West Coast Best National Parks

Best West Coast National Parks | Your perfect road trip itinerary [2022]

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 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, West Coast National Parks 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 West Coast National Parks to help you map out the best stops along your road trip.

West Coast National Parks Road Trip

America the Beautiful Pass Is Your Best Friend

If you plan on visiting multiple West Coast 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, so this pass can save you a good chunk of money if you plan to hop around West Coast National Parks.

Find Your Rental Car

Don’t forget to rent a vehicle

To visit West Coast National Parks, you will need 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 RVs, 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.

Book your accommodations in advance

Accommodations near some of the most popular West Coast National Parks can be pricey. Book your hotels (or campgrounds) at least a few weeks in advance to skip unnecessary expenses, especially if you are traveling during summer.

Agoda.com is the best website for booking budget-friendly accommodations and Hotels.com has many great deals and also offers free stays for every ten nights that you book. 

Get good gear

Whether it’t the coast, mountains or deserts, proper gear is a must for exploring West Coast National Parks. REI is one of the best stores whether you can get hiking shoes, a new tent for your camping trip or rock climbing gear. 

Leave no trace

This is self-explanatory, but I want to restate it: Leave West Coast 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.

Skip big holidays

If you want to enjoy some of the best West Coast National Parks, avoid weekends and major holidays like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Some of the most popular West Coast National Parks like Zion, Yosemite and Grand Canyon 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.

Utah National Parks: Your Ultimate Itinerary

Where to start your trip

There’s no right or wrong way to create your West Coast National Park itinerary, with most western states in America having at least one national park.

I suggest starting 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 toward Utah from there.

Suggested itinerary for West Coast National Parks

  • 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.
  • 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.
Moab is your gateway to adventure

Begin your West Coast Road Trip in Moab

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.

I suggest arriving to Moab via Salt Lake City International Airport where you can rent a car and quickly get on the road.

Need help planning your visit?

My guide to Moab will tell you all about scenic trails, most fun outdoor activities and best restaurants in this town.

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 in the world 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 in Utah

Arches National Park

Where to stay: Expedition Lodge

Famous for its collection of 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. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Check my complete guide to best hikes in Arches National Park

Aside from the Delicate Arch, you can 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 is one of the top West Coast National Parks

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 – somewhat similar to Grand Canyon in Arizona, except nowhere near 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.

Monument Valley Utah

Monument Valley

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. It has been featured in countless movies, commercials and video clips. 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 in Utah

Capitol Reef National Park

Where to stay: Capitol Reef Resort 

The least visited national park in Utah, 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 a remote and less crowded national park. It requires more time and effort to reach, but when you get here, you will be treated to truly remarkable landscapes!

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.

I recommend spending 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

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 West Coast National Parks itinerary. 

Use my guide to plan your adventure in Bryce Canyon.

Top things to do: Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Scenic Drive, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point.

Zion National Park - one of the best West Coast National Parks

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. The trail snakes along steep ledges with sharp drop-offs and is not recommended for novice hikers. 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 is one of the best day trips from Denver

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. Although it is not on the coast, RMNP makes a great addition to your West Coast National Park itinerary, 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 abundant wildlife such as elk, marmots and bighorn sheep.

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 and Preserve in Colorado

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. Some of the most popular activities here are hiking alone the sand dunes and sand boarding. You can rent a sand board in in Alamosa, the closest town to the Great Sand Dunes National Park that has accommodations, stores and restaurants. 

Great Sand Dunes is located in southern Colorado against the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, and temperatures here can vary depending on the season. For example, October often sees the first snow, and April can still have chilly temperatures. If you want to spend time outside and enjoy this national park, plan your visit for September when crowds begin to dwindle. 

Top things to do: Hiking, sand boarding, camping, swimming in Medano Creek.

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone

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 technically not a West Coast National Park. I decided to include Yellowstone in my guide because of its impressive geothermal features that include 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 I don’t recommend less than 3 days for your trip. Make sure your Yellowstone itinerary includes Old Faithful, West Thumb, Norris Geyser Basin, 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 in Wyoming

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. 

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 in Montana

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 often called 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.

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. Both grizzly and black bears can be found here, so make sure to carry bear spray when you go hiking. 

Top things to do: Logan Pass, Hidden Lake, Highline Trail, Many Glacier, Grinner Glacier, Iceberg Lake, 

Grand Canyon National Park Arizona

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.

I recommend spending 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, and you are trying to include more West Coast national parks on your itinerary, take a helicopter tour of Grand Canyon from Las Vegas. The tour typically 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.

things to do in Las Vegas besides gambling

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 West Coast 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. 

Sin City is located near some of the most beautiful places in the Southwest, and you don’t want to miss out on seeing them!

Great Basin National Park in Nevada

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 visited West Coast 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.

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.

California National Parks

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. 

Hiking near Zabriskie Point is one of the best things to do in Death Valley

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

Best things to do in Death Valley

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, I recommend spending at least a day at this national park, 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 is one of the best West Coast National Parks

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.

Home to quirky Joshua Trees that reach up to 10 feet and bizarre-looking boulders that come in many shapes, this park covers 800,000 acres of prime desert habitat. This national park offers spectacular landscapes with different forms of vegetation and wildlife at various elevations thanks to the two distinct 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, I encourage you to spend a couple of days in Joshua Tree, because of its incredible 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

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. 

