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These 6 U.S. National Parks Are Perfect For A May Visit

There’s something truly magical about U.S. National Parks in May, aside from the possibility of running headfirst into nature’s version of a pollen storm, of course.

Picture this: wildflowers blooming like nature’s own fireworks display, wildlife shaking off the last vestiges of winter lethargy, and fewer people blocking your selfies with the surrounding nature.

My travel partner and I, being the intrepid explorers we fancy ourselves to be, have wandered, stumbled, and frequently traversed national parks around the U.S., including 3 of the parks on this very list.

Trust us when we say that choosing the right park in May is like picking the right kind of coffee bean for your morning brew – utterly crucial.

So, for those of you pacing your living rooms, agonizing over where to spend your time, fear not. You’re about to get the insider scoop on where to plant your hiking boots this May.

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

great sand dunes national park with sand dunes in the foreground and a large moutain in the background at sunset
Credit: Depositphotos

If you’re itching for a visit to Tatooine but your spaceship is in the shop, Great Sand Dunes National Park is your next best option.

Here, the dunes tower over you like gentle giants, some reaching up to 750 feet tall – that’s like stacking 50 elephants on top of each other if you’re into that sort of thing.

These sandy behemoths are the tallest in North America, offering a playground for sandboarders and dune buggies. And before you ask, no, you can’t keep a dune, no matter how much you want to.

The park doesn’t just boast sand, though; you’ll also find alpine lakes and tundra, forests, and wetlands, making it a smorgasbord of ecosystems. It’s like nature couldn’t decide what to be when it grew up.

Plus, the park offers a rare natural phenomenon – the “surge flow,” where streamflow behaves like ocean waves.

To Do In Great Sand Dunes On A Visit:

  • Star Dune Shuffle: Strap on your most durable sneakers for a trek up Star Dune. It’s not just a walk in the park; it’s the tallest dune in the playground, and reaching the top feels like winning a game of King of the Castle, except here, your kingdom really is a pile of sand.
  • Medano Creek Surf’s Up: Forget the ocean; May is prime time for the surge flow at Medano Creek. It’s perfect for those who want to splash around and wade in the shallow water. You can also try your hand at surfing those inland waves like you’re auditioning for a low-budget surf movie.
  • Forest to Frolic: After you’ve had your fill of sand in your shoes, why not take a leisurely hike through the forested areas? The Montville Nature Trail is a scenic jaunt where you’re more likely to encounter wildlife than WiFi signals.

2. Acadia National Park, Maine

the view from cadillac mountain in acadia national park with the water in the background behind the rocky hilltop of the mountain
Credit: Depositphotos

Acadia National Park is where the sea meets the mountains, and if you listen closely, you can hear them arguing over who’s prettier.

Hugging the jagged coast of Maine, this park boasts some serious views without needing to slap on a filter.

It’s home to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak on the U.S. Atlantic coast. Early birds on the mountain get more than the worm; they get to claim they’ve seen the first sunrise in the U.S. for half the year (October to March), which is a pretty neat bragging right.

And for those who thought Maine just did lobsters, the park’s 158 miles of hiking trails say, “Think again.”

Whether you’re zigzagging across the Precipice Trail or meandering along Jordan Pond, Acadia turns even the most screen-addicted into an avid outdoors person, one breathtaking view at a time.

To Do In Acadia On A Visit:

  • Sunrise Salutation: Wake up before the birds to hike up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. While May won’t technically be the “first sunrise,” you will still have an incredible view of the event and will avoid the crowds who think 5 AM is a mythical time invented by morning people.
  • Tea House Trek: Venture along the Jordan Pond Path for a leisurely stroll that circumnavigates the serene scene. Reward yourself at the end with popovers at Jordan Pond House. Yes, that’s right, a hike that ends with eating. You’re welcome.
  • Rock Scrambling Rendezvous: For those who like their hikes with a side of adrenaline, tackling the Precipice Trail is a must. It’s more vertical than horizontal, with iron rungs and ladders bolted into cliffs. Just remember, it’s not a fear of heights; it’s a deep respect for gravity.

3. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

some of the cliff dwellings within the stone walls of mesa verde national park, surrounded by green trees under a blue cloudy sky
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

Mesa Verde National Park is like stepping into a time machine, minus the need for flux capacitors.

It was here that the ancient Puebloans didn’t just live with the land; they literally carved their lives into the cliffs.

This park boasts over 600 cliff dwellings, with Cliff Palace being the most jaw-dropping. Just imagine entire communities nestled in alcoves, accessible only by climbing ladders or inching along rock ledges.

And these ingenious constructions weren’t just homes; they were fortresses, granaries, and sacred sites.

Plus, Mesa Verde offers a rare glimpse into the stars with its incredibly clear night skies, making it a haven for stargazers.

For the acrophobics among you (fear of heights), taking a jaunt to Cliff Palace might be a tad ambitious.

Our trek involved scaling a few ladders that were nothing short of heart-pounding, and that’s before mentioning the whole “peering off the edge of a cliff” bit. Definitely not recommended for the faint of heart or those with wobbly knees.

