Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article.
West Coast National Parks road trip is the ultimate adventure that so many travelers dream about.
From steaming geysers to towering mountains, incredible sequoia trees to red buttes, mesas, and glaciers, National Parks along the West Coast are full of diverse scenery that will leave you in awe.
The U.S. National Parks System has 63 parks and 41 of them are in the west.
Given the fact that they are spread out across 11 western states, it’s hard to choose a few and let alone one national park. This article provides a complete overview of best national parks to help you map out the best stops along your road trip.
BEST WEST COAST NATIONAL PARKS: OVERVIEW
For example, if you decide to stay in Moab, a gateway to the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, you can spend up to a weak hiking, rafting along the Colorado River and exploring some of the most stunning backcountry in the United States.
✅ Arrive in Moab via Salt Lake City International Airport where you can rent a car and quickly get on the road.
Utah National Parks
Utah is home to five national parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion and Bryce Canyon that attract millions of visitors and are often referred to as “The Mighty Five.”
Utah’s red rock country boasts some of the most spectacular landscapes with incredible red mesas, towering buttes, arches and spires that have been carved out by wind and erosion over millions of years.
Utah national parks take time and effort to explore. If you have limited time, consider joining one of guided tours of Utah national parks to get the most out of your trip.
Best guided tours of Utah national parks
PRO TIP: To plan your adventure around Utah National Parks, check my complete to the “Mighty Five.”
Arches National Park
Where to stay: Expedition Lodge
Famous for more than 2,000 sandstone arches, Arches National Park is a must stop on your itinerary.
The image of the gorgeous Delicate Arch, the crown jewel of this national park, can be found on many things from Utah’s license plates and road signs to tourism brochures. It’s hardly a surprise to see this park packed with tourists from all over the world, especially during summer.
You can also hike the Devil’s Garden Trail, a full-day adventure that will take you through the stunning Fin Canyon. If you want to do easier hikes, you can opt for the Park Avenue lookout or Skylight Arch.
PRO TIP: If you visit Arches in summer, bring a hat and sunscreen and carry plenty of water because temperatures often reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Plan your hikes for early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds and excessive heat.
Top things to do: Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, Devil’s Garden, Double Arch, Park Avenue Viewpoint, Landscape Arch, Sand Dunes Arch
Canyonlands National Park
Where to stay: Inca Inn Motel
A close neighbor of the Arches, Canyonlands National Park boasts a spectacular landscape dotted with flat mesas, steep canyons and sharp cliffs – similar to Grand Canyon in Arizona, but not as crowded.
Nestled by the Colorado River, Canyonlands offers access to some of the best rafting in the Southwest. The most famous feature of this national park is Mesa Arch that attracts many photographers during sunrise and sunset when the sun is peering out from the red buttes in the distance creating a gorgeous sight.
Canyonlands is a huge park that is divided in several areas: the Maze, the Rivers, the Needles and the Island in the Sky – the most popular area of the park due to its easy access.
Top things to do: Grand View Point, Mesa Arch, Buck Canyon Overlook, Aztec Butte.
Where to stay: Goulding Lodge
After spending a few days in Moab, many travelers head south to Monument Valley, an amazing red-sand area along the Utah-Arizona that is known for its towering buttes.
Monument Valley is one of the symbols of the American Southwest. However, Monument Valley is NOT a national park, and it is not covered by the America the Beautiful Pass. If you want to drive along Monument Valley’s scenic loop and do some hiking, you will have to pay a $20 cash fee.
Capitol Reef National Park
Where to stay: Capitol Reef Resort
The least visited of all Utah national parks, Capital Reef is a true treasure that stretches for over 60 miles along the red-rock backcountry.
Located away from the major travel route, Capitol Reef is Utah’s hidden gem. It requires more time and effort to reach, but when you get here, you will be treated to truly remarkable landscapes!
Best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park
This national park is dominated by arches, and gigantic sandstone walls above the Fremont River. One of the highlights of the park is Capitol Reef Scenic Drive where you can find many overlooks and trailheads.
PRO TIP: To learn about the best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park, check my complete guide to best hiking trails and overlooks in Capitol Reef that will help you to plan your trip.
