Did you know there are more than 400 national parks in the United States? While some are better known than others, each park has unique natural features to explore and wildlife to observe. A road trip is one way to experience these national treasures. The itinerary below takes you on a beautiful drive up the West Coast from California to Washington, allowing you to visit several national parks along the way.
Start your journey at Pinnacles National Park, less than an hour’s drive east of Salinas, California. There, you’ll find more than 30 miles of hiking trails, so bring your walking shoes, plenty of water and your camera or phone to snap some pictures worth sharing of the many rock formations. Those formations are remnants of multiple volcanic eruptions some 23 million years ago, the National Park Service says.
Next, head north about 130 miles to the City by the Bay, San Francisco. Watch the fog roll in at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, go whale watching at the Muir Beach Overlook, spot birds of prey above the Marin Headlands or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.
This windswept park about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco boasts 100 square miles, with more than half of it wilderness. You can visit the iconic lighthouse, which was built in 1870 after ships crashed on the rocks, according to the National Park Service. Wildlife watching, hiking, kayaking and camping are also popular here. Bring your binoculars and try to spot some of the 490 species of North American birds that can be found in the park, the Point Reyes National Seashore Association suggests.
From Point Reyes, head north on U.S. Highway 101 to Redwood National and State Parks. The five-hour journey will land you in California’s northwest corner. Here, it’s all about the trees. The redwoods are the world’s tallest trees, according to the National Park Service. You can take scenic drives through the park or hike. Whatever you do, don’t miss Fern Canyon, which may make you feel like you’ve walked onto the set of “Jurassic Park” with its lush moss and abundant greenery.
Next, leave California behind as you head a couple of hours northeast into Oregon. Indulge your inner spelunker (cave explorer) at the Oregon Caves, deep within the Siskiyou Mountains and about 300 miles south of Portland. Known as the Marble Halls of Oregon, they were formed by rainwater runoff from the forest above. Travel & Leisure suggests staying at the Chateau at the Oregon Caves, a rustic lodge that has been welcoming visitors since 1934.
For the last stretch of your road trip, head about 400 miles north on Interstate 5 until you reach Olympia, Washington. From there, hop back onto Highway 101 for a few hours until you arrive at Olympic National Park, just west of Seattle. The park offers whale watching, boating and hiking, in addition to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, the National Park Service says. Extending 25 to 50 miles from the coastline, it’s home to orcas, seals, starfish, coral and sponges, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration notes.
A journey up the coast can expose you to some of the extremes of nature. From volcanic rock formations to rugged coastlines, from huge whales to fierce hawks, these national parks offer a breathtaking array of natural wonders.