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The Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Western national parks like Yellowstone, Zion, and Joshua Tree are among our most iconic, but it’s the journeys road-tripping in between them that provide the greatest opportunities for adventure. From Montana to Southern California, here’s how to make the most of this itinerary and avoid the crowds.

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From Yellowstone in Montana to Joshua Tree in Southern California, this road trip tags seven national parks, covers 1,270 miles, and offers epic adventures all along the way. We’ve come up with a fun-packed plan that includes hiking, mountain biking, paddling, and stargazing detours—but not in the places you might think. Because our national parks get so crowded come summer, this itinerary celebrates all the spectacular terrain in between the parks, the places to see as you’re road-tripping from one to another.

Do the whole drive, or pick off one portion of it and save the rest for another time.

Yellowstone road trip map illustration

Route: Big Sky, Montana, to Jackson, Wyoming

Park: yellowstone.

Yellowstone is best known for its valley-level sights—roaming wildlife and hydrothermal features—but the park’s mountains, which rise to 11,000 feet, are just as astounding. Many of the tallest lack established trails to the top, but 10,574-foot Avalanche Peak, on the quieter eastern border, is an exception. A 2.1-mile trail affords views of the Absaroka Range, Yellowstone Lake, and even the Grand Teton. You will likely have those views to yourself, but you’ll have to work for them, as the route ascends more than 2,000 feet. Need to know: You can climb Avalanche Peak without a permit.

Adventure: Teton Pass

Highway 22 connects the towns of Jackson and Victor, Idaho, and tops out at Teton Pass, where crews built a world-class mountain-bike trail system that traverses the roadway into Bridger-Teton National Forest. It’s a 12-mile pedal from either town, or you can hire a shuttle, then connect Fuzzy Bunny, Powerline, and Parallel for a downhill route that promises tight, rocky singletrack, epic scenery, and too many jumps to count.

Stay: Montage Big Sky

The Spanish Peaks provide the backdrop for this new alpine lodge, which opened in December with 139 rooms and suites, a worthy addition to Big Sky Resort’s 5,850-acre property. In winter that means ski-in, ski-out access; in summer you get lift-assisted hiking and mountain biking. Bonus:  The resort is within striking distance of five blue-ribbon trout streams. From $1,399

Eat and Drink: The Riverhouse

The food at this homey joint in Gallatin, Montana, is exactly what you need after a big day in the mountains: authentic Texas barbecue, with a menu full of brisket, smoked sausage, and mac and cheese (which you can load with fried chicken, bacon, and broccoli, if you’re into that).

Detour: St. Anthony Sand Dunes

Dip into eastern Idaho to check out this otherworldly landscape: 10,600 acres of fine white quartz ridges, some of which are 400 feet high. Rent a dirt bike or an off-road vehicle in the town of St. Anthony to explore the site, most of it accessible from April to January.

Route: Jackson, Wyoming, to Moab, Utah

Park: grand teton.

This park is all about the skyline—dominated by 13,000-foot peaks—but there are also a hundred stunning bodies of water within its boundaries, ten of which are open for boating. Bring a fly rod and an inflatable paddleboard and hike 2.5 miles to Taggart and Bradley Lakes, a pair of small, glacier-fed ponds that offer some of the most incredible views of the Tetons. Need to know: A $17 permit lets you take a boat onto any of the park’s waters, and with a Wyoming fishing license you can keep up to six lake trout per day.

Adventure: Evo’s Campus in Salt Lake

Outfitter, hotel, climbing gym, bike shop, art gallery—the gear retailer’s new Salt Lake City complex is all these things, which makes it the perfect base for exploring the nearby outdoor scene. Stock up on road-trip supplies, get your bike tuned, send lines in the 26,000-square-foot climbing area, and wind down in one of 50 artsy rooms (from $175).

Stay: The Virginian Lodge

The motor lodge is back in all the best ways, and they’re on full display at this renovated sixties-era hotel. Most rooms surround a heated pool, but there are also eight-person bunk rooms and an RV resort. The property revived Billy’s Burgers, an old-school Jackson staple, and boasts its own saloon—so you can stumble in after a packed day and never leave. From $139

Eat and Drink: The Bistro

At this yummy spot in Jackson, located within the new Cloudveil Hotel facing the town square, you’ll find elevated French fare without the pretension. There’s a great raw bar, but save room for hearty entrées like the bison tenderloin with huckleberry sauce.

Detour: The Plunge

Moab has long been the epicenter of desert mountain biking, but the newly built Palisades Plunge is drawing riders some 120 miles east to shred 32 miles’ worth of epic technical singletrack. The route, reached by shuttle, begins at the edge of 10,700-foot Grand Mesa and unravels in an undulating ribbon interspersed with plenty of slickrock, hairpin switchbacks, and the occasional stretch of nerve-racking exposure, and ends in downtown Palisade, where breweries and dispensaries abound.

Canyonlands road trip map illustration

Route: Moab, Utah, to Bryce, Utah

Park: canyonlands.

Want to get deeper into this backcountry paradise and ditch the crowds? You’ll need a boat. The 52-mile Stillwater Canyon section of the Green River is mellow, breathtaking, and canoe-friendly. Plan for at least four days, during which you’ll be flanked by red sandstone cliffs and camp on sandy beaches or slickrock ledges, depending on the water level. Organize a jet-boat shuttle with Tex’s Waterways to bring you from the take-out at Spanish Bottom back to Moab (from $60). Need to know: Book a flatwater overnight permit ($36), sold on a first-come, first-served basis, at least two days in advance.

Park: Arches

This park has gotten so packed in recent years that it adopted timed entry to spread visitors out. You can help by heading to the northern section, home to the Tower Arch. To get to the 92-foot-long formation, drive the gravel Salt Valley Road, then hike the Tower Arch Trail (2.5 miles out and back). Along the way, admire views of the Klondike Cliffs, a collection of towers known as the Marching Men, and the smaller Parallel Arch, all seldom-seen treasures. Need to know: Reserve a time slot at least three months before your trip.

Adventure: Capitol Reef National Park

It would be silly to drive past Capitol Reef and not drop in. The park protects the bizarre Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Unless you’re toting technical climbing gear, focus on slot-canyon hikes like Sheets Gulch. This remote, nine-mile out-and-back trek winds through narrow Navajo sandstone walls before opening up at a wide wash surrounded by Douglas fir.

Stay: The Moab Resort

It’s hard to beat the location of this new property, which is only a few miles south of Arches National Park. But the digs are just as scenic: adobe buildings that blend in perfectly with the surrounding red-rock canyon. You have your choice of a standard hotel room or a three-bedroom condominium with a kitchen. From $368

Eat and Drink: 98 Center

The happy side effect of Moab becoming an adventure epicenter? The food just keeps getting better. Case in point: this hot spot of Vietnamese fusion serves inventive dishes like kimchi deviled eggs and banh mi nachos.

Detour: The Rocky Mountaineer

This luxury train company, which got its start running multiday routes in the Canadian Rockies, recently debuted its first U.S. itinerary: the Rockies to Red Rocks. The two-day journey, which connects Moab with Denver, has you overnighting in Glenwood Springs. You’ll take in dramatic panoramas of canyons that carve up the Continental Divide (some of which can only be seen from a train car or a boat) and enjoy three-course meals and sweeping views from glass-domed coach cars. From $1,375 for two people

Zion road trip map illustration

Route: Bryce, Utah, to Joshua Tree, California

Park: bryce canyon.

Bryce is known for its high-desert landscape, with towering hoodoos that rise like exclamation points from the amphitheater-like canyon. The park is blessed with a relative abundance of water and a rain-catchment system, which yields an interior full of fir, spruce, and aspen forests. Backpack the 23-mile (one-way) Under the Rim Trail through surprisingly lush meadows, which burst into blue from columbine flowers in late summer. Need to know: Secure a $10 backcountry permit at the visitor center, camp in one of seven designated sites, and arrange a shuttle. There are springs along the trail, but check with the ranger station about water availability before you set out.

Stay: Under Canvas

Perched on 750 acres of high plains, the newest property from this glamping operator is just 15 minutes from the park and located at 7,600 feet of elevation (which means summer temperatures in the seventies and eighties). Each tent has a bathroom, a king-size bed, a wood-burning stove, and views of John’s Valley. From $329

Detour: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

This underappreciated preserve on the Arizona-Utah border features Zion-quality slot canyons without the throngs. The site’s signature adventure—backpacking Paria Canyon—guarantees solitude: only 20 permits are granted each day. The 38-mile, nontechnical hike follows a riverbed deep into the canyon, delivering you to narrows where rock walls rise 200 feet. You’ll need a four-wheel-drive rig with high clearance to really explore.

This sandstone stunner is a road cyclist’s dream, starting with the main thoroughfare, Zion Scenic Drive, which is closed to all vehicles except shuttle buses. The real gem is Kolob Terrace Road, a remote two-lane blacktop that traverses the park’s western edge for 25 miles, gaining 5,000 feet of elevation. If you have a gravel bike, you can add on Smith Mesa Road, a hardpack dirt track that forms a 25-mile loop around Smith Mesa. Need to know: Reserve a spot on the park’s free shuttle to explore Zion Scenic Drive.

Adventure: Lake Mohave

You’ve been in the desert for a stretch, and you’re heading into more of it, so a dip in a lake is mandatory. While Lake Mead is the busy backyard pool of Las Vegas, the lesser-known Lake Mohave, farther down the Colorado River, is ideally suited to paddlers. Launch at Willow Beach and head upriver along the Black Canyon National Water Trail to look for quiet coves that reveal hot springs, waterfalls, and caves. If you can, plan your trip for a Sunday or Monday, when motorboats aren’t allowed in certain stretches.

Stay: Zion Spirit

This wilderness retreat, recently opened on 1,100 acres in the Clear Creek Mountains, is just a mile from Zion’s eastern border. It’s outfitted with 40 suites and small cabins, all of which focus on sustainability—think solar-paneled roofs shaped like leaves—and each cabin has a wellness studio and wraparound terrace. Other amenities include a restaurant, a pool, and an aquaponics greenhouse. From $3,000

Eat and Drink: River Rock Roasting Company

This café in the tiny town of La Verkin might have the best coffee and most enviable views in southern Utah. Seek out a spot on the patio—it overlooks a basalt canyon carved by the Virgin River—and enjoy a morning breakfast burrito, then come back at night for a pint and a kale and sausage pizza.

Park: Joshua Tree

There are plenty of remote stretches you can reach by foot in this nearly 800,000-acre park, but triple-digit temperatures in the summer make any big adventure foolish at best, deadly at worst. The solution? Go underground and check out a handful of small caves and rock shelters that few visitors know about. Most dramatic is a quarter-mile passageway called Chasm of Doom. Technical climbing gear isn’t required, but you’ll be scrambling into cathedral-like rooms and squeezing through narrow corridors, so come mentally prepared. Need to know: Even if you’re hanging out in a cave, heat is no joke. Bring lots of water and, for the dark, a headlamp.

Stay: The Bungalows

Embrace the desert landscape at these new digs on the 152-acre campus of the Joshua Tree Retreat Center , designed by the late architect Lloyd Wright (who was almost as accomplished as his dad, Frank). The 14 rooms are decked out in mid-century modern furnishings, and the grounds feature hiking trails, a pool, and enough wellness activities to satisfy your inner yogi. It’s all just three miles from Joshua Tree’s entrance and village. From $250

Eat and Drink: Sam’s Indian Food and Pizza

The gateway town of Joshua Tree buzzes with an eclectic dining and cocktail scene, thanks to its proximity to Los Angeles. A Sam’s, you can get authentic chicken tikka masala and a curry pizza. After dinner, head to the Restaurant at 29 Palms Inn, where you can drink prickly pear margaritas by the pool.

  • National Parks
  • Public Lands
  • United States

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West Coast National Parks Road Trip – Your Itinerary (2023)

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article. 

 West Coast National Parks road trip is the ultimate adventure that so many travelers dream about.

From steaming geysers to towering mountains, incredible sequoia trees to red buttes, mesas, and glaciers, National Parks along the West Coast are full of diverse scenery that will leave you in awe. 

The U.S. National Parks System has 63 parks and 41 of them are in the west.

Given the fact that they are spread out across 11 western states, it’s hard to choose a few and let alone one national park. This article provides a complete overview of best national parks to help you map out the best stops along your road trip.

Moab is one of the most popular places to visit in Utah and is home to some of the most beautiful national parks in America.

BEST WEST COAST NATIONAL PARKS: OVERVIEW

For example, if you decide to stay in Moab , a gateway to the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, you can spend up to a weak hiking, rafting along the Colorado River and exploring some of the most stunning backcountry in the United States.

✅ Arrive in Moab via Salt Lake City International Airport where you can rent a car and quickly get on the road.

Utah National Parks

Utah is home to five national parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion and Bryce Canyon that attract millions of visitors and are often referred to as “ The Mighty Five .”

Utah’s red rock country boasts some of the most spectacular landscapes with incredible red mesas, towering buttes, arches and spires that have been carved out by wind and erosion over millions of years.

Utah national parks take time and effort to explore. If you have limited time, consider joining one of guided tours of Utah national parks to get the most out of your trip.

Best guided tours of Utah national parks

PRO TIP: To plan your adventure around Utah National Parks, check my complete to the “Mighty Five.”

Arches is one of the best West Coast National Parks where you can enjoy many easy trails.

Arches National Park

Where to stay:  Expedition Lodge

Famous for more than 2,000 sandstone arches, Arches National Park is a must stop on your itinerary. 

The image of the gorgeous Delicate Arch, the crown jewel of this national park, can be found on many things from Utah’s license plates and road signs to tourism brochures. It’s hardly a surprise to see this park packed with tourists from all over the world, especially during summer. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Check my complete guide to best hikes in Arches National Park

You can also hike the Devil’s Garden Trail, a full-day adventure that will take you through the stunning Fin Canyon. If you want to do easier hikes, you can opt for the Park Avenue lookout or Skylight Arch. 

PRO TIP: If you visit Arches in summer, bring a hat and sunscreen and carry plenty of water because temperatures often reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Plan your hikes for early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds and excessive heat.

Top things to do:  Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, Devil’s Garden, Double Arch, Park Avenue Viewpoint, Landscape Arch, Sand Dunes Arch 

Canyonlands National Park is one of the top West Coast National Parks where you can enjoy camping and hiking.

Canyonlands National Park

Where to stay: Inca Inn Motel

A close neighbor of the Arches, Canyonlands National Park boasts a spectacular landscape dotted with flat mesas, steep canyons and sharp cliffs – similar to Grand Canyon in Arizona, but not as crowded.

Nestled by the Colorado River, Canyonlands offers access to some of the best rafting in the Southwest. The most famous feature of this national park is Mesa Arch that attracts many photographers during sunrise and sunset when the sun is peering out from the red buttes in the distance creating a gorgeous sight. 

Canyonlands is a huge park that is divided in several areas: the Maze, the Rivers, the Needles and the Island in the Sky – the most popular area of the park due to its easy access.

Top things to do:  Grand View Point, Mesa Arch, Buck Canyon Overlook, Aztec Butte.

Monument Valley is one of the most popular destinations in Utah and is a perfect for for your West Coast National Parks road trip.

Monument Valley

Where to stay: Goulding Lodge 

After spending a few days in Moab, many travelers head south to Monument Valley, an amazing red-sand area along the Utah-Arizona that is known for its towering buttes.

 Monument Valley is one of the symbols of the American Southwest. However, Monument Valley is NOT a national park, and it is not covered by the America the Beautiful Pass. If you want to drive along Monument Valley’s scenic loop and do some hiking, you will have to pay a $20 cash fee. 

Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden gem of Utah and is one of the best West Coast National Parks if you want to get off the beaten track.

Capitol Reef National Park

Where to stay: Capitol Reef Resort 

The least visited of all Utah national parks, Capital Reef is a true treasure that stretches for over 60 miles along the red-rock backcountry. 

Located away from the major travel route, Capitol Reef is Utah’s hidden gem. It requires more time and effort to reach, but when you get here, you will be treated to truly remarkable landscapes!

Best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

This national park is dominated by arches, and gigantic sandstone walls above the Fremont River. One of the highlights of the park is Capitol Reef Scenic Drive where you can find many overlooks and trailheads.

PRO TIP: To learn about the best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park, check my complete guide to best hiking trails and overlooks in Capitol Reef that will help you to plan your trip.

Spend at least two days in Capitol Reef to explore some of its highlights like Cathedral Valley, a variety of spectacular hikes where you very well might be the only hiker!

Top things to do:  Sunset Point, Rim Overlook Trail, Capitol Gorge Trail, Grand Wash Trail and Cassidy Arch. 

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Where to stay: Bryce Canyon Resort

 If you have a limited amount of time and not sure what national parks in Utah you should visit, head to Bryce Canyon National Park. You can reach Bryce Canyon from Capitol Reef National Park, via Utah Scenic Byway 12, a 122-mile road that is considered one of the most spectacular roads in the United States.

Famous for its collection of bright orange spires called hoodoos, Bryce Canyon is a sight to behold.

Bryce Canyon is more compact and remote than Zion, and while it doesn’t see as many visitors as Zion, summers here can get busy. The best thing about Bryce is that you can check out most of its overlooks and major hiking trails in just a day, making it a perfect stop along your road trip. 

Use my guide to plan your adventure in Bryce Canyon.

Top things to do:  Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Scenic Drive, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point.

Zion National Park - one of the best West Coast National Parks

Zion National Park

Where to stay: Cable Mountain Lodge  

One of the most visited national parks in the United States, Zion is a small but breathtaking national park in the heart of Utah’s desert roughly 3 hours away from Las Vegas.

Although this park tends to get busy during summer, mid-to-late fall sees less traffic and winter is the most quiet time as temperatures drop and the park gets dusted with snow.

Best tours of Zion National Park from Las Vegas

The most popular hike in Zion is the Angel’s Landing, a challenging trail that leads to a panoramic overlook of the park, but requires a permit If want to explore easier trails in Zion, check out Emerald Pool Trail, Weeping Rock and Riverside Walk. 

Thrill seekers should head to the Narrows , one of the most famous hikes in Zion that requires trekking through the river. Another option is the Subway , a remote portion of the National Park where you will need canyoneering skills. Both of these places require a permit that you need to obtain ahead of your visit.

Top things to do : Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Angel’s Landing, Riverside Walk.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best day trips from Denver where you can enjoy hiking and camping.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Where to stay: Peak to Peak Lodge

Located in the heart of Colorado’s Rockies, Rocky Mountain National Park (or RMNP shortly) has become one of the busiest national parks in the United States. RMNP makes a great addition to your road trip, if you have extra time.

Rocky Mountain National Park is under 2 hours away from Denver , and it offers a perfect escape from the city with its gorgeous trails, snow-capped mountains and wildlife like elks, marmots and bighorn sheep.

Best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Parks

Hiking is the main activity at Rocky Mountain National Park, so get ready to hit the trail! From easy hikes like Bear Lake to more advanced Mount Ida, Chasm Lake and Longs Peak, the only “fourteener” within RMNP, there’s a trail for every level. 

PRO TIP: Check my complete guide to Rocky Mountain National Park to learn about best hikes, overlooks and campsites.

One of the top highlights of Rocky Mountain National Park is Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway by elevation in United States that reaches 12,183 feet. 

The best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is from June through September when most trails and roads are open to traffic. If you visit in winter, you will see significantly fewer people, however, many trails and some of the roads also will be closed during this time.

Top things to do:  Emerald Lake Trail, Bear Lake, Trail Ridge Road, Alberta Falls, Chasm Lake, Sky Pond 

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Where to stay: The Sunset Inn

Great Sand Dunes is Colorado’s newest national park that was designated in 2003. Located at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, Great Sand Dunes National Park spans for 30 miles.

It is also home to the tallest sand in North America that reaches 750 feet! 

This national park is a perfect stop along your Colorado road trip, as it is about 4 hours away from Denver.

Best things to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Some of the most popular activities here are hiking alone the sand dunes and sand boarding. You can rent a sand board in Alamosa, the closest town to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Great Sand Dunes is located in southern Colorado against the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, and temperatures here can vary. October often sees the first snow, and April can have chilly temperatures. If you want to spend time outside, plan your visit for September when crowds begin to dwindle. 

Top things to do: Hiking, sand boarding, camping, swimming in Medano Creek.

Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most popular stops in Yosemite National Park.

Yellowstone National Park

Where to stay: Yellowstone West Gate Hotel

The oldest national park within U.S. National Parks System, Yellowstone spans whopping 2.2 million acres – more than U.S. states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined! Home to half of the world’s active geysers, Yellowstone is easily one of the most famous national parks in the United States. 

Yellowstone is located in the western state of Wyoming, so it’s not along the West Coast. I decided to include Yellowstone in my guide because of its impressive geothermal features like hot springs, geysers and mud bubbles. 

PRO TIP: Since Yellowstone is huge, consider joining a guided tour to see the park’s highlights and learn some history of this impressive national park without having to drive all day long.

Best guided tours of Yellowstone

Yellowstone is huge and exploring it takes time, that’s why you should spend at least 3 days here. Make sure your Yellowstone itinerary includes Old Faithful, West Thumb, Norris Geyser Basin, and Lamar Valley where you can watch wildlife and of course, Grand Prismatic Spring. 

Check my suggested Yellowstone itineraries for your trip. 

Top things to do: Grand Prismatic Spring, West Thumb, Old Faithful, Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, Biscuit Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Located in Wyoming, Grand Teton is one of the most underrated West Coast National Parks.

Grand Teton National Park

Where to stay: The Alpine House 

Yellowstone’s neighbor to the south, Grand Teton National Park is best known for its iconic mountain peaks. This compact but mighty national park is perfect for nature lovers because it has plenty of hikes from easy to more technical ones that require good navigation skills. 

Best things to do in Grand Teton National Park

You can explore the highlights of Grand Teton in a day, although I recommend at least two days in Grand Teton. If you are short on time, take a ride along the park’s 42-mile scenic loop that offers a number of overlooks including Oxbow Bend Turnout , Snake River Overlook and Schwabacher Landing .

And if you want to visit the famous Mormon Row and take photos of the barn, make sure to begin your trip early morning, because that’s when you will have the best light for your photos. 

PRO TIP: It takes about 30-40 minutes from Grand Teton to the south entrance of Yellowstone, and many visitors combine these national parks into one trip.

Top things to do: Jenny Lake, Inspiration Point, Hidden Falls, Taggart Lake, Elk Island.

Glacier National Park in Montana

Glacier National Park

Where to stay: Glacier Park Lodge 

Glacier is a remote national park in northwestern Montana not far from the border with Canada. 

Glacier is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country , and once you get here, you will understand why: its stunning alpine lakes, snow-capped mountains, cascading waterfalls and gorgeous meadows create a superb scenery.

Best things to do in Glacier National Park

Besides driving along the famous “Going-to-the-Sun” road from where you can see many highlights of the park, you should also take time and hike at least a couple of trails. One of the most famous hikes within the park is the Highline Trail that brings you to the cool glacier.

Glacier National Park is also home to an incredible array of biodiversity. Here you can spot marmots, big horn sheep, elk and bears.

Top things to do:  Logan Pass, Hidden Lake, Highline Trail, Many Glacier, Grinner Glacier, Iceberg Lake

Grand Canyon is one of the best national parks near Las Vegas and is a popular stop along the West Coast National Park road trip.

Grand Canyon National Park

Where to stay: Comfort Inn Lucky Lane  

 Grand Canyon’s National Park is a major bucket item for travelers from all over the world, so your trip through Arizona isn’t complete without stopping here.

Spend at least 3 days in Grand Canyon, so you could see more than just a bunch of overlooks. Grand Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, and it offers amazing opportunities for hiking, rafting and camping year-round. 

PRO TIP: If time is short, take a helicopter tour of Grand Canyon from Las Vegas. The tour lasts about 4 hours and includes several stops along the North and West Rim of Grand Canyon.

Best tours of Grand Canyon from Las Vegas

Top things to do: Havasupai Falls, Yavapai Point and Maricopa Point.

Las Vegas is a great stop on your national parks itinerary.

Make a quick stop in Las Vegas

Las Vegas might be known as a party city, but it’s also a great starting point for the road trips to many national parks . After touring national parks in Utah and Arizona, make a stop in Las Vegas to take a quick break from the road and have some fun. 

Whether you want to party or not, try to explore Las Vegas beyond the Strip. 

✅ Learn about the best national parks near Las Vegas

Great Basin National Park in Nevada

Great Basin National Park

Where to stay: Stargazer Inn Nevada

Nevada’s best kept-secret, Great Basin is one of the least visited national parks in the United States. Situated in the eastern part of the state near Utah’s border, Great Basin National Parks takes time and effort to get to, and its remote location keeps crowds at bay.

Unlike some of the most popular national parks that attract millions of visitors per year, Great Basin has had under 100,000 visitors as of recently. 

GOOD TO KNOW: If you want to spend a couple of days in Las Vegas, learn about best places near Las Vegas that you can visit by car.

Best things to do in Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park boasts several peaks that are great for hiking. The highest mountain in the park, Wheeler Peak is 13,063 feet tall. Great Basin is also home to a cool system of caves with stunning formations that is worth a stop.

And, if you like stargazing, you might want to know that this national park is home to some of the most clear dark skies in the United States. Designated as the Dark Sky Park , it has a signature Great Basin’s Night Sky Program that offers ranger-led astronomy talks, full-moon hikes and telescope view events.

Top things to do: Wheeler Peak Hike, Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, Bristlecone Pines, the oldest trees in the world.

Best national parks in California

After spending a few days in Las Vegas, it’s time to head to California that boasts nine national parks, the most of any state in America!

While you can spend weeks or even months trying to visit all of California’s national parks, I’m going to highlight the most scenic ones that you can easily fit into your itinerary. 

Hiking near Zabriskie Point is one of the best things to do in Death Valley

Death Valley National Park

Where to stay: Amargosa Opera House and Hotel

Death Valley , is the largest national parks in the lower 48 states that covers over 3 million acres. It is also the hottest, the driest and the lowest place in North America.

What makes Death Valley worth a visit?

It has some of the highest temperatures in North America that reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit! It’s also full of incredible geological features, gorgeous vistas and wonderful history that goes back to the days of California Gold Rush. 

GOOD TO KNOW: You can reach Death Valley in less than two hours from Las Vegas, which makes it a perfect starting point for exploring California national parks. You can also visit Death Valley National Park with a guided tour from Las Vegas which will save you a lot of time on the road.

Best tours of Death Valley from Las Vegas

Death Valley is one of the most popular West Coast National Parks thanks to its proximity to major cities in the region.

Death Valley is a huge national park with scare cell phone coverage, big distances and limited amenities. Check my guide to stay safe in Death Valley , especially if you visit in spring or summer.

While some people stop in Death Valley only to take a few photos with a giant thermometer near the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, spend at least a day here, because Death Valley has so much to offer!

Top things to do: Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, Mesquite Sand Dunes, Dante’s View.

PRO TIP: It takes about 2 hours to drive through the whole Death Valley National Park toward Lone Pine , a town near the western entrance of the park. From Lone Pine, it’s about 1,5 hour drive north on State Route 395 toward Mammoth Lakes, a popular place to stay the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park .

Joshua Tree is one of the best West Coast National Parks famous for stunning Joshua Trees.

Joshua Tree National Park

Where to stay: El Rancho Dolores 

Joshua Tree is a popular national park under two hours from Los Angeles. 

With landscapes that look like they were taken out of Dr. Seuss books, it’s no surprise that Joshua Tree has become the most popular national park in Southern California.

Why visit Joshua Tree National Park

Home to quirky Joshua Trees that reach up to 10 feet and bizarre-looking boulders,   this park covers 800,000 acres of prime desert habitat . This national park offers spectacular landscapes and wildlife thanks to the two deserts that meet here: the Mojave and Colorado . 

Although visiting Joshua Tree is more convenient if you plan to continue your adventures in Southern California, you should spend a couple of days in Joshua Tree, because of its scenery and clear dark skies.

Top things to do : Skull Rock, Cholla Cactus Garden, Rock Climbing, Stargazing, 49 Palms Oasis Trail, Hidden Valley, Barker Dam. 

Channel Islands is one of the most popular national parks along the West Coast known for its spectacular landscapes and wildlife.

Channel Islands National Park

Where to stay: The Shores Inn

Nicknamed “the Galapagos of North America,” Channel Islands are separated from the mainland by the Santa Barbara Channel and can be reached by boat from Ventura. 

About 2,000 species call these islands home, and because they had to adapt to this unique, isolated environment, many of them exist nowhere else in the world.

✅ Check my guide to the best things to do in Santa Barbara

Best things to do in Channel Islands National Park

Some of the most popular things to do in Channel Islands are kayaking, hiking and wildlife watching. This national park is an adventurer’s paradise as it offers plenty of solitude and incredible untouched landscapes. If you plan to spend a night here, you have to bring your own camping equipment and food.  

Channel Islands boast the rugged beauty and offer a quiet atmosphere with fewer crowds compared to California’s most popular national parks like Joshua Tree and Yosemite.  

Top things to do:  Whale watching, hiking, camping, kayaking and snorkeling.

Make a stop in Lone Pine

To continue your national park road trip from Death Valley, get on the U.S. Route 395 north , aka Eastern Sierra Highway that will bring you all the way to the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park

To crash for the night, stop at Lone Pine, a cute mountain town that looks like a set of a Western movie. But besides having a rugged charm, Lone Pine is also a gateway to adventure in the Eastern Sierras!

Lone Pine sits at the foothills Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Although you need a permit to climb Mount Whitney, you can take a 5-mile hike to the gorgeous Lone Pine Lake trail that starts at Whitney Portal. 

Alabama Hills is a popular stop along the classic West Coast National Park road trip.

Alabama Hills

If you don’t feel like hiking, make a stop at Alabama Hills, a group of hills and rock formations on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada just outside of Lone Pine. Alabama Hills is a popular stop for travelers making their way across California.

A number of movies have been filmed in the area, and you can find a sign at the turnout that will tell you what movies were filmed here. 

You can learn all about them at the Museum of Western Film History at 701 S. Main Street.

After stopping at Alabama Hills head to Bishop along US 395. This town in the Eastern Sierras has become a resort location thanks to a big number of outdoors options.

The largest city in the Owens Valley, Bishop has the most stores and amenities, so it’s a good place place to stock up on food and other essentials before continuing your West Coast National Park road trip.

Here, you can camp, check out Bishop Pass Trail, a popular day hiking trail and rent a boat at Lake Sabrina Boat Landing. 

Mammoth Lakes

Your last stop before the entrance to Yosemite National Parks, Mammoth Lakes is a beautiful mountain town. In winter, it’s a popular location for skiers and snowboarders because of June Mountain and Mammoth Mountain ski resorts. In summer, it’s a great place to hike and camp. 

Mono Lake near Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular stops along the classic West Coast National Park road trip.

Many travelers who visit Yosemite National Park overlook a real gem next to it – Mono Lake!

 Located 13 miles east of Yosemite, Mono Lake contains saline soda that accumulates in high quantities because of the lack of an outlet. The combination of snow-capped Sierras around it and the rock formations make for a truly remarkable scenery. 

The Sierras can have snow all the way through early June, which often affects road conditions. The eastern entrance of the Yosemite National Park near the Tioga Pass is closed when the road gets covered by snow. The pass typically remains closed well into June because of the snow. 

Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks on a classic West Coast National Parks road trip

Yosemite National Park

Where to stay: Yosemite Valley Lodge

Yosemite is a real gem that can take you weeks to explore. Don’t think that you can spend a day here and check it off your list. Instead, plan to spend three to five days in this national park, especially if you are visiting it for the first time.

When is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park?

Yosemite is stunning at any time of the year, but summer is the busiest time with thousands of visitors flocking to the park. Early fall is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park thanks to mild temperatures and thinner crowds.

The area sees the first snow between October and November, which often leads to road closures and limited hiking opportunities.

One of the major downsides of visiting Yosemite National Park in fall is that you will not see the gorgeous waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley. Because of the snowmelt coming down the mountains, May and June are the best months to see waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley such as Yosemite Falls and Nevada Falls. 

Glacier Point is one of the most popular stops in Yosemite National Park

If you plan to visit Yosemite in winter, you will need a high clearance vehicle or chains on your tires. 

A number of events take place during the winter season in Yosemite Valley. The biggest of them happens in February when thousands of visitors come to Yosemite Valley to watch the Yosemite Firefall, an amazing natural phenomenon during which creates an illusion of a hot lava flowing down the cliff. 

Top things to do: Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, Mariposa Grove, Mist Trail, Taft Point and Sentinel Dome, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Tenaya Lake. 

Check my guide to Yosemite to help you plan your adventure!

Sequoia National Park is one of the most beautiful West Coast National Parks

Sequoia National Park

Where to stay: Stony Creek Lodge 

On the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains you will Sequoia National Park. 

Sequoias reach up to 275 feet and although they are not as tall as redwood tress that you can find at Redwood National Park in Northern California, they are considered the largest trees in the world! There are many sections of the park where you can walk among them.

Sequoia National Park is home to General Sherman , the tallest tree in the world located in the Giant Forest.

Sequoia is one of the most popular national parks in California famous for its giant sequoia trees.

Another popular spot at Sequoia National Park is Moro Rock. 

After climbing 400 stairs, you will be treated to a spectacular view of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Don’t forget to bring the camera to capture the stunning views along the way.

Kings Canyon National Park

One of the least crowded national parks in California, Kings Canyon National Park MUST be on your list if you plan to explore one of the best California national parks.

This national park is home to spectacular valleys carved by glaciers over thousands of years – somewhat similar to those in Yosemite, except nowhere near as busy! It boasts one of the deepest canyons in the United States and General Grant Tree – the second largest tree in the world.

Best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park

One of the best hikes at Kings Canyon is Zumwalt Meadow , a stunning vista surrounded by sheer granite walls. The trail to Zumwalt Meadows is just 1.5 miles but it offers superb views with meadows dotted with spectacular wildflowers, a gurgling river, and giant sequoia trees.

Kings Canyon is home to several impressive waterfalls such as Grizzly Falls and Mist Falls . You can easily spend a few days roaming around this national park without noticing how quickly time goes by.

Things to do: Zumwalt Meadow, Grizzly Falls, Mist Falls, General Grant, Grant Grove

Painted Ladies is one of the top stops in San Francisco and is a popular spot for taking photos.

Optional stop in San Francisco

The largest city in Northern California, San Francisco is a must-stop on your California national parks’ itinerary.

From San Francisco, you can take flights to many cities within the United States and overseas. San Francisco is home to a thriving food scene, amazing scenery and plenty of world-class museums – a perfect combo to end your trip on a great note!

The drive from Sequoia to San Francisco is about 4,5 hours, but you will not get bored because driving along some of the most scenic areas in the entire United States. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most remote national parks in California that makes a perfect stop along your West Coast National Parks itinerary if you are crossing from California to Oregon.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Where to stay: Comfort Suites Redding – Shasta Lake 

Lassen Volcanic is one of the most underrated national parks.

Located east of Redding and about 3.5 hours away from Sacramento, it boasts stunning hikes, wonderful geothermal activity and tons of wildlife.

