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11 Best National Parks Road Trips (Map+Planner)

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Are you planning a national parks trip and are searching for the best US National Park road trips? Congrats, you are about to embark on one of the best road trips of your lifetime! Check out my list of the 11 best national road trip routes and find your favorite national park road trip! Oh, I bet you will find two or three best national parks road trips!

best national parks road trips in the USA

Are you planning a national parks road trip and are searching for the best US National Park road trip ideas?

That’s awesome! One of the best ways to see the beauty within the United States is to take a road trip through US national parks.

From coastal regions with endless miles of beach to towering mountain roads that lead you past grazing wildlife, there are so many things to see.

With such a diverse landscape, you could visit every US national park and still be amazed at what you see at the next one!

In this post, I’ll share the best ways to take a road trip to different US National Parks, so you can experience these beautiful areas for yourself.

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Contents

Best National Parks Road Trips

Utah national parks road trip is among the best national parks road trips
Bryce Canyon NP

1. Upper Midwest National Parks road trip

Start: Badlands National Park – South Dakota
End: Isle Royale National Park – Michigan
Recommended Days: 7+
Parks Seen: Badlands, Wind Cave, Theodore Roosevelt, Voyageurs, Isle Royale

Starting in the Upper Midwest, head on over to Badlands National Park to start your travels.

This stunning park has vast landscapes of expansive rock formations that are known as ‘The Badlands.’ The deep canyons and rocks act as a surreal backdrop for the many hikes that wind through the land.

Similar to Badlands is Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which you’ll find almost straight north. Here you can watch as bison graze, prairie dogs chirp and the sun basks through the land.

Then head east to Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, where the landscape will change entirely. Here you’ll find a park that’s almost ⅓ water, where you explore on either foot or by boat. Some of the best things here are only accessible by watercraft!

If you have time, make the drive to Grand Portage and spend some time exploring the stunning North Shore

A few great stops include Lutsen at the Lutsen Mountains Resort or spending time in Grand Marais. There are many great restaurants here, hikes to waterfalls, a great Minnesota golf course, and many local shops.

Then embark on a ferry across Lake Superior to Isle Royale National Park, where you’ll find hundreds of moose wandering through the landscape.

Rapid City Airport (RAP) is the nearest airport to Badlands National Park. The park is only 68 mi away. Fly to Rapid City Regional Airport, rent a car at the airport, and embark on your Upper Midwest National Parks road trip! Finish your Upper Midwest National Parks road tip by leaving your car at Duluth International Airport and flying back home from there.

Upper Midwest National Parks road trip map

The Upper Midwest National Parks road trip planner

1. Find your flight to Rapid City Airport (RAP) and flight back home from Duluth International Airport
2. Rent a car at Rapid City Airport (RAP)

Find your stays along the Upper Midwest National Parks road trip route:
4. find your stay near Badlands National Park
5. find your stay near Theodore Roosevelt National Park
6. find your stay near Voyageurs National Park
7. find your stay in Grand Marais near Isle Royale National Park.

best national parks road trips
Theodore Roosevelt

2. Best Utah National Parks road trip

Start: Zion National Park – Utah
End: Canyonlands National Park – Utah
Recommended Days: 7+
Parks Seen: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands

As one of the most popular national park road trips, a drive through the Utah Mighty 5 is a must in your lifetime!

Utah national parks are among the best national parks in the western US. These stunning parks are filled with captivating red rocks and make it feel like you’re visiting another planet.

Starting over in Zion, embark on the thrilling hikes of Angels Landing and The Narrows, where you’ll find some of the most fascinating views.

Then make your way west to Bryce Canyon, where you’ll be met with views of bright orange and red rock formations known as hoodoos. Hike down into the canyon and enjoy looking up at these unique rocks.

Next on the drive is Capitol Reef National Park, which is known for being a hidden gem among Utah’s parks. Check out the many overlooks and grab a piece of pie at the Gifford Homestead.

Arches National Park is the next stop with hundreds of arch formations to wander around and under. The most popular is Delicate Arch.

Lastly, pay a visit to Canyonlands, which seems like a great mix of all of Utah’s Mighty 5 plus the Grand Canyon. A massive canyon, towering rocks, red hoodoos and more make up Canyonlands.

