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The Most Beautiful Places In The United States To Get Outside This Spring

North America

 

 

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Photos in collaboration with Quin Schrock

Why Spring Is A Great Time To Travel

Spring may have a bit of a reputation for its rainy weather – April showers, anyone? – but depending on your destination, it can be one of the best times to travel. Spring rains bring waterfalls and wildflower blooms to many parts of the country, making it the perfect time to see the great outdoors.

Not only that, but the weather is usually milder than in the winter and the summer, so it’s more pleasant for travelers who can’t stand the cold or the heat. You’ll also encounter fewer crowds and save money with off-season prices. That means a more affordable trip with fewer lines and traffic jams in the most popular tourist spots.

Most of these locations are open year-round, but they’re ideal for a springtime visit, especially for travelers who love the outdoors. You’ll find waterfalls, wildflowers, and more at these top spring travel destinations in the U.S.

13 Best Places To Get Outside This Spring

Below you will find the best places to get outside this spring! (In no particular order). I’ve only included places on this blog that I have actually traveled to in the spring. I figure that’s the only way to give you my honest opinion and recommendations for each location. So if your favorite place to travel to in the spring isn’t on my list, don’t take it personally. I probably just haven’t ever been there. Do you have a favorite spring destination that I missed? Let me know in the comment section!

1. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon & Washington

 

 

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The Columbia River Gorge is located on the border of Oregon and Washington, so it’s easy to get to from either state. You’re looking at a one-hour drive from Portland, or a 4-hour drive from Seattle, just right for an overnight trip. The most famous spot here is Multnomah Falls – you might recognize it from the “Twilight” movie – but there are several other waterfalls, all just a short drive or a short hike away.

The city of Hood River is the main tourist center in the area, and is a hub for outdoor adventures of all kinds, from windsurfing to snowboarding. Come during the spring to avoid the crowds and see the apple, pear, and cherry orchards in bloom!

WHEN TO GO: Rainstorms and melting snow mean that the Gorge’s waterfalls will be raging throughout the spring months. However, if you want to experience trails lined with yellow balsamroot and purple lupine flowers it’s best to head to the Gorge in late April or early May.

Pro Tip:

Due to frequent wildfires, storms, and landslides, roads and trails in the Columbia River Gorge experience frequent closures. Make sure to look up the most recent trail conditions before heading out. For more ideas on how to spend your time in The Columbia River gorge check out these Stunning Spring Hikes In Washington and The Ultimate Oregon Road Trip.

2. Yosemite National Park, California

 

 

Backpacking above Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park.

Backpacking above Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park is one of California’s most iconic destinations, and there are several great reasons to opt for a springtime visit. It’s a great time to see the waterfalls, and both Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road will be opening back up after their winter closures. Just be sure to double-check that they’re open before you go, and bring some extra layers since Yosemite can still be chilly this time of year.

But perhaps the best reason to visit in the spring is to avoid dealing with all the people that flock to the park during the hight of summer. Yosemite Valley can have bumper-to-bumper traffic in the busiest months, so go in April or May to beat the crowds.

WHEN TO GO: Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road generally open sometime during the month of May. If you want to see more than just the valley, make sure to time your trip with the roads opening up.

Pro Trip:

Wilderness permits are required year-round for backcountry camping – but reservations aren’t needed from November through April. If it’s a particularly warm spring April can be a fantastic time to take advantage of backpacking in Yosemite without all the red tape. For more information, check out my Complete Guide To Backpacking In Yosemite.

3. Highland Rim and Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee

 

 

Cooling down in the water at Cummins Falls in Tennessee’s Highland Rim.

Cooling down in the water at Cummins Falls in Tennessee’s Highland Rim.

The Highland Rim is a large geographic area in Tennessee that includes several state parks known for their waterfalls. Spring is the best time to visit since the combination of snowmelt and spring showers makes the area especially lush and vibrant. There are also plenty of cliffs and gorges due to the region’s unique Appalachian geology.

