America's 5 Wettest National Parks (and How to Stay Dry)
There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing. Sure, it’s a tough-guy cliché that outdoor enthusiasts like to throw around, but there is some truth to it. At the very least, you shouldn’t let a little rain—or even a lot of rain—spoil a trip to one of the most beautiful spots on earth.
And America’s National Park System is filled with such destinations. From Acadia National Park off the coast of Maine to Olympic National Park in the Pacific Northwest, you can explore the lush green landscapes that draw millions of visitors each year. But to get those stunning vistas and powerful waterfalls, some rain must fall.
Don’t let the trip of a lifetime be derailed when the weather forecast doesn’t go as planned. We offer five of the wettest national parks in America—which should be on everyone’s bucket list—plus tips for how to ensure that you can stay dry and comfortable while exploring nature’s wonders.
1. Olympic National Park
This national park on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State features a little bit of everything—Pacific coastline, temperate rainforest, and the Olympic Mountains, which are topped with massive glaciers. Those mountains help produce the storms that dump rain on the western side of the peninsula, creating lush rainforests and rivers with rushing whitewater. From the craggy summits of the Olympic Mountains, all the way to the sea stacks along the coast, the western half of the Olympic Peninsula gets fully saturated with precipitation—some sections receive more than 150 inches of rain a year.
That unique geography has created several distinct eco-systems in the park, each with its own must-see trails and vistas. Just one example is the hike from Hoh River to Mineral Creek Falls, where a gorgeous waterfall and creek weave their way through the lush, dense rainforest.
Tip to Stay Dry: Be prepared with rain gear. This means a waterproof jacket and pants to keep you dry under extended wet conditions. But since you’re hiking, it’s easy for sweat moisture to build up inside—so pit zips in your jacket and vents in your pants can make a big difference in keeping you comfortable. Also, don’t forget your head—that cotton baseball cap is great to shade you from the sun and in a light drizzle, but it will quickly become saturated in a steady rain, and you’ll get soaked from the top-down.
2. Acadia National Park
On the opposite coast, Acadia National Park is located primarily on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. Founded in 1916, it was the first national park in the eastern United States. It, too, features a diversity of terrain to explore, including granite cliffs and cobblestone beaches along the shore line, with lush forests and the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast filling the interior of the park.
The topography is the result of glaciers carving through the island’s granite, resulting in mountains separated by deep valleys. Those glaciers, which melted 11,000 years ago, also left behind many scenic lakes and ponds—and the only fjord on the east coast of the United States. The park features more than 120 miles of hiking trails that will help you explore the island. The Acadia Mountain and St. Sauver Loop is one quick trip (3.9 miles) that offers incredible vistas and a view of the fjord at Somes Sound.
In terms of weather, nor’easters can bring heavy rains and pounding waves to the island in winter and early spring—these storms shouldn’t be messed with. Like most coastal regions, the weather at Acadia is unpredictable, with rainstorms a possibility at anytime.
Tip to Stay Dry: Waterproof your backpack. Fully waterproof backpacks are expensive, so most people opt for water-resistant packs with a cover for heavy rain. Use it. Also be sure that anything sensitive to water—like phones, cameras, maps, extra socks—are in Ziploc or waterproof dry-bags. In wet conditions, open your pack as little as possible. No matter how careful you are, water always seems to find a way in.
3. Redwood National Park
Home to the tallest trees on earth, Redwood National Park in northern California also features prairies, oak woodlands, wild rivers, and 40 miles of Pacific coastline. But the unworldly giant redwoods are what draws nearly a million people a year to the old-growth temperate rain forest. Nearly half of the remaining redwoods in the world are contained in this national park, and the tallest trees reach well over 300 feet tall. (The tallest, named Hyperion, is estimated to be 379 feet high.)
Hiking through a grove of redwoods is truly a remarkable experience. The 2.6-mile Mill Creek Trail in the northern section of the park is a half-day hike that follows the crystal-clear stream that’s bordered by thick redwood forests.
Visitors to Redwood National Park should be prepared for rain any time of the year, but the wet season is from October to April, where it receives between 60 and 80 inches of rain.
Tip to Stay Dry: Wear waterproof boots with non-slip soles. The mossy, moist terrain of the redwood forest make this a good idea even if it’s not raining. In heavier rain, gaiters are an excellent idea. These waterproof coverings go over the top of your boot and under your rain pants so that no water gets in. For shorter hikes, many people prefer trail running shoes. Look for models that are at least water resistant—traditional running shoes offer excellent breathability, but almost zero protection against water.
4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The most visited national park in America, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is located on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The Appalachian Trail runs through the park, and at more than half a million acres, it’s one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States.
The park also contains the largest deciduous, temperate-old growth forest in North America. The wide range of altitude in the park has also helped to create an incredible variety of biodiversity. From Abrams Creek, which is only 875 feet above sea level, to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park at 6,643 feet, you’ll find more than 10,000 varieties of plants and animals living in the park, according to the National Park Service.
A huge variety of options await those interested in exploring the Smokies, from challenging high-altitude trails to the many waterfalls to explore. One relatively easy 5-mile hike takes visitors to Abrams Falls, a powerful waterfall that empties into a 100-foot wide pool, which is a popular spot to cool off in warmer weather.
The park is in one of the wettest sections in the eastern United States, receiving more than 55 inches of rain a year in the valleys and more than 85 inches of rain in the mountains. Spring brings the most moisture—and most unpredictability, with sunny skies turning to snowstorms very quickly. In the summer, afternoon showers and thunderstorms are always a possibility.
Tip to Stay Dry: Keep the wet out of the tent. After a day of hiking, keep those wet backs, boots, jackets, etc., outside of the tent and in the vestibule when you camp. A dry sleeping bag makes for a comfortable night’s rest.
5. Everglades National Park
So here’s where you expect to get wet—at America’s biggest swamp. Everglades National Park in Florida protects the bottom 20 percent of the original Everglades, which is America’s largest wilderness east of the Mississippi. You’ll find an amazing amount of wildlife in the park, including 36 threatened or protected species, including the American crocodile, Florida panther, and the manatee. Because of all that water, the Everglades are often best explored by paddling a canoe or kayak, or taking a ride on a tram or boat, both of which are available to visitors.
But that’s not to say that there isn’t hiking available. Many shorter hikes feature boardwalk trails that let you explore the Everglades without getting wet. But the Pineland section of the park are higher islands that feature broadleaf trees and shrubs. You’ll find several miles of hiking trails to explore, and even primitive camping sites. If you really want to explore the Everglades close-up, several sections of the park offer slogging, which is wet, off-trail hiking. Bring your waders.
The park features two pretty distinct seasons: wet and dry. From December until May, the park is relatively dry by Florida standards, with any rain in short outbursts. In the wet season the rest of the year, those outbursts come often and can often dump several inches of rain at a time. In other words, in the wet season, expect to get wet at some point during the day.
Tip to Stay Dry: Embrace the water. At the Everglades, you can expect to get wet, either in the park or during the inevitable deluge from the sky. Plan for it with the appropriate gear and enjoy the experience. Just bring along extra clothes to change into afterward for the ride home or sleeping at night. And bringing along a towel is never a bad idea.
Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.