We are a couple from San Francisco. Both of us call this city home, though it is thousands of miles away from our respective hometowns. As a couple, we did a few international travels to explore the beautiful scenery this planet has to offer, the most memorable being road trips through New Zealand and Argentinian Patagonia. In summer of 2019, we took a break from our normal everyday life and embarked on a 3 month long epic national park road trip across the American West & Canada. Being outdoor enthusiasts, we both love national parks and natural landscapes, so this was a great choice for our once-in-a-lifetime summer plans. We just didn’t know how many national parks we could cover in a single trip as we wanted to visit them all!
After hours and hours of research looking for the best locations to cover, we ended up with this itinerary for our summer road travels. It consists of 20 stops over the span of 90 days, visiting 19 national parks across 9 different states, and over 10,000 miles in US & Canada. (5000 miles in an RV towing a car, another 5000 miles in the car driving around in national parks). This is the best road trip itinerary for anyone wanting to visit western US national parks in one trip as it maximizes the number of parks visited in the shortest travel time. The whole trip looks like a giant loop across the western part of the US and British Columbia in Canada.
Outdoorsome.com was founded during this trip. During our research process, we found ourselves spending hours on Google searching for blog posts from travel bloggers who’ve done something like this before. (And chances are you are doing the same right now). We built Outdoorsome on the road, to help travelers discover blog posts from travel bloggers that may not be easy to find on Google. We hope this itinerary helps you in your planning.
National Park Road Trip Map
1. Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park
Distance: 240 miles. Drive Time: 4.5 hours (from San Francisco)
Our first stop was a bit rushed as we only spent 1 day visiting both Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks. (A flat tire on the very first day of our road trip took away one additional day that we had planned here).
Our favorite spots in Kings Canyon & Sequoia were the General Grant Tree (largest tree in the world), General Sherman Tree (second largest tree), Morro Rock, & Roaring River Falls. Check out our posts on Kings Canyon for top things to do.
2. Death Valley National Park
Distance: 334 miles. Drive Time: 6.7 hours (from Kings Canyon)
Death Valley is the second largest national park in the contiguous US, and you can easily spend more than a week exploring different parts of the park.
We only spent 3 days here though and some of our favorite spots were Dante’s Point, Badwater Basin, Devil’s Golf Course, Furnace Creek, Mesquite Sand Dunes & Artist’s Drive. Check out our posts on Death Valley to read more about our experience.
3. Grand Canyon National Park
Distance: 430 miles. Drive Time: 8.6 hours s (from Death Valley)
Everyone must visit the Grand Canyon at least once in their lifetime to appreciate the true beauty of nature. How the amazing river Colorado formed this giant hole in the ground over millions of years will certainly put you in awe!
Our favorites in Grand Canyon were walking along the South Rim Trail, hiking the Bright Angel Trail & visiting the historic Watchtower. Check out our posts on Grand Canyon to read more about our experience.
4. Antelope Canyon
Distance: 112 miles. Drive Time: 2 hours (from Grand Canyon)
Although technically Antelope Canyon is not a national park, it still earns its place in this itinerary for being a truly unique place to visit. The Upper Antelope Canyon photo tour, hiking the Wire Pass slot canyon and the Horseshoe Bend were our top activities in Antelope Canyon/Glen Canyon area near Page, Arizona. Check out our posts on Antelope Canyon to read more about our experience.
5. Arches National Park
Distance: 273 miles. Drive Time: 5.5 hours (from Antelope Canyon)
Arches was the first park we visited out of the mighty five national parks in Utah (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion). For no particular reason, we decided to start with Arches and make our way back to Zion, instead of the other way around.
If we were to do this again, we would probably visit Zion after Antelope Canyon and make our way up to Arches and Canyonlands through Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef. Check out our post on the best things to do in Arches to read more about our experience.
6. Canyonlands National Park
Distance: 30 miles. Drive Time 30 mins (from Arches)
Of all the parks we visited, Canyonlands was probably the least known to us, and its beauty definitely caught us by surprise. So much so that we ended up spending more time here than neighboring Arches National Park, where we only spent a day!
Our favorites were driving on Shafer Trail, watching sunset at the Grand View Point, the Green River Overlook and of course, the Mesa Arch. Check out our posts on Canyonlands to read more about our experience.
7. Capitol Reef National Park
Distance: 120 miles. Drive Time: 2.5 hours (from Arches)
Capitol Reef was not on our original itinerary. But when we learned that we would literally be driving through it, we decided to spend a day here. It also allowed us to complete the mighty five of Utah!
The key highlights here are walking along Capitol Gorge, driving on the 18 mile scenic drive and the Grand Wash & Cassidy Arch. Check out our post on top things to do in Capitol Reef in a day.