Since this national park is pretty remote, it’s a perfect stop if you are driving from California to Oregon.

The coolest thing about this national are it’s untouched landscapes and less-discovered trails that take you to unspoiled backcountry.

While you can stay in one of accommodations nearby, camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park is a surreal experience because the entire area has incredible dark skies. There are several campgrounds throughout the park where you can find spots for tents and RVs.

Many trails and some roads at Lassen Volcanic National Park tend to close in winter because of heavy snowstorm. May through early September is the perfect time to plan your trip.

Things to do: Bumpas Hell, Manzanita Lake, Lake Helen, stargazing, hiking up Cinder Cone.

Crater Lake National Park is one of the best national parks along the West Coast located in Oregon.

Crater Lake National Park

Where to stay: Golden West Motel

The only national park in Oregon and home to the deepest lake in the United States (1,943 feet deep), Crater Lake National Park is another less visited west coast national park.

The cobalt-blue Crater Lake was created about 7,700 years ago by the eruption and collapse of Mount Mazama. Over time, the volcano’s basin was filled with water and turned into a lake.

Since there are no inlets into the lake, the water in the lake remains crystal clear and maintains its amazing color. There are several designated areas for swimming throughout the area, however the water here is very cold.

Best things to do in Crater Lake National Park

One of the top activities at the park is driving long the scenic Rim Road that has over 30 overlooks of the lake as well as scenic areas like Videa Falls, Pinnacles Overlook and Pumice Castle Overlook . Crater Lake National Park is covered by snow for about 8 months out of the year, as the area gets about 43 feet of snow per year.

It’s common to see snow at this national park as late as June and even July.

Top things to do: Rim Drive, Wizard Island, hiking up Garfield Peak, hiking Mount Scott, camping at Mazama Campground.

Wizard Island, the top of the dormant volcano sits in the middle of the lake and is home to ancient trees. To see it, you can get a boat tour of Crater Lake.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Where to stay: Mountain Meadows Inn

One of the most famous peaks in North America, Mount Rainier towers 14,410 feet above sea level. It can be seen from many parts of Seattle and sits within the namesake national park that is revered by many travelers for its jaw-dropping landscapes.

A favorite spot of John Muir, Mount Rainier National Park is a must stop if you make your way to the Pacific Northwest. Located about 75 miles away from Seattle, it makes for a perfect getaway from the city.

Best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park

It’s one of those national parks that’s best visited in summer because it’s the time when you can see dozens of incredible wildflowers dotting the green hills around Mount Rainier. You can hike to glaciers and enjoy gurgling waterfalls around the park.

FUN FACT : This national park is also home to one of the most popular mountaineering routes: As a “fourteener,” Mount Rainier requires a combination of hiking and mountaineering skills, and many mountain climbers come here to summit the mountain.

Top things to do: Camp Muir Hike, Comet Falls Hike, grove of Patriarchs, Sunrise Point, The Wonderland Trail, The Paradise Region.

Where to start your road trip

There’s no right or wrong way to create your West Coast National Park road trip, with most western states in America having at least one national park.

Start your itinerary in Utah, home to the big five national parks . You can spend weeks roaming around Utah’s red-rock country, kayaking on the Colorado River, and camping under the clear dark skies.

From Utah, you can go north to Wyoming, Montana or continue your trip south to Arizona before arriving in California and finishing your adventure in Oregon or Washington.

If you have more time, you can also start your West Coast National Parks road trip in Colorado, home to three national parks: Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dune and Black Canyon of the Gunnison and make your way to Utah from there.

West Coast National Parks suggested itinerary

  • Begin your trip in Utah – This way you could visit either one or several of Utah national parks or spend a few weeks exploring them.
  • Proceed to Nevada via Arizona – After exploring Utah, make a stop in Grand Canyon National Park, where you should spend at least a few days.
  • Make a stop in Las Vegas – Las Vegas makes a great stop thanks to its proximity to many national parks in the region and natural areas like Red Rock Canyon and Cathedral Gorge State Park. Read my guide about best road trips from Las Vegas
  • Continue to California – You can spend a while exploring the best national parks in California , but if time is short, I recommend Death Valley, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks as some of the musts!
  • Proceed toward Oregon and Washington – If time allows, continue driving north to Oregon where you can visit Crater Lake National Park and further to Washington, home to Mount Rainer National Park and North Cascades National Park.

Tips for visiting

  • Fill up your tank – Only a fraction of West Coast National Parks have gas stations, and gas prices there tend to be higher than normal. If you plan to spend a day exploring one of national parks, fill up your tank ahead of your visit.
  • Don’t rely on your cellphone – Cell phone coverage is sporadic in many national parks, that’s why you should always bring a paper map or download an offline map. For example, many parts of Yosemite have no cell phone coverage, and you should have a paper map especially if you plan to hike.
  • Leave no trace – This is self-explanatory, but I want to restate it: Leave these national parks exactly as you found them: Pristine and beautiful . Pack all your trash, stay on trails and do not leave any marks (or graffiti) on rocks, trees and other objects.
  • You might need a bear spray – Bear spray is a necessity in places like Yosemite and Glacier. Whether you are hiking or camping, carrying a bear spray is a good idea in case you come across a bear and need to quickly get to safety.
  • Amenities could be limited – Many national parks have limited services which means food and gas might not be available before you get outside the park. Some popular national parks like Zion and Yosemite have small convenience stores and restaurants, but prices there tend be higher than in regular stores. Stock up on food and water before visiting the park to avoid unnecessary expenses.
  • Skip weekends – Avoid weekends and big holidays like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Many popular national parks get really crowded on these days, and it can be tough to enjoy the trails and all the scenery simply because there’s too much traffic.
  • Book your hotels in advance – Hotel near many national parks can be pricey . Book your hotels at least a few weeks in advance, especially if you are traveling during summer. Agoda is the best website for booking budget-friendly stays and Hotels has many great deals.
  • Get good gear – Whether it’t the coast, mountains or deserts, proper gear is a must for your West Coast National Parks road trip. REI is one of the best stores whether you can get hiking shoes, a new tent for your camping trip or rock climbing gear.
  • Don’t forget to rent a vehicle – Whether you decide to rent an RV or a regular car depends on your plans. If you are looking for an RV, check out  RVshare , a website with a great selection of all sorts of RV’s, and if you are looking for a regular car, check out DiscoverCars , one of my favorite websites for car rentals with good prices and big inventory.
  • America the Beautiful Pass Is Your Best Friend – If you plan to visit multiple national parks, consider  buying the annual America The Beautiful Pass.  For only $80 you will be able to get into any national park in the United States for one year. An entrance to the national park costs $35 on average, and you can save you a good chunk of money if you plan to hop around.

More resources for planning your trip

Agoda.com  – a great website for budget accommodations near may national parks.

WorldNomads  – Great service for insurance coverage that will keep you safe on the road.

Safety Wing  – Excellent insurance plan for long-term travelers that offers competitive rates is you are planning to stay on the road several weeks in a row. 

GetYourGuide  – Some national parks like Yellowstone or Grand Canyon are really big, and if you are limited on time, Get Your Guide is a great platform that offers awesome tours and top-notch guides.

DiscoverCars  – There’s nothing like exploring some of the best national parks at your own pace. Consider renting a car at Discover Cars , if you want more freedom.

CheapoAir.com  – One of the best platforms for saving money on flights within United States.

Booking.com  – a popular website with tons and tons of options for accommodations.

A West Coast National Parks road trip is the ultimate adventure. It’s the best way to see some of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States and see many regional differences. I recommend no less than two weeks for your adventure if you want to visit some of the best national parks along the West Coast and have time for some extra stops along the way.

Frommer's - Home

Two Itineraries for Taking in the National Parks of the American West

By Frommer's Staff

Even though distances seem vast in the western United States, it's possible to visit more than one of the region's national parks in a single trip. In fact, people often combine visits to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, Yosemite and Sequoia, and Zion and Bryce Canyon.

You can knit the parks of the California desert (Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Mojave Preserve) into a nice itinerary that might even leave you time to stop off in the resort town of Palm Springs. A popular trip for families is a drive through Badlands National Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota, all the way through Devils Tower to Yellowstone. It's not a small stretch, but it's doable if you have more than a week.

Although it can be a lot of fun to combine several national parks in your vacation trip, try not to make the all too common mistake of attempting to see everything there is to see in too short a period of time. Be realistic about how much you want to see at each park, and create an itinerary that lets you thoroughly enjoy one or two aspects of a park rather than just glimpsing every corner as you speed by. And try to schedule a little relaxation time, especially for trips of more than a week -- perhaps loafing in the campground one afternoon, or lounging by the motel swimming pool.

Following are two of our favorite national park tours.

This long circle drive hits five states and involves a lot of driving (or flying regional airlines and renting cars), but it takes you to a fantastic variety of parks -- desert, cave, mountain, and deep canyon, plus one of the world's most fascinating archaeological preserves. We begin and end in Phoenix, Arizona, where almost all major airlines serve the airport, and car and RV rentals are available. We've laid it out for just under 2 weeks, but allowing more time would make it more satisfying.

Day 1: Phoenix, Arizona

After arriving and picking up your rental car or RV, Phoenix is a good spot to stock up on supplies. The city is also famous for its golf resorts, so you may want to hit a few balls before heading south.

Day 2: Saguaro National Park

This is one of America's few national parks dedicated to protecting one specific plant -- the saguaro cactus. Here you will see forests of them. But you'll also see a variety of other plants and animals, such as javelinas -- odd pig-like animals that have mouths so tough they can bite through prickly pear cactus pads. The park has two good scenic drives as well as numerous trails through the Sonoran Desert, including the Valley View Overlook Trail, which provides a close-up view of the desert, and the Signal Hill Petroglyph Trail, where you'll get a good look at some ancient petroglyphs.

Day 3-5: Carlsbad Caverns & Guadalupe Mountains National Parks

One of the largest and most spectacular cave systems in the world, Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico has practically countless cave formations, ranging from the fantastic to the grotesque. Be sure to take the Big Room Self-Guided Tour and the King's Palace Guided Tour. For a genuine caving experience, get your clothes dirty on the Slaughter Canyon guided tour. Just over the state line in Texas, Guadalupe Mountains is a rugged wilderness of tall Douglas firs, offering panoramic vistas and the highest peak in Texas. Recommended for experienced hikers is the trek to the top of Guadalupe Peak. Everyone can enjoy the colors in McKittrick Canyon -- either the trees in fall or the wildflowers in spring.

Day 6: Santa Fe, New Mexico

It's a long drive from Carlsbad Caverns to Mesa Verde National Park, so we recommend breaking it up with an overnight stop in Santa Fe, famous for its art, history, and picturesque adobe buildings. For information, see Frommer's New Mexico.

Day 7-9: Mesa Verde National Park

The largest archaeological preserve in the United States, Mesa Verde contains intriguing, well-preserved cliff dwellings, plus mesa-top pueblos, pit houses, and kivas, built by the ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) people hundreds of years ago. Recommended stops here are Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the Southwest, and Balcony House.

Day 10: Petrified Forest National Park

Especially colorful after a rainstorm has washed away the dust, this national park is a fascinating look at an unreal world of wood turned to stone. Take the 28-mile scenic drive, stopping at the pullouts and walking some of the short trails. We especially recommend the Giant Logs Trail, where you'll see some of the park's largest petrified logs, and Blue Mesa Trail, one of the prettiest and most otherworldly hikes in the park. At Newspaper Rock, early inhabitants pecked dozens of petroglyphs into the dark stone, including an image of the famous humpbacked flute player, Kokopelli.

Day 11-12: Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim

The Grand Canyon truly is grand, and no matter how many photos you've seen, being there in person is an awe-inspiring experience. After stopping at the information center for a quick geology lesson, take the shuttle to some of the South Rim viewpoints, and perhaps walk the Rim Trail a bit. Then, if you're physically able, walk down Bright Angel Trail at least a little way, watching the vegetation and rock layers change as you descend. Unless you are in very good condition, however, it is probably best to not go beyond the One-and-a-Half-Mile House, which has restrooms and drinking water, before heading back up to the rim.

Day 13: Back to Phoenix

Back in Phoenix, you can practice your golf swing or visit some of the city's excellent museums before catching your plane for home.

Southern Utah has five delightful national parks and several national monuments, the North Rim of the spectacular Grand Canyon is just over the border in Arizona, and perched along the state line is an awe-inspiring Navajo Nation park. Together they form a somewhat circuitous loop. This jaunt begins and ends in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is accessible by almost all major airlines and has car and RV rentals. You can complete this tour in 2 weeks, but it is much more satisfying in 3 weeks, as described here.

Day 1: Las Vegas, Nevada

Fly in, pick up your rental car or RV, lay in some supplies, and maybe try the slot machines for a half-hour or so. Then hit the road and head northeast into the mountains of southern Utah.

Days 2-4: Zion National Park

Famous for its mammoth natural stone sculptures and unbelievably narrow slot canyon, this park begs to be explored on foot. Hop on the shuttle bus that runs the length of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, getting off to take trails. We especially recommend the easy Riverside Walk, which follows the Virgin River through a narrow canyon past hanging gardens, as well as the Emerald Pools Trail. Especially pleasant on hot days, this walk through a forest of oak, maple, fir, and cottonwood trees leads to a waterfall, a hanging garden, and a shimmering pool.

Days 5-6: Grand Canyon National Park's North Rim

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon receives far fewer visitors than the South Rim, but that doesn't mean it's any less spectacular. The North Rim (which is open in summer only) provides views of and access to the same overpowering canyon as the South Rim does, just from the other side. You'll want to stop at the Grand Canyon Lodge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and then hike a few of the Rim Trails. If you're in good enough physical shape, you might want to hike partway down into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail.

Days 7-8: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Although not a national park, this Navajo Tribal Park is well worth a stop (and it's on your way). Monument Valley is, to many of us, the epitome of the Old West -- we've seen it dozens of times in movies and on television. Part of the vast Navajo Nation, the park has a 17-mile self-guided loop road that lets you see most of the major scenic attractions, or you can get a personalized tour with a Navajo guide. Either way you'll see classic western scenery made famous in movies such as 1939's Stagecoach, which starred a young John Wayne.

Days 9-12: Arches & Canyonlands National Parks

Famed for its massive red and orange rock formations, this area is home to two national parks and the lively town of Moab. Canyonlands National Park is a great hikers' park. Make sure you stop at the Grand View Point Overlook, in the Island in the Sky District, and hike the Grand View Trail, especially scenic in the late afternoon. Arches National Park is a bit more user-friendly. Take the scenic drive and walk a few trails -- on the Devils Garden Trail, you can see 15 to 20 arches, including picturesque Landscape Arch.

Days 13-14: Capitol Reef National Park

Relatively unknown, this park offers brilliantly colored rock formations and a bit of history. The Fremont River created a lush oasis in this otherwise barren land, and 19th-century pioneers found the soil so fertile that they established the community of Fruita, named for the orchards they planted. Today you can explore the buildings and even pick fruit in season. Hikers can examine Pioneer Register, a rock wall where traveling pioneers "signed in," and explore canyons where famed outlaw Butch Cassidy is said to have hidden out between train and bank robberies.

Days 15-18: Scenic Utah 12 & Bryce Canyon National Park

From Capitol Reef, go south on Utah 12 over Boulder Mountain and through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, possibly stopping for a short hike to Calf Creek Falls, before heading to Bryce Canyon National Park. Spend the night in the park or nearby so you can be on the rim of Bryce Amphitheater at sunrise, the best time to see the colorful and often whimsically shaped rock formations called hoodoos. Top hikes here include the colorful Queen's Garden Trail, named for a formation that resembles Britain's Queen Victoria.

Days 19-20: Cedar Breaks National Monument

This small, high-altitude park has an amphitheater reminiscent of Bryce Canyon's as well as a 5-mile road that offers easy access to the monument's scenic overlooks and trailheads. Hike Spectra Point Trail along the rim for changing views of the colorful rock formations. The trail also takes you through fields of wildflowers, which are especially colorful in late July and August, and past bristlecone pines that are more than 1,500 years old.

Day 21: Back to Las Vegas

Back in Sin City, you can catch a stage show or feed the one-armed bandits before boarding your flight home.

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national park road trip west

Western National Parks Road Trip: U.S.A

Embark on an epic Western National Parks Road Trip across the USA! Visit iconic parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon & more for breathtaking views & adventures.

national park road trip west

Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A. -  The  United States  has  61 Epic National parks,   which are looked after by the National Park Service. From the Grand Canyon National Park, to Yosemite National Park, each is as diverse, unique & scenic as the last.

The largest U.S National park is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska which spans a massive 13.2 million acres! Whereas the smallest is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, Pennsylvania, which is just 0.02 acres.

On the West Coast of the U.S.A, are some of the most epic National Parks which stretch from Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park in the south west, to Olympic National Park & Mt Rainer National Park in the north west.

national park road trip west

An spectrum of wildlife can be discovered at the western national parks! Mount Rainier National Park (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)[/caption]

Each of these you could spend a lifetime adventuring through the vast wilderness, but to make things easier for you here at Town & Tourist we have put together an EPIC west Coast National Parks Road Trip!

This is a simple route with maps & directions, to follow along. The epic road trip will take you to the best national parks in the west, which can easily be completed in a single vacation!

Cost Saving  Tip:

If you plan on traveling to alot of National Parks then I suggest purchasing a "America the Beautiful Pass" which renews annual for $80. This pass will get you into every national parks and also into any federal lands which charge fees.

1. Arches National Park - Utah

Arches National Park is located just north of Moab in Utah. The park has over 2000 naturally formed standstone arches, in a variety of reddish hues.

Many draw resemblances in color of the Arches National Park to the surface of Mars! But you don't have to travel 54.6 million Km to see them as the park Borders with the Colorado river in the south.  This is an epic location for hiking, camping & star gazing.

national park road trip west

As night falls while camping , hope out your tent & feast your eyes on this natural wonder. A prime spot for star gazers. (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)[/caption]

Highlights of Arches National Park:

Delicate arch:.

A real Monster Arch.

Double Arch:

Double Arch is a unique pair of giant arches in the park.

Landscape Arch:

This is the longest arch in Arches National Park and resembles a bridge.

(This is a pretty easy 0.9m hike great for the whole family. Although it's not easy to photograph due the many rocks surrounding)

Balanced Rock:

A seemingly gravity defying rock balancing high in the sky. This is a easy 0.3 mile walk into the area and around the base of the rock where you can achieve suitable views.

Devils Garden:

Devils Garden is a spiked wonder of rock fins which look as though they have risen from the ground. The area includes many hiking trails, an ampitheatre and even a campground.

(The Main Hike around is incredible but also challenging so be prepared to bring lots of water & snacks...it can take a good few hours)

Cost of Entry:

Arches and Canyonlands National Park charge $30 for a vehicle seven-day pass.

2. Zion National Park - Utah

In the 1860s, Mormon pioneers settled in area and named it Zion, a bible reference meaning the city of god! Located in south Utah, Zion National park is famed for it's steep red cliffs.

Highlights:

  • Angels Landing - Steep hike with incredible views.
  • The Narrows - The Narrowest Section of Zion Canyon.
  • Emerald Pools Trail - Which has cascading waterfalls & hanging gardens.

national park road trip west

Tobias Alt | Wikimedia Commons

Best time to visit Zion National Park?

For more moderate weather head to Zion National Park during the Spring and fall. Popular months include, April, May, September & October which offer warm sunny weather with average temperatures between 60-90'F.

Can you drive through Zion National Park?

Yes! Drive through the Zion Mount Carmel highway which is open to tourists between (March- Octobers end). The drive takes just under 1 hour and is a bucket list experience.

Zion  and  Bryce Canyon National Parks  both charge $35 for a 7 day pass with a vehicle. If you just take a drive from Capitol Reef National Park is $15.

How long should I spend at Zion National Park?

At Town & Tourist, we suggest you allow between 4-7 days if you are a avid hiker, as the challenging hikes will definitely keep you busy!

Epic One Day Itinerary:

If you have just one day, then I suggest either a tour or this Epic itinerary.

  • Wake up early & Start with Sunrise at Canyon Overlook
  • Park up at the Visitor Center and take the shuttle into the Zion Canyon for an early morning hike.
  • Have a lunch in the nearby town of Springdale
  • Drive up to the Kolob Canyon for a afternoon hike
  • Then watch the sunset before stargazing

Head to Bryce Canyon Before?

There is just 50 miles between Zion National park & Bryce Canyon. However, if you drive on the US-89 route it ends up being approximately 120 miles! This takes around 3.5hours , many say Bryce offers more scenic views, so I suggest heading here first then taking a drive through Zion National Park.

3. Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona

With over 6.38 million visitors in 2018, Grand Canyon National Park is the MOST popular National Park in the U.S.A. Of course, the this amazing popularity can make the experience of visiting the grand canyon a little less authentic so here are a few tips.

Visit the North Rim.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park is much less crowded/touristic and the views are incredible! However, access can be difficult no matter which direction you are coming from & its only open for part of the year.

Opening Months - May 15th - October 15th.

(North Rim roads are closed to vehicles between December 1st and May 15th, and no visitor services are available. )  NPS

Highlights of the North Rim:

  • Popular Hiking Trails - North Kaibab Trail, South Kaibab Trail & Bright Angel Trails.
  • Camping at the North Rim Campground. Permits required.

If you really fancy exploring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I suggest doing it in a more unique way check out:

Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Grand Canyon? 5 Golden reasons to try it!

[caption id="attachment_2378" align="alignnone" width="900"]

Balloon Rides, Photo by: Jennifer C, Helena, MT) (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)[/caption]

4. Death Valley National Park - California

Death Valley had the highest temperature ever recorded in North America of 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius), which occurred in 1913 at Greenland Ranch. Thus the  best time to visit Death Valley National Park is between  mid-October and mid-May, which will ensure you won't get cooked alive!

Death Valley National Park, is also home to the lowest elevation in North America at Badwater Basin (-282 feet).

national park road trip west

Brocken Inaglory | Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

  • Badwater Basin
  • Zabriskie Viewpoint

(Composed of sediments of Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago)

  • Mesquite Sand Dunes
  • Devils Golf Course - Large salt pan spanning the floor of Death Valley.

5. Sequoia National Park - California

Driving towards the west coast now we arrive at Sequoia National Park, next to Kings Canyon National park in Californias Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sequoia National Park is home to the domineering & towering Sequoia Trees and by volume it's  LARGEST single Stem tree on earth, nicknamed General Sherman!

General Sherman is definitely a must see, for any visit to Sequoia National Park, at a height of 84m and weight of 1.9 million kg!

national park road trip west

Sequoia National Park  - California redwoods. Source: Shutterstock (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)[/caption]

You should also check out, Crystal Cave one of 240 known caves in Sequoia National Park it features many eye catching rock formations and underground streams!

Fun Fact:   Crystal Cave is around 50 degrees inside no matter what the temperature is outside!

  • Mount Whitney -  (Highest Peak in California)
  • Giant Forest
  • General Sherman
  • Crystal Cave
  • Kings Canyon National Park  - Popular for daytime hikes.

Best time to visit Sequoia National Park?

The best time to visit Sequoia National Park is  between June and August . This is when the weather is most stable.

However, the park is open 24/7 all year round but it can be challenging during the winter season when snow can cause less minute re routes. During this season it's recommend you use snow chains/tires and check  weather updates  before visiting.

6. Yosemite National Park - California

Yosemite National Park is a real west coast highlight, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it is best known for it's massive sequoia trees and the granite cliffs of El Captain & half dome! Head up to the famed cliffs and you will find an incredible glacier valley with majestic waterfalls.

This is a great place for some challenging hikes, adrenaline pumping rock climbs and treks through the backcountry!

national park road trip west

We love Yosemite National Park, here at TownandTourist!! The beast of the USA! (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)[/caption]

Fun Fact:  Lyell is the tallest peak in the Park (and all of Tuolumne County) at over at 13,100 feet.

Does Yosemite have Mountain Lions??

Mountain lions otherwise known as  cougars, pumas or panthers, roam Yosemite's mountains and valleys. There is also between 300-500 black bears, Mule deers and Bighorn Sheep which can be dangerous.  According to National Park Service, injuries/attacks by black bears Attacks are rare.

Driving through Yosemite National Park?

To drive through Yosemite National Park it will take around 5 to 6 hours if you drive at a relaxed pace and stop a couple of times. If you wish to head to Glacier Point that will take another hour.  The most popular scenic  drive  is along the  Tioga Road , a 39-mile (62 km)  drive  from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass.

Is Yosemite National Park Dangerous?

Yosemite can be a dangerous place, even in ideal conditions. From accidents & falls to animal encounters. In terms of driving a group of teenage hikers were driving from Yosemite to Marin County when their car came off the road & crashed...killing one of them! So be careful.

Yosemite-National-Park offers some great spots for camping but also some dangerous drops, so be careful on your adventure!  (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)[/caption]

Best time to visit Yosemite National Park?

The  best  time to  visit Yosemite  are between May and September. This is  when the  park  is accessible but not overly crowded.  In the winter many roads and trails in Yosemite due to snow.

How long should I visit Yosemite for?

Yosemite can be explored in one day check out our itinerary.

One Day Yosemite Itinerary:

  • Glacier Point.
  • Mariposa Grove.
  • Tunnel View.
  • Yosemite  Valley.
  • Yosemite  Falls.
  • Mirror Lake.

(This are must see highlights which you can stop off at as you drive through the park).  A weekend is ideal Yosemite and three days is perfect to see all the sights.

How much does it cost to enter Yosemite National Park?

A Yosemite National park pass costs $30/vehicle, which is valid for 7 days.  If you plan on visiting regularly you can purchase a $60 Yosemite pass for unlimited visits in 12 months.

7.  Lassen Volcanic National Park - California

Lassen Volcanic National Park is the dark horse of americas western National Parks, despite it's unique landscape and interesting history!

Highlights include, hydrothermal sites such as Bumpass Hell which offers acres of geothermal bubbling pools, steaming streams, lava tubes and Sulphur Springs!  src

The summit at Lassen Peak is a 10,457 foot high active volcano. It last erupted in 1917 and was the largest ever volcanic eruption in North America up until 1980 when Mount St Helens erupted!

national park road trip west

Bumpass Hel | Wikimedia Commons

On the hikes up to the peak, you will walk through many animal habitats and have a chance to catch glimpses of the over 300 species of wildlife which live in the area.  From Black bears, to mule deer, woodpeckers, finches, bats and golden squirrels!

At the peak you will find epic panoramic views of the area, the perfect place for some wildlife watching.

Some draw comparisons in the volcanic activity here to Yellowstone national Park. However, I actually believe Lassen National park offers a greater Geothermal experience.

All the features are relatively densely packed compared to Yellowstone and can be easily accessed from paved roads! Interested in More volcano national parks check out:  Top 10 Volcanoes in Hawaii

8. Crater Lake National Park - Oregon

Crater Lake National Park, is Oregons only National Park and they are so proud of it! Highlights include the deepest lake in the United States (Crater Lake) (1,949 feet) which is also the ninth deepest lake in the world!

Popular activities here include hikes along the Rim,  Camping   and  cross country skiing  or snowshoeing during the winter. Boat tours are also a popular activity for many.

national park road trip west

"Phantom Ship" rises above the surface of Crater Lake National Park, Oregon| By Glenn Scofield Williams, via Wikimedia Commons. (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Can you swim at Crater Lake National Park?

Yes you can, but there is only when place which is safe & legal to do so. That is at the Cleetwood Cove trail which is open mid to late June.

Why is Crater Lake such an Incredible Blue??

The magnificent, bold blue of Crater Lake is caused by the sunlights rays. It's rays of Longer wavelength are absorbed by the deep water and it's shorter rays are reflected, creating an intense blue hue.

Best time to visit Crater Lake National Park?

The best time to visit Crater Lake National Park is in the summer, between July, August and September. This is the time of year when the parks trails, roads and visitor facilities are open.

9. Olympic National Park - Washington

As we drive further up the north west we enter the Olympic National Park. One of the most diverse in the United States. Here you can find everything from glacier clad mountains such as Mt Olympus to vast expanses of wilderness, rainforests and even secluded beaches!

Popular hiking & climbing areas head through the rainforests and along the pacific coast. If you can only visit one rainforest, be sure to explore Hoh Rain Forest.

national park road trip west

Jason Pratt | wiki commons

  • Quinault Rain Forest.
  • Hoh Rain Forest. Lush, wet rainforest...a must see!
  • Sol Duc Falls.
  • Kalaloch beach.
  • Rialto Beach.
  • Lake Crescent.
  • Hurricane Ridge.
  • Lake Quinault.

When is the best time to visit Olympic National Park?

The best time of year to visit Olympic National Park is during the spring and summer. The spring is great for wildlife spotting while the summer is ideal for activities.

10. Mt Rainier National Park - Washington

We've left the biggest till last at 14,410 feet above Sea level Mount Rainier is one the  tallest peaks in the United States. ..it is also an ACTIVE volcano.  Mount Rainier National Park offers the most glaciated peak in Contiguous U.S.A. In addition to wildflower meadows, five meandering rivers, ancient forests and an abundance of wildlife.

Mount Rainier is ideal for daytime hikes, Riverside camping and epic glacier treks and climbs.

national park road trip west

Best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park?

The best time to visit Mount Rainier national park is between July and August, when the wildflowers transform the sub alpine meadows!

How much does Mount Rainer National Park Cost?

Mount Rainer costs $30 per vehicle or $25 for each visitor aged over 16 on motorcycle. For individuals entering on bicycle, horseback or on foot the cost is $15 per person.

Western National Parks Road Trip Map:

Ultimate National Park Road Trip  - Use the Map above to follow the great U.S National Parks on the West coast. Simply share to your facebook using the link at the top and then open the maps from there.

If your a webmaster, feel free to embed this map into your website to help your readers. Just be sure to credit us at:  www.townandtourist.com/attraction/west-national-parks-usa/

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Win a $500 Flight!

Embark on the adventure of a lifetime! Enter our Dream Journey Sweepstakes for a chance to win a $500 travel voucher, redeemable with any major US airline. Whether it's sandy beaches, bustling cities, or tranquil mountains, your dream destination is just an email away!*

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Ultimate Guide: Best Places to Live in Delaware for Everyone [2024]

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Ultimate Guide: Top Places to Live in Massachusetts for Everyone

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Ultimate Guide: Top Places in North Carolina for Retirees & More

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Ultimate Guide: Top Spots in South Carolina for Young Adults - Live, Work & Play

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Ultimate Guide: Top Places to Live in Montana for Everyone – From Retirees to Families

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Ultimate Guide: Best Places to Live in Virginia for Every Lifestyle

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Ultimate Guide: Top Places to Live in North Carolina for Happiness, Weather & More

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Ultimate Guide: The Best Places to Live in Georgia for Everyone—from Retirees to Families

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Ultimate Guide: Top Places to Live in Columbus Ohio for Every Lifestyle

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Ultimate Guide: Top East Coast Havens for Everyone - From Retirees to Partygoers

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Ultimate Guide: Top Places to Live in Brooklyn for Every Demographic

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Ultimate Guide: Top Places to Live in Maryland for Everyone's Wish List

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Ultimate Guide: Top Places to Live in Washington DC for Every Lifestyle

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Ultimate Guide: Best Places to Live in Georgia for Every Lifestyle

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national park road trip west

6 Epic National Park Road Trip Ideas [Maps Included]

Natural beauty at every turn, epic scenic drives , a plethora of outdoor activities , unbelievable wildlife viewing . You can get all of this and so much more on a National Park Road trip !

National Park Road Trip

A National Park Road Trip can take you to the mountains, the unique landscape of Utah, the west coast, the northeast, the east coast or down through Floria. Whichever you choose a National Park is the perfect place to connect with nature and awaken your sense of adventure!

Table of Contents

What are the best National Parks to visit on a road trip?

You can visit almost all the National Parks on a road trip. Minus a few that are on water (Dry Tortugas and Isle Royale National Park) and those that are in Alaska that can only be accessed via plane or boat. Beyond that you can access all of the National Parks via a road trip/car.

Our top picks for the Ultimate National Park road trip are in order based on our favorite choices. Keep in mind this could be different for you based on what kind of trip you are looking for. Be sure to keep reading the post and research each National Park to see which one speaks to you!

#1: Mountains National Park Road Trip: Grand Tetons National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park.

#2: Utah National Park Road Trip: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.

#3: California National Park Road Trip: Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park and Redwoods National Park.

#4: Pacific Northwest National Park Road Trip: Crater National Park, Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier and North Cascades National Park.

#5: Florida National Park Road Trip: Everglades and Dry Tortugas

#6: East Coast National Park Road Trip: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Congaree National Park, Mammoth Caves National Park and (bonus if you can take a long drive: Acadia National Park.

Now if you are wondering which National Parks are most suitable for a road trip based on accessibility, scenic drives, hiking opportunities and unique experiences it is really going to depend on what you are looking for and how many National Parks you want to see on your trip.

How Many National Parks Do You Want To See?

If you are looking to hit a lot of National Parks in a short amount of driving you will want to look at visiting the 5 Utah National Parks.

If you are OK with further distances between parks California has a lot of great National Parks but you will be covering a larger distance between all of the parks.

Which National Park Has The Best Scenic Drive?

This is a no brainer for us as we feel The-Going-To-The-Sun-Road is the best scenic drive in not only the National Parks but all of the US! You can find this road in Glacier National Park.

What National Parks Have The Best Hiking?

We have hiked 100’s probably 1000’s of miles with our family and these are our 3 top National Parks for hiking:

Glacier National Park – You don’t want to miss the Grinnell Glacier hike when you visit Glacier National Park! There are a lot of other great hikes but this one ranks up at the top for us. Check out all the other Best Hikes in Glacier National Park here.

Utah National Parks – There are a lot of great hikes in Utah but one of our favorites isn’t in an actual National Park but instead a National Site: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is the Peek-a-boo Canyon Hike!

The Utah National Parks also have some great hikes including the famous Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

Acadia National Park – We weren’t aware Acadia had 2 of the most epic and challenging hikes with the Precipice and Beehive trail. But once we did them we knew they would stay at the top of our list. If you are looking for a challenging adventurous hike these are perfect for you.

Alaska – Denali National Park and Kenai Fjords come in as some of our top picks as well. The Healy Mountain Hike in Denali and the Harding Ice field trail are epic hikes you don’t want to miss.

Which National Parks Have The Most Unique Experiences?

It is hard to compete with the Alaska National Parks. When you can walk on a Glacier in Kenai Fjords – with a guide. Or go to the face of a glacier on a boat.

North Cascades National Park one you may not consider is North Cascades National Park where you can do a hike to the bottom of a Glacier!

Acadia National Park also offers a restaurant on site where you have to try their pop-overs.

Hot Springs National Park where you can visit the only Brewery in a National Park.

Capitol Reef National Park where you can go apple picking in a National Park.

Practical tips and essentials for a National Park road trip

Entry Requirements: It is always important to check the National Park’s website that you are planning to visit. A good amount now require timed entry tickets (not all of them) and for those you may have to buy them months in advance.

Camping/Lodging: We always recommend staying at a lodge or campground in the National Park. BUT this can sometimes require you to plan you trip 12 months in advance as a lot of these campgrounds and lodges fill up a year or more in advance.