To Do In Mesa Verde On A Visit:

  • Cliff Palace Marvel Tour: Venture into the heart of Mesa Verde with a guided tour of the Cliff Palace. Explore the ancient architecture and ponder how they survived without Amazon Prime. It’s a humbling experience, especially when you consider your biggest challenge is assembling IKEA furniture.
  • Petroglyph Point Hike: Embark on the Petroglyph Point Trail for an intimate look at some of the park’s most intriguing rock carvings. It’s not just a hike; it’s a treasure hunt where the prize is ancient art, and you don’t have to dig through your couch cushions to find it.
  • Stargazing Supreme: Lay back and gaze into the cosmos from the Morefield Campground. It’s like attending a rock concert, but the stars are the headliners, and the Milky Way is your VIP pass. Remember, no flash photography; you wouldn’t want to blind the performers.

4. Olympic National Park, Washington

the coast of olympic national park with a large seastack and the sandy beach with glassy water
Credit: Depositphotos

If you’re someone who struggles to decide on just one type of vacation, Olympic National Park is your dream destination. It’s the ultimate triple threat, offering lush temperate rainforests, rugged mountain peaks, and a stunning coastline all rolled into one.

The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which should give you a hint about its global significance and sheer beauty.

Not to mention, it’s home to Mount Olympus, the park’s crowning glory, towering at an impressive 7,965 feet.

It’s also a paradise for hikers, with over 900 miles of trails — because why settle for just one type of terrain when you can have them all?

And for those fond of wildlife, the park is a sanctuary for species like the majestic Roosevelt elk and black bears.

A few springs back, we waltzed through Olympic National Park during May’s swan song, and, boy, did it put on a show.

Felt like we were VIPs with how uncrowded it was – we practically had the whole green kingdom to ourselves.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, a gang of elk decided to crash our party with a close encounter.

To Do In Olympic On A Visit:

  • Hoh Rainforest Hoedown: Trade your hiking boots for rubber boots and splash your way through the Hoh Rainforest. The Hall of Mosses Trail isn’t just a hike; it’s a full-blown immersion into a world where everything turns forty shades of green.
  • Beachcomber’s Delight at Ruby Beach: Forget diamonds; in Olympic National Park, it’s all about seeking the rubies. Well, not literal rubies, but Ruby Beach is a gem in its own right. Scour the shore for sea glass, driftwood, and the occasional starfish selfie. Just remember, tide pools are nature’s jewelry stores, and everything is just for window shopping.
  • Peak Peek on Hurricane Ridge: Dust off your binoculars and set your sights on Hurricane Ridge. Whether you’re into spotting black-tailed deer, marveling at the Olympic Mountains, or just snowball fighting in spring, Hurricane Ridge is your go-to for panoramic payoffs.

5. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

the hoodoos of bryce canyon national park fill the photo on a sunny day
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

Bryce Canyon National Park isn’t your average stroll in the park. It’s a riot of fiery red, orange, and white rock formations that look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a surrealist painter’s fever dream.

The park’s famous hoodoos – peculiar spire-shaped rock formations – stand tall, casting shadows that dance with the day.

It’s a landscape so otherworldly that NASA uses it for astronaut training, which makes sense because you’ll feel like you’re exploring Mars, minus the need for a spacesuit.

And with over 2.6 million visitors each year, it’s clear Bryce Canyon is doing more than just filling up space on Utah’s postcards; it’s capturing imaginations and challenging the ordinary with every sunrise that lights up the amphitheaters.

To Do In Bryce Canyon On A Visit:

  • Fairyland Loop Lunacy: Lacing up for the Fairyland Loop Trail as the sun cracks the horizon is not just a hike; it’s an initiation into the secret society of early risers. This 8-mile trek is less crowded than your average subway car during rush hour and offers views that could make your ex’s socials seem dull. Bonus points if you spot a pronghorn playing peekaboo.
  • Astronomy Amusement with the Rangers: Who needs a telescope when you’ve got Bryce Canyon’s rangers ready to give you a grand tour of the cosmos? Their Astronomy Programs are like mixing a science class with a comedy show under the stars.
  • Hoodoo You Think You Are Photography Tour: Grab your camera and join the park’s rangers for a photography tour at golden hour. It’s a chance to prove that your photography skills can indeed do justice to the breathtaking landscapes.

6. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

rolling hills of theodore roosevelt national park with two wild horses in the foreground
Credit: Depositphotos

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the spirit of old Teddy himself seems to roam the Badlands, whispering sweet nothings about conservation into the ears of buffalo.

This place isn’t just your average national park; it’s like stepping into a Western minus the tumbleweeds and cowboy duels.

And the wild horses aren’t just for show—they’re living proof that freedom and untamed beauty still exist in America’s backyard.

Spanning over 70,446 acres, this park is a tribute to Teddy’s vision of the great outdoors, offering a sanctuary for adventurers and animals alike.

Let’s not forget it also has a petrified forest that’s so old that it makes your grandpa’s jokes seem fresh.

So whether you’re gazing at the Painted Canyon or listening to the wind’s ancient gossip, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is where legends walk and history talks.

To Do In Theodore Roosevelt On A Visit:

  • Maah Daah Hey Trail Magic: Hit the Maah Daah Hey Trail, a challenging trek that promises more ups and downs than a soap opera plotline. It’s like running a marathon, except the scenery is better, and there are no medals at the end—just bragging rights and possibly a few blisters.
  • Petrified Forest Phantasmagoria: Take a walk on the wild side with a jaunt through the Petrified Forest. It’s like visiting a tree museum, where the exhibits are several million years old, and the curators are long extinct.
  • Buffalo Babble at Painted Canyon: For a more leisurely adventure, meander through the Painted Canyon Visitor Center trails and chat with the local buffalo. They’re great listeners but don’t expect scintillating conversation in return.

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