The plan for visiting National Parks in early spring started coming together the summer of 2021. Camping has become much more popular so we wanted to take advantage of hiking with kids in National Parks before summer travel was in full swing. America’s National Parks have turned into vacation destinations.
It is encouraging to see more families out exploring the beauty of nature. We decided the best way to beat the crowds was to visit national parks in early spring.
We have learned a few lessons about traveling to national parks in early spring as this is before the parks are in their peak season.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are located in the mountains so that means snow is still covering many of the roads in early spring. We did not realize we would still be fighting road closures due to snow in late April. We anticipated hiking in snowy areas but didn’t think that trails would be completely closed.
In Kings Canyon, we were able to hike Big Stumps Trail, Grant Grove, and drive towards Lake Hume to overlook Kings Canyon. We ended up packing both Kings Canyon and Sequoia Parks into one day since a snow storm was coming in overnight and the park rangers anticipated road closures between the parks most of the following day.
Working around the weather has made us learn how to be flexible, spontaneous, and persevere though longer days. We pack our lunches and plenty of snacks since most of the national parks are remote and the lodges that serve food haven’t opened for the season yet.
I watch Recreation.gov weekly as some of the more popular parks are requiring tickets for timed entry. We snuck into Yosemite National Park before the timed entry system went into effect. We did not have to wait to get into Yosemite no matter what time of the day we came in and never had any problems finding a parking spot.
We arrive at Arches National Park in early June which is peak season for them. I already had to sign up for a timed entry ticket. The downside to this system is it’s difficult to know which days and times we will enter the park and we can’t chose the best weather days as it is so far out. The benefits of this system are that we know we won’t have a long wait and will be able to enter the park.
During the 2022 summer season, many of the National Parks have implemented permit systems for hiking trailheads. Since many National Parks do not have the parking lots and road infrastructure to accommodate larger crowds, permits control the amount of traffic in specific places in the park.
Some permits are on a lottery system such as the Angel’s Landing Hike in Zion National Park. We applied for this permit but we were not selected. It was disappointing, but at the same time there are plenty of other hikes that we are looking forward to.
We have experienced the convenient side of the permit system in Redwoods National Park. The Fern Canyon trailhead was at the end of a rough road that included crossing a stream. It was a relief to know that when we got to the trailhead we would have a parking space and be able to use the area for a four hour time block. We were able to snag a permit from 8 am- noon. We arrived about 10 am, hiked Fern Canyon, and had time to enjoy a picnic lunch on the beach.
When we arrive at a national park midweek, we found that visitors centers and museums are closed. Some of the visitors centers are still closed due to Covid so Rangers are outside answering questions and handing out Jr. Ranger booklets.
The Giant Forest Museum in Sequoia was only open on the weekends. It was helpful to talk with the park ranger when we first arrived on Thursday so we could plan our days to make sure we could hit up this museum.
Limited hours are part of the reality when visiting national parks in early spring. Again flexibility helps us enjoy what is open, plan our hikes around areas of the park that offer educational opportunities, and keep expectations realistic.
The benefit of traveling to national parks in early spring is that the crowds are minimal. This is a huge advantage that makes all the obstacles worth overcoming. Our family enjoys hiking, bird watching, and quietly exploring areas to see wildlife.
Our family embraces, “The early bird gets the worm”. Thankfully, traveling in the off season has allowed us to sleep in after a long day of hiking or go into a national park in the early afternoon to enjoy a picnic lunch. We haven’t had to rush into national parks before the crowd even at the busier parks like Grand Canyon or Yosemite.