Safety Considerations: It is always important to understand what you are getting yourself into when you visit a National Park. Usually animals are one of the biggest concerns and they should be! Always keep your distance from wild animals and NEVER touch them or feed them. If you plan to hike in places with large wild animals carry bear spray. ALWAYS check in with the National Park visitor center and ask the rangers to give you all of the details and safety tips on the animals in the area.

Packing: Packing for a National Park trip can include some additional items that you wouldn’t normally pack for a trip. Things like walkie talkies and bear spray. For other items always check the weather, wear layers and bring good walking/hiking shoes.

National Park Road Trip Itineraries

We have taken all of these trips. Some of them multiple times. It would be hard to rank these in order since all of them are amazing trips and have something different and unique to offer.

We will cover the Utah National Park road trip , the Mountain National Park road trip that covers Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park . California and all the amazing National Parks there. The Pacific Northwest, Florida and the East Coast National Parks.

What’s the recommended route or itinerary for a National Park road trip?

Below we share specific itineraries for some of the National Parks along with 6 different National Park Road Trip Itineraries. These itineraries are made to help you have the most efficient and effective National Park Road Trip.

Itineraries For Your Trip

Here are some extensive itineraries we have put together for a few of the National Parks that we discuss.

  • Glacier National Park Itinerary – 1, 3 and 7 day itineraries to help you plan your trip!
  • Yellowstone National Park Itinerary – 1, 3 and 7 day itineraries to have an awesome trip in Yellowstone!
  • Arches National Park Itinerary – 1 day itinerary and some extra things to do when you visit!
  • Utah National Park – 10 Day Guide – 10 day guide/itinerary for your Utah Road Trip.
  • Acadia National Park – 1, 2, 3 day itineraries for your trip to Acadia National Park.

We provide hotel and VRBO options along with RV/campgrounds to go camping at. A National Park trip is awesome in an RV! If you don’t have one, rent one! Click here to learn more about renting an RV: 9 RV Rental Tips You Will Want To Read [Discount Included] .

Here are our tips on planning your RV trip !

We traveled full time for 8 years with our 4 kids around North America so it gave us lots of time to explore all of these National Parks. No matter what trip you pick you are going to love our US National Parks!!

Pacific Northwest National Park Road Trip

The Pacific Northwest is a fun place to explore. The variety with the coastline and beaches, rainforest and the mountains it is well worth a visit! It is another location that is great to do with an RV. Click here to rent an RV .

Crater Lake National Park

You won’t believe the color of the water when you walk up to Crater Lake . It is such a bright blue!! The park itself won’t take you long to explore, but seeing the lake is something you won’t forget!

Oregon only has 1 National Park, but when you are in Washington if you want to extend your trip be sure to check out all of the cool things that Oregon has to offer (including a lot of National Forest area):

  • 26 Oregon Coast Road Trip Stops You Don’t Want To Miss
  • The 10 Best Stops On The Hood River Fruit Loop
  • How To Spend 3 Amazing Days At Mckenzie River National Recreation Area
  • Your Guide To The Best Places For Oregon Coast Camping

Olympic National Park

Olympic NP hike

The National Park covers a good portion of northern Washington State. You have the coastline to explore with sea stacks sticking out of the water and driftwood everywhere to play on. Then slightly inland you have the Hoh Rainforest which is so unique to the US. Then further in you hit the mountains and waterfalls.

If you want to book a small group tour , check out this option that also includes pick-up and drop-off at area hotels!

Learn More: 12 Amazing Things To Do In Olympic National Park [Itinerary Included!]

Check out our videos on our time here:

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

Full disclosure . . . we never saw Mount Rainier :(. We went and tried, but that day it was so foggy we couldn’t even see the mountain! Well we saw the base, but couldn’t see beyond that.

We kept hoping the clouds would clear and it would appear, but sadly that was not the case.

Learn more: Since we didn’t get a good visit in here we want to share a post from our friend Rob at 2 Travel Dads: Best Hikes In Mount Rainier and these posts from Park Ranger John on Tipsoo Lake and Paradise Mt. Rainier . If you want a day-long guided tour, check out this small group tour nature walk !

Note – There is a small window of time to visit here as there is a lot of snow up here in winter and it takes a while to melt! And you may not get to see it on the day you go. . . plan accordingly.

North Cascades

SahaleGlacierTrail

I am so glad we took the time to visit North Cascades National Park. It is a less visited National Park, but I don’t know why! It was beautiful and is filled with glaciers (one you can even hike to and walk on!).

Gorgeous views and awesome hikes. Plus that amazing glacier colored water!

Learn more: 17 Amazing Things To Do In North Cascades National Park

Crater Lake National Park – 1 night Olympic National Park – 5 nights Mount Rainier National Park – 1 night North Cascades National Park – 3 nights

Utah National Park Road Trip

If you want to see a lot of National Parks in a short traveling distance, then Utah is the perfect state to visit! With 5 Utah National Parks all within a day’s drive from each other, you can cover a lot of ground.

This is a great trip to do in an RV! Click here to rent an RV by Utah !

The first place to stop would be Moab, Utah. The town itself is really cool, plus you can visit 2 National Parks from here.

If you want to stay in Moab check out our post: 21 Fun And Exciting Things To Do In Moab

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Arches is one of those National Parks you drive into and you think you are driving on a different planet. All of these beautiful and unique structures pop up on the landscape just waiting for you to explore! Try a 4×4 Driving Tour to see this landscape from a different view!

Learn more about Arches: 7 Arches National Park Hikes You Don’t Want To Miss

There are some great hikes to do in Arches:

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

This is my least favorite of the Utah National Parks, but if you are on a National Park road trip you may as well check it out! Located away from the hustle and bustle of Moab – the city where Arches is located is Canyonlands.

Canyonlands has 3 different parks: Island In The Sky, The Needles and The Maze. The views from Islands In The Sky are amazing.

In my opinion you can just head to Island In The Sky for the day from Arches and you are good. Another 4×4 Driving Tour is available here !

Learn more about Canyonlands: Best Hikes In Canyonlands National Park

Where To Stay

You can stay in Moab to visit both Arches and Canyonlands.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

This is our favorite National Park in Utah. Located in the middle of nowhere yet brings so much beauty and awe-inspiring moments. We loved that this park was less busy than the other Utah National Parks.

There are amazing hikes and they have a store on-site that sells delicious pastries!

Learn more here: 8 Of The Best Hikes In Capitol Reef National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

This is what is so cool about a Utah National Parks Road Trip – the variety! You would think they all make look alike, but that is so far from the truth. Bryce has its own unique look with the hoodoos and pink-colored rock formations.

From amazing lookouts to strenuous, but beautiful hikes, Bryce has a lot to offer. Check out this 3-hour Sightseeing Tour ! Or if you’re staying in the Las Vegas area, check out this tour that includes both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park!

Learn more: Top 11 Awesome Things To Do in Bryce Canyon National Park

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

We know that a lot of people say Zion was their favorite Utah National Park. That was not the case for us. It felt the most like Disneyland of the 5 parks since it can be so busy and you have to take the shuttle bus to most locations in the park.

Once we got out and explored it was, of course, spectacular. And the green lawn at the visitor center in the middle of the park was the perfect place to hang out after a hike! We also loved the Narrows hike which had us hiking through knee-deep water.

If you’re in the Las Vegas area, check out this tour that includes both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park !

Learn More: 15 Awesome Things To Do In Zion National Park [Plus Where To Stay]

3 Days in Moab to visit Arches and Canyonlands Capitol Reef – 2 Days Bryce – 2 Days Zion – 2 Days

Click here for our Utah Road Trip Post or check out our 10 day Utah Guide!

There are a few other awesome places to check out in Utah if you have time! Monument Valley, Grand Escalante and Goblin Valley State Park.

Planning to take a National Park road trip with the Grandparents? Check out these great National Park Vacations to do with the Grandparents. 

Click here to see a US list of National Parks and if you are looking for free days be sure to check out this post on Free National Park Days.

Mountains National Park Trip

The Rocky Mountain area of the US brings so much beauty to the area and is also our top 1 and 2 favorite National Parks! A National Park trip is a great vacation for teens too.

Glacier National Park

Grinnell Glacier

Our favorite National Park in the US! Glacier National Park is in the northern part of Montana on the Canadian border and it is gorgeous. The color of the water looks like someone put dye in it and the fresh air and views never get old.

Plus the wildlife and hiking are amazing and the Going-To-The-Sun Road is one of our favorite roads to drive in the US! You also won’t want to miss Polebridge Mercantile and Bowman Lake , Many Glacier and the best hikes in Glacier National Park .

Want to soak in the views from Flathead River? Check out this Scenic Raft Trip !

Ultimate Guide to Glacier

Glacier 1 Day Guide Thumbnail

Planning a trip to Glacier? We put together a series of digital guides that take the guesswork out of planning. Stop-by-stop itineraries for making the most of 1, 3 or 7 days in Glacier National Park including where to stay, where to eat, what hikes to take and the best driving routes.

We’ve even included links for you to book your stays and buy your park passes, including your timed entry to the Going-To-The-Sun Road . Everything you need in one convenient digital guide. Just download and go!

Check out your video Playlist on our time in Glacier:

Make note that one of the highlights of Glacier is the Going-To-The-Sun Road. Both for driving the road and for the hikes you can get to from the road. You need a timed entry pass to drive the road which you need to buy ahead of time . The road usually opens in early July – but can vary year by year.

For this reason we recommend going in August or early September to make sure the road is open. We can’t guarantee it will be open, but history shows it normally is open during this time.

If you want helping planning your trip check out our Glacier National Park Itinerary .

Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park

#2 in our top 3 favorite National Parks is Yellowstone! The variety of wildlife, landscapes and color you see in the park is pretty unbelievable. From thermal features to grizzly bears to mountain ranges and geysers Yellowstone has something new to offer at every turn.

You won’t want to miss the Old Faithful area, Mammoth Hot Springs , Fishing Bridge , Tower Roosevelt and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone .

Yellowstone is huge! You could spend weeks here exploring. If possible we recommend staying at least 1 week and staying in multiple places around the park so you can really explore it. You can book a tour too, check out this Full Day Lower Loop Tour .

If you want to plan your own trip and also include some of the fun cities around Yellowstone including West Yellowstone , Bozeman , Gardiner , Red Lodge and Livingston check our our 12 day Yellowstone Vacation post. Plus all the great things to do near Yellowstone .

Planning a trip to Yellowstone is a must for any National Park fan! To help we have put together a Yellowstone Packing List and our guides below.

Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone

Yellowstone 1 Day Guide

We have spent months exploring our 2nd favorite (after Glacier) National Park. We have figured out the ins and outs of exploring Yellowstone in a way that minimizes stress and maximizes your time. Whether you plan to stop for 1 day on your road trip or spend 3 or 7 days exploring this HUGE National Park, we have an itinerary for you!

If you are planning a trip to Yellowstone, be sure to check out this ultimate guide. We planned everything for you!

Check out our videos on our time in Yellowstone and the surrounding area!

My sister recently visited Yellowstone in Winter and said it was amazing too!

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons National Park

The Grand Tetons National Park hosts the beautiful Teton Range. When driving up it is quite a sight to see these mountains on the horizon. There are also great hikes, boat rides and lots to do within Grand Tetons National Park and the surrounding area.

Want to check out the wildlife? Book this 4-hour Wildlife Safari Adventure !

And here is ours on things to do around the Tetons – it is an awesome area!

We have spent a lot of time in Montana around Yellowstone – if you have more time we recommend adding in these stops to your trip too: A Guide To The Best Yellowstone Vacation and Beyond

California National Park Trip

California is a HUGE state. If you really want to do the state justice you will want to spend months exploring. If you don’t have that amount of time you can do and see a lot in a short amount of time but be ready to go – go – go! There are a lot of National Parks in California !

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Located in southern California – whenever I think of Joshua Tree I think of the Truffula trees in Dr Seuss’ The Lorax. Filled with these unique Joshua Trees (yes that is what they are called) plus beautiful rock structures and cacti fields Joshua Tree National Park is a unique experience.

Check out this Jeep or SUV Tour for a unique, remote adventure!

Learn More: 10 Unbelievable Things To Do In Joshua Tree National Park

Death Valley

Death Valley National Park

The name may make this place sound like it wouldn’t be much, but that is just not the case! Death Valley is a unique place filled with sand dunes, salt flats, mountains and tons of hiking opportunities.

Staying near Las Vegas ? Check out this Full Day Tour and escape the craziness of Vegas!

Post: 14 Awesome Things To Do In Death Valley National Park [And Where To Stay]

When to visit:

There is limited time to visit Death Valley since it gets SOOOO hot in the summer. Like hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk! For this reason you would want to visit from late fall to early spring, with winter being the best time.

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park

Usually overlooked due to its close proximity to Yosemite – Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park are well worth a visit all on their own! Home to some of the biggest trees in the world along with rushing rivers, mountains and fantastic views.

Learn more: 19+ Unforgettable Things To Do In Sequoia National Park

Video of our time in Sequoia:

Video of our time in Kings Canyon:

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite ranks up there with our top 3 favorite National Parks. The Valley area is the most visited part of the park and for good reason – the rushing waterfalls in the spring and high granite summits it is a gorgeous place.

The good thing is the rest of the park has lots to offer too from sequoia trees to waterfall hikes and historical locations to visit. Want to try an audio guided tour? Check out this walk that combines Yosemite and the Giant Sequoia Walk .

Learn More: 21 Epic Things To Do In Yosemite National Park With Kids

Check out our Yosemite playlist for all the cool things to do in Yosemite:

Redwoods National Park

The Redwoods are a magical place. That is really the best way to describe them. The trees are massive and surround you as you explore the park. Along with so much green.

If you haven’t visited the Redwoods, you should.  The whole park stretches across 100 miles up the coast of Northern CA and includes the National Park and 3 State Parks.

When visiting you could stop for 1 night in each park and take in the beauty that each has to offer!

Check out our videos on our time in the Redwoods:

Check our post:  21 Magical Things To Do In Redwood National Park for details on this. With the park being so large where you stay will depend on how much time you have to spend in the different parts of the park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

This less visited National Park is located in the middle of northern California. When here you can see 4 different kinds of volcanoes along with taking an amazing drive and potentially finding snow even in the summer!

Learn more: Lassen Volcanic National Park 

As you can see California has a lot to offer! If possible plan for 2 weeks and explore these National Parks like this:

Joshua Tree – 2 nights Death Valley – 2 nights Kings Canyon and Sequoia – 2 nights Yosemite – 2 nights Redwoods – 2 nights Lassen – 2 nights

Or you could spend 3-7 days at each of these places and make it a month-long road trip!

More insights on a North California road trip from our friends at Live Camp Work :

Avenue Of The Giants

“We fell in love with the California Redwoods after one  Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip ! One word… magical, easily describes a trip through the Redwoods National & State Parks in a car or an RV! And with so many options for  camping in the redwoods , each road trip can be different from the last, delivering new adventures and memories to cherish years later!”

If you are looking for more check out this great post: Best Places To Visit In The US .

Florida National Park Road Trip

Florida is more known for its beaches, but it also has some really cool National Parks!

Everglades National Park

Everglades Alligator

If you have never seen an alligator in the wild then head to Everglade National Park and you will see hundreds of them! Shark Valley – a 15 mile bike ride between swamps filled with alligators was one of our favorite things we did here.

Check out this Airboat Tour and Wildlife Show and enjoy excitement, adventure, and education all in one tour!

Learn more: 7 Things To Do In Miami With Kids

Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas

AMAZING. That is all I can say about the Dry Tortugas National Park. Ok I can say more :). This beautiful island located 70 miles off the coast of Key West is breathtaking.

The boat ride out there is an adventure and then once you reach the island the beauty just takes your breath away.

Learn more: DON’T go to the Dry Tortugas without these 3 helpful tips.

Everglades National Park – 3 nights Dry Tortugas National Park – 2 nights

East Coast National Park Road Trip

The east coast has a hard time competing with out west, but still has a few gems to offer!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

There are so many awesome things to do in Smoky Mountains National Park . Plus it has some beautiful scenic drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway and hikes for all different skill levels. Plus the surrounding area has some fun touristy towns with plenty of things to do and food to eat.

Learn more: Family fun in Gatlinburg and the Smokey’s

Shenandoah National Park

Located in Virginia. The Skyline Drive runs through the park and is a beautiful drive. There are also multiple places you can stop to get out to take pictures or to go for a hike.

Learn more: Hike and Climb with kids in Shenandoah National Park

Sorry east coast you can’t quite compare to the west – but if you are looking for a trip closer to the east coast it is still well worth it!

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave

Cave exploring is always cool and Mammoth Cave has a lot to explore! There are a variety of different cave tours you can do. Plus there is a lot of great hiking outside the caves.

Learn more: 5 Things To Do With Your Kids When Visiting Mammoth Cave Kentucky

Congaree National Park

We have never been here . . . but it was close to the other 3 so figured it was worth adding if you wanted to take a longer trip! We still haven’t been but had a fellow travel writer who did visit put an article together for us: Top 10 Fun Things To Do In Congaree National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 4 nights Mammoth Cave National Park – 2 nights Shenandoah National Park – 1 night Congaree National Park – 1 night

Additional National Parks To Visit

There were some National Parks that did not make our National Park road trip post. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit them!

That includes the following National Parks

18 Amazing Things To Do In Big Bend National Park

Hot Springs National Park

Mount Rushmore and Badlands on a South Dakota Road Trip

Washington DC 2 Day Itinerary

Maine National Park : Acadia National Park and Acadia Itinerary

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

National Park Trip Round Up

The National Park Service does an amazing job with their National Parks and National Monuments, Forests and more through the United States. Before your trip be sure to grab your National Park Passport book!

Researching an East Coast National Park vacation? Check out  11 East Coast National Parks You Want To Visit This Year .

If you want to see all of them on one trip be sure to check out Randy Olson and his road trip map where you can hit all of the National Parks. However – we don’t recommend this unless you have a full year! You don’t want to rush these National Parks but instead want to spend plenty of time in each especially since there are so many National Parks hikes to do.

We also didn’t name all of the parks in the National Parks System. There is the Grand Canyon (the south rim is pretty cool) and Rocky Mountain National Park to name a few! All of these are awesome trips to take in an RV! Click here to rent an RV today! If you do rent an RV you may be interested in our post on: 21 RV Apps That Are Super Helpful For Your RV Trip

Also check out this awesome road trip bingo post to help keep everyone happy on the road and this great list of 27 road trip essentials to pack for 2020 !

Looking for more awesome trips to take with your family? Check out these summer mountain vacations for families or these east coast family trip ideas ! And another of our favorite places: Stanley, Idaho.  Learn about Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park .

Pin This Post For Later:

We share 6 different National Park road trips you can take. It would be hard to rank these since all of them are amazing trips and have something different and unique to offer.

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Two Girls Getaway

Travel tips for girls on a budget!

Awesome Itinerary for a Western National Parks Road Trip – Seeing the Best of the Best in 9 Days!

national park road trip west

Country: USA States: Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California Sites: Las Vegas, Canyonlands, Moab, Arches National Park, Goosenecks State Park, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Bryce Canyon National Park, Antelope Canyon, Zion National Park, Death Valley National Park, Rhyolite (ghost town), Gold Point (ghost town)

Are you dying to see the world but short on time? This 7 day itinerary packs in the best sites and hikes at various US National Parks in the western part of the country! Add 1 day at the beginning and end if you want to spend some extra time in Las Vegas!

We kept this itinerary budget friendly by renting a car and staying in Airbnbs. This particular itinerary starts and ends in Las Vegas, but it is also possible to have different start and end locations, depending on what’s cheapest for you!

Day 1: Getting to Las Vegas

The reason this trip actually happened is that I found a super cheap round-trip flight to Las Vegas from our home airport in Philadelphia using my award miles connected to my United MileagePlus Explorer credit card . (Check out the card to receive countless travel benefits and earn up to 40,000 BONUS miles!)

The flight was at the beginning of November, so we were a little worried about it being too cold, but it ended up being the perfect time to go! The parks were much less crowded than usual, the weather was beautiful (not too hot for a long hike), and accommodations were cheaper because it was the off-season.

We landed in Las Vegas in the evening and rented a van through Budget , although make sure to do your own homework and compare rental prices as these often change! That night we stayed at an Airbnb about a mile from the strip (to save money) which was on the way to the National Parks. Of course, we took some time to drive down the strip and take in the sites and sounds of Las Vegas while we could.

national park road trip west

Day 2: Las Vegas to Moab

Make sure to get started early as this is a long day of driving! The drive without stops takes approximately 7 hours, but we made a full day of it as there was so much to see. There are several lookout points along the way, but one of our favorites was the Salt Wash View Area .

national park road trip west

We also stopped at an adorable gas station with a Conestoga wagon and old farmhouse! This was right on the main road into Moab so you can’t miss it!

national park road trip west

Our plan was to go to Canyonlands, but the sun had set faster than we expected so we checked into our Airbnb , which was actually a hostel-like accommodation. I was traveling with my aunt and mother who had never stayed in a hostel, and they loved this place! There was a shared bathroom and kitchen, but private sleeping quarters. There was also a fire pit and picnic tables, great for socializing with other travelers!

That night we drove over to Ken’s Lake to give me some time to play with my new DSLR lens (I am very much a newbie photographer!). The location was quite beautiful, and we all hung out and listened to coyotes howling in the distance until it was time to go to bed.

PRO TIP: If you are into photography, I used the Sony a6000 for most of this trip, along with this ultra-wide lens for nighttime photography.

national park road trip west

Day 3: Arches National Park and Canyonlands

This day was one of my favorite days of the trip! Wear comfortable shoes if you plan to do the hikes, although a lot of beautiful scenery can just be seen from the car as well. First things first – you will need a pass to enter pretty much any National Park. The fees for Arches can be found here .

PRO TIP: If anyone in your group is over the age of 62, they should purchase an America the Beautiful lifetime pass (it covers all companions and most National Parks). If the cost is still too much, consider going on a “Fee Free” day, but note that the parks WILL be crowded on these days.

There is basically one main road to follow through Arches National Park, with multiple off-shoots to different attractions. The main scenic road is about 30 miles long and is where you will start once you enter the gates to the park. Just driving along this road is beautiful enough, but if you get out and hike at some of the stops, you will REALLY understand the magnitude of these formations.

The first turnoff you will come to is Park Avenue viewpoint and it’s one of the major viewpoints in the park. There is also a hike here, but we skipped it due to time.

national park road trip west

Continuing along the road, there are several other viewpoints (take your pick!), but we decided to stop at Balanced Rock and do the short hike around it.The way this rock has come to be balanced still blows my mind, and walking under it actually was a little bit scary!

national park road trip west

Next, we pulled off a side road towards Double Arch and The Windows . Don’t worry, the roads are all well marked so it’s easy to find your way (a map is also provided upon arrival)! This section is regarded by many to be the most beautiful of Arches National Park. First, we took the short hike to the Double Arch. Aptly named, the Double Arch is a unique geological formation in which two arches come together in one point.

national park road trip west

If you climb up the Double Arch, you are rewarded with a beautiful view. But be careful, once we got up there, coming down was a bit scary!

national park road trip west

Next, we drove over to the Windows, just a short distance away. There are technically 3 main arches in this section, including the North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. This hike was a bit longer than the Double Arch hike, but by no means strenuous.

national park road trip west

Next we drove over to Delicate Arch . This is by far the most photographed arch in the park! However, it requires a 3 mile round-trip hike which can be a bit difficult at times (but definitely do-able, considering my aunt and mom made it!).

At the beginning of the trail near the parking lot, you will find Wolfe Ranch. This is a hut built by an early American explorer, and nearby you can easily find petroglyphs on the surrounding walls. This was an interesting little detour, and didn’t add too much time to the hike.

national park road trip west

Continuing along the trail, there are a few sections that are a bit scary, but push through it! It’ll be worth it in the end.

national park road trip west

At least we reached our destination – the Delicate Arch! There were LOTS of people in this area, and a line to get a picture under the arch (even in November). This is a great spot to stop and rest though, before your hike back down.

national park road trip west

I should also mention that this entire area is shaped like a bowl into a giant dropoff. You will be walking on a sideways incline to get anywhere. This terrified my mom, who had to scooch on her butt to come take my picture (no judgement, it was scary!).

national park road trip west

After taking many photos, we hiked back down to the trailhead and hopped in our car. The next stop would be the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint . There is a hike here, but we opted for the view from the parking lot.

national park road trip west

Our next stop would be Sand Dune Arch . To get to this arch, there is a short hike (.3 miles) through the slot canyons. There were some narrow spots on this hike, but there were alternative paths marked as well.

national park road trip west

The arch itself was a little underwhelming, but I enjoyed the hike very much.

national park road trip west

Lastly we drove to Devil’s Garden . There is a nice hike here, but we skipped it due to time. Finally it was time to turn around and head back towards the entrance. On our way out, we stopped at Park Avenue Viewpoint one more time.

national park road trip west

Leaving Arches, we drove 30 minutes to Canyonlands National Park . There are plenty of hikes and overlooks here, but it was getting dark so we drove towards the Grand View Point Overlook . We watched the sun set over the beautiful valley below.

national park road trip west

We stayed for some time after sunset (I got to practice with my nighttime lens some more!) and the temperature turned to FREEZING. Remember to pack a sweater/jacket, as the temperature can change dramatically once the sun sets. After that, we ventured into downtown Moab, grabbed dinner at one of the many restaurants, picked up some souvenirs and went to bed.

Day 4: Moab to Page (Goosenecks State Park, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend)

The drive from Moab to Page takes about 4 1/2 hours without stopping. However, factor in all of the stops and this is an all day affair. We got on the road early and made our way out of Moab.

About 2 hours into our drive, we came to Goosenecks State Park . There is a $5 fee to enter the park, but we used this as our lunch stop as there are plenty of picnic benches around, and we had a great view!

national park road trip west

We continued our drive and soon we could see Monument Valley in the distance. There are plenty of spots to pull over and take the infamous “Forrest Gump” photo, as many people were doing. In fact, it was a bit difficult to get a shot with no one else in it!

national park road trip west

Continuing along towards Page, we came across the Utah/Arizona border. Of course we had to stop and take a photo to commemorate the event!

national park road trip west

Next up would be Monument Valley. Monument Valley is a Najavo Tribal Park with many interesting geological formations. It has been featured in many movies and there are plenty of tour options , but we decided to do the self-drive Tribal Park Loop. This 17 mile loop takes you through some of the park’s most interesting sites, and although not recommended, we took our mini-van through it and were totally fine (4 x 4 is typically recommended).

Our first stop would be the Visitor’s Center, which not only had maps and souvenirs, but also great views of the entire park below.

national park road trip west

Next, we hopped in our van and drove to the Tribal Loop. The map from the Visitor’s Center points out different interesting formations and their history, and it’s very easy to follow. Keep an eye out for West Mitten Butte (named for it’s mitten-like shape)!

national park road trip west

After a short while, we got to John Ford’s Point. This is a popular lookout point made famous by it’s multiple appearances in Western movies. This spot was definitely the most crowded, and there was a Native American dressed as a cowboy that you could take pictures with for $5. There were also lots of traditional souvenirs sold here.

national park road trip west

After spending some time at John Ford’s Point, we headed back the way we came and exited the loop. Our next stop would be John Wayne’s Cabin , just a short drive away. There was some fun movie history, as well as Najavo history, in this little museum. It was also FREE, but donations were accepted. (Also a great spot to use the restroom!)

national park road trip west

After using the restroom, it was onto Page, Arizona! In Page, we’d be staying at the Best Western View of Lake Powell , because honestly it was the cheapest option we could find (and had a great view)!

But before checking in, we arrived in Page just in time to see Horseshoe Bend at sunset! There is a 3/4 mile hike to reach this incredible viewpoint, but it is not very difficult. It is also a popular tourist destination, and there is no fence, so be careful! Every year there are multiple accidental deaths because people were trying to get the perfect selfie.

national park road trip west

After watching the sun set, we checked into our hotel and then ventured out into Page for dinner. We happened upon Big John’s Texas BBQ , which was affordable, delicious and had live music! I’d definitely recommend this place if you like authentic bbq food.

Day 5: Bryce Canyon National Park

So full disclosure, I THOUGHT I booked Antelope Canyon on this day. When in fact, I had it booked the day after. If you are following this itinerary to a T, then book Antelope Canyon when you are in Page (this day). Unfortunately, once we got to the tour place and found out that we had booked for the day after, it was too late. The tour for that day was full and our tickets could not be rescheduled.

Instead, we opted to drive to Bryce Canyon National Park . It was about a 3 hour drive from Page to Bryce. Our first stop would be the Glen Canyon Dam . This is the dam that creates Lake Powell. Stop by the Visitor Center for information about the construction and history of the dam.

national park road trip west

Once we arrived in Bryce Canyon, our first stop would be Bryce Point . This is a great overlook with 270 degrees of views! SO MANY HOODOOS! (Hoodoos are the rock formations found in these parks.) There are longer hikes here but we just took the short hike from the parking lot to the overlook.

national park road trip west

Next, we drove to Inspiration Point . This is another short hike to a beautiful overlook!

national park road trip west

Our next stop would be Sunset Point . Not only is this a beautiful lookout spot, but this is the starting and end point of one of the best trails in Bryce – Najavo Trail ! Take a minute to take in the views from this spot and then if you’re feeling up for it, start descending into the hoodoos for a 1.4 mile loop hike (rated moderate in difficulty).

national park road trip west

We finished our hike right about sunset time, so we watched the sun go down over the park with many other tourists. I then got to use my nighttime lens some more. 🙂

national park road trip west

That night we stayed at America’s Best Value Inn and Suites – Bryce Canyon .

Day 6: Antelope Canyon

Due to my booking error, we had to drive BACK to Page for our Antelope Canyon tour. Obviously if you were doing this correctly, today would be the day for Bryce Canyon. However, the drive back was TOTALLY worth it! Antelope Canyon was one of my favorite destinations of the trip. There are lots of different options for tours (which are legally necessary to see this canyon), but we opted for the Upper Antelope Canyon tour .

While VERY crowded in the canyon, it was still a beautiful site to behold and you shouldn’t miss it!

national park road trip west

After Antelope Canyon, we headed towards our Airbnb for the night, which was my absolute favorite lodging of the trip! It was a “glamping” experience, which included a king size bed in a tent. You were given a heater, chairs, firepit and wood, etc – everything you needed to be cozy for the night! The bathrooms were only porta potties, so if you NEED a real toilet, then this may not be the place for you. The Airbnb was located right outside of Zion National Park, about a 2 hour drive from Antelope Canyon.

We spent the rest of the night relaxing around the fire and stargazing. It was the perfect spot for it!

national park road trip west

Day 7: Zion National Park

This morning we woke up and made our breakfast over the fire in the shadows of Zion National Park . Our plan would be to get to the park and do some of the many hikes offered. Some of the most famous hikes are Angel’s Landing and the Narrows. Knowing that I wanted to do these, we stopped by Zion Adventures for gear rental. It was November and the water can be FREEZING at this time (although gear rental is probably a good idea year-round).

PRO TIP: If you plan to hike the Narrows from the top down, you will need a permit. You can request one here .

Once we arrived in Zion, we walked to the Visitor’s Center and found out that Angel’s Landing was actually closed due to someone defecating on the trail! Gross! We hopped on the free mandatory shuttle bus (no personal vehicles are allowed in the park) and headed towards the Temple of Sinawava, the last stop on the shuttle but the start of the Narrows hike.

I would be doing this hike alone, while my mom and aunt rode the shuttle bus and explored the other stops. You can go as far as you like or not into the Narrows. I geared up and started my way on the “trail”. Note – there is no actual trail, you will be walking in the water (sometimes above your waist) the entire time.

national park road trip west

I’m honestly not sure how far I went, but I was hiking for several hours. It was very beautiful, but at one point I slipped and my top half fell into the water and I was starting to get very cold, so I headed back.

national park road trip west

After the Narrows, we drove 2.5 hours back to Las Vegas and checked into our hostel for the night, Hostel Cat . Since we were close by, we walked to the infamous Little White Chapel and poked around before heading to bed.

national park road trip west

Day 8: Death Valley National Park

After another early morning wake-up, we hopped in the car and headed towards Death Valley National Park in California. On the way, we drove past Area 51, so of course had to stop in the gift shop for some fun souvenirs!

national park road trip west

Once entering Death Valley National Park, we drove towards Badwater Basin , the lowest point in North America. There are also very interesting salt formations here, so make sure to get out and look around (but bring water!)!

national park road trip west

On the way out, we got stuck behind some odd wagon train. I still have no idea what was happening, but lots of people dressed in traditional clothing were driving Conestoga wagons.

national park road trip west

Next, we wanted to visit some ghost towns! For this, we headed into the state of Nevada. The first town on the list would be Rhyolite , a town founded around 1904 due to the gold rush. At it’s peak, Rhyolite was home to three train lines, three newspapers, three hospitals and 53 saloons! Now only vacant buildings and remnants of a booming town still stand.

national park road trip west

One of the main interest points in Rhyolite is the glass bottle house, built in 1906 by a man with limited building supplies and quite the imagination.

national park road trip west

Our next ghost town would be Gold Point , a mining town founded in 1868 with a population today of 27 people. This town was a lot more in tact than Rhyolite had been, and significantly more creepy. It was probably my favorite of the 3 ghost towns we visited.

national park road trip west

After exploring the town and nearby mine (be careful – there ARE mine shafts that are not completely closed off), we headed to the “downtown” of nearby “ghost town” (although more populated than the others) Goldfield . This town is known for the Goldfield Hotel , which is supposedly one of the most haunted hotels in the country.

national park road trip west

We grabbed dinner nearby at the Hoist House , which was delicious but equally creepy. To be honest, the entire town just gave off a creepy vibe. So to all those ghost hunters out there, head to Goldfield!

After dinner, we drove back to Las Vegas. It took about 3 hours and by that time, my mom and aunt went directly to the airport to fly home. I was staying in Vegas for another night, so I went back to Hostel Cat and got ready for a night on the town! I met some friends at the hostel and we had a great night out!

Day 9: Las Vegas

What better way to spend my last day in Vegas than with some gambling, a show, and some In-N-Out ! I explored the different casinos, won big playing craps (enough to pay for my trip!) and treated myself to Animal Style burger and fries.

national park road trip west

That night I had booked a show with Penn and Teller ! I always enjoyed watching them on TV and their live performance was not a disappointment! They even stayed afterwards to take pictures with everyone.

national park road trip west

After a great day, it was time to head to the airport and head home.

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About Caroline

Caroline is a lover of all adventures! Whether it's a weekend backpacking in the wilderness, or a night club-hopping in Paris, Caroline is always down for a good time. She is happily married and plays mother to two sassy cats - Pickles and Einstein!

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Western US National Park Road Trips

Road trips to the best national parks in the west.

Stuart Thornton

Stuart Thornton

Amy Balfour

Amy Balfour

  • In this guide
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  • West coast national parks road trip

Grand Canyon to Rocky Mountains road trip

Western national parks driving loop.

Combining the awe-inspiring national parks of the Western USA into a single road trip makes for a true Americana adventure.

