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Your Ultimate Guide To The National Park-To-Park Highway

There is so much to see in this world and so little time to see it all. We have 58 national parks in the US alone, not to mention all of our state parks and smaller recreation areas. But you don’t have to plan 58+ different trips to see them all (unless you want to, of course). If you follow this old loop known as the National Park-To-Park Highway, you can discover 12 of our most scenic parks around the western side of the country all in a row.

First plotted in the early 1900s, this route was an epic milestone in modern traveling. PBS had even made a documentary about this route, called Paving The Way. It describes the story of travelers who had gone on this 5,600-mile trip to see these twelve national parks in 1920, long before there were many gas stations or fully paved roads.

Things have changed significantly now, more than 90 years later. Roads are much improved, and there are 46 more national parks the route doesn’t include. But still, the loop is a great way to experience 12 spectacular parks, all in one trip. So grab your keys, camera, and hit the road soon!

national park to park highway
Sierra Trading Post

1. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

national park to park highway
Flickr/Samuel Kerr

Established in 1899, Mount Rainier National Park surrounds the highest peak in Washington. Located southeast of Seattle, the area encompasses alpine meadows, vibrant summer wildflowers, amazing waterfalls (like Comet Falls, and Myrtle Falls), and trails for hikers of all ages and skill levels.

Where to hike:

For a short and easy trip, hike the 1.5-mile Grove of the Patriarchs Loop or the 3.2-mile Naches Peak Loop. If you’re more experienced, take the 8.4-mile Summerland Trail through the lovely open meadows of Summerland.

national park to park highway
Wikipedia/Abhinaba Basu

Where to drive:

At 6,400 in elevation, Sunrise is the highest point in the park that you can drive to in a car/RV. From the top, you can admire sweeping views of the 14,416-foot-high Rainier, as well as nearby mountains like Mount Adams.

Appropriately named, Paradise is another one of the most popular destinations in the park. In the summer, hikers can take miles of trails through the meadows dotted with wildflowers. In winter the area gets an average of 643 inches of snow per year, which makes for great winter recreation like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing.

Where to camp:

The park has four campgrounds, three of which can accommodate RVs of various lengths: Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh, White River—and the primitive, tents-only Mowich Lake.

There are no electrical, water or sewage hookups at any of the campgrounds, and the sites are all mostly on a first come, first served basis. But if you’d like to guarantee a spot, you can make a reservation at the Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh campgrounds on Recreation.gov.

2. Glacier National Park, Montana

national park to park highway
Wikipedia/Mark Wagner

Set in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park is a paradise for hikers and photographers alike. Established in 1910, it preserves glacier-carved peaks, lakes, forests, and valleys all the way up to the Canadian border.  Hundreds of animal species can be found throughout the park, like mountain goats and bears, as well as over a thousand types of plants.

Where to hike:

Hikers can traverse more than 700 miles of trails across the park. A few of the popular routes here include the 5.4-mile route to Hidden Lake, 9.2-mile trail to Piegan Pass, or the renowned Highline Loop, which goes for 11.8 miles round-trip through serene alpine meadows.

Where to drive:

Even if you aren’t much of a hiker, you can still get some great views of the rugged peaks along the Going-To-The-Sun Road. It takes about two hours (without stopping) to drive the full 52 miles.

The scenic route stretches along the north shore of Saint Mary Lake, from the west entrance at West Glacier to the east entrance, with Logan Pass at the highest point (at 6,646 feet). It’s a very narrow road and RVs longer than 21 feet are not permitted; however, it’s a perfect route to take your smaller tow vehicle.

national park to park highway
Wikipedia/Karthik Chinnathambi

Where to camp:

Glacier National Park has 13 campgrounds (three of which are primitive), with over a thousand sites.  You can see more up-to-date details on each individual campground on the National Park’s website here.

The sites are mostly first come, first served with no hookups, but you can reserve a spot in advance at Fish Creek, St. Mary, and some at Many Glacier. The park is in bear country, so make sure to properly store all of your food in bear-proof containers.

3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

national park to park highway
Jeff Gunn/Flickr

The world’s first national park, Yellowstone was originally established back in 1872. Most of the park is located in Wyoming, but it also stretches into Montana and Idaho as well.

