Like most travelers, we found our international travel plans turned upside by the pandemic, but we didn’t let our circumstances stop us from exploring our own backyard! This summer, we were lucky enough to be able to take a road trip to a few National Parks on the west side of the US.
Our trip started from Sacramento where we drove straight through to Arizona in order to visit Grand Canyon National Park. With a quick pit stop at the Petrified Forest National Park, we made our way to Colorado to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. From there we traveled to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.
Invest in an annual pass.
We had purchased a year long National Park pass last August (2019) while visiting Yosemite National Park. The pass was valid until the August 31st of 2020 and it was worth the price point almost immediately. Purchase one from a Park Ranger at the gate of the first park you visit!
Packing light is always a good tip because it means you can get up and go from place to place with minimal packing and unpacking in between. Some items you want to be sure to include are:
- Lightweight Tent and Sleeping Bags
- Reusable Water Bottles
- Sunblock and Bug Spray
- Hiking Shoes
- Extra (clean) Masks
Do your Research
This article is full of links to help guide you! Your needs and itinerary will differ based on your route and timing. Changing conditions due to COVID-19, wildfires and the upcoming winter season will undoubtedly affect your trip. Be sure to check out the NPS homepage before you leave.
You’ll also want to do your own research on the indigenous tribes of the United States. The beauty of our National Parks is tied with a long and complicated history of displacing native tribes. We would be remiss to write about our road trip through the American Southwest without urging you to study the history of the people who cared for the land first.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is located in Kaibab National forest and there are plenty of campsites to choose from! The Grand Canyon Village is a shopping center located near the parks entrance and is home to a variety of stores and restaurants. Although there are long lines (and the food is overpriced), it is convenient to know there are so many amenities just outside your tent!
Our Top Tip: Stay until sunset! Grand Canyon National park is open all night! Don’t miss the beautiful sunsets from the west side of the park. You can even stick around to star gaze as the park is free of light pollution!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest elevation parks in the nation. Follow the continental divide through the park and explore three distinct ecosystems (montane, subalpine and alpine tundra). A timed-entry reservation is required to enter the park, so be sure to make plans in advance of your visit.
Our Top Tip: Take some time to explore Estes Park! This picturesque mountain town is the perfect spot to enjoy an ice cream cone, shop for souvenirs, or my personal favorite, take a haunted tour of the famous Stanley Hotel!
Grand Teton National Park
Although smoke from the summer of wildfires almost completely blocked our views of the Grand Teton’s, we enjoyed walking around this park taking in the flora and fauna. We stayed at the Cabins at Colter Village and were happy to have comfortable, pet friendly accommodations. These cozy cabins provided us with a great alternative to tent camping and we enjoyed their proximity to the nearby Marina.
Our Top Tip: The General store at Colter Bay is full of fun souvenirs including delicious National Park branded beers! Grab a six pack and enjoy the beauty of the park from your cabin!
Yellowstone National Park
Last but not least we explored Yellowstone National Park. This flagship park is abundant in history, hiking trails and wildlife. We enjoyed every bit of our day as we drove around the entire park to see the main attractions such as Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring and the Upper Falls.
Our Top Tip: Take the Yellowstone Pledge!Nature is beautiful, powerful and worth preserving. Keep nature wild and leave things better than you found them! Yellowstone National Park has inspired visitors for almost 200 years and has been home to 26 tribes for much longer. Respect their legacy and HAVE FUN!
Headed to a National Park not listed here? Let us know your favorite in the comments!