The Highland Rim is easily accessible from Nashville and surrounds the city on all sides. You can book a cabin or campground for an overnight stay, or choose from dozens of outdoor activities like biking, caving, boating, and rock climbing.

WHEN TO GO: We visited the waterfalls in Tenessee at the end of April and it was perfect. Waterfalls like Cummins Falls (shown above), were so full that I’ve actually had people who have only been in the summer question whether the photos are real. Plus, it was warm enough outside to enjoy it!

Pro Tip:

We drove through Tenessee as part of a much larger road trip across the southern United States. In general, The South is a great place to be in the spring. Warm weather, wildflowers, and hikes are typically accessible much earlier in the season than their western counterparts. And the weather is warm but not too hot or humid yet.

4. Sedona, Arizona

 

 

Walking across the arch along the Devil’s Bridge Trail in Sedona, Arizona.

Walking across the arch along the Devil’s Bridge Trail in Sedona, Arizona.

Sedona, AZ has it all – red sandstone cliffs, hot springs, and an iconic chapel built into the rocks. But there’s no denying that Arizona can be brutally hot in the summer. For milder weather, visit Sedona in the spring for moderate temperatures in the 70s and 80s. You can go hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rafting, and more.

Sedona is also known for its beautiful sunsets and stargazing conditions, so be sure to book a campground or another overnight accommodation to make the most of it! And of course, there’s the vortex. But I’ll let you experience that for yourself.

WHEN TO GO: Fall and Spring are great times to visit Sedona. Due to it’s relatively high elevation it’s not uncommon for temperatures to drop below freezing at night well into March. For your best chance at mild weather aim to visit Sedona in April or May. You might even catch some desert wildflowers during these months.

Pro Tip:

Sedona has become an extremely popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Add that to the fact that many of the popular trails are relatively short and easily accessible and you’re bound to be sharing the trails with other people. To avoid crowds consider getting an early start, looking for lesser known view points, and avoiding weekends if possible.

5. Lake Tahoe, Nevada

 

 

Paddeling on Lake Tahoe’s perfect water on a warm day in May.

Paddeling on Lake Tahoe’s perfect water on a warm day in May.

Spring is one of the best times to visit Lake Tahoe since you’ll beat the summer crowds but still get to enjoy pleasant weather. The area warms up gradually between March and May, so you can either catch the tail end of ski season in March or wait for the snow to melt and the average daily temperatures to climb into the 60s in May.

Spring is great for hiking since waterfalls like Lower Eagle Falls in Emerald Bay State Park will be at their peak this time of year. Other options are the Mt. Tallac Trail, which offers great views in the South Lake Tahoe Area, and Van Sickle Bi-State Park. There’s also fantastic mountain biking on the Flume Trail.

Of course, you can also rent a boat or paddleboard, and enjoy the water activities that Lake Tahoe is famous for!

WHEN TO GO: Head to Lake Tahoe in March to enjoy spring skiing at one of the many ski resorts, or wait until later in the spring to enjoy some lake-side fun. The above photo was taken in late May before the Memorial Day and summer crowds showed up, but after all the snow in the mountains had melted.

Pro Tip:

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Lake Tahoe a number of times in the past few years. After exploring the entire area I put together the Perfect 72 Hour Lake Tahoe Itinerary, a Photography Guide to Lake Tahoe, and an Adventure Guide to Lake Tahoe and Reno.

6. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

 

 

Enjoying the sand dunes at White Sands National Park in April.

Enjoying the sand dunes at White Sands National Park in April.

Another great springtime destination in the Southwest is White Sands National Park in New Mexico. This park is home to one of only three gypsum sand dunes in the world, but it feels one of a kind. Nothing can prepare you for White Sands National Park. The drive is monotonous and desolate – a vast expanse of brown landscape stretching across the horizon in every direction. Beautiful in the stark way that many desert landscapes are. But definitely not white. And then without warning, the pavement fades under a layer of fine white sand until it completely disappears, and just like that, you’re in another world.