Spend at least two days in Capitol Reef to explore some of its highlights like Cathedral Valley, a variety of spectacular hikes where you very well might be the only hiker!
Top things to do: Sunset Point, Rim Overlook Trail, Capitol Gorge Trail, Grand Wash Trail and Cassidy Arch.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Where to stay: Bryce Canyon Resort
If you have a limited amount of time and not sure what national parks in Utah you should visit, head to Bryce Canyon National Park. You can reach Bryce Canyon from Capitol Reef National Park, via Utah Scenic Byway 12, a 122-mile road that is considered one of the most spectacular roads in the United States.
Famous for its collection of bright orange spires called hoodoos, Bryce Canyon is a sight to behold.
Bryce Canyon is more compact and remote than Zion, and while it doesn’t see as many visitors as Zion, summers here can get busy. The best thing about Bryce is that you can check out most of its overlooks and major hiking trails in just a day, making it a perfect stop along your road trip.
Top things to do: Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Scenic Drive, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point.
Zion National Park
Where to stay: Cable Mountain Lodge
One of the most visited national parks in the United States, Zion is a small but breathtaking national park in the heart of Utah’s desert roughly 3 hours away from Las Vegas.
Although this park tends to get busy during summer, mid-to-late fall sees less traffic and winter is the most quiet time as temperatures drop and the park gets dusted with snow.
Best tours of Zion National Park from Las Vegas
The most popular hike in Zion is the Angel’s Landing, a challenging trail that leads to a panoramic overlook of the park, but requires a permit If want to explore easier trails in Zion, check out Emerald Pool Trail, Weeping Rock and Riverside Walk.
Thrill seekers should head to the Narrows, one of the most famous hikes in Zion that requires trekking through the river. Another option is the Subway, a remote portion of the National Park where you will need canyoneering skills. Both of these places require a permit that you need to obtain ahead of your visit.
Top things to do: Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Angel’s Landing, Riverside Walk.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Where to stay: Peak to Peak Lodge
Located in the heart of Colorado’s Rockies, Rocky Mountain National Park (or RMNP shortly) has become one of the busiest national parks in the United States. RMNP makes a great addition to your road trip, if you have extra time.
Rocky Mountain National Park is under 2 hours away from Denver, and it offers a perfect escape from the city with its gorgeous trails, snow-capped mountains and wildlife like elks, marmots and bighorn sheep.
Best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Parks
Hiking is the main activity at Rocky Mountain National Park, so get ready to hit the trail! From easy hikes like Bear Lake to more advanced Mount Ida, Chasm Lake and Longs Peak, the only “fourteener” within RMNP, there’s a trail for every level.
PRO TIP: Check my complete guide to Rocky Mountain National Park to learn about best hikes, overlooks and campsites.
One of the top highlights of Rocky Mountain National Park is Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway by elevation in United States that reaches 12,183 feet.
The best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is from June through September when most trails and roads are open to traffic. If you visit in winter, you will see significantly fewer people, however, many trails and some of the roads also will be closed during this time.
Top things to do: Emerald Lake Trail, Bear Lake, Trail Ridge Road, Alberta Falls, Chasm Lake, Sky Pond
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Where to stay: The Sunset Inn
Great Sand Dunes is Colorado’s newest national park that was designated in 2003. Located at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, Great Sand Dunes National Park spans for 30 miles.
It is also home to the tallest sand in North America that reaches 750 feet!
This national park is a perfect stop along your Colorado road trip, as it is about 4 hours away from Denver.
Best things to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Some of the most popular activities here are hiking alone the sand dunes and sand boarding. You can rent a sand board in Alamosa, the closest town to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Great Sand Dunes is located in southern Colorado against the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, and temperatures here can vary. October often sees the first snow, and April can have chilly temperatures. If you want to spend time outside, plan your visit for September when crowds begin to dwindle.
Top things to do: Hiking, sand boarding, camping, swimming in Medano Creek.
Yellowstone National Park
Where to stay: Yellowstone West Gate Hotel
The oldest national park within U.S. National Parks System, Yellowstone spans whopping 2.2 million acres – more than U.S. states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined! Home to half of the world’s active geysers, Yellowstone is easily one of the most famous national parks in the United States.
