Shoulder travel season is the best time to visit popular places. March and April can have weather risks, but you may have a place to yourselves. Some of the more popular national parks may not be fully accessible in March. Places like Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Tetons, and Rocky Mountain National Park can have blizzards, ice, and impassable roads to get there or into the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road, for example, is a popular attraction in Glacier that usually only opens in May.
That said, even in March you can find enough places at lower elevations or with passable access to stretch your legs and breathe some fresh air. If you want less weather risk, try some of these national parks in warmer, more temperate climates. Whether you are on a road trip or an RV, I know you will enjoy your time in these places.
1. Big Bend National Park, Texas
This is perhaps one of the busiest national parks in March, as the weather is particularly attractive before the brutal summer temperatures arrive. Big Bend National Park is very large, many roads are unimproved, and the nearest towns are Terlingua and Lajitas. There is a gas station and a small grocery store inside the park, but it is best to bring food and water for your stay if you are a day visitor. The park, located on the Mexican border in southwest Texas, will bloom with wildflowers, depending on the weather. This is just one of the features that make this park so popular.
There are plenty of hiking trails, you can boat the Rio Grande, and there are breathtaking paved roads to take you up the Chisos Mountains and through other parts of the park. If you stay inside the park in the Chisos Lodge or take a camping spot, you will see a wonderful night sky of stars as this is dark sky country. Cell phone reception is spotty and not generally available at this park. Three trails and four visitor centers are accessible along with other activities listed here.
Pro Tip: If you haven’t already reserved an RV spot in the park, you probably won’t have one. However, several commercial parks in nearby towns offer you the opportunity to take day trips to the park.
2. Everglades National Park, Florida
Florida spring break has never been like the adventure you’ll experience at this park. The Everglades are a grassy river that originates in Kissimmee near Orlando and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Everglades National Park sits on the Gulf about 40 miles southwest of Miami. Once you pass through the town of Homestead or head west on US 41, you will enter a fantasy world that time has forgotten. Alligators are ubiquitous along with birds, insects, wild cats, small mammals, manatees, snakes, etc. The rich diversity of the Everglades, along with the daunting ecology, make it one of the most unique parks to visit in the entire country.
March has hospitable weather, but expect mosquitoes and possible daily rain showers. There is primitive camping allowed, but no RVs or hotels are on site. Most people see the park on the walks available or on the professional tram tour. There is access for canoes and kayaks, fishing is available and the bird watching is amazing. Birds are abundant with a number of birding sites available – several are accessible by boardwalk and are accessible. For the more adventurous, you can find boat or canoe access into the mangroves to see exceptional examples of waterfowl. There’s also a Gulf Coast Visitor Center on the far west side of the park in Everglades City, where you can also spot plenty of birds.
Pro Tip: Planning your Everglades experience? Don’t miss these 12 must-see sites in Florida’s original Alligator Alley.
3. Zion National Park, Utah
Spring in Zion National Park can have chilly nights in March, but the days should be nice. The tram through the park is running and most trails are accessible. This popular park is beautiful at this time of year. Wildflowers will bloom and trees will turn green, depending on the weather, as snow falls at higher elevations in the park throughout the month. There are hikes of all skill levels, including the infamous and challenging Angels Landing. Depending on the amount of rain that falls, The Narrows may be closed. The park is a popular spring break destination and you can find crowds. Of course, there will be far fewer people than in the summer months. There is a lodge in the park which houses a restaurant and there is also a fast food cafe on site. The small town of Springdale is right at the front door and has plenty of hotels and restaurants for visitors. The park tram goes to The Narrows and makes a number of stops along the way where you can hop off for a picnic, hit a trail or marvel at the sights, like the Court of the Patriarchs.
Pro Tip: Watchman Campground opens in March but books well in advance. Zion River RV Resort is just outside of Springdale and there are more nearby Hurricane parks. If you like to camp off the grid, there are a number of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plots from St. George to Springdale on Highway 9 (which leads into the park).
4. Joshua Tree National Park, California
If rugged landscapes, hiking and wilderness are what you are looking for, then put Joshua Tree on your destination list. Located at the southern tip of California, this park is known for its distinctive trees and rugged, rocky landscape filled with desert flora and fauna. It’s halfway between Los Angeles and Phoenix and is indeed a world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There is no cell phone access in the park and no gas or food for sale. Bring water, food, and enough gas to get around the park before you get here. Indio, CA is 30 minutes west of the park from the south entrance and Twentynine Palms, CA is just outside the north entrance.
Many daytime activities are available inside the park, and the most popular is hiking (with an accessible paved trail). There is rock climbing, bird watching, biking, horseback riding and a road trip you can do. There are 93 miles of paved roads. Dirt-road enthusiasts can enjoy miles of backcountry roads to glimpse old mines, Eureka Peak with views of Palm Springs, and roads leading to bike paths. There are three visitor centers (accessible) in the park as well as an accessible nature center with a boardwalk that depicts the desert cacti and bighorn sheep that inhabit the area.
The park’s land began as a national monument in the 1930s, became a designated wilderness area in 1976, and became a national park in 1994. You might feel like you’re on the set of a old movie in Joshua Tree, and you are because many westerns have been filmed there.
Pro tip: There are 500 campsites inside the park but no hotel. The park’s popularity makes it difficult to get a reservation. There are commercial campgrounds nearby and a BLM lot is available for camping on the north side of the park. Many hotels are available in and around the Palm Springs area.
5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Depending on the weather, the Great Smoky Mountains can be a wonderful NPS destination in March. This is the least crowded season, so you’ll have plenty of space to enjoy the park and all of its natural splendor. The Appalachian Trail runs through the park (the full trail is 2,300 miles from Georgia to Maine) and hiking on many trails is available in this national park. This is a wilderness park and wildlife including bear should be on your radar. Hike with others, know the safety precautions, bring
Cades Cove is a favorite destination for many people. It’s idyllic, rustic, and the misty hollow surrounded by mountains is all American. There are waterfalls, scenic viewpoints, bird and wildlife sightings throughout the park. Its proximity to the East Coast and the Midwest makes it an attractive destination for a nature getaway. On the Tennessee side of the park is Gatlinburg, a small town filled with tourist attractions, artisans, and hotels. Dollywood, Dolly Parton theme park is nearby. On the North Carolina side, you can visit Asheville. Nearby is the Biltmore Estate, the Vanderbilt mansion.
Pro Tip: LeConte Lodge is inside the park but is only accessible by hiking. There are 10 campgrounds in the park with varying levels of accommodation and booking conditions.
Most national parks are open year-round. Those mentioned represent locations with hospitable spring weather and general free access to their most popular features. All high altitude parks are likely to have snow and trails or access may be limited. However, don’t be discouraged. The Grand Canyon may be dusted with snow, but you can drive up to the South Rim and see its splendor. Yellowstone and Yosemite are open, and you’ll see seasonal sights like wildflowers and spring tree buds, bringing a new sense of wonder to these well-known parks. These are our parks, our outdoor experiences, and I hope you enjoy visiting them.
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