Get Your Adventure On With These 13 Epic National Park Road Trips

Affiliate Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost to you and it helps support our future adventures.

Taking a road trip through some of the country’s most beautiful national parks is a quintessential vacation that everyone should take at least once. And with so many national parks across the country you could take a new trip every year without ever running out of new options and places to explore.

Whether you’re looking for a drive through the Lowcountry caves and swamps of the southeastern US, a chance to go leaf peeping in the Northeast, the opportunity to watch some of America’s largest land mammals in their natural environments in the Rocky Mountains, a drive through the desert southwest, or a truly wild experience of driving across Alaska, there is a trip idea for everyone.

Let’s pack your bags, gas (or charge) up the car, and hit the road to experience these incredible national park road trips.

Grand Circle Road Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park, an American national park located in southwestern Utah.
Photo Credit:

Explore the wonders of the Utah landscape by marking a loop through its five national parks: Zio, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. Each of these parks offers up its own unique twists on the desert landscapes, whether it is the famous attractions like the Narrows and Angels Landing at Zion, the otherworldly hoodoos and landscapes of Bryce Canyon, the dramatic cliffs of Capitol Reef, the natural arches at Arches National Park, and the remote canyons perfect for exploring at Canyonlands.

As none of the parks are more than a few hours drive apart it is easy to fit all five into a weeklong trip to the area.

Pacific Northwest Adventure

North Cascades Highway. Highway 20 winds through Rainy Pass in Washington State. Dramatic mountain tops and thick forests make this a most memorable drive.
Photo Credit:

Seattle is the ideal start for a Pacific Northwest road trip to Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks. Begin at Mt. Rainier’s Sunrise side for a hike to Tolmie Peak Lookout with breathtaking mountain views. Drive along the east side of the Cascades, passing Leavenworth, for a day hike in the Enchantment Lakes area. Continue north to North Cascades NP for views of craggy mountains, alpine lakes, and Diablo Lake. Lastly, head west to Whidbey Island to ferry across the sound and loop around Olympic Peninsula, exploring glaciated peaks, old-growth forests, and remote beaches in Olympic National Park

Rocky Mountain Loop

Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Photo Credit:

Experience the grandeur of the Rocky Mountain region with a drive from Denver through Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone National Parks.

Rocky Mountain National Park is the first stop, where you can head up into the high country for hikes at Emerald Lake Trail or Longs Peak. Next, head to Grand Teton National Park, where you can stay in the mountain west town of Jackson Hole and go wildlife spotting and hiking at Jenny Lake. Finish with two days in Yellowstone, visiting landmarks like Old Faithful and Lamar Valley for wildlife viewing before exiting at Mammoth Hot Springs.

California Dreaming

sunset at the tunnel view in yosemite national park in california in the usa
Photo Credit:

Tour some of the country’s most popular and beautiful national parks with this drive that takes you along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Starting at the north end, head into Yosemite, where you could spend a month with the incredible hiking, backpacking, photography, and fishing options throughout the park. If you only have a day, spend it on the Yosemite Valley floor by exploring Yosemite Falls, taking in the views of Half Dome, and enjoying a short hike up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. On the way out of the park, take a detour up to Glacier Point for some of the best views you’ll see in your entire life.

From there, head south for the short-ish drive to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. These parks share a common border, so it is easy to hop between the two depending on how you want to spend your time. In Sequoia, stop by the General Sherman tree to see the largest (by volume) tree in the entire world. If hiking and exploration are more your style, then spend some extra time in Kings Canyon, where you can hike to high peaks, explore waterfalls, and get away from the crowds.

Great Lakes Expedition

Wide angle view of the Apostle Islands Meyers Beach sea caves in the fall season
Photo Credit:

Explore the Great Lakes region with a blend of natural beauty, adventure, and backcountry exploration. Start at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, with its sand dunes standing tall above Lake Michigan. Next, head to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin for water adventures, including kayaking through sea caves and exploring historic lighthouses. Continue to Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota for canoeing amidst interconnected waterways, wildlife viewing, and stargazing. Conclude your adventure at remote Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, perfect for hiking, paddling, and wildlife encounters.

Southwest Desert Loop

desert landscape at Joshua tree national park
Photo Credit:

Starting from Los Angeles, this drive will take you through desert canyons, remote landscapes, and past unique flora. Begin in Joshua Tree National Park for camping, stargazing, and desert hikes amidst Joshua trees. Next, journey to Tucson and Saguaro National Park to marvel at majestic saguaro cacti. Continue north to Petrified Forest National Park to stroll among painted hills and ancient petrified trees. Lastly, visit the iconic Grand Canyon National Park for panoramic views and exhilarating hikes into the canyon below.

