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The Dakotas Scenic Road Trip

With plenty to do and see, you’ll love exploring North and South Dakota’s vast and rugged landscapes that will leave you breathless. This Dakotas Scenic Road Trip will offer you the chance to explore the Badlands, Wind Cave, Theodore Roosevelt, and other National Park Service sites in North and South Dakota.

Where to Go

Minuteman Missile

The first stop on your journey transports you to back in time to the Cold War and one of the more eerie places it produced. For decades, the Minuteman Missile site stored upwards of 1,000 nuclear missiles ready for launch. U.S. Air Force personnel who maintained the facility had to be on high alert in case of a nuclear attack. Visitors who lived during the Cold War will likely remember the nerve-wracking times of the nuclear arms race, fallout shelters, and the Red Scare. At Delta-01 and Delta-09, you’ll have the rare chance to relive the anxiety of the era by viewing a missile silo and an underground control center.

Badlands National Park

The next stop on your road trip is Badlands National Park. Here you’ll delve into America’s geologic history by exploring one of the richest fossil beds on the planet. Millions of years ago, the Badlands resembled a lush rainforest instead of the grasslands and sedimentary rock that exist today. This ancient landscape was once home to prehistoric creatures such as saber-toothed cats, three-toed horses, and hornless rhinoceroses. Despite the dramatic change, wildlife still abound inside the park’s 244,000 acres. The Badlands Loop Scenic Byway will pique your interest with images of striking buttes, canyons, spires, and other geologic shapes. Fossilized soils reveal colorful bands featuring shades of red, orange, yellow, gray, and white that make for mesmerizing pictures.

Wind Cave National Park

Your road trip continues at Wind Cave National Park. Rolling prairies and pine forests adorn the landscape at this park, but the real treasure hides below the surface. Nearly 150 miles of passageways crisscross underground to make Wind Cave one of the world’s most complex cave systems. Boxwork formations decorate the caves, and these calcite deposits are rarely found anywhere else in the world. Ranger-guided tours of the cave network also reveal frostwork and cave popcorn. Above ground, Wind Cave nurtures a versatile ecosystem that’s inhabited by a variety of wildlife species. Its 30+ miles of hiking trails often lead to sightings of bison, elk, bobcats, pronghorn, mountain lions, and more.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument is the next stop along your way. With more than 200 miles of mapped passageways, Jewel Cave is the third-longest cave on the planet. Jewel Cave National Monument draws cavers and natural explorers to discover its underground wonders. Calcite crystals run along the cave walls, and other rock formations reveal striking colors. Cavers can continue to delve deeper into Jewel Cave, and guided tours let visitors explore the cave system. The Wild Caving Tour challenges you to a vigorous 2/3 of a mile trek through tight spaces, cave walls, and narrow passages. Once you’ve completed your underground expedition, nature trails allow you to discover the abundance of wildlife species in the forest. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Next along your drive is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Carved into the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore pays tribute to four presidents who represent the birth, growth, and preservation of the United States. The massive sculpture includes the 60-foot heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, respectively. Often called the “Shrine to Democracy,” Mount Rushmore has an elevation over 5,700 ft and rests on the mountain known by the Lakota Sioux as “The Six Grandfathers.” Unfortunately, controversy shrouds the Black Hills encompassing the landscape around Mount Rushmore due to the violation of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The agreement granted the Black Hills to the Lakota people, but the U.S. seized the area upon the discovery of gold.

Black Hills National Forest

From Mount Rushmore, continue on to the Black Hills National Forest. Rising high above the prairies of the Great Plains, the Black Hills foster a diverse ecosystem and have a rich heritage. Held sacred by Native American tribes, this spiritual oasis remains a hub for recreational activity today. Within its 1.2 million acres of wilderness, the Black Hills feature granite spires, ponderosa pine forests, trickling streams, and sparkling reservoirs. Around 400 miles of trails, dozens of campgrounds, and two scenic byways lead to incredible adventures. The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway passes tumbling waterfalls, free-range bison roam the grasslands, and the stargazing here is incredible.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Your road trip continues at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. President Theodore Roosevelt’s ventures into North Dakota forever shaped his passion for conserving the untamed landscapes of the West. Hunting trips to his ranches provided solace, and he documented his accounts of his active lifestyle. Today, the preserved prairies and Badlands where Roosevelt hunted bison inspire future generations of nature lovers. Three distinct units make up the park, and the 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail connects each of them. Medora is the ideal launching pad to explore the colorful Badlands of the South Unit. Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch is tricky to find, but you’ll see bison, deer, horses, and prairie dogs along the way. Take the 14-mile Theodore Roosevelt North Unit Scenic Byway for an astonishing view of the bending Little Missouri River.

