One Epic National Park Road Trip Across the USA

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Have you ever dreamed about leaving everything behind and setting out on the ultimate National Park road trip across the entire United States? I know I have! While I’ve set off on a number of epic road trips, including a massive west coast National Park road trip (twice, actually), and another cross-country road trip, and yet I’ve only managed to visit a total of 32 of the 63 National Parks. That means I’ve still got a lot of ground to cover, especially those parks that lay east of the Rockies.

And don’t miss my top national park road trip planning resources at the bottom of this article!

USA National Park Road Trip

In this article, we are going to be talking about how to link together the vast majority of those parks, including basically all of them within the Lower 48 (aka the Contiguous USA) as well as an option for including the newest national parks that were added to the system in the past couple years. Combining together a bunch of national parks is the very definition of a great American road trip, in my eyes.

Ready? Let’s get planning and hit the road!

One Epic National Park Road Trip Across the USA travel, road-trip, north-america

Planning an Epic National Park Road Trip

Within the continental United States (aka Lower 48) there are a total of 51 National Parks — there are 2 in Hawaii, 8 in Alaska, and 2 in the territories, making a total of 63.

But of those 51 National Parks in the Continental USA, there are another four parks that are not accessible by vehicle due to the fact that they are maritime-based National Parks.

While driving the Pan American Highway, I started dreaming about once again returning to those incredible protected areas back in my homeland. So I started to imagine what a massive national park road trip in the USA would look like.

I jumped on Google Maps and connected the route in the most logical way I could, taking into account the many miles and many parks I have already visited as well.

The Ultimate National Park Road Trip

This Epic National Park Road Trip covers terrain in at least 39 of the 50 states, across more than 16,950 miles (27,277 km), and visits 45 of the 51 National Parks located in the Continental USA, but does not specifically include the four island-based National Parks (although you get pretty close and could organize boat transport to reach them), nor the two Midwest national parks.

Back in 2019, three national parks were added to the system: Indiana Dunes National Park, Gateway Arch National Park, and White Sands National Park. I’ve added an option to the route which would include these new two Midwest parks, but the addition of Gateway Arch makes it difficult to make a nice, clean route…

Honestly, I’m not really sure why Gateway Arch is a National Park when it is more of a historical monument. That’s one park I would probably skip if your focus is on nature. Indiana Dunes, on the other hand, would be easy to include and is a nature area. White Sands National Park, on the other hand, is included on the main route and is definitely not to be missed! And at the end of 2020, the New River Gorge in West Virginia was designated as a National Park.

I’ve also deliberately tried to route the map to visit a number of incredible scenic areas that aren’t necessarily national parks, like Monument Valley or Grand-Staircase Escalante, for instance.

I also made the route go through a number of exciting cities or landmarks, like the Golden Gate Bridge, Las Vegas, or even places like New York City, since an epic American Road Trip would seem almost incomplete without at least passing through some of these places. Furthermore, in areas where there aren’t national parks, I tried to route the trip through areas of interest, like the Mississippi Delta for a Blues and Americana trip in order to connect parks or regions.

Interactive National Park Road Trip Map

Check out the Interactive Map on Felt.

Be sure to zoom in and explore the interactive road trip map above, you will find additional notes and details about the trip planning process to better help guide your decision-making process. The map also includes park hiking trails and campgrounds to help you plan!

National Park Road Trip Itinerary

At a minimum, you wouldn’t want to take less than three months, in my opinion, to do a trip of this magnitude, as you shouldn’t have to rush through something like this.

For this hypothetical, albeit still rushed timeline, I would consider starting this national park road trip in the Northeast (since that’s where the largest population centers are clustered) and visiting Acadia National Park in Maine as the first stop in mid-July.

This allows you to cover the northern half of the US National Parks during summer in places like Glacier National Park, Mount Rainier, etc.

Then you will head south into the national parks of California by the end of August, and spend the beginning of fall exploring the multitude of parks in the American Southwest before heading once again across the country to reach the chain of east coast national parks (hopefully) in time for the changing of the leaves and fall colors.