In addition to the usual outdoor activities like hiking and photography, you can go sledding on the sand dunes, with sleds available for purchase at the gift shop. Or bring your own!

WHEN TO GO: There’s really no bad time to visit White Sands National Park. But summers average a sweltering 97 degrees and are prone to late afternoon and evening thunderstorms. Go any time between October and June for the post predictable conditions.

Pro Tip:

If you are able, I can not recommend camping out in the dunes enough. It’s truly an otherworldly experience. There are ten primitive backcountry camping sites available on a first-come-first-serve basis – advanced reservations are not available.

To camp, you must obtain a backcountry camping permit in person at the visitors center. Permits are issued from 7:00 am until 5:00 pm or until all the sites are taken. A specific campsite will be assigned when the permit is issued.

7. Moab, Utah

 

 

The expansive views at Dead Horse Point State Park just outside of Moab, Utah.

The expansive views at Dead Horse Point State Park just outside of Moab, Utah.

The truth is, anywhere in Southern Utah is a great option for spring travel. But if I had to pick just one place to base myself, it would probably be Moab. Moab is a small town in southeastern Utah that’s the gateway to several national parks in the region, including Canyonlands and Arches. It attracts lots of mountain bikers who come to ride the Slickrock Trail, but it’s also great for hiking, climbing, and canyoneering. Be sure to check the weather before canyoneering, because flash flooding can be a risk during the rainy season.

Spring and fall are popular with tourists, because the summers are too hot for a lot of outdoor activities. Keep an eye out for free campsites on BLM land just outside of the city, but bring extra layers because the nights can get chilly!

WHEN TO GO: Moab is an epicenter for outdoor recreation. But it has the potential to be freezing in the winter and super hot in the summer. Hedge your bets and head to Moab in April or May. Fall is also a popular time in Moab, especially for rock climbers.

Pro Tip:

Utah is home to 5 National Parks – all of them spectacular and worth a visit. If you don’t already have The America the Beautiful Annual Pass, this is the time to get one! The pass offers one year, unlimited access, for the pass owner and all passengers to all National Parks, National Forest, and Bureau of Land Management sites.

8. Death Valley National Park, California

 

 

Death Valley is a fantastic place to visit in early spring, before the temperatures soar into the triple digits.The stunning views at Zabriskie Point are some of the most photographed in Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley is a fantastic place to visit in early spring, before the temperatures soar into the triple digits.The stunning views at Zabriskie Point are some of the most photographed in Death Valley National Park.

If wildflowers are your thing, then Death Valley National Park should definitely be on your springtime shortlist. You might even see super blooms, which can occur in the spring after an especially wet winter season. You’ll also get to enjoy relatively mild temperatures, which makes hiking in the area much more tolerable.

Death Valley is about a 5-hour drive from LA and a 2-hour drive from Las Vegas. This destination is especially popular in the spring, so be sure to plan ahead if you want to camp or book overnight accommodations.

WHEN TO GO: Anytime other than the summer!

9. Kauai, Hawaii

 

 

Kalalau Beach is located at the end of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast.

Kalalau Beach is located at the end of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast.

Kauai is one of the more remote Hawaiian islands, with plenty of trails and secluded beaches to explore. One of its highlights is Waimea Canyon, which is also called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. If you visit in spring, you’ll have pleasant weather for hiking, snorkeling, and simply enjoying the waterfalls and lush foliage. Of course, there’s also the postcard-perfect Na Pali coast that shouldn’t be missed.

Another reason to visit in spring is that airfare and hotel prices are low before the main tourist season begins in June. If you’re coming from the mainland, you’ll likely have to catch a connecting flight from Oahu, so factor that into your travel plans.

