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15 Great U.S. National Parks to Visit in May (+Tips)

15 Great U.S. National Parks to Visit in May (+Tips)

Wondering where to travel in May? Or looking for ideas for Memorial Day weekend getaway? Why not visit one of America’s National Parks in May!

May is a wonderful time for many National Parks across the United States! While the weather is getting really warm in the southern states, it’s usually not too hot yet in some of the most popular National Parks such as Zion, Grand Canyon, Arches, etc. At the same time, it’s already warm enough to enjoy the outdoors in many other parks a bit higher up north.

And while it can get quite busy in some places, in general, May is still a much quieter month in most national parks than the peak summer months.

In this article, we feature a mix of both – the best, most popular National Parks to visit in May, but also some less popular alternatives. And no, it’s not a complete list in any way, rather an inspirational guide that should give you some ideas on where to travel in May. Find out!

READ ALSO: Best National Parks to Visit in April

PRO TIP: If you are planning to visit several National Parks, get an annual America the Beautiful Pass. It costs 80 USD for the whole family traveling in the same vehicle and is valid in all National Parks and 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States for one year from the month of purchase. If you are visiting more than 2 parks, it’s cheaper than paying for each park separately.

American National Parks to visit in May
 

Here are some ideas for some of the best, but also lesser-known American National Parks to visit in May:

1. Yosemite National Park

  • Where: California
  • May temperatures in Yosemite Village: 45-71°F (7-22°C), but you can also get temperatures in the high 80s (30°C+), especially towards the end of the month.
  • Where to stay: The absolute best place to stay inside the park is Yosemite Valley, but there are just two hotels here: Ahwahnee Hotel and Yosemite Valley Lodge. A good alternative is Wawona Hotel. For more lodging options, check Yosemite West, just outside the park.

Together with September, May is considered one of the best months to visit Yosemite National Park. The weather temperatures are usually nice and warm, and it’s not too crowded. It will definitely be busy, but nothing compared to the summer crowds.

May is one of the best times to see the many waterfalls that Yosemite is famous for. The rivers are roaring and the waterfalls are at their absolute best at this time of the year! Don’t miss Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall, and there are countless others.

It’s often too early for wildflowers at higher elevations, but you may already see them at the lower elevations.

Mariposa Grove Road is normally open in May, so you can visit the Giant Sequoias. Just keep in mind that this is one of the most popular attractions in the park, so get there early in the morning!

Good to know: Because Yosemite gets lots of snow in winter, some roads and hikes will still be closed in May, whereas some others might reopen in the second half of the month. So, depending on when exactly you visit, you won’t be able to explore the park to the fullest just yet. On the other hand, everything should be open at the lower elevations (Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and Hetch Hatchy), and it’s not as busy as later in the season.

LEARN MORE: First-Timer’s Guide to Yosemite: Travel Info & Tips

Yosemite National Park in late May
Yosemite National Park in late May
 

2. Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Where: Utah
  • May temperatures: 33-63°F (0-17°C)
  • Where to stay: The Lodge at Bryce Canyon has a prime location and it opens for the season in May. Alternatively, stay in Bryce, where you can find good price/quality lodging options.

Bryce Canyon National Park is located at a higher elevation and so the best travel season here just starts in May. This means that most of the facilities will start to open up, but it won’t be too busy yet. However, it quickly gets busier towards the second half of May.

Best known for the orange rock columns (hoodoos), Bryce Canyon has some of the most unique landscapes you’ll ever see. The best way to admire this natural wonder is by visiting the viewpoints along the rim. Don’t miss the Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, and Bryce Point. The views here change depending on the light, so it looks different every time you visit.

Because the park is quite small and it’s easy to see the main landmarks in a few hours, most people only visit Bryce Canyon for half a day to a day. In fact, Bryce Canyon is usually combined with a visit to Zion National Park (more info about it below). But if you take the time to explore Bryce Canyon a bit deeper, you’ll likely have some of the most beautiful places to yourselves.

TIP: Go hiking in the Bryce Canyon. It’s warmer than at the Rim and there are fewer visitors here!

Bryce Canyon National Park in May
Bryce Canyon
 

3. Mesa Verde National Park

  • Where: Colorado
  • May temperatures: 43-71°F (6-22°C)
  • Where to stay: Far View Lodge is the only lodge inside the park. It’s open from May to mid-October. The best alternative with more accommodation options is Cortez town, about 10 miles/ 15 min drive from the National Park entrance. Durango is also a popular place for exploring the area.