Yellowstone is located in the western state of Wyoming, so it’s not along the West Coast. I decided to include Yellowstone in my guide because of its impressive geothermal features like hot springs, geysers and mud bubbles.
PRO TIP: Since Yellowstone is huge, consider joining a guided tour to see the park’s highlights and learn some history of this impressive national park without having to drive all day long.
Best guided tours of Yellowstone
Yellowstone is huge and exploring it takes time, that’s why you should spend at least 3 days here. Make sure your Yellowstone itinerary includes Old Faithful, West Thumb, Norris Geyser Basin, and Lamar Valley where you can watch wildlife and of course, Grand Prismatic Spring.
Check my suggested Yellowstone itineraries for your trip.
Top things to do: Grand Prismatic Spring, West Thumb, Old Faithful, Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, Biscuit Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Grand Teton National Park
Where to stay: The Alpine House
Yellowstone’s neighbor to the south, Grand Teton National Park is best known for its iconic mountain peaks. This compact but mighty national park is perfect for nature lovers because it has plenty of hikes from easy to more technical ones that require good navigation skills.
Best things to do in Grand Teton National Park
You can explore the highlights of Grand Teton in a day, although I recommend at least two days in Grand Teton. If you are short on time, take a ride along the park’s 42-mile scenic loop that offers a number of overlooks including Oxbow Bend Turnout, Snake River Overlook and Schwabacher Landing.
And if you want to visit the famous Mormon Row and take photos of the barn, make sure to begin your trip early morning, because that’s when you will have the best light for your photos.
PRO TIP: It takes about 30-40 minutes from Grand Teton to the south entrance of Yellowstone, and many visitors combine these national parks into one trip.
Top things to do: Jenny Lake, Inspiration Point, Hidden Falls, Taggart Lake, Elk Island.
Glacier National Park
Where to stay: Glacier Park Lodge
Glacier is a remote national park in northwestern Montana not far from the border with Canada.
Glacier is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, and once you get here, you will understand why: its stunning alpine lakes, snow-capped mountains, cascading waterfalls and gorgeous meadows create a superb scenery.
Best things to do in Glacier National Park
Besides driving along the famous “Going-to-the-Sun” road from where you can see many highlights of the park, you should also take time and hike at least a couple of trails. One of the most famous hikes within the park is the Highline Trail that brings you to the cool glacier.
Glacier National Park is also home to an incredible array of biodiversity. Here you can spot marmots, big horn sheep, elk and bears.
Top things to do: Logan Pass, Hidden Lake, Highline Trail, Many Glacier, Grinner Glacier, Iceberg Lake
Grand Canyon National Park
Where to stay: Comfort Inn Lucky Lane
Grand Canyon’s National Park is a major bucket item for travelers from all over the world, so your trip through Arizona isn’t complete without stopping here.
Spend at least 3 days in Grand Canyon, so you could see more than just a bunch of overlooks. Grand Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, and it offers amazing opportunities for hiking, rafting and camping year-round.
PRO TIP: If time is short, take a helicopter tour of Grand Canyon from Las Vegas. The tour lasts about 4 hours and includes several stops along the North and West Rim of Grand Canyon.
Best tours of Grand Canyon from Las Vegas
Top things to do: Havasupai Falls, Yavapai Point and Maricopa Point.
Make a quick stop in Las Vegas
Las Vegas might be known as a party city, but it’s also a great starting point for the road trips to many national parks. After touring national parks in Utah and Arizona, make a stop in Las Vegas to take a quick break from the road and have some fun.
Whether you want to party or not, try to explore Las Vegas beyond the Strip.
✅ Learn about the best national parks near Las Vegas
Great Basin National Park
Where to stay: Stargazer Inn Nevada
Nevada’s best kept-secret, Great Basin is one of the least visited national parks in the United States. Situated in the eastern part of the state near Utah’s border, Great Basin National Parks takes time and effort to get to, and its remote location keeps crowds at bay.
Unlike some of the most popular national parks that attract millions of visitors per year, Great Basin has had under 100,000 visitors as of recently.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you want to spend a couple of days in Las Vegas, learn about best places near Las Vegas that you can visit by car.
Best things to do in Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park boasts several peaks that are great for hiking. The highest mountain in the park, Wheeler Peak is 13,063 feet tall. Great Basin is also home to a cool system of caves with stunning formations that is worth a stop.
