Ever dreamed of hitting all the big parks on an epic West Coast national park road trip? I know that it’s long been a dream of mine to drive from Seattle down to Los Angeles hitting as many of the national parks as possible. These days we have visited almost all the parks, but no one says we can’t visit them again. And again!
Below is our guide for visiting the most amazing stops on a West Coast national park road trip starting in Seattle and Ending in Los Angeles.
Map of Your West Coast National Park Road Trip
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7 Spectacular Stops On Your West Coast National Park Road Trip
01 |OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Olympic National Park outside of Seattle Washington is one of the most beautiful parks on this list. It is quite different than the others in that it is the only park where you can experience beaches, rainforests, waterfalls and often snow all in one place. There is so much to do and explore here, that you should set aside at least 3 days for fully get your bearings, get on out on the hiking trails and find time to seek out hidden gems. Make sure to check out Ruby Beach, the Hoh Rainforest and Hurricane Ridge. This West Coast national park road trip can start or end here at Olympic National Park depending on your preference and season of travel.
Where to Stay
Olympic National Park offers a good deal of charming accomodation options within the park as well as nearby from historic hotels to rustic cabins. The Kalaloch Lodge within the park is a great option if it’s available. Rooms book up well in advance particularly for July and August. Check out the NPS website for more information on lodging both in the park and outside.
02 |MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
Mount Rainier National Park is home to a massive dormant volcano towering above the Pacific Northwest. With most flights arriving to Seattle, this is one peak that you are sure to see as it’s snowy peak is often well above the clouds! This is not one of the largest parks on the list, however it offers a great deal of adventures for those who are willing to give it some time. Day hikes, camping and it’s advanced mountaineering climbs offer something for everyone. Most visitors spend only 1 day exploring this park. While there is always more to see, that is a good start.
Where to Stay
03 |CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
Continuing on with our volcano tour is a stop at Crater Lake National Park. Registered as Oregon’s only true national park, Crater Lake offers some of the most scenic views over America’s deepest lake filled with the bluest water you will ever see. Snow melt and rain have filled this 5 mile wide crater over time resulting in this beautiful lake that lives inside a crater left by a massive eruption thousands of years ago. Be prepared for snow even into the summer months while hiking along the rim. Visitors can also take boat tours for a chance to get on the water. As you head through Oregon, make time to check out some other beautiful locations along the coast or within the central area of the state.
Where to Stay
Crater Lake National Park is located a bit out on it’s own, thus it’s important if you want to get the most out of your visit to stay within the park. Crater Lake Lodge is one of the few options within the park. Note, however it fills up early especially during the summer months. If you need to stay outside of the park, expect to drive a bit, but you can get some pretty kitschy cool options if you are up to it! We loved our stay at a little roadside motel near Crescent, Oregon. Mazama Village area is also another place to check for a variety of lodging options.
04 |LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK
Our 3rd volcanic park in a row, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a totally unique perspective for visitors venturing inland and away from the famous coastal national park – Redwoods National Park. One of the least known parks on this is one of the most interesting. Lassen Peak, one of the most active volcanoes in the Cascade Range stands at 10,457 feet. It’s last eruption was in 1917. While the volcano has been quiet the park is filled with geothermal activity from mud pots, sulphur springs, and boiling streams. Much of the park can be easily accessed via paved paths and boardwalks at any time of the year. However, the road that goes through the park often does not open until Memorial Day weekend due to snow.
For more information on how to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park, read our guide with everything you need to know about Lassen.
Note for those who are looking to hit ALL the parks possible, you can also venture to Redwoods National Park on the coast, before swinging back inland to hit Lassen Volcanic National Park. Either route offers breathtaking scenery and the chance to get off the beaten path a bit to experience the beauty of Southern Oregon and Northern California. If you find yourself near Redding, there is a national recreation area and spectacular waterfalls that are also worth a detour.
Where to Stay
Lassen Volcanic National Park offers very little in the way of accomodation outside of camping and cabins. This means that most visitors to the park stay outside of the park in the favorite Drakesbad Guest Ranch, in the town Red Bluff or even further afield in Redding.