Mesa Verde National Park is a place that most people visit in summer or in the early fall. The reason for this is the weather and the fact that ranger-led tours to the famous cliff dwellings only run during the peak season. Some dwelling tours start in May already, but the most famous one of all – Cliff Palace – only opens at the end of May.

If you don’t absolutely have to see everything in the park, then May is a good time to visit Mesa Verde National Park. The weather is generally mild and nice, and there will be fewer crowds than in the summer.

In addition to driving the scenic road with its overlooks, in May, you can also already visit the Wetherill Mesa area. (Wetherill Mesa Road usually opens by the beginning of May.) There, you can hike or bike the 5-mile Long House Loop. There are various overlooks from where you can see various dwellings including The Long House and Kodak House.

Good to know: Normally, Balcony House tours run in May already. In addition, you should be able to take a ranger-led tour of Long House if you visit after mid-May as well. However, the exact dates of when these tours run vary per season and you have to book a tour in advance. So check the official website for the most up-to-date information and tour bookings.

TIP: Mesa Verde National Park can easily be combined with a visit to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in Utah. It’s just about 2 hours drive from here to Moab. Further below, you can read more about Arches and Canyonlands National Parks – both are excellent destinations to visit in May.

Long House in Mesa Verde National Park in May
Long House in Mesa Verde National Park
 

4. Joshua Tree National Park

  • Where: California
  • May temperatures: 55-86°F (13-30°C), but it can get much hotter too. Luckily, it’s a dry heat and usually doesn’t feel too bad.
  • Where to stay: There is no lodging in the park, except camping. The best place to stay is 29 Palms, at the north entrance.

If you like outdoor activities and are looking for a warm place for your vacation in May, then consider Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California.

The shoulder season is one of the best times to be here weather-wise, and May is usually the last of the best months before temperatures become too hot to enjoy the park. For more comfortable temperatures, plan your visit in the beginning of May and start your activities early before it gets too warm.

However, spring is also a very popular time in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s busy at the most popular places and campings inside and near the park are often full. So avoid weekends if you can, arrive early, and try to get a bit off the beaten path.

The best things to do in Joshua Tree NP are hiking, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, or stargazing. Be sure to visit Cholla Cactus Garden (short easy walk), where many cacti and other plants might still bloom at this time of the year. For wildflowers in May, head to the higher elevations.

TIP: Stay at a hotel with a pool, so that you can relax and cool off after sightseeing in the afternoon. For example, Fairfield Inn & Suites Twentynine Palms or Sure Stay Plus by Best Western Twentynine Palms have a good location and nice pools, and there are several others nearby.

Joshua Tree National Park in May
Joshua Tree National Park
 

5. Arches National Park

  • Where: Utah
  • May temperatures: 50-80°F (10-26°C)
  • Where to stay: There is no accommodation inside the park. Moab town nearby has the best facilities. For more info, see our guide for the best places to stay in Moab.

May is one of the prime times to visit Arches National Park in Utah. The weather in Arches in May is usually perfect for exploring the park, and it’s usually not too hot yet. This allows you to truly enjoy the stunning scenery and everything that the park has to offer to the fullest.

However, May is also the busiest time in Arches (together with June). Looking at the visitor stats of the past years, I see that it’s often busier in Arches in May than in the summer months.

The main road through the park – Arches Scenic Drive – often gets congested and parking areas at the most popular landmarks fill up very quickly. So try to avoid weekends and be sure to arrive at the popular hiking trailheads very early in the morning.

Arches National Park is quite easy to explore as most of the main landmarks are located just next to the road. There are also some beautiful hikes and most of them are quite easy or moderate. The biggest challenge here is the heat and the crowds.

LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Arches National Park

 

TIP: To avoid the crowds, get up early and plan the most popular hikes like Delicate Arch either first thing in the morning or at sunset! Also, consider off-road tours that take you to the lesser-accessible parts of the park. One of our personal favorite things to do in Moab when it’s warm is to go rafting. See also our hand-picked selection of the best Moab tours for even more great activities here.

Good to know: Also the nearby Canyonlands National Park is a great place to visit in May (more about it further below). You can easily visit both parks in one trip, or even add the higher-mentioned Mesa Verde NP to your national parks trip as well.

READ ALSO: Guide to Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks

Arches National Park in May
The Windows arches in Arches National Park
 

6. Hot Springs National Park

  • Where: Arkansas
  • May temperatures: 58-80°F (14-27°C)
  • Where to stay: Hot Springs town has lots of accommodation options for all budgets.

If you are looking for a somewhat different national park to visit in May, consider Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

This place has it all – hiking and outdoors, but also historical bathhouses where you can relax in the hot spring waters. Furthermore, because the park is located in town, there are plenty of opportunities for shopping and dining as well.