The large wilderness area sits on top of a volcanic hotspot, with dramatic canyons, hot springs, geysers (like the famous Old Faithful), and waterfalls. It’s also home to hundreds of animal species like bears, wolves, bison, elk, and antelope.

Where to hike:

Yellowstone has over a thousand miles of spectacular trails. A must-do hike, the 4.8-mile route to Lone Star Geyser leads up to a backcountry spout that spits a 45-foot fountain of water and steam up in the air. For a short but more strenuous trip, check out the Uncle’s Tom Trail–which follows down a steep stairway to a striking viewpoint of Lower Yellowstone Falls.

national park to park highway
Flickr/Yellowstone National Park

Where to drive:

Shaped like a figure-eight, the Grand Loop Road is the main road through Yellowstone. It stretches for 142 miles total, with several visitors centers, museums, boardwalks, and side roads to stop and check out along the way.

Where to camp:

Yellowstone has been a classic place to go camping for years. There are 12 campgrounds throughout the park with over 2,000 sites total. All of them welcome RVs, but some do have size limitations.

Five accept reservations, while the other seven are first come, first served. It’s also possible to camp in the backcountry here, but you will need a permit.

4. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

national park to park highway
John B. Kalla/Flickr

Rocky Mountain National Park is Colorado’s premier national park and less than a two-hour drive from Denver. You can be wowed by up-close mountain views, pristine mountain lakes (like Sprague Lake, as pictured above), and all kinds of wildlife like moose, bighorn sheep, and elk.

Where to hike:

For an easygoing walk, take the 0.8-mile trail to Bear Lake. Beginning from Bear Lake Road (off Highway 36), this popular route leads through forest, circling the clear alpine lake. Around the beginning of the loop, you’ll be treated to a great view of Hallett Peak, and as you make your way down to the northern shore, you’ll find amazing vistas of Half Mountain and Longs Peak.

If you’d rather go on a less crowded (but just as scenic) hike, check out the 3.2-mile trek to Emerald Lake (pictured below). This path leads through Tyndall Gorge, passing by a couple other subalpine lakes along the way that are also fed by the Tyndall Glacier.

national park to park highway
Flickr/Miguel Vieira

Where to drive:

Also known as “Highway To The Sky”, Trail Ridge Road is an incredibly scenic stretch of Highway 34 from Estes Park to Grand Lake. The road passes by several outlooks where you can stop and get plenty of photos.

Where to camp:

There are five campgrounds in the park, four of which are open to RVs of different lengths (up to 40 feet): Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, Moraine Park, Timber Creek, and the tents-only Longs Peak.

5. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

national park to park highway
Tobi87/Wikipedia

Mesa Verde will give you an interesting glimpse back in time to early civilizations. The park protects old cliff dwellings and man-made sites that Pueblo people called home for over 700 years, dating as early as 600 AD.

Where to hike:

The park has a lot of unique hiking trails, but Petroglyph Point is especially impressive because it’s the only one in which you can see petroglyphs (ancient drawings carved into rocks).

The path follows along Spruce Canyon to see the petroglyphs (about halfway in), climbs back to the top of the mesa, and loops back to its starting point at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.

national park to park highway
Rationallobserver/Wikipedia

Where to drive:

Mesa Top Loop Road is a six-mile, self-guided tour you can take to see 12 cliff dwellings and overlooks, like Square Tower House and Sun Point. The road is open from 8 am to sunset all year, weather permitting.

Where to camp:

Morefield Campground is the only well-maintained option for tents, trailers, and RVs. There are 267 campsites, each complete with a table, bench and grill.

They also have 15 full hook-up RV sites that require reservations, along with amenities you wouldn’t expect to find in a national park. The campground has a full-service village, with an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast in a small café, a gas station, RV dumping station, coin-operated laundry, free showers, a gift shop, and a grocery store.

6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

national park to park highway
Bryan Rosengrant/Flickr

The Grand Canyon is an American landmark. People from all over the globe flock here to see the colorful, mesmerizing views. Established in 1919, the park is best known for the South Rim (or the “Arizona side”). It’s much easier to reach off Interstate 40, but that also makes it much more crowded during the summertime.

The North Rim side, by the Utah border, is more remote and difficult to reach. At 8,000-feet in elevation, this side is only open from May 15 through October 31.

