The United States is home to 59 national parks that are operated by the National Park Service. In order for an area to become a national park it must first be established as such by the United States Congress. The very first national park in U.S. history is Yellowstone National Park which was commissioned in 1872 by Ulysses S. Grant. The goal of a national park is to keep a unique natural area as pristine as possible for the enrichment, education and entertainment of the public. And at the same time these national parks protect vital areas of wilderness for future generations to come. However, before visiting a national park it is always advised to do your homework about the typical weather conditions so you know what to expect. While there can be no definitive list of the warmest or coldest national parks, averages do tend to exist.
One of the most extreme national parks in terms of weather is Saguaro National Park in Arizona. Saguaro is located in Tucson in the most southern portion of Arizona. Arizona is well known for being hot much of the year and this national park is no different. During the winter it is not unusual to see temperatures in the 70’s. Summer is when the heat really kicks in and average daytime temperatures can be well over 100 degrees. If you plan to visit this park you will need to carry lots of water, wear sunscreen and avoid being outdoors during the afternoon hours when the sun is at its peak.
The number one hottest national park in the United States is definitely the Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada. Death Valley is one of the driest and hottest places anywhere on the planet. In fact, it holds the record for having the hottest recorded temperature on Earth when the temperature was recorded at 134 degrees in 1913. During the summer months it is not unusual for the temperature to reach 120 degrees. But to offset this, the average nightly temperature during the winter months will be below freezing. Be sure to take precautions if you plan to visit Death Valley during the summer. Make sure that you have supplies and will not be stranded. The most popular time for visitors is the spring when the weather is more mild and the wildflowers are blooming.
Denali National Park in Alaska is one of the most diverse national parks in the United States. It includes everything from dense forest to vast glacier fields. Every year this park plays host to most than 400,000 guests for activities from hiking to dog sledding. This park has a very short summer season when the temperatures can range into the 70’s. The winter months feature humid, cold weather when snow is an every day occurrence. Wildlife is more scarce during the winter, so it is not a popular time for tourists unless they are traveling there for winter snow activities. Spring is the time when most tourists are interested in visiting since the weather is beginning to warm and all of the animals are emerging from the winter months. The birds all return during the spring, most mammals begin their mating season and the bears are exiting hibernation. If you want to visit Denali National Park, this is the perfect time to do so, though it may still be chilly so bring a variety of clothes for all conditions.
Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana and certainly lives up to its mountainous name. The area was first inhabited by Native Americans before it was taken over by the colonizing Europeans. Currently the park is home to many tourist accommodations, including luxurious chalets available for rental. Since this park is so large, the climate can vary greatly from one area to another. As with most other mountain regions, the weather tends to get colder the higher you increase in elevation. During the peak tourist season the temperature ranges between 60 and 70 degrees on average. It can get much colder during the winter when snow and rain are prevalent. The park gets its name from the glaciers that helped to form the mountain range and some still exist to this day. Over the last 10,000 years the glaciers have largely disappeared, but the alpine climate that they helped create remains.
Without a doubt the coldest national park in the United States is the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska. This park is entirely located in the Arctic Circle. The only current permanent residents of the park are the nomads who have inhabited the land for thousands of year. For tourists, the park is not accessible by car. A visitor has only two choices, walk into the park or fly in by helicopter or charter plane. Camping is permitted in all areas except those listed as native lands. Like most of Alaska, the winters are long and the cold weather lasts a majority of the years. Winter temperatures are frequently as low as -70 degrees. Spring and summer temperatures are more suitable for visitors but it can still be cold during night time hours.
The important thing to remember about visiting the national parks of the United States is that they are a wilderness area. The weather and climate will vary from year to year or season to season. Do your research before you make your trip and plan for the most common outcomes. Have a backup plan just in case things do not go as planned. And most importantly, enjoy your stay and appreciate the natural beauty that these parks protect.