The weather in May is pleasant for outdoors, although it can get humid and feel warmer than it actually is. However, for a place like this, the weather doesn’t even matter much as there’s plenty to see and do both inside and outside.

The bathhouses of Hot Springs, Arkansas, have been attracting people to the area since the mid-19th century. For a truly unique experience, go bathing at Buckstaff Baths that have been in operation for over 100 years!

A visit here is perfect for those who are looking for a more luxurious national park vacation that is not just about the outdoors!

Superior Bathhouse Brewery in Hot Springs Arkansas
Superior Bathhouse Brewery in Hot Springs
 

7. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon needs no introduction! It’s one of the most impressive natural wonders you’ll ever see. And the mild spring weather makes May one of the best times to visit the Grand Canyon (and other Arizona attractions)!

It might still get quite cold at the Grand Canyon at night, but the daytime temperatures are ideal for hiking and exploring. Please note that it’s much warmer inside the canyon than it is at the rim, so prepare well and carry plenty of water if you tackle any of the longer hikes!

The best place to visit is the South Rim where you can see some of the most iconic viewpoints over the Grand Canyon. Here, you can also take helicopter tours and it’s one of the bucket-list experiences that everyone should do at least once!

Good to know: If you want to visit the North Rim of Grand Canyon, come after mid-May as the road there is closed before that. Another nice place to visit if you have more time is the Grand Canyon Skywalk in Grand Canyon West.

LEARN MORE: One Day in Grand Canyon (all the ‘musts’ and practical info for your trip)

Grand Canyon in May
Grand Canyon
 

8. Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Southern Colorado is another beautiful place to visit in May. Best known as home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, this park actually has a very diverse landscape. In addition to the dunes, you can see grasslands, wetlands, forests, and even alpine lakes. It’s also known as a great place to go stargazing.

Late spring is one of the best times to visit the dunes of Great Sand Dunes NP. Earlier in the season, it can still snow and the winds are higher. And in the summer, temperatures of the sand surface can soar to over 150°F (65°C) and afternoon storms with lightning are quite common… However, summer is better for the alpine areas of the park…

Anyway, coming here in May, you should be able to enjoy most of what this national park has to offer. Explore the dunes or go hiking at on one of the forested trails. Sandboarding and sandsledding are also popular and you can rent the equipment at various locations nearby.

Late May and the beginning of June is the best time to experience the ‘surge flow’ of Medano Creek. When there’s enough water, you can float down the waves on flat inflatable toys – it’s great fun for the whole family. But this also means that end of May and early June are the most popular times at the park and visitor numbers surge.

TIP: If you are visiting Great Sand Dunes in the end of May, try to avoid weekends!

Great Sand Dunes National Park in May
Great Sand Dunes National Park
 

9. Canyonlands National Park

  • Where: Utah
  • May temperatures: 46-78°F (8-25°C)
  • Where to stay: There is no lodging inside the park. See our guide on where to stay near Canyonlands for more information.

Canyonlands National Park is another wonderful nature destination to visit in May! The park is stunning, not as busy as most other popular national parks in the area, and spring weather is usually great for everything that the park has to offer!

That being said, it can get quite warm here in May already, especially if you would go more off the beaten path and visit the lower areas. So if you are off-roading or doing any strenuous hikes, be sure to check the most up-to-date conditions and weather forecast.

The park is huge and divided into several different areas. The most popular place to visit in Canyonlands is the Island in the Sky district. It’s a rather compact area with paved roads, so very easy to visit on your own. There are stunning overlooks and several short and easy hikes allowing you to appreciate the phenomenal scenery of the Canyonlands. Don’t miss the Mesa Arch!

LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park

TIP: Canyonlands is just a short drive from Arches National Park. Also, The Needles district of the park is not far from Mesa Verde National Par. So you could make a nice road trip exploring these three parks (or even more places if you have time). See also our Moab itinerary suggestions for some ideas on how to plan your time.

Grand View Point in Canyonlands National Park
Grand View Point in Canyonlands National Park
 

10. Petrified Forest National Park

  • Where: Arizona
  • May temperatures: 45-80°F (7-26°C)
  • Where to stay: The best town to stay is Holbrook, AZ, about 25 miles/25 minutes drive.

Another great national park to consider for the month of May is Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. The winters here are cold and there’s snow, whereas the summers are very hot and it’s monsoon season… So the shoulder months are the best time to visit!

