Guide to the Western Loop: Visiting the Western National Parks

Last updated on August 30th, 2021 at 09:54 am. Originally published on December 7th, 2020

Some of the most amazing sights in the US are on the western side of the country. This is where you can find wide open spaces, incredible geological formations, giant mountains, dry deserts, and so much more. For this reason, RV trips out west and visits to the western national parks are incredibly popular.

Why do people choose to take their RVs rather than staying in hotels? Because an RV offers freedom to get up and go where you want, when you want. It allows you to park wherever you see fit and sleep in some of the United States’ most beautiful places in complete comfort. It allows you to cook your own meals, saving you money and making it possible to stay on the road longer. And, it gives you a bathroom to use no matter where you may roam.

Class C in California at night

Choosing Rigs for RV Trips Out West

Of course, if you don’t have an RV of your own, you’ll have to find one you can use for your west coast RV trip. This is where RV rentals come into play. There are thousands of rental RVs available, and they come in all shapes and sizes. This means you can pick the perfect RV for your western US adventure.

Here are a few of our favorite tips for picking a motorhome or trailer that best suits an RV trip out west.

Go Small

While a big RV might be tempting, especially if you’ll be on an extended vacation, the smaller you are comfortably able to go, the better off you’re going to be.

A smaller RV allows you to fit into tight spaces and will give you the opportunity to camp in national parks that have lower vehicle size limits. A smaller RV will also be easier to drive in national parks, which can sometimes have winding and/or mountainous roads.

Choose Driveable

Speaking of driving your RV in national parks, we highly recommend choosing a motorhome rather than a trailer. Why? Because some national parks don’t allow trailers at all, and even those that do will often be much more difficult to navigate with a trailer.

You could of course leave the trailer in a campground outside of the park, but it sure is nice to have all the comforts your RV offers while visiting the parks.

Consider Boondocking Features

Lastly, we highly recommend looking for rigs that offer boondocking-friendly features such as solar panels, a generator, and maybe even a portable waste tank. This will allow you to take advantage of the many free and beautiful boondocking spots out west while still staying nice and comfortable.

Couple loading up an RV

Tips for Planning Your RV Trip Out West

Once you have an RV picked out, the next step is to plan your trip. Most RV trip planning is pretty straightforward. You will obviously need to find places to camp and choose which national parks and other attractions you wish to visit. However, we do have some extra tips that will help you stay safe and happy throughout your RV adventure.

Plan Your Route Carefully

There are a number of mountain ranges on the western side of the country. This is wonderful because it means lots of absolutely stunning views. However, it can make driving a larger vehicle such as an RV feel a little bit scary and dangerous. For this reason, we recommend using a tool such as a trucker’s atlas to avoid super steep grades (we like sticking to 6% grades or lower).

On top of steep grades, you’ll also need to watch for low-clearance bridges and toll routes, and you should find the path that has the best stops for larger vehicles. A tool such as RV Trip Wizard can help with these things.

Invest in Memberships

We mentioned above that there are tons of awesome boondocking locations out west. We also talked about camping in national parks. It is possible to spend your whole trip using these camping options. However, if you prefer to give yourself more options, we recommend investing in a camping pass to save some money:

  • Passport America — Passport America is an excellent option. It saves you 50% on short term stays at member private RV parks all over the country.
  • Thousand Trails — If you’re planning an extended vacation, something like the Thousand Trails camping pass could be an even better option. This one allows you to stay for free in any Thousand Trails campground in the region of your choice.

Pay Attention to Weather

Weather can be unpredictable no matter where you are, and driving an RV through bad weather can be dangerous. Additionally, keeping an RV cool in extremely hot weather or warm in extremely cold weather is very difficult. For this reason, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the weather forecast and avoid severe weather during your trip.

Be Flexible

You can plan all you want, but things don’t always go according to plan, and sometimes this is for the best. For this reason, we recommend going into your trip with some flexibility and going with the flow. Don’t be afraid to change your plans up if something catches your interest, and if something goes wrong, you might be surprised how much a good attitude and a friendly RV neighbor can help.

Arches National Park

Which Western National Parks to See

As mentioned before, the best things to see in the western US are the amazing natural features. To do this, we recommend visiting as many western national parks as you possibly can. This side of the county is home to an enormous number of NPS sites, so you definitely won’t be able to see them all in one trip. Instead, pick and choose the ones you want to see most, and leave the rest for next time.

Not sure which parks to choose? Our favorite western national parks are listed below. You can see them in any order you wish, but by going in the order listed below, you will make a nice loop that will allow you to get the most out of your miles.

