1,293 miles of coastline, three states, and 13 National Parks: the West Coast is freakin’ awesome. I love living in the Western U.S. and have called both California and Washington home. (And Alaska too, but we’re not counting that in this West Coast post!) Who wouldn’t want to plan a West Coast National Parks road trip that lets you see it all?
Since I moved to the West in 2013, I’ve been lucky to explore a lot of the three West Coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington – including on some epic road trips and to many of the incredible National Parks in this region.
If you want to combine the two, you’ve come to the right place: this is an epic road trip itinerary I put together based on my various journeys and adventures. I’ll warn you now: this is road trip is a lot of miles, a lot of time, and a lot of fun. Buckle your seatbelt (road trip puns, anyone?), learn about the itinerary I suggest, and then plan your own West Coast National Parks road trip.
West Coast National Parks Road Trip MapWest Coast National Parks Road Trip on Roadtrippers
I love putting together road trip maps – it’s possibly my favorite part of the road trip planning process. It’s fun to see how each place I want to stop connects, what there is to do in between, and to imagine what I’ll see that I don’t even know will be along the way.
I built this West Coast National Parks road trip itinerary using Roadtrippers, my favorite map-making tool. (You can get $5 off Roadtrippers Plus by clicking this link and using code BTR5QTP.) You can see that includes all of the National Parks along the West Coast (which I define as Washington, Oregon, and California), plus some other optional stops I’ll detail more below. It also includes the mileage and estimated gas expense.
If it helps, you can click the bubble at the top left of the map and open it in a new tab to follow along while you read the rest of this post!
West Coast National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
As you’ll see, this is an ambitious itinerary. I mean, my Roadtrippers map above estimates over 60 hours of driving over 3,000 miles to visit every National Park on the West Coast. This is a big road trip!
The quickest I think you could do this road trip and visit all of the National Parks in Washington, Oregon, and California is 14 days – but ideally, you’d spend 20+ days to do this entire West Coast National Parks road trip itinerary.
However, you may want to drop some of the National Parks to enjoy others for longer. Here are a few itinerary ideas if you don’t have 14 days but want to visit as many parks as possible:
|1||Seattle to |
|Seattle to |
|2||Mt. Rainier to |
|Olympic to Mt. Rainier||Olympic to |
|3||Crater Lake to |
|Mt. Rainier to |
|Mt. Rainier to |
|4||Yosemite to Sequoias/ |
Kings Canyon (SKC)
|Crater Lake to |
|Crater Lake to |
|Redwoods to |
|Redwoods to |
|6||Joshua Tree to|
|Yosemite to |
|Yosemite to SKC|
|7||Pinnacles to |
|Death Valley to |
|SKC to Death Valley|
|8||Joshua Tree to |
|Death Valley to |
|9||Pinnacles to |
|Joshua Tree to |
|10||Channel Islands to |
|11||Pinnacles to |
No matter how long you have, you can definitely visit a number of National Parks along the West Coast – it just depends on how long you have as to how many you can visit!
How to Plan a West Coast National Parks Road Trip
Let’s dive into each of the stops I showed on that map – and the full itinerary I recommend to road trip all the National Parks on the West Coast. I’ll try to cover each one with enough detail to show you why it’s worth a stop.
I recommend starting your West Coast National Parks road trip in Seattle, and doing a sort of funny J-shaped route to end in San Francisco. You can of course do it in reverse – just scroll to the bottom and read up this post!
While I love Seattle and called it home for four years, your goal is to visit the National Parks. So, stay long enough to grab fuel and stock up on road trip essentials and snacks before setting out.
Optional: North Cascades National Park (Seasonal)
If you are absolutely committed to visiting every National Park on the West Coast during this road trip, you actually want to head north first to visit North Cascades National Park. This park is only open seasonally but is home to stunning mountain vistas and tons of hiking trails. I put it as “optional” because it is out of the way and only open seasonally.
Many people set out on multi-day backpacking trips in North Cascades, though you’ll probably want to limit yourself to a day hike before continuing on your road trip.
1. Olympic National Park
Passing back through Seattle along I-5, you’ll turn west at Olympia to loop around Olympic National Park. I’ve already detailed that I think three days is the minimum you should spend on an Olympic National Park road trip, but you can probably cut it down to two days in a pinch – or just do an up-and-back journey to hike along Hurricane Ridge and stop by the Visitor Center.
2. Mt. Rainier National Park
Next is another little detour, this time to Washington’s third and final National Park, Mount Rainier. You might be sensing a theme, but hiking (and mountaineering) is the to draw for visitors exploring Mount Rainier.
On a day trip, you can stop by the Sunrise Visitor Center and hike a bit along the Wonderland Trail. This trail makes a 93-mile circuit around the base of Mount Rainier – a bit longer than you can cover as part of this road trip!