From the Grand Canyon to the Rocky Mountains, here are a few spectacular long-distance routes.

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Larger than life in Yosemite National Park

West coast national park road trip route

Take in the magnificence of the western United States mountains, while also walking among some of the world’s biggest trees and get sprayed by a few of North America’s largest waterfalls on this route. This inland tour of the best mountainous parks in Washington, Oregon, and California includes crowd favourites Olympic National Park, Crater Lake National Park and Yosemite National Park.

Approx. distance: 1,700 miles

Duration: 14 days

Suggested route: Seattle, Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Los Angeles.

Just three hours from the northwest city of Seattle – including a ferry ride – is Olympic National Park, which is home to glacier topped mountains, rainforests and a wild and rugged coastline.

Another three-hour drive takes visitors from Olympic National Park to the year-round splendour of Mount Rainier National Park. The route heads south of Puget Sound and its tributaries.

Getting from Mount Rainier National Park in Washington down to Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon is a more involved 6 ½-hour drive. Luckily, the route passes through both Portland and Eugene, where you can stop for a few hours or overnight.

From Crater Lake National Park to northern California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park is a four-hour drive. Detour to Lava Beds National Monument to explore one of the preserved area’s 800 caves.

During summer, take US 395 alongside the eastern portion of California from Lassen Volcanic National Park to Yosemite National Park. It takes 5 ½ hours and passes through Reno in the state of Nevada, which is a perfect place for a stop or an overnight stay.

Less than three hours from Yosemite are the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which is less busy than Yosemite but almost as beautiful. The adjacent parks are about four hours from both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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What to see

Olympic National Park

With nearly a million acres, Olympic National Park offers a variety of experiences including hiking, soaking in hot springs (Sol Duc Hot Springs and Olympic Hot Springs), and sliding down a snowy peak at the Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area. Port Angeles is the biggest city on the Olympic Peninsula and a great place to plan your trip into the park.

Mount Rainier National Park

While its namesake 14,410-foot-high (4,392m) peak dominates the scenery, Mount Rainier National Park also has worthwhile hiking in the Tatoosh Range and waterfalls in the Carbon River area. In springtime, the park has a profusion of blooming wildflowers and rushing waterfalls.

Try a day hike along the 5.5 mile-long Skyline Trail, which butts up against Mount Rainier. Check out the views at Panorama Point. Alternatively, take alpine lakes, mountain peaks and stunning views on the Snow Lake Trail, which is a much easier 2.5-mile round trip.

Mount Rainier National Park is well-known for its many waterfalls, but perhaps the easiest one to see is the 176ft high Narada Falls. It’s a short hike from the car park of the same name to the bottom of the waterfall.

USA sierra nevada

Sierra Nevada mountain range

Crater Lake National Park

Oregon’s dazzling blue Crater Lake, a remnant of a volcano, is worth spending some time staring at. To see the water up close, take one of the park’s many boat tours. Another option is to do the 33-mile long (53km) Rim Drive for views down into the lake from different vantage points. Roads are generally open in the Crater Lake National Park between July and October. If you come in winter, the park’s North Entrance Road is excellent for snowmobiling, while some trails become passable for cross-country skiing.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

A hotbed of geothermal activity, Lassen Volcanic National Park has mud pots, boiling pools and fumaroles (an opening near a volcano which releases gas). There’s boating, kayaking, and fishing in the park, but hiking through a lava tube at Lassen is one of the park’s singular experiences. Try the wincingly-named Bumpass Hell Trail – so named for Kendall Bumpass who fell into scalding water here – for views of boiling mudpots, turquoise pools and Brokeoff Volcano. Alternatively, try the 4.2 mile Devil’s Kitchen Trail for steaming streams and alpine lakes.

Lassen is one of the best places in California to go star-gazing. Park rangers lead astronomy tours during the summer, and the annual Dark Sky Festival, held in August, offers nightly stargazing tours and talks by professional astronomers.

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Bubbling sulphur pool, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Yosemite National Park

The most popular national park in California, Yosemite includes the world-renowned Yosemite Valley, which is beneath notable granite peaks including Half Dome and El Capitan – famous among rock climbers for their stunning views and difficult climbs. Head to the 7,214ft Glacier Point for views over Yosemite Valley, or head inside the granite Geology Hut for vistas of Half Dome. Come at sunrise or sunset, when the giant granite peaks turn a rosy pink. There’s more than just towering peaks in Yosemite. Mariposa Grove showcases giant sequoia trees, while Yosemite Falls is North America’s highest waterfall at 2,425 feet (739 metres). It is possible to hike up to the upper fall’s crest, but be aware that the water’s spray can be very cold.

Such is the diversity of activities in Yosemite National Park, that you can do anything from fishing and gold panning to spas and shopping.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

The adjacent parks of Sequoia and Kings Canyon are a fine place to take in the splendour of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the towering sequoia trees, and geologic formations like Moro Rock. Sequoia is where you can find legendary trees including the General Sherman Tree (allegedly the largest tree on earth) and the General Grant Tree.

Spring and summer bring wildflower blooms to both parks and bears are plentiful. This is a great stop for those looking for wilderness away from the busier Yosemite National Park.

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Best of the West

A grand tour of the american southwest.

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Southwest Highlights

Explore the best of the american southwest.

USA Grand Canyon Horseshoe Bend is a famous meander on river Colorado

Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

Experience the dizzying peaks and deep canyons of the American southwest on this route. The drive includes the alpine scenery of the Rocky Mountain National Park and the mile-deep Grand Canyon, as well as stops to visit the tallest sand dunes in the United States (Great Sand Dunes National Park) and North America's oldest archaeological site (Mesa Verde National Park).

Approx. distance: 1,400 miles

Duration: 10 days

Suggested route: Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Grand Canyon, Phoenix.

Start your journey in Denver, Colorado, before driving an hour and a half to Estes Park, at the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. After a couple of days hiking and marvelling at the Rocky Mountains, it is a five-hour drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Consider detouring into the pleasant city of Colorado Springs and visiting Garden of the Gods, where you can walk around fanciful sandstone rock formations.

It’s a four-hour drive across southern Colorado to reach Mesa Verde National park from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Just 40 minutes from the park, Durango is a pleasant city at 1,981 metres with a historic downtown.

The drive to the Grand Canyon from Mesa Verde takes four hours with much of it passing through the Navajo Nation. Fans of western movies should detour off US Route 160 onto US Route 163 at Kayenta, Arizona to make the 45-minute drive to Monument Valley, a butte-studded desert featured in many western movies.

From the Grand Canyon, it’s an hour and a half to Flagstaff, a pleasant college town, and a four-hour drive to Phoenix, where there is a major airport.

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Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountains National Park

One of the highest national parks in the United States, the Rocky Mountain National Park includes the 14,258-foot-high Longs Peak (4,345 metres) and 300 miles of hiking trails. Much of the park can only be accessed during the summer months, with winter snows closing mountain roads. During peak season of mid-June to Labor Day, consider spending time in the less crowded western side of the park. In that area are opportunities to hike, picnic, and visit the Holzwarth Historic Site, a homestead from the early 1900s.

Be aware that altitude sickness can be an issue in the Rocky Mountains, even when driving. For example, Trail Ridge Road is more than 3,500m above sea level, so go slow, drink plenty of water and pay attention to the signs of altitude sickness, such as headaches and shortness of breath.

A couple of hiking trails to consider are an easy two-mile hike through Dream, Nymph and Emerald Lakes (extend to Lake Haiyaha for an alpine lake surrounded by boulders and ancient trees), or a waterfall hike to Alberta Falls near Glacier Gorge Junction. Before starting any hike, it's worth heading to the Park's visitor centre to get maps, find out about road and trail closures and to speak to rangers.

Be aware of wildlife while hiking on more remote trails. The Rocky Mountain National Park is home to elk, deer, mountain lions and bears, and you are likely to encounter wildlife on your trip. If you see a bear, stand still and stay calm, giving the bear the opportunity to leave. If it doesn't leave, make yourself look as big as possible and throw small rocks to try to scare it away. If the bear charges, the advice from the US National Park Service is to fight back.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

One of Colorado's lesser-visited parks, Great Sand Dunes National Park has 30 square miles of dunes including one that is 750 feet tall (228 metres). You can hike up the towering dunes (it is a five hour round trip to the summit), or even better, ride down them on a sleigh, even in the summer. Also, the park is a great place to take in the Milky Way stretching across the night sky, with the park open all day and night.

Mesa Verde National Park

The reason to visit Mesa Verde National Park is to see one of its ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. Ranger-guided tours of the unique structures including Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, are offered in the park.

The park also has hiking trails including the 7.8-mile round-trip (12.5km) Prater Ridge Trail and the 2.4-mile round-trip (3.8km) Petroglyph Point Trail that goes to a petroglyph (rock carving) panel.

Grand Canyon National Park

Once in Grand Canyon National Park, there’s much more to do than stare into the amazing chasm. The Rim Trail offers different views from the top of the canyon on a mostly paved path. Though it’s 13 miles long (21km), hikers can utilize the park’s shuttle bus system in place of doing the whole hike. The Bright Angel Trail (12 miles round-trip, 19km) is one of the US national park system’s best-known trails. It heads to the bottom of the canyon, a marvellous experience for those with plenty of water and stamina. It is recommended that hikers do just a portion of the hike down Bright Angel and back up to the rim as there are many rescues each year for underprepared hikers who overestimate their abilities.

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USA death valley

California's Death Valley National Park

California has more national parks (nine) than any other state in the US The Golden State is diverse, and its national parks reflect that diversity with national parkland that preserves offshore islands, starkly beautiful deserts, and temperate rainforests with redwood trees. This route is designed to hit all nine national parks in a loop around the state.

Approx. distance: 2,000 miles

Duration: 18 days

Suggested route: San Francisco, Redwood National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Park, Channel Islands National Park, Pinnacles National Park, San Francisco.

Start in San Francisco and make the drive six hours north to Redwood National and State Parks. Make sure to detour off US 101 just north of Garberville for a drive along the Avenue of the Giants, a roadway amongst redwood forest along the Eel River. The North Coast towns of Arcata and Trinidad are worth a stop on your drive too. Arcata, 45 minutes south of Redwood National Park, is a great place to stock up on groceries, especially at Wildberries Marketplace.

The drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park from Redwood National Park heads east for four hours and passes through miles of national forest land. Stop in Redding, an hour out from Lassen, for supplies.

In the summer, it’s a 5 ½ -hour drive from Lassen Volcanic Park to Yosemite National Park. Stop in Reno, Nevada for some gambling or a night’s stay.

Three hours from Yosemite is Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The drive dips into California’s Central Valley and passes through the city of Fresno.

Driving from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to Death Valley National Park involves a 5 ½ -hour route around the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The route passes through Bakersfield, where country music fans should stop into Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace.

To reach California’s other desert park, Joshua Tree National Park, from Death Valley, it’s a four-hour drive through the Mojave Desert.

For a wildly different experience, drive four hours from Joshua Tree National Park to Ventura Harbor, where you can reserve a ride on a boat run by the concession Island Packers out to one of the Channel Island National Park’s five islands.

From Ventura Harbor, it’s a four-hour drive to Pinnacles National Park in the Salinas Valley. If possible, stop in the pleasant California coastal cities of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara for a meal or to view some worthwhile sites including the historic Santa Barbara Mission.

To close the loop, drive from Pinnacles National Park 2 ½ -hours to San Francisco.

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are home to the world’s tallest trees, which grow more than 350 feet tall. See them from the national park’s Lady Bird Johnson Trail or within Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park on Cal-Barrel Road or the Cathedral Trees Trail. Head out of the redwoods for a hike in Prairie Creek State Park’s Fern Canyon for a different kind of hike: a walk through a gorge with fern-draped walls that was the backdrop for scenes in Jurassic Park 2 .

Once you’ve worked up a thirst, head to Lost Coast Brewery for drinks and dinner.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a wonderland of volcanic activity including bubbling pots and lava tubes. Hikers should attempt to hike up 10,457-foot high (3,187 meters) Lassen Peak. A different way to experience the park is to kayak or stand-up paddleboard around Manzanita Lake.

It’s well worth seeing the world-famous Yosemite Valley. Some of the valley’s best hikes include the 2.4 miles (3.9 km) hike up Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall or the mile hike up to Columbia Rock for superb valley views. Head to the park’s Hetch Hetchy region or Tuolumne Meadows off Tioga Road for more solitude.

For a self-guided tour, hire bicycles at Curry Village and take a two-mile ride to Mirror Lake, or hire them at Yosemite Valley Lodge for a more strenuous 5-mile ride to Half Dome Village.

As ever, the climbing hotspots of El Capitan and Half Dome offer stunning walls of granite, which are best viewed at sunset or sunrise.

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Giant Redwood tree in Redwood State Park

Sequoia National Park has forests of giant sequoia trees including the world’s largest, the General Sherman Tree. In addition to hiking through giant sequoia trees, visitors can go horseback riding or rock climbing in the park.

Death Valley National Park

In Death Valley, you will be in the largest national park in the continental United States. Take a scenic drive along Badwater Road to Badwater Basin, located 282 feet below sea level, or take a tour of the Star Wars filming locations within the park.

For hiking, take on the moderate two-mile Golden Canyon trail, or for something longer, head to Dante’s View for lookouts across the Valley to Telescope Peak and Badwater Basin below.

Death Valley’s arid climate and range of elevations mean it is home to lots of different animals, including roadrunners, lizards, coyotes and even bobcats. Visitors in spring to Salt Creek can see the pupfish – the only landlocked fish in the United States.

Joshua Tree National Park

Named for a unique looking desert plant, Joshua Tree National Park offers hiking, birding, and horseback riding along with climbing, bouldering, highlining, and slacklining on its many rock formations. Take the short Indian Cove walking trail for the best views of the eponymous Joshua tree, or head to Keys View – the highest point in the park – for views across the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs and peaks as far as Mexico. Come at sunset for orange and red hues that spread out across the desert.

Be sure to visit the nearby Pioneertown, a hip community built around a 1940s movie set, or cut short your California National Park loop by heading to Los Angeles, a two and half hour drive west.

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park

Channel Islands National Park

Whether you visit the tiny Channel Islands National Park’s Anacapa Island or Santa Cruz Island, you’ll experience a California coastal landscape devoid of development. Recreational opportunities abound from hiking to sea kayaking to snorkelling and scuba diving.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park was formed from the eroded sections of an old volcano. Its unique scenery includes rock spires and talus caves. One recommended hike from the park’s western entrance is the 4.3-mile Juniper Canyon Loop, which includes a section of trail with stairs cut into a ridge of rock. Look out for the endangered California condor flying overhead. The condor is the largest land bird in North America.

Best times for Western US road trips

Climate, seasons, and how to avoid the crowds.

The seasons greatly affect travel in the national parks of the western United States. During the summer months between May and September, temperatures in desert parks like Death Valley can soar to 110 degrees and higher. These months are also the busiest times for visitors to national parks like Yosemite National Park and Crater Lake National Park.

Meanwhile, winter snowfall in mountainous parks (Yosemite National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park) results in facility closures and limited access, particularly between November and March. Destinations including Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows and Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road are closed during this time of year.

January and February are ideal times to visit Death Valley National Park. Daytime temperatures in the park hover around 60 degrees (15.5 Celsius), while nighttime brings cool but not freezing temperatures around 40 degrees (4.5 Celsius). February is when the desert’s many wildflowers begin to bloom, painting the park with colour.

Nearby Joshua Tree National Park is prime for visiting in March due to that month’s mild temperatures and wildflower displays. It’s also the best time to go hiking or rock climbing on the park’s granite rock formations.

With snow on the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains melting, April and May is when Yosemite’s famed waterfalls roar to life. Though the park’s higher elevation areas will still be closed, visitors are treated to Yosemite Falls and Vernal Falls at their grandest along with blooming wildflowers and smaller crowds.

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the country and ranges from 7,680 feet (2,396 metres) to 14,259 feet (4,346 metres) in elevation. The park’s popular Trail Ridge Road, which gives visitors access to alpine tundra, is only open from June to September. Likewise, the summer months of July and August are the best times to visit Olympic National Park due to less rainfall in the region and the park offering more activities to the public.

September and October are prime visiting times for Grand Canyon National Park, when there’s both cooler temperatures and smaller crowds. The autumn months also offer a window to visit rugged Channel Islands National Park off the coast of California. Before the winter rains come, the islands are warm and dry.

November and December bring cooler temperatures out west and snow at high elevations. For the unique experience of ice skating in a national park, head to Yosemite to glide around on the Curry Village Ice Skating Rink. Or, wait until mid-December to enjoy skiing or tubing at Yosemite’s Badger Pass Ski Area.

Festivals and events

In the summer months, western US national parks have a full schedule of guided hikes, talks, campfire presentations and more. The offseason find the parks hosting more specialised annual festivals and events meant to draw people into the parks during less busy times.

Spanning six sessions in January, Chef’s Holidays brings world-renowned chefs to Yosemite National Park’s Majestic Yosemite Hotel for cooking demos and multi-course meals. In February, Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park puts on a Winterfest, where visitors can explore the park in moonlight while being warmed up by hot chocolate and hot cider.

At the height of summer, Grand Canyon National Park throws the Grand Canyon Star Party in June, one of the best times of the year to see the night sky in all of its glory. Throughout the park, volunteer astronomers set up telescopes to bring stars, planets, and more into focus for visitors.

Celebrate the old, wild west at the Death Valley 49ers Encampment and Western Music Festival at Death Valley National Park in early November. Expect music, scenic horseback rides, blacksmithing, and gold panning at Furnace Creek inside the park.

Step back in time for the holiday season at Yosemite National Park’s Bracebridge Dinner, which has been going on since 1928. The December festivities in The Majestic Yosemite Hotel are meant to evoke Christmas Day in England in 1718 with song and a seven-course feast.

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About the authors.

Western US National Park Road Trips

Stuart is a California-based travel writer and guidebook author. His books include Moon California Road Trip , Moon Coastal California and the forthcoming Moon Northern California Road Trips . For more about Stuart and his books, visit his website.

Western US National Park Road Trips

Amy has authored or co-authored 26 books on the USA for Lonely Planet. Her articles and essays have appeared in Backpacker, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Houston Chronicle, Redbook, Southern Living, Women’s Health, Vegetarian Times, the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

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Home > Road Trip Itineraries > West Coast > Southwest > DIY 2-Week National Park Road Trip: California, Route 66 and a Ghost Town

Two Weeks National Park Roadtrip

DIY 2-Week National Park Road Trip: California, Route 66 and a Ghost Town

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Here is a 2 Week National Park Roadtrip itinerary covering the main attractions of the West Coast . By following this itinerary, you can visit the most fascinating national parks (for example, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Park), iconic cities in California  like Los Angeles and San Diego , beautiful places and things to do in the Navajo Nation like Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon, and Route 66 , where you can explore the legendary Far West in a ghost town called Oatman .

The 2 week Western Us Road trip is a “do-it-yourself trip”. This means you can easily personalize it by using the resources in the 2 week National Park “Road trip planner” section.

  • Travel info
  • Map of the stops
  • Day by Day Itinerary
  • Road trip planner

Travel Info

  • Best period : Suitable for all seasons (summer, spring, winter, autumn)
  • Duration : 15 days
  • Distance to cover : About 1,800 miles
  • Total driving hours : Approximately 23 hours
  • Average daily driving time : About 2 hours
  • Start : Los Angeles
  • End : Los Angeles

West Coast Road Trip Map

Day By Day Itinerary

Days 1-3: los angeles.

usa west coast road trip 2 weeks

If you don’t have your own car, pick up your rental car at the airport and visit the world capital of cinema. We especially recommend choosing one of the theme parks in the surrounding area, Universal Studios or Disneyland . Of course, you must also visit Hollywood Boulevard to see the Walk of Fame , and Santa Monica,  known worldwide for its amusement park on the pier .

For more information, take a look at my tips on what to do in Los Angeles . Make sure to study carefully the options for accommodations. It is in fact one of the largest cities in the world and you should stay in an area that best matches your travel plans and allows you to easily reach the attractions in the city. I suggest you choose among the areas I recommended in my article about where to stay in Los Angeles .

Day 4: Death Valley

western road trip itinerary

From Los Angeles, drive about 4 hours by car and you will arrive in Death Valley, one of the most fascinating parks in all of California that is characterized by a desert landscape out of the world, with undulating mountains and iridescent rainbows that stand out in the background. It feels like you’re on another planet…

Don’t forget to take a look at my tips for visiting Death Valley . You will stay overnight in Beatty or in a small town not far from the park. If you want to know more about all the hotel options around the park, you can read my in-depth review of hotels in Death Valley .

Days 5-6: Las Vegas

2 weeks western road trip itinerary

In an hour and a half or so, you’ll be in the city of excess, Las Vegas . My advice is, first of all, to get some rest and spend the first day visiting the Strip , an endless street of casinos and opulent hotels (you’ll find there are many hotels in Las Vegas to choose from). The best way to spend the evening is to see one of the famous shows available in the city (for example, Cirque du Soleil ). For more information on things to do, read my article about the attractions in Las Vegas .

Personally, when planning a road trip, I think 1 day is enough to visit Las Vegas… So why stop here for 2 days? Because there are some natural wonders and other incredible places around Sin City that you should not miss: Valley of Fire , Red Rock Canyon ,  and the Hoover Dam . These places are so close to the city that the most convenient option is to stay overnight in Las Vegas .

Day 7: Page – Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

2 week itinerary west coast america

Page (4 hours from Las Vegas) is one of the luckiest cities in the West Coast, not so much for its beauty (nothing exceptional really) as for its proximity to several natural attractions that have become true icons of the Southwest: Antelope Canyon , where the sun passes through narrow space of the canyon creating amazing light effects, Horseshoe Bend , a natural cliff on the Colorado River that offers a magnificent panorama, and Lake Powell , one of the most unique lakes in the world.

To find out all you need to know about these attractions, you can take a look at our article about the things to do in Page .

Day 8: Monument Valley

15 days itinerary west coast usa

You will then travel not even 2 hours and you will find yourself facing what is now almost unanimously recognized as the most representative natural iconographic spectacle of the American West. It’s no coincidence that the soaring and solitary monoliths of Monument Valley (located on the largest Indian reservation in the United States) have been featured in an almost infinite number of movies.

If you want to explore the surrounding area (a few miles away), I recommend Valley of the Gods , which has a similar landscape.

For the overnight stay, the best choice would be to spend the night in Monument Valley, Kayenta , or in the surrounding area (see our tips on where to stay in Monument Valley ). To understand how to make the most of your time in this area, don’t forget to read my tips on how to plan your visit to Monument Valley .

Days 9-10: Grand Canyon – Flagstaff

western us road trip

About 2 and a half hours away, there is one of nature’s most impressive miracles: the Grand Canyon (South Rim or Grand Canyon Village). The base for the visit, where you will stop for 2 days, is Flagstaff , a very pleasant city where you can take a walk and rest after the many hours of driving. However, Flagstaff has more to offer. Like Page, Flagstaff also has remarkable natural wonders in its surroundings.

It is located about 90 minutes from the Grand Canyon (South Rim) and from Petrified Forest , where the Painted Desert is also located. Two days will be more than enough time to explore these areas. Don’t forget to read my tips on things to do in Grand Canyon and the best places to visit in Flagstaff .

Day 11: Route 66 – Oatman – Lake Havasu City

west coast usa national parks road trip

Next, you will embark on a 3-hour drive through U.S. history along Route 66, through Williams and Kingman , and make a (highly recommended) stop in Oatman Ghost Town .

You will stay overnight in Lake Havasu City , a quaint city on a lake in an ideal location to break up the trip and rest.

Read our upcoming article on the places of interest to visit on Route 66, and our Route 66 road trip planner .

Day 12: Joshua Tree – Palm Springs

west coast national park trip

Let’s get back on the road and return to California. In a matter of 2 hours and 30 minutes, you will arrive at one of the most fascinating national parks, Joshua Tree National Park , a surreal natural landscape with its cactus-like trees with twisted and grotesque shapes and rocky masses that sit on the desert ground like tombstones.

The overnight stay will be in Palm Springs , a charming city and an oasis in the desert that is characterized by palm trees, adobe buildings, villas of billionaires, swimming pools, and golf courses.

I suggest you read my tips on visiting Joshua Tree National Park and what to see in Palm Springs .

Days 13-14: San Diego

west coast national park road trip

After 2 hours of driving, you will be in San Diego , one of the most beautiful cities in California that is characterized by a picturesque historic district, splendid beaches, theme parks, and lots of parks.

My advice is to visit at least one of the parks in San Diego and to explore this beautiful city thoroughly in the 2 days available. Regarding the overnight stay, choose one of the areas that I suggest in my article about accomodations in San Diego .

Day 15: Departure from Los Angeles

west coast road trip itinerary

In less than 2 hours, you will be at Los Angeles International Airport, where you will return the car and then head home.

2 week National Park Road trip planner

Book your flight.

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  • Search Flights to Los Angeles

Book accommodations for all the stops

national park road trip west

  • Accommodations in Los Angeles
  • Accommodations in Beatty
  • Accommodations in Las Vegas
  • Accommodations in Page
  • Accommodations in Monument Valley and in the surrounding area
  • Accommodations in Flagstaff
  • Accommodations in Lake Havasu City
  • Accommodations in Palm Springs
  • Accommodations in San Diego

Book your rental car

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  • Car rental in Los Angeles

Warning: Operating hours can change and closures for extraordinary events can occur, so we strongly suggest to check the venues official websites.

lorenzo puliti

lorenzo puliti

I am fascinated by the wonders of the world I never tire of going in search of them.

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20 Best West Coast National Parks and Road Trip Itinerary

20 Best West Coast National Parks and Road Trip Itinerary

raven zhou

The West Coast of the United States is blessed with an abundance of natural wonders, and among the most captivating are its national parks.

Unlike the eastern United States , shaped by rolling hills and deciduous forests, the west coast is a land of extremes. Volcanic activity, glacial sculpting, and a drier climate have resulted in a wildly different landscape.

Here, towering granite cliffs plunge into glacier-carved valleys, geothermal wonders erupt from the earth’s crust, and towering redwoods stand as silent sentinels to the passage of time. From the temperate rainforests of Washington to the arid deserts of California and the stark beauty of Death Valley, these parks showcase the remarkable geological forces that have shaped the West.

Best National Parks on the West Coast USA

There are roughly sixty National Park Service units, including National Parks , National Monuments, and Seashores, stretching from California to Washington. This creates a wealth of options for travelers, making it hard to pick just one “best” National Park. However, some perennial favorites stand out due to their unique features and experiences.

✨Check our US West Coast Vacation Packages  to tour multiple national parks with ease!

west coast tour packages

Here’s a glimpse at 20 of the best West Coast National Parks, sure to ignite your wanderlust:

1.  Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park

2.  Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Protected together, these neighboring parks are home to the world’s largest trees by volume. Tunnel through the hollow trunk of the Fallen Monarch, hike among towering sequoias in Grant Grove, or camp beneath a canopy of giants. Kings Canyon National Park offers stunning views of sculpted granite cliffs, including the famous Kings Canyon National Park. Stargazing is another popular activity here, with astronomy programs offered by the park rangers.

3.  Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

mount rainier

4.  Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

Mount St. Helens is a living laboratory of volcanic activity, where visitors can witness the ongoing process of landscape renewal following the cataclysmic eruption of 1980. Today, the mountain stands as a testament to the power of nature’s forces, with its crater still steaming and new life slowly reclaiming the barren landscape. Hiking trails lead through the blast zone, offering glimpses of the mountain’s past and its future.

5.  Redwood National and State Parks, California

Witness towering giants here! Stand in awe beneath the world’s tallest trees, the coast redwoods, some reaching an astounding 300 feet. Explore the Redwood Creek Trail, a favorite among cyclists, or embark on a bioluminescent kayaking tour at night – a magical experience paddling amidst the gentle glow of plankton in the water.

6.  Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Fall Colors Tours

7.  Joshua Tree National Park, California

Enter a surreal landscape of twisted Joshua trees and otherworldly rock formations at Joshua Tree National Park . Located where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge, this desert paradise offers a playground for rock climbers, stargazers, and desert adventurers. Recent years have seen a surge in popularity, thanks in part to its Instagram-worthy vistas and the growing interest in desert tourism. Visitors can marvel at the star-studded skies, explore hidden oases, and discover the park’s rich biodiversity, including elusive desert wildlife and vibrant wildflowers.

8.  Death Valley National Park, California & Nevada

Death Valley Tours from Las Vegas

9.  Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a wonderland of geothermal features and volcanic peaks. Hike past steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pots, explore Lassen Peak, the only active volcano in the Cascade Range, or soak in a naturally heated pool.

10.  Channel Islands National Park, California

Channel Islands is a remote and wild archipelago off the coast of Southern California, teeming with biodiversity and natural beauty. Visitors can explore the rugged coastline, hike through windswept coastal bluffs, and snorkel in crystal-clear waters filled with vibrant marine life. With its pristine beaches, hidden sea caves, and abundant wildlife, Channel Islands offers a true escape from the hustle and bustle of mainland life.

11.  Pinnacles National Park (California)

Pinnacles National Park is a rugged wonderland of towering rock spires, hidden caves, and breathtaking vistas. Formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago, this unique landscape offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure. Hikers can traverse the High Peaks Trail, winding through narrow canyons and scrambling up rocky slopes to panoramic viewpoints. Climbers flock to the park to test their skills on the sheer cliffs and challenging rock formations. Wildlife enthusiasts will delight in spotting California condors soaring overhead, while birdwatchers can observe a variety of species in the park’s diverse habitats. With its stunning scenery and abundant recreational opportunities, Pinnacles is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.

12.  North Cascades National Park, Washington

Discover the wild beauty of the North Cascades, where jagged peaks, pristine alpine lakes, and lush forests create a landscape of unparalleled beauty. This is a place where you can hike through remote wilderness, paddle across crystal-clear waters, and marvel at the rugged grandeur of the mountains. Whether you’re exploring the breathtaking vistas along the North Cascades Highway, embarking on a backcountry adventure, or simply soaking in the serenity of the wilderness, North Cascades National Park offers endless opportunities for adventure and exploration.

13.  Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park is home to Crater Lake, a deep, pristine caldera lake formed by a collapsed volcano. Formed by the collapse of a volcanic caldera, Crater Lake’s pristine waters beckon visitors to immerse themselves in its breathtaking beauty. Recent years have seen a rise in adventure travel, with visitors flocking to the park for hiking, camping, and water activities. Whether gazing out over the impossibly blue waters from Rim Village, embarking on a scenic drive along the rim, or hiking to hidden waterfalls and viewpoints, Crater Lake promises an unforgettable journey into the heart of Oregon’s natural wonders.

The next ones are technically not on the West Coast, but are popular destinations often included in West Coast National Park road trips

14.  Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

Grand Prismatic Spring - Yellowstone Tour

15.  Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Prepare to be humbled by the grandeur of the Grand Canyon , one of the natural wonders of the world. Carved by the mighty Colorado River over millions of years, this breathtaking chasm stretches for miles, revealing layer upon layer of colorful rock formations. Whether you’re hiking along the rim, rafting down the river, or catching a sunset from Hopi Point, every vista is a masterpiece of nature’s handiwork.

16.  Zion National Park, Utah

zion national park

17.  Arches National Park, Utah

Discover a world of natural arches, towering spires, and surreal rock formations in Arches National Park , where erosion has sculpted the landscape into a playground of stone. From the iconic Delicate Arch to the otherworldly landscapes of Devil’s Garden, every hike in Arches is a journey into the heart of the desert. And with recent trends in social media, the park’s iconic landmarks have become Instagram sensations, drawing visitors from around the world eager to capture the perfect shot against the backdrop of Utah’s red rock wonders.

18.  Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon

19.  Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier is a land of ice and fire, where towering peaks, pristine lakes, and ancient glaciers create a landscape of unparalleled beauty. Whether you’re driving along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, hiking to hidden waterfalls, or paddling across the crystal-clear waters of Lake McDonald, every moment in Glacier is an adventure. And with its diverse ecosystems and abundant wildlife, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep, Glacier offers endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.

20.  Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park is a rugged wilderness just waiting to be explored. From ancient bristlecone pines to mysterious limestone caverns, this park is a treasure trove of natural wonders. Lace up your hiking boots and embark on a journey through diverse ecosystems, where desert landscapes give way to alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks. And when night falls, look up and marvel at the dazzling display of stars above. Great Basin National Park offers a true escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, where adventure and serenity go hand in hand.

West Coast National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

Planning a West Coast National Park road trip can be overwhelming with so many incredible parks to choose from. Here’s a sample itinerary that hits some of the most iconic destinations:

Start your journey in Los Angeles and head east to Joshua Tree National Park , a land of otherworldly rock formations, cacti, and desert vistas. Next, delve into Death Valley National Park , the hottest, driest, and lowest point in North America. Explore the otherworldly sand dunes, salt flats, and Badwater Basin. Finally, head north to Yosemite National Park , a crown jewel of the National Park System.

Leaving Yosemite, Kings Canyon National Park  and neighboring Sequoia National Park . Here, stand in awe beneath the world’s largest trees, the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia and the Grant Grove in Kings Canyon. Continue your journey up the coast to Redwood National and State Parks , home to groves of ancient redwoods, some reaching over 300 feet tall. Take a moment to soak in the beauty of the rugged Oregon Coast with its dramatic cliffs and hidden beaches.

Continue north into Washington State, where Mount Rainier National Park awaits . Hike through wildflower meadows, explore glaciers, and witness the majesty of Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range. Finally, head west to Olympic National Park , a land of temperate rainforests, glacier-carved mountains, and a dramatic coastline.

This itinerary provides a starting point, and you can customize it based on your interests and time constraints. Remember to factor in travel times, park entrance fees, and accommodation options when planning your trip.

You can also consider join National Park tours to plan your vacation hassle-free.

FAQs about West Coast National Parks

How many National Parks are on the West Coast?

The exact number depends on how you define “West Coast” and what type of National Park Service unit you include. There are roughly sixty National Park Service units, including National Parks, National Monuments, and Seashores, stretching from California to Washington.

What is the best national park out west?

There’s no single “best” National Park on the West Coast, as each offers unique experiences and caters to different interests. Yosemite National Park is a classic choice for its iconic scenery, while Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks offer a chance to marvel at giant sequoia trees. For a taste of the dramatic Pacific coastline, Olympic National Park or Redwood National and State Parks are excellent options.

Which U.S. state has the most national parks?

California boasts the most National Parks on the West Coast with nine, followed by Washington with three (if you don’t include the slight detour to Zion National Park in Utah).

What is the largest national park in the West?

Death Valley National Park holds the distinction of being the largest National Park on the West Coast, encompassing over 3.3 million acres.

What is the best time to visit West Coast National Parks?

The best time to visit West Coast National Parks depends on the specific park and your preferences. Generally, spring (April-May) and fall (September-October) offer pleasant temperatures and fewer crowds. Summer (June-August) can be hot and crowded, especially at popular parks like Yosemite. Winter brings snow to some higher elevation parks, offering opportunities for winter sports enthusiasts.

