The shoulder season in travel is the best time to visit popular places. March and April may have weather risks, but you may have a place to yourself. Some of the most popular national parks may not be entirely accessible in March. Places like Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Tetons, and Rocky Mountains National Park may have blizzards, ice, and impassible roads to get there or in the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road, for example, is a popular attraction at Glacier that usually doesn’t open until May.
That said, even in March, you can find enough places at lower elevations or with passable access to stretch your legs and breathe crisp air. If you want to have less travel weather risk, try some of these national parks in warmer and more temperate climes. Whether you are road tripping or RVing, I know you’ll enjoy your time spent in these places.
1. Big Bend National Park, Texas
This may be one of the more crowded national parks in March because the weather is particularly appealing before the brutal summer temperatures arrive. Big Bend National Park is very large, many of the roads are unimproved, and the nearest towns are Terlingua and Lajitas. There is a gas station and a small grocery inside the park, but it’s 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. That’s just one of the features that make this park so popular.
There are many trails to hike, you can boat on the Rio Grande, and there are breathtaking drives on paved roads to take you into the Chisos Mountains and through other parts of the park. If you stay inside the park in the Chisos Lodge or snag a camping spot, you will see a wondrous night sky of stars as this is dark sky country. Cell phone reception is hit and miss and mostly not available in this park. There are three trails and four visitor centers that are accessible as well as other activities listed here.
Pro Tip: If you haven’t already booked an RV site in the park, you probably won’t get one. However, there are several commercial parks in nearby cities affording you the opportunity to take day trips into the park.
2. Everglades National Park, Florida
Spring break in Florida was never quite like the adventure you’ll have in this park. The Everglades is a river of grass that starts in Kissimmee near Orlando and flows out into the Gulf of Mexico. Everglades National Park sits on the Gulf about 40 miles southwest of Miami. Once you pass through the city of Homestead or head west on US 41, you’ll enter a fantastical world that time has forgotten. Alligators are omnipresent along with birds, insects, wild cats, small mammals, manatees, snakes, and more. The rich diversity of the Everglades, along with the daunting ecology, makes it one of the most unique parks to visit in the entire country.
March has hospitable weather, but plan for mosquitos and possible daily rain showers. There is some primitive camping allowed, but no RVs or hotels are on site. Most people see the park on the boardwalks that are available or the professional tram tour. There is access for canoes and kayaks, fishing is available, and the birdwatching is extraordinary. Birds are abundant with a number of birdwatching locations available — several are reached by boardwalk and are accessible. For the adventurous, you can find access via boat or canoe within the mangroves to see exceptional examples of water birds. There is also a Gulf Coast Visitor’s Center on the far west side of the park at Everglades City where you may spot many birds as well.
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 may have cold nights in March, but the days should be beautiful. The tram through the park is running, and most of the trails are accessible. This popular park is gorgeous this time of year. Wildflowers will be blooming and trees will be greening, depending on the weather as snow will fall in higher elevations of the park during the month. There are hikes of all levels, including the infamous and challenging Angels Landing. Depending on how much rain falls, The Narrows may be closed. The park is a popular spring break destination and you may find some crowds. Of course, it will be much less crowded than it is in the summer months. There is a lodge within the park that hosts a restaurant and there also is a fast food cafe on site. The little town of Springdale is right at the entrance gate and has many hotels and restaurants for visitors. The park tram goes all the way up to The Narrows and makes a number of stops along the way where you can get off to picnic, get on a trail, or marvel at the sights, like the Court of the Patriarchs.
Pro Tip: Watchman Campground opens in March but books far in advance. Zion River RV Resort is just outside Springdale and there are more parks in nearby Hurricane. If you like to camp off-grid, there are a number of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) parcels from St. George to Springdale on Route 9 (which leads into the park).
4. Joshua Tree National Park, California
If rugged scenery, hiking, and wilderness is what you are looking for, then put Joshua Tree on your list of destinations. Located in the southern end of California, this park is known for its distinctive trees and its craggy and 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 daily life. There’s no cellphone 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, California, is 30 minutes west of the park from the south entrance and Twentynine Palms, California, is just outside the north entrance.
Plenty of daytime activities are available inside the park, and the most popular is hiking (with one paved trail that is accessible). There is climbing, birding, biking, horseback riding, and a driving tour you can take. There are 93 miles of paved roads. Dirt road enthusiasts can enjoy miles of backcountry roads to get a glimpse of old mines, Eureka Peak with a view of Palm Springs, and roads that lead to bike trails. 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 populate the area.
The park land began as a national monument in the 1930s, became a designated wilderness area in 1976, and became a national park in 1994. You may feel like you’re on the set of an old movie in Joshua Tree, and you are because numerous Westerns were filmed here.
Pro Tip: There are 500 camping spots inside the park but no hotel. The popularity of the park makes getting a reservation challenging. There are commercial campgrounds nearby and BLM land is available for camping on the north side of the park. Numerous hotels are available in and around the Palm Springs area.
5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina
Depending on the weather, Great Smoky Mountains can be a wonderful NPS destination in March. It is the least crowded season, so you will have plenty of space to enjoy the park and all its natural splendor. The Appalachian Trail goes 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 wild animals including bear must be on your radar. Hike with others, know safety measures, bring
Cades Cove is a favorite destination of many people. It is idyllic, rustic, and the misty hollow surrounded by the mountains is everything Americana. There are waterfalls, scenic overlooks, birding, and wild animal sightings to be had throughout the park. Its proximity to the East Coast and central Midwest areas make it appealing as a getaway to nature. On the Tennessee side of the park is Gatlinburg, a small city filled with tourist attractions, artisans, and hotels. Dollywood, the Dolly Parton theme park is close by. On the North Carolina side, you can visit Asheville. Nearby is the Biltmore Estate, the Vanderbilt mansion.
Most national parks are open year-round. Those mentioned represent places with hospitable spring weather and general open access to their most popular features. Any parks with high elevations are likely to have some snow and trails or access may be limited. However, don’t be deterred. The Grand Canyon may be dusted with snow, but you can drive to the southern rim and see its splendor. Yellowstone and Yosemite are open and you will see seasonal sights like wildflowers and spring tree buds, giving a new sense of wonder to these well-known parks. These are our parks, our outdoor experiences, and I hope you will enjoy visiting them.
RVshare is the world’s first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace. With thousands of satisfied customers and a broad inventory ranging from travel trailers to luxury motorhomes, RVshare has the perfect RV for your vacation, tailgate, or temporary lodging needs.