The Best National Parks to Visit in Spring and Summer

Do guided tours, go on hikes and gaze at the stars at these parks in Alberta, Washington, Utah and Newfoundland.

Gros Morne National Park, photo by DFeinman/iStock

North America’s national parks are particularly enticing at this time of year with the warmer weather, special programming and guided tours. Whether you’re into Sunday drives or hardcore hikes, here are four parks to visit this spring and summer.

1. Jasper National Park, Alberta

Best for: Alpine-lovers wanting high-altitude views without working up a sweat. A summertime drive along the 227-kilometre Icefields Parkway offers breathtaking views of glaciers, lakes and waterfalls.

Must-do: You can admire the Canadian Rockies from behind the wheel, but the Glacier Skywalk is an essential stop. The glass-floored pathway is 280 metres above the Sunwapta Valley, meaning you’ll get unbeatable views of the glacier.

Hot tip: Don’t rush. Make your drive leisurely and stop to see the many park highlights. You could make a weekend of it by driving the highway in both directions and spending the night at the rustic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge.

2. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Best for: Hardcore adventurers willing to put in physical work for the bragging rights. There are tough, beautiful trails aplenty in this park, which is located about three hours north of Portland.

Must-do: Choose a trail that will challenge with its mileage and elevation gain, such as the Gobblers Knob Trail. This 17-kilometre day hike has an elevation gain of more than 2,500 feet. Plus, it takes a certain type of person to hike close to Mount Rainier, an active volcano.

Hot tip: While Rainier is the park’s main draw, there’s more for visitors to explore. Crowds gather to gaze at the stunning wildflower meadows and to walk amongst the towering 1,000-year-old trees.

3. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Best for: Budding astronomers and lovers of the pristine night sky. While not a certified dark sky park, this protected area, a four-hour drive northeast of Las Vegas, is known for phenomenal stargazing.

Must-do: From late spring until the fall, Dark Sky Rangers lead educational programs multiple times a week. Don’t worry about packing your telescope, you can admire the endless night sky with the one provided by the rangers after hearing more about the stars, planets and Milky Way.

Hot tip: Plan your visit around the 18th Annual Astronomy Festival, this year from June 26 to 29. You’ll easily fill your time with activities such as constellation tours and guest talks.

4. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

Best for: Shutterbugs looking to add buzzworthy photos to their Instagram pages. Dramatic landscapes—think fjords, beaches, bogs and mountains—abound in this UNESCO World Heritage Site on Newfoundland’s rugged west coast.

Must-do: Between May and October, BonTours runs a two-hour boat trip on Western Brook Pond. Photograph the fjord’s glacially carved cliffs, waterfalls and rock formations, and learn about the area’s history and geography from the on-board guides.

Hot tip: Capture the fjord from a completely different angle on a guided hike with BonTours, which takes you to the top of the Western Brook Pond Gorge. From there, snap photos that showcase the depth of the fjord and expanse of the park.

[This story appears in the May 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine]