The ultimate road trip to all national parks in the United StatesLast updated on
Sometimes grandparents deserve a grand gesture for all the efforts they have put in keeping the family together. Fortunately for 89-year-old Joy Ryan, the grand gesture is well planned and executed by her loving grandson Brad Ryan. In 2015, he decided to take his grandmother on a spectacular journey of all 61 U.S national parks. Joy Ryan had spent a very simple life in Duncan Falls, Ohio, with a dream to someday explore the majestic mountains and soak her feet in wet sand amidst playful ocean waves. What made her grandson finally make up his mind to make her dreams come true, was when she commented on one of his hiking excursions. “She told me at that time that she really, really regretted that she didn’t get to do more of that thing and have more experiences in life.” Brad stated. And hence began the journey of a lifetime. We are here to take you through all the national parks the duo has explored until now.
The Great Smoky Mountains Park
Grandma Joy was overjoyed to find out that their very first adventure would be hiking up the breathtaking Appalachian Trail, “She told me at that time that she really, really regretted that she didn’t get to do more of that type of thing and have more experiences in life. He said that Grandma Joy said she would’ve loved going camping, and wished she had seen mountains — she doesn’t even know what those look like, except what she’s seen on TV.” The beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains Park alone is enough to fulfill any travel’s dreams, with colorful array of wildflowers blooming all year round amidst lush green forests, and babbling brooks and river stream that set the mind at ease. They explored this park in the fall of 2015, when the weather was subdued and passive, with changing colors of leaves and a comfortable atmosphere, just perfect to start off their great adventure.
Badlands National Park
This was the second national park of their trip. Grandma joy happily states, “It’s been great, you can’t believe how beautiful these mountains are.” She was also ecstatic to see the wildlife including prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep, and adorable jackrabbits at the Badlands national park. Completing their 21 park circuit of 2017, they hit this park during a particularly bad storm but were lucky to not have their tent blown away! Grandma’s joy was thrilled and stated that they had a ball! The best part of this park is its dramatic landscapes and intricate rock formations, along with towering spires and steep canyons that are worth exploring.
Yellowstone National Park
This is one of their top favorites and the third stop of their exciting road trip. And surely, what’s not to love in this amazing volcanic hot spot with miles and miles of wilderness and beautiful nature preserves. There are spectacular views of dramatic canyons surrounded by lush green forest.
The gushing geysers and hot springs are perfect to blow off some steam and set the mind at ease. And of course, stopping by at the Old Faithful is a must! There are also a wide number of animal species including elk, antelope, bison, wolves and even bears that can be spotted while exploring the park. Brad’s Instagram is filled with pictures of Grandma Joy smiling ear to ear while enjoying iconic views of Yellowstone from Artist Point.
Grand Teton National Park
There are only a handful of natural treasures in the world that are as memorable and exquisite as the landscapes in Grand Teton national park. This park was the 4th one of their grand adventure, and they were thoroughly moved by views of tranquil valleys, pearly streams of rivers and quiet lakes are amazing to connect with nature. The abundant forests filled with a fresh aroma of pine cones amidst an array of wildflowers set the mind at ease, and a number of wildlife species can also be spotted while your exploration. Grandma Joy thoroughly enjoyed the boundless beauty of the park, as she gazed out at the vastness of nature’s exquisiteness from the summit of Signal Mountain. Brad plans to come back to climb the Grand Tetons one day.
Glacier National Park
Grandma Joy enjoyed the persistent spectacle of the lovely glacier national park, which was the fifth stop on their great adventure. It encompasses Montana’s Rocky Mountains, along with daunting snowy-white mountain peaks and valleys that stretch across the Canadian border. The national park offers over 700 miles of hiking trails with amazing views and picturesque beauty of the Hidden Lake. Grandma Joy’s favorite one was the Trail of Cedars boardwalk, which was one of the best hikes of her trip. She also enjoyed soaking her feet against a kaleidoscope of smooth stones by Lake McDonald.
Mount Rainier National Park
After the wonderful glaciers of glacier national park, it was now time for some colors with wildflowers and butterflies! Brad and Grandma Joy remember this place as a paradise filled with an explosion of colors. Mount Rainier national park is a true icon of the Washington landscape.
It has an active volcano and one of the most glaciated peaks. The icy volcano is beautified with subalpine wildflower meadows that are truly breathtaking and one of a kind. The lower slope of the park is adorned with an ancient forest that cloaks it like a blanket. The duo enjoyed spotting the wildlife while hiking and climbing in the wilderness.
Crater Lake National Park
Brad remembers the trip to Crater Lake national park very fondly. It was their 7th national park on the road trip. The beautiful and breathtaking sights in the national park made them stop several times during their road trip to stare at the great blue basin below. The entire rim of the collapsed volcano can be explored via road. Crater Lake happens to be the deepest lake in America, and it’s surrounded by Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon to enhance its beauty. The Rim Drive offers the best views of the volcanic formations. The park also encompasses a small island called the Phantom Ship. They enjoyed the lovely views of the island while hiking up the trails.
Redwood National and State Parks (NPS)
California’s redwood forests are a sight to behold. It was the 8th national park they visited during their road trip, and brad and grandma joy always go back to those lovely hikes where they enjoyed some of the most spectacular views of the national park. The giant redwoods are soaring high and can live over 2000 years. The duo marveled at the grandiose of the gigantic trees, and enjoyed the beaches and grasslands along California’s coast.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite national park is another top favorite of Grandma Joy. It covers a part of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and has characteristic colossal ancient sequoia trees. This was the 9th park of their trip, and they thoroughly enjoyed their time marveling at the spectacular views.
They drove through Yosemite Valley, walked through the meadow filled with brightly colored purple flowers and gaped at the mighty wall of El Capitan. Their trip was graced with clear skies and pleasantly sunny weather that enhanced the beauty of the Half Dome and made their trip truly gratifying.
Sequoia National Park
Another treasured part of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains is the Sequoia national park. It was the next park they hit after Yosemite. The characteristic sky-high sequoia trees made for a spectacular view against the backdrop of the magnificent mountains. The General Sherman Tree is the king of the Giant Forest, so of course, the duo had to take a picture next to it! They also explored the magical underground Crystal Cave, with impressive rock formations and flowing streams of pearly white water.
Kings Canyon National Park
This national park holds the same beauty and mystic of Sequoia national park, with a few perks of its own, which is why Grandma Joy and Brad made it the next stop of their trip. The deep valleys and soaring trees, the unique rock outcroppings and the backdrop of misty peaked mountains blew their minds away. John Muir once called it’s a rival of Yosemite. It’s one of the deepest canyons in America.
The Cedar Groove in the East has gigantic granite canyon walls, and the Zumwalt Meadow holds majestic Roaring River falls. It is also home to bears, cougars and rattlesnakes. Grandma Joy and Brad spent most nights of this visit inside a tent, and thoroughly enjoyed their camping adventures.
Joshua Tree National Park
Another great beauty in California is the Joshua Tree National Park, and can you believe that grandma Joy actually geared up and went for a hike on the Ryan Mountain Trail in the sweltering summer heat? It’s quite a milestone of anyone’s life to take their first hike and explore the wilderness at this age. The park has a keys view from which you can get sweeping sights of natural preserves and exquisite skull-shaped desert rocks. There are two distinct desert ecosystems, including the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert with wild cactus plants and rugged rock formations. The duo loved the beautiful views of the boulders of Hidden Valley and Coachella Valley during their hike.
Petrified Forest National Park
After seeing the best of California, the next stop of their road trip was Northeastern Arizona. This park has fossilized trees aging back to 225 million years. The breathtaking natural preserves of the park are a sight to behold, and made an adventurous part of Grandma Joy’s road trip. To the south of the park, you’ll find a beautiful rainbow forest museum, while the center has the rustic remains of the Puerco Pueblo village. The north covers the Painted Desert with a tasteful inn, museum and an old adobe building. Grandma Joy occasionally took the help of a walking stick, but that never dampened her spirits, and she explored the striking natural landscapes without missing out on a single thing!
Grand Canyon National Park
Another awestriking beauty in Arizona is the majestic Grand Canyons. Its beauty is so profound that it can overwhelm the senses and bring tears to the eyes. Imagine the wonderful sunrise early in the morning to further enhance the natural beauty of this national park.
Grandma joy surely enjoyed this majestic view. The immense Grand Canyon holds within every intricate layer of red rock, a million secrets of geological history. There are many viewing points throughout the park from where you can enjoy these magnificent views. The Lipan Point offers both the canyon views as well as the sight of Colorado River, which makes it one of the most popular spots during sunrise and sunsets.
Zion National Park
This was the 15th national park of their trip, and the very first one in the list of Utah’s 5 natural beauties they were determined to explore. Explaining the marvelous beauty of this park, Brad stated, “If there was life on Mars, perhaps it would look like Zion.” Such is the uniquely intricate and timeless beauty of the Zion canyon’s steep red cliffs. Every landscape and image holds within itself the complexities of time, color and structure to offer you a true masterpiece. There are great forest trails for hiking and exploring the national park along the Virgin River, flowing to the Emerald Pools with ethereal waterfalls. It also has a wonderful hanging garden and deep chasms. Grandma Joy and Brad were convinced they had landed on Mars!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park was the second national park in Utah that the duo visited. Brad and Grandma Joy were blown away by the intricate natural beauty of the crimson-colored hoodoos and spire-shaped unique rock formations. The park has several viewing points that are swarming with crowds during sunrise and sunset. There’s also a Rim Trail for hiking and enjoying the lovely views from a different angle and offers a more secluded experience.
Capitol Reef National Park
This national park covers Utah’s south-central desert and contains the natural preserves known as the Waterpocket Fold. It was the third park in Utah that the duo explored on their adventurous road trip. They explored the many canyons of the park, enriched with layers upon layers of golden sandstone, along with unique and striking rock formations.
The most notable parts of the park for them were the Hickman Bridge arch, Chimney Rock Pillar and the characteristic white sandstone domes of the Capitol Reef. The breathtaking landscapes surely made an excellent addition to Grandma Joy’s road trip.
Arches National Park
Arches national park was the duo’s fourth stop in Utah. It is one of the best national parks to explore by cars, as you can enjoy the views of over 2000 natural sandstone arches, which Grandma Joy thoroughly loved. The massive red-hued Delicate Arch and the thin Landscape Arch of the Devils Garden are one of the most famous arches of the park. Balanced Rock is another spectacular sight that the duo enjoyed during a lovely sunset.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands national park was the final stop in Utah during Grandma Joy’s road trip of 2017. She thoroughly enjoyed the deep cultural heritage and history held within every carving and rock of the national park. The most notable sight for them was the wall of petroglyphs known as Newspaper Rock. Other noteworthy viewpoints include the soaring rock pinnacles that are called the Needles, and the Horseshoe Canyon and Cataract Canyon that gushes with the sound of whitewater rapids flow.
Mesa Verde National Park
This national park consists of the Mesa Verde Dwellings that are truly noteworthy and some of the most well conserved archaeological sites of North America. It holds a very interesting history and preserves the Puebloan’s heritage and culture. Located in Colorado, this was the 20th national park of their road trip.
Besides exploring the archeological wonders of this park, the duo also enjoyed a fine BBQ by the wildflowers field and marveled at the colors and beauty of the canyons.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
This was another beautiful part of their Colorado road trip. Although the Great Sand Dunes national park is known for its huge dunes and canyons, they found beauty and joy in the simplest things at the park, like soaking their feet in wet sand and letting the playful waves wash over it at the Medano Creek and beach. As Grandma Joy’s greatest wish was to see the ocean, she surely enjoyed the lovely beaches of the national park. There are also a number of breathtaking views of the alpine lakes with tundra wildlife.
Everglades National Park
Grandma Joy and Brad thoroughly enjoyed the wildlife sightings at this park, and it may just be one of their most favorites! The manatees, in particular, stood out amongst the others. This park was a part of their Florida road trip, and it offered the largest wilderness areas of North America.
A constant stream of serene and refreshing freshwater runs through the park, and the beauty is enhanced with razor-sharp sawgrass called the ‘river of grass’ and striking mangrove swamps and island forests. The duo hiked up the Anhinga Trail together, and Grandma Joy earned her very first junior ranger badge at this park in the summers of 2018, which left her ecstatic and overjoyed!
