USA national parks map & itineraries


MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME

Europeans like to make fun of the fact that the vast majority of Americans don’t have a passport. And yet, many are obsessed with having their National Parks Passports stamped. Which is sort of amusing, but actually when you think about the magnificence of the 62 national parks that belong to these people, they are right to seek out their stamps. And, in some ways, when you have the glaciers of Wrangell St-Elias National Park in Alaska, infinitesimal canyons like the Grand Canyon or Bryce Canyon, or the resplendent geysers of Yellowstone, why would you travel anywhere else? So, time for us to stop making fun and just join the national park party. Just wait and see. You won’t want to leave. And you’ll be asking where the next one is, and ordering your own national park passport before you know it.
The Grand Canyon Yellowstone Glacier Yosemite Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park Zion Death Valley Grand Teton Bryce Canyon Arches Rocky Mountain Wrangell St-Elias

Arches

Like a vast expressionist painting, Arches National Park boasts over 2000 arches, hundreds of soaring pinnacles and then a giant balancing rock in the middle of nowhere. Camp here to catch stunning sunrises and sunsets, and a whole day in the life of one of America’s most exhilarating national parks.

Bryce Canyon

Combine with a visit to Zion and you’ll go from that park's dusty depths to an elevation of 2438m on the plateau of Bryce Canyon. Down below lies a fascinating natural amphitheatre of pink, orange and white sandstone spires. Follow trails between them for an auditory experience, but for a visual one, watch the sunset shadows.

Death Valley

With so many elevated national parks, Death Valley takes you to one of the lowest places on earth. Shared by California and Nevada, it ranges from hot and dusty depths to extremes of soft pinyon-juniper woodlands and high boreal peaks, all brimming with wildlife. It’s not dead at all here.

Glacier

 One of the least visited parks, Glacier offers vast swathes of walking wilderness. Such as the ancient forests that blanket these dramatic alpine landscapes, with water lovers having their fix of lakes, waterfalls and the dazzling Grinnell Glacier, an aquamarine iceberg lake.

The Grand Canyon

This plunging desert landscape will take your breath away but you'll have to catch it again when you take on one of the many hiking trails, either around the rim of the Grand Canyon or escaping the crowds by descending into the canyon itself. Which is 1.6km deep and 29km wide by the way.

Grand Teton

Part of the Rocky Mountains, this is just one of Wyoming’s wonders, the other being Yellowstone. Hike along its greatest valley, Jackson Hole, so-called by early trappers in search of beaver and other furry creatures. Which are, thankfully, able to roam freely today. As are we.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Not actually a national park, but a Navajo reservation, on the borders of the Navajo National Monument. Visit to learn about the indigenous culture of the area. This is sacred land for the Navajo, and when you look out at the red sandstone monoliths, these natural statues glowing in the omnipresent sun, you understand why.

Rocky Mountain

Don’t be overwhelmed by Rocky Mountain National Park's 70 peaks, as there are 600km of trails for all fitness levels. Split by the Continental Divide, you can see several Colorado’s landscapes here, with arid rocky peaks on one side and forests, meadows and mountain moraines on the other.

Yellowstone

Yellowstone was America’s first national park. The thermal geysers are iconic, the most famous being Old Faithful although there are 500 others to boot. While this extraordinary lunar landscape is revered, Yellowstone is not as packed with visitors as some parks, because it is harder to access.

Yosemite

Welcome to California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. With green forests just made for camping, trekking and some wild swimming, it's also a climber's idyll of granite facades that seem to go on forever. Follow the course of the Nevada Falls on the aptly named Mist Trail, but get there early , or the mist turns to a fog of tourists.

Zion

In Utah, this is park is both culturally and naturally a wonder. Zion Canyon was named by early Mormon settlers for whom it was the 'promised land’. It certainly is full of promise for visitors: hike desert terrain, seek out the Upper Emerald pools and waterfalls, and ramble along the Virgin River.

Wrangell-St. Elias

This magnificent Alaskan expanse boasts no fewer than 150 glaciers, and a coastal mountain range enveloping them, with some serious highs. Try ice climbing or take on one of the snow peaked mammoths that overlook this frozen fantasia. Take some time to learn about the mining history here too, and hope it stays history.

USA national parks itineraries



7 day trip around south-west USA’s national parks:

Las Vegas ► Zion National Park ► Bryce Canyon National Park ► Monument Valley ► The Grand Canyon ► Route 66 ► Las Vegas

12 day Alaskan national parks:

Anchorage ► Talkeetna ► Denali National Park ► Wrangell St-Elias National Park ► Valdez ► Seward & Kenai Fjords National Park ► Homer & Kachemak Bay Wilderness Camp

14 day wild west national parks:

San Francisco ► Yosemite National Park ► Death Valley National Park ► Zion National Park ► Bryce Canyon National Park ► Lake Powell & Antelope Canyon ► Monument Valley ► Grand Canyon National Park ► Route 66 ► Hoover Dam ► Las Vegas

Travel times by bus/train/car/air


The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the US national parks.
  • San Francisco – Yosemite National Park: 3.5 hours by car
  • Yellowstone National Park – Glacier National Park: 7 hours by car
  • Seattle – Anchorage, Alaska: 3.5 hours by air
  • Denver – Rocky Mountain National Park: 1.5 hours by car
  • Las Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim: 5 hours by car/coach
  • Travel the length of Grand Canyon (445 kms): 15 days by non-motorized raft
Photo credits: [Holgate Glacier : Kenai Fjords National Park] [The Grand Canyon: Grand Canyon National Park] [Yellowstone: Yellowstone National Park] [Glacier: Emily Hildebrand] [Yosemite : Navin75] [Arches: Bud] [Zion: Todd Petrie] [Death Valley: Jerry Kirkhart] [Grand Teton: Frank Kovalchek] [Bryce Canyon: Don Graham] [Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park: Julie Edgley] [Rocky Mountain : Doug Kerr] [Wrangell St-Elias: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park]
Written by Catherine Mack
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Photo credits: [Page banner: Mike van Dalen]
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