If you're feeling stir crazy, we totally get it. Winter can be long in the majority of states, and often void of anything even remotely cool to do. Thankfully spring is coming, which means you don't need to wait long before you can plan adventures in the great outdoors (and beautiful national parks) again. Whether you’re into daring water activities or craving epic night skies, these pretty parks will give you the escape you need to heal those cabin fever woes.
Nearest City: Seattle, about 3 hours
Why spring is a great time to visit: For the wildlife, which you should really just admire from afar.
For a peaceful jaunt away from the incessant high-rise construction in Seattle, Olympic National Park is a just a car and ferry ride away. Majestic evergreen trees, mountain vistas, and a never-ending shoreline give you a great reason to turn off from the digital world and reconnect with mother nature. You can check out the spring migrations, catch an early sighting of a giant green anemone, or even just stand in awe of the immense mountains. Waterfall romantics should absolutely head off to Lake Crescent and partake in the short, fairytale-like hike to Marymere Falls to gawk at a magical 90-foot waterfall.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Nearest City: Portland, about 5 hours
Why spring is a great time to visit: For the solitude you’ll be hard-pressed to find in the busy summer months.
You can thank erupting volcanoes for creating most of the exotic landscape in the PNW. When Mt. Mazama exploded 8,000 years ago in southern Oregon, it lost its top hat and left behind a deep caldera with a jaw-dropping blue lake at its center. Even in early spring there will likely be snow around (thanks, altitude), which makes for awesome pictures but not so awesome road conditions — late spring is your best bet. On the plus side, early visitors can bust out the cross-country skis and snowshoes to get around the park.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
Nearest City: Knoxville, about 1 hour
Why spring is a great time to visit: For the simple chance to stop and smell the wildflowers.
Yeah, yeah. We know it’s popular as hell, but come on... the Smoky Mountains are well-loved for a reason. Yes, the cool name is part of the appeal, but so is the fact that there are over 100 different species of native trees (most national parks have less than 20). Straddling the Tennessee/North Carolina border, the Appalachian Trail travels 72 miles right through the park. Obviously hiking is a must, and there are over 800 miles of trails to explore with many waterfall options, like off the beaten path at Mouse Creek Falls or on a Cherokee Indian Reservation at Mingo Falls. The coolest way to cover those expansive trails is on horseback, so giddy-up.
Black Canyon, Colorado
Nearest City: Colorado Springs, about 5 hours
Why spring is a great time to visit: For selfish stargazing before the Astronomy Festival hits in June.
Move over, Grand Canyon. Carved out by the Gunnison River about 2 million years ago, Black Canyon’s steep gorge is guaranteed to sweep you off your feet. Daring mountain climbers from all over the world venture out to scale these tricky canyon walls, but if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, the Oak Flat Trail is a great intro hike that won’t kill you. While you walk, appreciate the freshest air, courtesy of Douglas firs, aspens, and oaks, and perhaps spot one of the fastest birds in the world — the Peregrine Falcon. At night, the park enforces strict artificial lighting rules to keep the focus on one of its most popular attractions, gazing at its exceptional starry skies.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Nearest City: Salt Lake City, about 4 hours
Why spring is a great time to visit: For the surreal views of the hoodoos when they’re covered in snow.
Sprawled across southern Utah, Bryce Canyon’s claim to fame is its crimson red hoodoos (say what?). Hoodoos are spire-shaped rock formations that are formed primarily by frost wedging, and since Bryce Canyon undergoes 200 freeze/thaw cycles each year, you can understand why it looks a bit like Mars. Hiking poles and snow boots are a smart move since you’re guaranteed to trudge along icy, muddy, and snowy trails, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the many overlook options. Make special note of Inspiration Point, where soul-stopping photos of sunrises and sunsets over the rows of frozen hoodoos will practically earn you Instagram fame.
Channel Islands, California
Nearest City: Santa Barbara, 1 hour
Why spring is a great time to visit: Honestly, for the sea lion entertainment alone.
We're not talking the Channel Islands on the other side of the pond, but rather a chain of eight islands that sit on the Santa Barbara Channel in sunny SoCal. Weather-wise, there really isn’t a bad time to visit, but in the spring you can catch the tail-end of gray whale watching and be dazzled by the yellow coreopsis wildflowers in peak bloom. Take a ranger-guided hike to Point Bennett on San Miguel Island to catch thousands of elephant seals running amok in their natural habitat. Trust us, you'll be fully entertained.
Tallulah Gorge, Georgia
Nearest City: Atlanta, 1ish hours
Why spring is a great time to visit: For the unreal kayaking and whitewater rafting you can’t pull off other times of the year.
Hard to believe that such a sanctuary is a little over an hour away from bustling Atlanta, but a 1,000-foot gorge sliced by the Tallulah River is a tried and true sanctuary for adventurists. Operated by a hydroelectric dam, the first two weekends of April are when kayakers and whitewater rafters can have a field day. Class V skills are required for this raging river, so newbies should admire the experts from the safety of dry land. An even better bet is to venture out to Tallulah Falls, which boasts six spectacular waterfalls. Hiking, biking, and running options are endless — and don’t miss out on the suspension bridge hanging 80 feet over Tallulah River.
Dry Tortugas, Florida
Nearest City: Key West, 3 hours (by ferry)
Why spring is a great time to visit: For the near-perfect temperatures and moderate humidity.
With no car access to the park, you’ll need to hop on a boat, ferry, or seaplane to reach this remote gem at the very end of the Florida Keys. This small cluster of islands in the Gulf of Mexico boasts 100-square miles of blue waters, coral reefs, marine life, and every type of bird imaginable. For scuba and snorkeling nuts, you’ll want to explore underwater, since the park’s coral and seagrass communities are some of the best in the Keys. Even more unique are the shipwrecks, and you should check out a favorite dive down to the Windjammer. Be sure to grab a laminated underwater map at the visitor center, so you can understand what you’re looking at.
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