The Ultimate US National Park Road Trip (Every Park)

a map of the united states

America’s national parks are all beautiful in their own way. However, wouldn’t it be convenient to see them all on one trip?

It’s possible to do; however, it takes a few months to accomplish and a lot of money to spend. It would be worth it to see the beauty the United States has to offer. 

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is a great place to start your road trip.

The trick to having the perfect road trip itinerary is to start on one side of North America and then work your way to the other. The east coast has fewer national parks than the west coast, so it makes sense to start there. Florida is a great place to start because it has three national parks and is a good place to jump-start your trip. 

Florida

First, start at Dry Tortugas National Park. This park is mostly water, but it’s home to breathtaking coral reefs that you won’t find anywhere else. After this one, move on to Everglades National Park, which has lots of endangered species. Biscayne National Park is the last park in Florida, and it’s also mostly water, which means that there are lots of water-related activities available to do here. 

South Carolina

It’s almost a 10-hour drive from Biscayne to Congaree National Park, which is South Carolina’s only national park. Congaree gets written off as swamplands, but it’s a lot more than that. Congaree has a tranquil environment that can bring a sense of calmness to anyone. It’s only a four-and-a-half-hour drive to the next national park.

North Carolina/Tennessee

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s the most visited national park in the USA. This is because of how accessible the park is, and it’s free to visit. It’s also home to the Appalachian Trail, which stretches out over 70 miles.

West Virginia

New River Gorge National Park is the newest national park to join the list. It’s about four hours away from the Great Smoky Mountains. This park is every rock climber’s dream come true because there are lots of places to rock climb. It was protected before it became a national park, so you don’t have to worry about the park being full of trash. 

Virginia

It’s only slightly less than four hours to get to Shenandoah National Park from New River Gorge National Park. The park sits right outside of Washington, DC, so you can spend some time in the nation’s capital after touring the park. It takes a lot of time to get to the next park, so make sure that you have enough supplies before you begin the journey. 

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park has beautiful coastlines.

Maine

It’s an almost 13-hour drive to Acadia National Park from Shenandoah. This park has one of the best displays of fall colors in the country. This park is extremely popular, and it’s all because of how gorgeous it is. There are miles of coastline for you to explore and Cadillac Mountain for you to climb. 

Ohio

From Maine, you’ll spend about 14 hours in the car to get to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This park is great for art lovers because there’s an art exhibit, a live orchestra, and theater productions. You can also spend time outside by going kayaking or canoeing down the Cuyahoga River. It’s only a little under five hours to get to the next stop on the trip. 

Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Park is home to prairies, forests, swamps, and marshes. There are several mountains for you to climb to get great views of Lake Michigan. It’s only open during certain hours of the day, so make sure that you leave Cuyahoga Valley at the right time to get to Indiana Dunes in time to see the park. 

Michigan

Isle Royale National Park is about eight and a half hours away from Indiana Dunes. It’s accessible by ferry, so you can take your car with you. This park is extremely remote, so watch out for animals roaming freely. Remember that it is their territory. It’s about seven and a half hours to the next national park. 

Minnesota

Voyageurs National Park is the next stop on the road trip, and it’s home to 30 different lakes. The best way to see this park is on a guided boat tour, and there are lots of hiking trails and campsites available to everyone. It’s about nine hours to the next national park.

North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is named after the 26th president of the United States, who loved wildlife and being outdoors. It’s home to lots of wildlife that runs free. It also has a painted canyon. It’s a little bit less than five hours to get to Badlands National Park. 

South Dakota

Badlands National Park isn’t home to many hiking trails, so most visitors stay in their cars. However, the backcountry is open to whoever wants to explore it. There are several places to camp and stay for the night to rest before you begin the rest of your road trip. 

Next up is Wind Cave National Park, which is only a little over an hour from Badlands National Park. The namesake cave is underneath grassy hills that spread all over South Dakota. You can only tour the cave with the NPS, so don’t try to do it alone. There are other things to do in the park too. 

Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most well-known national parks. It’s about five and a half hours away from Wind Cave National Park, so it’s not too bad of a drive to get there. It’s home to Trail Ridge Road, which doesn’t have a guardrail. It’s also got a lot of great hiking trails. The next stop on the ultimate national park road trip is about five hours away.