20 Best West Coast National Parks and Road Trip Itinerary

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Road trip through West Coast National Parks: exploring the mountains

By: Author Rob Taylor

Posted on Published: June 1, 2021  - Last updated: September 5, 2022

Road trip through West Coast National Parks:  exploring the mountains

There are many ways to approach a West Coast or National Parks road trip.  Seriously, you can do the Pacific Coast Highway from the Olympic Peninsula of Washington all of the way down the Oregon Coast through California to Tijuana, Mexico , or you can shoot down the I-5 corridor, making intentional stops within an hour or two off the freeway. You could even just wing it and pop all over the place.

Road trips are an amazing family travel experience and not to be missed.  We’ve got many great options on our site, but for now let’s plan a West Coast National Parks road trip, including our favorite National Parks in California , Oregon and Washington.

This National Parks road trip plan hits the best parks from Sequoia to Olympic National Park. Complete itinerary with time plan and lodging options from California to Washington.

We’re not going to cover every National Park, but we’ll share with you the top National Parks in the mountains that we’ve visited and feel cannot be missed, starting in California and ending in Washington.  This is the essential west coast National Parks road trip itinerary that covers 12-17 days worth of travel… but you can always adjust down or do more!  And don’t forget to bring your National Parks Passport , because you’re going to need it!

Note :  at the end of our itinerary we’ve got a fun infographic to remind you of our ideal National Park road trip plan.  You can download it or Pin it for later!

Perfect West Coast National Parks road trip plan, from Joshua Tree to Olympic National Park. Stops in the Sierras, Central Oregon, and the best of Washington State's mountains.

West Coast National Parks itinerary

You can do this road trip through the west coast National Parks starting either in California or Washington. If you choose to start in California, begin by flying into Los Angeles or Palm Springs . Do some sightseeing in LA and then some hiking in Palm Springs , then begin the official road trip.

Note: if you’re doing a west cost RV road trip , be sure to book your campsites in advance! It’s tricky to get same-day reservations in the west coast National Parks.

Joshua Tree National Park – 1 day

Let’s start in one of the most unusual landscapes in California: Joshua Tree National Park . It’s not just a grove of the bizarre Joshua Trees, but it’s full of hiking spots, bouldering, super blooms, cactus fields and even palm oases. You could spend two days here touring, or just make it a day trip from Palm Springs.

Highlights to not miss if you’re just doing one day include:

  • Cholla cactus garden – not an actual garden, but a naturally occurring grove
  • Split Rock for bouldering
  • Cap Rock for an easy nature trail with incredible Joshua Trees and desert life

Joshua Tree National Park is awesome and you’ll be so glad you started here!

Allotted time in Joshua Tree: up to 2 days, 1 is plenty

Botanic Nature Walk at Cap Rock Joshua Tree National Park California 2

Where to stay at Joshua Tree National Park

We recommending staying in Palm Springs if you’re not camping. The city is really fun and there are lots of things to do. Hiking Palm Springs’ Indian Canyons is another must-do activity, so staying in town is an easy way to add that to your epic National Park road trip plan.

If you want to camp within Joshua Tree National Park, there are several options within the park. Reservations are recommended, but if you cannot get one and want to camp, there are options in the Coachella Valley (south side) or Morongo Valley (north side). Also, there are some INCREDIBLE Southern California glamping options around Joshua Tree if you’re interested.

Pool at Best Western Plus Las Brisas Hotel Palm Springs 3

Sequoia National Park – 2 or 3 days

Somehow in all of our travels and through visiting so many National Parks it took us years to visit Sequoia National Park .  Once we finally made it there, it was incredible.  True, our visit was dotted with weird experiences, including putting snow chains on the car when it had been 80 degrees a few days prior, but it was beautiful.  There’s ample hiking and really great Visitors Centers.

The steep cliffs you drive along, the red sequoia trunks against the greenery (or snow) and the breathtaking forests that make you feel so small. Sequoia will probably be your favorite stop during your west coast National Park road trip. 

Highlight:   the General Sherman Tree hike – the hike down through the grove is really breathtaking, and can be as easy or as lengthy as you like. The enormity of the trees and the colors are unreal. It’s an amazing way to begin a west coast National Parks road trip.

Allotted ti m e in Sequoia :  2-3 days

Giant Sequoia Tree in Snow Sequoia National Park 1

Where to stay in Sequoia National Park

Since we were there mid-spring and stayed at the Wuksachi Lodge , we got to enjoy a cozy hotel within Sequoia National Park while the snow fell… and then melted with the crazy heat.  It was a great option for family travel. 

Had we been there in the summer, there were several campgrounds that looked nice; we love to be in the trees when we’re camping.  Next time, we’ll try to camp at Lodgepole, Cold Springs or Buckeye Flat campgrounds.   Book the Wuksachi Lodge here !

Chris Taylor and kids Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park 2traveldads.com

Kings Canyon National Park – 1 or 2 days

I can’t wait to go back to Kings Canyon National Park .  This is the place for hiking through one of the most beautiful valleys in California. For the full Kings Canyon experience with sunshine, wildflowers AND snow, hit the park at the end of April.   Do the west coast National Park road trip a little later in the year and the roads to the most remote reaches of the park will be open and the weather is (usually) awesome.

We loved exploring the Grant Grove and getting really up close and personal with the giant sequoias, including walking through hollowed out fallen logs. Picnics out in the valley are the perfect family activity. It’s a really cool National Park.

Highlight:   exploring the Grant Grove of Sequoia trees is perfect with kids. Here you can actually get inside of fallen trees and amidst burned out trunks.

Allotted time in Kings Canyon :  2 days or less

Taylor Family Hiking through Sequoia Trees in Grant Grove Kings Canyon National Park 1

Where to stay in Kings Canyon National Park

The John Muir Lodge was home for our short stay in the park.  We appreciated having plenty of space in the rustic lobby and out in the rocking chairs for the kids.  It was also great being close to Grant Village, which is where the Visitors Center and a few camping options are located.  

As long as you’re visiting in the summer, all camping should be open.  Adding a lodge stay to a west coast National Parks road trip, either here or another park, is a nice way to break up the journey.   Book the John Muir Lodge here !

Tip :  Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are way up there in elevation.  You should expect cold nights, even in the summer, so be smart about packing.  Peek at our article about camping in Yellowstone for ideas to make camping at high elevations a success.

John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon National Park California 1

Yosemite National Park – 3 or 4 days

Even though Yellowstone was the first National Park ( Sequoia was second), Yosemite was the first collection of Federally protected lands in the United States.   Yosemite National Park is unlike any other place we’ve been.  The granite cliffs, valley floor and ample waterfalls make every turn in the Park more amazing than the last, and make it integral to a west coast National Parks trip.  Since we were here with the kids this time, we didn’t do too intense of hiking, but have some suggestions:

  • Nevada Falls and Half Dome – really incredible views and hiking in the Sierra forest, access to the back of Half Dome – medium w/o kids
  • Tunnel View to Glacier Point – intense
  • Bridal Veil Falls – easiest mini-hike ever and really cool with kids
  • Yosemite Falls – easy approach and easy hike if you’d like to get to the top of the Lower Falls
  • Hetch Hetchy / Wapama Falls – easy hike w/o kids, difficult w/ kids due to sun exposure and rock steps.  Amazing though.  

We had plenty of fun picnicking and doing the Yosemite Valley Tram Tour , as well as just enjoying the sights, such as Tunnel View .  Even with all the people, you’ll have an amazing time.  And if you’re avoiding the crowds, spend a day at Hetch Hetchy and hike to waterfalls and striking views.  

Highlight:   Hetch Hetchy. Even though every stop in Yosemite is iconic, spending time in Hetch Hetchy is amazing. 1/10 the amount of people and 2X the beauty.

Allotted time in Yosemite :  3-4 days

Chris Taylor and TinyMan in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park 2 POL

Where to stay at Yosemite

Within Yosemite National Park there are several awesome camping options.  We’ve camped at Upper and Lower Pines campgrounds and both are fine, but both are also quite open and rather crowded.  We have seen bears in both areas.  Oh, and there are several great lodge choices too, both inside and outside the Park.  We can attest to the ones outside…

Tip :  camping or not, take a look at our wildlife safety article for some tips and guidelines for wildlife viewing and precautions in National Parks.

Taylor Family at Entrance Sign in Yosemite National Park 3

Tenaya Lodge

At the southwestern end of Yosemite National Park is the Tenaya Lodge .  Unlike its sister lodges in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the Tenaya Lodge is located outside of the Park and is REALLY GRAND.  It’s a beautiful property with pools, lots of dining options and tons of on-property activities.  

This is a great place to stay if you’re planning on doing other activities in the Sierra Nevadas and also want to visit Yosemite National Park.  It’s 45 minutes+ to the Yosemite Valley, but there are lots of hiking options between there and the Tenaya Lodge, and on the grounds of the Tenaya Lodge you’ll find more fun and relaxation than you probably expect.  It’s a bit pricey, but it’s beautiful and breaks up the wilderness time.   Book the Tenaya Lodge here !

Grand Lobby at Tenaya Lodge Yosemite 2traveldads.com

Evergreen Lodge

We are in love with the Evergreen Lodge .  Like we said in our article about the Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite, it’s very clear that the lodge and entire property was built with family in mind.  It’s got everything from zip lines and a pool to walking trails and game rooms.  We would love to return here with our extended family, as it’s an incredible property that’s just perfect for family travel.

The Evergreen Lodge is extremely close the the Hetch Hetchy entrance to Yosemite National Park.  It’s a perfect home base if your goals are sightseeing, hiking or relaxing.   Book the Evergreen Lodge here !

Note :  the Evergreen Lodge has wonderful family cabins that are perfect if you’re traveling with kids.

Lawn area by play room at Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite 2traveldads.com

Oregon Caves National Monument – 1 day

I know, it’s not a National Park, but it’s really special and fun. Located not too far from I-5, which you’ll be driving on anyways, Oregon Caves National Monument is a must visit. There are hiking trails all around the preserve, but the highlight is the actual cave tour.

The tour is leg by a ranger and goes through the intricate cavern system. It’s a smaller cave system than Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana , but is still really cool. From fossils to stories of prohibition era parties in the caves, it’s a one-of-a-kind National Park road trip stop.

Allotted time: 1 day, you don’t need more unless you’re camping

Taylor Family with ranger in caves at Oregon Caves National Monument Oregon 2

Where to Stay at Oregon Caves National Monument: the Chateau

There is the most remarkable National Park lodge at Oregon Caves. The Oregon Caves Chateau is an immense log cabin castle in the forest. Just as historic and unique as the cave, the rooms are rustic and quiet. There is both a restaurant and a vintage diner within the chateau, so check in and relax!

Exterior of Oregon Caves Chateau Oregon Caves National Monument 1

Crater Lake National Park – 2 days

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is really cool and unique. It’s similar to Lake Tahoe in that you can drive the loop and it’s amazing blue, but Crater Lake is very different . Being formed from an extinct volcano, the sights and activities are very unique.

Being the deepest lake in the United States, it’s no wonder it’s so blue.  The Rim Drive will take you fully around Crater Lake, and as you go you’ll find ample hiking and picnic opportunities.  And there is an island in the lake, Wizard Island, which you can visit via boat tour.

Crater Lake National Park camping is also a great way to make time in the park memorable (seasonally available).

Highlight:   early morning (view from east rim) and dusk (view from west rim) photography. Amazing!

Allotted time :  2 days

Crater Lake National Park FitTwoTravel 1

Where to stay at Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park offers camping, cabins and a National Park Lodge .  We recommend the camping route, which we’d love to do there.  Depending on the type of campground you’re looking for or what side of the lake you’re planning to spend the majority of your time on.  The main campgrounds are in the south end of the park, but backcountry permit camping is available in other areas.  So many options!

Crater Lake National Park FitTwoTravel 4

Mount Rainier National Park – 2 or 3 days

Gosh, we could say so much about Mount Rainier National Park , but we’ll keep it to this:  go for a day or a week and you’ll have an amazing time.  Check out our articles about the waterfalls of Mt Rainier National Park as well as our guide for easy hiking with kids for some ideas.  It’s really easy to make a home base on either the north or south side of the mountain and then switch to the other side.  

Mount Rainier is all about hiking though, so if you’re looking to spend a few days just relaxing, this may not be the stop for you.  True, you can do some great porch sitting at either of the National Park lodges, but for the waterfalls and amazing views, you’ve got to do some hiking.

Highlights:   the Grove of the Patriarchs and Silver Falls are our two favorite hikes, and both have fewer visitors than Paradise. They’re located very near each other on the southeastern side of the park.

Note :  the south side of Mt Rainier National Park is the busiest, but it’s also the most developed with the most notable sights.  The north side is much more remote with fewer tourists.  It’s 90% hardcore hikers.

Allotted time :  2-3 days per side, or just 3 days on the south side

Myrtle Falls Mount Rainier National Park from Paradise in Fall 7

Where to stay at Mt Rainier National Park

We’ve camped at the Cougar Rock campground for the majority of our visits.  It’s in a great location on the south side of Mt Rainier National Park , has a variety of site types and it’s close to most of our favorite hikes.  Ohanapecosh is the other campground we’d recommend.  It’s very different with more deciduous trees and much flatter area around the river and Grove of the Patriarchs.

If you’re going for the National Park Lodge type of accommodations, there’s either the National Park Inn in Longmire or the Paradise Inn up on the mountain.   The Paradise Inn is amazing with the most wonderful, alpenstyle interiors.  And the bison meatloaf in the dining room is to die for.  Both have the perfect amount of rustic charm, much like the Chateau at the Oregon Caves, but the Paradise Inn is much more grand and closer to the hiking action that the south side of Mt Rainier has to offer.

Fall Colors National Park Inn Longmire Mount Rainier National Park 4

Olympic National Park – 3 days

Both Chris and I grew up on the Olympic Peninsula , so we know Olympic National Park incredibly well. If you’re visiting as part of a west coast National Parks road trip, you’ll want to visit several sites. We recommend hitting all three of the ecosystems within Olympic NP:  alpine hiking, exploring the rainforest, and enjoying the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. 

You’ll find that due to Olympic National Park being focused on a central mountain range, you cannot drive through the park. You’ll instead circle the park on Highway 101. We have a great Olympic Peninsula road trip plan if you need it…

The best hiking is found at Hurricane Ridge , with sweeping views of the region all the way to Canada.  The best rainforest is found on the west side at the Hoh Rainforest.  The best beach is Ruby Beach : perfect sand, ample wildlife, and epic rock formations.  The most gorgeous waterfall in Olympic National Park is Sol Duc falls , and since it’s between the two main areas it’s an easy addition to the road trip.

Highlight:   visiting the Hoh and Quinault rainforests in the fall when the colors are changing. The rainforests provide some of the best fall foliage in National Parks .

Allotted time :  3 days, as you’ll want to explore one or two of the small towns bordering Olympic National Park, such as Port Townsend or Port Ludlow .

Taylor Family and Sea Stacks at Ruby Beach Olympic National Park 3

Where to stay at Olympic National Park

Since we are locals, we ALWAYS choose to camp at Olympic National Park. If you’ve packed for it, camping is the way to go. West coast National Parks are made for camping. Olympic National Park has many camping areas. Heart O’ the Hills is perfect for hiking at Hurricane Ridge and exploring Port Angeles. Camping at Kalalo c h is ideal for visiting the Hoh Rainforest, Ruby Beach and the other beaches of the Olympic Peninsula. 

You can find unique B&Bs in Sequim and Port Angeles (we love the Domaine Madeleine Bed and Breakfast !)There are also several lodges surrounding the Park, but you must make reservations far in advance.   Book the Kalaloch Lodge here !

Mossy gorge and waterfalls in Rainforest Sol Duc Falls Olympic National Park 9

Other west coast National Parks to visit

Beyond the ones in our mountain National Park road trip itinerary above, you can add several more amazing National Parks (and some awesome state parks too).  Easy add-ons include:

  • Death Valley National Park (CA)
  • Devils Postpile National Monument (CA)
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park (CA)
  • Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area (CA)
  • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument ( the Painted Hills ) (OR)
  • North Cascades National Park (WA)

Like we said, our basic mountain National Park road trip itinerary is ideally done in 12-17 days.  Everybody has time restraints though, and depending on the time of year, less time may be needed.  If you’re interested in doing a a road trip through the West Coast parks and historic towns and lighthouses , check out our other NPS coastal road trip itinerary article.  It’s all doable as one huge trip, but in the light of family travel and not wearing anybody too thin, splitting the trip up is ideal to be able to get enough time in each National Park.

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Perfect West Coast National Parks road trip plan, from Joshua Tree to Olympic National Park. Stops in the Sierras, Central Oregon, and the best of Washington State's mountains.

Download or Pin this fun infographic for later!

Ideal plan for a West Coast National Park road trip, visiting the various mountain National Parks! 2traveldads.com

Tuesday 25th of October 2022

Old thread but hopefully can still grab an answer… are the days allotted to each park also including travel time? I know some are close but others take a decent day of travel. Planning on taking 10-14 days in early May and this is essentially the track I was planning

Monday 31st of October 2022

Great question! They certainly can be. For example, it's an easy few hours between Kings Canyon and Yosemite, but then Crater Lake to Mount Rainier needs a day just for driving. As you map it, you'll be able to determine if you need to not consider a travel day as an activity day.

We just did a portion of this trip again, so I'll update the blog post!

Wednesday 4th of October 2017

If you were doing Crater Lake, Mt Saint Helens, Mt Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades.... how many days would you need with a family with kids (13, 11, 5)? Thanks in advance!

If you're starting at Crater Lake and doing ALL of these stops during regular season, considering travel time between them: at least 12 days. Any less and you'll be traveled out and miss a lot of the must-sees. It gets tricky when you have both North Cascades and Olympic in the same itinerary.

Scott Lichtenfels

Tuesday 29th of August 2017

This posting is a huge help as we are planning on doing some modification of this trip next summer in August 2018! Question though, we will be flying from east coast and are considering doing it by RV. Can this be done by just RV? What I mean is, will we also need a rental car towed behind the RV (I prefer to not tow a car if I don’t have to) to get access to some of the national parks from whatever RV campground we stay at, or would we be better off simply renting some kind of van for our family to travel in and then stay in lodges or hotels? Last year we did an RV at Zion and Grand Canyon with no rental car and it worked just fine. Thanks!

Yes, I would say that each of the parks is very doable with a small RV. If you were to go through Sequoia National Park in a large RV you would find yourself in a pickle trying to escape the park on the south end. I'm sure that it is doable with no more than a 25-foot RV but I would be very cautious due to the jackknife turns. Most of the sights have parking areas that will accommodate campers and such, but there are a few roads, mostly in Sequoia, that are tight.

Wednesday 12th of July 2017

What time of year to you recommend for this kind of trip? Having a honeymoon in mid march next year and really wanting to do a similar road trip!

I'll be honest that mid-March is NOT the best time to do this road trip. We did it at the end of April and faced the whole gambit of weather, including random snow. Much of Yosemite will still be closed to the public, a good deal of Mt Rainier won't be accessible, Sequoia would be a chilly challenge...

If you're able to delay doing this trip until the first or second week of May, you'll have infinitely better luck with weather, I think. Crowds should also still be very small and the wildlife just becoming more active.

Congrats and best of luck in your decision!

yanetibarra19

Thursday 25th of May 2017

I love your articles! They are super helpful. I’m planning a trip to Yosemite and Sequoia soon! I am so excited!

Lucky!! Hopefully we'll be back in Yosemite in July. We want to hike in the Eastern half of the park. Have a great trip!!

national park road trip west

West Coast National Park Road Trip

By: Author Robyn Robledo

Posted on Last updated: May 26, 2024

This West Coast National Park Road Trip starts at Yosemite National Park and heads north to Crater Lake National Park and then finishes up in North Cascades National Park. This itinerary centers around hiking, rock climbing, and camping. Besides the West Coast National Parks, we also included stopping to check out beautiful waterfalls near Redding, exploring Bend, Oregon, and epic adventures near Leavenworth, Washington.

We did this trip in 4 weeks. I felt like it was enough time to take in all 3 national parks but we really could’ve spent even more time than we did in each of the national parks.

About 600 miles.

About 625 miles.

national park road trip west

Our West Coast National Park 4-week Itinerary

In the summer of 2017, we set off on a 5,000-mile, summer-long adventure road trip through the Western U.S. and Canada.  Our goal was to lose ourselves in the mountains, connect as a family, and find incredible hikes and rock climbing destinations along the way.

The U.S. and Canada have some pretty amazing mountain ranges to explore. Whether we were hiking, rock climbing, or mountain biking, it seemed like we were always trying to reach the summit of some glorious peak, see another alpine lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains, follow a trail through rows of Aspen trees, or scale a rock wall to see expansive views of more mountains.

We had done a similar trip the previous year in Europe where we did a different adventure every day for 162 days !

This blog just highlights the first 4 weeks of that summer road trip. If you’re looking to extend this road trip, check out these blogs:

  • Sea To Sky Highway
  • Canada National Parks Road Trip
  • Idaho Road Trip
  • Yellowstone

Rent an RV through Outdoorsy for your next Adventure Road Trip

national park road trip west

Yosemite National Park to Crater Lake National Park

Day 1: We chose to camp at Summerdale Campground in Fish Creek, which is 45 minutes from Yosemite.

Day 2: Explore Tuolumne Meadows .

On Day 3 : We hiked the 13-mile Panorama Trail in Yosemite . This is a great spring hike and the amount of water coming off the waterfalls this year was incredible!

Day 4 : We drove to Redding and then headed east and slept at a pullout right before Burney Limestone where we planned on rock climbing the next day.

Pro Tip: Save a ton of money by signing up for Harvest Hosts ! Back in 2015, it was hard to find free camping spots. Now RVers and Van Lifers can park at wineries, breweries, golf courses, and even people’s driveways with Harvest Hosts . For less than $100, you can camp at 7000+ unique locations.

Day 5: Rock climbing at Burney Limestone .  We liked that this climbing area had a short approach from the side of the road and that the area around the crag was pretty, however, a few of the climbs were a bit sandbagged .   

In the afternoon, we drove a short distance to play in the water at Hatchet Falls .  

That night we camped at Burney Falls , which I highly recommend.  It is a beautiful campground with nice roads for the kids to ride bikes on and the one-mile hike to the lake is pleasant.  Plus, of course, there is a beautiful waterfall to take photos of and it is a state park so we finally got showers!  

Related Blog: Best Campgrounds California

Gabi jumping into water at Hatchet Falls on summer adventure road trip

Day 6 & 7: We love seeking out new adventures, but some days it’s nice to just chill by your campsite. For three whole days, we stayed in this campground (that’s a lot for us) relaxing in our hammock, riding bikes, and hiking to the lake to swim in —and got in trouble for jumping off the dock :/ 

Burney Falls, Northern California Waterfall Loop

Related Blog : 3 Amazing Northern California Waterfall Hikes

Day 8: We got in a quick workout and headed towards Oregon.  On the way, we stopped to hike Middle McCloud Falls and cliff jump into the pools. 

This was a nice short hike from the campground, which I do recommend spending a night at if you have the chance. There are no showers here, but plenty of trees and trails.

Related Blog : Oregon Road Trip Itinerary: 10 Destinations You Can’t Miss

Day 9: We made it to Crater Lake . Unfortunately, there was a lot of snow on the ground so we could only hike part of the Garfield Peak Trail but the part we did hike was incredibly beautiful.  I had been reluctant to stop here and I’m so glad we got to see how blue the water in Crater Lake is and my kids loved all the snow. 

Oregon Road Trip Itinerary Crater Lake

Instead, we camped at McKay Crossing near La Pine, Oregon.  This campground only has a pit toilet but it’s in the middle of the forest and I loved that this campground was right next to the trail we wanted to do the next day.  

Crater Lake National Park to North Cascades National Park

Day 10: We just started mountain biking on this trip and started the day by biking the challenging Peter Skene Ogden Trail . Then, we hiked up just a mile on the same trail to the natural rock waterslide in the creek.

Paulina Creek Natural Waterslide, Peter Skene Ogden Trail OR

In the evening, we drove the Cascade Highway and camped at Lava Lake Campground . There are many campgrounds along this highway to choose from. Just make sure you bring some form of mosquito repellant. We use essential oils and add extra garlic to our meals to help keep the mosquitos away.

Related Blog : Guide to Hiking & Camping Along the Cascade Highway near Bend, Oregon

Day 11: Today we did two cool hikes– up to Lucky Lake and then around Sparks Lake .  After, we drove to Bend to get Gelato at Bonta.  Camped on a fire access road near Phil’s Trailhead in Bend.

Jumping into Sparks Lake on our summer adventure road trip

Day 12 : Biked at Phil’s Trailhead .  This place has such great single-track trails and an awesome pump track that is great for kids and adults.  

We then drove to Steelhead Falls and hiked to go cliff jumping at the falls.  That night we camped at the free BLM campground at the trailhead. 

Day 13: Rock Climbed at Smith Rock and climbed the famous 5-gallon buckets and the Northwest Wall. Then rinsed off by cliff jumping at Steelhead Falls and camping at the free BLM here.

Best Oregon Campgrounds

Related Blog : 10 Adventures To Do On A Summer Road Trip Through Bend

Day 14: Rest day.  We took care of all the normal chores like cleaning, laundry , grocery shopping, and sitting in a Starbucks to get wifi.  Then we slept outside of Skull Hollow Campground so we could get up early to climb again. 

Day 15: Gabi and I started off the day with an epic multi-pitch climb at Smith Rock— Wherever I May Roam . Then, we drove on to Yakima and camped at Yakima Sportsman State Park (not one of our favorite campgrounds, but the Walmart was too loud and we were tired so we had to camp here). 

Leavenworth on our summer adventure road trip

Day 16-18: Leavenworth had been one of the places we had been wanting to get to for a long time and while the town is a bit too touristy for us, we loved the area called Icicle Creek which is just fifteen minutes from here. 

We spent almost a week in this area and developed quite a comfortable routine here.

There is a huge pull off about ten miles up Icicle Creek Road that allows RVs to park at overnight for free.  There are also great campgrounds nearby that are inexpensive. 

Cascade Loop Road Trip: Icicle Creek Road, Leavenworth

We started each day by rock climbing along Icicle Creek Road then went into town to grab a beer and WiFi at Icicle Creek Brewery , walked around town and the waterfront park, and played in the river.  

Day 19-20: After three days of rock climbing, we decided that we desperately needed showers so we drove up the road a half hour to camp at Lake Wenatchee State Park .  We spent the next day, which happened to also be my birthday, playing and swimming in Lake Wenatchee.

Related Blog: Best Campgrounds in Washington State

Then, with freshly washed hair, we headed back down to Leavenworth and stocked up on yummy food at their farmer’s market (getting all local ingredients for my birthday dinner) then camped again at the pull off on Icicle Creek Road. 

Day 21: Yep, More rock climbing off Icicle Creek Road and Swimming at Waterfront Park.

Day 22: One of the best days of this trip was today when we did the 19 mile thru-hike of The Enchantments.  It was AMAZING!

Related Blog: How to Thru Hike the Enchantments in One Day

Hiking through snow on the Enchantments, US & Canada Road Trip

Day 23: On our way towards the North Cascades National Park, we stopped to swim in Lake Chelan near Manson. Then slept at Trailhead for Cutthroat Lake .

Lake Chelan, Cascade Loop road trip

Day 24: Today was a hiking marathon for us as we did 3 hikes in one day! 

The first hike was a short two-miler to Cutthroat Lake . The second was a gorgeous short hike to Blue Lake , both are great hikes to do with kids .

Tip : Make sure to stop at Washington Pass to soak in the views of Liberty Bell!

Hiking Maple-Heather Pass, Washington- One of the best hikes in the PNW

The last hike was an epic seven-miler at Maple Pass . It was covered in snow at the top and it was nearly sunset so we couldn’t finish the loop and had to backtrack, which means it’s back on the bucket list to finish next year. It was so late and we were exhausted, so we just slept at the trailhead for Maple Pass .

Related Blog : Cascade Loop Road Trip: Leavenworth to Newhalem

Day 25: We drove into North Cascades from the east, stopping at the lookout for Ross Lake .  Then got a campsite at Colonial Creek in North Cascades N.P. and did the short hikes around the campground.

best campground Washington Colonial Creek

Day 26: Today was an eating day!  On the way towards Bellingham, stop for ice cream at Cascade Farms —they have delicious milkshakes.  

Our destination today is Fairhaven – a quaint little town on the outskirts of Bellingham and one of our favorite towns to stop at.  We had the most amazing soup at the farmers market in Fairhaven two years ago so we went back to try and find them again.  Unfortunately, they weren’t at the farmers market this time, but we still got to go to Drizzle and grab delicious olive oil & vinegar for our salads.  Then headed up the street to a brewery and food truck.  

We camped at Larrabee State Park . Supposedly there is rock climbing here, but we wandered for a few hours and couldn’t quite find it, however, our campsite had a great boulder that we played on. For mountain biking enthusiasts, there are some great trails to ride from here.

Related Blog : Washington State National Park Itinerary: For Foodies and Hikers  

Day 27: Gabi and I started the day by getting up at sunrise to bike the Interurban Trail to get wifi and do some work at the Cafe in Fairhaven. This is a great biking and hiking trail! 

Then it was time for chores—laundry, wifi, grocery shopping— and then, as a special treat, we went to the movies.  

If you are in Bellingham, stop at Aslan Brewery—they have great beer and food.  We finished the day by driving into Canada and sleeping near one of the parks in Vancouver.

Want to do this road trip but don’t own an RV? Check out Outdoorsy to find a perfect rental for your next vacation.

Check out these resources to help you plan your next road trip:

  • 14 Tips For Your First Road Trip
  • 50 Road Trip Essentials You Don’t Want To Forget
  • Tips For Your First RV or Camping Trip
  • How To Plan A Successful Road Trip
  • How To Road Trip On A Budget
  • How To Find Free Camping

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West Coast National Parks Road Trip Planner

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Even though the entire USA is home to some pretty incredible national parks , some of the best ones out there are scattered along its western coast.

The states of Washington , Oregon , and California are all gigantic, which means they have enough space to harbor some pretty cool (and incredibly varied) national parks.

Whether you’re planning a north-to-south road trip along the West Coast and want to fit in some serious outdoor time in your itinerary, or you’re simply looking for inspiration on where to go next for a weekend nature escape, here’s a comprehensive guide to the best national parks you’ll find scattered along the West Coast!

  • You may also be interested in this epic California national parks road trip itinerary

12 Incredible West Coast National Parks

USA West Coast National Parks Map and collage of images

Top Tip: There’s an entry fee for most west coast national parks. We highly recommend you invest in America the Beautiful – the US annual national parks pass to make the most of road tripping on the west coast and save on entrance fees.

  • Jump to the end for our suggested west coast road trip itinerary and detailed map .

First up, let’s look at each of the west coast national parks in detail.

1. Olympic National Park

Location: Washington

Located in the state of Washington, Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse national parks in the United States, especially when it comes to scenery and ecosystems.

USA West Coast National Parks - Olympic

Here, you’ll find a wide array of landscapes, ranging from coastal goodness, sky-high waterfalls, lush meadows, mountains, glaciers, and even the largest rainforest in the country. Needless to say, Olympic offers a whole lot of things to do across its terrain, which means you could easily spend weeks here and never have to do the same thing twice.

For first-timers to the park, some of the must-do activities include exploring Hoh Rainforest, hiking in the forest, swimming at Sol Duc Hot Springs, and enjoying beach time at Kalaloch Beach.

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual Olympic National Park pass is $55 or included with America the Beautiful and other annual national park passes. Camping and wilderness fees are additional.

Best Time to Visit: Olympic National Park is open 24 hours, year-round, though some of the mountainous areas may be subject to winter road closures in extreme weather. Check for road closures due to maintenance and washouts before you set off.

  • Although you can tackle some sections of Olympic National Park as a day trip from Seattle , you’ll want to dig deeper into this west coast gem with our 5-day Olympic National Park Road Trip Itinerary

2. Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainer National Park is absolutely splendid, especially when you consider it’s home to an active volcano and the most glaciated peak in the continental United States.

USA West Coast National Parks - Mount Rainier

Located in Washington State, this national park offers beautiful views of Mount Rainer Volcano, which you can enjoy on a hike across various terrains, ranging from ancient forests to subalpine meadows. Waterfalls and lakes are abundant here, too!

Beyond being one of the most beautifully scenic drives in Washington , a few of the best things to do at Mount Rainer include hiking the Skyline Trail to Panorama Point, walking the Patriarchs Trail across the forest, and checking out Myrtle Falls. If you’re feeling up for a challenge, you can also head out on a trek of a lifetime to summit the volcano!

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. Mount Rainier annual passes can be purchased for $55 or included with America the Beautiful and other annual national park passes.

Best Time to Visit: Mount Rainier is open year-round, with peak season experienced in July and August when it is drier under foot, and wildflowers are blooming. Mid-week is highly recommended to try and avoid peak crowds. Spring and fall bring fewer crowds though daily weather can dictate access to certain park facilities. In Winter the park is open to cars only through the Nisqually Entrance.

3. North Cascades National Park

North Cascades is commonly referred to as the Alps of America due to its gorgeous alpine beauty. This national park in Washington is chrome to the largest glacier systems inside the contiguous United States!

USA West Coast National Parks - North Cascades

Due to the fact that North Cascades National Park isn’t widely known as its Washington counterparts closer to Seattle, solitude during your visit is a guarantee. While exploring, you’ll get the chance to see over 300 glaciers, mountains that reach heights of 8000 feet, hundreds of lakes, and lots of wildlife unique to the region.

Driving over the scenic Highway 20 is a great way to cover a ton of ground in a short time, but you can also hike the many trails on offer in order to get more personal with the landscape. For a dose of culture, you can also visit Stehekin, a small community inside the park!

Entrance Fee: North Cascades is FREE to visit. Permit fees apply for overnight camping.

Best Time to Visit: Although technically open year-round, snow cover outside of summer can make access to most parts of the park impossible in winter. North Cascades is best visited from June to September when it’s drier, and there is less chance of avalanches and road closures (it is the Pacific Northwest, though – pack raincoats whenever you visit).

4. Crater Lake National Park

Location: Oregon

Located in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is home to a lake of the same name that was once set inside a volcano. Crater Lake is actually the deepest lake in the United States and also one of the most beautiful ones, making this park a must on your national parks bucket list.

USA West Coast National Parks - Crater Lake

Inside the park, you’ll find smaller lakes as well, most of which were formed over 7,000 years ago as a result of a volcanic eruption. A few of the can’t-miss activities at the park include driving the rim road, boating over the lake, and even swimming if you’re not one to be scared of freezing temperatures.

There’s also a pretty fun trolley tour that will take you to see some of the top highlights of the park; this is a great choice for families or for those not too keen on hiking.

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle in the summer (May 22 – October 31), $20 in the winter (November 1 – May 21). A Crater Lake annual pass (which also covers Lava Beds National Monument) is $55 or included with America the Beautiful and other annual passes.

Best Time to Visit: Much of the park, including Rim Drive, is inaccessible to vehicles due to snowfall in winter, so the best time to visit the park and see the lake itself is late May to October – see estimated seasonal dates here. Winter sports enthusiasts can still enjoy skiing and snowshoeing from November to May, but it’s definitely one of the best national parks to visit in summer.