Fort Union Trading Post

The next stop on your road trip is the Fort Union Trading Post. During the 19th century, western pioneers and Native American tribes gathered at this strategic site to barter valuable commodities. Constructed in 1828 along the Upper Missouri River, the fort sparked the fur trade and spurred economic activity in growing western settlements. North Plains Tribes such as the Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Cree, Crow, and Lakota traded beaver pelts and buffalo robes for blankets, guns, clothing, and other valuable goods. The recreation of the historic trading post gives you a glimpse of life on the Western Frontier. Visit during the Indian Arts Showcase to celebrate Native American culture, hear traditional music, and meet tribal elders.

Knife River Indian Villages

The last stop on your road trip will take you to the Knife River Indian Villages. The Knife River Indian Villages delve into the history and culture of the Hidatsa people which offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about Northern Plains Native Americans. Traditional handicrafts and unique artifacts adorn the museum, and the Village Trail explores the preserved earthlodge villages. Wander the North Forest Trail for a peaceful hike that leads to the Missouri River. Several beautiful bird species frequent the area, and anglers can cast their lines along Knife River.

When to Go

North and South Dakota are both highly underrated states, and its national parks receive much fewer visitors than others. The exception would be Mount Rushmore, which sees roughly three million visitors per year. Fortunately, anywhere from late spring to early fall is a fantastic time to hit the road. September-October and April-May offer cooler weather, and Mount Rushmore’s peak crowds have faded. You may face extremely hot temperatures during the summer, and winter isn’t ideal due to limited facilities, road closures, and brutal weather.

Washington National Parks Road Trip

The State of Washington is home to many breathtaking natural parks and landscapes and the best way to explore them is by taking a road trip! This Washington National Parks Road Trip will take you to Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and North Cascades National Park, as well as other beautiful areas in Washington State.

Where to Go

Seattle

An international hub for the Pacific Northwest, Seattle rests on Puget Sound and provides a fantastic starting point for your trip. With a population of around 780,000, Seattle is the largest city in Washington State. Ever since it hosted the 1962 World Fair, Seattle has thrived as a cultural, technological, and outdoor recreation mecca. The 605-foot Space Needle remains the proud symbol of the Pacific Northwest metropolis and enchants visitors with incredible views. Snow-capped peaks and temperate rain forests characterize the city, luring hikers, cyclists, and other adventurers.

Olympic National Park

Just two-and-a-half hours from Seattle, Olympic National Park is the next stop along your road trip. From the rugged Pacific coast to snow-capped peaks, the diversity of Olympic National Park is off the charts. Beachgoers can marvel at the miles of driftwood and sea stacks dotting the coastline. Campsites along the shoreline allow you to watch mesmerizing sunsets and spend the evenings stargazing. Venture through the lush rainforests that boast Sitka spruce, western hemlock, ferns, spike-mosses, and other unique plant species. Find solitude at Lake Crescent by kayaking on its sparkling waters or climb the adjacent peaks. The temperate rainforests eventually give way to the mountains, and Mount Olympus sits proudly above the landscape. Hurricane Ridge offers year round recreation and enchants visitors as one of the park’s most iconic vistas. 

Mount Rainier National Park

Under a three-hour drive from Olympic National Park lies Mount Rainier National Park, the next stop on your road trip. Paradise is the word that best describes the natural beauty of Mount Rainier National Park. Its namesake peak rises 14,411 ft into the sky, the highest mountain in the Cascade Range. The Paradise Area gives visitors the best view of the famous mountain and its eye-popping alpine meadows. Gain more elevation by driving to Sunrise and explore the hiking trails that offer incredible views of the Cascades. The quick trek to Tipsoo Lake and the 6.3-mile Crystal Lakes Trail each include alpine lakes and blooming wildflowers. Thousands of mountaineers attempt to summit the mighty peak, but the sheer elevation gain of over 9,000 feet makes this a monumental challenge.