Where to hike:

The Bright Angel Trail (on the South Rim side) is one of the most popular and safest ways you can experience the canyon. The well-maintained trail follows a side canyon, passes through Indian Garden, and descends to the Colorado River, with unparalleled views of the Inner Gorge. It goes for almost 18 miles total round-trip, but you don’t have to go all the way down if you’re just planning on a day hike. Don’t forget to bring extra water for this one!

national park to park highway
Elf/Wikipedia

Where to drive:

Desert View Drive makes for a scenic trip east of Grand Canyon Village. It follows the South Rim for about 25 miles, leading out to the Desert View Watchtower. Along the way, the road passes by six viewpoints, four picnic areas, and five unmarked pull-offs.

Where to camp:

Camping on the South Rim side is often filled all the way to capacity, so making reservations ahead of time is definitely recommended. There are two NPS campgrounds on this side: Mather and Desert View (neither have hookups).

Trailer Village is the only RV campground in the park that offers full hookups. They have paved pull-thru sites that can fit vehicles up to 50-feet long, all year long. To make reservations, check them out online here.

7. Zion National Park, Utah

national park to park highway
John Fowler/Flickr

Red rock canyons, sandstone cliffs, and beautiful pine forests define Zion National Park. Located in southwestern Utah, Zion Canyon was carved out by the North Fork of the Virgin River thousands of years ago, but the area wasn’t established as a national park until 1919. The other-worldly trails and rock formations here draw in hikers and climbers from all over the world.

Where to hike:

Zion has a wide variety of world-class hiking opportunities, from family-friendly outings to moderate hikes and backpacking trips that last for days. A famous venture, the trip up to Angels Landing heads to the top of a massive monolith.

It’s a short, but steep 5 miles round-trip, leading across a narrow rock fin with dramatic views below on both sides. Just before you get to the top, you can also swing by Scout Overlook for even more commanding views.

national park to park highway
Flickr/Henrik Johansson

Where to drive:

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is a great way to experience the canyon from the comfort of your own vehicle. This scenic stretch of the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway (UT-9) kicks off about a mile past the visitor center, near the south entrance, and heads north through Zion Canyon for about six miles.

During the summer, the road is only open to the free shuttle buses. But from November to mid-March, it’s open to all vehicles—although oversized ones (which includes most RVs) do have to pay a $15 fee.

Where to camp:

There are three campgrounds in Zion National Park: South and Watchman Campgrounds (in Zion Canyon), and the seasonal Lava Point Campground, which is located about an hour from the south entrance.

Camping is popular here (and with the starry night sky, it’s easy to see why), so reservations at Watchman are recommended if you’d like a site guaranteed. Or if you aren’t able to make reservations, show up early for your best chances at getting a spot.

8 and 9. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

national park to park highway
Crd637/Wikipedia

Kings Canyon (which was once General Grant National Park) borders Sequoia to the north in California, but the two parks are now just managed together as Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. This picture-perfect landscape east of the San Joaquin Valley is made up of towering mountains, rugged foothills, and some of the tallest trees in the world.

Where to hike:

For an easy hike with big rewards, take the trail up to Buena Vista Peak. The trailhead starts from a small pull-off on the west side of the Generals Highway and follows up a forested ridge to a granite summit with several huge, rounded boulders.

It only goes for less than 2 miles round-trip, but from the top you can get incredible, unobstructed views of mountains, valleys, and Redwood Canyon down below.

Where to drive:

Beginning in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (a stretch of Highway 180) winds and curves for about fifty miles eastbound until it reaches Roads End.

Along the way, you can stop by Junction View and other highway pull-offs to get a closer look into Kings Canyon, which is a mind-blowing 8,200-feet deep.

national park to park highway
Flickr/Upsilon Andromedae

Where to camp:

Between the two parks, there are fourteen campgrounds total, three of which are open all year long. Most are on a first come, first served basis, with up to six campers allowed per site. Each of them comes equipped with a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and metal food-storage box (black bears are very common around here), but there are no RV hookups.

Your best chance of scoring a tent or RV site in the summer is during the week. But you can make reservations at a few of the campgrounds if you’d prefer to secure a spot over the weekends.

