3 national park road trips that are worth the drive
This post is sponsored by Alamo. All opinions are our own.
If you listen to our weekly podcast, you know that we love to categorize the national parks.
This makes it easier for us to sort all 59 parks in our heads, and also give great advice to our friends looking for travel ideas.
When we read this article from Alamo, recommending national parks based on various interests, we knew we were in good company. Any excuse you have to visit a national park is a good enough reason to go, but sometimes adding a layer of intention to your travels can make them much more meaningful.
All the national parks we are talking about today have one important thing in common. It’s not that they’re similar in size or ecosystem or wildlife — but that they all make for incredible road trips.
Certain areas of the country are flush with national parks. These areas make for good road trips, because it is possible to hit several national parks all in one trip.
Here are a few of our favorite national park road trips, which we’re dying to do again:
From Las Vegas: The Mighty Five
For a real bang for your buck, head to southern Utah. You can hit five national parks that make up “The Mighty Five” (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands) with fewer than seven hours of drive time from the first to the last.
We recommend taking as much time as you can to get the full experience. For a small taste of each national park, be sure to hike the Narrows in Zion, stroll along the rim of Bryce Canyon, stargaze in Capitol Reef, climb to Delicate Arch before the crowds in Arches, and watch a sunset in Canyonlands. Use these tips from Alamo to make the most of your time in Zion!
Summers in southern Utah can be brutal, so make sure you are well-prepared and veer away from hiking during the heat of the day.
From Seattle: The Washington Parks
Late-summer weather in the Pacific Northwest is perfect for outdoor adventures, and three national parks (Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades) are all huddled around Seattle.
Use the big city as your base camp, and set off in three different directions for amazing views and solitude.
To the north, check out North Cascades National Park, an incredibly under-frequented park with jaw-dropping mountain views. Head west from Seattle to the expansive and diverse Olympic National Park, where you can see massive mountain ranges, coastline, and rain forest all in one park. Finally, south of Seattle lies the 14,411-foot Mount Rainier and its namesake national park, where you can hike in the shadows of the impressive Rainier.
The mountains, pristine coastline, and lush forests in Washington will draw you in, so plan to spend at least a few days in each park.
If you haven’t used up all of your road tripping energy, head south down the coast of Oregon to Crater Lake National Park or east toward Glacier National Park.
From Anchorage: Southcentral Alaska
For the truly adventurous, there is nothing quite as rugged and wild as Alaska. Having access to a car here pays off in huge ways, so either drive the Alaskan Highway through Canada or rent a car once you arrive in Anchorage. If you are trying to decide whether to rent a car in Alaska, I’d recommend doing a bit of research on rental cars to help you out. With Anchorage as your base, set out and explore three national parks: Kenai Fjords, Denali, and Wrangell-St. Elias.
Although all vast and mountainous, each of these national parks has a slightly different flair. For the wildlife enthusiasts, a boat tour through Kenai Fjords National Park will leave you satisfied: orcas, humpbacks, harbor seals, sea otters, bald eagles, and thousands of puffins are among the creatures you can spot. Those interested in glaciers will be impressed to hear that about 25 percent of Wrangell-St. Elias (our country’s largest national park) is covered in these massive formations. Finally, for the bucket list travelers, Denali, home to North America’s tallest point, will not disappoint.
Many areas of Alaska are not driving-friendly, but Kenai Fjords, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Denali National Parks offer the classic road trip experience.
You really can’t go wrong visiting any national park. But if you plan ahead, you may be able to squeeze in an extra one or two.