In 1916, Congress decided to create the National Park Service in order to help protect the world’s most enchanting places. So far, we have established 58 National Parks which, in total, is around 84 million acres! Within these 84 million acres you can find delicate ecosystems, wildlife, and views that leave you absolutely speechless while at the same time reminding you just how magnificent the Earth is.
According to the National Park Service website, with the help of volunteers and partners, they’ve protected and preserved these parks averaging more than 318 million visitors every year who come to stand in awe of the hidden beauty around them any time they would like.
Lucky for us, some of the best National Parks are within miles of one another, and since 1920 road trips have become one of our favorite pastimes and transformative experiences.
So, if you ever find yourself wanting to journey through the National Parks on the west coast check out this road trip. 12 Americans who represented groups like the National Park-to-Park Highway Association and AAA in 1920 set out to complete a massive loop in order to draw in tourism to the parks. Listed below and in order are the 12 National Parks they went to.
#1 Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado
First up we have the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The Rocky Mountains encompass “more than 265,000 acres and with more than sixty peaks topping out at more than 12,00 feet” and within those acres, there are over 350 trails. Talk about a hiker’s paradise!
#2 Yellowstone National Park – Wyoming
From Colorado, the adventure goes north taking Interstate 25 through Cheyenne, Wyoming then going eastward onto Highway 14 through Cody and coming to a stop at Yellowstone National Park. On the NPS website, they report that people have been spending time in this park for over 11,000 years and many tribes and bands used these grounds as their home and hunting grounds. Yellowstone was also the first national park in the United States established in 1872.
#3 Glacier National Park – Montana
From Yellowstone, the journey continues on the Yellowstone-Glacier Bee Line Highway through White Sulphur Springs, Great Falls, and Browning, finally stopping at the Glacier National Park. Glacier National Park consists of forests, meadows, mountains, and lakes ready to be explored offering over 700 miles worth of trails.
#4 Mount Rainier National Park – Washington
Then the adventure heads west taking Montana’s Highway 2 running out of Seattle, where you continue south to Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the US that generates five major rivers and ascends to 14,410 feet above sea level. Depending on what season you visit you can hike with the wildflowers and waterfalls in the summer, watch the leaves change in the fall, or even hit the slopes skiing, snowboarding, or even snowshoeing in the winter.
#5 Crater Lake National Park – Oregon
From Mount Rainier, it is a straight shot through Olympia, Portland, and Eugene until you arrive at Crater National Park. Nearly 7,700 years ago Native Americans watched as a powerful eruption triggered a collapse of a tall peak forming what is now Crater Lake. It is known to be the deepest lake in the US fed by rain and snow.
#6 Redding and Lassen National Park – California
The journey continues down the west coast heading into California to visit Redding and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Which has all four types of volcanoes: Mount Tehama, Pilot Pinnacle, Mount Diller, Pilot Pinnacle, and Mount Conard. It also shares similarities with Yellowstone with a variety of impressive geothermal features.
#7 Yosemite National Park – California
Just a mere 300 miles further south the journey continues, stopping in Yosemite. Within its 1,200 miles of meadows, mountains, rivers, and over 800 trails to choose from, you can visit this park in any of the four seasons.
#8 Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks – California
Then the adventure makes a stop to gaze upon the giants of the wilderness that live in Sequoia. Within this forest, a giant sequoia by the name of General Sherman stands at a height of 275 ft making it the world’s tallest living tree.
#9 Zion National Park – Utah
Departing California, the adventure goes eastward to Route 66 ending up at Zion National Park. Adventure down into the canyon in order to look upon the sandstone cliffs, swim through the streams, camp, canyoneer (with obtained permit), climb, hike, or even horseback ride in or around the canyon.
#10 Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona
As the journey heads back south, the loop makes a stop at the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon, encompassing more than 270 miles of the Colorado River and adjacent uplands. Visitors often choose the North Rim for the variety of hiking trails including the North Kaibab Trail that can be followed all the way down the Canyon to the Colorado River.
#11 Petrified Forest National Park – Arizona
Then the loop continues through Arizona stopping at the Petrified Forest National Park. This park was named after the large amounts of petrified wood which covers nearly 346 square miles. The park averages about 5,400 feet in elevation with summer temperatures reaching highs of 100°F and winter lows below freezing.
#12 Mesa Verde National Park – Colorado
This 5,600-mile loop finishes with the last stop at Mesa Verde National Park. Established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archaeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people which today now protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites. This park is regarded as one of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the US.
One of the first National Park Services directors and mastermind, Stephen Mather, behind this loop describes the experience as,
“Each park will be found to be highly individual. The whole will be a revelation.”
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Source: Flickr, Pexels, Wikimedia, NPS