Arizona

Summer National Parks Road Trip

Like most other travelers, the current COVID-19 pandemic really threw my yearly travel plans into a tailspin.  In addition to having to cancel my spring parks trip to Florida, we have also decided to postpone our trip to Portugal and Greece until next year, out of an abundance of caution.  The last thing I want to deal with is being sick or being stranded overseas.  As much as it disappoints me to have to push these trips back, being healthy and having my family healthy are the most important things to me.

With those trips pushed back, I have given a lot of thought to what trips I can plan this year instead.  If air travel looks a bit safer this autumn, I think I will try and make it back to California to see my brother, take a whale watching tour thru the Channel Islands, and perhaps do some hiking and exploring in Yosemite National Park.  There are a few hikes in that park that I still need to cross off my list.

Road Trip

As far as this summer goes, I have been itching to take another road trip thru the American Rockies and American Southwest, and I think the current situation makes this year the ideal time to make that trip happen.  I feel much more comfortable driving than flying and it is easy to distance yourself from others when you are out hiking and camping.  When things start to open up in the United States this summer, taking a road trip and knocking off some of the US National Parks that I have yet to see sounds like a great alternative to the plans I had to cancel.

In this post, I am going to outline the rough itinerary for this road trip and in case you have thought about taking a similar road trip yourself.  If you are interested, I have also included some other itineraries for national park road trips in the United States for you to review below.  As is always the case when I travel, I will be posting updates to my social media accounts and this blog, so make sure you keep an eye out for updates!

READ MORE: READ MORE: READ MORE: READ MORE:
Yellowstone Falls Redwood National Park Canon Beach Big Bend National Park
The Badlands to the Rockies Heart of California Road Trip Pacific Northwest Road Trip Desert Mountains and Caves Road Trip

Itinerary

Winding Road Road Trip

The American West and American Southwest are areas that I am intimately familiar with.  Throughout my lifetime, I have taken countless numbers of road trips through the Rocky Mountains and the high desert of Southern Utah and Arizona.  Even after all of these years and all of those trips, there are still things that I have yet to see or experience.  In this post, I am going to layout the twelve-day itinerary that I have put together for my road trip.

On this trip, I will cross thru twelve different states and cover roughly 4,233 miles (or 6,812 kilometers).  I will be stopping to see state or national parks in the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota.  I will be climbing a 14,000 foot (or roughly 4,270 meters) mountain, hiking thru canyons, navigating thru one of North America’s largest caves, and photographing one of America’s most beautiful waterfalls.  It should be an epic adventure!

Summer Parks Road Trip Map

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DAY 1: Driving to Colorado
DAY 2: Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
DAY 3: Climbing Gray’s Peak
DAY 4: Visit The Great Sand Dunes National Park
DAY 5: Drive to Southern Utah
DAY 6: Visit Canyonlands National Park
DAY 7: Drive to Monument Valley
DAY 8: Drive to Great Basin National Park
DAY 9: Drive to Shoshone Falls
DAY 10: Drive to Yellowstone National Park
DAY 11: Visit Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks
DAY 12: Drive Home

DAY 1 – Driving to Colorado

Midwest Road Trip

The first day of my trip is going to be the longest.  I am going to have to get up really, really early as I plan on driving roughly 1,050 miles (1,690 km) from Milwaukee to just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.  It is going to be a long day of driving, but it will be worth it when I am able to get up on Day 2 and have the whole day to explore Rocky Mountain National Park

DAY 2 – Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain NP

The second day of my trip is where the real fun begins.  I plan on getting up early and spending the entire day exploring Rocky Mountain National Park.  There are several hikes that I would like to complete in the park and a laundry list of different viewpoints that I would like to check out and photograph around the park.  When I am finished exploring the park, I will drive a few hours to Silver Plume and get ready to summit my first fourteener the next day.