Alaskan Wilderness Tour

Hiking in Denali National Park, Alaska, USA
Photo Credit:

For adventure seekers, Alaska is a must-visit destination, offering stunning national parks best explored by car or motorhome. Begin in Anchorage and drive to Seward for a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park, encountering unique wildlife like sea otters, puffins, and whales. Next, journey north to Denali National Park, where park buses offer backcountry exploration amidst breathtaking scenery. Lastly, head to Wrangell – St. Elias National Park for a remote adventure, exploring the abandoned Kennicott Copper Mine and rugged wilderness.

Southern Appalachian Tour

Road through the Blue Ridge Parkway mountains of North Carolina during the Fall.
Photo Credit:

This road trip through the southeastern United States follows the Appalachian Mountains and the famous Appalachian Trail as it snakes its way north. Starting at the most popular national park in the country, Great Smokey Mountain National Park, head out for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can get a view of the park from high up on the mountain ridges. Spend a day hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail and taking in the park’s lush forests and waterfalls.

From there, we’ll follow the mountains to the north and Shenandoah National Park. Despite the park’s proximity to Washington, D.C., you’ll find plenty of solitude in the park’s forests. This area is a must-visit during the fall months, with cooler daytime temperatures and foliage exploding with color.

New England Fall Foliage Tour

Autumn in Acadia National Park, Maine, USA
Photo Credit:

Plan a fall trip through New England’s hardwood forests, ablaze with reds, oranges, and yellows. Start in Boston, exploring Minute Man National Historical Park’s Revolutionary War sites and period buildings. Next, head north to Acadia National Park, where you can hike to a lighthouse or up the infamous Beehive Trail for out-of-this-world views. From there, drive along the White Mountain National Forest’s Kancamagus Highway for scenic stops and hikes, including Mount Washington, which boasts some of the most extreme weather in the world. Finally, wind through Green Mountain National Forest and Vermont’s picturesque towns for leaf-peeping and quaint charm.

Deep South Discovery

Mammoth cave National Park inside. Sunrays inside in Mammoth cave National Park
Photo Credit:

This trip will take you from the heart of Appalachia down to the swampy southern tip of Florida. Start this journey at Mammoth Cave National Park, where you can explore the longest-known cave system in the world! From there head through the Great Smokey Mountains with its lush forests and miles and trails that wind through these ancient mountains. Next up is a stop in the South Carolina low country and one of the nation’s newest national parks, Congaree National Park, where you can walk through some of the southeastern United State’s largest old-growth hardwood forests. Lastly, head down to the southern tip of Florida to explore the swampy and mysterious Everglades National Park, where you can search for wildlife like snakes, jaguars, and alligators.

Desert to Sea Expedition

View from Inspiration Point, Anacapa island, California in Channel Islands National Park.
Photo Credit:

This drive spans from Death Valley, the hottest place in the country, to Channel Islands National Park, an island national park teeming with marine life. Sitting at 282 feet below sea level, Death Valley boasts extreme temperatures that have reached over 130 degrees. Luckily, there is more than just heat in this magical park, so take the time to explore geological wonders like Artist’s Palette, Mesquite Flat sand dunes, and Zabriskie Point. Next, visit Joshua Tree NP for its iconic Joshua trees and desert landscapes, offering activities like hiking, camping, and stargazing. Finally, ferry from Los Angeles to Channel Islands NP for remote island exploration, hiking, sea cave paddling, and snorkeling in the island’s clear waters.

New Mexico and Colorado Loop

Carlsbad Cavern National Park, New Mexico, USA overlooking Rattlesnake Canyon just after sunset.
Photo Credit:

Take a drive through Southern Colorado and along the length of New Mexico, where you can wander amongst massive sand dunes, see ancient cliff dwellings, and tour mysterious caverns. Starting in Colorado, head to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, where you can walk amongst towering sand dunes with stunning mountains dominating the background. Thrill seekers can try their hand at sandboarding down the length of the dunes! Next, head over to Mesa Verde National Park, where you can walk amongst ancient cliff dwellings that date back over 800 years. Some of the dwellings were simple one-bedroom structures, while others were home to over 150 rooms!

From here, we’ll head south into New Mexico and the gleaming white sands of White Sands National Park. These dunes are a photographer’s paradise, with their stark white color against the clear blue skies of this part of the state. Our last stop is on the southern edge of the state, where we’ll tour the magnificent Carlsbad Caverns. These caverns are home to an array of fossils and some of the best stalactites and stalagmites in the country.

Pacific Northwest Wonders

Crater lake a panoramic view
Photo Credit:

Take a tour through the parks of southern Oregon and Northern California with this road trip that will take you past stunning lakes, geothermal features, and towering redwood forests. Start the drive at Crater Lake National Park, which is home to the deepest lake in the United States. Drive the Rim Road to get views of this stunningly blue lake from every angle. Next, head south to the volcanic and rugged Lassen National Park, where you can hike amongst geotherm features like hot springs and steam vents. Lastly, drive towards the coast to take in the majesty of the Redwoods. Here you can hike the famous Fern Trail and scan the forest to try and spot the tallest tree in the world.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest