Let’s be honest. None of us know when we will be able to leave the United States again. Maybe it will be this summer, maybe this fall, maybe next year once a vaccine for COVID-19 has been approved. That is why 2020 is THE year to discover the best of the west through a National Park road trip.
Once social distancing measures are lifted, and we are able to cautiously move towards a new normal, we will still be limited on crowd sizes until a vaccine is developed. Where better to avoid crowds than the vast openness of nature? That is why a National Park road trip is the perfect option for upcoming travel.
If you are hoping to take this trip in the summer of 2020, be warned that some of the hotels inside the parks are going to be closed this summer so you need to book as soon as possible. Sit down restaurants will likely be closed this summer, but you can find a spot to dine al fresco and enjoy the scenery around you.
Epic National Park Road Trip Itinerary
There are so many fantastic National Parks in the United States, so which ones should you see? To see the most in the shortest amount of time, use the following National Park road trip Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival
Today you will fly into Las Vegas McCarran International Airport or Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport then hop in a rental car and make the drive to Williams, AZ on the outskirts of the mighty Grand Canyon.
If you choose to travel from Las Vegas, you’ll be traveling along the historic route 66, one of the oldest highways in the US Highway System ultimately connecting Chicago, IL with Santa Monica, CA.
There are many restaurants in this area offering tasty local eats. Many have outdoor seating which could be very beneficial if restaurants are allowing dining inside with more space between tables.
It’s been a long day so turn in early so you are ready for an amazing visit to The Grand Canyon tomorrow.
Day 2: Grand Canyon National Park
All aboard the Grand Canyon Railway! This is the way to see the Grand Canyon! If you are driving, the driver misses so much of the scenery. To ensure everyone experiences the beauty of this incredible landmark, take the train! Since 1901, the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel has been taking passengers on a fabled journey to the heart of one of the seven wonders of the world.
The Grand Canyon Railway is more than a means of getting you to Grand Canyon Depot. This train trip is truly all about the journey. It is a trip back in time on lovingly restored rail cars with entertaining musicians and the antics of cowboy characters. As you stare at the changing landscape out your window, you will be in awe at how the terrain changes from high desert to prairie, prairie to pine.
The easiest option is to purchase the 2-night package from The Grand Canyon Railway which gives you one night in Williams, AZ, and one night in Grand Canyon National Park. This option not only includes your lodging and transportation, but also a proper tour of the Grand Canyon.
If you opt for some extra nights at the Grand Canyon, you can add some extraordinary trips that you will never forget. Consider the following:
North Canyon Tour Helicopter Flights
This Grand Canyon helicopter tour sets off from the South Rim and flies over the national park’s most astonishing rock formations and features – including the oldest and deepest region of the canyon.
Grand Discovery South Rim Airplane Tour
Marvel at the immensity of the canyon with the Colorado River nearly a mile below. Enjoy additional views of the Kaibab National Forest, Confluence of the Little Colorado River, Imperial Point, and Zuni Corridor.
Read More: 4 Arizona Landmarks You Have To See
Day 3: Head towards Zion National Park
Today is another long day, but at least you do not have to drive the whole way. After breakfast, board the railway to return you to your car in Williams. Continue along Route 66 east of Williams before veering north near Flagstaff, AZ, and heading to Springdale, UT right outside of Zion National Park or to Zion National Park Lodge if you are lucky enough to get reservations.
Day 4: Zion National Park & Bryce National Park
Hopefully, the trams will be running by this summer. Using trams is the easiest way to tour the area. You can board the tram outside of Zion National Park Lodge The Zion Canyon Shuttle connects the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to stops at nine locations on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Alternatively, if you stay in Springdale, you can ride the Springdale Shuttle which has nine stops in the town of Springdale. The Springdale Shuttle will take you to the park’s Pedestrian Entrance near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. The best part about these shuttles is that they are free.
If you can not ride the trams this summer, do not feel too bad about it because it is going to allow you to see two national parks in one day! We were not kidding when we called this National Park road trip epic!
You should start as early as possible to ensure you have enough time to properly appreciate what you are about to see. Utah Highway 9 cuts straight through the park and you can see much of the overlooks and scenic spots by following this route. You just need to pull over to gawk every so often and capture some stunning shots with highlights being the expansive canyon and rock features. The ride through Zion is considered by National Geographic to be one of “Americas 100 best adventures”. You will see the Weeping Rocks, Temple of Simawava, Canyon Overlook trail, Mt Carmel Tunnel, Watchman’s, Hidden Arch trail, and Arch Trail. All this and your day is just getting started!
