Living in North America, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to great road trips. You’ve no doubt heard of driving down the 101 from Oregon to California or exploring the Great Southwest (Nevada, Arizona, Utah), but how about exploring further inland among some of the most beautiful mountain views on the planet?
The Rocky Mountains, an enormous and incredibly scenic mountain range, stretch more than 3,000 miles (4,828 kms) from New Mexico all the way to northern British Columbia. The Rockies are home to seven of the most iconic national parks in North America—from the scenic Banff National Park with its bright blue lakes and snow-capped peaks to the historic Yellowstone National Park with its geothermal features and wildlife.
This road trip can be easily done in style and comfort, or it can be as rugged and adventurous as you’d like. Stay at five-star resorts, sleep under the stars in a tent, or mix it up and do both!
The top highlights of this trip include Jasper National Park (Alberta), Banff National Park (Alberta), Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta), Glacier National Park (Montana), Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming), Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming), and Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado).
Jasper National Park
This wild place is actually home to the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world, which makes it the perfect place to stargaze (there’s even a planetarium), partake in some astrophotography, or, if you’re really lucky, catch the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). One of Jasper’s biggest highlights is the “Hall of the Gods” located at the famous Spirit Island on Maligne Lake.
Banff National Park
Canada’s first national park is a wonder to behold. There’s no other place on Earth packed with as many blue-green lakes (the bright colors are caused by a glacial “silt” reflecting the sun) or scenic drives past glaciers and up to breathtaking vantage points. Banff’s highlights include the iconic Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, and it’s in close proximity to two equally stunning yet underrated National Parks: Yoho and Kootenay.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton is a majestic place, full of many hidden gems. Wildlife is very commonly spotted, even within the townsite. Waterton is home to one of the top-rated hikes in all of Canada: Crypt Lake Trail. Hikers are taken across Upper Waterton Lake on a speedboat, and they proceed to navigate a series of ladders, chains, and caves to reach a stunning lake whose tip actually rests across the Canada-US border in Montana.
Glacier National Park
A very short drive from Waterton Lakes is Glacier National Park. Glacier is stunningly beautiful and surprisingly quiet, given that it’s one of the most beautiful parks in North America. Take advantage of these crowdless wonders because they may not stay that way for long. Glacier’s highlights include the Going-to-the-Sun Road (an absolutely stunning drive through the mountains with hairpin turns and cliffs that expose some truly breathtaking scenery) and Lake McDonald (colorful pebbles line the shores of a crystal clear lake—a photographer’s dream).
Yellowstone National Park
Although Yellowstone is famous for its geysers, especially Old Faithful, there’s so much more to this park. With the geothermal activity that takes place in what is widely considered the first national park in the world, it’s as entertaining as it is educational. Make sure you don’t miss out on viewing the rainbow colors of the Grand Prismatic spring—but don’t get too close: These springs might be beautiful but they are extremely hot! Bison are frequently spotted roaming around the park too, so make sure to have your zoom lens with you.
Grand Teton National Park
Even if you never leave your car, you could still consider the Grand Tetons some of the most magnificent mountains you’ll ever see in your life. There is a forty-two-mile scenic loop that allows you to drive parallel to this towering range, from beginning to end. Make sure not to miss a sunrise or a sunset while you’re here—the way the mountains light up is truly unforgettable.
Rocky Mountain National Park
If you’re looking to spot wildlife, this is the place to do it! Known for its many moose and other ungulates (animals with hooves), Rocky Mountain National Park also offers some of Colorado’s best views and hikes. Some of the highlights of this beautiful area are Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Odessa Lake.
If you’re planning on doing this trip, make sure you spend a decent amount of time (two to three days) at each park. It’s pretty easy to want to stay at each one, but take notes on your favorites for when you plan to return—because you’ll definitely want to! Road trips can be exhausting, but they are also incredibly rewarding. Always remember: Life is about the journey, not the destination.