Planning The National Park Road Trip Of Your Dreams

Follow These Steps For The Coolest Possible National Park Road Trip Ever!

There’s no limit to the beauty and adventure they offer whenever it comes to our national parks. They’re some of the greatest wonders any of us will get to visit within our lifetimes – vast, protected, and preserved in a way few other of our green spaces have ever known. It’s both humbling and exciting in the best of ways, a piece of natural history kept (mostly) safe from the ravages of time.

But, unfortunately, even the most seasoned explorers can’t see it all at once. There has to be a starting place, and there are few better than by organizing a national parks road trip around the Northern Rockies. A little guidance is always recommended before jumping waist-deep into the planning of it all, though. So, read on to learn some basics and ensure your trip goes off without a hitch.

Main Trip Locations

If you’re wanting to enjoy the splendor that is the Northern Rockies, you can’t go wrong by knitting together a trip out of its three most enchanting parks: Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier. With a 470-mile route between them all, there are tons to see on the way, amazing detours to make, and one-of-a-kind experiences just waiting to be had. 

However, it’s not just the overall experience that makes this one of the best national park road trips you can take – although that certainly helps matters. Each park alone makes it well worth the time, energy, and long drive. Want to know more of the specifics? Here are all the important locations you’ll be falling in love within the coming days. 

red rocks of Zion National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is commonly regarded as one of Wyoming’s most captivating draws, and even the most basic, cursory glance at photos can quickly discover why. The park is an absolutely breathtaking showcase of everything nature has to offer. 

Over 310,000 acres stretch out amongst the background landscape, made up of lush greenery, towering trees, clear lakes, and soaring mountain peaks. It makes for quite the pretty picture, but the park isn’t only good for taking in the scenery. The varied terrain and sheer breadth of the area give plenty of opportunities for activities conducive to everything from rafting to horseback rides, fishing, and more. What more could you ask for?

a young man hiking through the Narrows of Zion National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Whether you’re someone who can’t get enough of the great outdoors or just watched a lot of Yogi Bear as a kid, everyone knows Yellowstone. It’s perhaps the most famous national park out there – barring maybe Grand Canyon – and its reputation is well-earned. It’s an absolute essential for any national park road trip. 

Located north of Grand Teton and situated right on top of a volcanic hot spot, this trip stop contains nearly 3500 square miles of geysers, impressive canyons, and hot springs, or basically all-manner of dramatic natural features. Even better, it also contains a significant amount of wildlife. Love bears? Obsessed with wolves? Always felt compelled to see an antelope? All of them, and hundreds of other species, are accounted for, making any animal-loving heart skip a beat. 

lava flowing rock formations of Bryce Canyon National Park

Glacier National Park

It’s not quite as famous as Yellowstone, but Glacier National Park deserves just as much attention and perfectly rounds out this national park road trip in the Northern Rockies. Over 1500 square miles of Montana wilderness greets visitors enthusiastically with amazing views of glacier-carved peaks, ultra-blue skies, and the rolling dips of valleys. Simply put, it’s stunning and is worth getting up at dawn just to snap a picture alone. 

Glacier National Park’s views are something to behold, but its hiking is a serious draw for die-hard trail enthusiasts. Just this one park alone has over 700 miles worth of trails to discover and explore at your leisure, with a huge variety in difficulty level present throughout the paths. Want a challenge? You’ll find it here, no matter your current skill level.

capitol reef national park at sunset

Essential Activities To Try

The scenery is far from shabby, no matter what national park you happen to find yourself both literally and figuratively parked at. Although, most folks who plan out a whole road trip aren’t in it just for the pretty pictures and sightseeing. Odds are, you’ll want to get in some actual activities while you’re there. Well, we’ve got you covered with our top suggestions to try out on your Northern Rockies adventure. 

vegan breakfast bowl

Rafting

Addicted to the buzz you get from whitewater rafting or are looking to take a more scenic, ambling option? Both are totally possible on your road trip. Grand Teton’s Snake River is the ultimate choice for a relaxed, scenic trip down the river. Meanwhile, Glacier National Park has some great rapids to check out if you’re aching for a little adrenaline boost. 

a nice restaurant

Fossil Hunting

Yellowstone is home to many things, but it’s also home to several paleontological sites. Travel there late spring to early fall, and you can take part in a “Dig for a Day” program, working right alongside a team of paleontologists to see what you can unearth. 

a nice restaurant

Dog Sledding

Ever watch Balto or Snow Dogs and thought you’d like to try that out? Well, now you can! Organize your national parks road trip during the winter, and you can try out dog sledding at Grand Teton. It may not be the Iditarod, but it’s still an amazing experience that everyone should try once in their life. 

a nice restaurant

Wildlife Safari

There’s little cooler than seeing majestic, wild animals in their natural habitat. Embrace that and enjoy yourself by taking part in a wildlife safari expedition. You can find a half-day long trip at Grand Teton, where you can see all the bears, wolves, and birds to your heart’s content – and in a vehicle, nonetheless. All the payoff without as much walking? Sign us up.

a nice restaurant

Tips For Packing, Planning, and More

It’s all about the prep work.

There are two types of people in this world: the people who plan out every little detail of a trip and those who practically break out in hives at the mere thought of this. Both are problematic in their own right, but when you’re setting up a national park road trip, you’ll definitely want more planning than not. Not typically your wheelhouse? Here are some helpful, easy tips to make the transition a little smoother. 

a high vantage point view of bryce canyon national park

Tip 1: Don’t be afraid to not pack light

Here’s the thing. You know how everyone always suggests you pack light whenever traveling? Throw that advice out the window. Any kind of physically taxing trip, especially one that includes national parks and miles upon miles of pure nature, necessitates taking a good chunk of stuff. Don’t be afraid to embrace it. At bare minimum, you need some basic survivalist equipment (lighter, matches, first-aid kit, maps, etc.), a change of warm, dry clothes, food, and water. That doesn’t result in a light pack, but that’s okay. As long as you’re not throwing unnecessary stuff in it, carry what you need and not an iota less. 

a camera and notebooks on top of a map

Tip 2: Only plan for one major event a day

As you’d imagine, trekking throughout any of our country’s national parks can be flat-out exhausting. Just light hiking and sightseeing really takes it out of you. Do yourself a favor and only plan for one major outing a day. You’ll enjoy it a lot more, recover significantly quicker, and generally feel better in the end.

a family hiking in canyonlands national park with hiking gear

Tip 3: Always Have A Back-Up Plan

Weather happens regardless of where you are in the world. And it can get particularly finicky and difficult to manage anytime you’re hanging out somewhere up north. Plan ahead and at least have some ideas for things you can do should you get rained out or snowed in.  

First-Aid Kit Checklist For Your National Parks Trip

Tip 4: Use (Cautious) Common Sense

Accidents happen to the best of us, but you should never shrug it off and throw caution to the wind. A little common sense and preparedness goes a long way. Never trek out to remote areas or do higher-risk activities alone. Let people know where you are. Listen to any advisories/warnings. Don’t pet that adorable cub you saw in the forest. You know – the obvious. You’ll be safer for it. 

angels landing, zion national park

Tip 5: Give Yourself Some Breathing Room

It may seem counterintuitive to champion this while we’re discussing how you should be planning everything out, but this is still important. Give yourself spaces where you’ve got nothing on the agenda. Allow time where you can just as easily rest as spontaneously explore. It’ll keep things interesting and keep you from getting burnt out, which is a big deal. You’re on this trip to have fun. Doing this will set you up for success.

a first person view of grand canyon national park with feet hanging off edge
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