Petrified Forest NP is a very unique national park, best known for colorful ancient trees that date back to over 200 million years. Also the landscape with rainbow-colored hills of the Painted Desert is truly impressive. You can go hiking, biking, join a ranger-led tour, or simply drive through and stop at a few outlooks and points of interest.

The park isn’t that big and quite easy to visit. Part of the park is right next to I-40 and there are several stunning viewpoints here. Also the historic Painted Desert Inn (now a museum) is worth a quick visit. You can see some impressive Hopi murals here.

There is also a road that runs through the rest of the park, south of I-40. It offers lots of opportunities to get out of the car and explore a bit deeper. Don’t miss Puerco Pueblo, which is a site with the remains of a 12-13th century village. Newspaper Rock petroglyphs are interesting to see as well.

Whether you are traveling along the famous Route 66 and only have a few hours to spare, or you come here for a day or two, you’ll find plenty of interesting features that make a visit worthwhile! On the official website, you can find some suggested itineraries for any visit, from a few hours to a few days.

TIP: You could potentially combine a visit to Petrified Forest NP with the Grand Canyon NP, about 3hrs driving from here.

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
Petrified Forest National Park
 

11. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

  • Where: Texas
  • May temperatures: 50-67°F (10-20°C). However, a lot depends on elevation and it can be quite hot in some parts of the park.
  • Where to stay: There’s no lodging inside the park (camping available). The closest town to stay in is Carlsbad, NM about 50 miles/50 min drive.

Spring is the best time to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park and May is a beautiful month for that. The weather is usually nice and sunny, but normally not too hot yet. Perfect for hiking, which is the main activity in the park.

Mild temperatures allow you to explore the park to the fullest and maybe even hike up Guadalupe Peak. With 8,751 feet (2,667 m) elevation, this is the highest peak in Texas. If you are looking for something easier, choose one of the hiking trails that follow the canyons. However, keep in mind that it will also be much warmer at lower elevations.

Despite the fact that May is one of the most popular months in the park, it’s hardly ever busy in the Guadalupe Mountains. This national park gets a tiny fraction of visitors compared to the most popular parks in Utah or California.

TIP: You can easily combine your visit to Guadalupe Mountains National Park with that of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Another place to add to your road trip in the region is the White Sands National Park. All these parks are featured in our guide of the best national parks to visit in March where you can find more practical info for your visit.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park in May
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in May
 

12. Capitol Reef National Park

  • Where: Utah
  • May temperatures: 46-73°F (8-23°C)
  • Where to stay: Torrey is the best place to stay nearby.

May is a really nice time to visit another of Utah’s Mighty-5 National Parks, Capitol Reef NP. It’s generally nice and sunny and the weather is mild. Creeks and rivers have lots of water and it’s a season with lots of wildflowers.

While May is one of the busiest times in Capitol Reef NP, it’s never really crowded. This is one of the lesser-visited national parks in Utah, not comparable with Zion, Bryce, or Arches. Furthermore, the park is quite big, long in shape, so visitors spread out between different areas.

Capitol Reef National Park consists of three main areas: Fruita Historic District, North District (aka Cathedral Valley), and South District (Waterpocket). Every section is quite different, and even the weather might vary a lot depending on where exactly you go.

You can opt for one of the scenic drives, but the best way to explore the Capitol Reef is by getting outdoors. Go hiking, biking, rock climbing, canyoneering, fishing, or horseback riding. Don’t miss Cassidy Arch! Also the Capitol Gorge Trail, the Grand Wash Trail, and Fremont Gorge Overlook are some of the best hikes in the park.

TIP: You can easily combine a visit here with the other popular national parks in Utah featured in this guide.

Old Barn in Fruita, Capitol Reef National Park
Old Barn in Fruita, Capitol Reef National Park
 

13. Mammoth Cave National Park

  • Where: Kentucky
  • May temperatures: 55-80°F (12-27°C)
  • Where to stay: The Lodge at Mammoth Cave is a simple accommodation right next to the visitor’s center. There are more lodging options in Cave City and other areas just a bit further away.

Kentucky has a moderate climate and May is a nice time to visit. However, if you are here just for the Mammoth Cave itself, the weather outside doesn’t even matter much.

While there are many activities in Mammoth Cave National Park, the highlight of the visit are, of course, the Mammoth Caves themselves. This is the longest known underground cave system, consisting of more than 400 miles (640 km) of explored passageways.

There are various cave tours that you can choose from. The shortest ones take just over an hour, and the longer ones – up to 2.5 hours. Most tours are really easy and are suitable for all ages. You can find a complete overview and more information here.