Great Sand Dunes National Park doesn’t get many visitors during the summer months because of the heat index. The best time to visit the colder months. There are so many things to do in this park, so you’ll never be bored during your time here. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is next on the itinerary. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is only three and a half hours away from Great Sand Dunes, so it’s an easy car ride. This park is full of beautiful scenery, so you never run out of things to look at. There’s a river at the bottom of the canyon for you to go kayaking and canoeing down. South Rim Drive is a great scenic drive for you to view the park without getting out of your car. 

Mesa Verde National Park is just under three hours away from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s a breathtaking historical site, home to over 5,000 archaeological sites. There’s also the Trail of Ancients that will take you through some of the oldest sites the park has to offer. 

Utah

Arches National Park is a little over two hours away from Mesa Verde, and it’s home to the most naturally occurring arches in the world. It’s full of rock formations that are great for rock climbing. There are hiking trails for you to trek, bike, and horseback ride on.

A half an hour away is Canyonlands National Park, which is the next stop.  Canyonlands National Park has the Island of the Sky district and the Needles district. Most tourists visit the Island of the Sky district because it’s easier to access than the Needles.

It also has the Mesa Arch, which attracts lots of tourists to take pictures at. The other district, the Needles, is perfect for people who like backcountry trekking. About two hours away from Canyonlands is Capitol Reef National Park. It has gorgeous buttes, ridges, and canyons for everyone to explore.

While Utah has many parks that look very similar, they have their differences. Capitol Reef has great scenery to enjoy year-round. Two hours down the road is Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon is most well known for its hoodoos.

You can hike all over the inside of the canyon and different levels of trails. The park has gorgeous views that are guaranteed to take your breath away. Zion National Park is the next stop on the road trip. About an hour and a half away from Bryce Canyon is Zion National Park. Zion is known as Utah’s pride and joy. It’s home to Angels Landing and the Narrows, which will offer you a relaxing opportunity to cool off in the Utah heat. 

Nevada

Great Basin National Park will give you a good break from all the desert Nevada has to offer. Just three and a half hours away from Zion National Park in Utah, Great Basin has mountain peaks and lakes all in it. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way and millions of stars sweeping across the sky. The next park is over eight hours away, so make sure you stock up for the car ride. 

Old Faithful geyse

Old Faithful geyser attracts many tourists to Yellowstone every year.

Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park is often overshadowed by Yellowstone, but it has its fair share of visitors. Grand Teton is home to the famous Jackson Hole, and it has great scenic drives if you decide not to get out of your car. It’s only nine minutes away from Yellowstone, so you can do both parks fairly easily.

Yellowstone National Park is the first national park. It has lots of geysers, and the most popular geyser is Old Faithful. Yellowstone is massive, but most people visit the tourist attractions and don’t explore the rest of the park. This means that you’ll most likely be alone on your backcountry journeys. 

Montana

Glacier National Park is the only national park in Montana. It’s roughly six hours away from Yellowstone, and it is often called the Crown of the Continent. It borders a Canadian national park and is part of the first International Peace Park. Glacier is definitely one of the best national parks. 

Washington

The next stop is North Cascades National Park. It has lots of waterfalls for those who love to chase them. This park is the best one in Washington in terms of hiking trails. The trails go all over the park, so you can take the trails and not miss anything. It’s about four hours to the next park, which is Olympic National Park. 

Olympic National Park has a little bit of everything. There are snowy peaks, rainforests, and coastlines. Olympic National Park will take more than one day to conquer, so it’s best to take your time here. Three hours away is Mount Rainier National Park, and it’s Washington’s last national park. 

The peak of Mount Rainier can be seen from over 200 miles away, and the trails it has are on the bucket list of most avid backpackers. The main reason that people visit Mount Rainier is that it’s an active volcano that is expecting future eruptions. Because of this, make sure that you check the updates on the volcano so you know the status. 

Oregon

A little over six hours away from Mount Rainier is Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, which is something that attracts many people every year. The park also has a dormant volcano, Mt. Mazama. There are lots of things to do inside this park, especially with beautiful Crater Lake at the center of park activities.

