July and August are family vacation time- the kids are out of school and the summer sun makes folks of all ages want to get outside and explore. The natural beauty of America’s Western National Parks is a siren song best heeded in the cooler months of the spring and autumn when tourists are less copious, but summertime is understandably often the season when it is most convenient for families to travel. However, when temperatures are already topping out the thermometer at home, an adventure in the brutal summer heat of Joshua Tree or the Grand Canyon might not be the best plan… Why not try one of these ideas to discover the majestic nature of the western United States, without burning to a crisp.

Bryce Canyon is one of the most dramatically beautiful painted landscapes of the west; its walls scintillate with color and wild, wavy patterns while uncanny rock pillars called hoodoos tower above. At 8 to 9 thousand feet above sea level, summer daytime temperatures at Bryce are pleasant and nighttime temperatures can be quite cool. Be aware that like much of the southwest region of the United States, July and August are the rainy season for Bryce. Frequent (although usually brief) afternoon thunderstorms produce heavy rain and often lightning. Visitors are advised to monitor weather reports and have plans for an indoor escape in case of inclement weather. Don’t let this deter you, however, from visiting this awe-inspiring National Park!

More information about Bryce Canyon can be found at https://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is harder to get to than its more popular and famous southern sibling, and is thus more wild and secluded. It is at over 8,000 feet in elevation, so it is cooler than the South Rim, although it can still be quite hot in summer. The difference is that while the North Rim is in the late 80s/early 90s degrees Fahrenheit in summer, the South Rim is already experiencing heat advisories for temperatures above 110 degrees by early July! If this queen gem of America’s National Parks is a must-see for your family in the summertime, consider this slightly off-the-beaten-path option, just as breathtaking as can be. Thorough info on the North Rim can be found at https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/north-rim.htm

Redwood National Park in the far northern reaches of California’s Humboldt County, is foggy and cool even in the height of summer. A visit could be combined with a scenic drive up the 101 Highway from San Francisco, passing through Sonoma wine country, kitschy roadside attractions like Confusion Hill in Mendocino County, and cute coastal college town Arcata. The park features some of the tallest trees in the world, as well a canyon with 50 foot walls covered in giant ferns. More information about Redwood National Park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/redw/index.htm

Lassen Volcanic National Park is close to Redding, California, which is along I-5, making it a good stop for travelers headed between the Pacific Northwest and Sacramento or the Bay Area. Lower elevations in the park will be quite hot (as will Redding), but some of Lassen’s most spectacular hikes are at higher elevations. Bumpass Hell is one of the must-see destinations in the park. Its boiling lakes and steaming sulfur fumaroles dramatically illustrate why “Volcanic” is in the name! The hike through this area is at a cooler, high elevation, and is an easy boardwalk about 3 miles in length, or roughly 2 hours walking time total. More information about Lassen Volcanic National Park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/lavo/index.htm

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is hot in summer, but Hume Lake is a great place to go with kids. The lake is easy to access, there are tons of boat rental opportunities, and in summer it’s effortless swimming with lots of shallow bits for kids who aren’t as comfortable in the water. And you can’t beat seeing those giant sequoia trees! Very easy hiking. More information about Hume Lake Recreation Area can be found at http://www.visitsequoia.com/Hume-Lake.aspx