Some of the most popular activities in Channel Islands are kayaking, hiking and wildlife watching. With no stores, hotels, or any accommodations, 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 U.S. Route 395 north, aka Eastern Sierra Highway. U.S. Route 396 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 is located 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. 

Alabama Hills, California
Alabama Hills, California

Alabama Hills

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 between West Coast national parks, and the best part is that you don’t need to pay a fee to camp at Alabama Hills!

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.

Bishop

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 heading to other West Coast national parks .

Here, you can camp, check out Bishop Pass Trail, a popular day hiking trail and rent a boat at Lake Sabrina Boat Landing. 

Mammoth Lakes

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, camp and do other recreational activities. 

During the peak summer season, accommodations are pretty expensive at Mammoth Lakes. Expect to pay no less than $150-200 for a basic hotel in Mammoth Lakes, especially if you are booking it on a short notice. The town has plenty of restaurants and food places, but as with other popular destinations, prices on most things tend to be marked up.

Mono Lake near Yosemite National Park

Mono Lake

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 Valley things to do

Yosemite National Park

Where to stay: Yosemite Valley Lodge

Yosemite National Park is one of the most magnificent West Coast national parks 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.

Yosemite is stunning at any time of the year, however 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. 

Glacier Point Yosemite
Upper Yosemite 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. 

Check my guide to Yosemite to help you plan your adventure!

Sequoia National Park is one of the Best West Coast National Parks
West Coast National Parks

Sequoia National Park

Where to stay: Stony Creek Lodge 

On the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains you will find another natural wonder – 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. I recommend visiting General Sherman early morning before the area gets crowded and exploring a few trails that begin from the parking lot. 

West Coast National Parks

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.

PRO TIP: The adjacent Kings Canyon National Park has the second largest tree in the world – General Grant, and has only a fraction of visitors that come to Sequoia National Park. Combine these two parks into one trip for best experience.

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 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 also boasts one of the deepest canyons in the United States and General Grant Tree – the second largest tree in the world.

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

Painted Ladies San Francisco

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!

To plan your trip, check my top 10 places to visit in San Francisco.

The drive from Sequoia to San Francisco will take you 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

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Where to stay: Comfort Suites Redding – Shasta Lake 

Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California is one of the most underrated west coast national parks.

Located east of Redding and about 3.5 hours away from Sacramento, Lassen Volcanic 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 crossing California and heading north to Oregon.

The coolest thing about this national are it’s untouched landscapes and less-discovered trails that take you to unspoiled backcountry. And if you truly want to explore it, I recommend setting aside at least a couple of days.

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 in Oregon

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.

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 such as 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 something like 43 feet of snow per year, giving travelers only a small window to visit it.

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

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 on a warm sunny day.

It’s one of those West Coast 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. In addition, you can hike to glaciers and enjoy gurgling waterfalls around the park. And how about hiking to stunning alpine lakes that boast incredibly clear water?

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.

If you have more time

Consider visiting Lake Tahoe, a few hour drive east from San Francisco. It’s a perfect place to relax and unwind. 

I hope you have great trip and enjoy all the beauty that the West Coast national parks have to offer! 

Tips for visiting West Coast National Parks

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 West Coast national parks, fill up your tank ahead of your visit.

Don’t rely on your cellphone – Cell phone coverage can be sporadic and even non-existent in many West Coast National Parks, that’s why you should always bring a paper map or download an offline map. For example, many parts of Yosemite National Park have no cell phone coverage, and it’s paramount you have a paper map especially if you plan to hike.

You might need a bear spray – Bear spray is a necessity in some West Coast National Parks such 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 West Coast National Parks such as 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.

More resources for planning your West Coast National Parks itinerary

Whether you need to book a car, organize a tour or book a flight while exploring some of the best West Coast national parks, consider using some of my suggested services.

Agoda.com – a great website for budget accommodations near may national parks along West Coast.

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.com – 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 in many West Coast National Parks.

DiscoverCars.com – There’s nothing like exploring the incredible West Coast National Parks at your own pace. Consider renting a car at Discover Cars, if you want more freedom exploring some of the best West Coast National Parks.

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 near some of the popular West Coast National Parks

Final word

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.

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. 

3 thoughts on “Best West Coast National Parks | Your perfect road trip itinerary [2022]”

  1. We are planning to visit Page and canyon in May You wrote the connection for the guides How in advance we can make our reservation Do you have any advice for us
    Thank you

    1. The Discovery Nut

      Hello Alozja,

      Thanks for reaching out! I’d start planning everything at least a month ahead. As far as what to visit first, I’d say it depends on where you will be coming from. If you plan to visit from Las Vegas, start with Grand Canyon and then go north to Page from there and then visit a couple of national parks in Utah, since they are just a few hours away. I hope this helps!

  2. Hello,
    I’m Portuguese and I will visit West Coast in next Middle June.
    I just read this article with very attention and I need your recommendations about my plan to visit West Coast National Parks.
    I will have 4 Full Days to spend in some National Parks between Vegas and San Francisco.
    For you, how should I divide these 4 days?
    My favourites places are: Horseshoe bend, Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, Valley of Fire, Death Valley, Zion Park, Sequoia Park and finally Yosemite.
    If it would were you, what of this places would you pick and how would you divide them to 4 days for a quick visit in each place?
    Thanks a lot!
    Regards,

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