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Here’s the ultimate road trip to visit most of the national parks

Here’s the ultimate road trip to visit most of the national parks
Posted at 10:20 AM, Oct 16, 2023

Anyone up for a road trip? This one travels through 47 of the national parks in the U.S. and will take you two months to complete. But hey, if you’ve got plenty of vacation time saved up — why not?

The route is just under 14,500 miles, according to The Washington Post. The Optimal U.S. National Parks Centennial Road Trip map was designed to commemorate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, which was in August of 2016, and it hit all of the national parks (at that time) in the contiguous 48 states — so it doesn’t include parks in Hawaii and Alaska, for example.

Randal Olson

The map was created by Randal Olson, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. He had a little help from the Traveling Salesman Problem, which calculates the shortest route you can take to hit up a number of different cities before ending up back where you started.

National Park Service properties are constantly in flux, so it’s no surprise that some new parks have been added since Olson first put this road trip together. But you could easily add some of the new parks to the route: For example, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, which was designated a national park in 2021, isn’t far off the route to Shenandoah National Park.

MORE: 5 National Park road trips to take this summer

So, if you’re looking for a road trip and want to hit most of the national parks (again, excluding those in Alaska, Hawaii and other U.S. territories), then this would be the shortest, fastest way to do it. Olson recommends setting two months aside to take in all the sights.

Empty road near Lone Pine with rocks of the Alabama Hills and the Sierra Nevada in the background, Inyo County, California, United States.

Olson designed a circular route so that you can hop on at any point and still stay on track. To learn how the trip was calculated or to create your own trip, check out his blog.

MORE: Spend a whole year in 70-degree weather with this road trip

Here’s a list of all the national parks the route covers, in order:

  1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  2. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
  3. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
  4. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
  5. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
  6. Big Bend National Park, Texas
  7. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
  8. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
  9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
  10. Everglades National Park, Florida
  11. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
  12. Biscayne National Park, Florida
  13. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
  14. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  15. Acadia National Park, Maine
  16. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
  17. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
  18. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
  19. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
  20. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
  21. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
  22. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  23. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
  24. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
  25. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
  26. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  27. Arches National Park, Utah
  28. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  29. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
  30. Zion National Park, Utah
  31. Great Basin National Park, Nevada
  32. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  33. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  34. Glacier National Park, Montana
  35. North Cascades National Park, Washington
  36. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  37. Olympic National Park, Washington
  38. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
  39. Redwood National and State Parks, California
  40. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
  41. Yosemite National Park, California
  42. Kings Canyon National Park, California
  43. Sequoia National Park, California
  44. Pinnacles National Park, California
  45. Channel Islands National Park, California
  46. Joshua Tree National Park, California
  47. Death Valley National Park, California

Now, time to set your sights on the open road!

MORE: 10 affordable American road trips to take in your life

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