America’s Greatest Road Trips: US National Parks

Road Trip Guide to America’s Greatest National Parks

There are 58 national parks in the United States: how many have you been to? America houses some of the most beautiful parks and monuments in the world, and they are right here at our fingertips. This summer, if you’re looking for some adventure, try out these national park road trip ideas! They include the natural parks of the West and East Coasts – and everything in between! Celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016 and begin planning your national parks road trip itinerary today!

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park – Maine

• Take a trip to the highest point on the United States East Coast and see the wonders that the Atlantic coastline has to offer. Acadia National Park is well known for its beautiful landscapes and beaches, along with great hiking and scenery. Historically, it is the first eastern national park. To gain access to the park, there is a small entrance fee − and 80 percent of the proceeds go to the park and the upkeep and reparation of other natural and cultural resources. Some holidays, such as the National Park Service Birthday (August 25-28), National Public Lands Day (September 24), and Veterans Day (November 11), the parks are open for free to the public!

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
o Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio (deep forests and rolling hills along the “crooked river”)
o Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
o Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota (contains rocks half as old as the world along amazing water routes − a voyageur’s adventure!)

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park – Texas

• The great state of Texas houses an amazing national park, known for its variety of wildlife – all kinds of cacti and a large variety of bird species live there. For this park, there are also fees for camping and visiting, and you can buy a year-round pass for $40! You can hike, walk, or paddle through this great park, or drive up and stargaze at night! According to the National Park Service, “Here you can explore one of the last remaining wild corners of the United States.”

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas (highest point in Texas!)
o Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
o Hot Springs National Park, Kansas (soothing thermal waters that helped build a thriving city around the hot springs – “The American Spa”)
o Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky (longest cave system known in the world!)

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park – Florida

• Road trip to Florida to see the famous everglades. Some animals you may see while visiting the Everglades, aka the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, include manatees, crocodiles, and even the mysterious Florida panther! Here you can even fish in the national park waters – along with other activities like boating and hiking. Or have a fun family event like geocaching – an outdoor treasure hunt using GPS tracking to locate items and spots to check out! You can journey through the land how ever you please, but I think the main attraction is the dense, plant-filled waters that house so many different wildlife species.

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
o Biscayne National Park, Florida (aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs – wildlife history from pirates to present day)
o Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida (open water with a strand of seven small islands, only accessible by boat or seaplane)
o Congaree National Park, South Carolina (largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States!)
o Virgin Islands National Park, St. John – Virgin Islands (breathtaking beaches, hills, and valleys, with thousands of years of history of communities based on land and sea survival)

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park – Montana

• Near the valleys of the Canadian border, along the Going-to-the-Sun Road you will find the Glacier National Park hidden within the Rocky Mountains. You can ride your bike, walk, or camp through its 700 miles of hiking trails alongside some of the amazing wildlife, such as mountain goats, but watch out for the grizzly bears! The park is referred to as the “Crown of the Continent,” known for its pristine and mighty mountains, meadows, forests and lakes. Entrance is free on certain holidays. Park passes last seven days, so you can reenter the park any time during the week. During the winter, the entry fee is a bit cheaper, and you can go cross-country skiing or enjoy the beautiful snowy scenery. (If road tripping in the winter, remember to check the weather before you leave and prepare for winter driving conditions.) This land is a true wonder – having been inhabited by humans dating back over 10,000 years.

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
o Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
o Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
o Badlands National Park, South Dakota (contains one of the richest fossil beds with ancient mammals such as rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat)
o Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota (one of the longest and most complex caves in the world with beautiful waters and hiking opportunities)
o North Cascades National Park, Washington
o Olympic National Park, Washington (home of Mt. Olympus and dramatic peaks of old-growth forests)
o Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Hawaii

• Although not a car-ride away, if you find yourself venturing to Hawaii, consider renting a car and making a one-day road trip out of it. Volcanoes are some of the most interesting earth forms – changing the environment on their own, beyond human control; primordial forces hard at work. You can walk or drive through this park, with a small seven-day fee for the entire car. And entry is free on certain holidays. You can drive along the Cahin of Craters road to view this amazing park from the comfort of your own car. But if you’re looking for a little more adventure you can take a driving tour of the crater rim!

