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Travel Stories

7 Best Road Trips to National Parks

Hit the road and experience the best America has to offer.

Best of Colorado Road Trip Featuring 6 National Park Sites

Hiker at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Few road trips take you past spectacular 14,000-footpeaks, soothing hot springs and fantastic historical towns like this Colorado loop.

Start in Denver to sample the city’s thriving art and food scene. Then head to the vibrant university town of Boulder and nearby Eldorado Canyon State Park. Next stop is Rocky Mountain National Park where wildlife and incredible hikes await. From there head west to the charming town of Grand Lake before heading west to Glenwood Springs to soak in the town’s legendary hot springs and experience its adventure park. Continue west to the awe-inspiring red-rock landscapes of the Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction. From there, experience incredible alpine scenery and swaths of agricultural land as you travel through Delta, Montrose and Ouray.

Discover ancient history in Mesa Verde National Park and authentic towns like Cortez, Durango, South Fork and Alamosa along the way to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve before heading to Arvada and ending in Denver.

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San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

Waterfall in the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite
Waterfall in the Hetch Hetchy area of YosemitePhoto by Kim Carroll Photography courtesy of Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite

There are few better places to start a road trip than San Francisco. From walking on the Golden Gate Bridge to seeing the bay up close via ferry, foot or aquarium, you’ll find San Francisco offers a fantastic blend of outdoor experiences and cultural opportunities.

Then take one last look at this colorful city in your rearview mirror before you hit the open road to the Tri-Valley area, known as the “sunny side of the bay.” Don’t get so tangled up in the area’s vineyards that you neglect the valley’s amazing beer trail linking such towns as Livermore and Danville.

Continue east to Tuolumne County where lakeside resorts and historic Gold Rush towns await. Beyond lies Yosemite in all its breathtaking beauty. After exploring Yosemite, take the Arch Rock Entrance to Mariposa where a charming downtown and an extraordinary gold nugget await. Then, stop in Hilmar for an insider’s look at cheesemaking. In Modesto, stretch your legs on the pedestrian-only 10th Street Plaza.

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Denver, Colorado to the Grand Canyon Road Trip

Sunset at Desert View Point in Grand Canyon National Park
Sunset at Desert View Point in Grand Canyon National ParkDeposit Photos

This trip takes you to the base of 14,000-foot peaks, the heart of red-rock canyons, the front door of ancient ruins, the rim of the Grand Canyon and the rejuvenating waters of Colorado’s hot springs like this one.

Start in Denver before heading west to Glenwood Springs to take a dip. Farther west and south explore ancient ruins and artifacts in the Mesa Verde National Park area. Cross into Arizona, stopping at Flagstaff, a university town, and then the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

On your way back, visit Farmington, N.M., before heading to Durango to take a historic train to one of Colorado’s most scenic towns, Silverton. Take a dip in Pagosa’s hot springs and explore Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

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Utah Parks and Grand Canyon Loop Road Trip

Angels Landing in Zion National Park
Angels Landing in Zion National ParkGrant Ordelheide

Incredible outdoor adventures, six national parks and ancient ruins combine to make this a trip of a lifetime.

Start in Salt Lake City where you may be surprised by the craft brewing scene and how easy it is to get around this city framed by the Great Salt Lake and Wasatch mountains.

Head south to Moab, home to Canyonlands and Arches national parks. From there stop in the Four Corners area towns of Blanding, Bluff and Monticello where ancient ruins, pioneer history and rafting await.

Then point your wheels toward Grand Canyon National Park where you can choose to visit the popular South Rim and/or the less-visited North Rim.

Cool off in Page, Ariz., by exploring Lake Powell by kayak, motor boat or stand-up paddleboard. Don’t miss the 710-foot-high Glen Canyon Dam that created Lake Powell.

Then explore the historic town of Kanab, home to artists, ranchers and hundreds of film shoots. It’s an easy drive to nearby Bryce, Zion and Capitol Reef national parks where spectacular red sandstone hoodoos, spires, canyons and slickrock await.

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Olympic Peninsula Loop Road Trip

Sol Duc Falls and Bridge in Olympic National Park
Sol Duc Falls and Bridge in Olympic National ParkDeposit Photos

Circle the national park on this ultimate tour of the Olympic Peninsula with a stop at Cape Flattery the northwest-most point in the continental U.S.

After taking the ferry, visit Washington’s northern port towns. Then make a side trip across the water to Canada’s Victoria, known for its gardens, beaches and museums.

Head back to the U.S. and into Olympic National Park to visit a triple waterfall, Cape Flattery (the northwest-most point in the United States) and the famous beaches of the Pacific Northwest.

On the loop back, stop in a small town know for its oysters and a giant octopus.

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Chicago to Nashville and Great Smoky Mountains Road Trip

Sunset in Cades Cove, a pioneer town in Great Smoky National Park
Sunset in Cades Cove, a pioneer town in Great Smoky National ParkLee Coursey via Flickr

Sing On Top of Olde Smoky on your incredible journey into the South’s top attractions and best-kept secrets in this 670-mile road trip that begins in Chicago and leads you to the nation’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Find an underground surprise in Louisville, Ky. long known for its legendary Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby and the longest continually running sporting event in the country.

After coming up for air, hit the road and point your wheels toward Nashville, the country western capital. A trip to Nashville is not complete without immersing yourself in its vibrant music scene. After all, the city boasts “free music all the time.”

A pit stop in Knoxville, Tenn, puts you just a short distance from a cabin retreat on the quiet edge of the most popular national park.

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Chicago to Dakota’s Black Hills to Yellowstone Road Trip

White Dome Geyser in Yellowstone National Park
White Dome Geyser in Yellowstone National ParkGrant Ordelheide

It’s an all-American road trip: Pioneer legends, natural wonders and wildlife await on this 2,800-plus mile route.

Start in Chicago as your first stop on this incredible route through some of the nation’s most stunning prairies, wide-open skies and gorgeous mountain peaks.

From Chicago head west, stopping at the Akta Lakota Museum to discover northern Plains Indian history. Then head to the iconic Wall Drug in South Dakota and Badlands National Park. Beyond lies Mount Rushmore in Keystone, S.D., hot springs in well, Hot Springs, S.D., and two national parks that give you a rare glimpse into the underbelly of the Earth: Wind Cave and Jewel.

Come up for air and head to Custer for Broadway-caliber performances and wildlife viewing at nearby Custer State Park. Then head to the Crazy Horse Memorial, the largest monument carving in the world. This sculpture of Oglala Lakota Chief Crazy Horse is still under construction. Head to Deadwood to walk cobblestone-lined Main Street and to see Wild West reenactments. In Hill City, you’ll ride The 1880 Train and in Belle Fourche, you can tour a museum and relax under shaded trees.

In Wyoming, Gillette makes a great base to explore Devils Tower National Monument and Thermopolis offers dinosaur digs. After exploring Yellowstone National Park, head to Billings, Mont., and Medora, N.D., en route to Chicago.

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