National Parks: Epic Road Trip Drives

Trout Lake in Yellowstone

Source | Always Shooting/Flickr

No matter your location, odds are you're within a day's drive of one of America's national parks. From technical winding roads and wide-open scenic views, to impressive wildlife and unique rest stops, a national parks tour makes for an excellent road-trip. Here's what you need to know before setting out on an adventure.

Plan ahead

A national park visit isn't as simple as just showing up. Some are open year-round, others take a season off for inclement weather. Specific campgrounds sometimes close for renovations, and Utah's Zion National Park even closed its climbing cliffs for a period this summer to protect nesting peregrine falcons. Alaska's Glacier Bay is open year-round but warns that visitor services are limited in the very cold off-season. Visit the National Park Service website to find all the specifics for your visit.

National park passes are affordable, averaging $25 for a seven-day vehicle pass. Seniors and veterans can get better deals, so be sure to ask about discounts. Hit the visitor center for maps and any up-to-date info that you need to know. Weather conditions change, so this is a good last-minute stop for sunscreen. You can also sign up for a guided tour, or ask park rangers about closed roads, the best hikes, or specific rules.

Speaking of the rules, a huge one is to stay on the roads and trails. ATVs and dirt bikes are prohibited in national parks, even the brilliant-ride-sounding Great Sand Dunes, but the Park Service does allow their use in places like Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Jeep Wranglers and other off-roading vehicles can be driven on the dusty unpaved sections of Death Valley, but they must be legal on-road as well. The idea is to tread lightly, so the next generation also has a sweet place to visit.

“Pack it in, pack it out"

Packing is an essential part of any road trip, and with a national park, there are a few extras to bring.

Emergency kit

A basic emergency kit should have everything from sterile bandages to road flares. Hopefully you will never use this, but it's better to have and never use than to need and not have.

Extra fluids

Leaks can happen, even to newer vehicles. Having a quart of oil on hand just in case is smart insurance. Also, grab a jug of distilled water next time you're in the store.

Tire inflator

If you get a flat, portable inflators will save the day. Bonus, these slick air compressors also offer jump starts, AC and DC power, and USB charging.

Fix-A-Flat

For emergency tire repair on the cheap, you can't beat Fix-A-Flat for portable convenience and affordability.

Cell charger

Need to make an emergency call? It's even more stressful with 2% battery life. If you never need this item, at least you'll have plenty of power for updating your Instagram.

Camera

Speaking of pics, smartphones are great, but a real camera offers flexibility a phone cam can't touch. Record the amazing scenery on the best tool you have available. Use a wide angle for landscapes and a remote shutter for star-filled vistas. Lugging your camera around the parks is totally worth it.

Road at the Grand Canyon

Source | Public domain

National park highlights

Can't decide where to go? Here's a few national parks that are worthy of being called National Drives.

Yellowstone

The oldest national park is arguably the most famous park, and for a good reason. The Colossal Grand Teton, Old Faithful, and colorful Grand Prismatic Spring are all excellent hiking destinations. Plus, the park teems with wildlife.

Grand Canyon

The quintessential American road trip, the Grand Canyon offers it all. There's huge, breathtaking scenery, horse-riding tours, hiking, whitewater rafting, biking, camping, and even kitschy rest-stop souvenirs. It's like a year-round summer camp.

Mount St. Helens

This mountain last erupted in 1980, leveling an entire forest. The entire area has regrown beautifully, and an entertaining road climbs to multiple scenic outlooks and museums. The views of this national volcanic monument are impressive, but the peace and quiet is what stays with you.

Everglades

Looking for an incredible experience in the Southeast? The tip of Florida has the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi. Visit in the winter for mild temperatures, camping, fishing, and canoe trips.

Badlands

Middle America has you covered, too. Surreal geological formations deliver a hiking experience that's out of this world. The neat cliffs and valleys also house some of the world's richest fossil beds. Plus, for you motorcycle riders, it's close to Sturgis.

The national parks are treasured places set aside for all to enjoy, so get out there and enjoy them! Do you have a favorite park? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Last updated November 10, 2017

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