5 National Parks to Visit this Spring

Aside from being beautiful and good for your possibly-soot-caked lungs, national parks offer other bonuses as well: they’re inexpensive to enter, many offering camping opportunities, and they’re pet friendly.

11/04/2013 by Erin Owensby

5 National Parks to Visit this Spring

It may not seem like it now, as you sit in your office on the third floor of your largely concrete office building or look at the line of customers quickly forming in front of you, but the United States is actually full of natural beauty. Every state has relatively untouched gems in the form of national parks, and spring is a wonderful time to strap on your hiking boots and get to know them.

Aside from being beautiful and good for your possibly-soot-caked lungs, national parks offer other bonuses as well: they’re inexpensive to enter, many offering camping opportunities, and they’re pet friendly (if traveling with Fido is your cup of tea). If your idea of camping is staying at the Holiday Inn, you’re also in luck – March through May is shoulder season for a lot of regions that are primarily summer destinations. That means hotels, restaurants, attractions, and other pursuits involving cash are available at half their normal prices, sometimes even less.

Check the usual travel websites for discount hotel offerings – and then go look at the hotel’s website. Many times, smaller, local hotels will offer specials through their websites in order to compete with the big chains. And when you’re visiting national parks, sometimes the only hotels within miles and miles of the entrance ARE small, local businesses.

For a gorgeous springtime experience, try visiting the following national parks. Book before May, and you’ll be able to take advantage of the parks AND the local area before their high summer season starts.

Zion National Park/Bryce Canyon/Grand Canyon

Located in southern Utah, Zion National Park and the surrounding area can easily eat up two weeks of vacation. Bryce Canyon to the northeast and the Grand Canyon to the south are within 3-4 hours of each other and are easily drivable through some of the most beautiful southwestern scenery there is.

Traveling to the southwest during the spring is advisable for three reasons. One, it’s hot during the summer. HOT. As in smell-the-rubber-on-the-soles-of-your-shoes hot. Traveling during the spring allows you to be outside longer in milder temperatures, which hang around the pleasant 80s to low 90s. Two, spring is the rainy season in this area, which means the canyons walls are dripping with wildflowers and lush growth. You won’t see that sight any other time of year. Three, the area can be expensive, especially at the Grand Canyon area resorts.

See the same thing, in better weather, with lighter crowds, for less money. There are camping and outdoor activity options galore, and if you are the type that likes to drive through and see nature from the comfort of your car, or you are traveling with those who have physical limitations, you will be equally impressed.

Shenandoah National Park

Spring is a time for nature to renew itself, and Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is a shining example. Visitors can almost literally watch spring in bloom in one of the United States’ best wildlife viewing parks.

Unlike many parks, which are full of difficult hikes that are safe only for seasoned outdoors veterans, almost anyone can meander across the valley floor of Shenandoah National Park. During the months of April, May and June, the valley is bathed in color from the wildflowers and flowering trees, and wildlife enthusiasts can see a variety of migrating birds and newborn animals.

Nature walks, biking and fishing are just a few of the activities offered in the park and surrounding areas, although it might be a bit chilly at night still for the more casual campers. Never fear, though, because the opportunity to soak up the unspoiled atmosphere from a small cabin in the woods more than makes up for it.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Speaking of cabins in the woods, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Tennessee and North Carolina is the perfect place to find one and settle in. This national park is home to more wildflower species than any other in the country, and nearly all of them are bursting into bloom this time of year, when the snow-melt from the mountain peaks saturates the ground. Because these flowers can only be seen for a few months a year, the park hosts the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage each year to get visitors in touch with the colorful blooms.

The GSMNP is a hiker’s dream, with more than 800 miles of hiking trails ranging from very easy to whatever-you-do-don’t-trip. Springtime at this elevation is still a bit cool, but a couple layers of light clothing will have you set for a day of outdoor activities or just basking in the natural beauty of the area. Although not widely advertised, the GSMNP is home to some of the United States’ most gorgeous waterfalls.

If you’re looking for a longer trip with some of the most amazing scenery you will see anywhere, the Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The best part? It’s FREE to enter the park. The only fees are for camping or overnight backpacking trips.

Although they aren’t filled with giant roller coasters or teenagers walking around in cartoon character suits, national parks are great for vacationing with the family or embarking on a rigorous outdoor journey. There’s a reason they were preserved in the first place. They’re all either free or inexpensive (we’re talking $5-$20 for a WEEK for coming and going at leisure) and they offer opportunities for some real family interaction.

They may not offer non-stop stimulation (or perhaps they do, if you’re the thrill-a-minute mountain-climbing type), but rather a chance to get away from that, and spring is the perfect time to celebrate that glorious escape.

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