It's a great time to begin making your spring/summer plans. Last year I fulfilled a lifelong dream of hiking more than 22 national sites. I had hiked Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Horseshoe Bend in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon National Park, and Sedona, Arizona the previous November. There are a total of 63 national parks in the United States. It's my goal to visit all of them.
I planned my trip carefully prior to getting on the road. The first day was the longest drive - 13 hours. I timed it so that I spent the night near each site, hiked early in the morning until lunch, ate, and then got back on the road. I had an especially good time in Capitol Reef National Park and Mesa Verde National Park because of my hikes. Most people at Mesa Verde National Park drove to the parking lot, observed the ruins, and then got back in their car. Find the great trails, and always take water and snacks.
Arches National Park was the biggest disappointment, mainly because I was turned away initially after driving 6 hours because it was too full. It's probably a gorgeous place to drive through when there aren't thousands of people. I was able to go back after a long drive to get lunch. It doesn't seem to have any great hikes. Hovenweep National Monument was well worth the drive. I also arrived at 6:30am, and had the entire place to myself. North Cascades National Park, though under snow, and Winthrop, Washington were the highlights. Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop is a major treat.
It's important to check weather conditions. Most of the parks are gorgeous in May, and you can beat the summer traffic. However, Glacier National Park and Mt. Ranier National Park are probably more accessible later in the summer. I've been to Crater Lake National Park twice, and both times it was under snow, though I did find nice hikes at lower elevations where the snow was beginning to melt.
Sites visited: Great Basin National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Yucca House National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park, Olympic National Park, Mt. Ranier National Park, Newberry Volcanic National Monument, Crater Lake National Park, Lava Beds National Monument, and Lassen Volcanic National Park. I also enjoyed a long-overdue visit with my little sister Kati, brother-in-law Marc, and my nephew, Ryder who hiked his first ever national park (Olympic NP) with me on this trip.