This is a rushed and not ideal trip, of course. I would consider more time to be crucial!

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An ideal road trip of this length and geographic range would last at least six months to a year… Considering the weather, it might be best to start in the American Southwest in late winter or early spring, then head clockwise, through the Pacific Northwest and northern half of the country in summer, down the East Coast (fall colors!) in Autumn, and across the southern half in the winter.

Read More: National Parks to Visit in Spring

But anyone who was the chance to undertake this journey will have a different starting point, starting time of year, and length of time to complete it. You will need to customize it as you see fit and most likely have to make compromises along the way (visiting out of season, for instance). Either way, you’ll be able to hit the highlights of the park system as well as the most underrated national parks that don’t get as much attention.

Arches NP - The Ultimate USA National Park Road Trip

Here is the order of National Parks visited on this road trip itinerary. Those with an asterisk (*) are the island parks that aren’t accessible by car. Those with a tilde (~) are the two Midwest parks which could be included with a detour of the current route. I also included a checkmark (✓) next to those national parks that I’ve visited personally.

Acadia National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
~ Indiana Dunes National Park
~ Gateway Arch National Park
* Isle Royale National Park
Voyageurs National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
✓ Badlands National Park
Wind Cave National Park
✓ Grand Teton National Park
✓ Yellowstone National Park
✓ Glacier National Park
✓ North Cascades National Park
✓ Olympic National Park
✓ Mount Rainier National Park
✓ Crater Lake National Park
✓ Redwood National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Pinnacles National Park
✓ Sequoia National Park
✓ Kings Canyon National Park
✓ Yosemite National Park
✓ Death Valley National Park
* Channel Islands National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
✓ Saguaro National Park
✓ Petrified Forest National Park
✓ Grand Canyon National Park
✓ Zion National Park
✓ Great Basin National Park
✓ Bryce Canyon National Park
✓ Capitol Reef National Park
✓ Arches National Park
✓ Canyonlands National Park
✓ Mesa Verde National Park
✓ Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
✓ Rocky Mountain National Park
✓ Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
✓ White Sands National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Big Bend National Park
Hot Springs National Park
Everglades National Park
* Biscayne National Park
* Dry Tortugas National Park
✓ Congaree National Park
✓ Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park
✓ New River Gorge National Park
✓ Shenandoah National Park

Yosemite NP - The Ultimate National Park Road Trip

Best National Parks Resources

  • America the Beautiful Pass: The annual pass is a MUST purchase if you plan to visit approximately four or more national parks in one year and it will save you a ton of money! The annual past is just $80 (even cheaper for seniors) and will grant you unlimited access to all parks, even those that normally cost like $30 each!
  • Ken Burns’ National Parks Documentary: If you haven’t seen it yet, this six-part documentary series is an incredible introduction to the history of America’s National Parks system and all the challenges and triumphs faced. MUST WATCH! It will give you a whole new appreciation.
  • Moon USA National Parks Guide: This is the most complete resource you’ll find about virtually all the parks (doesn’t include the two newest ones) with itineraries, suggested things to see and do, road trip planning and so much more. 
  • AAA Insurance: If you’re going to be doing a monster road trip like this, be sure to have AAA insurance which will protect you in the event of a roadside breakdown. I’d recommend the more complete package which includes up to a 200-mile tow (I had to use that distance once when I broke down outside of Bryce Canyon!). Hopefully, you don’t need it, but it is a lifesaver if you do.

Looking for more road trip inspiration? Don’t miss my post about the most scenic drives in the USA, the best road trip books, or all of these amazing places to visit on a West Coast road trip.

If you need more concrete stuff beyond inspiration, you may want to check out my 21 favorite apps for a road trip, or my favorite podcasts to listen to while on the road.

I hope this post has filled you up with National Park road trip ideas, I know it has for me! I’m itching to get back on the road as I write this.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Road Trip Planning

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One Epic National Park Road Trip Across the USA travel, road-trip, north-america


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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Comments 24

  1. Love this! How many miles do you estimate this is as it stands, without modification? Were there parks that you just did the Griswalds and drove in, drove around and left? Just curious.