Hanford Reach National Monument

Just over two hours from Mount Rainer National Park sits the Hanford Reach National Monument, the next stop on your journey. Wildlife abounds in the last free-flowing, non-tidal stretch of the Columbia River. Established in 2000, the Hanford Reach National Monument brings visitors face-to-face with elk, coyotes, birds of prey, and other incredible species. More than 200 bird species inhabit the refuge, and anglers can catch bass, salmon, steelhead, and walleye. Hanford Reach features rare traces of sagebrush grassland that have remained untouched due to the security around the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The B-Reactor at Hanford Reach was the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, and the landscape set aside for the Manhattan Project retained its immense diversity of plant and animal life.

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Just about two hours away is your next stop, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. More than 4 million acres of pristine wilderness lures nature enthusiasts searching for solitude from the crowds. Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest straddles the eastern side of the Cascades and gives hikers hundreds of miles of trails to explore. Spruce, lodgepole pine and Douglas-firs adorn the subalpine forests and scattered lakes offer serene fishing holes. Methow Valley provides a sanctuary for numerous species such as lynx, grizzly bears, wolves, and beavers. Recreation seekers share the landscape with wildlife and partake in activities like mountain biking, fishing, rafting, and Nordic skiing.

North Cascades National Park

Continue on for two-and-a-half hours to reach North Cascades National Park. The park boasts over 300 glaciers, the most you’ll find anywhere in the Lower 48. Its untouched wilderness includes turquoise lakes, cascading waterfalls, and beautiful alpine meadows. Diablo Lake is the star attraction with its stunning mountain vistas and old-growth forests hugging its shores. The nearby Ross Lake Resort is a prime spot for recreational activities such as boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and camping. Hikers gravitate to the Cascade Pass for the jaw-dropping views of granite peaks and forested valleys. Situated at nearly 5,500 feet, the Washington Pass Overlook inspires nature lovers with its immense spires rising up towards the heavens. Although it requires serious effort to get to, the remote village of Stehekin is a magical lakeside hideaway engulfed by snow-capped peaks.

When to Go

Despite the large crowds, July and August offer the best conditions to road trip through Washington State’s national parks. These are the driest months of the year in Olympic National Park, which provides amicable hiking conditions. Many roads inside Mount Rainier National Park are closed from November to May. Plus, the wildflowers dotting the alpine meadows are at their peak bloom during the summer. North Cascades National Park experiences similar roadway closures in the winter, and summer offers the most pleasant weather conditions. Although this route is doable within a week, you could spend a lifetime exploring these miraculous landscapes. Give yourself at least two weeks, or longer, for a rewarding road trip.

The Colorado Rockies Road Trip

As you could probably guess from the title of this article, this revitalizing road trip occurs across the graceful state of Colorado, taking you from elegant and scenic mountain ranges to archaic dwellings and sizable sand dunes. The Colorado Rockies Road Trip takes you across several parks in the state, including the Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and many others.

This road trip is accessible from large cities such as Colorado Springs and Denver, so don’t shy away from embarking on this trip as you may just be one plane ride away from an adventure of a lifetime!

Now onto why you really need to take this trip.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Never has there been such an influx of visitors coming to experience the splendor of Rocky Mountain National Park. During 2019 alone, this national park has recorded over 4.7 million visitors, the third most visited national park in the country. The 415 square miles of Rocky Mountain National Park encompass and protect a stellar mountain range along with other breathtaking natural features. While visiting the park, be sure to enjoy the tranquility of the Trail Ridge Road, which peaks at 12,000 feet and includes multiple overlooks for the ultimate snowcapped mountain viewing experience. Along with 300 miles of hiking trails, peaceful starry nights, wildlife, and adventure, you’re in for a seriously great time at Rocky Mountain National Park!

