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From the west coast to the east coast and everything in between, there are National Parks littered across the United States and they offer the most awe-inspiring views and memorable adventures. Check out these parks to hit on your road trip so you don’t miss out on the best the US has to offer.
National Parks in the Pacific West
Start in Washington at Mt. Rainer and then make your way west to Crater Lake and end in Southern California. This road trip adds up to 20 hours and a perfect view of the west coast.
Mount Rainer National Park
This National Park, located in Washington, stands 14,410 feet above sea level. To be prepared for this park pack layered clothing that is waterproof. The climate around Mt. Rainier is generally cool and the possibility of rain is constant. You can bike, hike, and camp at this National Park and experience wildlife, the natural wonders, and stonework bridges.
The parks Paradise Area is recognizable for the expansive wildflower meadows. You can start at Paradise Valley Road and follow the one-way through the meadow or go to Reflection Lakes and Inspiration Point for amazing views of Mount Rainer and the Tatoosh Range.
Crater Lake National Park
South of Mount Rainer lies Crater Lake National Park in Crater Lake, Oregon. The park houses two campgrounds, three restaurants and a variety of activities. Mazama Campground is nestled in a forest setting and equipped with a picnic table, fire ring, and a bear-resistant food locker – thankful for that. Restaurants include the Rim Village Cafe, Annie Creek, and Crater Lake Lodge.
The Rim Village offers light fare, quick meals, Annie Creek is has a varietal menu including breakfast, lunch, and dinner and Crater Lake is more of a fine dining affair with gourmet cuisine. Activities and must-see sites for Crater Lake are fishing, Cleetwood Cove, and the boat and trolley tours.
Joshua Tree National Park
Further South, Twentynine Palms, California, sits Joshua Tree National Park. There are many camping sites to choose from but a spotlight campground is Jumbo Rocks for the views alone. A visitor favorite is the Skull Rock located along one of the main park roads. It’s a naturally occurring rock formation that you guessed it, resembles a skull. Plan for the Geology Tour Road that leads through remarkable landscapes. Horseback riding through the dessert is something that makes for a special trip and can be booked on their website.
National Parks in the Midwest
The midwest brings you more than pop and cars, some of the best National Parks rest in the Midwest and these three are at the top of the list. Rent a car, hopefully, one where you can put the top down, and enjoy this road trip through the Midwest.
Hot Springs National Park
Next stop, Hot Springs National Park located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. If you’ve ever wanted to take bath inside a National Park then look no further. You can take a traditional bath at the Buckstaff Bathhouse for a unique experience. There are also regular pools with hot spring water. You can take the guided Fordyce Tour to see a luxurious bathhouse or explore the Grand Promenade and Bathhouse Row and come out with a new story of how rainwater becoming hot spring water. You can camp on site for just $30 per night.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Headed Northeast from Hot Springs you’ll run into the Cuyahoga (pronounced kay-ah-hoh-gah) Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio. Snacks, restaurants, and picnics are all options when you come to Cuyahoga. There are two Trail Mix Stores located on site where you can grab an ice cream or snack. If you’re looking for a whole meal visit the Trail Mix Peninsula for some homemade eats inside the park. Picnic areas are scattered throughout the park if you’d like to bring your own food as well.
Lodge at the Stanford House, open all year round and has nine bedrooms or the Inna at Brandywine Falls which bed and breakfast style. All aboard the Scenic Train Ride for an excursion through the park to gaze at all the natural beauty and wildlife.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
The Dunes! This is such a fun and adventurous park to visit in Michigan. If you have the energy, you can take the dunes up to Lake Michigan for a 3 to 4-hour hike. It can be strenuous but if you’re up for it the views at the end will make it all worthwhile.
If you’d rather be on the water instead of sand you can go kayaking or canoeing. There are two rivers to go one – the Platte and Crystal. You will be surrounded by a natural setting, wildflowers, and birds in their natural habitat. For one more adventure, you can scuba dive at the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve and explore a shipwreck.
National Parks on the East Coast
The east coast road trip starts in Bay Harbor, Maine and ends at the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. Clocking in at 21 hours, this road trip will not disappoint. You‘ll see the best shorelines, waterfalls, and caves this side of Mississippi.
