Our favourite US national parks by season

05 September 2018

The USA has 60 breathtaking protected national parks that are perfect for nature-lovers and outdoor adventurers of all ages but that are all unique in their own right. We’ve shared our favourites by time of year along with our favourite things to see and do in each.

Autumn: Grand Canyon (Arizona) and Yosemite (California)

In the ‘fall’, trees in the Grand Canyon National Park are decked in leaves in shades of maple, amber and pumpkin against the breathtaking backdrop of the rust-coloured canyon itself. Temperatures in the desert are mild at this time of year, and autumn is also rutting season for many of the large mammals such as elks, moose, antelopes and bison, so this is a great time to see wildlife. With children back at school, the crowds have diminished too.

Yosemite National Park also has fewer tourists and less traffic in autumn, but colours blaze and daytime temperatures are comfortably warm. Be blown away by Yosemite Falls, the highest in North America at 739m, and by the gorgeous Yosemite Valley with its high meadows, crystalline lakes, ancient giant sequoias and evergreen forests.

“Yosemite itself is spectacular. We were glad we chose to go on an organised tour on our first day as we got to see all the major attractions - El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls…. Our guide was extremely informative and brought along his telescope, so we could see the climbers on El Capitan and the people who had hiked to the top of Half Dome.”

- Joanne, Travel Counsellor

Winter: Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska), Everglades (Florida) and Death Valley (California and Nevada)

Spanning 1.5 million acres, the Everglades National Park is a crucial wetland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and the only place on Earth where crocodile and alligators co-exist. More than 70 other endangered and threatened species include the Florida panther, sea turtles and manatees. Coming in the dry winter season means you can avoid the heat, humidity and biting bugs of summer. Wildlife viewing is also at its best as the waters dry up, and birds are migrating here from all over the USA.

Grizzly bears, moose, caribous and wolves can all be seen in the snow-coated raw wilderness of Alaska in winter and you avoid the manic crowds of summer. You can also trek into 6 million acres of tundra, boreal forest and ice-capped mountains – Park Road is the perfect place to start a hike and your best bet for seeing Denali’s iconic peak. Winter activities here include skiing, winter-biking and snowshoeing.

A world unto itself, Death Valley is the largest national park outside Alaska and, with its sand dunes rolling for miles against the distant towering mountains, combines the desolate with the mesmerizing. Sedimentary Badlands, volcanic craters and cinder cones seem to appear from nowhere. Look out for big-horn sheep, coyotes, kangaroo rats, endangered desert tortoises and roadrunners, as well as the hundreds of plant species that exist – 21 of which are found only in Death Valley. Winter is peak season, with mild and comfortable desert temperatures. You may even be lucky enough to see the early blooming of wildflowers if there’s been a lot of rainfall.

Spring: Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee–North Carolina)

This World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve with its 130 native tree species – as many as on the entire European continent – gets its name from the smoke-like haze covering the mountain range, a result of the hydrocarbons exhaled by leaves. Get a glimpse into Appalachian life by visiting the preserved log buildings in the valleys, and look out for white-tail deer, coyotes, turkeys and black bears. Spring means fewer people, lovely temperatures and stunning wildflowers in bloom.

Summer: Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana and Idaho) and Glacier (Montana

The USA’s first national park, Yellowstone with its 2.2 million acres contains half of the world’s geothermal features, including Old Faithful geyser, the travertine-terraced Mammoth Hot Springs and Grand Prismatic Spring with its brilliant rainbow colours. Summer is the loveliest time to visit: the weather is great, the wildflowers are in full bloom and this is the prime time for viewing the park’s youngest wildlife.

A dramatic landscape, with Rocky Mountains looming over lush meadows, the million-plus-acre Glacier National Park is also home to Triple Divide Peak along the Continental Divide, large alpine lakes and hundreds of smaller lakes, glacial tarns and the unspoiled Flathead River. It’s part of the largest intact ecosystem in the USA, as all its plant and animal species have survived intact, including grizzly and black bears, grey wolves, wolverines, Canadian lynxes, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and moose. In summer, roads and trails are accessible and there are longer days and warmer weather for outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, hiking, horse-riding and floating down the Flathead.

To book your American adventure, contact your Travel Counsellor today.

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