As spring is upon us and we’re not yet blistering in the heat of the summer, now is one of the best times for camper van travel. This time of year is typically less crowded because it isn’t quite peak road trip season, making it the ideal time for you to explore. The United States has some of the most beautiful national parks in the world. When deciding where to travel this season, why not consider one of these 10 must-see national parks right here in your own backyard? Keep reading to discover the 10 National Parks we recommend you visit this year.
Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina
Spring is a great time to visit the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The snow has melted, and seasonal flowers are in bloom. Visiting in May is just before the busy season of June, July, and August so you won’t have to deal with as many crowds is a must. Elkmont Campground is centrally located to a variety of hiking trails, as well as Laurel Falls with its beautiful waterfall and its evergreen-lined trails. There is also Clingman’s Dome. It is the highest peak in the Smokies. For other camping, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park has Frontcountry Camping which has 10 campground locations in the park.
Castle Mountains National Monument, California
The Castle Mountains National Monument in California has everything you could ever want in a van camping trip. There is the Mojave Desert, the Lassen Volcanic National Park, and Devils Postpile, just to name a few. There are only three campgrounds in Castle Mountains National Monument–Mid Hills Campground, Hole-in-the-Wall Campground, and Black Canyon Group and Equestrian Campground for those with groups of 15 or more. If you love nature and wildlife, this national monument is a must. Here you can see bighorn sheep, roadrunners, golden eagles, mountain lions, Gila Monsters, and more throughout this rugged yet spectacular landscape.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
There is nothing like watching the sunrise and sunset in the Grand Canyon as the views of the canyon are incredible. The best time to visit the Grand Canyon National Park is in the spring when the snow is gone, and the temperatures are mild. You will find camping options on the South Rim, North Rim, and at the bottom of the Grand Canyon as well. There are plenty of fun things to do also. You can try the mule rides, river trips, and bicycle rentals, depending on which of the areas you choose. If you are looking for boondocking, you can do so at the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument where you can camp for free in and around the monument.
Buffalo National Park, Arkansas
If you’ve never visited Northern Arkansas, you don’t want to miss it. The peaceful environment and the breathtaking scenery will make you feel like one with nature. There are many campgrounds perfect for van camping. Additionally, there are plenty of places to go and things to do near the Buffalo National Park such as paddling, hiking, horseback riding, or visiting some of the historic sites such as the Boxley Grist Mill. You could also visit the Buffalo River swimming hole that is located at the Ozark Campground.
Ocala National Forest, Florida
May and early June are the perfect time to visit central Florida because it’s after spring break and before the oppressing summer humidity kicks in. Silver Springs State Park in the Ocala National Forest might just be one of the most beautiful places on earth with its crystal clear blue water and tropical scenery. There are plenty of activities as well. Experience the glass bottom boat tours on the Silver River. More adventurous? Try hiking, paddling, horseback riding, geo-seeking, wildlife viewing, boating, and more. Once you’re done on the water for the day, you can visit the the museum, amphitheater, historic sites, interpretive exhibits, gardens, and playground. The Silver Springs State Park Campgrounds are great as well, with 59 spacious sites in two campground loops from which you can choose.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park, not far from Seattle, is a beautiful coastal forest that sits on a bluff that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. This million-acre ecosystem includes glacier-capped mountains, old rain forests, and 70 miles of coastline. Here you can boat or paddle on the rivers and lakes, fish, enjoy the tide-pooling, backpacking, wildlife viewing, and more. As far as van camping goes, Kalaloch Campground is oceanside and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It has 175 campsites; however, make sure you reserve your spot early or you might not get one. You can easily walk to the beach from Kalaloch to see the sea birds and other marine life. Of course, there are numerous other parks and area attractions to explore as well.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park is nestled in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. It has glacier mountain peaks and serene valleys. There are more than 700 miles of hiking trails. You might also enjoy watching the diverse wildlife. There are 13 front-country campgrounds. However, you should consider reserving a spot at least six months in advance. And if you are looking for fun things to do in Glacier National Park, you won’t be disappointed. In addition to the hiking trails, there are ranger-led programs, guided tours, biking, fishing, boating, and special events available.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park is a nature preserve in southwest Utah. It has steep red cliffs and forest trails that run along the Virgin River. The river goes through deep chasms and onward to the Emerald Pools, where you can see waterfalls and hanging gardens. Watchman Campground is located next to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and has a variety of campsites that are available year-round by reservation only. And, of course, there are other campgrounds in and around Zion as well. There are also plenty of activities for you to enjoy. You can go hiking while taking in the sites of the massive sandstone cliffs and enjoy the wide variety of plants and animals that abound. You could also go to the Canyon Overlook Trail, Observation Point, Riverside Walk, Kolob Canyons, or any of the many other things to do.
Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania
The Allegheny National Forest is an old-growth forest with a stunning landscape full of lakes, streams, hiking trails, and scenic byways. Here, you can fish along the 91 miles of shoreline. Boat or paddle along either of the two gently rolling rivers, the Allegheny or Clarion. Enjoy other excursions like biking, off-roading, swimming, wildlife watching, or horseback riding. There really is something to do for every type of van lifer. There are also 19 campgrounds in the Allegheny National Forest. Consider trying the Triple Dream Farm Campsite or Whispering Winds Campground & Cabins both of which are nestled in the heart of the Allegheny National Forest.
White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire and Maine
White Mountain National Forest sits in the eastern part of New Hampshire that also borders western Maine. It has breathtaking mountain views of hardwood forests to stunning alpine peaks. Enjoy relaxing scenery, crystal clear mountain lakes, streams, and an abundance of wildlife, not to mention there are plenty of outdoor activities. Hike, take a scenic drive, go mountain biking, ride on a unique railroad, visit the majestic waterfalls, or enjoy a day at the water park. White Mountain offers plenty of camping opportunities from campground camping to dispersed camping areas. So you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a site that is right for you.
Regardless of which one of these national parks, forests or monuments you decide to visit, you are pretty much guaranteed to have a beauty filled end of spring season.