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Best National Park Vacations: 4 Road Trips You Don’t Want to Miss

Planning your next summer vacation? Visit some of the best national parks in the U.S. on a sightseeing road trip! From the Appalachian Mountains to the Pacific Northwest, you can explore glaciers, caves, lakes, scenic drives, and unforgettable wildlife. So pack up and head out on one of these incredible national park road trips!

Appalachian Road Trip

  • Locations: Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina
  • Recommended Trip Length: 7-12 days

National parks in the Great Appalachian Valley are often overlooked! But the warm weather, thick forests, and seasonal wonders of the Southeast U.S. make this an ideal location for your next regional road trip.

Shenandoah National Park

Aerial View of the Trees and Mountains at Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Instagram user @shenandoahnps

Photo via @shenandoahnps

Looking for a scenic national park road trip full of deer, wild turkeys, and countless species of birds? Among the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia are the rolling hills, expansive vistas, and stunning waterfalls of Shenandoah National Park. The park’s only public road, Skyline Drive, offers 105 miles of pathways for you to to weave through the park’s exceptional sights.

Mammoth Cave National Park

A staircase leading down into a cave in Mammoth Cave National Park. Photo by Instagram user @bravesirmarc

Photo via @bravesirmarc

Head to Kentucky for a truly unique national park getaway. Take a tour of the longest cave system in the world at Mammoth Cave National Park. Once you’ve explored below ground, come up for a hike around sinkholes or through petrified forests and springs.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Trees and Mountains at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Instagram user @jsiegristphoto

Photo via @jsiegristphoto

Frequent rainfall, a regular haze of fog, and Appalachian views give the most visited national park in the U.S. its name. Straddling the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to black bears, beautiful wildflowers, and unbelievable waterfalls.

Congaree National Park

Walking Trails Through the Trees at Congaree National Park. Photo by Instagram user @congareenps

Photo via @congareenps

In the middle of South Carolina sits Congaree National Park. Full of looming trees, this green national park getaway is a must-see as you drive down south. Go fishing by day and backcountry camping by night. This national park road trip pit stop is perfect for canoe or kayak enthusiasts and those looking to explore an unusual landscape!

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Grand Circle Road Trip

  • Locations: Arizona, Utah
  • Recommended Trip Length: 10-14 days

When it comes to the best national park road trips, the Grand Circle Road Trip can’t be beat! Whether you have one or two weeks to go on a great American vacation, this Western national parks driving loop is packed full of adventure.

Grand Canyon National Park

Aerial View of the Grand Canyon. Photo by Instagram user @grandcanyonnps

Photo via @grandcanyonnps

Arizona houses 277 miles of breathtaking views at Grand Canyon National Park. As one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, visitors will not be disappointed by the sights and sounds on the trails leading down to the Colorado River. If you’re looking for that picture-perfect view of the Grand Canyon, don’t miss the Skywalk! While the South Rim is more popular for hiking and mule-riding, the higher elevation of the North Rim offers a secluded experience for those unafraid of going off the beaten path.

Zion National Park

Creek Running Through the Mountains at Zion National Park. Photo by Instagram user @zionnps

Photo via @zionnps

Driving from the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park is quick and full of awe-inspiring views! Once you arrive at Zion, you’ll be met with one-of-a-kind arches, sandstone cliffs, and emerald pools. Go birdwatching to see 291 different species, try canyoneering, or choose to go camping in a national park during this leg of the Grand Circle road trip.

Bryce Canyon National Park

With the largest collection of hoodoos in the world, it’s easy to see why Bryce Canyon National Park should be included on your Grand Circle road trip itinerary. Catch gorgeous views at Sunset Point, head out for backcountry hiking, or plan your trip around annual summer events like the Geology Festival and the Astronomy Festival.

Capitol Reef National Park

The Castle Rock Formation at Capitol Reef National Park. Photo by Instagram user @capitolreefnps

Photo via @capitolreefnps

Capitol Reef National Park is considered one of the best national parks in the U.S. because of its red rock cliffs, canyons, domes, and more! Get your fill of hiking and backpacking, or test your rock climbing skills among the cliff falls. If you want an activity that’s less challenging, observe the unique rock formations that create the Waterpocket Fold on the Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive.

Arches National Park

Arch Rock Formations at Arches National Park. Photo by Instagram user @archesnps

Photo via @archesnps

Named for its innumerable red-rock archways, Arches National Park is sure to take your breath away. Try your hand at rock climbing, enjoy horseback riding, or stick around until nighttime to stargaze at more than 2,500 stars in the night sky.

