Lisa Owen

Keen to explore America’s forests and national parks, but don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. So what are you waiting for? Hit the road, and follow these tips for a great American road trip through some of the country’s most impressive national parks.

usa national parks

What To Bring

The best way to enjoy America’s national parks is to go camping. Motels and hotels can be found along the way - but camping will be the cheapest and most efficient way to explore America’s wilderness. Plus you get to enjoy the stars, campfire talk and smores! This itinerary lists where motel accommodation is available, and when you should be ready to pitch your tent.

Here’s what you’ll need to bring on your road trip. You can opt to bring it from home or buy it when you arrive in America from chain stores like Walmart or Target.

  • Sleeping bag
  • Tent
  • Sleeping mat
  • Torch
  • Matches to make a campfire. And don’t forget the marshmallows.
  • Wet wipes
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Bottled drinking water (have at least 5 litres in the car at all times)
  • Plates and cutlery (you can use your water to rinse these if running water is not available)
  • Snacks (nuts, chips, lollies) and some tunes for those long hours in the car
  • Pack of cards (entertainment at night)
  • Cooler bag/esky to keep food cold (You can buy ice along the way at gas stations)


Camping facilities

America knows how to do campgrounds! All have pit toilets at a minimum, but many have flushing toilets. Some campsites even have showers (hot ones too!) Some are pay showers accepting quarters, others are free. You may even find washing machines at large campsites such as at the Grand Canyon.

For this itinerary, showers are available at the following campgrounds: North Rim (Grand Canyon, Arizona), Diamond Lake (Crater Lake, Oregon), Zion Canyon Campground and RV Park (Zion, Utah), Yosemite Valley (California) and Slickrock Campground (Moab, Utah). In areas where bears are present, each campsite has a bearproof locker. Store all your food and toiletries (anything scented) in the locker.

Things to Know

This itinerary requires you to hire a car. When booking a car, make sure you look for deals which offer unlimited kilometres, and be aware you could be charged a one-way fee depending on where you start or end your trip. Make sure you read the fine print. It costs about USD$25 per vehicle to enter most of America’s national parks. If you’re visiting more than three parks, buy an annual pass for USD$80. You can buy these at the park entrance booths. In Oregon, there’s only one national park (Crater Lake) – the rest are national forests which require you to pay a day use fee (usually USD$5, cash only) and display the pass on your car. 

road trip through usa

Road Trip Route

This itinerary starts in Portland, Oregon and ends up in Las Vegas, Nevada, and will take between two to three weeks to complete.


Highlights of Oregon include the 14km Trail of 10 Falls at Silver Falls State Park, the spectacular views of Mt Hood from the summit of Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain, the Bagby Hot Springs, Tamolitch Blue Pool, Sahalie Falls, and Crater Lake National Park. The beautiful Crater Lake – formed by the collapse of a volcanic crater thousands of years ago – is America’s deepest lake.


You can get spectacular views of the crater from Cloudcap Lookout, or by hiking to the top of Mt Scott. In the summer months, you can drive around the entire lake in about an hour. Unless you can afford the pricey park lodge, camp at the Diamond Lake Campgrounds outside the park. From Crater Lake, you can cross the border into California.


South Lake Tahoe

Start your Californian adventure with a visit to Lake Tahoe. You can relax by the lake, hire a kayak at Emerald Bay, or work up a sweat on hikes up to Eagle Lake or Eagle Rock. You have a choice of accommodation here. There’s plenty of hotels and lodges, but also lots of campsites. The Meeks Bay Campground is a top spot right by the lake. There’s no cost to enter the Lake Tahoe area.

Yosemite National Park

From Lake Tahoe, it’s a few hours south in the car to get to Yosemite National Park. If you enter from the east side, you can drive the entire Tioga Pass, California’s highest vehicle pass.

Trails in Yosemite National Park range from easy to hard. Take your pick from the vertigo inducing Taft Point, the scenic Sentinel Dome, or head into the popular Yosemite Valley area. Many of Yosemite’s star attractions can be found here such as Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls and Vernal Falls.  A permit is needed to hike Half Dome but numbers are limited to 300 people per day, so you’ll need to enter the lottery to try and score a spot.

There’s not a lot of accommodation near Yosemite so plan to camp. There’s lots of campgrounds however you’ll need to book well in advance, especially in the summer months.

yosemite national park

Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park

A couple more hours in the car and you’ll reach the combined Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. There’s lots of HUGE sequoia trees in these parks that have to be seen to be believed. Head to the Giant Forest for a look at giant sequoia trees and the 84 metre General Sherman Tree – the biggest tree in the world by volume. Other trails worth a look are Moro Rock and the Big Stump Trail.

Camping is your best option here. Campsites work on an honesty system so you’ll need cash to put in the deposit box and then hang the completed payment form on your campsite. From Sequoia National Park, it’s a few hours’ drive to reach the famous Route 66. You can then either head up to Las Vegas, cross into Utah, or head to Arizona and the Grand Canyon.


Grand Canyon National Park

There’s two sections to the Grand Canyon – the North Rim and the South Rim. The South Rim is closer to Las Vegas and draws a crowd. The North Rim is said to receive only 10 per cent of visitors to the Grand Canyon so it’s a lot quieter and more natural. One of my favourite ways to see the North Rim was via the 6.8km return Cape Final Trail, which offers a spectacular view of the canyon. For sunset, your best bet is the lookout at the end of the Bright Angel Point Trail.

The North Rim Campground is the only campground inside the North Rim section of the Grand Canyon National Park. Reservations are recommended May to October, however there is usually a handful of sites available daily on a first come, first served basis. The campgrounds have pay showers and laundry facilities. DeMotte Campground is also located just outside the park. From the North Rim, you can head over to the town of Page and check out the stunning Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and famous Monument Valley.


Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Heading north from the Monument Valley, you’ll reach Utah’s Canyonlands National Park in a few hours. The Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands is the most accessible part of the park, and you’ll get incredible views from the aptly named Grand View Point Trail. Canyonlands National Park’s most popular trail is a short hike to the Mesa Arch – a window view out to the canyons and mountains beyond. 


Arches National Park is a short drive from Canyonlands, and there’s lots of trails to choose from to check out some of the 2000 known rock arches through the park. The most popular trails are Devil’s Garden and Windows Trail. Arches and Canyonlands both have campgrounds but they fill up quickly. They are also located near the town of Moab. There’s plenty of accommodation options here ranging from campgrounds to hotels.

Bryce Canyon & Zion National Parks

From Moab, head west to Bryce Canyon. You only need a day to see the best of Bryce Canyon’s unique hoodoo rock landscape by heading clockwise down the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop trails Less than an hour’s drive from Bryce Canyon lies the breathtaking Zion National Park. If you only do one of the trails – make sure it’s The Narrows – a hard but rewarding journey through the Virgin River (yes you will get your feet wet) and into narrow canyons. You can continue along the narrows for 30 minutes or several hours – but no matter how long you spend here, you will be in awe of the beauty of nature.


You can also tackle the Angel’s Landing trail in Zion National Park, which offers one of the best views in the park (but it’s not recommended for people scared of heights!). Zion is a great place to camp. There’s two campgrounds inside Zion National Park but they fill up quickly – so book ahead in summer. But there is also a campground right outside the park gates approaching from Bryce Canyon. Motel accommodation is available at Hurricane or St George, about an hour’s drive from Zion. From Zion, you can head to Las Vegas via St George. Vegas needs no introduction – but it’s a good hub to finish your road trip with many cheap flights from Vegas across America and into Europe.


Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.

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