As temperatures rise and winter melts into spring, ecosystems across North America get ready to show off. All this snowmelt means it’s almost wildflower season—and because our national parks encompass so many different biomes and latitudes, you can string together wildflower hikes at parks across the United States from February until September. There’s no shortage of places to take in blooms, and these seven parks are the cream of the crop.
Peak Dates: Mid-May to mid-June
Rugged Acadia National Park has a softer side, too. You can catch it in late May and early June, when the park comes to life with pink and magenta rhodora flowers—often by the meadowful. The trail to the top of Sargent Mountain is a great place to spot the blooms as they take over the hillsides, though the real highlight is on the two-mile Great Meadow Loop.
Acadia gets an encore act later in the season, in August and September, when the goldenrods and asters are out en masse. To learn all about the park’s flora, head to the Wild Gardens of Acadia, where volunteers have labeled and maintained more than 300 plants for over a half-century.
Peak Dates: June and August
Because Glacier National Park is so far north—it actually straddles the Montana/Canada border—its peak season comes a bit later, when blooms across much of the rest of the country have already petered out. (Its spring flowers, particularly the glacier lily, aren’t too shabby either.) Head to the Two Medicine area to see purple asters ablaze, and don’t miss Preston Park and the Highline Trail for far-as-the-eye-can-see wildflower vistas. It doesn’t hurt that the park’s telltale striated peaks and breathtakingly clear turquoise lakes often make an appearance in the backdrop.
Peak Dates: Mid-April through mid-May
Peak season at Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in late spring, but with more than 1,500 flowering plant species—with gorgeous names like spring beauty, trillium, and blue fox—you can catch blooms from February through September if you know where to look.
The super-peak period in late April and early May also happens to be when the greatest number of waterfalls are flowing in the park, which means you can see some of the best sights in one trip. Don’t miss the Gregory Bald Trail for a stunning show of azaleas in early summer.
Peak Dates: February through May
The desert gets a reputation for being barren, but that’s not so in Joshua Tree National Park, which sits at the intersection of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. Because the park (which is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island) encompasses so many different elevations and ecosystem, its peak date range is long—you can catch desert flowers in bloom from February through May most years.
The Teddy Bear Cholla, though less cuddly than it sounds, is particularly incredible, and the desert paintbrush and Utah firecracker really do live up to their names.
Peak Dates: March through August (sporadic)
One of the most enticing things about heading to Saguaro National Park to see plants in bloom is just how finicky those flowers are—when and how brilliantly Saguaro’s flora will bloom depends on the amount of rainfall it’s had the previous season, how warm it’s been, and numerous other environmental factors.
But when the plants here go off, they really put on a show. The saguaro cactus creates huge white flowers, and the landscape comes alive with desert marigolds and prickly pear cactus flowers. If you can, visit in the spring to avoid baking in the summer heat—temperatures often soar into the triple digits in June and July.
Peak Dates: June through August
Mount Rainier may be the crown jewel of its namesake national park, but it’s got a lot of competition (and it makes an attractive background when you’re scouting wildflowers on, say, the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which circumnavigates the mountain).
The peak-of-the-peak is in late July and early August—blooms happen later at the northern latitudes of the Pacific Northwest, after all. For the most bang for your buck, including sweeping views and plenty of up-close encounters with asters, lilies, dwarf lupine, and phlox, take a hike on the Skyline Trail.
Peak Dates: May
For a park that’s one-third covered by water, Voyageurs makes the most of its land mass with an awe-inspiring display of more than 400 wildflower species. The park is part southern boreal forest, part northern hardwood forest, and all spectacular.
You’ll find columbines and wild strawberries in the uplands, blue flag iris along the coast, and lady’s slippers (a type of orchid and Minnesota’s state flower) in the forest. The greatest number of flowers and berries are in bloom in late spring, but you can spot wildflowers well into the fall.