8 U.S. National Park Road Trips to Fit in Before Summer Ends

Grand Circle Tour through Utah’s Big 5

If you’ve saved up all your PTO in anticipation of your next great adventure, consider spending it in the great American Southwest on a Grand Circle Tour. The 11-day-ish (depending on how often you stop) road trip traverses 1,500 miles, six national parks—that’s Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, and Grand Canyon—plus Monument Valley (as seen in our fave HBO thriller, Westworld), and a slew of tiny desert towns. Along the way, you’ll be treated to sheer sandstone cliffs, canyon floor hoodoos, soaring arches, and unrivaled sunsets.

Grinnell Glacier Glacier National Park, Montana mountain sky outdoor Nature wilderness wildflower vegetation nature reserve mount scenery mountainous landforms meadow national park mountain range bank landscape Lake reflection yellow grass national trust for places of historic interest or natural beauty spring alps valley watercourse grassland flower computer wallpaper tarn tree tundra plant surrounded highland

Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming tree sky outdoor Nature geographical feature wilderness body of water landform atmospheric phenomenon water reflection River Forest cloud smoke mountain spring morning landscape stream water feature autumn Lake woodland Waterfall park national park

Grand Teton Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming tree Nature outdoor sky pond water mountainous landforms wilderness reflection ecosystem Lake mountain mountain range season tarn woody plant landscape meadow autumn biome temperate coniferous forest larch park national park alps valley surrounded Forest pasture

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Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Park

The 3,000-mile Rocky Mountain range—spanning from British Columbia through ID, MT, WY, CO, and even NM—harbors some of America’s most adored national parks. Get to know the Northern Rockies by knitting together a road trip through three of them: Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier. The 450-mile route (one way) weaves together vast backcountry, erupting geysers, and alpine meadows for an epic western escape. Pro tip: take a detour along Glacier’s stunning Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile scenic stretch that crosses the Continental Divide as it winds its way through Logan Pass alongside Saint Mary Lake.

Olympic National Park Olympic National Park, Washington Natural wonders Scenic views outdoor tree sky water Nature plant atmospheric phenomenon Sunset body of water shore sunrise Coast Sea Ocean horizon dawn morning Beach cloud reflection dusk evening sunlight landscape bay Lake Sun setting

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco, California sky outdoor water Sea cloud reflection tower horizon body of water Ocean Coast dusk morning dawn evening bay vehicle Sunset clouds lighthouse sunrise wave shore day distance

Olympic National Park Olympic National Park, Washington Natural wonders Scenic views water sky outdoor Nature shore Coast Sea Ocean body of water Beach reflection rock horizon wave cloud wind wave bay sand cape terrain material cliff Island promontory islet

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Pacific Coast Highway from Golden Gate Bridge to Redwood to Olympic National Park

We’ll take any excuse to cruise down the PCH, but throwing some national parks into the mix takes it to the next level. Starting in San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge off your bucket list before continuing your 15-hour drive up the winding coast en-route to Redwood National and State Parks, and then on to Washington’s Olympic National Park. With 850-ish miles (and three states) to explore, there’s much to see beyond the tallest trees on earth and the perpetually misty million-acre wilderness; don’t miss out on pit stops in smaller state parks like CA’s Humboldt Redwoods (home of Avenue of the Giants) and WA’s Capitol State Forest.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California tree outdoor plant Nature green rock wood trunk woodland Forest woody plant leaf sculpture ancient history autumn

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California mountain sky outdoor tree mountainous landforms Nature geographical feature landform wilderness atmospheric phenomenon mountain range cloud natural environment Forest hill ridge background morning landscape green valley meadow alps plateau hillside canyon autumn national park lush surrounded highland

Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park, California outdoor mountain Nature landform geographical feature wilderness geological phenomenon valley cliff canyon Adventure rock outdoor recreation terrain ridge wadi extreme sport geology mountain range recreation walking

Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park, California tree outdoor Nature habitat track reflection landform geographical feature wilderness River pond body of water natural environment water ecosystem stream autumn season leaf Forest woody plant woodland landscape valley wooded flower waterway traveling moving lush day

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California’s Majestic Mountain Loop

All it takes is five hours of (speed-limit-abiding) driving to knock three of California’s most iconic parks—Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite—off your list. Known as the Majestic Mountain Loop, this long-weekend-friendly road trip can be done in as little as three days, but the more you can add on, the merrier. Key points of interest include Sequoia’s beloved General Sherman Tree (the world’s largest tree by volume), Kings Canyon’s trout-filled Hume Lake, and Yosemite’s Half Dome day hike.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado outdoor sky habitat Nature natural environment landform geographical feature sand Sea erg aeolian landform horizon dune shore Coast Ocean Beach landscape Desert wave clouds material

Rocky Mountains Colorado, United States Forest Mountains Nature Scenic views Wildlife mountain outdoor sky mountainous landforms animal herd mammal wilderness pasture mountain range grazing cattle like mammal landscape plateau group cattle Adventure yak sheep

Mesa Verde National Park Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado outdoor Nature cliff rock archaeological site Ruins ancient history wadi nativity scene cliff dwelling monastery formation temple history stone

