Imagine being on the open road for 80 days from start to finish. That is 11 weeks and 3 days. 1,920 hours. 115,200 minutes. 6,912,000 seconds of road trip bliss. 22% of the year on one awesome summer National Park road trip across the United States and into Canada driving over 10,000 miles!
What does this EPIC national parks road trip cover? 13 states, 15 national parks, and two Canadian provinces.
- U.S. States: Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa.
- National Parks: Badlands, Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Kootenay, Yoho, Cascades Loop, Mt. Rainier, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of Gunnison, and Rocky Mountain.
- Canadian Provinces: Alberta and British Columbia.
Our road trip planner below includes detailed information, maps, pictures, and a full itinerary to get you started in planning your unforgettable trip!
But if you like guidebooks, pick up a Fodor’s National Park Road Trips book to take with you on your journey! It has multiple itineraries, things to do, local insider advice, and a detailed national parks map.
Road Trip Map
You can customize our Google National Parks Map to make your very own road trip USA planner by making a copy and saving it to My Maps in Google.
HOW TO SAVE THIS MAP: If you select the star icon, you can save this map to your Google Maps account. To view it, open Google Maps on your desktop or on your phone, select the menu button, go to “Your Places,” scroll to the right to Maps, and you will see this map.
Summer National Park Road Trip Itinerary Summary
National Park Road Trip from Chicago, Illinois
- Austin, Minnesota (1 night)
- Badlands National Park, South Dakota (1 night)
- Custer State Park, South Dakota (7 nights)
- Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming (1 night)
- Yellowstone National Park (7 nights)
- Butte, Montana (1 night)
- Glacier National Park, Montana (7 nights)
- Banff National Park, Canada (7 nights)
- Jasper National Park, Canada (7 nights)
- Kamloops, British Columbia (1 night)
- Cascades Loop National Park, Washington (3 nights)
- Leavenworth, Washington (3 nights)
- Mount Rainier National Park (7 nights)
- Baker City, Oregon (1 night)
- Twin Falls, Idaho (1 night)
- Pocatello, Idaho (1 night)
- Moab, Utah (5 nights)
- Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (2 days)
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado (2 days)
- Vail, Colorado (5 days)
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (7 nights)
- Lincoln, Nebraska (1 night)
- Chicago, Illinois
Keep Scrolling for Detailed Information on Lodging and Cost
Day 1: Chicago, Illinois to Austin, Minnesota
If you have your own RV, trailer, or tent then great! If not, and you are interested in renting an RV from Chicago or your home state, check out RVShare, one of the largest RV rental marketplaces.
On day one, we drove to pick up our borrowed pop up trailer and received a crash course on how to use it since it is a first for us.
It’s time for you to head out on your first full day of adventure!
From Chicago, stop in the lovely river town of La Crosse, Wisconsin for the afternoon where you will find a great lunch place with local beer, a beautiful shrine with a walking path, and an awesome view of the Mississippi River.
Things to Do: Welcome to Wisconsin Sign, The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Grandad Bluff, Dublin Square Irish Pub, Riverside Park, and Gardens.
Driving Info: 305 miles, 5hrs 40 minutes
Where to Stay: Cobblestone Hotel & Suites in Austin, Minnesota
Full Disclosure: Some of the links included in this article are affiliate links, if you book through it we will receive a small commission at no additional charge to you.
Day 2: Austin, Minnesota to Kadoka, South Dakota
It is time for goofy roadside attractions to break up the long drive to South Dakota! Today is basically a driving day to get you where you need to go. You’ll be on Interstate 90 all day and it’s quiet with the exception of some quirky stops along the way.
Who can pass up a jolly green giant, a palace made of corn, or THE most well-known roadside attraction in the entire United States?
Things to Do: SPAM Museum, Jolly Green Giant Statue, Falls Park in Sioux Falls, Corn Palace, and Wall Drug Store.
Driving Info: 475 miles, 6hrs 50 minutes
Where to Stay: Americas Best Value Inn in Kadoka, South Dakota
Day 3: Badlands National Park to Custer State Park, South Dakota
If it’s your first time visiting Badlands National Park expect to be blown away! It is like being on the moon. No, like being on another planet. Wait, no. It’s something you can’t put into words, you just have to see it with your own eyes.