8. Bryce Canyon National Park
Distance: 276 miles. Drive Time: 5.5 hours (from Capitol Reef)
Arguably one of the most distinct of all the parks in Utah, Bryce Canyon is spectacular. It has the highest concentration of Hoodoos found anywhere on the planet. If you don’t know what that is, check out our post on hiking the Hoodoos.
Our favorite spots in Bryce Canyon were the Rim Trail, Bryce Amphitheater, Navajo Loop Trail, Sunrise Point and Queens Garden Trail.
9. Zion National Park
Distance: 84 miles. Drive Time: 1.7 hours (from Bryce Canyon)
Zion is probably the most popular of the parks in Utah. The park attracts millions of visitors every year. When you visit Zion for the first time, it is obvious why. With its remarkable landscapes, hiking trails and numerous activities on the virgin river, the park is aptly named “Zion” which translates to “kingdom of heaven”.
The most popular things to do include hiking the Narrows, Angels Landing, watching sunset at the Watchman, enjoying a picnic at Kolob Reservoir. Read our posts on Zion National Park to learn about the best things to do here in 3 days.
10. Grand Teton National Park
Distance: 608 miles. Drive Time: 12.2 hours (from Zion). Overnight pit stop in Salt Lake City.
Of all the places we visited in the US in this national park road trip, Grand Teton probably ties with Glacier National Park for the top spot! The natural beauty, wildlife, hiking trails and the ease of access to the park make it one of our favorites.
Some of the most popular things to do are picnicking on Jenny Lake, driving on Teton Park Scenic Road, Jackson Lake, hiking the Cascade Canyon, and Paintbrush Canyon. Check out our posts on Grand Teton to learn about the best things to do here in 5 days.
11. Yellowstone National Park
Distance: 60 miles. Drive Time: 1.2 hours (from Grand Teton).
Yellowstone is one of the most visited national parks in the US. But relative to its popularity, it was the park that impressed us the least. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a beautiful place to visit, and everyone must experience the volcanic activity at least once in their lifetimes. But the crowds here take away from what we picture as a national park experience. There are far too many people here. (As evident in this picture below!).
Viewing the bison and other wildlife in Lamar Valley was the highlight of our visit here. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is also pretty unique. Everyone talks about Old Faithful, but of all the geyser basins in Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin is our most favorite. And of course, Mammoth Hot Springs is not to be missed. Check out our posts on Yellowstone to learn about the best things to do here in 5 days.
12. Glacier National Park
Distance: 440 miles. Drive Time: 8.8 hours (from Yellowstone).
Glacier National Park was one of the parks we were looking forward to the most. And it did not disappoint us one bit. Along with Grand Teton, it was our favorite park in the US. So much so that we actually spent 4 nights in the west side of the park and another 6 nights in the east side! We didn’t want to miss an ounce of Glacier. At the end of it, we felt like we could easily spend more time.
Our favorite things to do here include hiking the Highline Trail, driving on Going-to-the-sun Road, hiking the Hidden Lake Trail, Swiftcurrent Lake and the Many Glacier area. Check out our posts on Glacier National Park to read about our experience here.
13. Banff National Park
Distance: 293 miles. Drive Time: 5.9 hours. (from Glacier).
If Glacier & Teton were our most favorite parks in the US, Banff & Jasper certainly take the crown for the entire national park road trip! We are still in the process of publishing the content from Banff, Jasper and all the parks following them. We hope to have those published very soon. So stay tuned on our website, or subscribe to our posts to get notified by email.
14. Jasper National Park
Distance: 181 miles. Drive Time: 3.6 hours.
15. North Cascades National Park
Distance: 733 miles. Drive Time: 14.7 hours. (Overnight in Kelowna, BC Canada)
16. Olympic National Park
Distance: 83 miles. Drive Time: 3 hours.
17. Mount Rainier National Park
Distance: 114 miles. Drive Time: 2.3 hours.
18. Crater Lake National Park
Distance: 403 miles. Drive Time: 8.1 hours.
19. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Distance: 262 miles. Drive Time: 5.2 hours.
20. San Francisco
Distance: 236 miles. Drive Time: 4.7 hours.
Total Distance: 5050 miles in RV, another 5000 miles in towed car.
Total Drive Time: 200+ hours
The driving distance between most destinations is below 300 miles, which is manageable to cover in a day. (except from Zion to Grand Teton requires an overnight stop at Salt Lake City and from Jasper to North Cascades requires an overnight stop at Kelowna, BC). We were able to comfortably cover this itinerary with no issues whatsoever.
So what do you think about our epic national park road trip? What has been your most adventurous road trip so far? Leave us a comment to share your thoughts. Follow us on instagram to see more pictures from our trip.