05 |YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
One of the most popular parks on this west coast national park road trip is Yosemite National Park. The majestic scenery here cannot be missed. This is one park I recommend spending at least 4-5 days in if possible. Massive cliffs like Half Dome and El Capitan are some of the most recognizable formations in the world and are worth their notoriety.
The main part of the park that visitors flock to is Yosemite Valley which offers guests some of the most incredible sights in the park with little effort. That said, this park offers everything from easy family friendly hikes to more challenging backcountry hiking for the more adventurous.
Our Yosemite National Park guide provides all you need to know about where to stay, eat and what are the not to miss sights for those with kids and without.
Where to Stay
Yosemite offers a vast number of options for visitors throughout the park. Our recommendation for first time visitors is to snag a place in Yosemite Valley. There are tent sites, canvas cabins and hotels, including the beautiful Yosemite Valley Lodge. We also love the Tenaya Lodge for those willing to stay out of the center of the action, which is about an hour from the Valley.
06 |SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS
One of my personal favorites on this list of west coast national parks is Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Sequoia National Park is home to some of the largest trees on earth. Compared to the towering tall Redwoods, the trees here are wider and just as massive in height! One of the most famous sights here is the General Sherman Tree that all visitors must have their photo taken in front of.
Other than seeing massive trees, the other major draw for a visit to Sequoia National Park is searching for bears while hiking through meadows, along rivers and up rock sides.
While you can technically do Sequoia National Park in one day, we highly recommend taking at least 2 days if possible to really soak it all up.
Where to Stay
There are several great lodges that operate throughout the year in Sequoia National Park. We love the Wuksachi Lodge is located in the Giant Forest area and the John Muir Lodge in Grant Grove Village. For those who are just passing through the park and want to stay somewhere outside of the park, there are a variety of options in the nearby town of Three Rivers.
07 |JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
Moving out of the lush mountainside landscapes into the desert, we find ourselves at Joshua Tree National Park. Some West coast national park road trip guides will suggest Death Valley instead of Joshua Tree. While the two parks are amazing, we much prefer Joshua Tree for its landscape as well as accessibility for those ending here or in Los Angeles or for those carrying on their tour further into Arizona.
With spectacular rock formations, the ephemeral joshua tree and a variety of unique cacti, you can easily spend days exploring this vast desert landscape. Many visitors pass through the park in one day, snapping photos and hopping out for a quick hike which is easy to do here. However, the desert truly comes alive at sunset and after dark, thus we recommend pitching a tent or looking for a glamping locations nearby to soak it all up.
Where to Stay
Like I mentioned above, the best place to stay in Joshua Tree is as close to the desert as possible. Joshua Tree NP doesn’t have any accommodation options of its own, however it is close to the town of Joshua Tree and vast expanses of desert in the area that have a variety of great Airbnb options. The closest accommodation options to the park are in 29 Palms on the outskirts of the park. Our favorite locations near Joshua Tree are in Joshua Tree town, Pioneertown or further afield in Palm Springs (if you want some city life to your desert escape!).
9 More Stops For An Epic West Coast National Park Tour
If you are like me and want to continue exploring some of America’s most amazing landscapes, you can carry on with your epic road trip a bit further, heading into Arizona and Utah. The next portion of this larger West Coast national park road trip loop offers the scenic red rocks of Arizona, towering hoodoos and arches of Utah before venturing into the mountains for the most well known of the national parks – Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Glacier.
08 |GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Arguably the most famous of all the national parks, the Grand Canyon National Park is a must visit if you are in the area. The Grand Canyon can be viewed from both the North Rim and the South Rim. While the views on the North Rim are more spectacular it is much less developed and harder to access, which is why 90% of visitors to the Grand Canyon make their base in the south.
The crowds at the Grand Canyon is often the main deterrent for visitors, however even during the height of summer visitor seasons, you can get beat the heat and get away from the crowds a bit by waking up early for hikes and exploring the shuttle route stops. Regardless, don’t miss our top spots at the Grand Canyon during your visit.
