We’ve got some great ideas for visiting US National Parks in May. If you’re looking for US National Park vacation ideas, May is great time because spring break is over, the weather is getting warmer and hotel rates are generally reasonable until Memorial Day weekend.
We collaborated with other travelers who share their experiences visiting various national parks in May to help you make a list of places to add to your bucket list.
May is the perfect time to explore the beauty of US national parks. From majestic mountains and valleys to stunning coastlines, there are plenty of breathtaking sights that you can experience in the US national parks in May!
Use our US National Park Packing List to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for the activities you plan to do! Grab your free printable packing checklist by clicking the image below!
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Visiting US National Parks in May
Check out our guide for finding the best National Parks to visit by month. During each season and month of the year, national parks will have different activities and services available.
Here’s our list of must-see US National Parks to visit in May
Arches National Park in May
If you plan to visit Arches National Park in May you’ll need a timed entry permit to get into the park before 6am or after 5pm.
Don’t worry if you didn’t get a timed entry ticket. Just plan to enter the park before 6 a.m. One benefit to getting in the park early is you can see and photograph the sunrise at Arches National Park!
You can also plan to visit the park after 5 p.m. when again, you won’t need a ticket to get into Arches. The late afternoon and evening allows you to see and photograph sunset at Arches National Park, or enjoy stargazing at night!
In May it’s best to explore the Arches National Park hiking trails in the morning or evening when the weather is cooler. You’ll want to dress in layers since the mornings and evenings get cold in the high desert elevation.
Due to its remote location, accessibility, altitude and clear skies, Arches National Park is one of the best places to see the stars in the night sky. In May, you’ll be able to see and photograph the Milky Way.
Where to Stay Near Arches National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park in May
The daytime temperatures at Bryce Canyon in May are in the mid-60s which is perfect for outdoor activities. Due to the higher elevation at Bryce Canyon, you will want to pack and wear layers for the cool mornings and evenings.
The unique beauty in the park makes it a popular destination for photographing the Bryce Canyon views. When you drive the scenic road, be sure to go all the way to Rainbow Point and work your way back toward the amphitheater.
Hiking or horseback riding among the hoodoos at Bryce is a must-do experience. One of our favorite Bryce Canyon hikes is the Navajo Queen’s Loop.
Bryce Canyon is a dark sky park so be sure to take the time to stay out one evening to see about 7,500 stars in the sky. There are astronomy programs which include viewing the stars with a telescope, and full moon hikes at the park. Check the NPS website for the full schedule.
Where to Stay Near Bryce Canyon
Canyonlands National Park in May
Be sure to enter the park early or later in the afternoon to avoid the rush getting in the park when visiting Canyonlands National Park in May.
May is one of the best times to explore Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky and Needles Canyonlands.
You MUST also take a side trip to visit and photograph the views from Dead Horse Point State Park. It’s a short distance from the Island in the Sky entrance and worth the time!
Stargazing at Canyonlands is worth the effort to enjoy the park after dark!
Where to Stay Near Canyonlands
Capitol Reef National Park in May
Capitol Reef in May one of the best times to visit because the summer crowds haven’t arrived yet, the weather will be moderate, and the orchards will be in bloom!
If you enjoy hiking, be sure to explore the various Capitol Reef hikes. You’ll hike to arches, through slot canyons, and be rewarded with endless views. In May, you’ll want to dress in layers since the morning and evening temperatures get cold in this part of Utah.
Be sure to stop at the Gifford Home for some salsa, ice cream, pie, and cinnamon rolls. We recommend you do this early in the day before the yummy stuff is sold out. The Fruita district is a fabulous area to have a picnic, watch the horses and enjoy the wildlife strolling through the orchards. Continue past Fruita to explore the Capitol Reef scenic drive!
If you have a high clearance 4WD vehicle, then a drive out and back via the Caineville Wash Road to the Temples of the Sun and Moon is a fun half day trip. This part of the dirt road is maintained, but there are sections of rock ledges, washes and sand that require a higher clearance than a regular car. DO NOT venture out to Cathedral Valley if it’s been raining heavily. The washes will be impassible, and you don’t want to get stuck in a remote area that has no cell service!
Places to Stay Near Capitol Reef
Grand Canyon National Park in May
May is the perfect month to visit Grand Canyon National Park. Winters get snowy and cold and summers get horribly hot, but May is right in the middle. Nights and early mornings can be chilly, but the days are warm and pleasant.
The Colorado River is running well in the late spring, so it is a great time to take a whitewater rafting trip through the canyon.
