By Randy Yagi
As temperatures slowly rise up all across the country, it can be a perfect time to enjoy America’s great outdoors. In fact, springtime is quite possibly the best time of the year to travel, particularly to any of the 58 national parks, with its radiant wildflowers still blooming amid moderately pleasant temperatures, and most certainly smaller crowds in advance of the busy and oftentimes far more hectic summer season. Whether it’s a day trip or an overnight stay, travelers still have a multitude of options for outdoor activities and lodging regardless of any advance reservations. For a few choice recommendations, here is a brief introduction to five must-see U.S. national parks to visit this spring.
Arches National Park
Moab, UT 84532
Although onsite camping is closed through October due to ongoing park maintenance and there aren’t any dining or lodging facilities available, Arches National Park is well worth a visit and particularly in the springtime. Located in southeastern Utah, Arches encompasses over 76,000 acres and is best defined by its wealth of stunning red sandstone formations, particularly the park’s signature attraction, the instantly recognizable Delicate Arch. But April and through May is also the best time to enjoy an impressive spectrum of wildflower colors, with species like pallid milkweed, dogbane, prairie sunflower, dwarf lupine and many others. Other popular outdoor activities to enjoy before the much hotter and busier summer months include horseback riding, nature photography, cycling on the paved and unpaved roads and hiking to some of the park’s other prominent geological formations, like Balanced Rock, the Double O Arch and Landscape Arch, the longest natural arch in the park and among the world’s longest. Visitors seeking overnight accommodations can stay at one of the many campgrounds bordering the southeast perimeter of the park, as well as in the popular community of Moab, where more than 25 hotels and motels can also be found. Known as one of the world’s best mountain biking destinations, Moab is also not far from Canyonlands National Park for more sightseeing and outdoor activities, as well as one of the finest resort hotels in the country, just across the Colorado border at Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa.
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Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park, CA 95389
Among the world’s oldest and certainly among the most popular and most famous, Yosemite National Park is often cited as the top springtime destination amongst all national parks. Not only is the park home to some 1,450 species of flowering plants, it’s also home to some of the world’s most famous waterfalls, including one of the highest in the country, Yosemite Falls and a diverse collection of invertebrate species, including fish, mammals, reptiles and birds. What’s more, due to a drought-breaking rainy season, the peak runoff for Yosemite’s most prominent waterfalls may extend well past May or June and into the busier, heavily trafficked and more crowded summer season. Also universally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful places on Earth, Yosemite National Park also has several other iconic landmarks and attractions to marvel at, such as the massive granite formations of El Capitan and the legendary Half Dome, the sweeping vistas of Glacier Point, the incomparable Yosemite Valley and the AAA Four-Diamond Majestic Yosemite Hotel, formerly and better known as the historic Ahwahnee Hotel. Additionally, the national park has other exceptional lodging options, like the Yosemite Valley Lodge and Half Dome Village, as well as RV parking and camping, with some available only on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Biscayne National Park
9700 S.W. 328th St.
Sir Lancelot Jones Way
Homestead, FL 33033
Not nearly as famous as its national park neighbor the Everglades, Biscayne National Park ranks among the most fascinating and unique segments of the National Parks System. Although this vast stretch of protected land covers more than 170,000 acres, 95 percent of this park is covered with water and contains a significant portion of the Florida Reef, the third largest coral reef in the world, as well as home to one of the largest mangrove forests remaining on Florida’s east coast. Also a premier destination for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving, Biscayne National Park is best accessible by boat or canoe, with local marinas at Herbert Hoover/Homestead Bayfront, Black Point, Matheson Hammock and Crandon on the island town of Key Biscayne, just a few miles south of Miami. The wet or rainy season begins in early May and extends through November and the weather is typically hot and humid with temperatures averaging 90 degrees. Nevertheless, the camping and docking fees are waived from May 1 to September for the first-come, first-served campgrounds on Elliott Key, the park’s largest island and Boca Chita, the most popular island. Other exceptional lodging is available in Miami, particularly the Mandarin Oriental Miami on Burlingame Island and in the South Beach area, such as Villa Casa Casuarina, formerly known as the Versace Mansion and Setai Miami Beach, not far from Lincoln Road, the premier shopping destination in Miami.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Home to the largest collection of wildflower species of any other national park in North America, the Great Smoky Mountains is a perennial favorite destination to visit in the springtime and all year. It’s also the most visited national park in America, drawing more than 11 million people last year and far outdistancing the second most visited park, Grand Canyon National Park. However, visiting this magnificent 520,000 acre park that straddles the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina, is more important than ever, as it and the neighboring city of Gatlinburg recovers from last year’s devastating fire that destroyed thousands of homes and buildings and burned nearly 18,000 acres of both public and private land. Wildflower lovers will especially enjoy many of the 1,500 varieties of flowering plants within this stunningly beautiful national park, although radiant spring ephemerals like violets, trillium and lady slipper orchids will be dormant by May or June. Nevertheless, the park will still present a colorful diversity of flowers well past the park’s recently completed Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage last month and throughout the equally popular fall season. The Great Smoky Mountains is also very popular for hiking, horseback riding, cycling and fishing and a variety of campsites options are available, such as backcountry camping and group campgrounds. Additionally, the gateway town of Gatlinburg offers dozens of lodging options, with such favorites like Jack Huff’s, the Lodge at Buckberry Creek and the Greystone Lodge, as well as a similar number of outstanding dining options.
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Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East
Luray, VA 22835
Among the country’s top destinations to visit during the springtime, Shenandoah National Park is home to more than 850 species of wildflowers as well as one of America’s most scenic and most beloved roadways. Although the vibrant flowering season began in early April, a significant portion of the park’s most frequently seen species bloom into early May, while other vibrantly colored species like violets, wild geranium and bluets can bloom into mid or late June. Encompassing an area of nearly 200,000 acres within the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains and extending across eight counties, this national park can be best enjoyed by driving along the 105-mile long Skyline Drive, which extends north to south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and providing extraordinary views of the Shenandoah Valley and the park’s mesmerizing natural beauty at every turn. Located about 75 miles southwest of both Washington D.C. and Lexington, Virginia, Shenandoah National Park has four entranceways, two visitor centers and and lodging facilities, including Big Meadows Lodge, Skyland and Lewis Mountain Cabins as well as three campground sites that just opened in early May.