Have you been planning a road trip where you hit up all the different parks on the National Park to Park Highway? Well, guess what — you can still do that! Though the National Park to Park Highway and the National Park Service has undergone many modifications over the past few decades, it’s still possible to take this route. Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is the National Park to Park Highway?
Although it is no longer an official road, the National Park to Park Highway route remains a popular way to visit several U.S. National Parks. The road system connected national parks in the United States. The project began in 1916 to encourage travel between the parks and promote tourism.
The highway ran through 11 western states and connected 12 national parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Zion. It was one of the first long-distance roads in America designed for automobile travel, and it helped to spur the development of the U.S. highway system.
How Long Is the National Park to Park Highway?
The inaugural tour of the National Park to Park Highway was 5,000 miles of unpaved roads. The route now stretches over 5,600 miles along paved roads. It is a grand loop that travels through the 11 westernmost states of the contiguous United States.
Which National Parks Does the Park to Park Highway Go Through?
We now have many more national parks since the National Park to Park Highway was first created. The route goes through many national parks, but you can also visit others with slight detours. Many people stop at Joshua Tree and Bryce Canyon along the route. But here are the nine original national parks along the Park to Park Highway.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park lies in the Rocky Mountains of northwestern Colorado. It is about an hour and a half drive northwest of Denver.
About: The park covers over 400 square miles and includes various landscapes, from alpine meadows to forests and rivers. Rocky Mountain National Park is popular for hiking, camping, and wildlife watching.
The park has various wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep, bears, and several hundred species of birds.
Rocky Mountain National Park was the first stop on the original National Park to Park Highway loop.
Pro Tip: Use our Traveler’s Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife when searching for wild animals in the Rockies.
Yellowstone National Park
Location: Most of Yellowstone National Park is in the northwest corner of Wyoming, although portions of the park reach into Montana and Idaho.
About: The park covers nearly 3,500 square miles of land, making it one of the largest national parks in the country. It is also one of the most popular, attracting more than four million visitors annually.
Yellowstone is best known for its geothermal features, such as the Old Faithful geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring. The park also has many wildlife species, including bison, elk, and grizzly bears.
Glacier National Park
Location: Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana, bordering Canada.
About: It is a popular destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, as it offers a wide variety of terrain, from mountains and forests to glaciers and lakes. The park is home to a plethora of Glacier National Park wildlife, including several endangered species like the grizzly bear and the bald eagle.
Visitors can explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and you’ll find several lodges and campgrounds within its boundaries.
Mount Rainier National Park
Location: You’ll find Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, about 60 miles southeast of Seattle and about 95 miles northeast of Portland, Ore.
About: The park encompasses more than 236,000 acres of land. Mount Rainier, the park’s centerpiece, is a 14,411-foot-tall active volcano. The park also includes numerous glaciers, rivers, lakes, old-growth forests, and subalpine meadows.
In addition to its natural beauty, Mount Rainier National Park is also home to various wildlife, including mountain goats, black bears, mountain lions, and elk.
Crater Lake National Park
Location: Crater Lake National Park lies in southern Oregon, about 100 miles from the state capital of Salem.
About: The park is best known for its namesake Crater Lake, a massive body of water formed when a volcano collapsed thousands of years ago. The volcano left many fascinating features around and at the bottom of Crater Lake. Today, the lake is a popular destination for swimming, fishing, and boating.
The park also offers hiking and camping opportunities and scenic views of the Cascade mountain range. You can see various wildlife, including eagles, ospreys, and elk.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Location: You’ll find Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California, about 50 miles east of Redding.
About: The park is home to towering peaks, steaming fumaroles, and crystal-clear lakes. Visitors can explore massive lava domes, journey through heated subalpine meadows, and hike along creeks.
Visitors can enjoy fishing, boating, and horseback riding in the summer. In the winter, the park transforms into a snow-covered wonderland, perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Yosemite National Park
Location: Yosemite National Park lies in east-central California, about 175 miles from San Francisco in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
About: The park covers more than 1,200 square miles and is home to some of the most iconic scenery in the United States, including Yosemite Valley, which is renowned for its soaring cliffs, waterfalls, and giant sequoia trees. It has some of the most rigorous and rewarding hikes in the country, but also plenty of easy hikes to enjoy Yosemite’s jaw-dropping beauty.
Yosemite’s wildlife includes black bears, deer, and coyotes. The park receives more than four million visitors each year, including world-class rock climbers, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Yosemite is a popular camping destination as well, but take care driving your RV in this park.
General Grant National Park (Kings Canyon National Park)
About: When the National Park to Park Highway was first conceived, General Grant National Park was its own small park. Over time, it became part of the much larger Kings Canyon National Park and was renamed General Grant Grove.
President Calvin Coolidge designated the General Grant Tree as the Nation’s Christmas Tree on April 28, 1926.
Sequoia National Park
Location: The Sequoia National Forest borders Sequoia National Park, just northeast of Bakersfield, Calif. It lies at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
About: It is home to some of the largest trees in the world. The forest covers an area of over 1.1 million acres and is full of diverse wildlife, including black bears, cougars, and deer.
Visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, fishing, and horseback riding in the summer and skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
Pro Tip: Spend the night snoozing at one of these 11 Best Spots for Sequoia National Park Camping.
Can You Still Drive the National Park to Park Highway?
Yes and no. The original National Park to Park Highway was a loop of unpaved roads. Some of these were difficult, at best, and Lassen Volcanic National Park didn’t even have a road into it at the time.
Now, you can drive paved roads that lead to all of the parks on the route, making accessing them much easier and quicker. Though you can’t actually take the true original Park to Park Highway, you can follow roughly the same route.
And you can visit all of the same national parks, several new ones, forests, monuments, and other NPS sites along the way.
How Long Does It Take to Drive to Every National Park?
In all, there are 63 national parks in the United States. However, Hawaii has nine, and Alaska has eight. That leaves 47 national parks across the contiguous United States alone.
How long it would take to drive to every national park in the contiguous United States is a task that a data scientist has guesstimated. According to Randal Olson, these 47 national parks can be routed in as short as 14,500 miles, which he says could take roughly two months.
It’s highly unrealistic for anyone to do this. It would surely be much more pleasant to visit all of the national parks over about a year of continuous travel.
If you like driving tours of national parks, consider adding Route 66 to your driving plans. There are 15 Route 66 national parks near or along the iconic route.
When Is the Best Time of Year to Travel the National Park to Park Highway?
The best time of year to travel the National Park to Park Highway route is probably in the fall. That way, you can avoid the hottest summer months but still do most of your traveling before the snow starts in the winter.
You have several other benefits of traveling to these parks in the fall. The peak of the tourist season has mostly passed, meaning fewer crowds. It also means that rates for accommodations drift lower. Additionally, many of the parks along the National Park to Park Highway have gorgeous fall colors!
Is the National Park to Park Highway Worth It?
The National Park to Park Highway is a historic route that connects several national parks across the western United States. If you want an epic road trip, look no further than the National Park to Park Highway route.
In a world where we are ever more connected to our screens and devices, it can be easy to forget about the natural world surrounding us. Taking this park-to-park highway route can help you reconnect with nature and explore some of the most beautiful places in America.
If you have the time, I highly recommend taking a trip on this historic route. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your journey today!
Would you like to road trip on the National Park to Park highway? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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