Saguaro National Park in Arizona

The only place in the world where saguaro cacti grow naturally, Saguaro National Park provides a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Joshua Tree National Park in California

Joshua Tree National Park is a stunning desert park that provides opportunities to see just how alive the desert can be.

Yosemite National Park in California

One of the most famous national parks in the country, Yosemite is a must-see when visiting the western side of the US. See the giant sequoia trees, the awesome waterfalls, and the splendor of California.

Redwood National Park in California

More awesome trees can be seen at Redwood National Park. These trees aren’t as wide as the sequoias, but they are taller, and are plenty awe-inspiring on their own.

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

Created by a collapsed volcano, Crater Lake is a gorgeous sight to see. Additionally, the many volcanic formations make this an awesome park.

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington

Ever wanted to see an active volcano? Mount Rainier is just that. It offers a beautiful backdrop, and the park is home to seriously awesome hiking trails.

Olympic National Park in Washington

Home to three distinctly different ecosystems, Olympic National Park is an incredibly unique and interesting place that every Washington visitor should see.

North Cascades National Park in Washington

Perfectly encompassing all that is wonderful about north Washington state, North Cascades features bright blue lakes, gorgeous waterfalls, and lovely mountains.

Glacier National Park in Montana

A favorite of many, Glacier National Park is absolutely perfect in the summer. Be sure to take a drive on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road to take in the views, and pay a visit to Hidden Lake.

Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming

Like Yosemite, Yellowstone National Park is a very popular US park. It features some seriously awesome natural wonders, including the “Old Faithful” geyser.

Arches National Park in Utah

Playing host to some of the coolest geological features we’ve ever seen, Arches National Park is truly incredible to see and hike.

Zion National Park in Utah

Defined by its steep red cliffs, Zion is truly a natural wonderland. The hanging garden is beautiful, and the flora and fauna that call this place home are amazingly diverse.

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

Lastly, there is Grand Canyon National Park. Considering this canyon is considered one of the 7 wonders of the world, it should come as no surprise that this park makes the list.

Yosemite National Park

Tips for Visiting the Western National Parks

We’ve given some general tips for planning an RV trip out west. What we haven’t covered are our tips for visiting the western national parks (or anywhere in the country). These tips will help you get the most out of your national parks visits while also keeping you safe as you explore the US wilderness.

Invest in the “America the Beautiful” Pass

Our first tip is to invest in the “America the Beautiful” pass. This pass costs $80 for the entire year and allows you to visit all NPS sites without paying entrance fees.  Depending on how many western national parks you visit, it could save you hundreds of dollars, but even if you only visit a few, you’ll still save some money and you’ll have the pass for future national park adventures.

Always Have Water

While most national parks are pretty good about offering water refill stations at their visitor centers and other buildings, many national parks out west are enormous, meaning there might be miles and miles between buildings. For this reason, you will always want to have plenty of water on hand. This will allow you to explore more safely, and could save your life should you become lost or stranded.

Fill Up on Fuel

Because of the huge size of these national parks, you’ll also want to make sure you always head into them with a full fuel tank. After all, you probably aren’t going to find a gas station inside of a park, and getting all the way through a park can mean several hours of driving. Having plenty of fuel will ensure you make it to your final destination.

Get a Passport

One of our favorite things to do at national parks is get our passport stamped. National Parks Passports can be bought in most national parks gift shops or online. The one linked provides space for a stamp at each park, as well as a space to journal about your visit, making for a super fun memento you will want to keep and reference forever.

Do Junior Ranger Programs

If you have kids in tow, you will definitely want to make time for the Junior Ranger program in each park you visit. To participate, simply ask for a Junior Ranger book at the park’s visitor center. Do all of the activities in this book during your visit, and then return to a visitor center with the book to be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive a pin-on Junior Ranger badge specific to that park.

Collecting these badges is tons of fun, and filling out the books encourages kids to actively appreciate the parks you visit and learn something new.

Attend Ranger Talks

Most NPS sites offer ranger talks each and every day. These are almost always included with general admission, and they can be a fantastic way to learn about the park you are visiting. Whether you want to learn about the geological formations, the history of the place, or the ecosystem in the park, there will be a talk that suits your interests.

Make a Point of Hiking

Lastly, we simply must mention hiking. In the bigger parks, it can be tempting to simply drive through the place, stopping only to see the most popular sights. However, doing this means you miss out on a lot of the magic of these places. Instead, make a point of getting out of the vehicle and taking at least one hike in every park. You might be surprised just how much you enjoy exploring in nature.

There you have it: our best tips for those looking to take RV trips out west and visiting the western national parks. What are you waiting for? Use these tips, start researching and planning, and get ready for an RV adventure you won’t soon forget!

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