Optional: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Along this West Coast road trip route, there are a number of National Park Service units that aren’t actually National Parks – but you might want to detour to visit and stop at them anyway. I’ve marked them optional for that reason.
The first one on this route is John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It’s definitely a detour off the main route (Interstate 5) that you would normally follow between Mount Rainier and Crater Lake; you have to cross the Cascade mountains to Central Oregon to reach John Day Fossil Beds.
This area has gorgeous scenery but also – and more importantly – a fascinating geological record including fossils from plants to mammals from 40 million years ago. It’s a big detour, but definitely a fascinating and beautiful one!
3. Crater Lake National Park
Oregon’s only National Park, Crater Lake is unique among the natural wonders protected across the country. Formed by a collapsed volcanic caldera, Crater Lake is home to sapphire blue waters and the iconic Wizard Island.
Crater Lake is open all year, but heavy snows in the winter can make the small roads in and out of the park difficult to travel. You can still visit during the snowy months though – and see the whole area covered in snow!
Optional: Oregon Caves National Monument
Cutting southwest from Crater Lake to Redwoods National Park, there’s another optional non-National Park stop you might want to make on this road trip itinerary. Oregon Caves National Monument is located in the Siskiyou Mountains that divide Oregon and California.
Called the “Marble Halls of Oregon,” you can reserve a spot on a tour of these caves – the tour options include a basic electricity-lit discovery tour, a candlelight history tour, and a true spelunking tour which will have you squeezing through tight places with a headlamp to light your way.
This is a great spot for a daytime adventure as you travel between the other National Parks.
4. Redwoods National & State Parks
I’m probably not supposed to choose favorites, but I think Redwoods National & State Parks might be mine in California. I love the Coastal Redwoods, and how their towering, seemingly-timeless presence provides me with a sense of humility and perspective on the world.
The protected lands that comprise Redwoods National & State Parks stretch from the California border south along the Pacific Coast Highway. I recommend visiting them near Crescent City, then cutting back inland across California’s coastal range to continue on your road trip.
There are a number of places you can explore and walk among the Redwoods. Stout Grove in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park is a great option; if you end up traveling further south, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to the Avenue of the Giants, another favorite spot of mine.
5. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Did you know: Lassen Peak is the southernmost of the Cascade volcanoes? Those mountains you were exploring in North Cascades National Park stretch all the way down here to Northern California! (Mount Rainier and Crater Lake are also Cascade volcanoes.)
Lassen is one of the most volcanically active areas of the Cascades too – here you can walk among giant lava formations and steaming fumaroles that tap directly in to the molten heart of the planet. The two best areas to explore on a stop here are Sulphur Works and Bumpass Hell Hydrothermal Area.
6. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel of California’s nine National Parks, and is many people’s favorite park in the whole country. As I mentioned, it’s not mine – but that’s partly because it’s so popular that there’s always a crowd in the Yosemite Valley! (I think, having grown up in Alaska where National Park access is regulated, I’m still shocked that the parks in the Lower 48 are open-access and can end up so crowded.)
The best way to experience Yosemite as part of this road trip is by driving the park road on the Yosemite Valley floor. You can park at get out to walk to sights like Bridalveil Fall, Mirror Lake, and other sweeping views of the Yosemite Valley. (My three-day Yosemite guide covers all of these and more if you want to spend more time and go hiking in Yosemite.)
Optional: Devils Postpile National Monument
From Yosemite, you’ll want to cross the Sierra Nevadas at Tioga Pass. This road is only open during the summer months, so if you’re planning a winter West Coast road trip, be sure to re-route a different way across the mountains further south, or adjust the order of parks you’re visiting (instead of Yosemite-Death Valley-Joshua Tree-Sequoia/Kings Canyon, do Yosemite-Sequoia/King’s Canyon-Death Valley-Joshua Tree).
If you do head to Death Valley from Yosemite, you can make an optional stop at Devils Postpile National Monument. This fascinating rock formation was created the same way as the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Volcanic action and cooling created a towering mass of geometric columns; you can visit them by parking and taking the mandatory shuttle bus to the various stops throughout the monument. Don’t skip Rainbow Falls
7. Death Valley National Park
You might wonder: isn’t Death Valley just an empty, super hot place? Yes, pretty much – but that’s also what makes it unique enough to earn National Park status! Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest National Park in the whole National Park System.
Hiking and stargazing are two of the most popular activities in Death Valley. If you’d rather explore by car, Badwater Road will take you through Badwater Basin to sights like Devils Golf Course, Golden Canyon, and Zabriskie Point.
8. Joshua Tree National Park
If I had to choose another favorite California National Park after the Redwoods, I would definitely say it’s Joshua Tree – maybe I should have been a botanist! I love this park for its namesake trees, crazy cacti, otherworldly scenery, and fantastic stargazing opportunities.
