California Road Trips

Western National Parks Road Trip: U.S.A

Yosemite-National-Park-camping
Written by Town & Tourist

Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A. – The United States has 61 Epic National parks,  which are looked after by the National Park Service. From the Grand Canyon National Park, to Yosemite National Park, each is as diverse, unique & scenic as the last.

The largest U.S National park is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska which spans a massive 13.2 million acres! Whereas the smallest is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, Pennsylvania, which is just 0.02 acres.

On the West Coast of the U.S.A, are some of the most epic National Parks which stretch from Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park in the south west, to Olympic National Park & Mt Rainer National Park in the north west.

Mount Rainier National Park

An spectrum of wildlife can be discovered at the western national parks! Mount Rainier National Park (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Each of these you could spend a lifetime adventuring through the vast wilderness, but to make things easier for you here at Town & Tourist we have put together an EPIC west Coast National Parks Road Trip!

This is a simple route with maps & directions, to follow along. The epic road trip will take you to the best national parks in the west, which can easily be completed in a single vacation!

Cost Saving  Tip:

If you plan on traveling to alot of National Parks then I suggest purchasing a “America the Beautiful Pass” which renews annual for $80. This pass will get you into every national parks and also into any federal lands which charge fees.

1. Arches National Park – Utah

Arches National Park is located just north of Moab in Utah. The park has over 2000 naturally formed standstone arches, in a variety of reddish hues.

Many draw resemblances in color of the Arches National Park to the surface of Mars! But you don’t have to travel 54.6 million Km to see them as the park Borders with the Colorado river in the south.  This is an epic location for hiking, camping & star gazing.

Camping-Utah-Unique-arches-Star

As night falls while camping , hope out your tent & feast your eyes on this natural wonder. A prime spot for star gazers. (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Highlights of Arches National Park:

Delicate Arch:

A real Monster Arch.

Double Arch:

Double Arch is a unique pair of giant arches in the park.

Landscape Arch:

This is the longest arch in Arches National Park and resembles a bridge.

(This is a pretty easy 0.9m hike great for the whole family. Although it’s not easy to photograph due the many rocks surrounding)

Camping-Arches-National-Park-Utah

Camping-Arches-National-Park-Utah .  (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Balanced Rock:

A seemingly gravity defying rock balancing high in the sky. This is a easy 0.3 mile walk into the area and around the base of the rock where you can achieve suitable views.

Devils Garden:

Devils Garden is a spiked wonder of rock fins which look as though they have risen from the ground. The area includes many hiking trails, an ampitheatre and even a campground.

(The Main Hike around is incredible but also challenging so be prepared to bring lots of water & snacks…it can take a good few hours)

Cost of Entry:

Arches and Canyonlands National Park charge $30 for a vehicle seven-day pass.

2. Zion National Park – Utah

In the 1860s, Mormon pioneers settled in area and named it Zion, a bible reference meaning the city of god! Located in south Utah, Zion National park is famed for it’s steep red cliffs. 

Highlights:

  • Angels Landing – Steep hike with incredible views. 
  • The Narrows – The Narrowest Section of Zion Canyon. 
  • Emerald Pools Trail – Which has cascading waterfalls & hanging gardens. 
Zion National Park Angels Landing hike guide

Zion National Park Angels Landing hike guide. Source: (Red Mountain Retreat) (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Best time to visit Zion National Park?

For more moderate weather head to Zion National Park during the Spring and fall. Popular months include, April, May, September & October which offer warm sunny weather with average temperatures between 60-90’F.

Can you drive through Zion National Park?

Yes! Drive through the Zion Mount Carmel highway which is open to tourists between (March- Octobers end). The drive takes just under 1 hour and is a bucket list experience.

Cost of Entry:

Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks both charge $35 for a 7 day pass with a vehicle. If you just take a drive from Capitol Reef National Park is $15.

How long should I spend at Zion National Park?

At Town & Tourist, we suggest you allow between 4-7 days if you are a avid hiker, as the challenging hikes will definitely keep you busy!

Epic One Day Itinerary:

If you have just one day, then I suggest either a tour or this Epic itinerary.

  1. Wake up early & Start with Sunrise at Canyon Overlook
  2. Park up at the Visitor Center and take the shuttle into the Zion Canyon for an early morning hike.
  3. Have a lunch in the nearby town of Springdale
  4. Drive up to the Kolob Canyon for a afternoon hike
  5. Then watch the sunset before stargazing

Head to Bryce Canyon Before?

There is just 50 miles between Zion National park & Bryce Canyon. However, if you drive on the US-89 route it ends up being approximately 120 miles! This takes around 3.5hours , many say Bryce offers more scenic views, so I suggest heading here first then taking a drive through Zion National Park.

3. Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona

With over 6.38 million visitors in 2018, Grand Canyon National Park is the MOST popular National Park in the U.S.A. Of course, the this amazing popularity can make the experience of visiting the grand canyon a little less authentic so here are a few tips.

Visit the North Rim. 

