Are you trying to plan a national park road trip but need help knowing how to plan which US or Canadian national parks to see together in one trip? Being that I put A LOT of planning into all of our family road trips- I hope this post is a great starting point for you in your planning. I am working on having all of these itineraries in their own separate blog posts but as I put those posts together – I hope this list is helpful- let’s get started shall we?
I have to admit- besides the destinations, one of my favorite parts of a road trip are the gas pit stops and other silly stops along the way. I am kind of a junk food junkie- so any excuse to grab that Nestle Crunch bar and a bag of Smartfood popcorn at the register after going to the bathroom in the middle of nowhere always made me quite happy. Oh- and of course the Diet Coke – can never forget the Diet Coke! (I told you I am pretty simple…). I have also been fascinated to learn about the terrain of the places in between my destinations and a road trip is pretty much the only way you are going to see those landscape views. It didn’t hurt that my kids were all movie buffs and loved watching Disney movies on our minivan DVD player as my husband and I took turns driving us on our adventures…
We tended to focus heavily on US and Canadian National Parks for alot of our family road trip vacations. And while these parks offer so much beauty for us to enjoy- it can be a little daunting to figure out which parks to visit together on one trip. In case you are wondering- yes you can see at least a few of them in a two week time span and if you have a little longer- you can squeeze quite a bit more into your experience!
Because all of these trips were road trips from San Diego for us, I will try to be helpful as far as which city I think would be the best to fly in to if flying to the destination is necessary for you if that is something I know… I would usually start planning the next summer vacation as soon as we would get back from the previous destination (and yes- that is ALOT of planning!). In case you didn’t read my About Me page- I am also an avid planner 🤪.
Our first family trip to a national park was spring break 2005 when we went to Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion all in ten days (go see my previous travel post about that experience 😂).
A tradition we started with our kids on this trip was to make them jump out at every national park sign and take a photo with them by the sign! I know, I know, this is an old blurry photo probably not worthy of being published in a blog… but it was 2004 after all and waaaayyy before I owned a digital camera, a Facebook account, and a blog so I didn’t really expect to show this photo to anyone but my own family 😂.
After a couple of years road tripping to national parks for one week trips- I realized our family does really well in the car together and by this point we had pretty much all the camping gear to make a pretty nice setup in our campsites so we started going out for longer. Many of our road trips with the kids when they were younger were each just under three weeks long so we were able to fit in plenty in that time frame. I should clarify with you that we were NOT sleeping in a tent for all 20 nights! We would mix up our hotel nights with our tent nights- in fact sometimes we would sleep the first night in a new place in a hotel (usually a Hampton Inn because of the free breakfast!) and then head to the campground the next morning to set up camp.
Here is a list of which parks we combined on each trip as well as some of the stops along the way to help you in your planning of which parks would work well together in one trip 😊. We obviously started each of these trips from San Diego but you can easily pick your own starting point once you get closer to any one of the destinations listed! My hope is this list is helpful to you in figuring out how to plan which US or Canadian National Parks to see together in one trip…
Grand Canyon/Bryce Canyon/Zion National Parks
Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion (I obviously already mentioned this trip but figured I would add it here to make the list complete 🤪). If flying to see these parks- I would suggest looking into Las Vegas…
Yosemite/Sequoia/Kings Canyon/Grand Teton/Yellowstone
These parks were NOT all seen together (although technically this would make for one heck of a an awesome road trip 😉)! We visited all of these parks in the same summer – we spent one week (separately) in Yosemite National Park and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park and then spent about ten days on a road trip to meet my family (from WI) in Grand Teton National Park with three nights in Yellowstone National Park added to that itinerary. If you live far away and need to fly to see Yosemite or Sequoia – that is a little tricky to figure out the most convenient place to fly into as Merced and Fresno are very small airports. You would probably be better off flying in to Sacramento or Los Angeles and starting a trip to either of those parks from there. Grand Teton has the Jackson Hole or Idaho Falls, Idaho airports as its closest air options.