And, if you like stargazing, you might want to know that this national park is home to some of the most clear dark skies in the United States. Designated as the Dark Sky Park, it has a signature Great Basin’s Night Sky Program that offers ranger-led astronomy talks, full-moon hikes and telescope view events.
Top things to do: Wheeler Peak Hike, Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, Bristlecone Pines, the oldest trees in the world.
Best national parks in California
After spending a few days in Las Vegas, it’s time to head to California that boasts nine national parks, the most of any state in America!
While you can spend weeks or even months trying to visit all of California’s national parks, I’m going to highlight the most scenic ones that you can easily fit into your itinerary.
Death Valley National Park
Where to stay: Amargosa Opera House and Hotel
Death Valley, is the largest national parks in the lower 48 states that covers over 3 million acres. It is also the hottest, the driest and the lowest place in North America.
What makes Death Valley worth a visit?
It has some of the highest temperatures in North America that reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit! It’s also full of incredible geological features, gorgeous vistas and wonderful history that goes back to the days of California Gold Rush.
GOOD TO KNOW: You can reach Death Valley in less than two hours from Las Vegas, which makes it a perfect starting point for exploring California national parks. You can also visit Death Valley National Park with a guided tour from Las Vegas which will save you a lot of time on the road.
Best tours of Death Valley from Las Vegas
Death Valley is a huge national park with scare cell phone coverage, big distances and limited amenities. Check my guide to stay safe in Death Valley, especially if you visit in spring or summer.
While some people stop in Death Valley only to take a few photos with a giant thermometer near the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, spend at least a day here, because Death Valley has so much to offer!
Top things to do: Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, Mesquite Sand Dunes, Dante’s View.
PRO TIP: It takes about 2 hours to drive through the whole Death Valley National Park toward Lone Pine, a town near the western entrance of the park. From Lone Pine, it’s about 1,5 hour drive north on State Route 395 toward Mammoth Lakes, a popular place to stay the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park
Where to stay: El Rancho Dolores
Joshua Tree is a popular national park under two hours from Los Angeles.
With landscapes that look like they were taken out of Dr. Seuss books, it’s no surprise that Joshua Tree has become the most popular national park in Southern California.
Why visit Joshua Tree National Park
Home to quirky Joshua Trees that reach up to 10 feet and bizarre-looking boulders, this park covers 800,000 acres of prime desert habitat. This national park offers spectacular landscapes and wildlife thanks to the two deserts that meet here: the Mojave and Colorado.
Although visiting Joshua Tree is more convenient if you plan to continue your adventures in Southern California, you should spend a couple of days in Joshua Tree, because of its scenery and clear dark skies.
Top things to do: Skull Rock, Cholla Cactus Garden, Rock Climbing, Stargazing, 49 Palms Oasis Trail, Hidden Valley, Barker Dam.
Channel Islands National Park
Where to stay: The Shores Inn
Nicknamed “the Galapagos of North America,” Channel Islands are separated from the mainland by the Santa Barbara Channel and can be reached by boat from Ventura.
About 2,000 species call these islands home, and because they had to adapt to this unique, isolated environment, many of them exist nowhere else in the world.
✅ Check my guide to the best things to do in Santa Barbara
Best things to do in Channel Islands National Park
Some of the most popular things to do in Channel Islands are kayaking, hiking and wildlife watching. This national park is an adventurer’s paradise as it offers plenty of solitude and incredible untouched landscapes. If you plan to spend a night here, you have to bring your own camping equipment and food.
Channel Islands boast the rugged beauty and offer a quiet atmosphere with fewer crowds compared to California’s most popular national parks like Joshua Tree and Yosemite.
Top things to do: Whale watching, hiking, camping, kayaking and snorkeling.
Make a stop in Lone Pine
To continue your national park road trip from Death Valley, get on the U.S. Route 395 north, aka Eastern Sierra Highway that will bring you all the way to the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park
To crash for the night, stop at Lone Pine, a cute mountain town that looks like a set of a Western movie. But besides having a rugged charm, Lone Pine is also a gateway to adventure in the Eastern Sierras!