Though not uncommon to travel through a national park and not catch sight of any wildlife, it’s highly unlikely at Rocky Mountain National Park. From daily sightings of mule deer and chipmunks to rare elk viewing opportunities during the mating season, the wildlife in this park is immersive and makes you feel you’re a part of something wonderful.

Apart from the stunning landscape, Rocky Mountain National Park also offers a multitude of opportunities for relaxing and enlivening experiences. If you’re up to it, the park offers a variety of activities to do with friends and family, which include:

  • Hiking
  • Whitewater rafting and kayaking
  • Mountain biking
  • Backcountry skiing
  • Horseback riding
  • Attending a ranger program
  • Visiting waterfalls
  • Bird watching
  • Picnicking

Make sure to review the visitor information and seek out a visitor center for all the important details like where to go, what to do there, and how to prepare for a fun and safe experience at the park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Dive right into the tallest mountains of sand in North America. Yes, you heard that right, sand mountains, in Colorado. This goes to show how truly diverse the landscape is in this country. Enclosed where the Sangre de Cristo Mountains converge inwards, the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve have been growing for many years. A marvel of Goliath proportions, the entirety of the dunes only take up 30 square miles, though the tallest dune stands at over 750 feet high.

Your inner child will love sledding down the dunes all year round and digging into the smooth sand tracks of those who have climbed before you.

The park also offers several camping options. The Piñon Flats Campground, which is managed by the National Park Service, can be booked in advance. However, there are only 44 sites available and they’re distributed on a first come, first serve basis. For the more adventurous, free (mandatory) backcountry permits are also available at the park’s visitor center. Once you obtain the permit, you will be able to set up your tent anywhere in the 30-square-foot dune field situated outside the “day-only use” area. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on the type of person you are), you must hike a minimum of 1.5 miles across the dunes, but it will definitely be worth it. Backpacking (again, with permission) is also possible within the foothills.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Steering in a different direction, you’ll find the Black Canyon of The Gunnison. The power of mother nature is evident here, as this terrain characterized by steep, ancient rocks has been in the making for millions of years.

Just like any other park, you can take part in a variety of adventurous activities within the borders of the Gunnison’s Black Canyon. If you’re not afraid of heights, feel free to explore the inner parts of the canyon, but be careful, some parts of the hike may be a little tricky! If you’re not feeling up for a challenge during your visit, opt for a scenic drive along the rim of the river which will take you all the way down into it. Visitors can also go kayaking in the lake.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your calendar and set a date for your trip today, you will not regret it. Each season provides you with a whole new array of opportunities, making any time ideal to take this road trip!

Before your trip, plan a route using the map guide at the US-Parks website. However, you’ll want to plot your route using either Google Maps or any other GPS provider to ensure that you are aware of any potential road closures or construction work that may delay your road trip. This will help you optimize your time for all the fun activities along the way!

The Yosemite and Big Sur Road Trip

The Yosemite and Big Sur road trip can be started from San Francisco or Los Angeles, but the route is easy to map in your favorite navigation app.

Yosemite National Park

The Yosemite National Park was initially protected in 1864 and is now renowned worldwide for its waterfalls. However, within the 1,200 square miles of area, you can observe an entire array of landscapes, ranging from grand meadows and deep valleys to ancient sequoias and vast forests. While exploring this National Park, you should visit the Mariposa Grove to view over 500 undisturbed mature sequoias. Hiking, like in many other parks, is one of the most common activities for visitors.

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park offer hiking trails, dense forests, and seasonal wildlife.

Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks

The Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are home to diverse habitats due to their wide elevation ranges, resulting in a lot of variation in the weather throughout the year. Do not forget to bring the appropriate gear when you come here to visit.

A drive through Big Sur offers stunning views.

Pheiffer Big Sur State Park

Through the western slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the Big Sur State Park tower soars over the Big Sur River Gorge, the point at which the Big Sur River enters this marvelous state park. You can enjoy a calm and refreshing walk along the banks of the Big Sur river among the impressive conifers, maples, alders, cottonwoods, oaks, sycamores, and redwoods. Multiple campgrounds are located along the Big Sur River. The wildlife includes black-tail deer, gray squirrels, skunks, racoons, and birds, such as kingfishers and dippers. Hikers can enjoy many scenic trails, including Buzzard’s Roost, Liewald Flats, Mt. Manuel, Valley View, River Path, and many more.