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Haleakala National Park, Hawaii (volcanic landscapes and subtropical rainforest containing some endangered species that exist nowhere else!)
o National Park of American Samoa (a national park distributed across three separate islands of the U.S. territory of American Samoa)

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park – California

• A famous park set within the Nevada mountains. Experience an amazing hike among redwoods and enjoy river rafting, bird-watching, rock climbing, horseback riding, and more. Great for a family adventure.

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
o Redwood National Park, California (old-growth temperate rainforest containing some of the tallest trees on earth)
o Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
o Kings Canyon National Park, California
o Pinnacles National Park, California
o Sequoia National Park, California
o Channel Islands National Park, California (consists of five of the eight Channel Islands and their ocean environments, located off the cost of California)
o Joshua Tree National Park, California

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park – California

• Known as “the ghost town with colorful rocks,” Death Valley is a below-sea-level basin with extreme heats and some snowy peaks that make it a land of extremes. This point of land is the lowest elevation in North America, giving it some of the driest, hottest weather in the country. Despite the name, a great amount of wildlife inhabits the park, from wildflowers to exotic fish. This is a great scene to hike through, just make sure to bring water!

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Death Valley National Park is practically next door to Yosemite. See our “Nearby” national park recommendations for Yosemite National Park, above.

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park – Colorado

• Colorado contains some of the best preserved “works of man” – ancestral Puebloan archeological sites from AD 600 to 1300. The Mesa Verde National Park houses nearly 5,000 archeological sites, being the best preserved and most notable in the United States, along with 600 cliff dwellings. This park is on the less-expensive side, with access to the site costing only $10 (although the price can vary depending on conditions, so check before you go). The main attraction for this exhibit is to tour or explore the ancient American grounds, learning about early North American history – you can visit the nearby Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum to learn even more, or take a guided tour through the national park.

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Canyonlands National Park, Utah
o Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado (holds some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America, all sculpted by nature for over two million years)
o Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
o Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
o Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona (contains the Red Basin and is located in the Navajo and Apache counties of northeastern Arizona)
o Saguaro National Park, Arizona

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Wrangell – St. Elias National Park – Alaska

• If you find yourself journeying to Alaska this summer, a stop by this park will be worth your while. With some of the freshest blue waters, white snow, and green grass among Alaskan mountains, you are sure to be amazed not only by the volcanoes, glaciers, and wildlife, but also the large diversity of animals ranging from tundra to rainforest creatures. Alaska.org recommends visiting Alaska between May 10 and September 15, but points out that the weather can still be unpredictable during this time. Do your research and be prepared for different driving conditions.

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska (land and sea where some of the ice age lingers)
o Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
o Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
o Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska (aurora-lit night skies, endless trails through glacier-carved valleys, and some caribou migration trails to exhibit!)
o Denali National Park, Alaska
o Katmai National Park, Alaska (includes an active volcano landscape surrounded by important habitat for salmon and thousands of brown bears)
o Lake Clark National Park, Alaska

 

America’s Greatest Road Trips US National Parks - Zion National Park

Zion National Park – Utah

• This national park contains some of the most beautiful red cliffs surrounded by amazing greenery, and includes rivers flowing into Emerald Pools, with its waterfalls and hanging gardens. I don’t know anything else that sounds so serene. Hike along the same roads that native people and pioneers trailed on, throughout the wondrous sandstone cliffs, through the narrows, beside rivers, and among the wildlife. You can even hook up your equipment and canyoneer this national park – hike, swim, and rappel through the beautiful lands. An amazing opportunity for outdoor adventure.

Nearby national park road trip ideas:
o Great Basin National Park, Nevada
o Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
o Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (largest collection of hoodoos in the world!)
o Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
o Canyonlands National Park, Utah
o Arches National Park, Utah (landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike anything else in the world – from soaring pinnacles, to massive fins, to giant balanced rocks)

Experience all America has to offer, get in your car and go! To learn more about these national park road trip ideas – rates, routes, and more, visit the National Park Service website. Rates vary for each park, but there are some deals for groups, schools, and holidays!

For still more road trip ideas, take a look at our “Summer road trip ideas from the experts,” article. Wherever you decide to road trip to this summer, make sure your vehicle is prepared before you jump in the car: these seasonal tips will help. Don’t forget the tunes either – our playlists, “The top 38 summer road trip songs” and “Another awesome summer road trip playlist,” will help you out!

Happy Road Tripping!

 

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