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park is much less crowded/touristic and the views are incredible! However, access can be difficult no matter which direction you are coming from & its only open for part of the year.

Winter-Camping-Grand-Canyon-National-Park-camping

The Grand Canyon National Park is an incredible winter camping destination! Source: xanterra.com (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Opening Months – May 15th – October 15th. 

(North Rim roads are closed to vehicles between December 1st and May 15th, and no visitor services are available. ) NPS

Highlights of the North Rim:

  • Popular Hiking Trails – North Kaibab Trail, South Kaibab Trail & Bright Angel Trails.
  • Camping at the North Rim Campground. Permits required.

If you really fancy exploring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I suggest doing it in a more unique way check out:

Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Grand Canyon? 5 Golden reasons to try it!

Hot-Air-Balloon ride Grand Canyon

Balloon Rides, Photo by: Jennifer C, Helena, MT) (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

4. Death Valley National Park  – California

Death Valley had the highest temperature ever recorded in North America of 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius), which occurred in 1913 at Greenland Ranch. Thus the best time to visit Death Valley National Park is between mid-October and mid-May, which will ensure you won’t get cooked alive! 

Death Valley National Park, is also home to the lowest elevation in North America at Badwater Basin (-282 feet).

Death Valley National Park west coast road trip

Death Valley National Park west coast road trip. Source: nps .   (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Highlights:

  • Badwater Basin
  • Zabriskie Viewpoint

(Composed of sediments of Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago)

  • Mesquite Sand Dunes
  • Devils Golf Course – Large salt pan spanning the floor of Death Valley.

5. Sequoia National Park  – California

Driving towards the west coast now we arrive at Sequoia National Park, next to Kings Canyon National park in Californias Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sequoia National Park is home to the domineering & towering Sequoia Trees and by volume it’s LARGEST single Stem tree on earth, nicknamed General Sherman!

General Sherman is definitely a must see, for any visit to Sequoia National Park, at a height of 84m and weight of 1.9 million kg!

Sequoia National Park  - California redwoods

Sequoia National Park  – California redwoods. Source: Shutterstock (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

You should also check out, Crystal Cave one of 240 known caves in Sequoia National Park it features many eye catching rock formations and underground streams!

Fun Fact:  Crystal Cave is around 50 degrees inside no matter what the temperature is outside!

Highlights:

  • Mount Whitney  – (Highest Peak in California)
  • Giant Forest
  • General Sherman
  • Crystal Cave
  • Kings Canyon National Park – Popular for daytime hikes.

Best time to visit Sequoia National Park?

The best time to visit Sequoia National Park is between June and August. This is when the weather is most stable.

However, the park is open 24/7 all year round but it can be challenging during the winter season when snow can cause less minute re routes. During this season it’s recommend you use snow chains/tires and check weather updates before visiting.

6. Yosemite National Park – California

Yosemite National Park is a real west coast highlight, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it is best known for it’s massive sequoia trees and the granite cliffs of El Captain & half dome! Head up to the famed cliffs and you will find an incredible glacier valley with majestic waterfalls.

This is a great place for some challenging hikes, adrenaline pumping rock climbs and treks through the backcountry!

Yosemite-National-Park-Waterfall

We love Yosemite National Park, here at TownandTourist!! The beast of the USA! (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Fun Fact: Lyell is the tallest peak in the Park (and all of Tuolumne County) at over at 13,100 feet.

Does Yosemite have Mountain Lions??

Mountain lions otherwise known as  cougars, pumas or panthers, roam Yosemite’s mountains and valleys. There is also between 300-500 black bears, Mule deers and Bighorn Sheep which can be dangerous.  According to National Park Service, injuries/attacks by black bears Attacks are rare.

Driving through Yosemite National Park?

To drive through Yosemite National Park it will take around 5 to 6 hours if you drive at a relaxed pace and stop a couple of times. If you wish to head to Glacier Point that will take another hour.  The most popular scenic drive is along the Tioga Road, a 39-mile (62 km) drive from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass.

Is Yosemite National Park Dangerous?

Yosemite can be a dangerous place, even in ideal conditions. From accidents & falls to animal encounters. In terms of driving a group of teenage hikers were driving from Yosemite to Marin County when their car came off the road & crashed…killing one of them! So be careful.

Yosemite-National-Park-camping

Yosemite-National-Park offers some great spots for camping but also some dangerous drops, so be careful on your adventure!  (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Best time to visit Yosemite National Park?

The best time to visit Yosemite are between May and September. This is  when the park is accessible but not overly crowded.  In the winter many roads and trails in Yosemite due to snow.

How long should I visit Yosemite for?

Yosemite can be explored in one day check out our itinerary. 

One Day Yosemite Itinerary:

  • Glacier Point.
  • Mariposa Grove.
  • Tunnel View.
  • Yosemite Valley.
  • Yosemite Falls.
  • Mirror Lake.

(This are must see highlights which you can stop off at as you drive through the park).  A weekend is ideal Yosemite and three days is perfect to see all the sights.

How much does it cost to enter Yosemite National Park?