DAY 3 – Climbing Gray’s Peak

Grays Peak

The third day of my trip is going to be, by far, the most physically challenging day of the trip.  After waking early, the plan is to climb to the summit of my first fourteen thousand foot peak.  In case you missed my post from earlier this month, I wrote about the top ten fourteeners in Colorado for beginning hikers.  I have included a link to that guide below in case you would like to review it.  While I am far from a beginning hiker, I have yet to climb or hike as high as 14,000 feet, so I am going to start out with one of the easier summits in Colorado.  Grays Peak Trail is a challenging and beautiful hike and I cannot wait to tackle the challenge!

READ MORE:
Rocky Mountains
The Ten Best Fourteeners in Colorado for Beginning Hikers

DAY 4 – Visit The Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes NP

Even though I will probably be exhausted from hiking to the top of Grays Peak, I am going to head south on the fourth day of my trip to Southern Colorado.  In the southern part of the state, I am going to stop at the beautiful Great Sand Dunes National Park.  I have wanted to photograph this park for years, and I am finally going to get the chance.  If I have any strength left in my legs, I plan on hiking to the top of the tallest sand dune in North America and getting some absolutely amazing pictures of the dunes.

DAY 5 – Drive to Southern Utah

Corona Arch

After exploring some of the top sites in Colorado over the first few days of my road trip, on Day 5 I will continue my trek South and head into Southern Utah.  After making it to the Moab area, my first adventure will be to take the short hike to see the Corona, Bowtie, and Pinto Arches.  I have been wanting to photograph the Corona Arch, pictured above, for some time, so I can’t wait to get there and photograph it.

DAY 6 – Visit Canyonlands National Park

canyonlands-2

Next to reaching the peak of my first fourteener in Colorado, the stop on this road trip that I am looking the most forward to is visiting Canyonlands National Park again.  I have been to this park before, and have written a visitor guide that you can review below.  However, it is a big park with a lot to explore and I am excited to be able to visit again and knock some more hikes and photography locations off of my bucket list.  I am planning on spending an entire day in the park and really making the most of my time.

READ MORE:
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park Visitor Guide

DAY 7 – Drive to Monument Valley

Monument Valley-4151

Another spot in the American Southwest that I have spent a good amount of time at, but still don’t feel like I have fully explored the area, is Monument Valley.  As I explain in my visitor guide, which I have linked to below, the Monument Valley is one of the most iconic locations in the American Southwest.  It was the site used to film a countless number of old Western movies and its landscapes are deeply engrained in the American psyche.  On the seventh day of my trip, I will be heading south to the border of Utah and Arizona to do some more exploration of the Monument Valley area.  I may also take a tour of Hunt’s Mesa, which is something I have wanted to do for quite a while.

READ MORE:
Monument Valley
Monument Valley Visitor’s Guide

DAY 8 – Drive to Great Basin National Park

Great Basin NP

Monument Valley will be as far South as I travel on this trip because on the eighth day of the road trip I will turn North and head into Nevada.  The destination for the day is the lone national park in the state of Nevada and a national park that I have wanted to visit and photograph for quite some time.  The Great Basin National Park encompasses much of the Great Basin Desert and contains most of the South Snake mountains, which combined form one of the most beautiful landscapes in the American Southwest.  I plan on doing a little bit of hiking and a lot of photography while I explore this beautiful park.

Day 9 – Drive to Shoshone Falls

Shoshone Falls Idaho

In my free time between traveling, writing about my adventures on this blog, and working on my photography, I love to use Google Maps and Google Earth to explore some of the regions of the United States and the world that I have yet to explore.  Believe it or not, that is how I have found some of the absolutely amazing travel destinations that I have traveled to and photographed.  One of my most recent finds is a truly spectacular waterfall in Southern Idaho that I didn’t know existed until I ran across it on Google Earth.  The Shoshone Falls may not be a grand as the Niagara Falls, but they are among the most beautiful in the United States.  On Day 9 of my road trip, I plan on stopping at the falls to do some exploration and photography.