Canyon de Chelly/Mesa Verde
We spent one night in Chinle, AZ to visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument on our way to Mesa Verde National Park the following summer and on the way home we spent a few nights in Durango, CO and Sedona, AZ. Flying in to Phoenix or Durango, CO is a viable option for flying to these destinations.
Glacier/Banff/Jasper/Crater Lake National Parks
The summer of 2007 was our first longer road trip logging in at 20 days. I can definitely tell you that the DVD player on the ceiling of our Honda Odyssey minivan was now a crucial car feature to us . Technology just kept getting better and better as the years went on which made driving in the car with kids easier and easier 🤪. We visited Grand Teton NP, Glacier NP, Banff and Jasper National Parks (in Canada), then headed back home through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Portland, Oregon before heading to Crater Lake National Park. On our way home from Crater Lake we stopped in Sacramento, CA for one night. As this is clearly a road trip that traversed the entire southern to northern borders of the US, this is one trip that you would have to pick any destination as your starting point and airport to fly in to…
Arches/Rocky Mountain/Mount Rushmore/Devils Tower
This is when we got hooked on long road trips with our kids and decided to take another 20 day road trip the following summer. We drove to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, spent an overnight in Boulder, CO on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park, then drove to Custer State Park in South Dakota. We stayed in this park while we were exploring Mount Rushmore and Wind Cave National Park. Then we made a lunch time stopover at Devils Tower National Monument as we drove to spend one night in Cody, Wyoming on our way to my sister’s wedding in Grand Teton National Park. We also stopped at Old Faithful in Yellowstone before arriving in Grand Teton NP. On the way home from this road trip we stopped in Park City, Utah and Las Vegas. I will be writing a separate blog post that will include the itinerary of this trip for assistance in planning this road trip to anyone that is interested in all of our stops! Stay tuned…
Mount Shasta/Mount St Helens/Mount Rainier/North Cascades
A perfect 13 day PNW itinerary is up the I-5 freeway with stops in Mount Shasta and Mount St Helens National Monument on the way to Mount Rainier National Park. We attempted North Cascades National Park on this trip as well but got completely rained out so headed back to a hotel in Seattle earlier than was anticipated. On the way back to San Diego from this trip, we stopped in San Francisco for two nights.
East Coast US History National Parks/Monuments
Summer of 2011 was all about the US History national parks and monuments on the east coast for us… once I get a blog post up about this trip – I will link it here but the trip entailed flying in to Boston, renting a car and then driving from Boston, MA to Williamsburg, VA in 18 days and included so many historical parks along the way!
White Sands/Carlsbad Caverns/Everglades National Parks
Our San Diego to Key West, Florida road trip included seeing White Sands National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, The Alamo National Monument, and ultimately Everglades National Park. There were multiple stops along the way for this bucket list trip – including New Orleans and of course Disneyworld. I do have to say- I think everyone should drive across the country at least once in their lifetime though! So many random things to see along the way that would just never be a destination for you otherwise!!
Haleakala National Park/Pearl Harbor National Monument
Hawaii has many national parks to see as well- we have only been to Maui and Oahu but enjoyed the national parks on those islands when we were there!
British Columbia/Olympic National Park
I mentioned in another travel post that we have driven the I-5 freeway multiple times (having two daughters attend the University of Oregon will do that to you!). One summer we drove to all the way to Whistler, Canada (with one night in Eugene, Oregon and one night in Seattle, WA) and then came back down to San Diego via Vancouver, Victoria Island, and then four magical nights in Olympic National Park…
Joshua Tree/Death Valley National Park
We have also visited Joshua Tree (while staying in Palm Springs) and Death Valley National Park for my husband’s 50th birthday a couple of years ago. We did not combine these parks with any other destinations however- we did find plenty to do at these destinations that I will share with you soon!
By writing this post – I hope I was able to offer enough information to help you figure out how to plan which US or Canadian National Parks to see together in one trip. I will slowly be getting detailed itineraries together on this blog to give you in depth planning help and will link them here as I get them written! Unfortunately my earlier road trips will be going off of memory as the idea of writing a blog to share all my research and experiences on the road just never popped into my head back then! Hopefully my memory will serve me well as I go back 15 years to help you with your planning 😎.
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