Photo: Randy Olson

The Optimal Itinerary for a US National Park Road Trip, Mapped

United States Travel Maps + Infographics
by Morgane Croissant Tim Wenger Mar 3, 2022

RANDY OLSON, a computer science and engineering Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State University, is a man who likes to design road trips. He has previously organized the ultimate US road trip and the best cross-Canada journey and, this time, Olson created an itinerary that would allow travelers to see every single national park in the 48 contiguous states without wasting any time (or stuffing their backpacks too full). Since Olson’s map was released in 2016, four new national parks have been added to the system. So Matador Network added them to a new map, creating the ultimate national park road trip.

Before you head out, stock up on the best backpacking gear for your epic trip — you’ll be glad you did.

Here is Olson’s original map form 2016:

2016 US National Parks road trip

Map: Randy Olson / Google

This ultimate national park road trip covers 16,847 miles and it would take you about two months to complete the loop if you’re going “at a breakneck speed.” In other words, you’d better take a few months off work before getting on the road.

This, of course, isn’t an exhaustive list of the national park system. There’s a national park (or national monument, or national forest) nearby just about everywhere there’s people in the US — as well as many places where there aren’t a whole lot of people. If you want to just find the closest national park regardless of where you are, there’s a map for that, too, that covers all 423 sites. Just make sure you have the proper entry permits for the type of activities you want to do no matter which park you go to. After all, there’s a national park that’s a good fit for just about every type of traveler.

Here’s Matador Network’s new ultimate national park road trip map:

Here’s a list of all the national parks included in this new itinerary. Note that you can start the trip at any stop in the loop.

To find out more about this particular itinerary and Olson’s research, visit his website.

A version of this article was previously published on May 26, 2017, and was updated on August 2, 2021, and March 3, 2022, with more information.

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