Where to Stay
For those looking to stay a few days, a variety of options are available inside and outside the park. As always, when possible we recommend staying inside the park. The Grand Canyon has everything from luxurious lodging at the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge to more rustic camping at the North Rim Campground. In the South, there are places to stay inside the park itself as well as tons of chain hotels right outside the park gates. We recommend staying inside the park if you visit the South Rim if possible.
09 |ZION NATIONAL PARK
Next on your ultimate West Coast National Park road trip, you will move into Utah and start your visit to one of the state’s Big 5 parks. Zion National Park is an amazing park for those who really want to immerse themselves into the wild. From hiking Zion Narrows to Angels Landing or just relaxing by the river there is so much to do here. This is one of our favorite parks and a must for you if you are anywhere near here! The beautiful sandstone domes that have been shaped by wind and water create some of the most scenic land around. From catching tadpoles and lazing in the river to hiking to emerald pools there is something for everyone here. Our Zion National Park guide covers all the must see destinations in the park as well as where to stay and eat outside the park.
Where to Stay
Contrary to my recommendations for most parks, I highly recommend staying outside of Zion National Park if you can. There is an abundance of lodging options just outside the gates in Springdale with a range of options from budget hotels to luxury resorts. In addition, there are a ton of really unique Zion lodging options all around the area that are worth exploring too.
10 |BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most breathtaking parks on this list due to its unique topography and elevation. Visiting Bryce outside of the summer months will leave you a bit chilly and often hiking through snow! The red sandstone hoodoos jutting up from the ground are mesmerizing. The park can easily be visited as a day trip taking the main road from sight to sight, but to really get a sense of the majesticness of the hoodoos we highly recommend you get down into the middle of it. The best hike is to do this is the Figure 8 hike which joins together several different hikes. During our visit some of the trails were closed due to winter snow damage, so we did only a portion of the 8 which was still amazing. This hike joins Queens Garden, Navajo Loop and Peek-a-Boo Loop.
Where to Stay
For a park as popular as Bryce Canyon, there aren’t a ton of options for last minute travelers. Inside the park, The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is a great option. For those of you (like us!) that miss out on booking far in advance, there are a variety of options outside of the park near and far. Right outside the park is the Best Western Plus, Rubys Inn with a variety of other 2 star hotel options along the highway leading out of town. Most of the options are quite basic, but manageable since you won’t be in your room much anyway!
11 |CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
One the way to Capitol Reef from Bryce Canyon you will drive one of America’s most scenic drives on Route 12. Capitol Reef is an often overlooked park, but is one well worth the detour on small scenic byways. Capitol Reef is a true hidden gem filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in one of the most beautiful settings. Green trees, orchards, and bright red sandstone play off one another to provide epic scenery. This park offers great hikes for all skill levels in a context of learning about the real American frontier including an old schoolhouse, orchards and more. Definitely worth a day or two of explorations.
Where to Stay
Most visitors to Capitol Reef National Park either camp within the park or stay in the nearby town of Torrey. If you are up for camping, it will be a beautiful experience, however, Torrey is cute and offers good options for those wanting an actual bed! Some of our recommendations include: Austin’s Chuck Wagon Motel and the Broken Spur Inn.
12 |ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
This park is so well known partly due to its prominence on the Utah license plate, but also because it showcases spectacular arches all over the park. This park is much smaller than many of the others on this list, however it is packed full of amazing sights to see. Plan on staying outside the park in Moab and venturing in as much or little as you want. We recommend 2-3 days for the area, but you could easily use this time to venture throughout just Arches. Iconic hikes here include the Delicate Arch, Devils’ Garden and Windows Arches. For the most part, these are not technical hikes, however they all offer very little shade, so plan accordingly.
Where to Stay
As I mentioned above, we recommend staying in Moab for a variety of options and budgets. Here you will be a short drive from Arches and Canyonlands National Park. In town you can stay in a chain hotels or more local budget options.
From Arches you can go through Colorado on the southern route stopping in at Mesa Verde National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park on your way to Rocky Mountain NP. Heading north in Colorado through Grand Junction is quicker, but to maximize your National Park stops, go south!