With just one day in Joshua Tree during your West Coast National Parks road trip, I recommend starting with sunrise in Cholla Cactus Garden, followed by an auto-tour of the sights in the park: Arch Rock, Skull Rock, Keys View, Hidden Valley, and Barker Dam. You can do some hiking at many of these spots too, to stretch out your legs after so many days in the car.
End the night with stargazing; like Death Valley, this is one of the best places to do so on the whole itinerary!
Optional: Channel Islands National Park
I really debated on marking Channel Islands National Park as optional on this list – it’s actually not optional on the map for this West Coast National Parks road trip at the top of the post.
In the end, I decided it was optional, as it requires adding several days (at least two) if you want to stop and visit Channel Islands National Park since you need to catch a ferry out to the islands and back.
If you do decide to visit the Channel Islands, start your journey from Los Angeles. The Catalina Express runs from San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point twice daily (with seasonal adjustments), and the Catalina Flyer sails from Newport Beach once daily. You can explore and spend the night in Catalina Island, go hiking, and keep an eye out for whales off the coast
9. Sequoia National Park
Mr. V and I made our first trip to Sequoia National Park in 2020 on our honeymoon road trip. As a huge (Redwood pun!) fan of the Coastal Redwoods and after a trip to northern Calaveras County with other Giant Sequoias, I was eager to see the biggest of the biggest trees on the planet.
Due to its proximity to Los Angeles, Sequoia National Park does draw crowds (like Yosemite and the San Francisco Bay Area), so I recommend staying in nearby Three Rivers, and starting your day early to explore Sequoia (and Kings Canyon) before continuing north on this read trip.
You can hike up to Moro Rock and walk to the largest tree (by volume) on earth, General Sherman. This tree towers 275 feet and over 100 feet in circumference.
10. Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park neighbors Sequoia National Park to the north, so it’s easy to visit both of these parks in a single day (morning in Sequoia, afternoon in King’s Canyon). Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center, and the General Grant tree – the largest in Kings Canyon National Park – and walk the trails at Sunset Loop and Dead Giant Loop to see other massive sequoias.
11. Pinnacles National Park
As you make your way north to end your West Coast National Parks road trip, there’s still one more park to visit! Pinnacles National Park is located south of the Bay Area, and is one of the lesser-visited despite all it offers.
Formed by volcanoes roughly 23 million years ago, Pinnacles is home to fascinating rock formations, cool caving opportunities, and a number of wildlife species you won’t find elsewhere – including some of the last population of wild California Condors. You can definitely do a day visit to Pinnacles as part of your final stretch on this road trip itinerary.
End: San Francisco
Finally, roll your wheels into San Francisco and take a breath – you’ve visited all (or almost all) of the National Parks on the West Coast! As I said, this is an epic – and long – road trip itinerary, but it’s also a chance to see many of the unique natural wonders that make the West so wonderful.
From here you can explore San Francisco more at your leisure, or check out other National Park units in the area (below).
Optional: San Francisco Area National Park Units
It should probably be no surprise that there are a number of National Park units in the Bay Area. Here are some you may want to visit – if you’re not completely wiped from the itinerary s ofar!
The famous prison of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay is now a tourist attraction. Catch a Ferry from Pier 39 to do a day or night tour and learn about the history.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Golden Gate National Recreation Area protects the Marin Headlands on the north side of the Golden Gate. It’s an awesome spot for photos, but also popular for hiking and strolling along the beach on the Pacific coast.
Muir Woods National Monument
You’ll need a car to reach Muir Woods, which is north of San Francisco on the Marin peninsula – but this is a great option if you skipped Redwoods National & State Parks earlier in the trip. You can explore famous Coastal Redwood groves here. Note that you need a reservation to visit.
Presidio of San Francisco
Formerly a military post to protect the Golden Gate, the Presidio of San Francisco is today a popular spot for outdoor recreation and enjoying sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay.
Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Monument
Across the Bay in Richmond (near Berkeley, not the one in San Francisco), you can visit the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Monument. It commemorates the civilian efforts in World War II.
San Francisco Maritime Historical National Park
Located near Fisherman’s Wharf, this Historical National Park covers the long and varied history of maritime activities in the San Francisco Bay and along the Pacific coast. It’s great for history buffs and nautical nerds.
One Last Tip for your Road Trip
If you’re totally sold on doing this West Coast National Parks road trip – or some version of it – I have one last tip to help you save money.
Be sure to invest in the America the Beautiful Pass.
I have a full review of why the America the Beautiful Pass is worth it, but in short, it will definitely save you money on this road trip itinerary. The pass, which costs $80, will get you access to every National Park and National Park unit on this itinerary; in total it will save you $170 compared to the $250 it would cost to pay for access to each park individually.
You can get the America the Beautiful Pass from REI.
Have other questions about planning your own West Coast national Parks road trip? Let me know in the comments!