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is the nearest airport to Zion National Park. If you are searching for the best national parks road trip from Las Vegas, this trip is for you! Zion National Park is 170 mi from Las Vegas Airport. Find your flight and fly to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Rent a car at the airport and head to visit Utah national parks on a road trip. Leave your rental car at Canyonlands Regional Airport (CNY) and fly back home from there.

Utah National Parks road trip map

The Utah national parks road trip planner

1. find your flight to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and your flight back home from Canyonlands Regional Airport (CNY)
2. rent a car at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and drop it off at Canyonlands Regional Airport (CNY)

Find your stays along Utah national parks road trip:
3. find your stay in Zion National Park
4. find your stay near Bryce Canyon National Park
5. find your stay near Capitol Reef National Park
6. find your stay near Arches National Park

best national parks road trips
Arches NP

3. Best Grand Teton to Glacier National Park road trip

Start: Grand Teton National Park – Wyoming
End: Glacier National Park – Montana
Recommended Days: 8+
Parks Seen: Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier

This road trip will bring you through some of the most popular national parks in the entire country, starting in Grand Teton.

Grand Teton National Park is found in Northern Wyoming and features a jagged mountain range known as the Tetons. Here you’ll find beautiful alpine lakes, rugged peaks, and enough hikes to keep you busy for weeks.

After you’ve finished in the Tetons, head to Yellowstone and explore America’s first national park. Known for its huge population of wildlife, driving through Hayden and Lamar Valleys give you the best chance of spotting them. And be sure to visit the hot springs and geysers that concentrate the area.

Lastly, make the long drive up to Glacier National Park, otherwise known as the Crown of the Continent. This gorgeous park is known for its beautiful mountain views and the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Look for wildlife, embark on a hike, and enjoy the scenic views. My favorite hike here is to Grinnell Lake!

Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is the airport within the Grand Teton National Park that serves it. Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and take this amazing national parks road trip! Visit Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier national parks. Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) is the closest airport to Glacier National Park. Leave your rental car at the airport and fly back home from there.

Grand Teton to Glacier National Park road trip map

The Grand Teton to Glacier national parks road trip planner

1. find your flight to Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) and from Glacier Park International Airport (FCA
2. rent a car at Jackson Hole Airport (JAC)

3. Find your stay in or around Grand Teton National Park
4. Find your stay in or around Yellowstone National Park
5. Find your stay in or around Glacier National Park

Best national parks road trips
Glacier NP

4. Joshua Tree to Yosemite national parks road trip

Start: Joshua Tree National Park – California
End: Yosemite National Park – California
Recommended Days: 5+ 
Parks Seen: Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Yosemite

This unique road trip route takes you through just a few of California’s national parks, starting in Southern California at Joshua Tree.

The desert landscape of Joshua Tree draws people in from all over the world. The fascinating Joshua Trees that mark the land can only be found in this region of the world. Wander on the trails and see these rare trees!

Next, head over to Death Valley, which has been given its name because of its dry and barren landscape. Throughout the year, you’ll find scorching temperatures that can be near 100 degrees F all year round. The most popular place here is the Artists Palette, which showcases beautiful colors created by chemical oxidation.

Lastly, venture north to Yosemite, one of the most popular national parks in California. This park is home to towering rock formations like the famous Half Dome. These rocks are great for climbing, hiking through, and just admiring.

With this fabulous national parks road trip, you can see the vast difference between landscapes throughout California.

Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) is the closest airport to Joshua Tree National Park. Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and venture into this great US national parks road trip. Fresno Yosemite International Airport is the closest airport to Yosemite National Park. Leave your rental car at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and fly back home from there.

Joshua Tree to Yosemite national parks road trip map

The Joshua Tree to Yosemite national parks road trip planner

1. Find your flight to Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) and from Fresno Yosemite International Airport 
2. rent a car at Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)

3. find your stay in or around Joshua Tree NP
4. find your stay in Death Valley NP
5. find your stay in Yosemite NP

A Yoshua Tree to Yosemite is among the best national parks road trips
Yosemite NP

5. California Coastal Parks road trip

Start: Channel Islands National Park – California
End: Redwoods National and State Parks – California
Recommended Days: 5+ days
Parks Seen: Channel Islands, Redwoods

With there being nine different national parks in California, it can be hard to pair them all together for one big road trip, so I’ve split the best ones into two trips.

On this one, you’ll see the Channel Islands and Redwoods National Parks.