Lone Pine sits at the foothills Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Although you need a permit to climb Mount Whitney, you can take a 5-mile hike to the gorgeous Lone Pine Lake trail that starts at Whitney Portal.
If you don’t feel like hiking, make a stop at Alabama Hills, a group of hills and rock formations on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada just outside of Lone Pine. Alabama Hills is a popular stop for travelers making their way across California.
A number of movies have been filmed in the area, and you can find a sign at the turnout that will tell you what movies were filmed here.
You can learn all about them at the Museum of Western Film History at 701 S. Main Street.
After stopping at Alabama Hills head to Bishop along US 395. This town in the Eastern Sierras has become a resort location thanks to a big number of outdoors options.
The largest city in the Owens Valley, Bishop has the most stores and amenities, so it’s a good place place to stock up on food and other essentials before continuing your West Coast National Park road trip.
Here, you can camp, check out Bishop Pass Trail, a popular day hiking trail and rent a boat at Lake Sabrina Boat Landing.
Your last stop before the entrance to Yosemite National Parks, Mammoth Lakes is a beautiful mountain town. In winter, it’s a popular location for skiers and snowboarders because of June Mountain and Mammoth Mountain ski resorts. In summer, it’s a great place to hike and camp.
Many travelers who visit Yosemite National Park overlook a real gem next to it – Mono Lake!
Located 13 miles east of Yosemite, Mono Lake contains saline soda that accumulates in high quantities because of the lack of an outlet. The combination of snow-capped Sierras around it and the rock formations make for a truly remarkable scenery.
The Sierras can have snow all the way through early June, which often affects road conditions. The eastern entrance of the Yosemite National Park near the Tioga Pass is closed when the road gets covered by snow. The pass typically remains closed well into June because of the snow.
Yosemite National Park
Where to stay: Yosemite Valley Lodge
Yosemite is a real gem that can take you weeks to explore. Don’t think that you can spend a day here and check it off your list. Instead, plan to spend three to five days in this national park, especially if you are visiting it for the first time.
When is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park?
Yosemite is stunning at any time of the year, but summer is the busiest time with thousands of visitors flocking to the park. Early fall is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park thanks to mild temperatures and thinner crowds.
The area sees the first snow between October and November, which often leads to road closures and limited hiking opportunities.
One of the major downsides of visiting Yosemite National Park in fall is that you will not see the gorgeous waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley. Because of the snowmelt coming down the mountains, May and June are the best months to see waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley such as Yosemite Falls and Nevada Falls.
If you plan to visit Yosemite in winter, you will need a high clearance vehicle or chains on your tires.
A number of events take place during the winter season in Yosemite Valley. The biggest of them happens in February when thousands of visitors come to Yosemite Valley to watch the Yosemite Firefall, an amazing natural phenomenon during which creates an illusion of a hot lava flowing down the cliff.
Top things to do: Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, Mariposa Grove, Mist Trail, Taft Point and Sentinel Dome, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Tenaya Lake.
Sequoia National Park
Where to stay: Stony Creek Lodge
On the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains you will Sequoia National Park.
Sequoias reach up to 275 feet and although they are not as tall as redwood tress that you can find at Redwood National Park in Northern California, they are considered the largest trees in the world! There are many sections of the park where you can walk among them.
Sequoia National Park is home to General Sherman, the tallest tree in the world located in the Giant Forest.
Another popular spot at Sequoia National Park is Moro Rock.
After climbing 400 stairs, you will be treated to a spectacular view of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Don’t forget to bring the camera to capture the stunning views along the way.
Kings Canyon National Park
One of the least crowded national parks in California, Kings Canyon National Park MUST be on your list if you plan to explore one of the best California national parks.
This national park is home to spectacular valleys carved by glaciers over thousands of years – somewhat similar to those in Yosemite, except nowhere near as busy! It boasts one of the deepest canyons in the United States and General Grant Tree – the second largest tree in the world.
Best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park
One of the best hikes at Kings Canyon is Zumwalt Meadow, a stunning vista surrounded by sheer granite walls. The trail to Zumwalt Meadows is just 1.5 miles but it offers superb views with meadows dotted with spectacular wildflowers, a gurgling river, and giant sequoia trees.