    Thanks for all this work and sharing!

    1. Post

      It is at least 17,000 miles or so as the trip stands. There were a few times where it was basically just a drive through and go type of situation, but I’ve also been able to visit some of these parks multiple times, so I almost always try to at least get in a day hike. Some that I just drove through that I recall at this moment were Saguaro NP and Petrified Forest. Hopefully I will get a chance to visit Arizona again soon and explore more.

      1. Hey Ryan,
        My daughter and I are planning a trip like this, but could you tell me how many days your trip will take, roughly. What I have planned so far for our trip is about 60 days, but would like to do yours if it runs about the same amount of time. Thank you for putting it together and out there for us to follow/use.

  2. I can’t believe the route is so close to Pensacola FL and does not include a stop at the amazingly beautiful Gulf Islands National Seashore! You are truly missing out on a fantastic place – with camping at Ft Pickens – if you leave this off the list.

    1. Post

      Hey Shawn, that’s only because the route is targeted toward designated national parks, but yes, there are countless amazing places that can and should be added to this route all across the country. There are tons of incredible Federal and state lands to check out.

  3. I would add in a route that takes you to Mt. Hood in Oregon. Dense forests with a huge snow capped peak. Plenty of camping in the area. Summer at the Mt Hood Ski resort has many outdoor activities for all ages.

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  4. Loved the road trip , and would like to plan one like it in the near future. Keep up the great work. You may e-mail me an update if you so desire. Thanks, Robert

  5. Ahhhh this is so epic! I will have to do this at some point – I really hope I get the time! I’ve only ever done three weeks at a time before and that’s insanely fun, but something longer would be amazing to try. Thanks for the article!

  6. Very nice article. I’m looking forward to doing this some day, when I’m finished with Hawaii. By the way, I don’t know when you wrote this, but there are more than two National Parks in Hawaii.

    1. Post

      As far as I know, there are only two national parks (Haleakalā and Hawai’i Volcanoes), this article isn’t addressing national memorials, historic sites, historical parks, or historic trails… Doing so would definitely balloon the number of places (from 61 national parks to 419 different units administered by the NPS).

  7. My husband and I went to Alaska a few years ago if you love nature Denali is the ultimate park to visit. We also took aside trip up to Barrow and was able to get the picture of a lifetime, Mt. Denali surrounded by clouds at 36,000 feet.

    Have been to Mt. Rushmore, Assateague Island National Seashore, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is almost in my back yard so we visit it alot. Going to Everglades National Park next spring with my sister.I

    Many more places to visit in the future. Happy travels!!!

    1. Post

      Oh yeah, I couldn’t agree more! Been to Denali as well, but it was a bit beyond the scope of this article about a national park road trip in the Lower 48… You’d almost need a lifetime just to explore the parks up in Alaska.

  8. Damn, you weren’t kidding when you called it an “epic” road trip! I love traveling and everything but I think a trip that long would be overly exhausting for me.

  9. My husband and I have been to Dry Tortugas National Park. We took a day trip over from Key West a few years ago. It was incredible. The jellyfish were in earlier in the season than normal and they were beautiful. Some were the size of dinner platters and vibrant purple. There were so many different types of fish. I was unable to get in the water due to being allergic to jellyfish stings but I still enjoyed walking the perimeter of the fort and getting some fantastic pictures of all the sea life. I hope you make it there some day.

    1. Post

      That sounds amazing! I’d definitely like to experience that at some point… Not sure about getting in the water and the prospect of jellyfish stings though, haha.

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  10. I have one month from middle of Aug to middle of Sept. this summer Leaving northern Calif to New York
    what route do you suggest? Want to see as much as I can I will be in my Coach House Van

  11. My family and I are thinking about taking a road trip from northeastern Illinois to Mount Rushmore. Is there anything we must see and do when planning this outing?

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  12. I have been in the process of planning just this very road trip. I am so eager to see as many of the national parks as possible. Thank you, you have saved me hours of routing.

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