Starting at the Channel Islands, just outside of Los Angeles, you’ll get to explore a tropical paradise. Take a boat to the islands and enjoy the stunning scenery. Try out snorkeling or scuba diving, go for a surf, or just hike the trails on one of the five islands.

Next, take the drive north and stop in places like Big Sur, San Francisco, and Fort Bragg on the way.

You’ll eventually make it to Redwoods National Park, which lines the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Here you’ll find hundreds of towering redwood trees, many of which are up to 300 feet tall. The tallest tree in the world is here! If you are looking for the best 5-day national park road trip, consider taking this one!

Eureka-Arcata Airport is the closest airport to Redwoods National Park.
You can rent a car at Los Angeles airport and pick it up after your visit to the Channel Islands, and then from Los Angeles drive to Redwoods National Parks with stops in Big Sur, San Francisco, and Fort Bragg.

California coast parks road trip map

The California coast national parks road trip planner

1. Find your flight to Los Angeles International Airport and from Eureka-Arcata Airport
2. Rent a car at Los Angeles International Airport

3. Find your stay in and around the Channel Islands
4. Find your stay in Big Sur
5. Find your stay in San Francisco
6. Find your stay in Fort Bragg
7. Find your stay in Redwoods NP

Best national parks road trips
Redwoods NP

6. Pacific Northwest National Parks road trip

Start: Crater Lake National Park – Oregon
End: North Cascades National Park – Washington
Recommended Days: 10+
Parks Seen: Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, Olympic, North Cascades

A US national park road trip in the Pacific Northwest will allow you to see some of the most beautiful locations in the entire country.

Starting in Crater Lake in Southern Oregon, you’ll get to see the deepest lake in the country. Crater Lake is an intense blue color and honestly, it still blows me away how bright it is! If it’s summer, you can even take a dip in it, but it’s really cold.

Make your way north to Mount Rainier, which is Washington’s tallest mountain. This active volcano can be seen from Seattle and is a phenomenal park. Spend time exploring the trails in Paradise and Sunrise. My favorite hikes here are Naches Peak and Mount Fremont Lookout.

Then head towards Olympic National Park, which you could spend weeks in and still have more to cover. Start in the Hoh Rainforest and explore the unique landscape here. Then head out to the Pacific Coast and relax on Ruby and Rialto Beaches. Lastly, head up to Hurricane Hill in the Olympic Mountains for the most diverse part of your trip!

Your last stop is North Cascades National Park, which is a stunning area filled with jagged mountain peaks and great places to hike and backpack. Be sure to see Diablo Overlook and hike the Maple Pass Loop.

Rogue Valley-Medford Airport is the closest airport to Crater Lake National Park. The airport is only 75 mi from the park. Fly to the Rogue Valley-Medford Airport, rent a car at the airport, and enjoy your Pacific Northwest road trip. Let North Cascades be the last stop on your road trip.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) is the closest airport to North Cascades National Park. The airport is about 120 mi from the North Cascades Visitor Center. Drive from North Cascades National Park to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac), leave your car, and fly back home.

Pacific Northwest national parks road trip map

The Pacific Northwest national parks road trip planner

1. Find your flight to Rogue Valley-Medford Airport and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac)
2. Rent a car at Rogue Valley-Medford Airport

3. Find your stay in or around Crater Lake NP
4. Find your stay in or around Mount Rainer NP
5. Find your stay in or around Olympic National Park
6. Find your stay in or around North Cascades NP

best national parks road trips
Crater Lake NP

7. Southwest US National Parks Road Trip

Start: Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona
End: Big Bend National Park – Texas
Recommended Days: 12+
Parks Seen: Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Saguaro, White Sands, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Cavern, Big Bend

Another great option for a road trip will bring you through the diverse southwestern corner of the United States. On this route, you’ll pass through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Start in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and enjoy the views of one of the 7 Natural Wonders. Then begin to make your way east to see the rest of Arizona’s national parks, Petrified Forest and Saguaro.

Then you’ll start to creep into New Mexico and visit the underrated parks that call this state home. White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks feature unique sand dunes and caves to discover.

Lastly, hit Texas’ two national parks, Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend. These two parks are less visited than the others, so you’ll likely get the chance to escape some of the crowds. Nevertheless, they are beautiful and all have unique landscapes to see!
This US Southwest national parks road trip can be done in 12 days. But, please plan it as a 2-week national parks roadtrip to make it relaxed and at ease. Arizona national parks are among the best national parks to visit in March. Consider, spring for taking this road trip.

