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A National Parks Road Trip to Remember

National Parks road trip
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Caves, mountains, gorges and rivers: America’s national parks have something for everyone. Most people are familiar with Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon — but we suggest turning down a different road to explore these four parks that are less heavily visited.

Plan to take a full week for this grand road trip. Round trip from Los Angeles, you'll be putting in more than 2,500 miles and 40+ hours of drive time.

And before you go, be sure to protect your adventure! One of the best travel insurance plans for domestic road trips is OneTrip Cancellation Plus. This simple and extremely affordable plan covers just the essentials: trip cancellation and trip interruption benefits up to $5,000, trip delay benefits and 24-Hour Hotline Assistance, so you can get help in travel emergencies. If you’re renting a car, the OneTrip Rental Car Protector is a must-have. It gives you primary coverage for covered collision, loss and damage up to $50,000, for a low daily rate.

Zion National Park, Utah

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From Los Angeles, head northeast across the desert to reach Zion National Park, where a bewitching combination of mountains, lush valleys and rushing rivers greets visitors. To prepare for hiking, make sure you allot ample time for the ascent and also bring adequate water. The temperatures in the Utah desert often soar during the day, averaging around 100 degrees in July, so you'll need plenty of fluid to stay hydrated. The park asks visitors to sign the Zion Pledge, a promise to keep themselves safe and leave the park pristine.

A trolley takes guests to various points of interest throughout the park and also will drop you off at all trailheads. The strenuous Angels Landing hike offers incredible views of the Virgin River — meandering through the middle of Zion Canyon, it's best viewed from above. Allot four to five hours to explore this path and make it to the top. The Watchman Trail is a gentler hike with even more opportunities to view Zion's diverse landscapes.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

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Head northeast from Zion and travel about an hour to reach Bryce Canyon National Park. By skipping the Grand Canyon, you'll get the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater instead — and fewer crowds and unforgettable views are worth the swap. Get up early to catch the sunrise from a hiking trail and watch the landscape set ablaze. A dizzying amount of rock formations and amphitheaters cover the canyon. You can't miss the stunning, striped Bryce hoodoos: sedimentary rock spires formed by rain- and ice-driven erosion.

Afterward, stroll through Bryce Canyon City. This Old West-style touristy town is just outside of the park. If you plan to camp in Bryce, most campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you're traveling by RV, a few campsites will take reservations. Just make sure to book early, as many sites book well ahead of the peak summer season.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

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Take a break near Flagstaff, Arizona, at the Walnut Canyon National Monument. Gaze up at cliff dwellings and stretch your legs while taking photos before you reach Saguaro National Park. This true desert ecosystem is split into two halves and separated by Tucson, and you'll find cactus forests and wildlife exclusive to this region. Saguaro cacti come in all shapes and sizes; many say they resemble human-like shapes.

This route offers many scenic stopping points and informational stop-offs. Between visits to each side, stop in Tucson for lunch at the El Charro Café. Founded in 1922, it's the oldest Mexican restaurant in the United State that’s been continuously operated by the same family. Afterward, don't forget the Saguaro West-Tucson Mountain District. Wind your way through Baja Loop Drive, which is about five miles. Keep an eye on the heat and remember to hydrate!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

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Plan for a picnic and break on your drive south and pull off at Keystone Heritage Park near El Paso, Texas. Walk through archaeological sites, wetlands and botanical gardens before you leave. From El Paso, head east and in two-and-a-half hours you'll arrive at Carlsbad Caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the subterranean jewel in the Guadalupe Mountains. Considered the best of the National Park System caves, it consists of miles of stalactites and stalagmites in vast rooms underneath the Chihuahuan desert. Plunge 750 feet below ground and trek through chamber after chamber for about two miles. Plan to spend around two hours exploring, and don't forget your jackets. The temperatures are far cooler below ground and a welcome respite from the heat above.

A Note About Entry

Some national parks are free to enter, but most charge an admission fee. The annual America the Beautiful park pass is $80. You have 11 other months to use your pass, making it well worth the money. If you're over the age of 62, you're eligible for a lifetime senior park pass for $80 (or $20 annually).

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