Canyonlands National Park

A view down a giant red rock canyon in Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Instagram user @_joanthony

Photo via @_joanthony

Round out your two-week national park road trip in southeastern Utah at Canyonlands National Park. Divided by the Colorado River, the different areas of this desert national park offer extraordinary experiences and views of the buttes, canyons, and spires. Enjoy water activities including canoeing, sea-kayaking, whitewater rafting, and more!

Pacific Northwest Road Trip

  • Locations: Washington, Oregon
  • Recommended Trip Length: 5-9 days

The Pacific Northwest provides a lush setting for your next national park vacation. Map out an unforgettable Pacific Northwest road trip as you weave through mossy forests to see captivating lakes and waterfalls.

North Cascades National Park

Lake, Mountains, and Trees in North Cascades National Park. Photo by Instagram user @alberthbyang

Photo via @alberthbyang

When you plan your dream national park vacation, make sure the crystal clear lakes and soaring peaks of North Cascades National Park are on the list! More than 300 glaciers among the deeply-wooded forest make this park a paradise for those who love hiking. Hoping to enjoy time on the water? Check out Stehekin Valley, which connects the Cascade Mountains to Lake Chelan.

Olympic National Park

Field with Purple Flowers in Front of Mountain Range in Olympic National Park. Photo by Instagram user @olympic_nps

Photo via @olympic_nps

Glistening waterfalls and heavy forests covered in moss make Olympic National Park a stop you’ll never forget! From whale watching and hiking around Lake Ozette to camping in the Quinault Valley rainforest, nearly a million acres of wilderness guarantees visitors a variety of terrains to experience. Don’t forget to check out the tide pool activities during your national park road trip!

Mount Rainier National Park

While in Washington, make sure to include Mount Rainier National Park on your national park road trip itinerary. You can spot red foxes, chipmunks, and countless other animals while you explore the still-active volcano. If you’re hoping to hike through a sea of wildflowers, visit between mid-July and the beginning of August. Those who love biking can choose a trail with a view or challenge their off-road skills by picking a path with a steep rise in elevation.

Crater Lake National Park

Icy Mountain in the Middle of a Lake in Crater Lake National Park. Photo by Instagram user @masamonster

Photo via @masamonster

Nestled in Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is home to the deepest lake in the U.S. The blue waters are some of the cleanest and clearest in the world, making this an ideal spot to take a boat tour or go fishing during your national park road trip! Take in the views on foot or traverse the 33-mile Scenic Rim Drive around the lake to experience it from different vantage points. Had your fill of camping? Spend the night at the rustic Crater Lake Lodge.

Rocky Mountain Road Trip

  • Locations: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado
  • Recommended Trip Length: 5-9 days

While all four national parks on this road trip itinerary have the Rocky Mountains in common, each offers a totally different outdoor experience! Plan time to make pit stops at the numerous national forests as you drive through this majestic mountain range.

Glacier National Park

Coined as the “Crown of the Continent,” Glacier National Park is known for its winding rivers and picture-perfect mountain views. Look past the vast sea of wildflowers in one of the most incredible northwest national parks to spot bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, and mountain goats. Discover rustic lodging or make the most of the sparkling waters with river camping.

Yellowstone National Park

Giant Canyon with a Waterfall in Yellowstone Naitonal Park. Photo by Instagram user @tearnyour

Photo via @tearnyour

When you imagine the ultimate national park road trip, Yellowstone National Park is likely on the list. Touted as the first national park, Yellowstone is most famous for geothermal features such as Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. All ages can take a hike or ride a horse to experience more of the park’s hidden wonders. With tons of outdoor recreation available and ranger-led tours, this is one of the best national park vacations for families.

Grand Teton National Park

Creek in Front of a Mountain Range in Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Instagram user @grandtetonnps

Photo via @grandtetonnps

Glistening lakes, endless trails, and soaring mountains make Grand Teton National Park a national park getaway you won’t want to miss! Snake River flows through the park and is ideal for fishing or floating. Keep your feet on the ground and hike the 200+ miles of trails, or catch some air and test your mountaineering skills.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Aerial View of Gem Lake and Mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Instagram user @mochamatt

Photo via @mochamatt

One of the best national parks to visit is Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the perfect stop to set up camp for a night or two or enjoy a scenic picnic. With activities like horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, and fishing, there’s no shortage of things to do. If you don’t have a lot of time for this leg of your national park road trip, you can drive the “Highway to the Sky” across the park and experience its gorgeous views as you rise in elevation on Trail Ridge Road.


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Pinterest graphic: National Parks: The Best Road Trips for your Summer Getaway