Flagstaff Airport is the closest airport to Grand Canyon National Park South Rim. The South Rim is only 90 min drive from the airport. Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to the South Rim. Enjoy your Southwest US national parks road trip! Finish it with a visit to Big Bend National Park. El Paso International is the closest major airport near Big Bend. Head to the airport to leave your car and fly back home.

US Southwest national parks road trip map

The US Southwest national parks road trip planner

1. Find your flight to Flagstaff Airport and from El Paso International Airport
2. Rent a car at Flagstaff Airport

3. Find your stay around the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
4. Find your stay near Petrified Forest NP
5. Find your sty around Saguaro NP
6. Find your stay near Carlsbad NP
7. Find your stay near Guadalupe Mountains NP
8. Find your stay around Big Bend NP

best national parks road trips
Grand Canyon NP

8. Colorado National Parks

Start: Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado
End: Mesa Verde National Park – Colorado
Recommended Days: 7+
Parks Seen: Rocky Mountains, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde

Another way to explore the beauty of the United States is to take a road trip through national parks in Colorado. There are four here, just waiting to be explored!

Start in the north at Rocky Mountains National Park, where you’ll get to wander through the impressive Rockies. Search for wildlife such as bighorn sheep and elk or hike to the shimmering alpine lakes.

Then snake across the state into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, where you’ll see a vast change in the landscape. Now you’re staring down into a massive canyon that resembles parts of the Grand Canyon. Rather than staring up at the rock formations, you’ll be looking down into them.

Then head over to Great Sand Dunes, where you can spend time sandboarding down the towering dunes that sit in front of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.

Lastly, embark on an adventure into Mesa Verde National Park. This unique park showcases buildings that the Pueblo people built into the cliffs of Mesa Verde. I recommend taking a cliff-dwelling tour so you can see these fascinating buildings up close!
If you are looking for a 1-week national park road trip, this trip might be for you!

Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (RMMA) serves the Rocky Mountain National Park area. Fly to teh airport, rent a car there, and start with your Colorado National Parks road trip. Visit Rocky Mountains NP, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Great Sand Dunes, and let Mesa Verde NP be your last stop. Cortez (CEZ) Airport is close to Mesa Verda NP. Drop off your rental car there and fly back home.

Colorado national parks road trip map

The Colorado national parks road trip planner

1. Fly to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (RMMA) and fly back home from Cortez (CEZ) Airport 
2. Rent a car at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (RMMA)

3. Find your stay near Rocky Mountains NP
4. Find your stay close to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
5. Find your stay around Great Sand Dunes NP
6. Find your stay in Mesa Verde NP

Best national parks road trips
Great Sand Dunes NP

9. Blue Ridge Parkway & Great Smokies national parks road trip

Start: Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Tennessee
End: Shenandoah National Park – Virginia
Recommended Days: 7+
Parks Seen: Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah

Over on the eastern half of the United States, you’ll find a few more national parks that are heavily visited by tourists and travelers.

Start this national park road trip in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to Shenandoah in Virginia.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the entire United States. That should tell you something about why you should visit!

Here you can enjoy views of the stunning Smoky Mountains as they roll through the southern states. The Appalachian Trail even winds through them. Plus, your chance of spotting a black bear is pretty high!

Next, follow the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway as it winds its way through the mountains right into Shenandoah National Park. In Shenandoah, you’ll find similar views with amazing fall colors during Autumn and bright sunsets throughout the year.

This national parks road trip is a popular one, and it’s recommended to take it during the fall!

McGee-Tyson Airport (TYS) is the closest airport to the Great Smoky Mountains. Fly to the airport, pick up a rental car, and visit the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Park on a road trip.
Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) is the closest airport to Shenandoah National Park. Close to it are Dulles International Airport (IAD), Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), and Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT).

Blue Ridge Parkway & Great Smokies national parks road trip map

The Great Smokies national park road trip planner

1. Find your flight to McGee-Tyson Airport (TYS) and from Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO)/Dulles International Airport (IAD)/Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), or Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
2. Rent a car at McGee-Tyson Airport (TYS)

3. Find your stay in Great Smoky Mountains NP
4. Find your stay in Shenandoah National Park

best national parks road trips
Smoky Mountains

10. Florida Keys Parks Trip

Start: Everglades National Park – Florida
End: Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida
Recommended Days: 5+
Parks Seen: Everglades, Biscayne, Dry Tortugas

If you’re ready for a beach vacation, rather than one spent in the mountains, then you’ll love spending time on a road trip to the Florida Keys.