If you aren’t traveling with camping equipment, check out Custer’s Bavarian Inn. With indoor and outdoor pools and rave reviews, i’s on our list for future travels.
Things to Do: Top 6 Things to Do in Badlands National Park
Driving Info: 155 miles, 3hrs 30 minutes
Days 4 – 10: Custer State Park, South Dakota
If you can afford to spend at least five days in Custer State Park, you will not be disappointed. Our Top 10 Reasons to Custer State Park covers all the amazing things to see and do in and near the park.
You’ll see wildlife up close and personal, hike to the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains, witness the world’s largest mountain carving at Crazy Horse, walk the streets of the Wild West, experience the famous national historic monument, Mount Rushmore, and watch cascading waterfalls on Spearfish Scenic Byway, one of the prettiest drives.
Your takeaway from this week will be: how is this state park not a national park?
Things to Do: Wildlife Loop Drive, Crazy Horse Memorial, Lead, Mount Rushmore, Jewel Cave National Park, Spearfish Canyon, Deadwood, Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, Needles Highway, and Black Elk Peak.
Where to Stay: Stockade Lake South Campground, Custer State Park, South Dakota
Day 11: Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming
The next stop is Yellowstone National Park. If you take a look on the route to see if there’s anything interesting on the way, you’ll notice a big green space, the Bighorn National Forest. Add it to your itinerary because it is super scenic.
Driving Info: 222 miles, 3hrs 30 minutes
Where to Stay: The Budget Inn Express, Sheridan, Wyoming
Days 12 – 19: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Today, you’ll arrive at the first national park in America: Yellowstone. Oh happy days, oh happy days. Our 5-day Yellowstone Itinerary and 2-day Grand Teton Guide will help you experience all the best places in a limited amount of time.
Like the four must-see natural wonders, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and where to see wildlife like when we saw our first grizzly bear sighting. Find out what it is like camping with no electricity in Yellowstone
Where to Stay: Grant Village Campground, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Day 20: Butte, Montana
It’s a boring day of driving, but up next is Glacier National Park and there’s nothing boring about that.
Driving Info: 323 miles, 6hrs 23 minutes
Where to Stay: Best Western Plus, Butte, Montana
Days 21 – 27: Glacier National Park, Montana
Be still my beating heart Glacier National Park! If you can’t make it to every national park on this list but are looking for a few that will blow your mind, add Glacier to your trip. You will not be unsatisfied with that decision.
Read here for a full Glacier National Park Itinerary.
Things to Do: one of the most beautiful drives in America, waterfall hike and a celebrity sighting, crossing over Canada to see what their national park is all about, and the craziest experiences in Glacier when we hiked with a grizzly bear and her cub.
Driving Info: 265 miles, 4hrs 30 minutes
Where to Stay: St. Mary Campground, Glacier National Park, Montana
Days 28 – 34: Banff National Park, Canada
At this point, you’ll realize you chose the absolute best order of things because the sights and sounds keep getting better and better.
When you get to Banff National Park, you’ll probably find yourself on a loop. Saying over and over again, “this looks like a fake backdrop. How can this be real? I always thought the pictures of this place were filtered.” Guess what? NOPE.
Things to Do: Our Best of Banf List includes Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Parker Ridge Hike, Tunnel Mountain Drive, postcard-worthy locations like Vermillion Lakes, the unforgettable Icefields Parkway, with a side trip to Kootenay National Park.
Driving Info: 257 miles, 4hrs 25 minutes
Where to Stay: Tunnel Mountain Campground, Banff National Park
Days 35 – 41: Jasper National Park, Canada
It is week five of the road trip and you will have seen so much! Next is Jasper National Park where you’ll ride the tram to soaring heights with amazing views, take one of the prettiest hikes you’ve ever been on, climb 2,100 feet in a day, soak your weary bones in a hot spring, and take a boat ride to incredible scenery.
You’ll find it all here at Jasper National Park Things to Do.
Driving Info: 204 miles, 2hrs 25 minutes
Where to Stay: Wabasso Campground, Jasper National Park
Day 42: Kamloops, British Columbia
It’s another driving day to get some miles behind you before crossing back into the United States.
