The Best National Park Road Trips in the U.S.

Crater Lake and Wizard IslandCrater Lake National Park, Oregon

Anyone can agree that road trips are undeniably one of the most fun things to do in the summer. With semesters ending for students and workers taking time off for vacation, making unforgettable memories is essential during these months of sunshine and warm weather.

A few years ago after I visited an old friend who graduated from university in Tennessee, I suggested we take an impulse road trip across the Appalachian Foothills Parkway and shove what little belongings we had in the back of my Chevrolet Corvette for the weekend. What initially was a plan to have some fun after his graduation turned into a yearly tradition where he and I would take road trips across the US together every summer and continue to explore more of what this world had to offer. From years worth of road trips, I can tell you that visiting these best national parks is imperative to include in future travel plans.

When planning out your road trips for this summer, keep the national parks below in mind for your itinerary:

Joshua Tree National Park, California
Hailed as a photographer’s paradise and desert junkie’s getaway, Joshua Tree National Park makes its way onto the bucket list of travelers from all walks of life. If camping was on your itinerary, take shelter in Joshua Tree’s campgrounds such as Black Rock, Cottonwood, or Ryan. Some accommodate your basic needs, such as providing flushing toilets, water, and fire, and dump stations. But not all of them are the same! Luckily, a few campgrounds at Joshua Tree are reservable, so make sure to book reservations ahead of time. Lastly, the scenery of Joshua Tree National Park is an incredible sight to behold. You’ll be surrounded by rows of California wildflowers, endless skies, and gentle wildlife. If you fancy backpacking, you’re in for a treat since there are terrains that suit ever hiking level. Pro-traveler tip: don’t forget to trek to Barker Dam, a historic reservoir tucked away in nature.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Ah, The Grand Canyon: an American traveler classic. Right off the Route 66 is this legendary canyon with a once in a lifetime view. However, it should be noted that there are multiple ways to get the Grand Canyon, with the most popular routes coming from the North and South Rims. If you happen to visit from the North Rim and have a fierce desire to go on an adventure, then travel through the North Kaibab Trail. It’s noted as the most difficult trail in the park! Alternatively, you can plan a two-day trip hike to the Havasu Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Arizona. It’s easily the most rewarding destination after a hike because you can jump in the water to cool off and swim in the crystal blue water.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
If you want to say you visited America’s deepest lake, dedicate a road trip journey to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. To give it some historical background, Crater Lake was formed about 7000 years ago from an eruption of the volcano Mount Mazama. This natural event created what is now America’s most pristine lake that is known for its deep blue and clear water. In the surrounding area are endless rows of trees and greenery: a perfect environment for the individual who wants to take their time on a slow walk to fully appreciate the environment and fresh air. One factor to keep in mind for a road trip to Crater Lake is the that it will be capped with snow in May or June; so, check out the predictions from the National Weather Service since they will give you the most accurate forecasts and warnings. (Image is of the gorgeous blue of Crater Lake in summertime.)

Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park is a flurry of activity, tourists, and programs from June to September. Despite the inherent busyness, this Washington landmark is always worth checking out. There are multiple camping grounds you can reserve ahead of time (just like Joshua Tree) so that lodging won’t be an issue! In regards to the actual park, any nature lover will be delighted with the rich, tall forests that promise green hikes for hundreds of miles. There’s also the option of going fishing, canoeing, or kayaking in Olympic National Park’s rivers, such as the Elwha Rover or Queets River.