The national parks road trip is a bucket list item for any American, and offers the opportunity to explore all of the country’s most beautiful natural wonders. Whether you’re interested in visiting Yellowstone National Park or one of the lesser-known national parks, this road trip will show you America’s top 10 must-see spots!
This national parks road trip covers some of the USA’s most remarkable sights, so keep reading to find out the unmissable stops on your journey.
The Grand Canyon
It may seem a bit cliche to list the Grand Canyon as the first must-see spot, but it truly is quintessential to the American experience and should be built into any national parks road trip itinerary.
From walking the Rim Trail to looking out over Mather Point, there’s no shortage of natural wonders in this incredible park.
Other noteworthy spots to visit in the Grand Canyon include:
- The Geological Museum
- Bright Angel Hiking Trail
- Hermit Road Drive
- Desert View Watchtower
- Skywalk & Eagle Point
Read More: 15 Airbnbs Near the Grand Canyon
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Redwood National Park
Located in the state of California, this national park has some incredible ancient redwoods that are hundreds of years old and span well over 250 feet tall.
Visitors can enjoy a short walk through Tall Trees Grove, hit the James Irvine Trail for a nice long hike, or take one of the many scenic drives that weave in and out of the massive trunks.
Some more interesting spots to check out here include:
- Stout Memorial Grove Trail
- Cheatham Grove Hike
- Howland Hill Road Drive
- Simpson-Reed Trail
- Fern Canyon Loop Trail
- Trillium Falls
Read More: 15 Breathtaking Airbnbs in Santa Cruz
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite has some incredible sights to offer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Hikers can enjoy the more than 120 miles of trails, waterfalls and scenic drives in the park as well as breathtaking spots overlooking the sights.
Yosemite draws in thousands of tourists every year and for good reason! This is a top stop on most people’s national park road trip as there’s just so much to enjoy.
While in Yosemite, don’t miss out on:
- Nevada Falls
- Bridalviel Fall Trail
- Taft Point
- El Capitan
- Half Dome Cable Route (not for the faint hearted!)
Mount Rainier National Park
Located in Washington State, this national park is known for its breathtaking mountain views with beautiful snow-capped peaks. The summit of Mount Rainier (an active volcano) is a whopping 14,410 feet, making it an attractive option for adventurous travelers on their national park road trip.
Even if you don’t feel like trekking up to the peak, there’s plenty to do in the park that allows you to soak in sweeping views and magical vistas with the mammoth mountain in the backdrop.
Check out these stunning places to add to your list:
- Silver Falls Track
- Grove of the Patriarchs Trail
- Skyline Trail
Acadia National Park
If you’re hoping to have a national park road trip on the East Coast, Acadia National Park should be at the top of your list.
Nestled in the Maine wilderness, Acadia is full of rocky peaks and long stretches of beach on the Atlantic coastline.
Acadia is the perfect escape for busy bees living in the nearby cities of Boston or New York as this haven offers peaceful respite from the bustling outside world.
While in Acadia be sure to check out:
- Cadillac Mountain
- Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse at Sunrise
- Carriage Roads
- Precipice Trail
- Park Loop Road
Editor’s Note: Having a car is pretty essential for a national parks road trip. But if you don’t own your own, no stress! There are plenty of rental car options throughout the USA that will allow you to have the trip of your dreams. Click Here to check out rental car prices… you’ll be surprised by how affordable it is!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Another show stopping national park to add to your road trip itinerary is Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. With vast amounts of undisturbed wilderness, this slice of heaven is as serene as serene gets.
With beautiful views from every angle, there’s no wonder this is one of the most visited parks in the country. It’s also conveniently located near Knoxville and Nashville, allowing you to make the most of city life and the great outdoors.
For the full experience, you may want to spend three or four days exploring the park. But if you’re just looking for the highlights, these are the places you absolutely must check out:
- Clingmans Dome for Sunset
- Cades Cove & Cataloochee Historic Villages
- Newfound Gap
- Abrams Falls Track
- Chimney Tops
Read More: Best Airbnbs in Knoxville, Tennessee
Yellowstone National Park
It’s not a national parks road trip without a stop at Yellowstone National Park. One of the most famous parks in all of the US (and possibly the world), there’s no shortage of things to do while visiting this natural wonder.
If you’re looking for an epic wildlife experience without ever leaving your car, you’ll be able to see bison grazing peacefully in the natural landscape as well as the occasional moose, elk and wolf wandering around Yellowstone.
