The Best Road Trip Routes to See All of the U.S. National Parks
Road trips are one of the best ways to experience the land and history of the United States. And a cross-country road trip that takes you and your family to all 63 of the U.S. national parks will create lifelong memories. Before going on this adventure, you will need to make sure that you can either take seven months to a year on leave from work or the option to take your work on the road. You will need money for food, gas, overnight stays (unless you intend to camp out in a tent), vehicle repairs, and any number of unexpected expenses. Many of these national parks also charge an admissions fee that helps to fund the protection of the park.
Also on that list? An itinerary that maps out your trip. While the route that you take for your road trip will depend on where you are starting and which parks you want to visit the most, these routes can give you a great head start on visiting the U.S. national parks. Visiting these nationally protected areas will take you through all 50 states and provide a glimpse into America's history and geology that you would never otherwise experience. If you have the time, make sure to stop in the visitors' centers to learn more about the land and why we need to preserve it. Here, we point you in the right direction to them all.
From Coast to Coast
It's worth noting that the East Coast and Midwest have fewer parks than the West Coast, so you can either start with these parks or save them for last. You can find 11 parks east of the Mississippi River, so you want to plan your route to visit each one without too much backtracking. Start on one side, like in Florida, then go around the edges of the country, then work your way back into the central parts of the United States so that you have a nearly perfect loop.
Florida is in the South along the East coast and has three National Parks: Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park, and Dry Tortugas National Park. The Dry Tortugas National Park is located in Key West, so you will need to catch a ferry to visit the island park. Biscayne and Everglades National Parks are both located in Homestead, Florida with the fastest route between the two is on SW 192nd Avenue to West Palm Drive to East Palm Drive to Speedway Boulevard to SW 328th Street.
From Florida, you can head to North Carolina to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which spans into Tennessee, as well as the national seashores and monuments in the state. You can find the Oconaluftee entrance in Cherokee, North Carolina. You will need to take US 441 to get to it.
In Virginia, you can visit the Shenandoah National Park. The fastest route from Cherokee, North Carolina, to this park involves quite a lot of turns. You will US-19N for 23 miles then Truck US 64 to I-26 West and I-240 East then to I-81 North until you get to SR-112 toward Salem, SR-619. Next, you will need to take a couple of turns to get back onto I-81 North to exit 235 onto SR-256 toward Grand Caverns, the oldest continually operating show cave in America. Then, it will be a couple of turns until you reach the entrance to the park.
Acadia National Park is found in the state of Maine. One of the best attractions for this park is that you can watch whales along the shore areas and spend time kayaking near seals. The fastest route from Virginia to Acadia National Park is nearly 13 hours and includes a few tolls along the way. You will spend time on I-66 East, I-495 North, I-95 North, I-280 NJ-3, and eventually onto I-295 North.
Ohio has Cuyahoga Valley National Park in addition to system of metro parks that offer hiking and bike trails and plenty of opportunities to bird watch. From Maine, you will need to get on I-95 South to I-295 South to I-95 South to I-495 South to I-290 West to I-90 West to I-271 South. Once you are on I-271 South, you will have more exits and turns until you have reached the park.
Indiana Dunes National Park is located in northwestern Indiana. It is less than a five hour drive from Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio. You will drive about 280 miles on SR-39 then some time on I-94 West and SR-49 North. Sandy dunes and birdwatching await you at this park.
In Michigan, the Isle Royale National Park offers beautiful wilderness. Spend a day or two exploring the outdoors and enjoy the stunning views. The main route you would be on from Indiana to Michigan is I-94 West to I-90 West back to I-94 West to I-43 North to US-141 North.
North and South Dakota
The three national parks to visit in North Dakota and South Dakota include Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Badlands National Park, and Wind Cave National Park. If you were coming from Michigan, you would go toward Theodore Roosevelt National Park first then visit Badlands and Wind Cave afterward.
Wyoming offers Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The fastest route from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming will involve 63 miles on US-20, US-26 West, 102 miles on Missouri Valley Road, 59 miles on East Ramshorn Street, and 73 miles on Teton Park Road, with plenty of other exits and turns in between, for a total of 7 hours and 26 minutes with no stops.
Glacier National Park is located in Montana. The park may be covered in snow despite the more spring-like weather on the other side of the United States, so be prepared to dress warmly for the conditions.
From Montana, you can head toward Washington to visit three national parks located within the state: North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier. The fastest route from Glacier to North Cascades is 659 miles for about 10 hours and 38 minutes travel time. The roads you would be on the longest are I-405 North and SR-530 East.
Crater Lake National Park, located in Oregon, features the deepest lake in the United States with beautiful clear waters. It is about 10 hours from North Cascades in Washington to reach Crater Lake. You will take I-405 South to I-90 East to US-97 South. Then, you will need to eventually get on Highway 97 South to OR-62 until you reach your destination.
If you want to visit the national parks in Alaska, you will need to take a ferry or boat to get to Alaska and rent a car once you are over there. There are six national parks located in the state, as well as plenty of wilderness areas. So, be prepared to know how to rough it for this part of your trip.
California offers nine national parks: Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Saquoia, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Channel Islands, and Pinnacles. Redwood National Park is at the edge of California and Washington, then the others loop around throughout the state of California. You could decide to head to Hawaii next (again, by taking a boat or a plane into the state) then visit the other parks in California before moving onto Nevada.
Great Basin National Park in Nevada can't be missed. From stargazing to caves, this national park offers plenty of natural beauty for you and your family to enjoy. From California to Nevada is about a seven-hour trip from one park to the other. You will likely be on Durango Drive for 72 miles and eventually on US-6 for about 234 miles then SR-487 for 30 miles.
Arizona, Utah and Colorado
From the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Zion and Bryce Canyon in Utah to Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountain in Colorado and back to the Petrified Forest in Arizona, you can complete a loop through these states to visit 12 national parks. Then, from San Guaro National Park in Arizona, head to White Sands in New Mexico.
New Mexico and Texas
New Mexico has White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, and Guadalupe Mountains national parks. From there, go to Big Bend National Park in Texas. Gorgeous areas for camping and hiking await you in these parks.
Arkansas, llinois and Kentucky
The fastest route from Big Bend in Texas to Hot Springs in Arkansas is about 12 hours. You will need to take IH-30 East and eventually AR-17 to reach Hot Springs National Park. Then Gateway Arch in Illinois is another six hours along the fastest route, which includes US-70 East, I-30 East, I-40 East and US-67. Then your last stop could be Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The caves in this park are not for the faint of heart.