If you aren’t too exhausted when you arrive, an optional viewpoint in the area is the Kamloops Viewpoint in Riverside Park, where the two rivers meet.
Driving Info: 304 miles, 6hrs 10 minutes
Where to Stay: Quality Inn, Kamloops, British Columbia
Days 43 – 45: Cascades Loop National Park, Washington
Before you cross over the border, you’ll be passing through a huge orchard area with a ton of farms, vineyards, and markets. Plan to stop by and pick up some fresh fruit at a local stand.
Then you’ll arrive in the adorable town of Winthrop. In this day and age of technology, it is extremely difficult to be surprised by anything. Yet on this segment of the trip, I think the small town of Winthrop will throw you for a loop. It has an Old Western feel and you’ll dig it.
Also, the Heather Maple Pass hike in Cascades Loop National Park will leave you speechless.
Driving Info: 247 miles, 5hrs 40 minutes
Where to Stay: Big Twin Lakes Campground, Winthrop, Washington
Days 46 – 48: Leavenworth, Washington
Old-world charm is what you’ll get in Leavenworth, Washington. The beautiful streets lined with bountiful flower baskets amid a mountain backdrop is the perfect stop for a few days.
Driving Info: 113 miles, 2hrs 10 minutes
Where to Stay: Alpine View RV Park, Leavenworth, Washington
Days 49 – 55: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
After a short city break, you’ll head back to the mountains. Since Mount Rainier National Park’s main focus is the mountain, we thought it was going to be a one-hit wonder. We could not have been more wrong!
We loved every minute of being in the park, here are the highlights: the paradise trail, canopied old growth towering trees, our absolute favorite hike, and walking on an active volcano at Mount St. Helens.
Driving Info: 180 miles, 3hrs 20 minutes
Where to Stay: Cascade Peaks Campground, Randle, Washington
Day 56: Baker City, Oregon
Another long driving day to get you closer to Idaho.
Driving Info: 315 miles, 5hrs 20 minutes
Where to Stay: Bridge Street Inn, Baker City, Oregon
Day 57: Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho
After exploring a little of Idaho, you’ll be fondly saying, “Idaho isn’t just potatoes!”
You’ll discover many awesome things to do in Idaho including what felt like a walk on the moon, an impressive gushing waterfall, and the spot where Evil Knieval failed at his attempt to skyrocket over a huge gorge.
Things to Do: Malad River Canyon, Twin Falls, Craters of the Moon National Monument, and Shoshone Falls Park.
Driving Info: 250 miles, 3hrs 50 minutes
Where to Stay: Quality Inn, Twin Falls, Idaho
Day 58: Pocatello, Idaho
No major stops today, just make your way to Utah. Since you’ll be near a university, there are a lot of restaurant options, head over to the below brewery for a beer and fantastic food to cap the day off.
Things to Do: Portneuf Valley Brewery.
Driving Info: 117 miles, 1hr 45 minutes
Where to Stay: Days Inn, Pocatello, Idaho
Days 59 – 60: Arches National Park, Utah
It is time to switch gears and go from the rugged mountain landscape to glowing red rock country. Did you know Arches National Park has the largest number of sandstone arches in the country?
Check out our 2-day Arches itinerary of this remarkable park.
Driving Info: 395 miles, 6hrs
Where to Stay: Canyonlands RV Park, Moab, Utah
Day 61 – 62 Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Sitting on a mesa overlooking the extraordinary landscape of Canyonlands National Park and you’ll feel small and insignificant yet powerful and important all at the same time.
Utah is a powerful place; it definitely speaks to your soul.
Where to Stay: Canyonlands RV Park, Moab, Utah
Day 63: Dead Horse State Park, Utah
So many people overlook state parks and if this trip doesn’t reinforce the theory that some of them are just as magnificent as national parks, I don’t know what does.
Dead Horse State Park only has seven miles of hiking and is a small park, but the panoramic views from the rim are unbelievable. That view may look familiar to you if you’ve ever seen the movie, Thelma and Louise.