California

The drive from Crater Lake to Redwood National and State Park is a little under five hours. Redwood trees are the tallest trees on earth. This park also has a drive-thru tree. This park has a little bit of everything in terms of things to do. 

About four hours away from Redwood National and State Park is Lassen Volcanic National Park. It has several different kinds of volcanoes and ecosystems for you to explore. There’s one big volcano called Mt. Tehama, which offers great hikes. Lassen Volcanic has lots of things for everyone to do. The next park is about six hours away. 

Yosemite National Park has millions of visitors every year. This is because of its landscape and activities available to visitors. Yosemite Valley is the main stretch of road in the park, and it’s very famous worldwide. A little less than four hours away from Yosemite is Pinnacles National Park. 

Pinnacles National Park is the least-known national park there is. This means that it isn’t very crowded. The rock formations here were formed by a volcano explosion a long time ago. It’s every rock climber’s dream. About four hours away is Kings Canyon National Park. 

Kings Canyon National Park shares a border with Sequoia National Park. A creek used to run through the middle of the canyon, and that’s how the park got its name. There are all kinds of wildlife running around in Kings Canyon, so make sure to be aware of your surroundings.

It takes no time to get to the next park. Sequoia National Park is right next door to Kings Canyon. It has some of the biggest trees in the country, and it even has a signature tree named General Sherman. This park is unique because you’re open to hike wherever you want, you don’t have to stay on the trails. 

Another four hours away is Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is very big, which means that getting around by car is the easiest way to get around. Everyone can enjoy the great hiking trails that Death Valley has because the trails are different levels of difficulty. About three and a half hours away is California’s last national park.

Joshua Tree National Park has the oldest trees in the world. When most people think of this park, they think of a massive desert full of really old trees. However, this park is so much more than that. It’s full of gorgeous wildflowers that can only be found here. It’s about five and a half hours away from the next park on the trip. 

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is extremely popular for tourists.

Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park has a canyon that can be seen from space. This park is home to the Grand Canyon, which is one of the seven wonders of the world. There are things to do here besides looking at the canyon. You can go hiking, you can go rock climbing, and you can go camping too.

Only about three hours away from the Grand Canyon is Petrified Forest National Park. A long time ago, a volcano killed all the trees that used to fill the land where Petrified Forest now sits. The park isn’t open all day, so you’ll have to plan when you want to go. It’s an almost five-hour drive to the next national park. 

Saguaro National Park is home to the cactus that most people think of when they think of a cactus. The cactus can only be found in this region. The park is divided into two sections: the Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District. 

New Mexico

It’s about five hours to get to the next national park. White Sands National Park used to be a national monument before it became a national park. It has lots of white sand dunes made up of gypsum crystals. It’s about three and a half hours to get the New Mexico’s other national park.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park has the Carlsbad Caverns, which sit deep below the surface of New Mexico. There isn’t as much to do here besides tour the caverns, so it won’t take up that much time of your trip. 

Texas

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the two national parks in Texas, and it’s over six away from Carlsbad Caverns. Four of Texas’ tallest mountains are in this park. This park has lots of opportunities for rock climbers to explore the Texas terrain. It only takes about three and a half hours to get to the next national park. 

Big Bend National Park has lots of places to stay because this park has so much to do that you need to spread it out. There are hot springs for you to relax in. You can climb mountains and explore Texas’ backcountry. You’ll need to rest up for the next drive though because the next park is over 12 hours away.

Arkansas

Hot Springs National Park is a great next stop on the trip because you can relax in the hot springs after the long car ride you’ll take to get here. It’s also known as the American Spa. There are other things to do here besides soaking in the hot springs; you can also go hiking. The next national park is in Missouri and is about six hours away.

Missouri

Gateway Arch National Park is in the middle of St. Louis, and it has the arch that marks Thomas Jefferson’s westward expansion. There aren’t many outdoor activities to do here like there are at the other national parks, and that’s because it sits in the middle of a major city. It’s a little under five hours to get to the last national park on the trip. 

Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park has the largest underground cave in the world, and it’s the perfect place to end your national park road trip. There are several above-ground trails to hike if you don’t feel like going into the cave, and there are guided tours led by the NPS to show you all around the cave.

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    Riley Draper

    Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.