Kings Canyon is home to several impressive waterfalls such as Grizzly Falls and Mist Falls. You can easily spend a few days roaming around this national park without noticing how quickly time goes by.
Things to do: Zumwalt Meadow, Grizzly Falls, Mist Falls, General Grant, Grant Grove
Optional stop in San Francisco
The largest city in Northern California, San Francisco is a must-stop on your California national parks’ itinerary.
From San Francisco, you can take flights to many cities within the United States and overseas. San Francisco is home to a thriving food scene, amazing scenery and plenty of world-class museums – a perfect combo to end your trip on a great note!
The drive from Sequoia to San Francisco is about 4,5 hours, but you will not get bored because driving along some of the most scenic areas in the entire United States.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Where to stay: Comfort Suites Redding – Shasta Lake
Lassen Volcanic is one of the most underrated national parks.
Located east of Redding and about 3.5 hours away from Sacramento, it boasts stunning hikes, wonderful geothermal activity and tons of wildlife.
Since this national park is pretty remote, it’s a perfect stop if you are driving from California to Oregon.
The coolest thing about this national are it’s untouched landscapes and less-discovered trails that take you to unspoiled backcountry.
While you can stay in one of accommodations nearby, camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park is a surreal experience because the entire area has incredible dark skies. There are several campgrounds throughout the park where you can find spots for tents and RVs.
Many trails and some roads at Lassen Volcanic National Park tend to close in winter because of heavy snowstorm. May through early September is the perfect time to plan your trip.
Things to do: Bumpas Hell, Manzanita Lake, Lake Helen, stargazing, hiking up Cinder Cone.
Crater Lake National Park
Where to stay: Golden West Motel
The only national park in Oregon and home to the deepest lake in the United States (1,943 feet deep), Crater Lake National Park is another less visited west coast national park.
The cobalt-blue Crater Lake was created about 7,700 years ago by the eruption and collapse of Mount Mazama. Over time, the volcano’s basin was filled with water and turned into a lake.
Since there are no inlets into the lake, the water in the lake remains crystal clear and maintains its amazing color. There are several designated areas for swimming throughout the area, however the water here is very cold.
Best things to do in Crater Lake National Park
One of the top activities at the park is driving long the scenic Rim Road that has over 30 overlooks of the lake as well as scenic areas like Videa Falls, Pinnacles Overlook and Pumice Castle Overlook. Crater Lake National Park is covered by snow for about 8 months out of the year, as the area gets about 43 feet of snow per year.
It’s common to see snow at this national park as late as June and even July.
Top things to do: Rim Drive, Wizard Island, hiking up Garfield Peak, hiking Mount Scott, camping at Mazama Campground.
Wizard Island, the top of the dormant volcano sits in the middle of the lake and is home to ancient trees. To see it, you can get a boat tour of Crater Lake.
Mount Rainier National Park
Where to stay: Mountain Meadows Inn
One of the most famous peaks in North America, Mount Rainier towers 14,410 feet above sea level. It can be seen from many parts of Seattle and sits within the namesake national park that is revered by many travelers for its jaw-dropping landscapes.
A favorite spot of John Muir, Mount Rainier National Park is a must stop if you make your way to the Pacific Northwest. Located about 75 miles away from Seattle, it makes for a perfect getaway from the city.
Best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park
It’s one of those national parks that’s best visited in summer because it’s the time when you can see dozens of incredible wildflowers dotting the green hills around Mount Rainier. You can hike to glaciers and enjoy gurgling waterfalls around the park.
FUN FACT: This national park is also home to one of the most popular mountaineering routes: As a “fourteener,” Mount Rainier requires a combination of hiking and mountaineering skills, and many mountain climbers come here to summit the mountain.
Top things to do: Camp Muir Hike, Comet Falls Hike, grove of Patriarchs, Sunrise Point, The Wonderland Trail, The Paradise Region.
Where to start your road trip
There’s no right or wrong way to create your West Coast National Park road trip, with most western states in America having at least one national park.
Start your itinerary in Utah, home to the big five national parks. You can spend weeks roaming around Utah’s red-rock country, kayaking on the Colorado River, and camping under the clear dark skies.
From Utah, you can go north to Wyoming, Montana or continue your trip south to Arizona before arriving in California and finishing your adventure in Oregon or Washington.
