K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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As a lover of our national parks, I’ve spent time in many of them, from Alaska to Florida. Summer can be a great time to enjoy these spectacular protected areas and their wild beauty, but you might want to avoid those subject to extreme heat. This is the perfect season to explore places that may be too cold or too remote to reach in the winter or head to parks that are less visited to avoid crowds. When planning your summer trip, consider one of the fabulous destinations that will immerse you in nature while providing a wide range of possibilities for outdoor adventure.
One of the country’s most remote national parks, getting to Lake Clark requires a boat or plane as there are no roads that will take you there. Many people visit on a day trip from Homer, with a flightseeing bear tour such as Scenic Bear Viewing, one of the most unforgettable ways to explore it. This unspoiled wilderness area is one of the most stunning in the world, with three mountain ranges, four active volcanoes, rainforests, and numerous rivers and lakes.
One of the highlights of Lake Clark is getting to see the bears. The park is home to a large population of Alaska brown bears, also known as peninsular grizzlies. They love to feast on the clams in the bay, and at low tide, you can walk out and be surrounded by them as they dig, eat, and occasionally enjoy some roughhousing in between. It’s an experience of a lifetime, and as the expert pilot/guide will tell you, seeing humans is a regular part of the bears’ daily lives in the summer. A strict set of rules is followed to ensure both people and bears are safe with no attacks over the three decades they’ve been visited.
Denali National Park and & Preserve is one of the country’s largest national parks, covering 6.1 million acres of remote, rugged wilderness centered around North America’s tallest mountain, Denali, at 20,310 feet. You’ll find lots of things to do here in addition to the mountain that’s so large it creates its own weather. That means that it’s often hidden behind the clouds so you’ll want at least a few days here if you hope to spot it. You might spend them hiking the trails in the Savage River area, embarking on a whitewater rafting excursion, and taking an e-bike tour. The Tundra Wilderness tour will bring you deep into the park for the best chance to view lots of wildlife. Just some of the animals you’re likely to see include moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and Alaska brown bears.
Glacier National Park has a short time frame for enjoying it all. One of the top attractions is Going-to-the-Sun Road which runs through its heart. It doesn’t open until right around the start of summer and often closes by mid-September due to snow. That makes the summer season a must for your visit – you’ll see lots of waterfalls, turquoise lakes, rushing rivers, towering mountain peaks, and lots of colorful wildflowers. When enjoying a scenic drive on the famous road, there are almost always mountain goats soaking up the sun along Logan Pass, right next to the roadway. You’ll find miles and miles of hiking trails, opportunities for boat cruises, and paddling, with Swiftcurrent Lake popular for kayaking too.
While winter is a great time to visit Mount Rainier National Park for skiing and boarding, if you want full access to the park, come in July or August. The crown jewel here is, of course, Mount Rainier, a glacier-capped, active volcano that can be seen from hundreds of miles away. It’s the tallest singular peak in the Lower 48 at 14,410 feet tall. Sunrise Road, one of the main roads through the park, doesn’t open until late June or early July. If you come in mid-July through mid-August, you’ll see the lower slopes blanketed with wildflowers. There are numerous hikes to enjoy with a large network of trails, from short and easy treks like the Tipsoo Lake Loop that winds through wildflower meadows while providing views of Mount Rainier to the 93-mile Wonderland Trail.
One of the most diverse national parks in the country, visiting Olympic National Park means you can climb peaks as high as 8,000 feet, swim in a sapphire lake, stroll through old-growth rainforests, and walk wild beaches strewn with gnarled driftwood. The wildlife watching is epic on land, in the sky, and in the Pacific too, with everything from deer, elk, and mountain goats to bald eagles, northern pygmy owls, whales, seals, sea lions, and sea otters. This is a wet place, there’s no escaping that, but that’s what makes it gloriously lush and green with moss-draped trees and lots of waterfalls. Summer is the warmest and driest time to come, but you can avoid the biggest crowds by visiting in July, as August typically brings the highest number of visitors.
Acadia National Park lies where the mountains meet the longest coastline in the country, offering striking natural beauty and the opportunity for a wealth of outdoor adventure. It encompasses over 47,000 acres, spread across Mount Desert Island, Isle au Haut, and the Schoodic Peninsula while showcasing the Atlantic coast’s tallest mountain, Cadillac Mountain. Visitors can hike to the 1,530-peak to take in a colorful sunrise and a panoramic view over Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, and the Porcupine Islands. It’s also possible to drive to the summit via the 3.5-mile winding road. Hiking, mountain biking, and paddling along the rugged ocean shoreline and across sparkling lakes are all popular here.