There’s also plenty of hiking if you feel like stretching your legs.
During your visit, you can’t miss out on the Old Faithful geyser and iconic Grand Prismatic Spring, but you truly can’t go wrong with any of the park’s attractions.
Here are some other spots to check out on your trip to Yellowstone:
- Yellowstone Lake
- Mammoth Hot Springs & Minerva Terrace
- Upper Geyser Basin
- Mount Washburn
- Upper & Lower Falls of Yellowstone River
- Hayden Valley
Read More: Amazing Airbnbs Near Yellowstone
Zion National Park
Utah is home to some of the world’s most captivating national parks and has so much to explore that you could spend months in the area!
Located just outside of St George, Utah, Zion National Park is a top choice for travelers as it encapsulates the best of Southern Utah’s scenery.
The park is full of treasures like Navajo Falls, Kayenta Canyon and majestic red rock formations everywhere you turn. Pack your hiking boots for this park, there’s a lot to discover.
While passing through Zion, be sure to enjoy:
- Angels Landing
- The Narrows
- Emerald Pools Trail
- Kolob Canyons
- Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
- Riverside Walk
Click here to check out our full rundown of the best hikes in Zion so you don’t miss anything!
Read More: Incredible Airbnbs in St. George, Utah
Glacier National Park
Located in Montana and spanning two mountain ranges, Glacier National Park is a stunning sight to behold.
To really take in the park’s natural beauty and relax a bit on your national park road trip, consider renting a cabin from the Glacier National Park Lodge and exploring for a week or more.
This world-class hotel has incredible food, friendly staff and the most breathtaking views of one of America’s greatest national parks!
Aside from this memorable stay, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in Glacier National Park like:
- Avalanche Lake
- Going-To-The-Sun Road & Logan Pass
- Hidden Lake Overlook
- Grinnell Glacier
- Lake McDonald Valley
Rocky Mountains National Park
A quick drive from Denver, Rocky Mountains is a great add on to any national parks road trip thanks to its convenience and stellar sights. This national park offers plenty of hiking trails, natural beauty and tons of photo opportunities.
On a visit to Rocky Mountains National Park, you’ll be blown away by the awe-inspiring, snow capped peaks and scenic drives that twist through the landscape, like the ever famous Trail Ridge Road (which is closed in the winter).
While touring this raw landscape, be sure to stop at:
- Bear Lake
- Alberta Falls
- Emerald Lake Trail
- Forest Canyon Overlook
- Holzwarth Historic Site
- Alpine Visitor Center
Read More: Airbnbs in Fort Collins, Colorado
Planning Your National Parks Road Trip
When it comes to planning your national parks road trip, there are a few key things to keep in mind.
Choose Your Parks
The first step to planning your national parks road trip is to actually decide where you want to visit! If you have a week or less, you may want to focus on one or two parks. Traveling for a little bit longer? Tack on an extra three or four to really make the most of your trip.
However, there may be some parks that are worth spending a few days exploring, so be sure to take this into account when deciding where you want to go and how to spend your time.
Double Check the Weather / Conditions
Some parks are incredible year round, while others are best visited during specific seasons.
Make sure to check each park and specific hikes you may want to do, to ensure that they’re open and safe.
For the most up-to-date information, check out the National Parks Service website.
Create an Itinerary
Once you’ve decided where you want to go on your national park road trip, it’s time to make an itinerary!
Lay out all the specific spots you want to visit and create a solid plan for when you’ll stop at each place. This will save you so much time on the road so you can spend more time exploring and less time trying to decide between the endless attractions.
Insider Tip: It’s helpful to leave a little wiggle room in your itinerary because things may not always go according to plan.
Find Places to Stay
Now that you know where and when you’ll be visiting each park, you should find places to stay. Since US national parks draw in massive crowds, it’s best to book in advance to ensure you’ll have a place to rest your head.
There are heaps of places to stay in and around national parks, from campsites to luxury accommodation.
Our personal choice is Airbnb because it gives you all the conveniences of being home, even while on the road.
Use this map to explore Airbnb stays across the USA:
So what do you think? Are these wondrous places in the US worthy of a national parks road trip? We sure think so. The best part is you can piece a bunch together and have yourself an epic time driving around the country and stopping at different places.
From changing landscapes to some of the most truly magical spots in the United States, a national parks road trip should certainly be on any American’s bucket list. The country is overflowing with national parks and public lands, so if you’re itching to get out there, the US is an open oyster.
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