If you have more time, you can also start your West Coast National Parks road trip in Colorado, home to three national parks: Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dune and Black Canyon of the Gunnison and make your way to Utah from there.
West Coast National Parks suggested itinerary
- Begin your trip in Utah – This way you could visit either one or several of Utah national parks or spend a few weeks exploring them.
- Proceed to Nevada via Arizona – After exploring Utah, make a stop in Grand Canyon National Park, where you should spend at least a few days.
- Make a stop in Las Vegas – Las Vegas makes a great stop thanks to its proximity to many national parks in the region and natural areas like Red Rock Canyon and Cathedral Gorge State Park. Read my guide about best road trips from Las Vegas
- Continue to California – You can spend a while exploring the best national parks in California, but if time is short, I recommend Death Valley, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks as some of the musts!
- Proceed toward Oregon and Washington – If time allows, continue driving north to Oregon where you can visit Crater Lake National Park and further to Washington, home to Mount Rainer National Park and North Cascades National Park.
Tips for visiting
- Fill up your tank – Only a fraction of West Coast National Parks have gas stations, and gas prices there tend to be higher than normal. If you plan to spend a day exploring one of national parks, fill up your tank ahead of your visit.
- Don’t rely on your cellphone – Cell phone coverage is sporadic in many national parks, that’s why you should always bring a paper map or download an offline map. For example, many parts of Yosemite have no cell phone coverage, and you should have a paper map especially if you plan to hike.
- Leave no trace – This is self-explanatory, but I want to restate it: Leave these national parks exactly as you found them: Pristine and beautiful. Pack all your trash, stay on trails and do not leave any marks (or graffiti) on rocks, trees and other objects.
- You might need a bear spray – Bear spray is a necessity in places like Yosemite and Glacier. Whether you are hiking or camping, carrying a bear spray is a good idea in case you come across a bear and need to quickly get to safety.
- Amenities could be limited – Many national parks have limited services which means food and gas might not be available before you get outside the park. Some popular national parks like Zion and Yosemite have small convenience stores and restaurants, but prices there tend be higher than in regular stores. Stock up on food and water before visiting the park to avoid unnecessary expenses.
- Skip weekends – Avoid weekends and big holidays like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Many popular national parks get really crowded on these days, and it can be tough to enjoy the trails and all the scenery simply because there’s too much traffic.
- Book your hotels in advance – Hotel near many national parks can be pricey. Book your hotels at least a few weeks in advance, especially if you are traveling during summer. Agoda is the best website for booking budget-friendly stays and Hotels has many great deals.
- Get good gear – Whether it’t the coast, mountains or deserts, proper gear is a must for your West Coast National Parks road trip. REI is one of the best stores whether you can get hiking shoes, a new tent for your camping trip or rock climbing gear.
- Don’t forget to rent a vehicle – Whether you decide to rent an RV or a regular car depends on your plans. If you are looking for an RV, check out RVshare, a website with a great selection of all sorts of RV’s, and if you are looking for a regular car, check out DiscoverCars, one of my favorite websites for car rentals with good prices and big inventory.
- America the Beautiful Pass Is Your Best Friend – If you plan to visit multiple national parks, consider buying the annual America The Beautiful Pass. For only $80 you will be able to get into any national park in the United States for one year. An entrance to the national park costs $35 on average, and you can save you a good chunk of money if you plan to hop around.
More resources for planning your trip
Agoda.com – a great website for budget accommodations near may national parks.
WorldNomads – Great service for insurance coverage that will keep you safe on the road.
Safety Wing – Excellent insurance plan for long-term travelers that offers competitive rates is you are planning to stay on the road several weeks in a row.
GetYourGuide – Some national parks like Yellowstone or Grand Canyon are really big, and if you are limited on time, Get Your Guide is a great platform that offers awesome tours and top-notch guides.
CheapoAir.com – One of the best platforms for saving money on flights within United States.
Booking.com – a popular website with tons and tons of options for accommodations.
A West Coast National Parks road trip is the ultimate adventure. It’s the best way to see some of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States and see many regional differences. I recommend no less than two weeks for your adventure if you want to visit some of the best national parks along the West Coast and have time for some extra stops along the way.