I have learned a great deal about road trips from my friend Elizabeth who could literally write an expert book on the topic. Nobody does road trips better than her! What I learned first and foremost is that it all comes down to the planning. Every major stop is planned in advance as is lodging booked before the trip. Seems pretty basic, but a great trip requires detailed planning so you don’t waste an entire day or even two at a location (such as a lesser known National Parks) when in actuality you saw everything you wanted to see there in 4 hours.
Here are my top tips on planning an EPIC road trip to see multiple National Parks (10 in 2 weeks if you do what we did!):
1. Pick your locations and determine how much time you need at each.
Research should be done on each location so you can determine how much time you need there. Will you be hiking? Will you be registering for a guided tour? Will you be doing the park’s scenic drive and how long will that take? Take some time to investigate each park location you want to see and plan enough time to see all the major highlights with some extra time for hiking, getting out for photos, and a scenic drive (most National Parks have scenic drives with overlooks). Some National parks, like for example Saguaro and Petrified Forest National Park, are half day visits . Others like Yosemite or Rocky Mountain National Park really need 2 days to do any justice to your visit. Then, most other parks fall in the middle and only need 1 day (6-8 hours in the actual Park). You will get to see and do the highlights, hike, and scenic drive.
My tips are based on seeing the best highlights of the parks. Of course you can spend more time at each in order to really get to know the area and see the lesser known sites as well.
Here are the 10 National Parks we saw on our trip and the amount of time we spent at each (along with my recommendations):
1. Saguaro National Park in – Half Day Tips for Visiting Saguaro National Park
2. Joshua Tree National Park- Half Day You can do a full day if it’s a cooler season, otherwise a half a day very early before the heat sets in is best- arrive by 6-7am for hiking and then by 10am you are in the car for the scenic drive and occasional stops for photo opps. Joshua Tree National Park
3. Channel Islands National Park- Full Day Santa Cruz Island (one of the larger islands that is closer to mainland) is great for a one day trip and you can hike, see wildlife, and even take a swim. You must book tickets on a boat. Island Packers is the only authorized company to take tourists to the islands. There is no other way to get there, but through them. How to Visit Channel Islands National Park
4. Pinnacles National Park- Half Day Pinnacles National Park- A Park with Surprises
5. And 6. Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park- Full Day These two National Parks are connected, so most people visit them together in one day. However, we spent most of our time at Sequoia and probably not enough time at Kings Canyon. I wish we had set aside two days for these parks, one day for each. You absolutely can see both in the same day since they are connected, but two days would make you feel like you are seeing enough of each. Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
7. Yosemite National Park- 2 Days This park has so much to offer you can literally stay a week and still feel like you missed things there. Next time we go there we will set aside a full week and stay in the park in a camper. This Park is one of the most amazing in the states! We caught most of the highlights with a day 2 visit. Most, but not all. Here are the blog postings about our 2 days at Yosemite:
8. Death Valley National Park- Full Day The Best of Death Valley
9. Grand Canyon- Full Day This is also another one you can book an entire week long vacation in one National Park. This location is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. You can see it in one day, but it, like Yosemite, is one that makes you wish you had more time there. Grand Canyon: Our Visit and Tips for Your Visit
10. Petrified Forest National Park- Half Day The Petrified Forest National Park and My Best Tip
2. Use Roadtrippers.com to map your trip.
This is a free app and it can help you map from one location to the next for your entire journey. It will tell you how many miles for each portion of your drive, along with estimated drive time. You can export your trip to PDF in order to print or share with others too.
3. Book your places to stay in advance and take advantage of homes for rent.
Our primary place to rent from for this trip was AirBNB.com. We rented homes for this trip. This is a great site, but be sure to read reviews and look closely at photos so you know what you are getting. We were pleased with all of the rentals thanks to Elizabeth and her most excellent research and booking skills!
4. Plan for early mornings at the parks or later in the day.
Most National Park locations get busy. Especially during the summer months (even Death Valley). Especially during the middle of the day. Plan your visit to each location before the crowds arrive. We try to arrive by 7am (sometimes before) in order to enjoy the park without traffic or lines.
If you arrive at 11am to Yosemite on a weekend you can plan to be bumper to bumper getting into the park. You will also be dealing with navigating through big crowds at the highlights such as the Falls or Glacier Point. Go early so you can feel nature and God’s prescence without throngs of people.
The other benefit of early morning hours is the temperature. If you are traveling during the summer months the temps will be much more pleasant before you hit the middle of the day.
If you can’t get to a park before the crowds in early morning, then try late afternoon and stay until after sunset. The biggest crowds will be from 10-4. Arriving when the crowds are leaving works well too. It is amazing how much the crowds will clear out late afternoon!
5. Buy a year pass for all Park at REI for $80.
We purchased a pass at REI that gives us entrance to all the National Parks. Huge saving if you plan to visit many! The cost varies from park to park, but if you have this park pass you are covered for all the parks for an entire year! It also includes National Monuments! https://www.rei.com/product/116818/america-the-beautiful-national-parks-pass-20172018
6. Buy a good book on the National Parks.
It is wonderful to read about the history of each National Park before you get there (or while you on your way there in the car). Knowing the history helps you recognize the importance and value of each National Park. I own several books about National Parks, but the one by National Geographic is my favorite: http://amzn.to/2uRYmp5
This book will tell you about highlights of each National Park. It also has detailed maps for each Park. All 59 National Parks are covered in this book!
Enjoy and explore this beautiful world that God has created!