5 National Parks in 14 days: An Epic Summer Road Trip

Our crew looks forward to our road trips every year.  For us, there’s nothing better than packing up the car, blasting our favorite tunes, and hitting the open road for an epic adventure.  We put a pause on work, school, social media, practices, and everything else on our never-ending to-do list, and instead make family time and creating memories the only thing on our minds for a few weeks.  Our crew is a huge fan of all road trips, but this is definitely one you won’t forget! 

This itinerary includes 5 National Parks- Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  And as an extra bonus, you cannot visit the Rapid City area without a stop at Custer State Park😊 As always, please reach out with any questions and we wish you a wonderful adventure!

Must Know Before You Go

  • This itinerary starts and stops in Rapid City, South Dakota.  We drove to Rapid City from the Midwest so that is where we started.  However, because it is a full loop, you could start at any location on the loop depending on where you live or flights available.
  • For this itinerary,  I highly recommend an America the Beautiful Pass.  It covers the entrance fees for over 2,000 federal recreation sites, including all National Parks.  It also makes your entrance into most parks a little quicker😊 If you have a 4th grader in your crew, check out Every Kid Outdoors to get a free National Park Pass instead!
  • At this time, none of the parks in this itinerary require timed entry or advance tickets for 2023.
  • Throughout the itinerary, there are add on days if you have extra time.  If you start this itinerary on a Friday, you will have 16 days to work with, instead of 14.  Also, we always try and schedule part of our trip around a holiday to get us a few more days without using any more vacation time from work. 
  • If you click on any park name throughout the itinerary it will take you to a park specific post with more information on lodging, dining, cell service, and trail tips for that specific park. 
  • Packing/Lodging tip: We try and make sure our midway lodging option has laundry services so that we only have to pack clothing items for one week instead of two😊 
  • For the first 4 nights, I recommend staying in either Rapid City or a nearby town(the Black Hills have so many wonderful towns!). We stayed in the town of Custer. It was so lovely and a perfect location for the first three parks!

Day 1

  • Fly or drive to Rapid City, South Dakota.

Day 2

Badlands National Park

  • Badlands Loop Road
  • Door Trail (0.75 mi.)
  • Window Trail (0.25 mi.)
  • Notch Trail (1.5 mi.)
  • Cliff Shelf Nature Trail (0.5 mi.)
  • Ben Reifel Visitor Center
  • Fossil Exhibit Trail (0.25 mi.)
  • Castle Trail
  • Sage Creek Rim Road

Day 3

Wind Cave National Park

  • Garden of Eden Cave Tour
  • Prairie Vista Trail (1 mi.)
  • Bison Flats
  • Wind Canyon Trail (3.8 mi.)
  • Rankin Ridge Trail (1 mi.)

Day 4

Custer State Park

  • Needles Highway (14 mi.)
  • Cathedral Spires Trail (3 mi.)
  • Lover’s Leap Trail (3 mi.)
  • Wildlife Loop Road (18 mi.)

*Optional Add on Day*

Custer State Park

  • Black Elk Peak via Trail 9 (7 mi.)
  • Swimming at Sylvan Lake
  • Sylvan Lake Trail (1 mi.)
  • Iron Mountain Road (18 mi.)

Day 5

  • Drive to Jackson, Wyoming (~ 500 mi. depending on where you choose to stay near Rapid City)

Grand Teton National Park

  • Taggart Lake (3 mi.)
  • Moose-Wilson Road Scenic Drive (8 mi.)

Day 6

Grand Teton National Park

  • Discovery Trail (0.3 mi.)
  • Jenny Lake Boat Shuttle
  • Hidden Falls/Inspiration Point/Cascade Canyon (10 mi.)
  • Jenny Lake Scenic Drive (4 mi.)
  • Willow Flats Overlook

Day 7

Grand Teton National Park

  • String Lake/Leigh Lake Trails (6 mi.)
  • Canoeing/Swimming at String and Leigh Lakes
  • Schwabacher Landing Trail (1.5 mi.)
  • Antelope Flats Road/Mormon Road
  • Snake River Overlook
  • Oxbow Bend

*Optional Add on Day*

Grand Teton National Park

  • Delta Lake (7.5 mi.)
  • Signal Mountain
  • Jackson Lodge
  • Lakeshore Trail (2 mi.)

Day 8

  • Drive to Yellowstone National Park (~50 mi. to Yellowstone’s South Entrance from Jackson)

Yellowstone National Park (West Yellowstone)

  • Old Faithful
  • Upper Geyser Basin Boardwalk to Morning Glory Pool (3 mi.)
  • Observation Point (1.5 mi.)
  • Grand Prismatic Overlook (0.8 mi. one way)
  • Fairy Falls (5 mi. including GP Overlook)
  • Grand Prismatic Spring
  • Gibbon Falls
  • Norris Geyser Basin
  • Back Basin (Long Loop, 1.6 mi.)
  • Porcelain Basin (Long Loop, 0.6 mi.)

Day 9

Yellowstone National Park (North Yellowstone)

  • Mammoth Hot Springs Upper Terrace Drive (2 mi.)
  • Boardwalk through Mammoth Hot Springs (depending on route approx. 2 mi.)
  • Undine Falls
  • Wraith Falls (1 mi.)
  • Petrified Tree
  • Lost Lake Trail (2.8 mi.)
  • Lamar Valley Scenic Drive (28 mi. one way)
  • Tower Falls (0.9 mi.)

Day 10

Yellowstone National Park (East Yellowstone)

  • North Rim Scenic Drive
  • Brink of Lower Falls (0.7 mi.)
  • Lookout Point
  • Grandview Overlook
  • Inspiration Point
  • Brink of Upper Falls
  • Artist Point
  • South Rim Trail (3.5 mi.)
  • Hayden Valley (7 mi. drive one way)
  • Mud Volcano (0.6 mi.)
  • Storm Point Hike (2.5 mi.)
  • West Thumb Geyser Basin (1 mi.)

Day 11

  • Drive to Medora, North Dakota (~450 mi. from Yellowstone National Park)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

  • Painted Canyon Visitor Center
  • Painted Canyon Nature Trail (1 mi.)

Day 12

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit)

*Mountain Time

  • South Unit Visitor Center
  • Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin
  • Scenic Loop Drive
  • Skyline Vista Trail (0.2 mi.)
  • Wind Canyon Trail (0.5 mi.)
  • Boicourt Trail (0.6 mi.)
  • Buck Hill Trail (0.4 mi.)
  • Ridgeline Nature Trail (0.6 mi.)

Day 13

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Unit)

*Central Time

  • Scenic Drive
  • Little Mo Nature Trail (long loop- 1.4 mi.)
  • River Bend Overlook
  • Caprock Coulee Trail (4.5 mi.)
  • Oxbow Overlook
  • Sperati Point (2.4 mi.)

Day 14

  • Drive to Rapid City, North Dakota (~230 mi. from Medora, ND)

Have a wonderful adventure!

family photo for Always Exploring

Meet the Johnsons

Welcome to Always Exploring! We are the Johnsons. We would love to have you follow along as we explore the world one adventure at a time! Here you will find itineraries to all of our explorations that will hopefully be helpful in your own adventure planning!

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