Forty-seven national parks, 17,335 miles, 67 days, three flat tires, two forest fires, three boat rides, temps ranging from 31 degrees and sleet to 106-degree blinding heat–and no speeding tickets–equals one extraordinary and unforgettable motorcycle trip of a lifetime!
When I told my friends and family of my planned motorcycle trip, a visit to each of the 47 national parks last summer, there were plenty of questions from everyone. “Are you crazy?” “How many other riders are joining you?” “Is your life insurance paid up?” “What type of gun are you taking?” And finally, “Why?” But I had heard it all before on my previous trips to the four corners of the U.S. in 2013 and to all of the lower 48 states in 2014.
It all began last winter when my wife surprised me by sending me a link to a website that mapped out an efficient way to visit each of the 47 national parks in the lower 48 states, riding the least amount of miles. When I began to plan the trip, I realized that picking a date to leave Chicago in order to avoid all the tricky weather conditions in the various parts of the country was harder than I expected. The Midwest has the tornado season in the late spring, Florida has hurricanes beginning in June, Death Valley has 120-degree heat in the summer, and the cold and snow could still be around in the mountains out west in early summer. I made the decision to leave on May 1 and hoped that I would be able to avoid most of the weather issues.
Planning the route for the trip was easy. I used the map that my wife had shown me and, although I didn’t have any time constraints, I still plotted the estimated distances and traveling times between the parks to help me plan for places to stay while on the road. I found that Google Maps, set to “avoid highways,” gave me the best routes with the most interesting scenery.
Traveling through 17,000 miles of back roads, I was able to discover roads that many motorcyclists can only dream of riding. Imagine riding the seven-mile bridge in the Florida Keys, just you, your bike and miles of ocean all around you until you reach the next island Key. Then there are the desolate, lonely roads, like U.S. Route 62 heading out of Carlsbad, New Mexico, where “Next Gas 145 Miles” signs warn you of the barren and isolated landscape. Utah State Route 12 through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument area delivers magnificent vistas as far as the eye can see and is a motorcyclists’ dream, with hundreds of sweepers and a few free range cattle to make things interesting.
Some of the best conversations on motorcycle trips begin with a simple question: “So, where are you headed?” Bonds develop quickly between riders, and this trip held no exceptions. There were the two riders I met in Alpine, Wyoming, from Portugal and Gibraltar. They invited me to plan a trip with them to ride in Morocco.
And then, while touring Sequoia National Park, I met another pair of riders from Los Angeles. We became fast friends and now we regularly keep in touch and I plan to connect with them on my next ride out west.
I am frequently asked, “What is your favorite national park?” I don’t have a single favorite, but rather a Top Three. Dry Tortugas National Park covers an entire island and is located 70 miles west of Key West in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. The fort there was historically significant during the building of our country (Google it).
Zion National Park, one of our nation’s most majestic parks, is accessed via Utah State Route 9 and covers 146,596 acres of multi-colored canyons that take your breath away.
Lastly, Kings Canyon National Park is set between Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park in central California. Although this park isn’t as well known as some of the others, it reminds me of riding in the Alps in Europe, withroads that are carved on top of mountains with unforgiving 1,000 foot drops. Riding the winding road alongside a raging, overflowing river trying to accommodate last winter’s massive snows was exhilarating.
The beauty of this canyon ride is that you get a bonus at the end: you get to turn around and do it all over again.
Every national park has its own personality, beauty and history. From Acadia National Park in Maine with its rocky shores, high winds on Cadillac Mountain and seafaring history, to Big Bend National Park in Texas, running along the Rio Grande river, each park is special in its own way. At one vista point, I was able to walk across the Rio Grande into Mexico and then back again. For perspective, Big Bend is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. Approaching Big Bend from Alpine, Texas, on State Route 118 presents a desolate intimidating roadway, especially as temps hit 106 degrees.
Entering Death Valley National Park, I was uneasy with the extreme desolation, especially knowing that I was only one flat tire away from a crisis. At 3.4 million acres and 1,000 miles of roads, this is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states.
Food is always an important component of any trip, from lobster reuben sandwiches at Keys Fisheries in Marathon, Florida, to BBQ at Lockhart’s in Dallas, Texas, which is always served on butcher paper. I prefer to search for the mom & pop places to eat and try the local delicacies.
This trip of a lifetime gave me valuable insights regarding the beauty of our national parks and how precious they are to us. My advice is to visit as many of these national treasures as possible, I guarantee you will not be disappointed!
Related: Also by Steven Goode – “The Great American Deli Schlep” – where he visited the best Jewish deli in nearly every state.