The warm days also make for great hiking weather and this is the best time of the year to hike down into the canyon. The most popular trail from the South Rim down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom is the Bright Angel Trail. The hike, which involves going up and down a series of steep switchbacks, can get unpleasantly hot in summer. In May, though, it is lovely. Seeing the canyon from below the rim is an incredible experience and even if you don’t get a reservation for Phantom Ranch, doing part of the trail as a day hike is well worthwhile.
Grand Canyon is truly as grand as the name suggests, and experiencing it in the perfect May weather is seeing it at its very best. Photo and article by Parks Collecting
Grand Canyon Lodging & Tours
Grand Teton National Park in May
When planning to visit Grand Teton National Park in May keep in mind it can be an “iffy” time to go because the weather can be unpredictable. Be prepared for sun and snow. Keep your eye on the forecast, but at the least, you should pack and wear layers and have a fleece jacket, hat and gloves available.
There are also fantastic spots to photograph Grand Teton National Park for those who enjoy nature photography. The wildflowers and wildlife come alive in May at Grand Teton!
Our favorite places to see and photograph the beauty of Grand Teton is Schwabacher Landing, Oxbow Bend, Jackson Lake, Mormon Row barns, Signal Hill and the wildflower fields near Pilgrim Creek Road.
Where to Stay Near Grand Teton
Great Sand Dunes National Park in May
Located in southern Colorado you’ll find Great Sand Dunes National Park that offers an incredible combination of fun activities and wonderful views. This National Park is truly unlike any other in the United States, and you’ll have an epic adventure when you visit.
People go to Colorado to snowboard in winter. However, they also go to Colorado to sandboard in Summer! The Great Sand Dunes has ENORMOUS sand dunes that you can actually slide down on a sled or sandboard! There are a few rental companies located just outside the park, and please try a sled or sandboard, you will have the time of your life sliding down the huge dunes in the beautiful weather.
When you’ve had your fun on a sled or sandboard, then stop to have a picnic and enjoy the scene in front of you. Inexplicably, there are enormous sand dunes at the base of a staggeringly tall section of the Rocky Mountains. These two things combine with the great blue sky and make for an incredible landscape. Bring your camera when you visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. You’ll have the adventure of a lifetime and have some beautiful pictures to remember the trip. Photo and article by Ruhls of the Road
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in May
Nestled in the heart of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is the most visited National Park in the U.S., and for good reason. The park is free to enter, and it encompasses some of the most awe-inspiring mountains in all of America. While many people may think that the Smokies are at their best in autumn, I believe May is one of the best times to visit due to the temperate weather, low tourist traffic, and diverse array of wildflowers that bloom at the end of the month.
Growing up thirty minutes away from the Townsend, TN entrance to GSMNP, I was lucky to be able to visit the Smokies anytime I wanted. May is my absolute favorite time to visit the park because tourism is just starting to pick up, so the roads and trails are far less crowded than they are in the heart of summer or fall. By May, all of the trees are a lush green, and some of the most spectacular wildflowers in all of the park bloom in a small window between late-May and early to mid-June.
Brilliant orange flame azaleas, purple Catawba rhododendron, and pink and white mountain laurel blooms dot the landscape of many popular hiking trails in the park, adding pops of brilliant color to the mountains. So, as a local, I’m letting you in on a secret—visit the Smokies in May and you’ll be able to take in all the beauty of the park without having to worry about big crowds or sky-high hotel prices. You can thank me later!
Pro tip: if you want to extend your trip and explore some more incredible views nearby the Smokies, be sure to check out the Blue Ridge Parkway, which borders the north end of GSMNP and is also at its peak in May! Photo and article by The Adventure Feed
Great Smoky Mountains Lodging & Tours
Redwood National Park in May
May is the perfect time to go to Redwood National Park in California, when the rains have stopped and summer tourists have yet to descend.
Redwood National Park belongs to a network of national and state parks along the northern California coast that protect old-growth redwood forests in this region. These are massive, ancient trees–some more than 370 feet tall and 2000 years old–that awe adults and children alike.
Though the redwoods are the most famous feature, the many miles of trails in the park also wind along hills, coastlines, rivers and beaches. There’s a terrain for every taste, all of it gorgeous.
If hiking, biking or horseback riding the trails isn’t your style, you can raft and kayak the rivers or take a scenic drive. Along the way, you may see fields of lupine and other wildflowers, or wildlife such as Roosevelt Elk and seals. In May, you might even catch sight of migrating whales as you stand on the high bluffs edging the water.