Once you are exiting the East gate of Zion on Highway 9, you will travel until you hit Highway 89 where you will turn north. Eventually, you will see the cliffs that make up the western slopes of Bryce Canyon. Keep traveling north until you reach Highway 12 where you will turn East and head through the famous Red Canyon which is a collection of red rock formations and tunnels. As cool as Red Canyon is, you are just getting started. Wait until you see Bryce Canyon.
Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its unique geology. Erosion has caused the limestone to form into abnormal shapes, most notably hoodoos—the distinctive rock formations at Bryce. They are a site to behold!
While visiting Bryce, make sure to see Fairyland Point, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Swap Canyon, Piracy Point, Farview Point, Natural Bridge, Agua Canyon, Ponderosa Canyon, and Rainbow Point. If you can not fit it in during this afternoon, you can see a few more things before you leave the next morning. It is recommended you stay inside the park to ensure you have extra time before heading to Salt Lake City tomorrow.
Day 5: Salt Lake City
For purposes of this National Park road trip, we are simply using Salt Lake City as a stopover between Bryce Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. This is your only urban stop outside of your arrival airport, so there will be plenty to do curtailed to your tastes. An obvious choice would be to learn more about Mormon culture in the largest population spot for the religion.
Day 6: West Yellowstone
Yellowstone is worthy of its own post, so we are just going to touch on the highlights here. Yellowstone is about 2.2 million acres which makes it larger than the state of Rhode Island. There are 5 entrances so figuring out which one to take to get you to what you really want to see is important!
For purposes of this post, we are recommending staying near the West entrance because you obviously are the kind of person that likes action if you are ambitious enough to hit up 5 National Parks in a little over a week!
This morning you will make the 4.5-hour trek from SLC to either a hotel in West Yellowstone or one of the lodges near the West entrance of Yellowstone.
The west entrance is the heart of the park’s geyser country, including Old Faithful. It is also the busiest entrance to the park. It will be interesting to see if it will be the busier this summer if travel is allowed domestically or less busy because people are choosing to stay at home even once they have been given the green light. Only time will tell!
Once you drop your bags off, spend your afternoon staring at Old Faithful as it can take up to 120 minutes to erupt. Do not worry though, it is not a ‘don’t blink or you might miss it’ type of occurrence. Old Faithful erupts from 1.5 to 5 minutes each time, so you’ll get to watch a good show.
Read More: The Best Yellowstone National Park Vacations (just submitted, please link)
Day 6: Yellowstone National Park to Jackson, WY
Pack your bags and head towards your last hotel of the trip in Jackson, Wyoming. You can take your time meandering through Yellowstone eventually making your way towards the south entrance. There is no rush though, you can try to see whatever may interest you including West Thumb Geyser Basin, the shores of Yellowstone Lake and or even as far north as the Lamar Valley, which stretches to the Montana border and is known for animals such as wolves, bison, and bears (oh my!) It really depends on how much more driving you want to do today because eventually, you will head towards Jackson, Wyoming.
Day 7: Grand Tetons National Park
Today you will be visiting National Park #5 on this ambitious National Park road trip. Have you ever wondered why these mountains are called the Grand Tetons? Well, let’s just say what you imagine the word to mean is probably correct – you can hit up google for confirmation!
The National Park is named after the stunning Teton mountain range with the highest peak, the Grand Teton, rising 13,770 feet above sea level. Wow! The stunning scenery of this range coupled with the wildlife in this area including elk and buffalo herds, moose, coyotes, foxes, bald eagles, and, of course, bears and wolves make it a must-see on our National Park road trip. If time permits this afternoon, a float down the Snake River is a must!
Read More: 9 Family Camping Tips You Should Always Follow
Day 8: Departure
Today is the day you must say goodbye to the stunning landscape of America’s magnificent National Parks.
Insider Tip: Do not pay entrance fees at each National Park. For only $80, you can order an annual US Park Pass that gives you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country. A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees, and day-use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.
If you are the type of person who always opts for international travel, now is the time to see all the wonders that America has to offer. There are so many spectacular National Parks in the United States so get your US Park Pass and start exploring! (Whenever we are allowed to travel from state to state, we are not suggesting you ignore any stay at home orders!)
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