  • Plan a complete road trip through the most scenic parts of central Oregon using this itinerary covering Seattle to Crater Lake , via Portland, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Mount Hood and Bend

5. Redwood National & State Parks

Location: California

Covering an area of over 130,000 acres in northern California, Redwood National & State Parks is one of the most unique parks in the United States.

USA West Coast National Parks - Redwoods

The main thing to do at Redwood is the chance to get up close with the groves of redwoods, which are the tallest trees in the world, and make exploring the park feel as though you’re inside a storybook forest.

One of the best things to do at Redwood is driving the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a road that cuts through the park and will have you traversing some of the most popular groves of redwoods. This drive also has several trailheads scattered all over, which makes it a treat to drive as you’ll have plenty of excuses to stop and stretch your legs out.

With much of the Redwoods traversing over Highway 101, it’s the perfect national park to incorporate into a west coast road trip, taking you through some of the most scenic driving territory in northern California all the way to the Oregon border.

Entrance Fee: Redwoods is FREE to enter. At developed campground entrances, there are state park day use fees to pay for Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods – though these fees are waived with America the Beautiful and other annual national park passes.

Best Time to Visit: Open year-round, summers are drier under foot and warmer, though do be aware of the coastal fog that occurs in summer. Winters experience a lot of rain and possible washouts and road closures to be aware of when tackling the coastal 101.

  • Driving from San Fan? This scenic driving itinerary will take you all the way from San Francisco to the Redwoods along the Pacific coast.

6. Lassen Volcanic National Park

The West Coast is filled with lesser-known national parks, and Lassen Volcanic National Park is definitely one of them.

Located in northern California, Lassen only became a national park a few years ago, which means it still remains a bit of a secret in the national park system. Even many California locals don’t know about its existence!

USA West Coast National Parks - Lassen Volcanic

Lassen is extremely unique because it homes four types of volcanoes – Shield, Composite, Cinder Cone, and Plug Dome. This means the terrain you’ll find here is anything but usual, with bubbling mud pots, geothermal areas, and sulfur vents being just a few of the highlights you’ll get to see here.

Moreover, thanks to its somewhat similar landscape to Yosemite National Park, Lassen makes for a great alternative to visit if you want to escape the crowds. A few of the best things to do at Lassen include kayaking at Manzanita Lake, seeing hydrothermal waters at Bumpass Hell, hiking a cinder cone volcano, and checking out Kings Creep Falls.

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual pass is $55 or included with America the Beautiful or any annual national park passes.

Best Time to Visit: Although open year-round, snow at high altitudes makes much of the park inaccessible from November through until May. *Some parts of the park are still in rehabilitation following the Dixie Fire.

  • Whether you are only stopping through or plan to camp, we share our favorite itineraries to make the most of your available time at Lassen Volcanic National Park

7. Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles became a part of the national park system in 2013, which means it’s still relatively new. Due to lack of advertising, it still remains one of the biggest hidden gems in California – in 2021, Pinnacles National Park registered only 348,000 visitors.

USA West Coast National Parks - Pinnacles

Here, you’ll find a plethora of things to do, especially if incredible rock formations are your jam.

Because the park sits right on top of the San Andreas Fault, it houses some pretty unique-looking rock formations and caves. In fact, most of the visitors to Pinnacles head here in order to find rock climbing experiences, which can range from easy beginner lessons to adventures that last several days.

Moreover, Pinnacles National Park is one of the few places in the United States where you can see a lot of Condors. Even though they’re a critically endangered species, Pinnacles and volunteers have been making a lot of re-introduction and conservation efforts, so spotting them is quite easy here!

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual pass is $55 or included with America the Beautiful and annual national park passes.

Best Time to Visit: Pinnacles is a great spot to explore year-round. Do note, despite being relatively new, peak crowds are being experienced in 2022, especially on holidays and weekends; visitors should arrive before 8 am to guarantee parking.

8. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Hidden inside the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are a gorgeous place to visit because, within its grounds, you’ll find sequoia trees – the largest trees in the world!

Pair the forest with views of snow-capped mountains, and you’ve got yourself a scene that looks pretty much as though it came straight out of a painting.

USA West Coast National Parks - Sequoia & Kings Canyon

Plus, even though getting to walk amid the world’s largest trees is enough to make Sequoia National Park a must on your travel bucket list, there’s a whole lot more on the park’s menu. Sequoia is also home to Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States, as well as Kings Canyon, which is one of the deepest canyons in North America (it’s even deeper than the Grand Canyon !)

A few of the can’t-miss activities at Sequoia include going in search of the largest tree in the world (General Sherman), climbing a granite dome known as Moro Rock, exploring inside Crystal Cave, and driving through the park’s tunnel log (it’s a tunnel carved out of a Sequoia tree!).

If you’re feeling up for a challenge of a lifetime, hiking the 22-mile trail to Mount Whitney is also an option!

Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual pass is $70 for Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and Hume Lake Ranger District of Sequoia National Forest/Giant Sequoia National Monument. America the Beautiful Annual Pass can also be used along with annual national park passes. 

Best Time to Visit: The parks are open year-round; however, high altitudes make many parts of the parks inaccessible in winter. Year-round services are provided at Grant Grove, the Foothills, and Giant Forest & Lodgepole while the Mineral King and Cedar Grove areas are open from spring through fall.

9. Death Valley National Park

Even though the name Death Valley may make the park sound like a place where nothing thrives, it actually happens to be one of the liveliest national parks you can visit on the West Coast!

USA West Coast National Parks - Death Valley

As you start making your way into the park, the landscape may actually feel a bit desolate at first, but as you start making your way further in, you’ll find yourself uncovering a world of rolling canyons, twisting sand dunes, interesting rock formations, and even hills that are colored in vibrant tones!

There’s so much you can do at Death Valley that listing everything feels impossible, but whatever you do, make sure you don’t miss out on driving the Artist’s Drive in order to see colorful mountains, slide down a few sand dunes, hike over hills of borax, and stand at Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in the United States.

The hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the USA, it certainly makes for one of the most scenic drives in California .

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual pass for Death Valley is $55, or included as part of America the Beautiful or other annual national park passes.

Best Time to Visit: Make no mistake, hot, dry, and arid, summer is NOT the best time to visit Death Valley. The park is open year-round; however, the cooler months of winter are definitely the preferred time for exploring the park. Check conditions here before you set out.

10. Channel Islands National Park

Commonly dubbed the Galapagos of North America due to their similar terrain and incredible wildlife viewing opportunities, the Channel Islands is not just one of the most incredible national parks on the West Coast but also one of the least known ones!

USA West Coast National Parks - Channel Islands

Even though it’s not technically on the West Coast, considering it’s an archipelago of islands on the Pacific, getting to the Channel Isl ands National Park can be done by taking a boat trip out from California’s mainland.

Thanks to the fact that it still remains pretty unknown, the park is rarely visited, and as a result, you can expect to find lots of solitude during your visit.

The park is made up of five islands, with the main one being Santa Catalina. Here, you’ll get the chance to hike over dramatic cliffs, enjoy beaches with beautiful views of the ocean, try excellent seafood, and have encounters with both marine and land animals like you never have before!

Entrance Fee: It is FREE to visit Channel Islands, though you will need to pay for transportation from the mainland with Island Packers .

Best Time to Visit: The Channel Islands is open year-round, though check schedules for public holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas .

11. Joshua Tree National Park

California is home to some pretty striking desert scenery, and you’ll find some of the best inside captivating Joshua Tree National Park .

USA West Coast National Parks - Joshua Tree

This humongous national park sits at the exact point where two deserts blend together: The Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. Here, you’ll find an incredibly unique landscape made up of two entirely different ecosystems, both of which bring unique features into the mix.

Scenic driving is a favorite activity at Joshua Tree, especially when you consider temperatures can get extremely hot, making it a great way to explore without having to brave the weather. If you’re up for adventuring, though, you can go horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, and biking across the many trails on offer.

Moreover, if you get the chance, try planning to spend a night inside Joshua Tree. The park is listed as Dark Sky Territory , which means stargazing is out of this world. Luckily, Joshua Tree offers tons of accommodation options, ranging from simple campsites to glamping tents, yurts, and domes!

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. A Joshua Tree annual pass is $55, or included with American the Beautiful or other annual national park passes.

Best Time to Visit: The moderate weather of spring and fall are the most popular, whilst visitor numbers fall during the heat of summer. Entrances are open daily 7.30 am to 5.00 pm.

12. Yosemite

Possibly the jewel in the crown of the west coast national parks, Yosemite National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty.

USA West Coast National Parks - Yosemite

Covering over 1,200 square miles of the Sierra Mountains, you can find deep valleys, dramatic waterfalls, granite cliffs, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and vast wilderness areas to explore.

Bridalveil Falls is undoubtedly one of the park’s most popular stopping points, along with a hike to Mirror Lake for stunning views of Half Dome and a visit to Mariposa Grove for a glimpse of the giant sequoia trees the Sierra Mountains are acclaimed for.

Tioga Road, the most popular thoroughfare through the park, will reward road trippers with the most spectacular views, but do be prepared for congestion at one of the country’s most popular parks.

Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. Annual Yosemite National Park passes are $70 or included with America the Beautiful or annual national park passes.

  • Please be aware you no longer need need timed entry permits for peak-time entry to Yosemite; this has been abolished for summer 2023.

Best Time to Visit: Yosemite can be great to visit year-round, with each season offering something special (though there are road closures in some parts of the park in winter). One of the most visited parks in the United States, plan your trip accordingly, and even with timed reservations, expect congestion in the peak summer months, try to visit earlier in the spring and fall for fewer crowds.

  • This scenic driving itinerary will take you between Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks , or head north next and take in the stunning mountain scenery Yosemite to Lake Tahoe

Best Route For Seeing The West Coast National Parks

To see all of the US west coast national parks is no small task but still doable in one long road trip if you have the time to spend zig-zagging your way down the west coast.

The total distance, depending on the route you take, is 400 miles, plus you will need a boat to the Channel Islands.

West Coast National Parks Map

Click on the map to create your own itinerary in Google Maps

Summary of West Coast National Parks

Driving guides with scenic stopping points.

For more ideas on how to explore the US west coast national parks, we have these detailed itineraries which will help you plan out your route and interesting stopping points along the way.

  • Scenic Stopping Points From San Francisco to Yosemite – via Berkeley, Castro Valley, Oakdale and Columbia State Historic Park
  • Drive from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe with several scenic and historic stops along the way
  • San Diego to Joshua Tree Driving Guide – your ultimate desert road trip itinerary in southern California!
  • San Francisco To Portland – covering Lassen Volcanic National Park and Crater Lake National Parks
  • San Francisco to Redwoods – with state park and nature stops along the way to Crescent City
  • Best Washington Scenic Drives – incorporating Olympic National Park, Mount Rainer National Park and North Cascades National Park
  • Driving Seattle to Yellowstone you can pick up several more US National Parks and state parks on a circular trip through Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Oregon on this epic PNW road trip!

We hope this list of the best national parks on the West Coast helped you get some inspiration for your next outdoorsy escape. Even though there are incredible national parks spread all over the United States, there’s something seriously special about the ones you’ll find on the West Coast!

More Tips Before Setting Off On Your Family Road Trip

  • Read these pro-tips for visiting national parks before tackling a US National Parks road trip
  • For a fun addition to your national parks road trip, grab yourself a National Parks Passport
  • Want to avoid the crowds? Try these lesser-known US National Parks for a unique family vacation
  • Got a 4th Grader in the family? Don’t forget you may be eligible for a FREE national parks pass as part of the Every Kid Outdoors campaign
  • Head further east, and you’ll come across even more US treasurers, including the Mighty 5 in Utah , or complete the Grand Circle for one of the most epic US Road Trip experiences .
  • Make sure you download our printable family road trip checklist, so you never forget an important item again

download your free road trip checklist click here button

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The 'Most Scenic Road Trip' In America Is A Route Boasting The Absolute Best Of The West

Route 89 in Arizona

Epic cross country road trips are the perfect way to travel across the United States. The country might be scattered with countless international and domestic airports, but when you fly, you're often routed to the largest city near your destination — and you miss out on all of the enchanting American small towns and stunning natural wonders in under-the-radar locations. If you're the type of traveler who loves discovering hidden gems and enjoys the flexibility to spend some extra time exploring a spot you find particularly interesting, consider planning your very own Great American Road Trip. Call it cliché, but when it comes to travel, sometimes the journey is even more magical than the destination.

Whether you've lived in the United States all your life or you're visiting the expansive North American country for the very first time, embarking on a road trip is an ideal way to explore. The Great American Road Trip has been immortalized time and time again in classic movies and literature. You can join the likes of legendary writers like John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac by packing the car and hitting the road. If you're looking for the ultimate drive through America's landscapes, consider traveling U.S. Route 89, nicknamed The National Park Highway. The 1,760 mile route stretches all the way from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Along the way, you'll pass through some of the best scenery and iconic landmarks in the country.

Traveling Route 89

One of America's most scenic road trips , Route 89 attracts thousands of travelers each year who wish to experience the country's natural beauty and fascinating history. If you plan to experience the whole drive, along with the scenic alternative routes along the way, it's best to budget at least three weeks for your trip in order to have enough time to explore the many points of interest. In a pinch, you can complete the trip in as little as two weeks.

If you complete Route 89 in its entirety, you'll have the opportunity to explore five states including Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. More than a hundred cities and towns beckon road trippers to make pit stops en route. Along the way, you'll be able to stop at seven of the nation's most incredible national parks. Epic views of the rugged Rocky Mountains, thick forests, and majestic canyons will leave travelers awe-inspired. In addition to the natural wonders, you'll have the chance to visit more than 10 National Monuments, Historical Parks, and Recreation Areas as well as three Indigenous American reservations.

The best place to begin your journey along Route 89 is in the expansive state of Montana. The road begins near the Canadian border in the foothills of the beautiful rocky mountains. You'll quickly reach the first of the scenic road trips highlights — Blackfeet Nation and Glacier National Park. Blackfeet Nation encompasses over 1 million acres, and visitors can learn more about Indigenous culture at the Blackfeet Heritage Center and the Museum of the Plains Indians.

Glacier National Park's entrance is under an hour away from the reservation. It's one of the last places in the country where you can see glaciers up close. It's often called "The Crown of the Continent"  due to its natural beauty. The landscape is a gorgeous combination of lush pine forests, sparkling blue glacial lakes, and plummeting waterfalls. Visitors can enjoy more than 700 miles of hiking trails, biking, boat tours, scenic drives, and camping. For even more Montana fun, consider stopping for a few days at one of the state's guest ranches for some horseback riding.

Yellowstone National Park is without a doubt one of the most iconic places to visit in the United States, and the country's first ever national park. Established in 1872, Yellowstone remains one of the most incredible areas of preserved wilderness in the world. It covers more than 2 million acres across three states including Montana and Idaho, but the majority of the land is in Wyoming. There are more than 900 miles of hiking trails within the park that take you to sites like the famous Old Faithful Geyser. Within the park, there are about 290 waterfalls and over 600 lakes and ponds. It's a hotspot for hydrothermal activity with more than 10,000 hot springs, geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles. The park is a dream come true for wildlife lovers, with over 67 species of mammals like bears, moose, bison, wolves, lynx, bobcats, and many more. Bird enthusiasts will love spotting any of the 285 species that can be found within the park.

Wyoming is also home to Grand Teton National Park. It's not as popular as Yellowstone, but it shouldn't be skipped during your Route 89 road trip. Enjoy gorgeous views of the Teton Mountains and activities like hiking, camping, biking, and mountain climbing. Make sure to carve out some time to explore some of Wyoming's lovely small towns as you pass through your drive. Many of the villages maintain their historical charm and will leave you feeling as though you've traveled back in time to the Wild West.

Idaho and Utah

Route 89 passes through Idaho just briefly before looping into the state of Utah. Bear Lake, which sits right on the border of the two states, makes an excellent place to stop. Enjoy a day or two swimming in the beautiful turquoise waters and exploring the nearby small towns.

Once you enter Utah, the landscape will begin to change. The grassy scenery of the Great Plains will slowly be replaced by rugged desert. Expect warmer temperatures as you begin to see the gorgeous red rock formations come into view. There are two amazing national parks to explore during the Utah portion of the road trip, including Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. Route 89 passes right through both. Zion is famous for its massive red sandstone cliffs and bucket-list hikes like Angels Landing and The Narrows. It's also a popular destination for rock climbers.

Bryce Canyon National Park is most well known for its fascinating rock formations, called hoodoos, which are tall spires layered with colors of red, orange, and white. They formed over millions of years due to the forces of the elements. You'll also be able to explore some gorgeous slot canyons and natural amphitheaters within the park. Stargazing is incredible in Bryce Canyon due to the lack of light pollution, and in 2019 it was named an International Dark Sky Park.

Arizona is home to even more natural beauty and cultural treasures. You'll pass through portions of the Navajo Nation and epic landmarks including the Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon is something every nature lover needs to see at least once in their lifetime. Carved by the Colorado River, it is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and stretches 277 miles with a depth of 6,000 feet at its deepest point. You can take in the views from above or embark on a  difficult Grand Canyon hike that is not for amateurs. 

After leaving the Grand Canyon, continue on Route 89 to Flagstaff and enjoy the scenery. You can head off route for a bit and reach the gorgeous bohemian city of Sedona. Other highlights along the route in Arizona include historic treasures like Montezuma Castle, Casa Grande Ruins, and Tumacácori National Historical Park.

By the time you reach the end of Route 89 in Arizona, you'll be immersed in the magical desert landscapes of the southwestern United States, so take a few extra days to explore Saguaro National Park that is located just outside of Tucson, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, which stretches through parts of Arizona, California, and Mexico. The park is named for the iconic saguaro cacti, the  largest species of cacti in America , which have become a symbol that is synonymous with the American West.

Planning your trip along Route 89

The best time to embark on an unforgettable journey along America's most scenic road trip is during the summer and early autumn months if you plan on completing the entire route. You'll cross through a variety of climate zones as you travel, so planning the perfect time to go is a bit challenging. In the northernmost portion of the drive, through Glacier National Park, many of the roads may begin to close as early as September and they won't reopen until June, or sometimes as late as July. On the flip side, southern Arizona remains scorching hot throughout the summer, and the best time to visit is from October through May. If you're able to take the drive nice and slow, and space it out over a month, you can begin at the Canadian border in Glacier National Park in late August or early September and end in southern Arizona in late September or early October when the temperatures are less extreme.

If you plan on starting at Glacier National Park, there are two international airports to choose from: Great Falls International and Glacier Park International are both excellent options that allow you to hop on Route 89. If you're starting in Arizona, you can fly into Tucson International or Phoenix Sky Harbor.

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16 Beautiful West Coast National Park Road Trip Stops

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Ever dreamed of hitting all the big parks on an epic West Coast national park road trip? I know that it’s long been a dream of mine to drive from Seattle down to Los Angeles hitting as many of the national parks as possible. These days we have visited almost all the parks, but no one says we can’t visit them again. And again!

Below is our guide for visiting the most amazing stops on a West Coast national park road trip starting in Seattle and Ending in Los Angeles. 

Jump to a Heading Below

Map of Your West Coast National Park Road Trip

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Top 7 Spectacular Stops On Your West Coast National Park Road Trip

01 |olympic national park.

Olympic National Park is the first stop on On Your West Coast National Park Road Trip

Where to Stay

Olympic National Park offers a good deal of charming accomodation options within the park as well as nearby from historic hotels to rustic cabins. The Kalaloch Lodge within the park is a great option if it’s available. Rooms book up well in advance particularly for July and August. Check out the NPS website for more information on lodging both in the park and outside.

02 |MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK

Mount Rainier National Park is home to a massive dormant volcano towering above the Pacific Northwest. With most flights arriving to Seattle, this is one peak that you are sure to see as it’s snowy peak is often well above the clouds! This is not one of the largest parks on the list, however it offers a great deal of adventures for those who are willing to give it some time. Day hikes, camping and it’s advanced mountaineering climbs offer something for everyone. Most visitors spend only 1 day exploring this park. While there is always more to see, that is a good start.

03 |CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is a must visit on a west coast national park trip

Crater Lake National Park is located a bit out on it’s own, thus it’s important if you want to get the most out of your visit to stay within the park. Crater Lake Lodge is one of the few options within the park. Note, however it fills up early especially during the summer months.  If you need to stay outside of the park, expect to drive a bit, but you can get some pretty kitschy cool options if you are up to it! We loved our stay at a little roadside motel near Crescent, Oregon. Mazama Village area is also another place to check for a variety of lodging options.

04 |LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK

Our 3rd volcanic park in a row, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a totally unique perspective for visitors venturing inland and away from the famous coastal national park – Redwoods National Park. One of the least known parks on this is one of the most interesting. Lassen Peak, one of the most active volcanoes in the Cascade Range stands at 10,457 feet. It’s last eruption was in 1917. While the volcano has been quiet the park is filled with geothermal activity from mud pots, sulphur springs, and boiling streams. Much of the park can be easily accessed via paved paths and boardwalks at any time of the year. However, the road that goes through the park often does not open until Memorial Day weekend due to snow.

For more information on how to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park, read our guide with everything you need to know about Lassen .

Note for those who are looking to hit ALL the parks possible, you can also venture to Redwoods National Park on the coast, before swinging back inland to hit Lassen Volcanic National Park. Either route offers breathtaking scenery and the chance to get off the beaten path a bit to experience the beauty of Southern Oregon and Northern California. If you find yourself near Redding, there is a national recreation area and spectacular waterfalls that are also worth a detour. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park offers very little in the way of accomodation outside of camping and cabins. This means that most visitors to the park stay outside of the park in the favorite Drakesbad Guest Ranch , in the town Red Bluff or even further afield in Redding.

05 |YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Yosemite National Park

The main part of the park that visitors flock to is Yosemite Valley which offers guests some of the most incredible sights in the park with little effort. That said, this park offers everything from easy family friendly hikes to more challenging backcountry hiking for the more adventurous. 

Our Yosemite National Park guide provides all you need to know about where to stay, eat and what are the not to miss sights for those with kids and without. Yosemite is great for multi-generation national park family trips as well. 

Yosemite offers a vast number of options for visitors throughout the park. Our recommendation for first time visitors is to snag a place in Yosemite Valley. There are tent sites, canvas cabins and hotels , including the beautiful Yosemite Valley Lodge . We also love the Tenaya Lodge for those willing to stay out of the center of the action, which is about an hour from the Valley.

06 |SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS

One of my personal favorites on this list of west coast national parks is Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Sequoia National Park is home to some of the largest trees on earth. Compared to the towering tall Redwoods, the trees here are wider and just as massive in height! One of the most famous sights here is the General Sherman Tree that all visitors must have their photo taken in front of. 

Other than seeing massive trees, the other major draw for a visit to Sequoia National Park is searching for bears while hiking through meadows, along rivers and up rock sides.

While you can technically do Sequoia National Park in one day , we highly recommend taking at least 2 days if possible to really soak it all up. Seeing Sequoia National Park in winter is also an amazing sight to behold. The red trees covered in white is breathtaking. 

There are several great lodges that operate throughout the year in Sequoia National Park. We love the Wuksachi Lodge is located in the Giant Forest area and the John Muir Lodge in Grant Grove Village. For those who are just passing through the park and want to stay somewhere outside of the park, there are a variety of options in the nearby town of Three Rivers.

07 |JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

national park road trip west

With spectacular rock formations, the ephemeral joshua tree and a variety of unique cacti, you can easily spend days exploring this vast desert landscape. Many visitors pass through the park in one day, snapping photos and hopping out for a quick hike which is easy to do here. However, the desert truly comes alive at sunset and after dark, thus we recommend pitching a tent or looking for a glamping locations nearby to soak it all up.

Like I mentioned above, the best place to stay in Joshua Tree is as close to the desert as possible. Joshua Tree NP doesn’t have any accommodation options of its own, however it is close to the town of Joshua Tree and vast expanses of desert in the area that have a variety of great Airbnb options.  The closest accommodation options to the park are in 29 Palms on the outskirts of the park. Our favorite locations near Joshua Tree are in Joshua Tree town, Pioneertown or further afield in Palm Springs (if you want some city life to your desert escape!).

9 More Stops For An Epic West Coast National Park Tour

If you are like me and want to continue exploring some of America’s most amazing landscapes, you can carry on with your epic road trip a bit further, heading into Arizona and Utah. The next portion of this larger West Coast national park road trip loop offers the scenic red rocks of Arizona, towering hoodoos and arches of Utah before venturing into the mountains for the most well known of the national parks – Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Glacier.  

08 |GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Grand Canyon cannot be missed on an epic West Coast National Park Road Trip

The crowds at the Grand Canyon is often the main deterrent for visitors, however even during the height of summer visitor seasons, you can get beat the heat and get away from the crowds a bit by waking up early for hikes and exploring the shuttle route stops. Regardless, don’t miss our top spots at the Grand Canyon during your visit.

For those looking to stay a few days, a variety of options are available inside and outside the park. As always, when possible we recommend staying inside the park. The Grand Canyon has everything from luxurious lodging at the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge to more rustic camping at the North Rim Campground. In the South, there are places to stay inside the park itself as well as tons of chain hotels right outside the park gates. We recommend staying inside the park if you visit the South Rim if possible. 

09 |ZION NATIONAL PARK

Next on your ultimate West Coast National Park road trip, you will move into Utah and start your visit to one of the state’s Big 5 parks. Zion National Park is an amazing park for those who really want to immerse themselves into the wild. From hiking Zion Narrows to Angels Landing or just relaxing by the river there is so much to do here. This is one of our favorite parks and a must for you if you are anywhere near here! The beautiful sandstone domes that have been shaped by wind and water create some of the most scenic land around. From catching tadpoles and lazing in the river to hiking to emerald pools there is something for everyone here. Our Zion National Park guide covers all the must see destinations in the park as well as where to stay and eat outside the park.

Apart from the national park, there is so much to see and do in this area outside of Zion National Park . We love the area near Kanab for all of it’s amazing hikes and instagram view points. 

Contrary to my recommendations for most parks, I highly recommend staying outside of Zion National Park if you can. There is an abundance of lodging options just outside the gates in Springdale with a range of options from budget hotels to luxury resorts. In addition, there are a ton of really unique Zion lodging options all around the area that are worth exploring too.

Our top recommendations include Zion Park Motel  for a budget motel stay and Cable Mountain Lodge for a little more upmarket resort stay – both with epic views and right in the middle of the action.

10 |BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Snowy Bryce Canyon National Park in May!

For a park as popular as Bryce Canyon, there aren’t a ton of options for last minute travelers. Inside the park, The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is a great option. For those of you (like us!) that miss out on booking far in advance, there are a variety of options outside of the park near and far. Right outside the park is the Best Western Plus, Rubys Inn with a variety of other 2 star hotel options along the highway leading out of town. Most of the options are quite basic, but manageable since you won’t be in your room much anyway!

11 |CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

One the way to Capitol Reef from Bryce Canyon you will drive one of America’s most scenic drives on Route 12. Capitol Reef is an often overlooked park, but is one well worth the detour on small scenic byways. Capitol Reef is a true hidden gem filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in one of the most beautiful settings. Green trees, orchards, and bright red sandstone play off one another to provide epic scenery. This park offers great hikes for all skill levels in a context of learning about the real American frontier including an old schoolhouse, orchards and more. Definitely worth a day or two of explorations.

Most visitors to Capitol Reef National Park either camp within the park or stay in the nearby town of Torrey. If you are up for camping, it will be a beautiful experience, however, Torrey is cute and offers good options for those wanting an actual bed! Some of our recommendations include: Austin’s Chuck Wagon Motel and the Broken Spur Inn .

12 |ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

Arches national park in Utah is one of the best examples of sandstone parks on our West Coast National Park Road Trip

From Arches you can go through Colorado on the southern route stopping in at Mesa Verde National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park on your way to Rocky Mountain NP. Heading north in Colorado through Grand Junction is quicker, but to maximize your National Park stops, go south!

13 | ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Moving away from the red rock desert landscapes and into the Rocky Mountains, you will find jaw dropping snow covered peaks and lush alpine forests. There are a multitude of easy day hikes here, waterfalls, drive up overlooks and of course plenty of wildlife. Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is the perfect segway from desert to mountain scenery. As with all the national parks, you can spend a little time here or a long time. Our recommendation is to spend at least 2 days to get a good feel for what this park offers. 

14 |GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK

The rugged Grand Teton range

Unlike the next park, Yellowstone where it is highly recommended that you stay inside the park, Grand Tetons are not massive, so for most visitors they prefer to stay in the adorable town of Jackson Hole. Jackson is about 15-20 minutes from the center of Grand Tetons park that it makes a perfect base. Note that Teton Village is actually a bit further out, so don’t get confused if you want to be near the park. Jackson has a ton of options from chain hotels like Homewood Suites to luxury lodges like The Wort Hotel . There are also a ton of Airbnb type rentals here that are great for larger groups. Whatever you choose here, you can’t go wrong.

15 |YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

One of the most popular and well known national parks in the US, Yellowstone is a must visit on any road trip through the western United States. What’s not to love here with herds of bison criss crossing the park, out of this world colorful hot springs and exploding geysers. This is a park that will never be seen in just one visit, so don’t even try . Plan to return to this park more than once or stay for a least a week!

Highlights of the park include Lamar Valley for animal spotting, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful and of course the Grand Prismatic are top on all visitors lists. Read on for even more things to see and do in Yellowstone .

Figuring out where to stay in Yellowstone is one of the most challenging aspects of planning a visit here. With 5 entrances over several states and a vast park area to explore, it’s challenging choosing where to stay. On a road trip like stated here, you can either stay inside the park for camping or at Roosevelt Lodge or Canyon Lodge. You can also look at options outside the park near Jackson Hole to the south or West Yellowstone to the west. Our favorite place to stay is a bit far out, but is beautiful and super luxurious – The Sage Lodge near the north entrance to Yellowstone.

16 |GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful spots on your West Coast National Park Road Trip

The ultimate goal when visiting Glacier National Park is to be close enough to witness the majestic beauty of the park at sunrise and sunset, which means you need to be right in the middle of it. Our recommendations for this would be: Many Glacier Hotel , Lake McDonald Lodge , Swiftcurrent Motor Inn or Granite Park Chalet . 

If you are too late to book within the park, check out the nearby towns of Whitefish and Columbia Falls as there are a lot of options and either town is a short drive away.

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If you are making a grand circle, from here you will venture back to Seattle to fly home. Otherwise, carry on exploring, drop your vehicles in Bozeman and fly home from Montana. Or maybe you want to continue towards the east coast. One of our favorite parks heading east is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Either way, don’t forget to buy your National Park Pass before you set out on the road! Or maybe you are looking for more specific national park roadtrips that focus on one state or region?

Do you think you could ever do this epic of a west coast national parks road trip?It has long been a dream of mine to do all of this. But alas, we have managed to do just one park at a time most summers!

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national park road trip west

2 thoughts on “16 Beautiful West Coast National Park Road Trip Stops”

I am thinking about planning this trip for my family. How long do you think it would take to do the entire loop?

I think really it depends on what all you want to do and see at each park. At a VERY minimum I would say 3 weeks, but I could easily spend several days at each park. Some you can whip through especially if you are going during the summer months or just skip because it will be too hot.

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This National Park Road Trip Covers 12 of America's Best Parks in One 5,600-mile Route

Here's what you need to know to drive the route yourself.

national park road trip west

In the early 1900s, U.S. national parks were largely playgrounds for the wealthy. Visitation often numbered in the tens of thousands, with itineraries fulfilled via expensive rail tickets, stagecoach tours, and horseback rides.

When automobiles arrived on the scene, the average American had a chance to hit the open road and see the country like never before. But in this case, the “open road” was a muddy path or dusty trail, if it existed at all. And our national parks were still wild expanses barely fit for mules.

So, in 1920, 12 Americans — representing groups like the National Park-to-Park Highway Association and AAA — set out from Denver, Colorado, for a 5,600-mile road trip, lassoing 12 national parks into one massive loop. Their goal? To draw publicity and tourism to the country’s public lands and to push for drivable roads that connect them.

Rocky Mountain National Park museum collections

Thus the great national park road trip was born. Today, the scenic tour through seven states remains one of the best ways to see our public lands.

The 12 stops on the national park road trip are:

Rocky Mountain National Park

Yellowstone national park, glacier national park, mount rainier national park, crater lake national park, lassen volcanic national park.

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Zion National Park

Grand canyon national park.

  • Petrified Forest National Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park

From Denver, the first stop on the national park road trip is Rocky Mountain National Park. Today’s visitors can take Trail Ridge Road across its alpine expanse. In 1920, the gang’s only option was Old Fall River Road, the park’s original auto route at nearly 12,000 feet. One hundred years later, it’s still an 11-mile stretch of dirt, typically open from July through early October.

National Park Service

The route then heads north up Interstate 25 through Cheyenne, Wyoming , bending eastward on Highway 14 through Cody and to Yellowstone National Park. To follow in the group’s footsteps, stay at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel , and give the nation’s first national park a solid four days.

Then, it’s off on the Yellowstone-Glacier Bee Line Highway through White Sulphur Springs, Great Falls, Browning, and to Glacier National Park in Montana. In 1920, the group could count 60 glaciers and zero real roads; today, there are around two dozen glaciers in the park, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the country’s most scenic drives .

Heading west on Montana’s Highway 2, from Kalispell toward Libby and the Idaho border, national forests abound in every direction into Spokane, Washington. Highway 2 runs out in Seattle, where the route turns south for Mount Rainier National Park. Be sure to visit Paradise on the south slope of the mountain — and be grateful you’re not traveling via mule team.

Robert J. Lillie / National Park Service

It’s a straight shot south through Olympia, Portland, and Eugene, ultimately reaching Crater Lake National Park, one of the best national parks in Oregon . Little has changed since 1920: The group stayed at the still-picturesque Crater Lake Lodge and completed the 33-mile Rim Drive, built just a year before their trip.

From here, it’s California or bust, aiming for Redding and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen has all four types of volcanoes, though the group never saw them, as the park had no roads in 1920.

Yosemite National Park and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Some 300 miles further south, the granite vistas of Yosemite National Park take over, followed by a vertical wilderness of giants at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (the latter was known as General Grant National Park until 1940).

Once in Los Angeles, the route shoots eastward on the National Old Trails Road, a.k.a. Route 66. From Barstow, take a detour up to Zion National Park — a 500-mile ask the group skipped to make time.

Xanterra Travel Collection

Then, head back south through Kingman, Williams, and to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, where the group spent three days at the now-historic El Tovar Hotel.

Petrified Forest National Park and Mesa Verde National Park

Depart for what’s now Petrified Forest National Park, Gallup, Durango, and Mesa Verde National Park, the group’s last stop on their national park road trip. They drove the narrow yet scenic Knife Edge Road, which closed in 1957 due to maintenance issues associated with the instability of the soil. Today, you can enjoy the same views while walking the two-mile Knife Edge Trail, which follows a portion of the historic road.