Now if you’re looking for tropical weather, a visit in May may not be for you—temperatures top out in the mid-60s. For everyone else, the redwoods that have been standing for centuries are in northern California waiting for you. Article by Bella Bird Journeys
Shenandoah National Park in May
Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful year-round destination, but the Virginia park really shines in May. Mild mid-Atlantic weather is at it’s best in mid-to-late spring, with moderate temperatures and rainfall. Skyline Drive, which follows a ridge down the center of the park, is clear of ice and snow and lined with lush green foliage.
All of Shenandoah’s lodges, campgrounds, and Visitor Centers, which close in winter, are open by late May. These facilities make it easy to enjoy a day trip to Shenandoah National Park or to plan a longer multi-night visit. Happily, local schools are still in session and the tourist season has not ramped up to its full summer strength. Weekdays are especially quiet and welcoming in May and early June.
May weather generally creates excellent conditions on park trails. Spring rains are frequent enough to add drama and beauty to the park’s waterfalls. Virginia wildflowers like mountain laurel and azalea add beauty while green hills are a perfect backdrop to summit views and photos. Of course, rainy weather can arrive at any time, so be sure to pack a raincoat and waterproof boots to handle whatever nature throws your way. Photo and article by Fun in Fairfax VA
Where to Stay Near Shenandoah National Park
Yellowstone National Park in May
May is our favorite month to see raging Yellowstone waterfalls, watch active wildlife and enjoy the park without the annoying bugs!
But, when visiting Yellowstone in May, the weather can be very unpredictable. It’s common to enjoy sun and 60 degrees one day, then snow and bitter cold the next. Be prepared for rain, snow, wind and trails that are wet and muddy. Dress in layers, wear hiking boots, and carry a warm jacket.
We plan our trips to Yellowstone in May to see all the wildlife and their babies! It’s fun to see and photograph the bears with cubs and the bison with red dogs. But it’s so important to respect the wildlife and obey the guidelines so everyone can enjoy the experience, both humans and animals! Use our Yellowstone Vacation planning guide to help you plan your trip.
Places to Stay in West Yellowstone
Yosemite National Park in May
Yosemite National Park is located in central California near the Nevada border. The park has some of America’s most spectacular waterfalls, and they are at their peak in spring. As the snows melt on the higher slopes, the water comes pelting down with dramatic force into the lakes and rivers of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Some waterfalls spring up in unexpected places as the geology shifts, while others come back to thunderous life after the winter freeze every year, and they tend to be at their most impressive in May.
The most famous and among the easiest to access is Yosemite Falls, with a car parking area nearby, and paved paths leading to this force of nature, with water tumbling down 2,425 feet, sending sprays of water all around.
A steeper hike that’s worth the effort is the combined Vernal Falls-Nevada Falls trail. It’s one of the most powerful falls in the park, and walking alongside it, you’ll see rainbows and mushrooms growing on the rocks adjacent, but at times, it’s so noisy, you’ll have to shout to hear your walking companions. The hike is very steep, so take it slowly, and it’s from 1.6miles to 8 miles long, depending on when you decide to turn back. It can also be joined with the famous John Muir trail for long-distance multi-day walks through the park.
Article by Jetset Journeys → Check out Jill’s travel advice for travel planning!
Yosemite National Park Travel Tips
Zion National Park in May
Early and mid-May is a perfect time to visit Zion. The weather at Zion National Park in May is nice, school holidays usually start in late May-early June so the throngs of people have not shown up yet.
The valley of Zion Canyon surprises with green flora, crystal clear Virgin River, and abundant wildlife. If you have the opportunity to visit the park in May, you are sure to have an incredible trip, because it leaves you reconnected with nature and completely refreshed for your other adventures.
The primary benefit of visiting Zion in May is the breathtaking scenery. Enjoy the impressive red, pink and cream rocks of Zion, contrasted against the lush green ponderosa pine, quaking aspen, narrow-leaf cottonwood, douglas fir, and other plants. As the snow melts at high elevation, the Virgin River is fed with clean water, creating another mind-boggling contrast in the valley. Zion is particularly spectacular in the spring. The lighting in May can create marvelous sunrises and sunsets and is a great time for shooting outdoor photos.
ikonTypically, late May is the busiest time in Zion National Park, and you will definitely notice the crowds. This often results in long lines for the shuttle buses, and more limited parking than at other times of the year. To avoid the stress and hassle of navigating the busy National Park, and for help getting off the beaten path, you’ll want to go as early as possible and consider visiting Kolob Canyon, a more isolated area of the park. Here’s a list of Zion hikes without the shuttle! Photo and article by Mind The Travel
Where to Stay Near Zion