Deer roam freely at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Point Reyes National Seashore

The Point Reyes National Seashore is a diverse landscape with over 1,500 species of plants and animals. Depending on the amount of time you have available to spend on the Seashore, you have a variety of activities available. For example, if you are only willing to spend a few hours, you can plan a trip to the lighthouse or visit the Bear Valley Visitor Center that showcases multiple ecological and historical exhibits. If you are accompanied by children, they may enjoy visiting the Morgan Horse Ranch to view horses. For a longer planned visit, you can go biking, kayaking, birding, tide pooling, backpacking, whale watching and yes, you can also see elephant seals.

The Canyon Quest Road Trip

The Canyon Quest road trip will take you across Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, where you will visit the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, and Glen Canyon!

If you are looking for a retreat from Spring through Fall, this road trip can be the perfect itinerary. Although the trip traditionally takes about two weeks to complete, we recommend more time if you want to camp and hike in every park. If you’re flying in, we recommend booking flights through Las Vegas in Nevada, Salt Lake City in Utah, or Phoenix in Arizona.


Grand Canyon National Park

If you have not heard about this National park, then you might well have been living under a rock. The Grand Canyon National Park is the most iconic natural treasures of the United States.

The Grand Canyon is widely admired for the extensive range of colorful rocks that vary in shape, size and depth. The lookout points across the park provide you with stellar views. We recommend hiking on your own or joining a ranger-led tour, which will often detail the full natural history of the Canyon.

Zion National Park

Follow the paths where ancient native people and pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon. Zion’s unique array of plants and animals will enchant you as you absorb the rich history of the past and enjoy the excitement of present day adventures.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoodoos, yes you read that correctly, are what make this national park a site to see. The national park is home to the largest cluster of hoodoos or more descriptively, irregular columns of rock, that are situated across the high plateau of the Grand Staircase. During your visit, explore one of the countless trails that exist in the park to discover the true beauty of the location. Like the Grand Canyon National Park, you can take part in ranger programs and camp in the outdoors. You can also take guided horseback rides or book ahead for a private horsing experience within the park.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is famous for its renowned orchards that stem over 2,000 trees including apricots, cherries, apples, peaches, mulberries, pears, walnuts, and almonds.

This park provides you with the unique experience of harvesting fruit. The staff at the park thoroughly maintain the large variety of orchard trees using traditional farming practices so that you can have the ideal fruit picking session during your visit. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the park so you can help preserve the orchards in the same manner they have been for decades.

Arches National Park

This park boasts vivid, abstract, and contrasting landscapes with formations that include massive balanced rocks and colossal fins. The most recognizable features of this park are stone arches that have been photographed countless times during the edge of dawn and dusk.

Canyonlands National Park

Although we have been discussing about the many daytime activities and places to go, the Canyonlands National Park has something for you during the night: stargazing. Canyonlands has preserved the night sky by keeping the light pollution levels low and the great air quality ensures that the stars are vibrantly on display during the night.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Three majestic natural bridges invite you to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence. View them from an overlook, or hit the trails and experience their grandeur from below. Declared a National Monument in 1908, the bridges are named “Kachina,” “Owachomo” and “Sipapu” in honor of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon has many sights, but perhaps the most iconic is Horseshoe Bend. Below the rim, the Colorado River makes a wide sweep around a sandstone escarpment. On its long downward journey to the sea, the river meandered, sometimes making wide bends, but always seeking the path of least resistance. Over 5 million years the unique twists of Glen Canyon are poignantly summarized by photos of Horseshoe Bend.


The Grand Circle Road Trip can be enjoyed throughout the year. Ideally, it is better to experience these parks during Spring or Fall. The summertime heat may be overwhelming, especially when you are doing physically straining activities such as hiking. Springtime also provides you with the opportunity to harvest certain fruits, such as apricots and cherries, in Capitol Reef National Park.