Rocky Mountains Colorado, United States outdoor sky mountain grass highland mountainous landforms Nature wilderness landform ridge mountain range ecosystem hill fell field mountain pass trail walking valley plateau loch Adventure meadow hiking landscape backpacking alps hillside Lake pasture base lush

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Denver to Rocky Mountain to Mesa Verde to Great Sand Dunes National Park

If you’re feeling ambitious and find yourself in Colorado, this multi-park tour can’t be missed. Unlike other states (see: Utah and Wyoming), Colorado’s national parks don’t sit shoulder-to-shoulder, but that’s what makes this trip so great. A 1,000-mile loop from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve to Mesa Verde National Park and then back to Denver will require about 19 hours of driving, but you’ll cross more than half the state in the process. Between the three parks, you’ll find drastically different attractions like 12,000-foot alpine peaks, North America’s tallest dunes, and ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings. Just make sure you have your playlists ready to go.

Ruby Beach Olympic National Park, Washington outdoor sky water Coast Sea shore Nature body of water landform geographical feature Ocean cliff rock cloud mountain Beach wave terrain landscape tower bay cape cove material day

Mount Rainier Mount Rainier National Park, Washington tree outdoor ground habitat vegetation plant natural environment woodland ecosystem Forest trail botany path conifer temperate broadleaf and mixed forest woody plant leaf rainforest Garden temperate coniferous forest Jungle autumn biome shrub wooded area dirt bushes surrounded

Mount Rainier Mount Rainier National Park, Washington grass outdoor sky highland mountainous landforms Nature mountain field wilderness atmospheric phenomenon tree cloud hill mountain range morning loch mist Lake landscape sunlight rural area reflection plateau ridge sunrise dawn valley terrain autumn pasture lush day

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Seattle to Mount Rainier to Olympic National Park

A Washington two-for-one is what this short Pacific Northwest trip is all about. Start in Seattle and head southwest through Enumclaw, a tiny Mount Rainier National Park gateway town that offers stellar pre-park vistas. How long you stay in Mount Rainier is up to you, but don’t miss out on a hike up the eponymously-named glacier-capped summit; a romp through Paradise, the park’s most popular wildflower meadow; or a leisurely drive down the Chinook Scenic Byway. From there, set off about 115 miles northeast to Port Angeles, the entry point of Olympic National Park. This nearly one-million-acre swath of wilderness follows the Pacific coast for 70 miles in a show of old-growth rain forests, glacier-capped mountains, and foggy, wave-eroded sea stacks.

Acadia National Park Acadia National Park, New England tree outdoor sky way road scene highway mountain vacation infrastructure rural area landscape trail mountain pass traveling

Acadia National Park Acadia National Park, New England tree outdoor Nature vegetation path Forest woodland nature reserve ecosystem wilderness old growth forest rainforest Jungle leaf plant valdivian temperate rain forest spruce fir forest temperate broadleaf and mixed forest biome state park wooded temperate coniferous forest tropical and subtropical coniferous forests sunlight landscape creek riparian forest wood trail grove grass deciduous watercourse area lush

Acadia National Park Acadia National Park, New England brick wall bridge Forest moss Natural wonders Nature ripple River Rocks stream Waterfall woods outdoor rock water building stone arch water feature autumn

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Park Loop Road through Acadia National Park

When it comes to exploring Maine’s Mount Desert Island—and taking in Acadia’s best coastal views—by car, this scenic 27-mile route is the only way to go. Beginning at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center (just off Route 3 on the northern side of the island), the road loops past Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, Jordan Pond, and the 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain—the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. Even if you don’t stop at all the main sites, you’ll still find unparalleled panoramas of the stunning Maine landscape including snow-capped mountain peaks, rocky stone shores, and pink granite summits along the way.

 

Mammoth Cave National Park Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky tree outdoor habitat wilderness body of water River natural environment ecosystem Forest Nature woody plant woodland stream Lake old growth forest rainforest Jungle plant

Mammoth Cave National Park Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky Nature geographical feature outdoor cave landform caving pit cave formation stalagmite

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee sky grass outdoor tree habitat Nature vegetation mountainous landforms field flower mountain wilderness grassland natural environment ecosystem plant meadow flora prairie agriculture land plant wildflower hill rural area leaf Forest landscape sunlight plateau flowering plant valley Lake rapeseed produce lush

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee outdoor sky tree mountain Nature mountainous landforms habitat wilderness geographical feature atmospheric phenomenon hill natural environment ecosystem Forest mountain range hillside morning background green valley sunrise leaf landscape dawn Sunset autumn plateau ridge meadow lush distance bushes highland

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Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains to Mammoth Cave National Park

If you’ve got a week to spare, this East Coast route is one for the books. Along Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive (just 75 miles from D.C.), you’ll find more than 70 overlooks where you can stop for a view of the protected park’s 200,000 acres—home to cascading waterfalls, wooded hills, and meandering backcountry. From there, it’s about 350 miles to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (470 miles if you take the scenic route—a.k.a. the Blue Ridge Parkway). After a few days in the foggy, heavily forested park, it’s time for your final stop: Mammoth Cave National Park. The Kentucky cave system contains more than 400 explored miles—the longest in the world—and ranger-led excursions are offered season to season.