WHEN TO GO: You can take advantage of 3 of Kauai’s driest months and take advantage of shoulder season rates by planning your Kauai trip between April and June.

Pro Tip:

Backpacking the Na Pali Coast to Kalalau Beach is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I truly don’t think there is a better way to tap into the island’s magic. You can read about My Experience Hiking The Napali Coast, or check out these other Once In A Lifetime Adventures On Kauai.

10. Big Sur, California

 

 

Bixby Bridge is one of the most iconic views along the stretch of Highway 101 that travels through Big Sur.

Bixby Bridge is one of the most iconic views along the stretch of Highway 101 that travels through Big Sur.

Big Sur is the longest undeveloped coastline in the U.S., and encompasses a wide range of landscapes, from beaches to redwoods. The best way to see it is by driving along Highway 101, although this road can become pretty congested near popular photo spots like the world-famous Bixby Bridge.

Plan to spend a full day driving the 85-mile route. If you want to avoid the crowds, head to one of the state parks in the region for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. Visit in early spring and you might see lilies, poppies, and other wildflowers, and even gray whales and sea otters off the coast!

WHEN TO GO: Big Sur is a beautiful destination year-round, but from March through May, Big Sur’s grassland becomes a lush blanket of green, gold, and lavender as the wildflowers reach their peak.

Pro Tip:

If you have a high clearance vehicle head up to Prewitt Ridge for epic views and even better boondocking.

11. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

 

 

Views from the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

Views from the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

The Grand Canyon is one of the most well-known national parks in the U.S., and for good reason. It includes over 277 miles of the Colorado River, and has two separate entrances – the North Rim and South Rim – each with its own visitor centers. The South Rim is open all year, while the North Rim is open between May and October.

If you visit in the spring, you’ll encounter fewer people and enjoy milder weather that’s better for hiking. As the days get longer, it’s the perfect time to plan a day hike or an overnight backpacking trip before the weather gets too hot for it.

Phantom Ranch and Havasu Falls are two popular destinations, but be sure to plan ahead because permits are required.

WHEN TO GO: March through May daytime temperatures are cool and the crowds are thin. If you decide to visit during the summer, be prepared for hordes of tourists and very limited lodging availability. In the winter you can find ample solitude, but don’t let the desert landscape fool you – it will be COLD.

12. Hill Country, Texas

 

 

Jacob's Well is an extensive underwater spring in the Texas Hill Country.  Swimming at Jacob’s Well Natural Area is allowed from May 1 – September 30    BY ONLINE RESERVATION ONLY   .

Jacob’s Well is an extensive underwater spring in the Texas Hill Country. Swimming at Jacob’s Well Natural Area is allowed from May 1 – September 30 BY ONLINE RESERVATION ONLY.

Texas Hill Country is a large region in Central and South Texas that’s not far from San Antonio and Austin. You can find picturesque limestone and granite hills, such as the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, a popular campsite. The vegetation ranges from desert plants like prickly pear and yucca, to wildflowers in the spring months.

Start with the Willow City Loop for a 13-mile scenic driving loop, or head to one of the state parks in the area for even more options. Hill Country has spring-fed rivers with a wide range of water activities, including canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and swimming. If you prefer guided tours, you can hop on a glass-bottom boat.

WHEN TO GO: Texas is famous for its Bluebonnets. In fact, it’s their official state flower, and there’s perhaps no better place to find out why, than Hill Country in early April. Mother Nature is notoriously fickle, but if you get the timing right you’ll be rewarded with miles of rolling hills clad in a rich blue blanket of wildflowers.

13. Northern Florida, Florida

 

 

Ginnie Springs is just one of the stunning natural springs that dot Northern Florida’s landscape.

Ginnie Springs is just one of the stunning natural springs that dot Northern Florida’s landscape.

As a vacation destination, Florida needs no instruction, since it’s relatively pleasant to visit year-round. But spring offers several benefits, including less humid weather from March through May and fewer crowds. You’ll also avoid hurricane season, which can make summer visits a bit of a gamble if you plan too far ahead.

