Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is home to a towering active volcano, which also happens to be the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. But that’s not the only reason to plan a trip there. The park is a two hour drive southeast from Seattle, two and a half hours northeast from Portland, and has five separate entrances. Once you’re in, the park’s 147 miles of roads are narrow and winding, but ideal for road trip exploration.
Coming in the Nisqually entrance will you along the Nisqually River to Longmire, where lodging and camping options are available. Continuing on, you’ll pass the Cougar Rock campground then arrive at aptly-named Paradise. Paradise is home to a beautiful visitor center and is the jumping off point for many Mount Rainier summit attempts. After a visit to Paradise, the park roads will bring you to the Stevens Canyon entrance and the nearby Grove of the Patriarchs. Continuing north gives you the option of visiting the park’s White River entrance and the Sunrise Visitor Center.
When you’re not on the road, be sure to go for a hike on the park’s 260 miles of maintained trails. The Nisqually Vista Trail, Rampart Ridge, and Panorama Point are ideal day hiking options, but be sure to check trail conditions when you arrive.
Olympic National Park
When it comes to ideal parks to drive around in, Olympic National Park is near the top of the list by virtue of the fact that day’s drive, visitors can see stunning Pacific Ocean shoreline, old growth forests, and wild glaciated peaks. U.S. Highway 101 makes the entire Olympic Peninsula accessible, including must-see destinations like Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, Kalaloch, Sol Duc, and the Quinault Rainforest. Though circumnavigating the peninsula can be done in two days, you’ll want to take your time.
Drive an hour south of Seattle to Olympia to pick up Highway 101, or take the ferry to Bainbridge Island and head west from there. Circumnavigating the peninsula counter clockwise, make a left up Hurricane Ridge Road for your first stop. In good weather, the views are unparalleled. Next, follow Highway 101 to Lake Crescent. Admire the beautiful blue water, visit Marymere Falls, and spend the night at Lake Crescent Lodge, the Log Cabin Resort, or the Fairholme campground. Continue to follow
Highway 101 west to the Pacific Coast, stopping at Kalaloch and Ruby Beach. They’re popular destinations in the park, and with good reason. Kalaloch hosts a lodge and campgrounds for overnight stays as well as numerous hiking trails. Keep following Highway 101 south for 30 miles to Lake Quinault for more stunning views and lodging options as well as camping and hiking.
Acadia National Park
Though America’s western national parks are spectacular road trip destinations, so is Maine’s Acadia National Park. It’s smaller than both Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks by a long shot, but what Acadia lacks in size, it makes up for in true beauty. Just a four and a half hour drive from Boston, Acadia’s Park Loop Road’s 27 miles give visitors beautiful coastal views and access to quiet forests. The park is a popular destination in the summer months, and with good reason.
Access to Park Loop Road is possible via a number of intersecting thoroughfares on Mt. Desert Island. Coming in via Paradise Hill Road to the north gives you immediate access to the Hulls Cover Visitor Center. Follow the road south to Park Loop Road and head southwest for quick access to Cadillac Mountain, a must-see destination in Acadia National Park. Visiting for sunrise or sunset is highly recommended. After driving up to Cadillac Mountain, head back down to Park Loop Road and continue south to the Jordan Pond House and enjoy popovers on the lawn.
In addition to Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond, the Bass Harbor Head Light, Isle Au Haut, Otter Cliffs and Thunder Hole are all must-visit Acadia destinations. Hiking trails like the Jordan Pond Path and Bubble Rock Trail are ideal moderate difficulty hiking options, and if you don’t have a fear of heights, the Beehive Trail is a must. Biking, rock climbing, fishing, and horseback riding are also great options for getting the most out of your visit.
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