TIP: If you are not flexible with the timing, it’s best to reserve a tour in advance. Especially when visiting in spring or fall as that’s the peak season for cave visits.

Good to know: In addition to the caves, there are many other things to do in this national park, and May weather is perfect for that. You can go hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, etc. For more ideas for things to see and do, please check the official website of Mammoth Cave National Park.

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky USA
Mammoth Cave National Park
 

14. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

  • Where: Big Island, Hawaii
  • May temperatures: 71-84°F (21-29°C)
  • Where to stay: You can stay anywhere on the island and easily visit the park from there. Book well in advance!

While Hawaii is truly a year-round destination, late spring is one of the absolute best times to visit. So if you are looking for a nice vacation in May that has a great mix of nature, culture, and beach time, then definitely consider Hawaii.

Big Island is home to one of the best-known national parks of Hawaii – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And even though the 2018 Kīlauea volcano eruption changed the scenery here forever, this park remains one of the most special places on the planet!

Drive the Crater Rim Drive and be sure not to moiss Nāhuku – Thurston Lava Tube. The Chain of Craters Road brings you past impressive lava fields. Near Kilauea’s crater, you’ll find steam vents and smell the sulfur gas rising from the ground…

TIP: If you are not sure where to go and want to make the most of your visit, you can also explore Hawaii Volcanoes NP with an organized tour. There is a big variety of tours available. Check out this great tour that visits underground lava tubes!

And, of course, you don’t go all the way to Hawaii just for one National Park, no matter how special. So be sure to spend some time at the beach, go snorkeling, or whale watching.

You can also opt for an island-hopping trip and visit several Hawaii islands at the same time! If you are looking for another great place, Haleakalā National Park on Maui Island is another great addition to the selection of national parks to visit in late spring! You can read more about it in our guide of national parks to visit in April.

Lava cave in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Lava cave in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
 

15. Zion National Park

  • Where: Utah
  • May temperatures in Zion Valley: 52-84°F (11-29°C)
  • Where to stay: Springdale hotels offer the best value for the excellent location just at the park entrance. Be sure to book early as May is already peak season in Zion!

The spring and the fall are the best seasons to visit Zion National Park, and the month of May is no exception. While it can already get quite warm down in the valley, the weather is usually perfect at the higher elevations. May is also one of the driest months with sunny skies and beautiful warm weather for outdoor activities.

Most hikes should be open in May, and you can usually enjoy them before the temperatures get scorching hot in summer.

TIP: Be sure to check the official website for the most up-to-date conditions before you set off to explore. Even if the weather is perfect, some hikes might be closed for construction works or other reasons.

May is a very good time to see waterfalls, but that also means that the water levels in the Virgin River will likely be quite high. Therefore some hikes may not be possible this time of the year. For example, the Narrows hike usually opens towards the end of May, but this is completely dependent on the water levels.

Good to know: May is the beginning of the peak summer season in Zion, so all the facilities are open. However, it can get extremely busy, especially if you visit Zion around Memorial Day weekend. If you can, avoid weekends, and start your day as early as possible!

READ ALSO: Hiking in Zion: Best Hikes & Tips

Zion National Park in May
Zion National Park
 

So, this is our selection with suggestions for some really nice National Parks to visit in May.

Of course, there are many other stunning nature destinations and great National Parks to visit in late spring. But if you’re looking for ideas for where to go, I hope that you found plenty of inspiration in this article.

TIP: For more ideas for traveling in late spring – early summer, take a look at our similar guide for the month of June. Many of the parks featured there will be nice in May as well. Check it out via the link below!

READ ALSO: Best National Parks to Visit in June

More travel inspiration for American National Parks:

If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin these images!

American national parks to see in May
Best and less known national parks to visit in late spring
 

Images: Depositphotos.com

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Carol

Friday 7th of May 2021

Thanks for all this information! It will help make our visit to the parks in Utah very enjoyable!

Jurga

Friday 7th of May 2021

Enjoy the parks, Carol. Just one thing - I saw that Zion is working with an obligatory shuttle reservation system this year, so be sure to check that if you are planning to visit the Zion Canyon or do any hikes there. See the official website for more info and be sure to book the tickets as soon as they are released as the demand is huge. And if you can't get the ticket, you can still visit other places in Zion or take a bike/ walk in the canyon instead of taking the shuttle. Have a nice trip!

Claire Sullivan

Sunday 28th of March 2021

Thank you. I love your travel inspiration. Cannot wait to get out there again.

Jurga

Monday 29th of March 2021

Same with us, Claire! Can't wait to be traveling again.

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