The United States is home to an array of natural wonders, from soaring mountains and rolling hills to vast deserts and sprawling coastlines. And at the heart of these landscapes are the country’s national parks, which preserve and protect some of the most stunning and diverse ecosystems on Earth.
From Yosemite to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon to the Great Smoky Mountains, there are 63 national parks in the United States, each with its own unique charm and beauty. And what better way to experience them all than by embarking on the ultimate road trip?
Here’s a guide to exploring the national parks of the United States by car, including tips on planning your trip, the best routes to take, and what to see and do along the way.
Planning Your Trip
Before hitting the road, it’s important to do some research and plan your trip carefully. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Choose the right time of year: Depending on the park and its location, the best time to visit can vary. Some parks are best explored in the summer, while others are more enjoyable in the fall or spring. Do some research to determine the optimal time for each park on your itinerary.
- Book your accommodations in advance: National parks can be popular tourist destinations, so it’s important to book your accommodations well in advance. Consider camping, staying in a national park lodge, or finding nearby hotels or vacation rentals.
- Rent the right vehicle: For most national parks, a standard car will suffice. However, if you plan to explore more rugged terrain, you may want to consider renting an SUV or four-wheel drive vehicle.
- Pack appropriately: Depending on the time of year and the parks you plan to visit, you’ll need to pack different gear and clothing. Be sure to bring layers, comfortable shoes, and plenty of water and snacks.
The Best Routes to Take
With so many national parks to explore, deciding which ones to include on your road trip can be overwhelming. Here are some popular routes to consider:
- The Southwest: This route includes some of the most iconic national parks in the country, including the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands. Start in Las Vegas and make your way through Arizona and Utah for an unforgettable journey through the American West.
- The Pacific Northwest: This route takes you through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country, including the Olympic, Mount Rainier, and Crater Lake National Parks. Begin in Seattle and travel through Washington and Oregon for a journey through lush forests, towering mountains, and pristine lakes.
- The Northeast: This route includes some of the most historic and picturesque national parks in the country, including Acadia, Shenandoah, and the Great Smoky Mountains. Start in Boston and go down the East Coast for a trip through some of the country’s most charming small towns and scenic landscapes.
What to See and Do Along the Way
Each national park has its own unique attractions and activities to enjoy. Here are some of the top things to see and do at each park along the way:
- Grand Canyon National Park: Take a hike along the South Rim Trail for panoramic canyon views. Or embark on a mule ride down into the canyon itself.
- Zion National Park: Explore the Narrows, a stunning slot canyon that can be hiked through. Or hike to Angels Landing for breathtaking views of the park from above.
- Bryce Canyon National Park: Marvel at the park’s unique hoodoo formations, tall, thin spires of rock that rise from the canyon floor.
- Arches National Park: Discover over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the iconic Delicate Arch.
- Canyonlands National Park: Explore the park’s four distinct districts. Each with its own unique landscape and activities to enjoy, such as hiking, rafting, and stargazing.
- Olympic National Park: Experience the park’s diverse ecosystems, including rainforests, glaciers, and beaches. Take a hike through the Hoh Rainforest, visit the Sol Duc Hot Springs, or go tide-pooling on the coast.
- Mount Rainier National Park: Marvel at the park’s namesake mountain, which stands at 14,410 feet tall. Take a hike to see wildflowers in the summer or go snowshoeing in the winter.
- Shenandoah National Park: Drive along Skyline Drive for breathtaking views of the park’s rolling hills and vibrant fall foliage. Take a hike to see waterfalls or enjoy a picnic in one of the park’s scenic meadows.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Experience the park’s rich history and culture by visiting historic homesteads and churches. Take a hike to see waterfalls or go wildlife watching for a chance to see black bears, elk, and more.
The national parks of the United States offer a unique opportunity to explore the country’s natural beauty and diversity. By embarking on the ultimate road trip, you can experience some of the most stunning landscapes and ecosystems on Earth. All while making unforgettable memories along the way. So start planning your trip today and get ready to hit the open road!