Why Northern Florida? Distinctly separate from Orlando’s manufactured experiences, or Miami’s clubbing culture, Northern Florida is where quiet sandy stretches line calm, emerald waters; local swimming holes defy logic with their otherworldly blue hues, and country roads proudly welcome you to “The Real Florida.”

Other attractions include Florida Caverns State Park and Devil’s Den Spring. Florida is full of natural springs – it has over 700 of them! – due to its unique limestone geology. These are similar to cenotes in Mexico, and are popular with cave divers.

I was so caught off guard by the stunning natural beauty in Northern Florida that I wrote an entire blog post about Sand, Sun, and Fun In The Real Florida!

WHEN TO GO: Spring is the perfect time to defrost in the warm Florida sun and still avoid summer vacationers. And while it’s generally not difficult to avoid massive crowds during the spring, try to avoid travel during spring break when families and college kids flock to the beaches. In the US spring break generally falls during late March or early April and often coincides with Easter.

Things To Know Before You Go

 

 

Once in a blue moon all the conditions come together to create what’s known as a super bloom in the desert hills of Southern California. If you’re hoping to catch one of these rare blooms, keep an eye on conditions and plan to visit in late March to mid April. While there, please, follow all local regulations, and STAY ON TRAIL.

Once in a blue moon all the conditions come together to create what’s known as a super bloom in the desert hills of Southern California. If you’re hoping to catch one of these rare blooms, keep an eye on conditions and plan to visit in late March to mid April. While there, please, follow all local regulations, and STAY ON TRAIL.

1. What To Pack For Spring Travel

It’s always important to think in terms of layers when you head into the mountains, but this is particularly true during the spring when you never know what you’re going to get! It’s not uncommon for trails in Washington to still be covered in snow well into June. It’s important to check weather reports for the day of your hike, and recent trail conditions. Regardless of the reports, it’s always prudent to be prepared for unexpected inclement conditions.

There are three main layers that you should always wear or pack for the outdoors. Each of these three layers plays an important roll in keeping your warm and safe.

  1. Use a base layer for moisture management.

  2. Choose the right mid-layer for insulation.

  3. Choose a wind-resistant and waterproof outer layer.

Keep in mind, that while your apparel will change depending on your intended destination, the layers and their functions remain the same. For instance, if you’re heading into the mountains your mid-layer might be a down jacket, while a lightweight fleece might suffice at the beach.

 

 

And of course once the sun comes out and the weather starts to warm up, few items of clothing are more versatile than a comfortable dress!  I like to pair a casual sundress,  like this one , with these classic  Blundstone boots  for a go anywhere look that’s easy to layer.

And of course once the sun comes out and the weather starts to warm up, few items of clothing are more versatile than a comfortable dress! I like to pair a casual sundress, like this one, with these classic Blundstone boots for a go anywhere look that’s easy to layer.

2. Leave No Trace

There’s nothing like a road-trip or a camping trip to get away from it all and leave behind the stress of the city (or wherever else you live). Unfortunately, some of the things we’re trying to get away from – like trash and traffic – are coming with us.

As the number of visitors going to popular destinations is increasing, keep these tips in mind to ensure that everyone can enjoy spring’s natural beauty!

  • Be prepared to Leave No Trace and Pack-In, Pack-Out. A lot of natural areas, especially in the backcountry, don’t have trash or recycling bins, so leave excess food packaging at home and bring a bag to pack out any trash or food waste.

  • Some parks may have fire bans and other policies to protect the landscape, such as the Don’t Bust the Crust policy at White Sands National Park, which asks visitors to walk softly and avoid stepping on animal burrows and vegetation.

  • The perfect shot isn’t worth falling off a cliff or damaging a natural landscape. Stay on the trail, obey any warning or closure signs, and follow local regulations.

