Trip Planning: 8 National Parks and 1,600 Miles…… in only 4 Days

This year, the National Park Service turns 100! And what better way to celebrate than to pack the year by trying to visit as many of the parks as possible? The people in my life know that I tend to plan overly ambitious trips pretty regularly… and since I am neither independently wealthy nor blessed with endless vacation days, this practice has become a necessity. I have gotten really good at packing a large amount of excitement into a very short amount of time, and thought I should share my own plans and maybe help inspire one of your own adventures.

So without further ado, let’s get into the details: For the first major trip of 2016, my girlfriend Kelly and I will be jetting off to Arizona, Utah, and Colorado for a 4-day semi-road trip adventure. This trip is similar to my August 2015 trip, but California and Nevada are being replaced by Colorado. (Having already been to California and Nevada several times, it seemed better to add a state I have yet to see, and Colorado fit the bill.) The other major difference here is that this trip will be substantially shorter, so the hikes we are planning in the various parks will be far less ambitious by comparison. Luckily, the National Parks offer a number of day hikes that are short on mileage, but big on views and experience!

The rough itinerary is to fly out after work from New Jersey to Phoenix, AZ. Once we land, we would be picking up our rental car and spending the night in Phoenix before setting off bright and early to meander our way through the Southwest – hitting a total of 8 National Parks in 4 days, before taking a night flight home from Denver, CO.

The Parks we intend to visit (in order) are listed below.

  1. Grand Canyon National Park
  2. Zion National Park
  3. Capitol Reef
  4. Arches National Park
  5. Canyonlands National Park
  6. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  7. Rocky Mountain National Park

Given the time restraints we are facing due to the massive amount of miles covered, we will not be able to linger too long in any one location or park. Instead, our mission for the trip will be to see as much as possible and complete as many of the shorter hikes as we can. I think we have done a really great job of maximizing the impact of this trip and the variety of landscapes and experiences we will have in the short time available. Here are some of the shorter hikes we definitely plan to do along the way. Hikes in the remaining parks will be decided on-the-fly, based on time.

  • Angels Landing (Zion NP)
  • Three Patriarchs to Emerald Pools (Zion NP)
  • Hickman Bridge Trail (Capitol Reef NP)
  • Cassidy Arch (Capitol Reef NP)
  • Delicate Arch (Arches NP)
  • Gem Lake (Rocky Mountain NP)

The ultimate goal of this trip was to sample as many diverse places as possible to not only see what each place has to offer but also to decide where we would like to spend more time in the future. There are still so many parks I want to visit and so many vistas to take in. At this point, it feels counterproductive to me to plan a trip to only one specific place when you might find out you hate it there or that there is another place you may like more.

Having only been to some of the locations listed, I welcome suggestions on what might be worth doing/seeing in each location with the time limitations we have. I am also happy to go into more detail regarding any part of our itinerary so don’t hesitate to comment below or shoot me an e-mail, I am always happy to discuss trip planning! After we get back you can expect to hear all about it with my regular trip reports in detail.


  1. Note..Zion is visited by a shuttle bus stopping at vital parts of the park. You cannot drive in. Plan a few days there. Moab (Arches), likewise. Youdrive around and the hikes are quite long and very hot and must be carefully done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Kenneth thanks for reading. Luckily the Zion shuttle does not run in the winter months so you have more freedom and can park inside the park. Although even in the summer you can still drive through the park you just cant park your car on the side of the road.

      Your advice for Arches is solid but luckily as its winter the heat will thankfully or not so thankfully not be a factor.


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