10. Yosemite National Park, California

national park to park highway
Wikipedia/Johan Viirok

Along with Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, Yosemite is another one of our country’s most prized national parks with ancient sequoia forests and dramatic waterfalls in California’s Sierra Nevadas.

Several viewpoints are easy to reach throughout the park, like the iconic Tunnel View—where you can see the 617-foot Bridalveil Falls with the massive granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome framing the valley (as pictured above).

Where to hike:

The trail to Yosemite Falls is steep, but seeing North America’s tallest waterfall up-close is worth every step. The climb will also give you great views of Half Dome and other Sierra mountain peaks in the distance and Yosemite Valley’s meadows down below.

national park to park highway
Diliff/Wikipedia

Where to drive:

Yosemite has a lot of scenic routes, but the trip up Tioga Road from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass cannot be missed. This winding mountain drive heads through high-country in the Sierra Nevadas for about 39 miles, passing by beautiful lakes, meadows, and several pull-offs along the way.

Where to camp:

Camping in Yosemite has been a popular tradition for years. The park has 13 maintained campgrounds, ten of which can accommodate RVs and trailers (including fifth-wheels) of various lengths.

Seven of the campgrounds accept reservations, which are a must during the summertime because it gets so busy. Even the campgrounds that are on a first come, first served basis will usually fill up before it’s even noon—so make sure to plan accordingly.

Hookups aren’t available here, but there are dump stations with fresh water at Upper Pines Campground all year, and near Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows Campgrounds during the summer. For more info on RV camping in the park, check out the national park’s website here.

11. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

national park to park highway
Jan Go/Flickr

As you may have guessed from the name, Lassen Volcanic National Park preserves Lassen Peak, one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world. Established in 1916, this Northern California park also has steaming fumaroles (openings near volcanoes where hot sulfurous gas emerges), crystal clear mountain lakes, and meadows lined with wildflowers.

Where to hike:

A trip to Lassen is just not complete without exploring the 1.5-mile Bumpass Hell trail (pronounced bump-uss, not bump-ass). It had been named after an early settler who severely burned his leg after falling into a boiling pool—so be careful and make sure to stay on the trails. The short, steep trail is known for having the largest concentration of hydrothermal features in the whole park.

Where to drive:

The Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway (Highway 89) is a great way to tour the park without even leaving your vehicle. The 30-mile trip passes by these eight highlights, including a roadside fumarole (steam vent), and several viewpoints where you can stop and admire Lassen Peak.

national park to park highway
Wikipedia/Lassen NPS

Where to camp:

There are eight campgrounds at Lassen Park, ranging from well-maintained to primitive, none of which have RV hookups. Half of them are first come, first served, while the others have sites that can be reserved ahead of time. Each one comes equipped with a picnic table, fire ring and grill, and a metal bear-proof box for food storage.

12. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

national park to park highway
Charles Dawley/Wikipedia

Looping back north to south-central Oregon, Crater Lake National Park encompasses our country’s deepest lake, as well as Mount Mazama, and surrounding hills and forests. Known for its deep blue color, the lake fills a caldera formed by the collapse of an old volcano.

Where to hike:

The hike up Garfield Peak is a must. This short, steep trail leaves the Crater Lake Lodge parking lot and heads uphill. After only about half of a mile, you’ll be rewarded with views of the water—but they keep getting better as you climb. The route continues all the way up to the peak’s summit at 8,060 feet above the lake.

national park to park highway
Wikipedia/Markgorzynski

Where to drive:

Rim Drive is a 33-mile loop that circles all the way around Crater Lake. There are eight main viewing areas with roadside parking where you can get out, and enjoy a closer view of the lake.

Four of the outlooks (including Pumice Point, Skell Head, Cloudcap, and Kerr Notch) can be accessed by just pulling off the road. The other four can be reached by taking short trails from the parking areas (Sinnott Memorial, Discovery Point, Watchman Lookout, and Merriam Point).

Where to camp:

There are only two campgrounds within the park. Both are only open during the summer and located in lush forests just south of the lake.

Lost Creek Campground is small and tents-only. Mazama Village, on the other hand, is RV-friendly, and some of the sites even have electric hookups. The sites are all spacious and can accommodate RVs up to 50 feet long. Most of the sites can be reserved in advance but there are still a few others that are first come, first served.

See also: The 5 Quietest National Parks For RV Camping


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