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!
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 National Parks to visit on a road trip 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
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!
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
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!
Check out our videos on our time here:
Where To Stay
Hoh Rainforest: Hoh Rain & Cafe RV Park
Coast: Kalaloch Campground
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.
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!
Where To Stay
- Newhalem Campground – which is in the National Park – with no hookups
- Alpine RV Park – for full hookups
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 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
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. Below are different options from RV parks to hotels and VRBOs.
Feeling adventurous?! Moab has some great BLM land where you can stay for free! But there are no hookups so you need to be prepared with solar (or maybe a generator – note these can be loud and annoying to the other campers staying that have solar), water, and be able to not dump your tanks for a few days at least.
There are lots of cool VRBO options around Moab too! Check them out here: Moab VRBO
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
Where To Stay
Check out these great glamping options near the National Parks!
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!
Where To Stay
- Rubys Inn RV Park
- Bryce National Park Campgrounds
- 2 Story Home – that is 10 miles from the 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!
Where To Stay
Don’t have an RV you can rent one! Click here to Rent an RV by Zion for your Utah trip!
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.
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.
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
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
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:
Where To Stay
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.
#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.
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.
Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone
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!
Where To Stay
We always recommend staying in the National Park if you can! Learn more about that here: Yellowstone Camping: Your Complete Guide To A Perfect Spot
- West Yellowstone entrance: Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park, Valley View RV Park Campground
- North Entrance: Yellowstone RV Park, Yellowstone Hot Springs
- East Entrance: Yellowstone Valley Inn and RV Park, Historic Wapiti Lodge
- In the park: Lake Yellowstone Hotel
- West Yellowstone Entrance: Kelly Inn
- North Entrance: Wonderland Cafe and Lodge
- East Entrance: Bill Cody Ranch
There are a lot of great VRBO & AirBnB Yellowstone options.
- North Entrance: Creekside sauna and hot tub or Sunny Slope Lodge
- Northeast Entrance: Mountain luxury – hot tub!
- West Yellowstone Entrance: Remodeled log home
- East Entrance: Goff Creek cabin
My sister recently visited Yellowstone in Winter and said it was amazing too!
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!
Where To Stay
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!
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!
Where To Stay
Check out this great post on Joshua Tree Camping too!
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.
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
Usually overlooked due to its close proximity to Yosemite – Kings Canyon and Sequoia 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.
Video of our time in Sequoia:
Video of our time in Kings Canyon:
Where To Stay
You could stay at one of these to visit both National Parks. Be sure to check road closures to help determine where it makes sense for you to stay.
By the Kings Canyon Entrance:
By the Sequoia Entrance:
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.
Check out our Yosemite playlist for all the cool things to do in Yosemite:
Where To Stay
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:
Where To Stay
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
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
Where To Stay
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- McArthur-Burney Falls Campground – located about an hour from the National Park in Burney
There aren’t many options in the area but there are a few. Click here to see them.
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:
“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
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
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.
Where To Stay:
You can stay on Dry Tortugas, but it is dry camping and you have to bring everything in with you. You also have to put in a reservation ahead of time. This is on our list of things we want to do in the future! It would be so amazing to stay here overnight.
Or else you would just stay in Key West or somewhere else in the Keys and make the drive down to take the boat or seaplane out for the day.
- Boyds Campground – in Key West
- Sunshine Key – Further north in the Keys about a 45 – 60 minute drive to Key West
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
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
Where To Stay
- Twin Creek RV Resort – close to Gatlinburg and Smokey Mountain 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.
Where To Stay
We actually didn’t spend the night here, but instead just stopped on our drive through for the day. They had RV parking so we were able to park the rig – go out and explore and then get back in the rig and keep traveling.
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
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.
Where To Stay
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
Mount Rushmore and Badlands on a South Dakota Road Trip
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 National Parks. 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
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.
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