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Need a Car to Visit National Parks?

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Need a Car to Visit National Parks?

That you need to have a car to experience the scenic wonders of Canada and the U.S. is a given in many people’s minds, but it’s simply not true. Although you won’t be able to access some places, you certainly won’t miss enjoying many of the most famous national parks and other beautiful sights if you don’t wish to use a car.

This tells how it’s done using Amtrak, Greyhound, and other public transportation.

Some parks accessible for overnight stays without a car

Grand Canyon National Park

You can easily reach the Grand Canyon via public transportation. On Amtrak, you can even often include Grand Canyon National Park in your itinerary at no extra cost.

Amtrak connects to Grand Canyon Railway trains at Williams, AZ (Williams Junction) and to Open Road shuttles at Flagstaff. You may have to stay overnight in Flagstaff.

Greyhound also connects to Open Road at Flagstaff. In addition, Open Road can transfer you to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix airport.

Both the Grand Canyon Railway and Open Road Tours arrive at the South Rim within easy walking distance of the lodges and Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village. It’s essential to book accommodation ahead.

On the other hand, you may wish to base at least part of your stay in Flagstaff, which has many motels and hostels near the stations.

From Flagstaff, Open Road offers day tours to the canyon stopping at various viewing points along the South Rim, to Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, to Monument Valley and the Navajo reservation, as well as others.

Yosemite National Park

Both Amtrak and Greyhound make it very easy to reach Yosemite National Park, with connections to YARTS buses at Merced, CA. YARTS connections are shown on Amtrak.com.

YARTS stops at or very near all your accommodation choices in Yosemite Valley. Once there, trams, day tours, and short walks take you to all the major sights, including Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove not in the valley.

You can take a day tour to Yosemite via Amtrak from San Francisco, but it’s a shame to spend so little time in the park. That gives you the highlights, however.

Banff National Park

It’s simple to access incredibly scenic Banff National Park via Greyhound Canada and Rocky Mountaineer trains, which are considerably more expensive than Greyhound, from both Calgary and Vancouver.

Once in the park, you’ll find a nice selection of day tours of Banff park sights such as Lake Louise and nearby national parks.

You can even take a bus one-way to or from Jasper National Park.

Jasper National Park

Wildlife in Jasper National Park parking lot - Alberta

It’s also very easy to reach Jasper National Park via Greyhound Canada and by Via Rail, Canada’s national rail network.

Greyhound operates daily and Via Rail three times per week through the park from Edmonton and Vancouver. Via Rail also serves the park from Prince Rupert on the coast, where you connect from BC Ferries or Alaska Marine Highway, the state ferry service.

You will find a variety of day tours in Jasper.

Cape Cod National Seashore

Super easy to reach especially in the summer.

The most pleasant way is by ferry from Boston to Providence, which is surrounded on three sides by the park (and on the forth by Cape Cod Bay). Amtrak and Peter Pan Bus connect all year. See link above.

Once in Providencetown, a local shuttle takes you to areas of the park not easily walkable from town.

Glacier National Park

Accessible by Amtrak from Chicago, Portland (OR) and Seattle all year, but best in summer. 

Golden Gate National Seashore

Easily accessable by San Francisco MUNI transit from anywhere in the city. This surprising urban park extends all along San Francisco's Pacific shoreline and then under the Golden Gate Bridge. Marin Transit reaches the Marin County portion north of the bridge.

Accessible by day tours in season

Mount Rainier National Park

Gray Line of Seattle offers a 10-hour tour to scenic Mount Rainier National Park.

Pacific Rim National Park

Daily Tofino "Island Express" buses connect from Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.

Muir Woods National Monument 

The easiest non car access to coast redwoods in the U.S.

Gray Line and other tour companies head here every day from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. Tours usually offer an option to sail back from Sausalido. Go for it.

Rocky Mountain National Park and Pikes Peak

Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Ridge Road mountain view

Gray Line of Denver has a fine 10-hour tour to Rocky Mountain National Park. This takes you along the awesomely scenic Trail Ridge Road, which gives views of many Rocky Mountain peaks—from above!

You’ll also visit Grand Lake, Winter Park, and other sights before returning to Denver via a different route.

Because it takes so long to remove the heavy snows that close it during the winter season, Trail Ridge Road may not open until sometime in June. Note too that travelers with heart conditions may wish to consult their doctors before booking this tour, as it travels to over 12,000 feet.

Another worthwhile Gray Line of Denver tour takes you from Denver to Pikes Peak, the Garden of the Gods (a park with beautiful rock formations in the foothills of the Rockies), and the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs. In this case, you’ll climb to over 14,000 feet at the top of Pikes Peak. Very highly recommended.

These are just some examples. Enjoy!

Comments

Hiking Lady
September 21, 2011

Great tips! Thanks for all the info about how to be car free in these national parks. The YART bus is great for people doing the John Muir Trail.

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TravelDesigned
September 21, 2011

Thanks, Don! I am going to fav this and use it a resource for my clients. I appreciate your time and effort to share.
Stephanie

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Don Nadeau
September 21, 2011

Thanks Carol! Was surprised that you can even enter Yosemite from its eastern entrance using public transportation–at least after the snow is cleared each summer.

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Don Nadeau
September 21, 2011

Thanks Stephanie! Always enjoy talking with you on Twitter at @traveldesigned

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