The 7 Best National Park Road Trips You Need To Take

November 20, 2020
El Capitan boulder in Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park. You can see this park along one of our curated road trip itineraries around the best national parks in the United States.

In this blog post, we will cover 7 different road trip itineraries perfect to explore different National Parks around the US. Feel free to use this blog post as a National Park road trip planner for your next adventure!

These are the road trip ideas that will be covered in this blog post:

  1. Best of Utah’s National Parks- 5-day road trip itinerary
  2. Death Valley, Yosemite, Great Basin & more- Nevada road trip itinerary
  3. The Ultimate Colorado road trip itinerary for nature lovers
  4. The Great Smoky Mountains by car- Scenic Drives
  5. The Ultimate Grand Teton & Yellowstone Itinerary by car
  6. These are the best day trips from Seattle for nature lovers
  7. The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary

What are the must-see National Parks in the United States?

There are 62 National Parks in the United States, scattered all around the country. As much as we recommend experiencing each and every single one, these are the national parks that we find to be the best in the US.

  • Arches National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Great Canyon
  • The Great Smoky Mountains
  • Yellowstone
  • Yosemite
  • Zion National Park

Before you go- America The Beautiful Pass

Before you set off on your National Park road trip, take a look at the America The Beautiful Pass.

This annual pass covers admission to over 2000 federal recreational sites, including entry passes to the majority of national parks in the country.

If you’re planning to visit multiple parks, it may be worth purchasing the America The Beautiful Pass.

For example, if you’re planning to go on a road trip around the parks in Utah (look below), you would have to spend nearly $200 on admission fees to National and State parks along the way. Instead, you could purchase the annual pass for just $80 per year (pricing as of November 2020).

What’s more, you can go to even more national parks within a year of purchasing the pass.

Do keep in mind, however, that most parks charge admission fees per vehicle. If you split the cost between you and your passengers, it may turn out cheaper (per person) than purchasing an annual pass.

Your America The Beautiful Pass can be purchased here.

Note that day use fees, plus fees for any activities, are charged separately.

1. Best of Utah’s National Parks- 5 Day Road Trip Itinerary

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. The unique rock formations are famous around the world. Canyon seen on a hot summer day.
Bryce Canyon photographed by Oskaline

Starting point: Salt Lake City, Utah

Finishing point: Las Vegas, Nevada

Driving distance: 740 miles (1190km)

Highlights: Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon

Best time of the year to visit: Spring, Fall, Winter

Click here for the detailed travel guide.

Which parks will you see during this Utah road trip?

  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
  • Grand Staircase National Monument
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Zion National Park

This 5-day road trip itinerary is an absolute must for any traveler who wants to see some of the best National Parks in the western United States. The trip begins in Salt Lake City, Utah. Then, you will head on a 740-mile road trip to Las Vegas via Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the scenic parks around Moab.

The road trip to these parks is perfect for travelers who want to enjoy hiking, drive down Scenic Byways and go off-roading!

What’s more, if you’re planning your ultimate road trip to see every National Park in the US, Utah can be a great place to set off!

From here, you can cross into Nevada to see Death Valley and Yosemite, or head east into Colorado to see the Great Sand Dunes and the Rocky Mountain National Park. Yellowstone and the Grand Teton are just a 5-hour drive

2. The Ultimate Nevada National Park Road Trip Itinerary

Death Valley National Park, wonderful rock formations and otherworldly scenery seen from an outlook at Artists Drive. Drive down the scenic drives in Death Valley on our Nevada road trip.
Death Valley

Starting point: Las Vegas, Nevada

Finishing point: Las Vegas, Nevada

Driving distance: 1400 miles (2300 km)

Highlights: Death Valley, Yosemite, Great Basin

Best time of the year to visit: Spring, Fall

Click here for the detailed travel guide around the best National Parks in and around Nevada.

What are the must-see parks in Nevada?

The following National and State parks are all included in our detailed road trip itinerary.

  • Death Valley National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Great Basin National Park
  • Cathedral Gorge State Park
  • Valley of Fire State Park
  • Lake Mead National Recreation Area
  • Red Rock Canyon
  • Tule Springs Fossil Beds

This road trip itinerary forms a great loop around Nevada (and brushing up on California, specifically Yosemite National Park) and its most spectacular parks. It’s a great getaway for both locals as well as travelers who are crossing Nevada during a long road trip.

This itinerary can easily be extended to see Arizona and the Grand Canyon, Utah and the state’s spectacular parks, or even further into Colorado and the Rockies.

3. The Ultimate Colorado National Park road trip itinerary for nature lovers

the great Sand Dunes National Park on a cloudy day. Amazing scenery in Colorado, enjoy it during our national park road trip through the best parks in the US.
The Great Sand Dunes by Sid Litke

Starting point: Denver, Colorado

Finishing point: Denver, Colorado

Driving distance: 1200 miles (2000 km)

Highlights: The Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde

Best time of the year to visit: Summer, Winter

Click here for the comprehensive travel guide.

What National Parks are in Colorado?

Colorado is home to four national parks, and all of them are included in this road trip itinerary!

  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • The Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park

During this road trip, you will also visit the following state parks and other POIs.

  • Garden of The Gods
  • Pikes Peak Scenic Drive
  • Roxborough State Park

This road trip itinerary is ideal for travelers who want to thoroughly explore the must-see natural beauty in Colorado. The trip departs in Denver, The Mile High City.

The 1200-mile long loop will take you through Garden of The Gods, Pikes Peak, The Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and the Rocky Mountain before heading back to Denver.

Some of the attractions along the way include the scenic drive up Pikes Peak, off-roading at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and spectacular lookouts at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

The curated itinerary includes some of the best lodgings you can find in Colorado, along with some really quirky attractions. Have you ever heard of the UFO watchtower? Or a drive-in cinema with an attached motel? Check out the Rentalmoose travel guide and plan your ideal road trip!