Where to Stay: Canyonlands RV Park, Moab, Utah
Days 64 – 65: Mesa Verde National Park
At Mesa Verde National Park, you’ll be taken back to early civilization days. Discover ancient cliff dwellings and archeological sites at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, the largest archeological preserve in the United States.
Things to Do: Ranger-guided tour of Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Long House Dwellings, Self-Guided Tour of the Step and Bruce Tree House, hike the Petroglyph Point Trail, Chapin Mesa Museum, drive the Mesa Top Loop, Park Point Fire Overlook, Soda Canyon Overlook, and Far View Sites.
Driving Info: 128 miles, 2hrs 20 minutes
Where to Stay: Morefield Campground
Days 66 – 67: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks
Two words come up often when researching Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: deep and steep. It is a unique park with sheer dropoffs, striking landscapes, and a raging river that has shaped the area.
Things to Do: East Portal Scenic Drive, a boat ride from Curecanti National Recreation Center, North Rim, Cimarron, Montrose County Historical Museum, Rim Rock Nature Trail, and the Chasm View Nature Trail.
Driving Info: 180 miles, 4hrs
Where to Stay: South Rim Campground
Days 68 – 72: Vail, Colorado
Summer is a fabulous time of year to be in Colorado. The flowers are blooming, the air is warm, and the charming small towns are lively with festivals and events. Here are a few of the best things we found in and around Vail.
Things to Do: Copper Mountain Chairlift, Hanging Lake Hike, Independence Pass Scenic Drive, Minturn, Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Horseback Riding, and Glenwood Hot Springs.
Driving Info: 200 miles, 4hrs
Where to Stay: Gore Creek Campground
Days 72 – 78: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Your final national park of the road trip, number fifteen is Rocky Mountain Park! Can you believe it? 15 national parks in one road trip!
Rocky Mountain National Park is the third most visited park in the United States because of its close proximity to the city of Denver. The soaring mountains are softened by quiet valleys and gentle slopes. The park is not only lovely but the town of Estes Park is ideal for walking around.
Driving Info: 158 miles, 3hrs
Where to Stay: Estes Park Campground, Estes Park, Colorado
Day 79: Lincoln, Nebraska
Time to pack up and hit the road to work on getting home to Chicago.
Take the traveler’s route in Nebraska across historic Lincoln Highway, stop at the world’s largest rail yard, take in views at the state capitol building and wander around a sunken garden.
Driving Info: 525 miles, 7hrs 40 minutes
Where to Stay: Red Roof Inn, Lincoln, Nebraska
Day 80: Chicago, Illinois
Home sweet home Chicago. And so they say, that’s the end of the road folks! Hope you enjoy the trip as much as we did!
HOW MUCH DID OUR 80-DAY NATIONAL ROAD TRIP COST? SEE BELOW FOR COST AND LODGING INFORMATION
Cost of 80 Day National Park Road Trip
*Special Note: We attempted to stay at low-cost but good-reviewed hotels when driving to and from areas when we just had 1 night here and there so we didn’t have to set up. Some of these motels/inns have changed names or closed so I linked to comparable places above so you could get an idea of the cost if you were to follow our exact itinerary*
Unfortunately, summer is the busiest season for most of these parks so we are not able to book as we go and are stuck with a rigid itinerary as campgrounds book up regularly. On the positive side, it has allowed us to have full transparency before we hit the road on how much this crazy ride will cost us!
We redeemed a free night earned previously with Hotels.com’s Reward Program– stay 10 nights, earn one free. We are also using IHG hotel loyalty points to cover two additional hotel nights. These three complimentary stays combined with the seven free nights with family, significantly reduce our overall lodging costs. Taking into account our hotel stays, campground fees and staying with family, our average cost per night is $29. Excluding the free family nights (as some of you might not have that option) the average cost per night is $33.
LODGING BREAKDOWN: HOTELS $60, CAMPGROUNDS $28, FAMILY STAYS $0
AVERAGE COST PER NIGHT $29
The total cost of 80 days on the road was $6,233, that’s $78 per day and includes all costs. See our expense breakdown for more detail.
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What’s the longest road trip you have ever taken? What do you think are the best road trip destinations in North America?
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