A Yosemite National park pass costs $30/vehicle, which is valid for 7 days.  If you plan on visiting regularly you can purchase a $60 Yosemite pass for unlimited visits in 12 months.

7. Lassen Volcanic National Park – California

Lassen Volcanic National Park is the dark horse of americas western National Parks, despite it’s unique landscape and interesting history!

Highlights include, hydrothermal sites such as Bumpass Hell which offers acres of geothermal bubbling pools, steaming streams, lava tubes and Sulphur Springs! src

The summit at Lassen Peak is a 10,457 foot high active volcano. It last erupted in 1917 and was the largest ever volcanic eruption in North America up until 1980 when Mount St Helens erupted!

Bumpass Hel, Lassen Volcanic National Park - Californial

Bumpass Hel, Lassen Volcanic National Park – California. Source: Flickr. (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

On the hikes up to the peak, you will walk through many animal habitats and have a chance to catch glimpses of the over 300 species of wildlife which live in the area.  From Black bears, to mule deer, woodpeckers, finches, bats and golden squirrels!

At the peak you will find epic panoramic views of the area, the perfect place for some wildlife watching.

Some draw comparisons in the volcanic activity here to Yellowstone national Park. However, I actually believe Lassen National park offers a greater Geothermal experience.

All the features are relatively densely packed compared to Yellowstone and can be easily accessed from paved roads! Interested in More volcano national parks check out: Top 10 Volcanoes in Hawaii

8. Crater Lake National Park  – Oregon

Crater Lake National Park, is Oregons only National Park and they are so proud of it! Highlights include the deepest lake in the United States (Crater Lake) (1,949 feet) which is also the ninth deepest lake in the world!

Popular activities here include hikes along the Rim, Camping  and cross country skiing or snowshoeing during the winter. Boat tours are also a popular activity for many.

Phantom Ship Island in Crater Lake, Oregon

“Phantom Ship” rises above the surface of Crater Lake National Park, Oregon| By Glenn Scofield Williams, via Wikimedia Commons. (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Can you swim at Crater Lake National Park?

Yes you can, but there is only when place which is safe & legal to do so. That is at the Cleetwood Cove trail which is open mid to late June.

Why is Crater Lake such an Incredible Blue??

The magnificent, bold blue of Crater Lake is caused by the sunlights rays. It’s rays of Longer wavelength are absorbed by the deep water and it’s shorter rays are reflected, creating an intense blue hue.

Best time to visit Crater Lake National Park?

The best time to visit Crater Lake National Park is in the summer, between July, August and September. This is the time of year when the parks trails, roads and visitor facilities are open.

9. Olympic National Park – Washington 

As we drive further up the north west we enter the Olympic National Park. One of the most diverse in the United States. Here you can find everything from glacier clad mountains such as Mt Olympus to vast expanses of wilderness, rainforests and even secluded beaches!

Popular hiking & climbing areas head through the rainforests and along the pacific coast. If you can only visit one rainforest, be sure to explore Hoh Rain Forest.

Olympic National Park - Washington 

Olympic National Park – Washington. Source: Photo by Jason Horstman (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)(www.sharetheexperience.org).

Highlights:

  • Quinault Rain Forest. 
  • Hoh Rain Forest. Lush, wet rainforest…a must see! 
  • Sol Duc Falls. 
  • Kalaloch beach. 
  • Rialto Beach. 
  • Lake Crescent. 
  • Hurricane Ridge. 
  • Lake Quinault.

When is the best time to visit Olympic National Park?

The best time of year to visit Olympic National Park is during the spring and summer. The spring is great for wildlife spotting while the summer is ideal for activities.

10. Mt Rainier National Park – Washington 

We’ve left the biggest till last at 14,410 feet above Sea level Mount Rainier is one the tallest peaks in the United States...it is also an ACTIVE volcano.  Mount Rainier National Park offers the most glaciated peak in Contiguous U.S.A. In addition to wildflower meadows, five meandering rivers, ancient forests and an abundance of wildlife.

Mount Rainier is ideal for daytime hikes, Riverside camping and epic glacier treks and climbs.

Mount-Rainier-National-Park

Mount-Rainier-National-Park. Source: the great ww.beyondthetent.com (Western National Parks Road Trip U.S.A/Map/Route)

Best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park?

The best time to visit Mount Rainier national park is between July and August, when the wildflowers transform the sub alpine meadows!

How much does Mount Rainer National Park Cost?

Mount Rainer costs $30 per vehicle or $25 for each visitor aged over 16 on motorcycle. For individuals entering on bicycle, horseback or on foot the cost is $15 per person.

Western National Parks Road Trip Map:

Ultimate National Park Road Trip – Use the Map above to follow the great U.S National Parks on the West coast. Simply share to your facebook using the link at the top and then open the maps from there.

If your a webmaster, feel free to embed this map into your website to help your readers. Just be sure to credit us at: www.townandtourist.com/attraction/west-national-parks-usa/ 

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Town & Tourist

A travel resource guide that has been carefully crafted and curated by travel bloggers to help you find the best places to travel to in the USA.