Biscayne National Park
This national park covers the shorelines of northern Florida Keys, and encompasses a group of beautiful islands along with coral reef and mangrove forest. The grandma and grandson duo explored the island during their Florida road trip, and took a boat for Boca Chita Key. As Grandma Joy can’t swim, they spent most of the day on the island, enjoying the trails and lighthouse. Most of the island is only accessible via boat and has amazing reefs, along with dolphin sightseeing as well as turtles and pelicans. Boca Chita Key stands out amongst the rest for its iconic Boca Chita Lighthouse with lovely coastal views.
Dry Tortugas National Park
According to Brad, “taking the ferry through the blue Caribbean waters of the Dry Tortugas national park remains one of the most peaceful memories from Grandma Joy’s road trip.” This was the third spot of their Florida road trip. The lovely park encompasses 7 beautiful islands along with protected coral reefs. They enjoyed wonderful sights on the ferry. The Loggerhead Key offered views of a secluded lighthouse and adorable little sea turtles. Near the Loggerhead Reef, the Windjammer Wreck from the 1875 ship can be spotted as well.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Although this national park is located in Grandma Joy’s home state of Ohio, the duo explored this park after they had already visited over 20 US National Parks. While it was a short two hour day trip to the park, it was a worthy experience, surrounded by native plants and wildlife. The park has Cuyahoga River flowing deep into the thick forests, open farmlands and rolling hills. Walking down the Towpath trail offers a lovely view of the landscapes and Ohio and Erie Canal. Grandma Joy was ecstatic to share this experience with their family dog!
Acadia National Park
Acadia national park is the crown jewel of the North Atlantic coast of U.S. The majestic Cadillac Mountains offer amazing trails, and the summit offers wonderful views of the park with tranquil lakes and lush soaring trees and mountains. Grandma Joy and Brad enjoyed the sunset on their way to the summit of the Cadillac Mountain while being surrounded by refreshing greenery and flowers.
They also appreciated the abundance of habitats that helped them learn a lot about the rich cultural heritage of the place. The lovely mountains are a great spot to connect with your family, and Brad and Grandma Joy were able to bond over common interests.
Baxter State Park
Brad and Grandma Joy have enjoyed many great walks on the hiking trails running along the lake in Maine’s Baxter State Park. It is a great spot in summers to enjoy natural beauty alongside a wide array of wildflowers and soaring trees. You may even spot a moose during one of these walks as a hidden treasure of nature. They loved the wilderness area and the fun outdoor activities amidst a splendid backdrop of towering mountains.
Shenandoah National Park
Take a moment to stop and smell the flowers! Grandma Joy and Brad hit the Shenandoah National Park during the conclusion of the growing season where wonderful displays of asters, goldenrods and wild sunflowers poked from every corner to welcome the fall. The rich diversity of the lovely wildflowers is most evident during the spring season, and the Blue Ridge Mountains form an excellent backdrop to enrich their beauty.
You can enjoy the Wildlife Center of Virginia on your way, as Grandma Joy and Brad stopped by to appreciate the efforts of wildlife preservation, and pose for some fun pictures on their way to the park.
Congaree National Park
This park was a part of their most recent road trip to South Carolina. Congaree National Park offered them a lot of peaceful splendor, with an abundance of serene exquisiteness and unspoiled beauty. The boardwalk trail is the most famous one amongst many others. The tranquil tract is surrounded by lush green towering trees and wildflowers.
The due explored the park’s biggest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest. The trees of this park are also known as ‘champion trees’ for the nourishment they receive from the flowing Wateree Rivers.
Channel Islands National Park
The adventures of the Channel Islands National Park have just began for Brad and Grandma Joy. The weeklong road scholar educational adventure awaits them. Hiking to Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island offers amazing views of the landscape along with the rustic 1932 lighthouse.
The boat tours include a large pod of common dolphins waving their tails and swimming playfully along the sailing boat to accompany you. Each island has something unique to offer, like the sea caves of Painted Cave, and Torrey pines of Santa Rosa Island. Indiana Dunes National Park is next on their list after the Channel Islands!
Grandma Joy and Brad will continue to explore the national parks together and travel the whole country, one state at a time! We are thrilled to be a part of their journey and hope to hear of more wonderful things they experience during this historic road trip.