DAY 10 – Drive to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone-1136

As I begin to head Northeast on my way back home, I will first make a stop at another national park that I am intimately familiar with.  I have spent quite a bit of time at Yellowstone National Park and have written a Visitor Guide for Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks, which you can review below.  However, the park is big and you never really feel like you have seen everything there is to see at this beautiful and ever-changing piece of wilderness.  I will be spending some time within the park during the day and then making my way west towards Rapid City, South Dakota, where I will spend the night.

READ MORE:
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring
Yellowstone and Grand Teton Visitor Guide

DAY 11 – Visit Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks

Badlands National Park

On the last full day of exploring during my road trip, I will spend the day exploring two national parks that I have yet to visit.  Badlands National Park and Wind Cave National Park are both located near Rapid City, South Dakota and I will be splitting up my day photographing between the two parks.  I am especially excited to visit Badlands National Park as it has some truly breathtaking landscapes that I cannot wait to capture in images.

DAY 12 – Drive Home

Midwest Prairie

After eleven full days exploring some of the most beautiful landscapes in the American West, I will finish the return leg of my trip by driving from Rapid City, South Dakota back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  No doubt I will be tired at this point, but I should have a full memory card worth of amazing photographs and some life-long memories saved up by this point as well.

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19 replies »

  1. Looks incredible! The scenery is breathtaking and your schedule seems packed but achievable. Good luck with it! I think you’re right to use this time to plan an adventure.

  2. Wow! That’s an exciting and action-packed trip you have planned in a short space of time! I can’t imagine driving 1000 miles in one day but I guess American roads must be very straight?? I’m from Scotland and you could not drive that far in one day on our roads. And if you did you’d probably end up in France 😂

    I haven’t been to the states yet but always fancied starting in California and heading to Colorado/ Utah after that. Seeing your plan has definitely confirmed that. Looks like such a range of landscapes and scenery all in one trip. Can’t wait to see how your adventure goes. Have fun!

    • Thank you so much for reading! My first and last days driving will be boring 12 hour drives, but other than that it will be only 4-5 hours a day driving. The beautiful scenery makes it a bit easier.

      That is awesome that you are planning to visit the states! California, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado are among the prettiest. Best of luck in your travels!! 😄👍

  3. This sounds amazing! I can’t wait to follow along with you, especially Great Basin which is high on my list of parks to visit.

    For what it’s worth, here’s my two cents on the Colorado part of the trip:

    -Grays Peak and neighboring Torrey’s Peak are often climbed together. I’ve not personally summited either one but just something to keep in mind if you have the energy!

    -I’ve stood on top of that tallest sand dune and to this day it’s the most difficult hike of my life (and I’ve climbed a 14er!). Worth it. But killer. Have fun!

    • Thank you for reading and for the feedback Diana!! I read that about Grays and Torrey’s Peaks. If I have the time, I am definitely going to do both! Also, I totally believe it regarding climbing the dune. I did some hiking on the dunes in Indiana Dunes NP (fraction of the size) and it was exhausting!

  4. That’s quite an ambitious plan for 12 days! We keep talking about heading out west in lieu of our European trip (which has yet to be officially cancelled). Maybe I’ll see you out there! Maybe I’ll see you at the top of Gray’s! 😉

    • I can’t get enough of the Western US. That would be awesome if we bumped into you! I am sure you’d fly by me on the trail though 😂

      • I doubt it, but even if I did, you be shocked by my deterioration on the way down. After climbing a 14er, I can barely function the rest of the day, as in totally useless – can barely stand. Maybe not after Sherman, but the rest, definitely.

  5. That looks like quite the adventure! I just moved to Idaho and am hoping to explore some of these nearby places in the near future! Thank you for sharing and happy exploring!

    • Thank you so much for reading and for the kind words! Idaho is a beautiful state. I am very much looking forward to exploring it dome more this summer. Best of luck and happy exploring to you as well!

  6. Looks like an incredible adventure. It’s a good time to focus on hikes and traveling domestically. Hopefully Greece and Portugal will be worth the wait too 🙂

    • Thanks so much Jason!! I agree, it’s a great time to hit up some more parks locally. Hope the wait isn’t too long for international travel though 🙂

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