This special part of Florida is one of the most popular, as it stretches from Miami down to Key West, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Start your trip with a visit to Everglades National Park, which is home to some incredible wildlife that can’t be seen elsewhere. Visiting Everglades NP is among the best things to do in southwest Florida. Crocodiles and manatees call the park home, and you have a great chance of spotting them on an airboat tour!

Then drive on the Overseas Highway into the Florida Keys and visit Biscayne National Park, off of Key Biscayne. Visit the lighthouse, give snorkeling or deep-sea fishing a try, and enjoy the views of the bright blue water.

Then lastly, take a ferry from Key West over to one of the country’s least visited parks, Dry Tortugas National Park. Start by exploring Fort Jefferson, then head out for some snorkeling, and end your day by camping on the remote island, away from others.

Miami International Airport is the closest airport to Everglades National Park. It is about 45 mi from the park. Fly to the airport, get your rental car at the airport, and head to Everglades National Park. Visit Biscayne National Park and make a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. Drive back to Miami International Airport to drop off your car and fly back home.

PS: Florida Key is a top spring break destination. READ: Best spring break destinations for families!

Florida Keys national parks road trip map

The Florida Keys national parks road trip planner

1. Find your flight to Miami International Airport
2. Rent a car at Miami International Airport

3. Book your stay in Everglades NP
4. Book your stay near Biscayne National Park
5. Take a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park
6. Drive back to Miami International Airport and fly back home

best national parks road  trips
Everglades NP

11. Lower Midwest National Parks Road Trip

Start: Gateway Arch National Park – Illinois
End: Mammoth Cave National Park – Kentucky
Recommended Days: 7+
Parks Seen: Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes, Cuyahoga Valley, Mammoth Cave

While there are so many other great road trips to US national parks, the last on this list is to those found around the lower Midwest.

We covered the Dakotas and Minnesota, but the states of Illinois, Ohio, and even part of Kentucky also have lots to offer.

Start at the unique Gateway Arch National Park, where you can take a tram up to the top and enjoy the views of St. Louis from above.

Then head just east of Chicago for some time along the shores of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Park. This beautiful park allows you to climb the dunes and take in the views around the lake. You can even stop into Chicago for some deep-dish pizza if you have time!

Next, head over to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. This park is well known for its towering caverns and canyons, as well as its waterfalls.

You can visit large cities like Cleveland or Cincinnati on your way to the next stop.

Then make your last stop in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. In this park, you can embark down into a cave and admire all of the unique stalagmites and formations that have been created in Mammoth Cave. It’s one-of-a-kind!

St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) is the closest airport to Gateway Arch National Park. Fly to the airport, pick up a rental car, and head to Gateway Arch NP. Visit Gateway Arch NP, Indiana Dunes NP, Cuyahoga Valley NP, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Mammoth Cave NP. Louisville International Airport (SDF) is the closest airport to Mammoth Cave. Drop off your car there and fly back home!

You can make this national parks road trip in 1 week. But, plan 10 days for it. This Lower Midwest national parks road trip is a perfect 10-day national parks road trip.

Lower Midwest National Parks Road Trip map

The Lower Midwest National Parks Road Trip Planner

1. Fly to St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) and from Louisville International Airport (SDF)
2. Rent a car at St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) 

3. Book your stay in Gateway Arch NP
4. Book your stay around Indiana Dunes NP
5. Book your stay in Cuyahoga Valley NP
6. Book your stay near Mammoth Cave NP
7. Drive to Louisville International Airport to drop off your car and fly home

Wrap-Up: Best National Park Road Trips

With so many epic places in the United States, it can be tough to decide where to go.

But why choose just one? Why not pair multiple together and take one great US National Park road trip?

All these trips take you through amazing landscapes that showcase the beauty of the United States. I hope you take one US national park road trip to witness the beauty of nature of US national parks!

Kassidy's Journery

This article was written in collaboration with Kassidy of Kassidy’s Journey.
Kassidy is a Minnesota native who loves sharing her adventures from her home state and beyond. She enjoys hiking, skiing, and everything else outdoors.

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