13 |ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Moving away from the red rock desert landscapes and into the Rocky Mountains, you will find jaw dropping snow covered peaks and lush alpine forests. There are a multitude of easy day hikes here, waterfalls, drive up overlooks and of course plenty of wildlife. Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is the perfect segway from desert to mountain scenery. As with all the national parks, you can spend a little time here or a long time. Our recommendation is to spend at least 2 days to get a good feel for what this park offers.
Where to Stay
The place to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park is Estes Park. This area is well equipped to deal with the influx of summer visitors to the park. As there are an abundance of options, we have included the map below to choose what works best for your budget and where you want to be situated.
14 |GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
On the way to Yellowstone, you must first go through another fabulous park – the Grand Teton National Park. The Teton range here are said to be some of the youngest peaks in the Rocky Mountain chain, so they are especially rugged. There are more than 200 miles of hiking trails and outdoor adventures waiting for you here. The Grand Tetons are often overshadowed by it’s more famous neighbor to the north, but make sure to spend at least 2-3 days here exploring.
Where to Stay
Unlike the next park, Yellowstone where it is highly recommended that you stay inside the park, Grand Tetons are not massive, so for most visitors they prefer to stay in the adorable town of Jackson Hole. Jackson is about 15-20 minutes from the center of Grand Tetons park that it makes a perfect base. Note that Teton Village is actually a bit further out, so don’t get confused if you want to be near the park. Jackson has a ton of options from chain hotels like Homewood Suites to luxury lodges like The Wort Hotel. There are also a ton of Airbnb type rentals here that are great for larger groups. Whatever you choose here, you can’t go wrong.
15 |YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
One of the most popular and well known national parks in the US, Yellowstone is a must visit on any road trip through the western United States. What’s not to love here with herds of bison criss crossing the park, out of this world colorful hot springs and exploding geysers. This is a park that will never be seen in just one visit, so don’t even try. Plan to return to this park more than once or stay for a least a week!
Highlights of the park include Lamar Valley for animal spotting, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful and of course the Grand Prismatic are top on all visitors lists. Read on for even more things to see and do in Yellowstone.
Where to Stay
Figuring out where to stay in Yellowstone is one of the most challenging aspects of planning a visit here. With 5 entrances over several states and a vast park area to explore, it’s challenging choosing where to stay. On a road trip like stated here, you can either stay inside the park for camping or at Roosevelt Lodge or Canyon Lodge. You can also look at options outside the park near Jackson Hole to the south or West Yellowstone to the west. Our favorite place to stay is a bit far out, but is beautiful and super luxurious – The Sage Lodge near the north entrance to Yellowstone.
16 |GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
In the north of Montana lies our last national park on our epic west coast national parks tour. Often stated as the most beautiful park in the system, Glacier National Park is a beauty to behold. You will see glacial lakes, herds of mountain goats, and spellbinding peaks at every turn. Due to its northerly position, most of this park is only accessible during summer and fall. The Going to the Sun road in particular is closed during the winter making for long detours. The best time to visit this iconic park though is right before the road opens when visitors can use the road for hiking, mountain biking and just slowly gazing at the scenery before the cars come through! There are so many amazing things to do in Glacier National Park for everyone in the family.
Where to Stay
The ultimate goal when visiting Glacier National Park is to be close enough to witness the majestic beauty of the park at sunrise and sunset, which means you need to be right in the middle of it. Our recommendations for this would be: Many Glacier Hotel, Lake McDonald Lodge, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn or Granite Park Chalet.
If you are too late to book within the park, check out the nearby towns of Whitefish and Columbia Falls as there are a lot of options and either town is a short drive away.
If you are making a grand circle, from here you will venture back to Seattle to fly home. Otherwise, carry on exploring, drop your vehicles in Bozeman and fly home from Montana. Or maybe you want to continue towards the east coast. One of our favorite parks heading east is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Either way, don’t forget to buy your National Park Pass before you set out on the road!
Do you think you could ever do this epic of a west coast national parks road trip?It has long been a dream of mine to do all of this. But alas, we have managed to do just one park at a time most summers!
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