  • For more information about how to responsibly enjoy outdoor spaces please visit and familiarize yourself with the official Leave No Trace Guidelines.

Hopefully, by visiting these destinations in the off-season, you’ll be able to experience them to their full potential with less crowds, less expense, and less stress.

Spring can be a great time to travel if you get a little creative! I hope I gave you some inspiration for your next spring travel destination.

Some of the links above are Backcountry.com affiliate links. That means I may earn a small commission on any purchase made – at no additional cost to you. You can also use JESS15 to get 15% off your entire first order at Backcountry. (Some exclusions apply). As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.

Thank you so much for your support! Happy Adventuring. jess

 

 

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  1. Amy Renalds says:

    What time of year did you do the Memaloose Hills hike?

  2. Amy Renalds says:

    Awesome, we live in Portland and I’ve been wanting to do that hike for awhile. Did you see any rattlesnakes? I’m a little freaked out about that part…lol

    Thanks so much for the inspiration. Your photos are amazing! I’m going to Kauai in May with my sister and we are definitely going to check out some of your suggestions there too.

    • Hi Amy! So sorry for not getting back to you sooner. The alerts on my comments stopped working for some reason. I didn’t see any Rattlesnakes but I know they are there. Luckily they like to warn you before you get to close with their signature rattle sound. I hope you had a wonderful time in Kaui. It’s one of my favorite places!

  3. Scott Papp says:

    Great blog post, Jess! I really enjoy your anecdotes and on-the-ground insights! My only “criticism” might be the challenge of having so many new places on my bucket list haha. I so agree about the Big Sur area. Just magical in the spring. lol the Vortex; I haven’t visited there, and am now prepared in case! Hiking in Hawaii, I’ve often felt that practically no matter how far along a trail I hike, the most amazing spot is still farther in. I guess it’s good motivation for return trips!

    As a Coloradoan, I love having so many sunny days per year, but we’re also quite used to and skittish of April blizzards. So, thanks so much for all the time, weather, and site info you have in this post! Super nice for planning.

    In terms of other spots to consider… The parks around Tucson are definitely nice. Just hiking amongst the Saguaros is amazing, but in a day it’s possible to ascend through the desert, through beautiful scrub lands, and into California-like pine forests. Quite the fun contrast.

    • Thanks so much for the comment Scott. I always enjoy hearing your insights into the places I go as well. It was actually a trip to hike in Colorado that I learned not to assume spring arrives at the same time in all places. We showed up and almost everything was still under snow! That extra few thousand feet you have down there really does make a big difference. lol

  4. Vish says:

    Hi

    Awesome website. Great work

  5. Vitaliy says:

    Hi Jess!
    Going to visit Hawaii and after reading about your experience hiking Kalalau trail I have new "must do".
    Also I would like to invite you to hike mount Washington ( New Hampshire) if you aren’t done it before.
    With best regards
    Vitaliy

    • Hi Vitaliy. Thank you so much for the recommendation. I have to admit that I really haven’t done much on the East Coast. I need to get out there and start exploring some trails. Looks beautiful!

  6. Hi Jess,
    Have you ever considered a trip to Michigan??
    We have so many beautiful destinations all wrapped up in one state. Our state is loaded with incredible beaches and parks including Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Shoreline, Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, Isle Royale National Park, Antrim County Water Trail, Torch Lake, Porcupine Mountains State Park, Tahquamenon Falls state park and miles and miles of incredible shoreline dotted with the most beautiful lighthouses (Crisp Pointe my favorite in the UP). And so much more!! Michigan is beautiful in all 4 seasons really! I hope you try it out sometime! I left the link to the water trail below
    Born and raised Michigander …

    • Jessica Dales says:

      Hi Susan. Thanks so much for your message. I have actually been to Michigan twice for the fall colors, and I agree, it’s absolutely stunning! The UP in particular is truly spectacular in the autumn. I would love to check it out during some other seasons though.

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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