Kings Canyon National Park
Nearby, but not as famous as Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon National Park offers a lot of the same epic views without the insane summer crowds that plague Yosemite. I visited for the first time back in 2017 and was blown away by the natural beauty there. I cannot wait to get back and dig even deeper!
Kings Canyon Location
Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, California. Click here for Google Maps directions.
How To Get To Kings Canyon National Park
There is only one road into Kings Canyon National Park, and that is Highway 180. The nearest commercial airport is in Fresco (CA) and about a 1-hour drive from the start of the park. The road into the part is windy, steep, and narrow. No vehicles beyond 22 feet are permitted. If you take a longer road trip, I would definitely recommend a Big Sur Road Trip while you’re in California, too!
Best Things To Do During Summer In Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon National Park is definitely a park where you need to do some serious hiking to really explore it in-depth. With that said, as long as you have a vehicle you will still be able to enjoy some really beautiful sights within the park. Below are some of my favorite things to do in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park.
Explore Zumwalt Meadows
My husband and I did the short loop hike around Zumwalt Meadows late in the afternoon and it was absolutely gorgeous. It was quiet and there weren’t many people around. We saw deer, watched as the last light of the day moved over the canyon walls, and enjoyed the sounds of birds happily chirping. The whole loop is around 1.5 miles and mostly flat, definitely a good one for the family!
Walk Through Grant Grove
Grant Grove, located near the park entrance, is a network of short trails that takes you through some incredibly tall and beautiful sequoia trees. There are signs that tell you all about the area and the trees within. General Grant, the second largest tree in the world, is also located within this area and is a sight to behold!
Take A Backpacking Trip
Kings Canyon National Park is home to one of the most scenic multi-day backpacking trips in the country, the Rae Lakes Loop. This hike is 41 miles long, and to complete you will require a sought-after backcountry permit. Permits can be hard to get as they are very limited, and this hike is very popular. You can find more information here.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Last, but not least, on this list of the best national parks to visit in summer is Lassen Volcanic National Park. In fact, it’s so beautiful that I ranked it as one of the most underrated parks after my trip to all national parks in 2017. Similar to other parks on this list, its high elevation means that it stays snow-covered a lot of the year. Come summer the temperatures will be a lot more enjoyable, and more of the park’s terrain accessible.
Lassen Volcanic Location
Lassen Volcanic is located in Northern California. Click here for Google Maps directions.
Lassen Volcanic Location
The closest major airport to Lassen is 3 hours away in Sacramento (CA). Most out-of-state visitors will be best to fly into there, rent a vehicle, and make the drive up. There are 2 main entrances, one to the north and one to the south, with one main road connecting them. There is a third entrance to the northeast, but it is one-way, unpaved, and only services just a small portion of the park. If you’re traveling from afar, I highly recommend adding a visit to Redwood National Park while you’re in Northern California.
Best Things To Do DUring Summer In Lassen
Once summer rolls around and the main road through Lassen Volcanic National Park opens, there is so much to keep visitors busy within the park. Lassen’s volcanic activity provides a unique look into the land’s geology, and its beautiful landscapes provide some pretty amazing views and hiking opportunities. See my top recommendations below!
Do Some Stargazing
With California’s high population, finding dark skies can be difficult in this state. It just so happens that Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the best places in California to find those dark skies. The park hosts the annual Dark Sky Festival in August. During this time you can join nightly presentations and constellation viewing hosted by professional astronomers. Alternatively, feel free to bring your own scopes and set up somewhere for the night. Not a bad place to be out in nature enjoying the stars!
Take A Walk Through Hell
Bumpass Hell, despite the name, is a beautiful part of the park that allows guests to get up close and personal with some of the incredible geothermal features in the area. The whole loop trail is 3 miles long and pretty easy, but you can just walk a short way and turn back if you don’t want to do the whole thing.
Summit Lassen Peak
Visitors can summit the park’s namesake peak, Lassen Peak, via a 5-mile roundtrip trail with 2000 feet of elevation. It doesn’t require any special mountaineering skills and is a well-traveled, popular trail. Those with decent fitness levels will have no problems as long as you bring some water and take your time. The views from up here are pretty amazing and it’s a great way to get your daily exercise!
Final Thoughts on the Best National Parks to Visit in Summer
I hope this guide gave you an idea of the best national parks to visit in summer! Leave a comment below if you have another park to recommend. That way we can all learn from each other’s travel experiences!
Great information! Mt. Rainer has been on the top of my list for a while now, I will have to check out the Tipsoo lakes!
It’s nice travel blogs and batter guidance for travelers.
I’m thinking of visiting North Cascades NP this summer and have the week after July 4th in mind as we’ll be in Seattle and this would be a great starting point. I’m wondering though if it’s still too early to drive the full North Cascades Loop and even go camping. Looks like the highway typically opens in May already (earlier than some roads in Mt. Rainier NP), but what’s your experience up there? Worth it or better wait?
Thanks so much for your thoughts!
Isn’t there a full service lodge on Isle Royale – the Rock Harbor Lodge? This post makes it seem like camping is your only option for staying on the island. Or was this lodge so new that it wasn’t there during your visit? Just wanted to check before planning a trip.