Visit Colorado during the winter to see the scenery transform into a magical, snowy wonderland!

4. The Great Smoky Mountains by Car- Scenic Drives

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to many scenic drives. The scenery looks the most magical during Fall Foliage in Autumn.
The Smokies photographed by Airren Parsons

Starting point: Atlanta, Georgia

Finishing point: Atlanta, Georgia

Driving distance: 1000 miles (1600 km)

Highlights: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best time of the year to visit: Summer, Fall

Click here for the detailed itinerary!

What is the best national park on the east coast?

The Great Smoky Mountains are an absolute must, it’s one of the best national parks in the east part of the US! Click here for our curated travel guide to visiting this national park by car.

Although this road trip starts in Georgia, the itinerary actually focuses just on the Smokies and the park’s countless attractions. However, if you are planning to visit the park via a rental car do consider flying to Atlanta, as the major international airport here has more rental cars to choose from. Use Rentalmoose to find your ideal rental car for this road trip.

This road trip is perfect for travelers who want to visit the Smokies by car. Apart from must-see attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the guide focuses on scenic driving roads scattered around the park. A combination of chicane-filled scenic drives plus awesome attractions to stop by and stretch your legs will make this road trip a great adventure in the east part of the US!

Unarguably, the best part of the year to visit the Smokies is during the magical Fall Foliage (mid-October to November). The weather is pleasant during the summer, though it is also the peak of the tourist season. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during winter and spring to avoid the crowds.

5. The Ultimate Grand Teton & Yellowstone Itinerary By Car

Grand Prismatic Thermal Spring in Yellowstone National Park. The geothermal activity can be seen during our itinerary for Yellowstone & Grand Teton.
Thermal Spring in Yellowstone by WikilImages.

Starting point: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Finishing point: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Driving distance: 430 miles (700 km)

Highlights: Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park

Best time of the year to visit: Spring, Fall

Click here for our itinerary!

During this road trip, you will see the following National Parks.

  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park

Where is Yellowstone National Park?

Yellowstone National Park is located in the north-west tip of Wyoming, directly north of the Grand Teton National Park. For this road trip, it’s best to fly to Jackson Hole Airport, which is the only airport located inside a National Park in the country, and continue by car from there.

Alternatively, you can drive from a major city. Salt Lake City in Utah is around 5 hours away from Yellowstone National Park.

This road trip is an absolute must! Yellowstone is the oldest National Park, the most popular, and perhaps the best one to visit, too. What’s more, Grand Teton National Park is just a stone’s throw away! During this road trip, you can see both of these stunning parks.

As for extending this trip itinerary, consider adding a trip south to Utah. From there, you can easily drive over to Colorado or Nevada.

6. The Best Day Trips From Seattle For Nature Lovers

Mount Shuksan and its reflection in a crystal clear alpine lake seen in North Cascades National Park. The beautiful park is driving distance from Seattle, making for a perfect day trip from the city.
North Cascades by WikilImages

Starting point: Seattle, Washington

Finishing point: 3 beautiful National Parks, 1 National Monument, and a coastal scenic drive

Driving distance: 1300 miles (2100 km)

Highlights: Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park

Best time of the year to visit: Spring, Summer, Fall

Click here for our itinerary!

These are the National Parks you can expect to see on this trip.

  • Olympic National Park
  • North Cascades National Park
  • Mount Rainier National Park

This travel guide isn’t exactly a traditional road trip itinerary. Instead, we showcased some spectacular natural sites all within driving distance from Seattle, Washington. That way, you can pick one or two of these destinations for a quick getaway from Seattle. Alternatively, you can simply drive between each of the points we’ve listed and turn it into one long road trip instead!

Washington State is home to some amazing natural beauty, Olympic National Park simply cannot be missed. A drive along the scenic North Cascades Highway deserves a spot on your bucket list, and seeing the alpine landscapes in Mount Rainier National Park is joyful for the entire family.

You can extend this Washington road trip and head to Yellowstone National Park over in Wyoming. The drive is a little over 11 hours, and you can stop by the Glacier National Park (Montana) along the way.

7. The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary

Large boulders and rock formations in Yosemite national Park seen through fog.
Yosemite photographed by Pexels

Starting point: Los Angeles, California

Finishing point: Los Angeles, California

Driving distance: 1800 miles (2900 km)

Highlights: Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Golden Gate National Recreational Area

Best time of the year to visit: Spring, Summer, Fall

Click here for the road trip itinerary.

These are the must-see parks in California.

  • Yosemite
  • Sequoia National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Kings Canyon National Park

A lengthy California road trip sounds like the plot of a mediocre movie, though in reality, it is an absolutely unforgettable experience! Our itinerary for this trip stretches for nearly 2000 miles and loops from Los Angeles, passing the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, Monterey, San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, and more!

During this trip, you can take a small detour to see other national parks in California, like the Joshua Tree National Park or Kings Canyon National Park.

For a dramatic change of scenery, consider extending the trip further into Nevada, Utah, or even Colorado and Washington.

Bonus: The Great National Park Road Trip

If you’re the ultimate road tripper, you can combine all of the itineraries above and plan your epic road trip! That way, you’ll see over 20 different parks in total, scattered around the entire United States!

Don’t have a car you can take on a road trip? No problem!

Don’t forget to book your rental car via Rentalmoose for your next adventure. On our platform, you can find the top rental companies at the best price, along with tens of curated travel guides around the globe. Get your car from Rentalmoose!

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Post your pictures from your next road trip online using #Rentalmoose! Our favorite ones will be featured in the upcoming blog posts.

Rentalmoose OÜ 2020