Blake Walsh

20 Top National Park Road Trips

  • Published 2023/11/26

The United States is a tapestry of diverse landscapes, each with its own unique beauty and character.

The nation’s national parks are some of the most breathtaking and pristine areas, offering an array of natural wonders.

From the rocky coastlines of Maine to the desert landscapes of Utah, these parks provide an unparalleled opportunity for adventure and exploration.

Road trips through these parks can be an incredible way to experience the vastness and diversity of the American outdoors.

In this article, we’ll embark on a journey through 20 of the top national park road trips, each offering a unique glimpse into the heart of America’s natural beauty.

The Northeast Gem: Acadia National Park, Maine

Cadillac Mountain road at Acadia National Park, Maine

Starting your journey in the charming town of Bar Harbor, a road trip through Acadia National Park is a blend of coastal beauty and forested mountains.

The Park Loop Road offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, while a drive up to Cadillac Mountain presents a panorama of the park’s diverse landscape.

The best time to visit is during fall when the foliage is a riot of colors, but summer offers pleasant weather and full access to all park facilities.

The Desert Majesty: Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate arch at Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park is a surreal landscape of over 2,000 natural stone arches.

The scenic drive from Moab leads to iconic formations like Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch.

Hiking is a must here, with trails leading to hidden arches and stunning vistas. Summer can be hot, so spring and fall are the best times to visit.

The Rocky Mountain Adventure: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Road at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

This road trip from Estes Park to Grand Lake will take you through the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the U.S., offers spectacular views of alpine landscapes.

Wildlife like elk and moose are common sights.

The park is a year-round destination, but the road is closed during winter due to snow.

The California Dream: Yosemite National Park, California

Waterfall at Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite’s sheer granite cliffs, waterfalls, and giant sequoias are mesmerizing.

The drive through Yosemite Valley is iconic, with views of El Capitan and Half Dome.

Spring and early summer are the best times to see the waterfalls at their fullest.

The Southern Charm: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

Landscape of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The Great Smoky Mountains are a wonderland of lush forests and mist-covered peaks.

Starting from Gatlinburg, explore the park’s scenic drives like the Cades Cove Loop Road.

Autumn is a spectacular time to visit, with vibrant fall colors painting the landscape.

Olympic National Park, Washington

Scenic views at Olympic National Park, Washington

This park offers a mix of coastal, mountain, and rainforest ecosystems.

A drive through the park reveals a rugged coastline, alpine meadows, and ancient forests.

The park is open year-round, but road access to some areas is seasonal.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Grand loop road at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The world’s first national park, Yellowstone is a land of geysers, hot springs, and diverse wildlife.

The Grand Loop Road connects major attractions like Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Late spring through early fall is the best time to visit.

Zion National Park, Utah

Scenic drive at Zion National Park, Utah

Zion’s towering sandstone cliffs are a sight to behold.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive takes you deep into the heart of the park, with access to trails and viewpoints. Spring and fall offer the best weather for exploring.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

South and North rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

No road trip list is complete without the Grand Canyon.

The South Rim is the most accessible and offers stunning views of the canyon.

Spring and fall are ideal for avoiding the summer crowds and heat.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana

Known for its rugged peaks and glacial-carved valleys, Glacier National Park is a haven for adventurers.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a spectacular drive, but it’s only fully open during the summer months.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Driving along Joshua Tree National Park, California

This park where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet is famous for its unique Joshua trees.

A drive through the park reveals fascinating rock formations and desert landscapes.

Fall through spring is the best time to visit due to cooler temperatures.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Road at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton offers breathtaking mountain scenery and abundant wildlife.

The Teton Park Road provides stunning views of the Teton Range.

Summer and early fall are great for wildlife viewing and hiking.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Road of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Known for its hoodoos – and unique rock spires – Bryce Canyon is a visual wonder.

The park’s main road offers numerous overlooks to view the amphitheaters of hoodoos. Spring and fall are ideal for hiking and exploring.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Road at Sequoia National Park, California

Home to some of the largest trees in the world, these twin parks offer a magnificent drive through the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The Generals Highway connects the two parks, winding past giant sequoias.

The parks are open year-round, but some roads are closed in winter.

Death Valley National Park, California/Nevada

Road at Death Valley National Park, California

The hottest, driest, and lowest national park, Death Valley is a land of extremes.

A drive through the park reveals salt flats, sand dunes, and rugged mountains.

Visit in late fall, winter, or early spring to avoid extreme heat.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Alligator on the road at Everglades National Park, Florida

The largest tropical wilderness in the U.S., the Everglades is a mosaic of wetlands and forests.

Driving through the park, you’ll see a variety of wildlife, including alligators.

Winter is the best time to visit, with cooler temperatures and less humidity.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Skyline drive at Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

This park is known for its Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that runs along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Fall is the perfect time to experience the park’s spectacular foliage.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Loop road at Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The Badlands are known for their striking geological formations and rich fossil beds.

The Badlands Loop Road offers views of rugged landscapes and prairies. Spring and fall are the best times to visit.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Island in the sky district at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands is a showcase of mesas, buttes, and deep river canyons.

The Island in the Sky district offers easy access and stunning views of the park’s dramatic landscapes. Spring and fall are ideal for exploration.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Waters of Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Home to the deepest lake in the U.S., Crater Lake is a caldera filled with striking blue water.

Rim Drive circles the lake, offering spectacular views.

Summer is the best time to visit, as roads and facilities may be closed in winter due to snow.

Practical Tips for a National Park Road Trip

Planning is key for a successful national park road trip.

Make reservations for camping or lodging well in advance, especially during peak seasons.

Be prepared for changing weather conditions and bring appropriate gear.

Always stay aware of your surroundings and keep a safe distance from wildlife.

Final Thoughts

Exploring the national parks of the United States by road is an unforgettable experience.

Each park offers its own unique beauty and adventure.

As we journey through these natural wonders, it’s important to remember our responsibility to preserve and protect these precious environments for future generations.

Whether it’s the majestic mountains of the Rockies or the serene beaches of Acadia, each road trip presents an opportunity to connect with nature and create lasting memories.

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