Summer 2024: Tips for Visiting US National Parks

Planning a trip to any US national park this summer, know before you go – check out National Park Service (NPS) website or NPS App.

For each park, find information about current road conditions, weather and alerts.

Road conditions – Find current road status (roads can be closed due to flooding, landslides, wildfires), seasonal opening and closing dates, road construction, which can cause traffic delays.

– To help plan when to visit, check out weather for each month in the park, day and nighttime temperatures. Weather alerts are particularly important, weather can be too hot to hike safely, excessive rain is flooding rivers and trail crossings, roads are damaged.

Alerts – Alerts will cover a variety of topics, from fire, smoke and air quality, conditions of trails, closed campgrounds, day-use reservations required, traffic congestion, when parking lots are full.

Free entrance – This summer, free national park entrance days are June 19 and August 4.


Wildlife safety

tetons yellowstone

Never approach animals or block traffic to stop and view wildlife.

Always stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves, at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all other large animals, including bison and elk.

Do not feed the animals, especially birds, squirrels and chipmunks. Chips and snacks are bad for many animals – feed them people food and they can end up dead.


Fire safety

fire danger safety sign

Each summer, wildfires can be caused by lightning strikes and human activities. Drought, high winds and dry grass conditions create extreme fire danger.

Campfires are only permitted within the fire rings in campgrounds. Campfires must be attended at all times and don’t leave until they are completely out.

To see any wildfire alerts, check out NPS for the park you’re visiting and national weather service.

If a wildfire is burning in your area, don’t go out on a hike – air quality alone will make it unhealthy. Fires are unpredictable, access roads can close, trails may be engulfed in flames.


Extreme heat

In summer, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Mojave National Preserve, temperatures are typically over 100. Death Valley always has the hottest temperatures, 120+ degrees.

Getting out of an air conditioned car in the desert in summer, initially it might not seem that hot. But temperatures over 100 degrees are a significant safety risk, particularly without access to water or shade.

Extreme heat vitally impacts your body and can result in heat stroke, which is life threatening.

Our recommendation is don’t visit California desert national parks in summer, it’s just too hot.


Here’s useful information for planning trips to the following parks this summer:


NPS Yellowstone

yellowstone emerald pool

There are boardwalks around all the thermal areas, which are boiling hot and can cause fatal burns: Yellowstone safety tips.

On Travel for Kids find lots of fun things to do with kids in Yellowstone and where to stay.


NPS Arches

arches national park

April 1 – October 31, timed entry reservation is required. To visit the park, select the day and time you want to visit, pay your entrance fee online or buy a park pass, have your ticket ready to scan when you arrive at Arches.

Tip: When you arrive the park, don’t be late; miss your time slot, you may not be allowed in.

March through October, expect long wait times and busy parking lots. Parking is very limited, parking lots are often full before 9 am, access to the park can be temporarily restricted, for up to 3 – 5 hours.

There are no gas stations inside the park.

Our favorite hikes for kids in Arches, and where to see petroglyphs on Travel for Kids.


NPS Great Smoky Mountains

great smoky mountains panorama

A parking tag is required (if staying longer than 15 min.) Daily, weekly and yearly parking tags are available. Buy a parking tag online, or at visitor centers and stores inside the park.

All the details: Parking tags

Trails can be closed due to bear activity. Find out about Bears in the Smokies – what to do if you see a bear, proper food storage, citations for feeding bears.


NPS Muir Woods

muir woods ferns

Located in Marin across from San Francisco, Muir Woods is opportunity to take a hike in magnificent coast rewoods. Muir Woods are very popular and parking is very limited.

Advance reservations are always required for car parking and shuttle, at a location away from the woods: Muir Woods Park and Shuttle

No cell phone service or Wi-Fi is available in Muir Woods, ride share or taxi is not recommended.

More outdoor activties and hikes with kids in Marin County on Travel for Kids.


NPS Mount Rainier

mount rainier

Grove of the Patriarchs is closed.

Park only accepts electric card payments (no cash) for entrance fees and campgrounds.

Trail conditions – Due to snow, popular trails such as the Skyline Trail may not open until mid-June. Check trail conditions before planning which trail to take.

Paradise and Sunrise parking lots are very crowded in summer, these lots are full by late morning. Read tips for traffic congestion.

Tips for hiking our favorite trail, the Skyline Loop Trail (may be snow on trail so wear shoes, look for marmots, shortcut if kids get tired) and other easy hikes on Travel for Kids.


NPS Yosemite

vernal fall rainbow yosemite

Check Yosemite road and trail conditions for current information. Flooding or wildfires may require postponing your visit.

Yosemite requires day-use reservation for specific days to drive into the park – April 13 to October 27, between 5am and 4pm.

If you want to drive through the park, on Hwy 120 through Tuolumne Meadows to cross to the other side of the Sierra, day-use reservation is also required.

Tip: If you have campground, hotel or vacation rental reservation inside the park, a day-use reservation is not needed.

April to October, Yosemite campgrounds are available by reservation only, and are very popular. Find tips for making campground reservations, and opening dates, this year some campgrounds will not open until July at the earliest.

Check out Travel for Kids list of hotels and vacation rentals for Yosemite, along with fun things to do with kids.