Acadia National Park
Welcome to Bay Harbor, Maine, home of Acadia National Park. With a plethora of private campgrounds on site, Acadia is welcoming to all visitors near and far. The Isle au Haut is an island off the coast of Maine where there are scenic trails, beautiful rocky shorelines, and is an overall must-see site. For those seeking a geography lesson, the EarthCache Program is quite the chance. The park provides you with a GPS unit, map, and clues to a series of sites in the park. Try tidepooling with the little ones and take a peek at the marine life.
Shenandoah National Park
Traveling southwest from Acadia will lead you to Shenandoah National Park, located in Luray, Virginia. The main lodge on site is Big Meadows which has 25 rooms and an additional 71 rooms in rustic cabins. There are quite a few restaurants to choose from – Elkwallow Wayside, Skyland, or Loft Mountain Wayside to name a few. Each place serves breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The waterfalls are a very attractive quality of the park and there are as many as 8 that you can check out. The tallest of them all is Overall Run Falls boasting an impressive drop of 93 feet. Another popular activity at this park is rock climbing and is available to climbers of all levels.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Now entering The Mammoth Cave. Located in Kentucky, this natural wonder includes accommodations such as lodging, restaurants and cave tours. The onsite lodge is placed in the woods at the heart of the park. The two restaurants in season are the Spelunkers Cafe and Green River Grill, the former is for a quick bite and the later is geared toward fine dining. Leave the camera at home for this cave tour, as flash photography is not permitted. But you won’t need a camera to remember this cave. Reserve a ranger-led tour and walk through these expanse caves that will leave you in awe.
National Parks in the Northern United States
Next up are a few parks in the cooler climate states. Starting in Montana and ending up in Wisconsin this trip will take you over the mountains and through the woods.
Glacier National Park
Known for their Grizzly Bears, West Glacier, Montana is also popular for their Glacier National Park. They have 5 lodges, 13 drive-in campgrounds, 4 eateries, and 5 camp stores. I think it’s safe to say this park is incredibly huge. Unique to this park is the Glacier InstaMeets. It’s for people of all ages and professions to come to meet, collaborate, and take photos while exploring. Something else unique here is the Native American Speaks Program. Each summer tribal members share their culture, history, and knowledge with the visitors.
Badlands National Park
Found in Interior, South Dakota is the Badlands National Park. It sounds pretty intimidating but there are only tranquil views here. There is one lodge that operates seasonal and a few different campgrounds that guests can choose from. Badlands holds several special events throughout the year including the Badlands Astronomy Festival where they hold star parties and have opportunities to learn about space exploration.
Big Bend National Park
This road trip starts off in Big Bend National Park, Texas. The only lodge in the park is the Chisos Mountains Lodge located over 5,000 feet in elevation and is open all year round. Get off the beaten path at this park and take a 4-wheeler on the dirt roads. Go biking on paved trails surrounded by canyons, hilltops, and basins.
Ocmulgee Mounds National Park
Macon, Georgia brings is the Ocmulgee National Park. Although this park doesn’t have any eating or sleeping accommodations it does have plenty of indoor and outdoor activities. There is a museum on site at the park which houses over 2,000 artifacts dating back to 10,000BC.
For outdoor activities, you can bike, fish, hike, and more. When you see this park you’ll understand why its called Mounds. The landscape resembles big ocean waves, further than the eyes can see. It’s truly an incredible site.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Did I save the best for last? The Dry Tortugas, located in south Florida, is an island equipped with campsites, snorkeling adventures, and beaches. Campers are to bring their own food and water, as none is provided on the island for the exception of the ferryboat ride. There are several sites to go snorkeling and diving; the Little Africa site is home to barracuda, lobsters, coral reefs and tropical fish that are visible while diving.
The Best is Yet to Come
Traveling cross-country requires a lot of preparation and planning. This National Park Road Trip guide will be your best resource in determining which spots to hit and what events or activities you’re looking for. Are any of these spots on your Bucket List? They should be.