From Mesa Verde, it’s on to Salida and up Colorado’s spine via Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and finally, back to Denver. To sum up the trip, Stephen Mather — the NPS’ first director and a supporter of the route — put it best: “Each park will be found to be highly individual. The whole will be a revelation.”

national park road trip west

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Google map of National Park Road Trips

Map Shows the Ultimate U.S. National Park Road Trip

We're GIVING AWAY a 2021 Ford Mustang and you could be the lucky winner to hit the road for your next summer road trip.  Enter here to win.

If exploring the breathtaking beauty of our National Park System in one road trip is something on your bucket list, this may be the perfect map for you. Back in 2016, for the 100 th anniversary of the National Park Service, blogger Randy Olson devised an optimal route to see the most epic national parks across the nation.

The U.S. National Park System technically consists of 59 parks, but 12 of them are in Alaska, Hawaii and other U.S. territories. This road trip is focused solely on those you can reach by car in one trip within the Continental 48.

Even with the reduction of the parks outside the Lower 48, Olson included 47 others along his route that stop in 23 different states. If you've never been to the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains , Joshua Tree, or any of the other great National Parks, this may be the best way to see them in one shot.

Those determined to finish the trip full of scenic drives can do so in approximately two months! The route covers 14,498 miles. Olson starts his trip at the Grand Canyon, but he designed the route as a loop, so you could begin anywhere on the map and travel in whichever direction you'd like.

Here's the full list of national parks in order and a visual of the route:

U.S. National Park Road Trip

Randy Olson/Google Maps

The Ultimate U.S. National Park Road Trip

  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  • Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
  • Saguaro National Park, Arizona
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
  • Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
  • Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
  • Everglades National Park, Florida
  • Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
  • Biscayne National Park, Florida
  • Congaree National Park, South Carolina
  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
  • Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
  • Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
  • Badlands National Park, South Dakota
  • Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
  • Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
  • Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  • Arches National Park, Utah
  • Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
  • Zion National Park, Utah
  • Great Basin National Park, Nevada
  • Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • North Cascades National Park, Washington
  • Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
  • Redwood National and State Parks, California
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
  • Yosemite National Park, California
  • Kings Canyon National Park, California
  • Sequoia National Park, California
  • Pinnacles National Park, California
  • Channel Islands National Park, California
  • Joshua Tree National Park, California
  • Death Valley National Park, California

This post was originally published on June 16, 2017. It was updated on March 9, 2022. 

READ MORE:  Map Shows the Most Efficient Cross-Country U.S. Road Trip

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How to visit all of California's national parks in one epic road trip

Amanda Capritto

Mar 14, 2022 • 12 min read

Scenic Road Through a Redwood Forest with a Motion-blurred Car

A road trip to California’s national parks will show you the best of the state’s stunningly diverse landscapes © Albert Pego / Shutterstock

California is romanticized for its sparkly Pacific oceanfronts, thickets of palm trees and glass-walled high-rise buildings in the big coastal cities. But the state consists of so much more than its famed southern coast.

If you go north, inland or even offshore, you’ll be treated to dazzlingly unique terrain, insanely diverse ecosystems and eyebrow-raising history lessons — all of which you can experience through the nine (yes, nine!) US national parks in the Golden State.

Each of these parks represents a distinct piece of California’s beautiful, multifaceted puzzle. Here's how to visit them all in a single trip that you’ll talk about — to anyone and everyone who will listen — for the rest of your life.

Breaking down the itinerary

  • Total parks visited: nine
  • The parks: Joshua Tree National Park, Sequoia National Park, Death Valley National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Pinnacles National Park, Yosemite National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Redwood National and State Parks, Channel Islands National Park
  • Total trip time: 17 days, starting from Los Angeles
  • Total mileage: 2,003 (may vary depending on your exact route and road closures)  

Day one: Los Angeles to Joshua Tree  National Park

Leave LA in the morning, and travel 131 miles to Joshua Tree, where you’ll camp.

Day two: Hang out in Joshua Tree 

Spend the day in Joshua Tree National Park; camp here for a second night.

Where to stay

Joshua Tree National Park has several campgrounds. Take your pick, but book far in advance if your trip will take place between October and May — the cooler months are busy in the desert parks. If you want to lodge, check for availability in the nearby towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms.

Need-to-know

Desert weather can change suddenly. It’s not uncommon for dampened fires to reignite when nighttime winds fan the embers. Make sure to fully put out your fire, and secure any items that may fly away in strong winds. 

How to get around

Joshua Tree is a relatively small park and easy to navigate. Park Blvd runs through the entirety of the park, with offshoots to get to attractions. You can drive your vehicle to almost all of them, and trailheads too.

What to do while you’re here

Joshua Tree has several hikes ranging from easy to hard, and ample rock-climbing and bouldering opportunities. One fun thing to do in Joshua Tree is drive down Park Blvd to see the flora shift from Joshua Tree groves to thickets of yucca cacti.

A family shown from behind, watching the sunset at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

Day 3: Joshua Tree to Death Valley  National Park

Leave Joshua Tree in the morning and drive 228 miles to Death Valley, where you’ll camp or lodge.

Day 4: Take in the scenery in Death Valley 

Spend the day in Death Valley National Park; camp or lodge here again.

Death Valley National Park has primitive and full-hookup campgrounds, and lodges  ranging from basic to luxurious. All but one of the campgrounds are first-come, first-serve, but you need reservations for a lodge.

Camping is probably not the best option if you visit Death Valley in the summer months — temperatures can remain high, up to 100ºF (38ºC) throughout the night, and spike as early as 9am. It's not a great idea in the middle of winter either, when temperatures can drop below freezing at night.

The best way to get around Death Valley is by car. Highways stretch far and wide throughout the park, along with offshoot roads to get to attractions and trailheads. The National Park Service recommends keeping hiking to a minimum in the summer, due to extreme temperatures.

Walk out to the biggest, sparkliest dunes at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes ; drive Artists Drive to see mountains in shades of seafoam and mauve; visit Badwater Basin (the lowest place on earth at 282ft below sea level); and check out Ubehebe Crater on the north side of the park.

A man hiking beneath giant Sequoia trees.

Day 5: Death Valley to Sequoia National Park

Leave Death Valley in the morning, and travel 268 miles to Sequoia National Park, where you’ll camp or lodge.

Sequoia offers incredible camping opportunities, with both primitive and developed campgrounds. There is one developed lodge in Sequoia National Park, Wuksachi Lodge , as well as a primitive lodge maintained by an NPS partner.

The road between Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park can close during the winter due to snow. If you plan to visit during the winter months, check for road closures and adjust your route as needed.

Generals Highway traverses the entire park; you’ll drive your vehicle to and from all trailheads and attractions. There are parking areas along the way, though parking can be tough to find in the summer.

You’ll never be able to do everything in Sequoia National Park in just a day or two, but you can get a good idea of what the park has to offer. Spend some time romping around Giant Forest to understand the sheer size of Sequoia's trees; hike to Little Baldy for a relatively quick trek with a fantastic payoff; and see the huge  General Sherman Tree (the world’s largest tree by volume).

Snowy peaks, glittering lakes and greenery mark Kings Canyon National Park

Day 6: Sequoia to Kings Canyon  National Park

Spend the day in Sequoia; move on to Kings Canyon National Park (48 miles) in the evening, where you’ll camp or lodge.

Day 7: Spend time in Kings Canyon

Spend the day in Kings Canyon National Park, then drive 112 miles to Yosemite National Park, where you’ll camp or lodge.

Like Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Park has both camping and lodging options . Make reservations in advance and check to ensure your vehicle isn’t too large for the campground you book.

It seems like Sequoia and Kings Canyon are one and the same, but the parks do have defined borders — they are connected by Generals Highway, but closures can occur. Check the driving guidelines from the NPS to make sure your route and vehicle are appropriate. Depending on your vehicle and the season, you may have to exit Sequoia and drive around the park to get to Kings Canyon.

You’ll get around mainly by vehicle in Kings Canyon National Park, hopping out to travel on foot for hikes and attractions.

See General Grant , the second-largest tree in the world; walk up 172 steps to Buck Rock’s dizzying 8205-foot lookout; and enjoy the view at Kings Canyon Overlook off Generals Highway.

Tourists walk to Glacier Point with a background view of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park

Day 8: Explore Yosemite  National Park

Spend the day in Yosemite; camp or lodge here.

For quieter camping, camp on the east side of Yosemite near or in Tuolumne Meadows . If you want to lodge, you can choose one of the many options within the park .

Two main roads in Yosemite, Tioga Road (Hwy 120) and Glacier Point Road, close in the winter due to snow. They usually reopen in May or June — plan your trip accordingly. If you want to see wildlife, spend more time in the Tuolumne Meadows area, rather than the valley.

Yosemite is well-developed, with many roads, paved walking trails, boardwalks and unpaved trails. There is also a shuttle system in the valley area. If you visit during the summer, be prepared for congested traffic and trouble with parking. Getting around by bike or foot is typically easier during the summer months.

Yosemite has so many attractions that it can be tough to choose which ones to see. With limited time, see  El Capitan and Half Dome from the valley floor, hike Tuolumne Meadows Trail to Soda Springs , or raft down the Merced River (summer or spring). For an expansive view of the famous granite structures, drive to Tunnel View on Wawona Road.

A hiker walks a rocky trail to Lassen Peak in the Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Day 9: Yosemite to Lassen  Volcanic National Park

Leave Yosemite by early afternoon and travel 301 miles to Lassen, where you’ll camp or lodge.

Day 10: Stay overnight in  Lassen

Spend the day in Lassen Volcanic National Park; camp or lodge here.

There is only one lodge in Lassen Volcanic National Park , Drakesbad Guest Ranch , but there are many campgrounds . Most campgrounds require advance reservations, and some are first-come, first-served.

Park Highway (Hwy 89) closes past the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center during the winter months. The visitor center itself can also close during winter storms. While in the park, stay on established trails and boardwalks. Hydrothermal areas can be disguised and dangerous, and visitors who travel off-trail can suffer severe burns.

Lassen Volcanic National Park has several roads running through the park, but they can all close due to snowfall. The NPS highly encourages checking road conditions before you visit, or simply visiting after roads are cleared in April.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is quintessential northern California: It shows off with glistening mountain lakes, snowy peaks, and lush meadows. But the park’s real claim to fame are the boiling hydrothermal areas and volcanoes. Backpacking, hiking, biking and auto-touring are popular activities for seeing the attractions.

A couple of tourists walking under a fallen redwood in Redwood National Park.

Day 11: Lassen to Redwood National Park

Leave Lassen Volcanic National Park by mid-morning; travel 177 miles to Redwood National Park, where you’ll camp or lodge.

Day 12: Mess around in the Redwoods

Spend the day in Redwood National Park; camp or lodge here again.

Redwood National Park — technically known as Redwood National and State Parks — has eight basic campground cabins but very limited lodging. If you want a real roof over your head, consider staying outside of the park in nearby communities.

The campground cabins tend to book up several months in advance, so if you're keen to stay in them, be sure to plan well ahead of your trip. 

The park is mostly oriented around US Highway 101, the corridor that runs north and south along most of California. Many other roads, including designated scenic drives, run throughout the park. 

Marvel at some of the tallest known trees in the world, obviously! Aside from craning your neck to attempt to see the tops of coastal redwoods, biking, hiking, horseback riding and kayaking the Smith River (summer only) are popular activities.

A trail winds between red bushes as a sunset starts to light up the rocks at Pinnacles National Park

Day 13: Redwoods to Pinnacles National Park

Leave the Redwoods by early morning and travel 437 miles to Pinnacles National Park, where you’ll camp or lodge.

Day 14: Escape the crowds at Pinnacles

Spend the day in Pinnacles; camp or lodge here again.

There is only one campground at Pinnacles National Park , and it’s on the east side of the park. The east and west sides of Pinnacles are not connected by road — only by hiking trails. If you plan to camp, make sure you enter on the east side through Hollister, California. You can lodge in Soledad, California, if you plan to enter on the west side.

On this trip, you only have time to enjoy one side of the park. Plan accordingly. Both the east and west side offer great hiking trails and California condor viewing, though the cave attractions differ.  

Highway 146 takes you into the west side, while highway 25 takes you into the east side. Both highways weave through the park for a few miles, and then it’s mainly foot traffic from there.

Pinnacles is one of the smaller national parks in California and has very limited facilities. Its lack of development makes for quiet hiking and uninterrupted wildlife-viewing. Make sure you shimmy through Bear Gulch Cave (east side) or Balconies Cave (west side), and look into the sky to see some condors (the largest land birds in North America!).

A dolphin and a sea lion swim in front of a stone archway reaching out into the water at Channel Islands National Park

Day 15: Pinnacles to Ventura

Leave Pinnacles National Park and travel 233 miles to Ventura, California.

Day 16: Ventura to Channel Islands National Park

Make a reservation for an Island Packers tour to Channel Islands National Park. Head back to Los Angeles after the day tour, or stay in Ventura for another night.

Ditch your car or camper van for a night (it'll be safe in Ventura Harbor, or you can pay to park in a nearby garage) and take a park concessionaire boat to the island. Pitch a tent in one of the park's lush campgrounds or venture into the backcountry — but watch for ticks, and seal your food in rodent-proof containers. You can also opt to return to the mainland on the same day and lodge in the beachside town of Ventura.

There are no remedies for poor planning at Channel Islands National Park , so make sure you bring enough food, water, clothing and other supplies. You must reserve your Island Packers tour in advance — it’s likely that you’ll have to plan your entire trip around this day, because tours are limited and fill up fast.

You'll need fresh legs for a visit to the Channel Islands, as there's no transportation service on the islands. Everything must be accessed by foot or kayak, unless you have a private boat.

Island Packers boats most commonly go to Santa Cruz Island , the largest island in California at over 96 sq miles. On Santa Cruz, you can go hiking, bird-watching, snorkeling, kayaking and whale-watching. You can also peruse old Chumash Native American residences and ranching quarters from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Day 17 (optional): Return to LA

Travel back to Los Angeles (68 miles).

You might also like:   15 unforgettable experiences in US national parks    Why you should drive California's scenic Highway 395 The best free things to do in the US national parks   

This article was first published Feb 28, 2020 and updated Mar 14, 2022.

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Live A Wilder Life

Uncovering The 17 Most Spectacular National Parks In The West

Plot Summary: A guide to the best west coast national parks including highlights of the park, when to visit, and where to stay.

When we sat down to plan our year of traveling the US , we knew that a high priority on the list would be visiting the national parks. Why? As former city dwellers, we yearned to connect with nature beyond a city park or the small patch of grass in our former backyard. We were looking to experience big nature and for our two-year-old to develop a deep respect and connection to the natural world.

For us, there was no better place in the US than the national parks out west. With no intention to throw shade at the national parks of the East , there are quite simply more western national parks than in the eastern US . In fact, 70% of the national parks are in the west.

With so many national parks in the West, it can be hard to decide where to go and how to plan your travels. Here’s a full list recommended by fellow travel writers of 17 must-see West Coast national parks. We’ve also included a short guide to the national parks and recommended itineraries for a West Coast National Parks road trip.

Also, while Alaska might arguably have the absolute BEST National Parks in the West (no crowds, pure untouched land) we’ve chosen to focus on National Parks in mainland US.

*This post may contain affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission if you purchase from them. This is at no extra cost to you! We only recommend products and services we truly think are helpful.

What is a National Park?

A national park is a protected area of federal land where there is typically an emphasis on the conservation of the ecosystem and its natural habitat. The National Park System (NPS) oversees the 57 national parks as well as the national monuments, national historic sites, national parkways, national lakeshores, and several other landmarks of historical or environmental value.

Why are National Parks important?

While this question is an entire post to itself, the short answer is national parks are vital to conserving and protecting incredible feats of wild nature. Protecting the land and the animals that live there allows future generations to walk upon the same untouched landscape, the same hiking trails, the same cliffs that we have been blessed to witness. In a rapidly developing world, protecting our land and keeping it untouched, allows us as humans to return to nature and find respite from our ever-connected world. Time in nature is essential to our wellbeing and mental health, and maintaining these spaces means there will always be somewhere we can return and get back to basics.

Recommended National Parks Book

If you’re looking for more guidance and inspiration for your west coast national park tour I highly recommend the following national park books : 1. National Geographic: Complete National Parks of the United State – National Geographic’s national parks guide is a thorough guidebook that is also a beautiful display piece in your house. It’s National Geographic so you know the photos are out of this world beautiful. It also offers comprehensive, useful advice. Win, win. 2. Leave Only Footprints – Rather than a conventional guidebook, Leave Only Footprints is a travel memoir through one man’s journey to every US national park. Written within the backdrop of a painful breakup with his fiance, Conor Knighton weaves readers through a journey to America’s finest natural landmarks, peppering in interesting history and tidbits about the parks and his own personal stories. Perfect for someone looking to go deeper than Google trivia.

National Park Pass

If you’ll be visiting more than one national park in a year, you should consider buying an America The Beautiful Pass. The pass allows you entrance into over 2000 federal land parks for a one-time fee for a year from the month you purchase. If you know the parks you’ll be visiting, you can do the math to see if you’ll come out ahead. You must check each individual park since some parks charge a per car rate while some charge per person. There are discounts for people who have a disability, active military, and senior citizens.

Buy and learn more about the national park pass here.

National Park Passport

A fun way to commemorate your time visiting the west coast national parks is to purchase a national park passport and collect stamps along the way. While this is often touted as a fun activity for kids…I don’t see why adults can’t like it too. I want cool stamps too!

They can be purchased at any national park store or purchased beforehand online. While you can just as easily make your own passport journal with a spiral notebook, I tend to like the preformatted journal templates like this one with cute options to write in dates and what you did.

Western National Parks Map

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17 Must-See West Coast National Parks

Yosemite national park.

Deer sitting in front of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Location: California Interesting Fact: At sunlight, El Capitan and Half Dome light up in brilliant shades of orange and red. From January to February, Horsetail Fall is famous for seeming to be on fire when it reflects the orange hues of sunrise.

Contributed by Contance of The Adventures of Panda Bear

Yosemite is the crown jewel of California. Considered by many to be one of the best national parks on the west coast. With nearly 2700 square miles of wilderness, Yosemite offers something for everyone. From backpacking through the backcountry, majestic sequoias, awe-inspiring waterfalls, granite mountains, and hundreds of hiking trails, you could spend a week here and still barely touch the surface of the grandeur of Yosemite.  

If all you have is one day in Yosemite National Park , Yosemite Valley is where you want to begin. It’s the most visited area of the park and home to the most popular sights. You can get amazing views of Half Dome, El Capitan, and a variety of waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and Bridalveil Falls. 

If you want to see the best view in the park, be sure to check out Tunnel View. The viewpoint was made famous by renowned photographer Ansel Adams, and it is where you’ll be able to see Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Falls all at once. 

For avid hikers, the Mist Trail takes visitors past Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and to the base of Half Dome. Due to the large amount of granite throughout the park, Yosemite is a mecca for avid rock climbers. If you’re lucky enough to get a lottery permit to climb Half Dome, you’ll be able to proceed up the granite dome. 

When To Visit: Yosemite is one of the most visited west coast national parks, so the best times to visit are May and late September when the crowds will have diminished. Springtime offers the best viewing of the park’s famous waterfalls. Where To Stay: Yosemite Valley Lodge

Sequoia National Park

Giant Sequoa Trees at Sequoia national park

Location: California Interesting Fact: Sequoias can live for over 3000 years and are some of the oldest and largest trees in the world. A chemical in their bark called tannin protects them from rot, pests, and fire damage.

Contributed By Ruth of Tanama Tales

Sequoia National Park, located on the Sierra Nevada, attracts thousands of solo travelers, couples, and families each year. The park is a paradise for those who want outdoor activities like hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, mountaineering, and fishing.

As the name implies, the stars of the park are the enormous sequoia trees. There are several sequoia groves within the park, but the most popular and easily accessed one is the Giant Forest. In there, you will find General Sherman, the largest tree by volume in the world. In the Giant Forest, you can take The Congress Trail (2-mile loop), which will take you to some of the oldest and biggest trees in the park. 

The Giant Forest Museum is a must-visit if you want to learn more about these majestic trees. The Big Trees Trail (1-mile loop) is an easy hike that starts close to the museum. Other points of interest in the park include Morro Rock, Tokopah Falls, and Crystal Cave. 

With so many things to see and do in the park, you’ll want at least two days to explore the park. Add an extra day or two if you are interested in seeing the Foothills Area, the Mineral King Valley, the Sequoia National Forest, or adjacent  Kings Canyon National Park . 

When To Visit: The park is open year-round, but certain parts of the park are not accessible all year. The park is completely open from July to early September and is considered the best time to visit for maximum viewing. If you are okay with not accessing all of the park, late spring and early fall are the shoulder seasons with cooler weather and fewer people. Where To Stay: Wuksachi Lodge

Death Valley National Park

Mountain range in Death Valley National Park

Location: California, Nevada Interesting Fact: Aside from being the hottest place on Earth, Death Valley is home to the endangered Devils Hole Pupfish. These one-inch bright blue fish survive in 98-degree water temperatures and low oxygen concentrations lethal to most fish. Conservation of the pupfish has been a hot and often contentious topic of debate, but for the scientists who study the Devils Hole pupfish, they offer insight into adaptation to adverse conditions. 

Contributed by Alison of She Dreams Of Alpine

Located on the border of California and Nevada, Death Valley is one of the largest National Parks in the United States and also one of the most diverse parks. You could spend weeks exploring Death Valley and still not see everything it has to offer. Spend time exploring its rolling sand dunes, or adventure off to its remote dry lake beds, or if you’re up for it, hike to the top of Death Valley’s tallest peak, Telescope Peak, for epic views of Death Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. 

The  Telescope Peak hike  is one of the best hikes to do if you have time during your visit to Death Valley National Park. The total round trip distance is about 13 miles long, with 3,300 feet of total elevation gain. This trail is easily hiked in a day, and the trailhead starts at Mahogany Flat Campground. On the way to Telescope Peak Summit, you’ll wind your way through switchbacks and find extraordinary vistas of the Death Valley basin. You will be standing tall at 11,049 feet when you reach the summit of Telescope Peak. Read about more amazing Death Valley hikes here.

You could choose to spend your time driving throughout the park and visiting the many different stops along Death Valley’s established roads, including Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation point in all of the United States. You could go more off the beaten path with a four-wheel-drive jeep rental and visit an area called The Racetrack, where rocks “mysteriously” move across a dry lakebed and leave a track as their evidence. However you decide to spend your time in Death Valley, it is a must-visit West Coast attraction.

When To Visit: The park is open year-round, but spring and fall are the shoulder seasons and offer the best respite from the scorching 100-120 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures. Visiting in spring means you may see the wildflowers in bloom, although wildflower sightings are completely dependent on how much rain the park gets that year. Late fall offers stunning clear skies and warm days. Where To Stay: The Ranch at Death Valley

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree at sunset

Location: California Interesting fact: While iconic band U2 did help to bring the Joshua Tree into popular consciousness with their 5th album named Joshua Tree, the album cover was actually taken in Darwin, California, a full 200 miles away from Joshua Tree National Park.

Contributed by Eden from Rock A Little Travel

Joshua Tree National Park is home to some of the most unique topography of any of the national parks in the west. The stark landscape is dotted with massive boulders and bushy green Joshua trees set against a backdrop of endless desert. If you’re looking to skip the crowds at Yosemite, enjoy the crowd-free bliss of Joshua Tree. You’ll often find yourself alone at many of the biggest attractions in the park if you arrive early enough.

Joshua Tree is the perfect spot for landscape photography, hiking, bouldering, and rock climbing. In fact, many visitors come specifically for rock climbing. The abundance of boulders and rock formations make it a great place to learn if you’ve always wanted to try. Rock climbing schools can be found just outside the park.

In the evenings, Joshua Tree is an optimal place for stargazing and astrophotography. The vast desert sky, combined with minimal light pollution, makes for the perfect setting.

One of the most popular points of interest inside the park is a large rock formation called Skull Rock. This attraction is, as the name suggests, a giant rock that looks like a skull. While it may not sound all that exciting, it’s a fantatic photo op. Plus, it’s fun climbing on the big rocks and boulders.

For most visitors, Joshua Tree can be explored in just one day. For those looking to participate in extensive rock climbing or hiking activities, two days would be perfect.

When To Visit: The park is open year-round, but the ideal time to visit is March to May and October to November when temperatures average in the 80’s. In the summer months, temperatures can exceed 100 degrees. Where To Stay: The Ridge at Joshua Tree Airbnb

Pinnacles National Park

california condor flying in pinnacles national park

Location: California Interesting Fact: The “talus caves” in Pinnacles are not limestone caverns, but rather rocky tunnels that have been created by large boulders breaking off and falling into chasms that are too small for them, creating a roof that gives the feeling of a cave.

Submitted by Ale at Sea Salt & Fog

Pinnacles National Park is one of the newest and most underrated National Parks in California. Established in 2013, Pinnacles is about two and a half hours south of San Francisco. The park has two entrances, with no connecting roads between them.

The east entrance is most popular and has the only campground and general store in the park. The west entrance has a visitor center but fewer facilities. No matter where you enter, you’ll see the spectacular, towering rock formations and rare talus caves the park is famous for.

Pinnacles is a must-visit dream destination for experienced and beginner rock climbers and adventure hikers looking to explore a rugged landscape. Most of the trails throughout the park lead to sweeping views of towering rock spires and formations. 

Condor Gulch Trail is a fantastic hike. Around 3.5 miles roundtrip with gains of about a thousand feet in elevation, you’ll get amazing views of the park. If you go early enough in the morning, you’ll likely find the endangered California condors when you reach the end. 

You can spend anywhere from a day to a week in the park, but the sweet spot is a weekend trip while camping at the park. Make a trek out to see a talus cave, hike up to view the peaks, and go bird watching. If you have more time in the area, take a  day trip out to a funky surf town  an hour and a half away to take a dip in the ocean. 

When To Visit: Temperatures can soar to uncomfortable heights during the summer, so the park is best visited during the cooler spring and fall seasons. Where To Stay: Inn at the Pinnacles

Crater Lake National Park

Deep blue lake at Crater National Park

Location: Oregon Interesting Fact: Crater lake has a 30-foot ancient tree stump that seems to defy the laws of physics by floating vertically in the lake. The hemlock tree is affectionately called the “old man of the lake.” It’s been tracked since the early 1930s and is the subject of many superstitions and tales.

Submitted by Zach and Julie of Ruhls of the Road

Crater Lake is the clearest lake in the world and the deepest in the United States. Located in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, Crater Lake formed 7700 years ago when a volcano cratered and created an enormous bowl. Over thousands of years, the lake filled with rainwater and snowmelt, gradually filling up the lake. Because the lake doesn’t have any rivers that flow in or out, no sediment or mineral deposits enter the lake, keeping the water fresh and pure. The pristine nature of the lake is what makes it stunning and one of the best National Parks in the western USA.

The only hike down to the lake is the Cleetwood Cove trail, a short but challenging hike with a beautiful destination. You can also hike to peaks such as Mount Scott, Garfield Peak, and Watchman Peak for a bird’s eye view of the lake, where you’ll see the deep blue emerald colors of Crater Lake. If hiking isn’t your thing, Discovery Point is a perfect place to get great views without having to hike. You can walk a trail as far as you’d like and enjoy the views the entire way. 

Like most national parks, there are tons of excellent campsites inside the park, as well as a handful of hotels with 360-degree panoramas of the lake and surrounding landscape.

When To Visit: The best time to visit is July, August, and early September when the entire park is accessible and sunlight will give you the best views of the water. You can visit in the shoulder season of June and October, but there is a chance roads will be closed due to snow. Where To Stay: The Cabins at Mazama Village

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park, Washington, USA at Ruby Beach with piles of deadwood.

Location: Washington Interesting Fact: Olympic National Park protects one of the few lasting temperate rainforests in the world. Other temperate rainforests are found in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Contributed by Gina Tarnacki of Evergreen & Salt

Olympic National Park is a must-see when planning a west coast national park trip. Covering over a million acres, the sprawling park covers such diverse terrains as driftwood beaches, old-growth forests, 3000 miles of rivers, and snow-capped mountains.

In the northern part of the park, you’ll find rugged mountains and excellent hiking, including the popular Hurricane Ridge Trail that offers stunning views of the surrounding scenery. Another gorgeous hike in this area is the Sol Duc Hike that takes you to Sol Duc Falls, a roaring series of waterfalls cascading over rocks and trees down the mountainside. 

On the southwestern side of the park, you’ll come to the incredible, remote  beaches of Olympic National Park . Ruby Beach and Rialto Beach both require a hike to get down to, but they are a must-see. The walk down will reward you with photo-worthy sea stacks and driftwood. 

Head a bit inland from these beaches, and you’ll soon come to the temperate rain forest. No Olympic National Park itinerary is complete without a visit to Washington’s rain forests, a wonderland of bright green moss and foliage with incredible hiking trails, most notably the Hall of Moses hike in Hoh Rain Forest.

Two to three days is enough to get a glimpse of the highlights, but four to seven days is recommended to get an in-depth look into this glorious national park.

When To Visit: The weather in Olympic National Park can be unpredictable and varies wildly from place to place. Your best bet for warm, sunny weather is going to be the months of July and August. The park is open all year, but parts of the park can start to become inaccessible as early as September. Where To Stay: Lake Crescent Lodge

Mount Rainier National Park

Wildlfowers in front of snowy mount rainier national park

Location: Washington Interesting Fact: The original name of the mountain, coined by the Native American tribes, is a variation of Tacoma or Tahoma, which means “the source of nourishment from the many streams coming from the slopes.”

Contributed by Michelle Stelly of The Wandering Queen

Mount Rainier National Park is one of the top places to visit in the Pacific Northwest. The park is packed with waterfalls, mountains, and outstanding forest views. The most popular trail in the park is Skyline Trail. With incredible 360 degree views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountains, it’s not hard to see why. You’ll pass Marymere Falls along the hike, creating a picture-perfect moment of the cascading waterfall against Mount Rainier.

Highlights of the park include hiking trails Comet Falls and Grove of the Patriarchs Loop Trail. Comet Falls takes you along the river with multiple waterfalls along the way. This area of the Pacific Northwest is typically rainy and cloudy, so seeing the waterfalls on a foggy day is the quintessential PNW experience. Grove Of The Patriarchs Loop trail is an easy trail that’s great for anyone traveling with family. For those looking for a more strenuous hike, make sure to try out Silver Falls. It is right next to the Grove Of The Patriarchs and not as crowded.

Two days is enough to see the highlights of the park. For those looking to explore further, 3-4 days is ideal.

When To Visit: The park is open year-round, but offers the most accessibility from June to September. Wildflowers will be in bloom and the drier weather provides optimum hiking conditions. Where To Stay: National Park Inn at Mount Rainier

Glacier National Park

Woman in red puffer jacket walks on snow covered evergreen tree lined path with two huge snow covered mountains looming in the background

Location: Montana Interesting Fact: In 1850, Glacier National Park was home to 150 glaciers. Currently, Glacier has only 26 glaciers left and the number is expected to decline as climate change will inevitably reduce this amount.

Contributed by Margie DQ of DQ Family Travel

Glacier National Park is in a remote area of northeastern Montana. Known as one of the most beautiful national parks in the west, it combines pristine natural beauty and glacial blue lakes amidst soaring mountains. 

With over 700 miles of hiking trails, Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise. While a week exploring this area is ideal, the highlights can be done in 4-5 days. Must do hikes include Trail of Cedars/Avalanche Lake, Highline Trail, Redrock Falls, Hidden Lake Overlook, and Grinnell Glacier. The park is excellent for all types of visitors. There are plenty of kid-friendly trails and other challenging options for the more adventurous hikers. The most popular section of the park is West Glacier, followed by St. Mary, then Many Glacier, Two Medicine, and Polebridge is quite remote. 

One of the main highlights of Glacier National Park is the famous Going to the Sun Road that is only open about three months of the year. This scenic drive is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the country, yet it offers some of the most spectacular views of the park. Although the road does have railings, it is quite high. There are several scenic overlooks along the drive to stop and take pictures as well. Another option is to take a guided tour of the park in a Jammer Red Bus. This unique vintage car takes guests for a narrated drive on the Going to the Sun Road and stops multiple times for pictures. 

While there are a few campgrounds and lodges to stay inside the park, once again, they fill up over a year in advance. If you can manage to book early, then I highly recommend staying inside Glacier National Park. If it is booked, then try staying at the charming town of Whitefish, Montana. Although it is not located at the entrance like the closest town, West Glacier, Whitefish is only 27 miles away and has some great restaurants, biking trails, shopping, and a walkable downtown area.

READ MORE ABOUT GLACIER NATIONAL PARK: Why Glacier National Park In Winter Is A Must Do

When To Visit: Due to weather, Glacier has a limited window for when you can hike and see all of the park, so the best times to visit are going to be late June to early September. If you visit Glacier in the winter , many trails and roads will be closed due to snow. Where To Stay: Glacier Park Lodge

Yellowstone National Park

hot spring in Yellowstone National Park

Location: Wyoming Interesting Fact: Yellowstone is America’s first official national park and was established in 1872.

Contributed by Adriana Plotzerová of Czech The World

Yellowstone National Park belongs among the most fascinating national parks in the western USA. Yellowstone is 3,472 square miles of wilderness and home to bison herds, grizzly bears, coyotes, wolves, deer, and elk. The park sits on top of a supervolcano, so 60% of all the world’s geysers can be found here, along with 10,000 other geothermal features. It’s a true natural wonderland.

Colorful hot springs, erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots, fumaroles, and steam coming out of the earth are a small sampling of the natural wonders found at Yellowstone. There are so many beautiful  things to see in Yellowstone National Park , that it’s best to plan a longer visit. It is possible to see the best of Yellowstone in 4 days , but if you plan to do some hikes as well, you’ll want to stay for a whole week.  

The highlights of Yellowstone National Park are the Grand Prismatic – the 3rd largest hot spring in the world, the monumental Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and the Old Faithful geyser – a predictable geyser, which erupts about every 90 minutes.

Yellowstone is a family-friendly place, as well as the ideal place for adventurous souls. It’s an excellent base for backcountry hiking and camping with more than 900 miles of hiking trails! If you have spare time for hiking, go to Mt. Washburn, hike the Avalanche Peak or head to the Shoshone lake trail. Just remember that you are in bear country, so always follow bear-safety rules.

READ MORE ABOUT YELLOWSTONE: How To Plan A Trip To Yellowstone The Perfect Yellowstone Itinerary For Adventure 10 Adventures In Yellowstone Your Kids Will Remember Forever The Best Yellowstone Airbnbs For Every Budget

When To Visit: The best time to visit is the summer months when all of the park will be open and the weather will be at its best. That is the high season, so crowds will be significant. If you want to avoid crowds, April to May and mid-September to October will be quieter, but the weather will be cooler and parts of the park might be closed due to snow and bear activity. Where To Stay: Canyon Lodge

Grand Teton National Park

man stands in alpine water in front of grand Tetons

Location: Wyoming Interesting Fact: At less than 10 million years old, the Tetons are the youngest mountains in the Rockies and some of the youngest mountains in the world.