Countless visitors head to Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer, but most overlook the stunning Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The crown jewel of this awe-inspiring place is the nearly 2,000-foot-deep canyon, with the steep angles of the cliffs preventing much sunlight from getting through. Shadows cover a significant portion of the canyon walls, and some are perpetually dark, inspiring the canyon’s name. It’s removed enough from civilization that it sees relatively few visitors, but those who come can enjoy breathtaking views, hike, and check out the local flora and fauna. The fishing is outstanding here too, with the Gunnison River that flows through the canyon designated as Gold Medal Waters. Blue Mesa Reservoir nearby offers great lake trout fishing as well.
Crater Lake National Park is home to the country’s deepest lake at nearly 2,000 feet deep. The water is often still and reflects the sheer cliffs that surround it like a huge, intense blue mirror. It sits within Oregon’s only national park, and most visitors come to drive the scenic 33-mile-loop Rim Drive, which is only open from June through mid-October. A myriad of warm-weather activities can be enjoyed in the summer, including fishing, swimming, hiking, and boating.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the least visited wonderlands in the West, as Sunset magazine once noted. While some 3.3 million visited Yellowstone in 2022, just 400,000 visit Lassen annually. It offers similar features to Yellowstone, including groups of fumaroles and hot springs, along with tranquil alpine lakes, meadows dotted with wildflowers, and mountains with soaring jagged peaks. Sulpher Works is a highlight with boiling mud pots in a hydrothermal area that’s easy to reach right off the 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. From the highest point on the roadway, marvel at the majestic Lassen Peak.
Nearly half of Voyageurs National Park is made up of water, and it offers some 655 miles of unspoiled shorelines and 900 islands. It’s a natural water playground during the warmer months, with visitors getting around on everything from canoes and kayaks to houseboats via the network of interconnected waterways and lakes. Hiking, fishing, swimming, and wildlife watching are all possible. It’s a birdwatchers’ paradise with around 240 species identified here, including the common loon, whose haunting call can often be heard throughout the park.
Summer is the best time to visit Alaska, and you’ll be far from the type of crowds seen in the most popular parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone by visiting Kenai Fjords National Park instead. The charming town of Seward is just a short drive away, providing an ideal base, and from there, you can even join a wildlife cruise that travels into the park to admire the spectacular beauty and rich wildlife, including whales, seals, sea lions, and sea otters. The park is home to the Harding Icefield, spanning about 714 square miles of ice that’s up to a mile thick while feeding nearly three dozen glaciers. The hike to Exit Glacier will provide a close-up view of Exit Glacier with its dense, blue ice while listening to the sounds of its crackle. The trail passes heather-filled meadows and climbs above the tree line for a panoramic view over the ice field.
If you’re looking for pleasant summer temperatures without the crowds, scenic hiking trails, water activities, and wildlife like moose, Isle Royale National Park is a great choice. One of the least visited national parks due to its more difficult accessibility, reached only by floatplane or boat and closed during the colder months of the year – it’s home to unspoiled wilderness for immersing yourself in nature. In addition to hiking, there are opportunities to canoe, kayak, fish, and even scuba dive. If you want to stay overnight, camping is available, but it can easily be enjoyed on a day trip by hopping on the Isle Royale Queen IV from Copper Harbor, Michigan, or the Seahunter III from Grand Portage, Minnesota. Seaplane service is available from Hancock, Michigan, and Grand Marais, Minnesota.
While summer draws the most visitors to Channel Islands National Park, it’s unlikely to be too crowded, and it’s really the best time to visit. Located just off the central coast of California, it’s one of the state’s least visited national parks, accessible only by the park concessionaire boats or private vessels, most of which depart from Ventura harbor. Made up of five uninhabited islands, the archipelago is often referred to as the Galapagos of North America, teeming with wildlife, including blue and humpback whales that ply the waters in the summer. The northern fur seals and California sea lions start pupping this season, and there is a wide range of activities to enjoy too. Kayak through the sea caves, snorkel or dive among abundant marine life, or hit the trails for an epic hike.
You won’t miss the crowds by visiting Grand Teton National Park in the summer, but even during the busy season, there are plenty of peaceful experiences to be found while enjoying idyllic temperatures, typically around the mid-to upper-70s. It will be much more tranquil than Yellowstone, and there are a vareity of trails winding into remote areas where you might enjoy the scenery practically all to yourself. Paddling and scenic drives are possible too. Wildlife enthusiasts will want to keep an eye out for moose, elk, black and grizzly bears, wolves, and all sorts of birds, including bald eagles and pelicans.