Great trip idea! Can we contact the author for tips?
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Great ride. Thanks for the write-up.
Great trip and great article.
That’s one epic ride and one I dream of doing. I’m off to a decent start and have ridden to 34 states on a motorcycle at last count. I’ve got an idea but could you give us a rough budget to do something like this?
That is a difficult question to answer because it all depends on your style; are you camping, staying at Class A hotels, or the Mom & Pop motels, etc. Also, are you eating at top of the line restaurants or cooking over a camp stove. After the trip I went through my Visa statement and tallied what I could determine to be trip related. Unfortunately I can’t locate that spreadsheet. However, the largest cost was motels because I only camped 2 of the 66 nights, I stayed with friends probably 6 or 7 nights and the rest were in motels averaging $65 to $70 per night. I ate out lunch and dinner, had breakfast at the motel. Gas was roughly $1,300 (17,000 miles/40MPG X $3.00 per gallon). One of my biggest expenses were for the three flat tires and a 24K service for the BMW. So, to help answer your question, I am going to guess that the total cost was something in the $8,000 to $9,000 range. On ADVRider.com there is a great Motorcycle travel spreadsheet that someone created, you may want to search that out. It breaks down all the costs. Good luck and let me know if you have any further questions. Hope this helps.
Serious question: Did you actually take the boat to Isle Royale? I can understand if you didn’t, since there’s only one place to stay if you’re not camping and you can’t take your MC on the boat…
Not only did I have to take the boat to Isle Royale, but there are two other National Parks that are only accessible via boat. Dry Tortuga NP is 70 miles west of Key West, Florida and Channels Island National Park near Los Angeles in the Pacific Ocean. BTW, I get sea sick so all three boat rides were pretty miserable!!
PS. I stayed at the Casino in Grand Portage, MI and had a blowout on my rear tire the night before I was scheduled to take the boat to the island. This all happened around July 4th so nothing was open. Good times!!
Hey Steve, as an adventure rider and National Park Ranger I send you kudos! Now, of course, adding the non CONUS national parks is your next challenge! hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can chat more parks and bikes.
sorry, that’s email@example.com
Saved to Pinterest for inspiration. Looks like an amazing trip!
Glad you liked it. It was a fun adventure and one that you’ll remember forever.
Sounds like a wonderful trip …I did the four corners, raising money for the USO in 2010 and put on 154,736 and 43 days but love the Natl’ Park ride idea….would you send the details [address] on where I can get the map your wife started you with…
WOW! I am totally hepped up on a trip like this. Let me preface this by saying that I’m 79 years old (but I’ve been riding for 50 some years) and have worked all over the U.S. having my bikes with me. This is like a “bucket list” thing for me so I am going to do it. I want to trailer my bike, a 2004 Honda Sabre 1100vt, and do the bike thing only in the National Parks. I plan on sleeping in the back of my SUV and I’m also taking a tent, with a few accessories like lantern and and single burner propane stove. Rain gear of course. etc. I would sure appreciate any advice or tips you could give me on “anything”. I am departing from Detroit, Mi. and intend to go directly to a point west to start my journey. I have no time restrictions but I’m hoping 60 days or so would let me get a lot in. I would like to go and return in the best weather conditions.
I haven’t checked this blog in a long while. I am so sorry that I didn’t get back to you sooner. If you get this reply you can reach me at Steveg1016@gmail.com, which I check all the time. Be happy to discuss any questions you may have.
You can reach me at Steveg1016@gmail.com, which I check all the time. I didn’t see your post until today. I haven’t check the Rider site in 6 months. Sorry about that!
Steve, Money is a consideration with me. I need to do this “on the cheap” but hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy a few luxury’s along the way, (like a motel room once in awhile!) lol. How far do you think $4,000 will get me? (Skipping the Eastern half of the country) Sure would like a response.
Neil, So sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I rarely check this blog and it didn’t send me your email. If you want to email directly at Steveg1016@gmail.com I check that all the time. In regards to $4,000 figure, I think that is possible depending on how much camping, couch surfing, etc you can do. I have a great spreadsheet I can share with you if you’ll email me.
Greetings Mr. Goode,
You have lived my dream and I thank you so much for sharing your story. I am in the early stages of planning and I expect to take this trip within the next 2 years. But there is much preparation. I am wondering if it would be possible to speak to you about what I am in for. If you could grant this request, I would be most grateful. Thank you in advance for your consideration. My name is Scott Kirkwood, I live in Boise, Idaho and I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Would love to pick your brain- am planning a similar trip with a small group.
I don’t check this site too often. The best way to reach me is to send me an email directly at Steveg1016@gmail.com.