Contributed by Wendy Norton of Travel The Parks

The Tetons are some of the most recognized mountains in the United States.    Grand Teton National Park  showcases the grandeur of these majestic jagged peaks, as they seem to magically rise out of the valley floor. Grand Teton is perfect for the traveler who loves extraordinary nature. Children will love seeing pronghorn antelope, elk, and bears roaming the grasslands and hikers will appreciate the abundant hiking trails. You can choose a simple day hike or explore the wild backcountry to experience the breathtaking views at higher altitudes.

For those who want to explore the park by car, the 42-mile scenic loop drive offers unparalleled views. Highlights along the way include Schwabacher Road, Cunningham Historic Cabin, Oxbow Bend Turnout, and Leigh Lake. If you’re driving in the afternoon, leave time to pull over and experience sunset at the Mormon row. 

Must-do’s include taking the boat shuttle across Jenny Lake, hiking along the Cascade Pass trail to see Hidden Falls, climbing to Inspiration Point, and renting a kayak to cruise on the crystal clear waters of Jackson Lake. The breakfast boat cruise to Elk Island is a photographer’s paradise with outstanding views of Mt. Moran and Mt. Teewinot. Alternatively, spend one incredible afternoon floating down the Snake River looking for moose that frequent the oxbows. 

Grand Teton is a treasure. Visitors should allow a minimum of 2-3 days to explore the many facets of this amazing park. 

When To Visit: The best time to visit is from May to September when the weather will be more temperate and everything in the park will be open and accessible. July and August are the busiest times of the year, with late September offering fewer crowds and pleasant weather. Where To Stay: Jackson Lake Lodge

Zion National Park

national park road trip west

Location: Utah Interesting Fact: Zion is famous for its stunning landscape, but is also rich in archeological findings. The earliest inhabitants date back over 1o,000 years. Scattered throughout the park are cave paintings, rock drawings, and carved pathways giving clues to the lives of the indigenous people.

Contributed by Nicole from American SW Obsessed

Zion National Park is the most popular national park of the Mighty 5 in Utah. It’s not hard to see why, with its expansive landscape and some of the best hiking in Utah. Due to its proximity, Zion is often used as a fun  day trip from Vegas  since it’s the closest airport to the park.

The top thing to do in Zion is to try some of their legendary hikes. Most notably, the challenging (and bucket list-worthy) Angel’s Landing. Angel’s Landing is a 1500 foot rock formation that hikers climb to get to the top and have magnificent views of Zion. In 1926, a trail was cut into the solid rock along with chains installed so you can pull yourself up to see incredible viewpoints of Zion Canyon. It is not for the faint of heart! If you are afraid of heights or have vertigo, it’s best to pass on this hike.

For those looking for a more leisurely hike, Canyon Overlook or Riverside walk, offer stunning scenery and vistas of Bryce Canyon. Other highlights of the park include hiking the narrows, the emerald pools trail, or driving through Kolob Canyons.

Plan to spend at least 2-3 days to see the highlights or 5-7 days if you want to explore deeper.

When To Visit: The best time to visit is from April to May and late September to October when the weather will be warm with an average temperature between 60-90 degrees and the park’s shuttle will still be in service. Where To Stay: Zion Lodge

Arches National Park

Red desert landscape with snow

Location: Utah Interesting Fact: Arches National Park has been used as the backdrop for several big blockbuster films, most notably in the opening sequence of the 3rd Indiana Jones movie.

Contributed by James Ian from Parks Collecting

Arches National Park is one of the best national parks in the west for hikers. People often think of it as a one-note park, with a few natural arches and not much else. The reality, however, is very different. There are several distinct sections within the park that are full of natural ‘fins’ formed of stone. Over time, weak points have eroded and developed natural arches. There are dozens of them in the park, and they are spectacular. The fins and narrow ravines in between create a fascinating environment to explore.  

Some arches are very accessible and ideal for families or people with more limited mobility. Sand Dunes Arch, Skylight Arch, the Park Avenue lookout, and the Windows section are easily accessible.  

That being said, Arches NP is a hiker’s paradise, and longer trails lead to even greater rewards. Moderate hikes take you down into Park Avenue with steep cliffs on both sides, and then up to the stunningly located Delicate Arch which adorns Utah’s license plates. The arch is hidden until the last moment, and nothing prepares you for the first breathtaking view. 

For serious hikers,  Devil’s Garden Trail  is a full-day hike. This primitive trail through Fin Canyon takes you over the tops of narrow fins with steep drops on both sides. Along the trail, you’ll see a dozen arches and several cairns. One of the most challenging hikes in the park is Fiery Furnace. This 2-mile hike is so disorienting, with no signs or markers, that you can only go on a ranger-led group hike or with a special ranger-obtained permit. 

It’s possible to see the highlights in a day, but if you want to explore deeper, two days is recommended. 

READ MORE ABOUT ARCHES NATIONAL PARK: Should You Visit Arches National Park In The Winter? Yes. Here’s Why. A Complete Guide To Visiting Arches National Park With Kids

When To Visit: The best time to visit is from April to May and September to October. Flash floods and 100-degree weather can make visiting in the summer months of July and August an uncomfortable and dangerous experience. Where To Stay: Moab Springs Ranch

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park hoodoos with the famous Thor's Hammer

Location: Utah Interesting Fact: Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the largest collection of hoodoos in the world. Hoodoos are tall rock formations, created in arid regions from sedimentary and volcanic rock. The hoodoos in the park are older than 65 million years.

Contributed by Melissa Douglas of High Heels and a Backpack

Bryce Canyon is often overshadowed by its famous neighbor Zion National Park. With its ethereal sunsets, unique rock formations, and scenic hiking trails, Bryce Canyon is arguably one of the world’s most impressive natural wonders and one of the best national parks in the west.

Several hiking trails weave through the scenery of Bryce Canyon. Those looking to get up close and personal with some of Bryce Canyon’s mysterious rock formations will love the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop trails. Both treks descend into the canyon. They allow you to observe such infamous and unusual rock formations such as Thor’s Hammer, Twin Bridges, and Gulliver’s Castle.

The Rim trail is one of the easiest and most accessible hiking trails. This route is suitable for families and hikers with limited mobility. The footpaths are flat and well-paved, and the trail takes you to all of the most scenic overlooks of the canyon. Try to do the hike at sunrise for the most spectacular panoramas.

It is possible to enjoy Bryce Canyon National Park on a day trip, however, to get the full experience, it is worthwhile to dedicate a long weekend. Stay for the weekend and camp at one of the park’s camping grounds. The North and Sunset campgrounds provide a stunning backdrop for evenings spent cooking s’mores over the campfire. They are both situated just a stone’s throw away from the park entrance.

When To Visit: The park is open all year, but is most accessible from May to September. October to April brings fewer people and c00ler weather, but many services and campgrounds will be closed. Where To Stay: Bryce Canyon Lodge

Capitol Reef National Park

Woman and son underneath gigantic natural rock bridge

Location: Utah Interesting Fact: Capitol Reef National Park gets it name from the white features in the park that resemble the capitol building, while reef refers to the rocky land of the park.

Contributed by Megan Johnson of Red Around The World

Capitol Reef is the most underrated national park of the Mighty 5 in Utah. Most people just pass through when they’re going from Zion to Moab and don’t get to experience the amazing nature the park has to offer. The bonus of visiting the least talked about national park in Utah…a crowd free experience.

Highlights of the park include hiking Hickman Bridge, Cohab Canyon, and Sulphur Creek. If you have time, Headquarters and Surprise slot canyons in the Waterpocket Fold are excellent short hikes that are often combined together. If you have even more time and a high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle, drive the Catherdal Valley Loop.

A unique thing to do in Capitol Reef is picking fruit in the orchards planted by the Mormon settlers. If you want to do this, you’ll have to visit in late summer or fall when it’s ready to harvest. No matter when you visit, stop in the Gifford Store for pie, ice cream, cinnamon rolls, and salsa. 

Capitol Reef is perfect for anyone, whether you’re visiting as a family or a solo hiker or  even a non-hiker ; it’ll be tough not to find something to do. If you have the time, spend at least two days here, but if you only have one, you can still see a lot.

READ NEXT: See All Five Of Utah’s National Parks On The Ultimate Mighty 5 Road Trip Adventure.

When To Visit: The best time to visit the park is October and November when the scorching summer heat will have passed but it’s still nice enough to enjoy the scenery. Where To Stay: Red Feather Lodge

Grand Canyon National Park

national park road trip west

Location: Arizona Interesting Fact: No dinosaur bones have ever been found at the Grand Canyon. The rocks that make up the canyon walls are about a billion years more ancient than dinosaurs, but the canyon itself probably didn’t form until after the dinosaurs were long gone.

Contributed by Katie Bessant from Life at Number 26

Does the Grand Canyon need any introduction? As one of the seven natural wonders of the world, a trip to the Grand Canyon is sure to be an iconic and unforgettable experience.

If you’re traveling solo or with young children, the South Rim and Grand Canyon Skywalk are the most popular and a great way to see the Grand Canyon from Vegas. For hikers and those seeking a more intimate experience with the canyon, the North Rim is much less crowded.

The rim trails are a great place to start if you’re looking to explore the park on foot. The North Rim has a shuttle bus service that runs regularly so it’s a great option for an easy hike. You can walk in comfort, knowing that if you become tired, you can hop aboard the shuttle bus and head back at the next stop. Another popular hiking trail on the North Rim is Bright Angel Point and offers some of the most spectacular views of the Grand Canyon.

If you have a healthier budget and want to try something new, you may think about booking a helicopter tour to see the breath-taking expanse of the Grand Canyon from the air. If you don’t fancy walking, but don’t have the budget for a helicopter flight, there are also jeep tours and bike rentals available.

Most people explore the Grand Canyon for only a few hours, but a two-night stay would allow you to explore the beauty of the Grand Canyon sufficiently.

When To Visit: The best time to visit is March through May and September through November when temperatures are cooler, prices are lower, and the throngs of tourists have subsided. Where To Stay: Under Canvas Grand Canyon

Rocky Mountain National Park

Snow capped mountains at Rocky Mountain National Park

Location: Colorado Interesting Fact: Bighorn sheep are the symbol of Rocky Mountain National Park. With 400 bighorn sheep living in the park, odds are good you’ll see one when you visit. Bighorn sheep are the largest wild sheep and can weigh up to 300 pounds.

Contributed by Brittany McNamara of B Out Exploring

With more than 265,000 acres of protected land and 350 miles of trails, Rocky Mountain National Park’s rugged peaks, picturesque valleys, and abundant wildlife make it a quintessential gem of the National Park System. Located in  Colorado  just under two hours from Denver International Airport, Rocky Mountain National Park is a worthwhile year-round destination for families and adventurers alike.

Every first-time visitor to Rocky Mountain National Park needs to drive Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved highway in the U.S. This 48-mile route that connects the town of Grand Lake to Estes Park reaches a height of 12,183 feet. Along the way, take in the vistas and watch for wildlife such as bighorn sheep, elk, and marmot. When planning your trip, keep in mind that Trail Ridge Road closes annually from mid-October to mid-May.

Families and day hikers should visit the popular Bear Lake trailhead. Make sure to arrive early, as the parking lot fills up fast, or plan on taking a shuttle bus. From here you can walk the quick and easy loop around Bear Lake, or visit Alberta Falls, a 30-foot waterfall within a mile of the trailhead. Those interested in something a little more challenging should hike to Emerald Lake, a 10,110-foot-high alpine lake, which can be reached by a moderate, 3.5-mile round trip hike.

There’s plenty to challenge hardcore hikers, too, since the park has more than 60 mountains with peaks over 12,000 feet. The most iconic is Longs Peak at 14,259-feet. This 16-mile hike to the top is only for advanced and experienced hikers with technical skills.

Three or four-days should give you enough time to experience the park. Most visitors choose to stay in Estes Park, where there are several restaurants, shops, and accommodations to suit everyone’s needs.

When To Visit: The park is most accessible from June to September when daily temperatures average 70 degrees. Visiting in the winter months will mean fewer crowds, but you will be contending with snowy conditions and closed roads and trails. Where To Stay: The Stanley Hotel

Mesa Verde National Park

ancient adobe buildings at mesa verde national park

Location: Colorado Interesting Fact: It is believed that the last inhabitants of Mesa Verde left around 1300. It’s unknown as to why they left, but one theory is crop failures forced them to leave.

Contributed by Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel

There are few national parks in the United States as unique as Mesa Verde National Park. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site with plenty of hiking trails to explore and activities to participate in, you’ll find a lifetime of things to do in Mesa Verde National Park. We discovered it on our  United States road trip  and can confidently say it was one of the highlights of our trip.

There are over 5000 archaeological sites within the park. Before exploring them on foot, make sure to stop at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center to get a map of the park and then stop by the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Through interactive exhibits and the 25-minute introductory film, you’ll gain powerful insight into the lives of the Pueblo people who inhabited the area and created the ancient dwellings you’ll see within the park.

Mesa Verde National Park offers ranger talks and other activities throughout the year. Don’t miss taking the guided tour to the Long House. You’ll be accompanied by a ranger who will further explain the history of the park and this particular structure. It is one of the few dwellings that you can enter. 

For a bird’s eye view of the ancient ruins, the 6-Mile Mesa Verde is a scenic drive that will not disappoint. There are various lookout points which offer excellent views of the ancient dwellings and the incredible scenery which occupies the park. 

This park is suited to everyone from families, friends, couples, and solo adventurers. Whether you are more interested in hiking or history, you’ll be pleased with this park. Plus, for anyone with limited mobility, the lookout points offer an excellent way to see the park’s main attraction without a rigorous workout.

When To Visit: To avoid crowds, the best time to visit is September when tours are still being offered and the weather is still pleasant. The high season for the park is in the summer months when school is out and the weather is nice. Where To Stay: Airbnb Canyon Hideout Cabin

West Coast National Park Road Trip

If you’re trying to plan your own west coast national park tour here are a few options to consider. The amount of time it will take will be dependent on your travel style and how much time you want in each park. The following options are for a moderate to slow pace. They can all be done quicker for those that prefer quicker trips.

  • Crater Lake NP > Olympic NP > Mount Rainier NP (10 Days)
  • Joshua Tree NP > Death Valley NP > Sequoia NP > Yosemite NP (12-14 days)
  • Grand Canyon NP > Zion NP > Bryce Canyon NP > Capitol Reef NP > Arches NP > Grand Mesa NP (2 to 3 weeks)
  • Glacier NP > Yellowstone NP > Grand Teton NP ( 7 -10 Days)

Happy travels on your quest to visit the best of the best west coast national parks! We’ll see you on the mountain.

If you liked this post, you can check out our sister post about 11 Must-See East Coast National Parks.

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Hi, we’re Christina and Brad, Idaho based writers and photographers who live to explore. We did a short stint of traveling full time with our two year old and discovered we're much happier as part time nomads. What does that mean? We travel a lot! And then we go home. We love helping fellow parents and everyday adventurers discover new places and experiences.

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18 National Parks to Visit on a Cross-Country Road Trip

Josh Laskin

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here .

A few summers ago, I was lucky enough to embark on a three-month-long, 13,000-mile cross-country drive on my motorcycle. After using a few bungees to strap a fly rod, camping gear and a bag full of clothes and tools to the back of the bike, I set off to explore the nation's backroads and stunning parks.

Fortunately, you don't have to own a motorcycle to complete a similar journey. With just a few weeks of vacation time and careful planning, anyone can tackle a road trip to explore the vast network of US national and state parks and forests.

Planning your national park road trip

Before you leave, consider whether or not you want to make this a round-trip drive, or if you'd prefer to fly back. If you opt for the latter, consider a repositioning rental and make sure to rent your vehicle with a credit card that offers primary car rental insurance (such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and United Explorer Card).

Drivers making a one-way trip will need to book a return flight home. Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), located just a few minutes from the Grand Teton National Park, is serviced by United, Delta, American and Frontier. If you end the trip at North Cascades National Park, however, you'll be just 120 miles from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

When you're driving up to 13 hours a day, it's smart to bring along a good credit card for earning points on gas purchases . With the Citi Premier® Card, for example, you'll earn 3x points when you fill up, along with 3x points on many travel purchases, 2x points on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Another tip? Make sure to buy a national park pass to save money on entrance fees. An annual pass can be purchased from the National Park Service for just $80, and is valid at any National Park for 12 months. Current US military members are eligible for a free annual pass, while seniors ages 62 or older can opt for the $20 annual or $80 lifetime pass.

national park road trip west

Acadia National Park, Maine

Located on the coast of Maine, Acadia is the Northeast's only national park. Here, a mountainous landscape converges with the Atlantic Ocean, creating a rugged and rocky shoreline, reminiscent of what you might find out west. Spend a night or two in Bar Harbor's newest property, the Inn on Mount Desert . And while you're in the area, be sure to drive the loop road around the park, stopping at classic destinations such as Otter Cliffs and Jordan Pond. Head to the Schoodic Peninsula during busier times if you need a break from lingering summer crowds. During fall, the summer tourists retreat, and the foliage serves as the perfect backdrop to the rocky cliffs and coastline.

When you're ready to officially embark on your national park road trip, head south for about 13 hours until reaching Shenandoah National Park. Break up the drive with a stop in either Boston or New York City. Distance : 780 miles.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah extends along the ridge of Virginia's section of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and offers 200,000 acres of protected lands and over 500 miles of hiking trails. Rolling hills reach down into green valleys and farmland, offering views that are easily accessible from points along Skyline Drive, the main road that cuts through the center of the park. Stay at the Residence Inn or Fairfield Inn & Suites , in the city of Harrisonburg, for 17,500 Marriott points per night. If you are up for a strenuous and technical hike, don't miss Old Rag — but be sure to reach the trailhead early to avoid crowds.

Then, drive south for about five and a half hours to the Pisgah National Forest. Distance : 330 miles.

national park road trip west

Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Home to some of the tallest mountains on the East Coast, North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest is filled with grassy balds (treeless summits covered only by native grasses and shrubs) affording hikers uninterrupted views and an "alpine" feel that is rare in climates such as this. The nearby mountain town of Asheville has a number of accommodation options, ranging from a Hyatt Place Asheville Downtown ($198 or 12,00 World of Hyatt points per night) to The Omni Grove Park Inn (from $239). Head into town to sample classic North Carolina barbecue at the 12 Bones Smokehouse.

The drive to the next destination, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, is just over two hours away, which leaves plenty of time to explore both areas. Distance : 100 miles .

Smoky Mountains National Park. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

In 2017, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the most visited in the country — and for good reason. With more than 800 miles of hiking trails meandering around some of the oldest mountains on Earth, coupled with the area's distinct southern hospitality, the Smokies are a highlight any time of year. But the mountainscape is especially lovely in autumn, when the fall foliage transforms the park. Spend the night at the The Park Vista, a DoubleTree by Hilton in nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee for $104 or 31,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Travelers can also retire to a rustic lodge or cabin rental in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Be sure to hike or drive to the top of Clingman's Dome — the highest peak in Tennessee — for 360-degree views of the iconic mist-covered mountains.

The drive to the next destination, the Ozarks National Forest, will take approximately 11 hours. Luckily, the most direct route will bring you through Nashville and Memphis, both of which are great options for splitting up the drive. Distance : 750 miles.

Ozarks National Forest, Arkansas

Arkansas is home to deep valleys and rolling mountaintops blanketed in the wild Ozarks National Forest. Hike to the 209-foot Hemmed-in-Hollow Falls, which is the tallest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rockies; explore the nearby town of Fayetteville, Arkansas; and spend the night at The Chancellor Hotel . If you want to do some leaf-peeping this autumn, venture over to the Sylamore District of the Ozarks. The nearby Mountain View area hosts a handful of fall festivals and bluegrass concerts.

The next drive to the Great Sand Dunes National Park will be another long one: just over 12 hours. Get it all out of the way in one shot, or spend a night in Oklahoma City. Distance : 760 miles.

national park road trip west

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Discover towering sand dunes, similar to what you might expect to find in the Sahara Desert, in the middle of Colorado — along with snow-covered mountains and prairie-like grasslands. These are just a few of the diverse ecosystems you'll find in Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park. Although there are no towns immediately near the park, Zapata Ranch offers overnight lodging and vacation packages for road trippers who'd prefer not to camp. Don't forget to try your hand at sand boarding or sand sledding before heading to the next destination.

After the last long stretch, you'll be delighted to find that the drive to Rocky Mountain National Park is only five hours north of the Dunes. Distance : 300 miles.

Rocky Mountains National Park in Colorado - Courtesy of Shutterstock

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Glacial basins, towering ridges and alpine terrain, accessible by more than 300 miles of hiking trails and two scenic roads (one of which is the highest paved road in the US), make Rocky Mountain National Park one of the most beautiful places in the country. Enjoy the diverse wildlife and hikes suitable for all experience levels before bedding down at The Ridgeline Hotel , located in Estes Park. The property boasts modern amenities in a casual mountain-inspired space (expect lots of blonde wood and ensuite fireplaces). When you're finished in the park, head over to Elkins Distilling Company, one of only a handful of high-altitude distilleries in the nation.

The next destination — Utah's Arches and Canyonlands National Parks — are five and a half hours southwest. During the drive, you will see the landscape morph from snow-capped peaks to red sandstone cliffs. Distance : 400 miles.

national park road trip west

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Utah

Located just outside of Moab the Arches and Canyonlands parks offer an impressive introduction to the vast and dramatic desert landscape that makes up much of Utah. Arches National Park is filled with spectacular, natural sandstone (you guessed it) arches, formed by erosion. Many of these arches are easily reached from the road or with short walks, and because Arches is the more accessible of the two parks, it is often the most crowded. Canyonlands is the less-popular neighbor. Though the landscape is similar, it's a much larger park — and somewhat more stark and wild. The town of Moab offers a handful of lodging options and restaurants, including a Holiday Inn Express & Suites ($180 or 40,000 IHG points).

After a restful night in Moab, begin the drive to the Grand Canyon. This will take between five to seven hours, depending on which part of the park you decide to visit first. Distance : 300 miles.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

This bucket-list destination is home to the deepest and most spectacular canyon in the country, and cracks open millions of years of geologic history. While many choose to view the canyon from the park's numerous pull-outs and viewpoints, one of the best ways to get a sense of perspective is by embarking on one of the many hiking trails that trace the canyon's rim and even descend into its depths. The Grand Hotel at Grand Canyon , located just one mile from the entrance to the South Rim, is the only three-diamond hotel in the region. If you are looking for a more extreme and off-the-beaten-path adventure, try the 3,200-foot-long zip line at Grand Canyon West; or take the 20-mile round trip hike to the emerald-blue waters of Havasupai Falls. Camping permits for Havasupai must be acquired in advance, and can be difficult to claim.

Once you're ready to move on, head north back over the Utah border — a drive that can take between two and four hours — to Zion National Park. Distance : 100 miles.

national park road trip west

Zion National Park, Utah

Located in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park encompasses nearly 230-square-miles of red and pink sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons and the prominent Zion Canyon, which spans more than 15 miles and cuts up to a half-mile deep. Spend the night at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Springdale ($175 or 39,000 Hilton Honors points per night) to take advantage of the free breakfast, before starting one of the most popular hikes in the park, called The Narrows. Hikers will move through the most tapered section of Zion Canyon, and the trail requires wading in the Virgin River. Depending on the route you choose, a permit may be required to complete this hike.

After Zion, head west for about eight hours until reaching Yosemite National Park. Enter from the east side of the park, from the town of Lee Vining, California. Distance: 47 0 miles.

national park road trip west

Yosemite National Park, California

Famous for its sheer granite cliff faces, spectacular waterfalls and glacier-carved valleys, Yosemite has been a mecca for rock climbers and mountaineers for nearly two centuries. But that doesn't mean non-climbers will enjoy the park any less. Yosemite has a well-maintained network of auto roads and 750 miles of trails. Located in June Lake, the Double Eagle Resort and Spa is a four-season resort perfect for travelers who want a relaxing place to unwind after a long day driving. And the resort is just 12 miles from the park entrance. One of the best ways to experience Yosemite is by hiking and backpacking. For road-trippers who'd rather not venture into the backcountry without a guide, REI Adventures offers a variety of trips that cater to hikers of all experience levels, ranging from four to seven-day outings, depending on your schedule. After Labor Day, the crowds thin significantly, and the foliage on the oaks, maples and dogwoods begins to transform into a riot of hues.

After spending time in Yosemite, the route shifts north, with an eight-hour drive to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Distance: 450 miles.

national park road trip west

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Formed by a violent volcanic eruption some 7,700 years ago, Crater Lake is the deepest in the United States and arguably the most pristine in the world, making it worthy of the creation of Oregon's singular national park. From the loop road, visitors can admire the deep sapphire blue waters and imposing silhouette of the Cascade Mountains. There are also excellent hiking trails that lead to the multiple summits framing the lake. Garfield Peak, for example, is accessible via a 3.4-mile out and back trail. The hike can get very crowded, however, and is strenuous at times. Built in 1915, Crater Lake Lodge , which has a rustic northwest vibe, is the perfect place to rest a road (and trail) weary head.

Next, continue north for about seven hours to Olympic National Park. The cities of Portland and Seattle are great destinations to visit if you are looking for a break from nature (read: better food and coffee). Distance : 400 miles.

national park road trip west

Olympic National Park, Washington

One of the most unique national parks in the country, Olympic is home to several different ecosystems scattered across its almost one million acres. Visitors will find glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rainforests and ragged coastline. Due to its vastness, the best way to explore this park is to leave the car behind and head out on foot. Hurricane Ridge is a great year-round attraction, offering hikes in the summer and lift-access skiing and snowboarding during the winter. The Lake Crescent Lodge is located within park boundaries, and it's a tranquil retreat with a mix of rooms and cabins. If you decide instead to stay in Seattle, book a room at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel with The Platinum Card® from American Express. As it's a member of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, you'll get an upgrade upon arrival (depending on availability), a $100 food and beverage credit and complimentary breakfast for two, along with other perks.

You can spend a long time in Olympic National Park and its surrounding cities. But when you're ready to move on, head north again for about four hours to the North Cascades National Park. The most direct route from the northern part of the park requires a ride on the Port Townsend-Coupeville Ferry. Distance : 170 miles.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

Located just a few hours from Seattle, the North Cascades National Park is a pristine alpine escape. There are two properties in the national park, including a lake resort and the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin. For something more casual, consider an Airbnb (and put it on your Chase Sapphire Reserve for 3x points). Anglers will be happy to know that the park is home to a variety of salmon and steelhead trout and other species. Try your luck in the Skagit River, one of Washington's major watersheds. Grab a drink (after you're done driving for the day, of course) in the town of Bellingham at the new Twin Sisters Brewing Company.

At this point in the trip, you can make the decision to fly back east, or head eastbound by road, stopping at a few more major national parks. Distance : 500 miles.

national park road trip west

Glacier National Park, Montana

Straddling the continental divide, Glacier National Park is home to headwaters that feed the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay. Over a thousand different plant species, along with hundreds of animal species, can be found in the park's mountainous alpine terrain, making it a great place to search for wildlife. While in the park, be sure to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, enjoying its many viewpoints along the way. Whitefish is a fun town to check out, and it's filled with plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants. Book a room at a historic lodge or inn, such as the Lodge at Whitefish Lake or the upscale Grouse Mountain Lodge .

Fill up your vehicle in town, and press on about six more hours to see Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Distance : 400 miles.

http://www.gettyimages.com/license/541164181

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park is a geologically unique landscape: of mountains, bubbling geysers and steaming hot springs. The adjacent Grand Teton National Park, on the other hand, offers some of the most rugged and rocky mountains in the country — with a fraction of the crowds. Spend a night at the 385-room Jackson Lake Lodge (a mix of suites, cottages and rooms), located in the Tetons, where guests can admire the view from 60-foot floor-to-ceiling windows. While in the area, be sure to visit the iconic Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone, easily accessible via a paved walkway. Once you make your way south toward the Tetons, spend an evening wandering around the western mountain town of Jackson, and grab a meal at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse.

national park road trip west

Alternate routes

If you decide to drive back instead of catching a flight, spend the next two or three days pressing eastward, stopping to visit a few more nation parks and forests. The George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in West Virginia, and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border, for example, are great options.

And while the suggested route starts in the Northeast, there are endless variations of this trip, depending on where you live. For travelers based on the West Coast, consider beginning at Olympic National Park and working your way to Glacier, Yellowstone and the Tetons before heading east.

national park road trip west

Discover 6 Of West Virginia’s Most Iconic Views On This Epic 4-Hour Road Trip

W ho’s up for a road trip? I am, especially if said road trip hits up some of the most iconic views in one of my favorite states: Wild, Wonderful, Almost Heaven West Virginia. Grab a map ( this one’s my favorite and has stood me in good stead whenever my cell service gets spotty) and let’s go!

1. Grandview National Park

2. sandstone falls, 3. glade creek gristmill, 4. new river gorge bridge, 5. summersville lake, 6. the greenbrier, have you seen all of these iconic west virginia views which one is your favorite.

West Virginia is SUCH a beautiful state, with so many iconic views. If these famous scenes have you feeling all the feels for this wild, wonderful Mountain State, consider proudly wearing your roots with a West Virginia themed t-shirt!

The post Discover 6 Of West Virginia’s Most Iconic Views On This Epic 4-Hour Road Trip appeared first on Only In Your State ® .

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  1. 6 Epic National Park Road Trip Ideas [Maps Included]

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  2. Le road-trip optimal : 2 mois pour visiter 47 parcs nationaux américains

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  3. The Optimal Route for Visiting Every U.S. National Park / Boing Boing

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  4. Road Trip Itinerary: The West Coast National Parks

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  5. √ Map Of Western United States National Parks

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  6. The Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

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  2. Observation Point, Zion National Park

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  5. Southwest National Parks Road Trip Itinerary! #shorts #vanlife #roadtrip #usa #travellersautobarn

  6. Calgary to Jasper National Park road trip via Banff| Canada Road Trip |Must see in Jasper

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  2. The Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

    Well, here it is. At Outdoor Project, we've put together the Ultimate National Parks Road Trip, combining the "best of the West" national parks in a manageable loop that can be completed during one vacation. The planning for such a journey is a daunting task all on its own, but our detailed guides are here to help.

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    The two best areas to explore on a stop here are Sulphur Works and Bumpass Hell Hydrothermal Area. 6. Yosemite National Park. Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel of California's nine National Parks, and is many people's favorite park in the whole country.

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    3 h. 145 mi. Joshua Tree National Park. Route: Follow I-10 west to exit 117, and continue north on Hwy. 62, which leads to the park's West Entrance, off Park Boulevard in the small town of Joshua ...

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    To continue your national park road trip from Death Valley, get on the U.S. Route 395 north, aka Eastern Sierra Highway that will bring you all the way to the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park. To crash for the night, stop at Lone Pine, a cute mountain town that looks like a set of a Western movie.

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    There is basically one main road to follow through Arches National Park, with multiple off-shoots to different attractions. The main scenic road is about 30 miles long and is where you will start once you enter the gates to the park. Just driving along this road is beautiful enough, but if you get out and hike at some of the stops, you will REALLY understand the magnitude of these formations.

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    Here is a 2 Week National Park Roadtrip itinerary covering the main attractions of the West Coast. By following this itinerary, you can visit the most fascinating national parks (for example, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Park), iconic cities in California like Los Angeles and San Diego, beautiful places and things to do ...

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    West Coast National Parks Road Trip Itinerary. Planning a West Coast National Park road trip can be overwhelming with so many incredible parks to choose from. Here's a sample itinerary that hits some of the most iconic destinations: Day 1-3. Start your journey in Los Angeles and head east to Joshua Tree National Park, a land of

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    Do the west coast National Park road trip a little later in the year and the roads to the most remote reaches of the park will be open and the weather is (usually) awesome. We loved exploring the Grant Grove and getting really up close and personal with the giant sequoias, including walking through hollowed out fallen logs. Picnics out in the ...

  17. West Coast National Park Road Trip • Nomads With A Purpose

    Our West Coast National Park 4-week Itinerary. In the summer of 2017, we set off on a 5,000-mile, summer-long adventure road trip through the Western U.S. and Canada. Our goal was to lose ourselves in the mountains, connect as a family, and find incredible hikes and rock climbing destinations along the way.

  18. West Coast National Parks Road Trip Planner

    Check for road closures due to maintenance and washouts before you set off. Although you can tackle some sections of Olympic National Park as a day trip from Seattle, you'll want to dig deeper into this west coast gem with our 5-day Olympic National Park Road Trip Itinerary. 2. Mount Rainier National Park.

  19. The National Park Highway, or Route 89, is America's most scenic road trip

    There are two amazing national parks to explore during the Utah portion of the road trip, including Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. Route 89 passes right through both. Zion is famous for its massive red sandstone cliffs and bucket-list hikes like Angels Landing and The Narrows.

  20. 16 Beautiful West Coast National Park Road Trip Stops

    One of the most popular parks on this west coast national park road trip is Yosemite National Park. The majestic scenery here cannot be missed. This is one park I recommend spending at least 4-5 days in if possible. Massive cliffs like Half Dome and El Capitan are some of the most recognizable formations in the world and are worth their notoriety.

  21. This National Park Road Trip Covers 12 of America's Best Parks

    The 5,600-mile national park road trip route is arguably the best way to see several parks in the U.S., including Yellowstone and Grand Canyon national parks.

  22. Map Shows the Ultimate U.S. National Park Road Trip

    The U.S. National Park System technically consists of 59 parks, but 12 of them are in Alaska, Hawaii and other U.S. territories. This road trip is focused solely on those you can reach by car in ...

  23. How to visit all of California's national parks in one epic road trip

    The road between Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park can close during the winter due to snow. If you plan to visit during the winter months, check for road closures and adjust your route as needed. ... if you plan to enter on the west side. Need-to-know. On this trip, you only have time to enjoy one side of the park. Plan ...

  24. Uncovering The 17 Most Spectacular National Parks In The West

    Olympic National Park is a must-see when planning a west coast national park trip. Covering over a million acres, the sprawling park covers such diverse terrains as driftwood beaches, old-growth forests, 3000 miles of rivers, and snow-capped mountains. ... West Coast National Park Road Trip.

  25. 18 National Parks to Visit on a Cross-Country Road Trip

    When you're ready to officially embark on your national park road trip, head south for about 13 hours until reaching Shenandoah National Park. Break up the drive with a stop in either Boston or New York City. ... try the 3,200-foot-long zip line at Grand Canyon West; or take the 20-mile round trip hike to the emerald-blue waters of Havasupai ...

  26. Discover 6 Of West Virginia's Most Iconic Views On This Epic 4 ...

    It's also the home of West Virginia's newest state park, and it's filled with opportunities for boating, rock climbing, beach sitting, hiking, and more. 6. The Greenbrier

  27. 4 days road trip to GNP this weekend

    ONE WAY Mileage/Drive Times between POPULAR AIRPORTS & GLACIER National Park. ONE WAY Mileage/Drive Times for INSIDE & NEAR Glacier Park. Updated 3/6/23; SUN ROAD Mile By Mile attractions: W Glacier > Apgar > entire Sun Rd > St Mary exit; Grizzlies & Black Bears! Oh My! How Remain Safe & Still enjoy Seeing Them.