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America the Beautiful for Summer 2015 – Getting to Our National Parks Using Miles and Points

The other day on Twitter I saw a few tweets that read ‘If I win a trip to Vegas, the first thing I’ll do when I arrive is (insert Vegas activity or something about some Hyatt or MGM property)’. Of course most of the people who fly to Las Vegas do just that – arrive, enjoy the Vegas activities and atmosphere and leave. Which is all fine and good, but in Las Vegas  you’re in a sea of nice fake stuff built just for show, and just a couple hours drive from some of the most spectacular natural beauty in the United States. After awesome trips to national parks in Alaska and Wyoming this year, I wanted to put together a resource on getting to these treasures using miles and points. I’ve assumed that 2 hours from the airport to the park is an easy drive and about 4 hours is about as far as most people would be willing to drive after flying in. Oh yeah, and my tweet that didn’t win:

If I win a trip to Vegas, the first thing I’ll do is drive to Zion National Park!

But maybe it will still win as the promotion might not be over yet.

Most Americans have one or more national parks within an easy road trip’s distance. But not all. From San Antonio our nearest national parks are 7+ hours away. And if you have miles, why not get out and see more of them even if you don’t have time or patience to drive 20 hours each way?

Arches, National Parks

Arches National Park, Utah. I wish these were my pictures…

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, National Parks

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Crater Lake, National Parks

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Everglades, National Parks

Everglades National Park, Florida

Gros Morne, National Parks

Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

Katmai, National Parks

Katmai National Park, Alaska

What I haven’t done is differentiate between National Parks. After all, if you live in Arizona the Everglades National Park might be the perfect place to go. And from Northern California you have access to National Parks within a day trip distance. Variety is good, I’m trying to find ways to see the parts of America the Beautiful that are beyond the scope of a practical road trip for your family. I have sorted the destinations based on my highly non-scientific assessment of how difficult it is to get a family to the airport in summer 2015 on miles and points.

It would be nice if there was a nice concise way to put all the info here on flying to get to U.S. (and a few Canadian) National Parks, but it’s kind of a challenge since what actually works for you will depend so much on your origin as well as your preferences for driving and other factors. I couldn’t decide on a table or a series of maps so you get both. Click on any of the park names to go directly to the park webpage for info.

Alaska Denali FAI ANC AA, AS, DL, F9, UA, US
Alaska Gates of the Arctic (no road access) BRW, FAI AS, DL, F9, UA
Alaska Glacier Bay GST, JNU AS, DL
Alaska Katmai AKN AS
Alaska Kenai Fjords ANC AA, AS, DL, F9, UA, US
Alaska Kobuck Valley (no road access) OME, OTZ AS
Alaska Lake Clark (no road access) ANC AA, AS, DL, F9, UA, US
Alaska Wrangell-St. Elias ANC AA, AS, DL, F9, UA, US
Alberta Banff (Canada) YYC AA, AC, DL, US, UA
Arizona Grand Canyon FLG PHX, LAS All airlines
Arizona Petrified Forest FLG ABQ, PHX All airlines
Arizona Saguaro TUS PHX All airlines
Arkansas Hot Springs LIT All airlines
California Channel Islands BUR, LAX, LGB, SNA All airlines
California Death Valley LAS All airlines
California Joshua Tree ONT BUR, LAX, PHX, SNA All airlines
California Lassen Volcanic RDD RNO, SMF All airlines
California Pinnacles SJC SFO, OAK All airlines
California Redwood CEC MFR, RDD AS, UA
California Sequoia and Kings Canyon BFL, FAT SJC, SMF All airlines
California Yosemite FAT SMF, RNO All airlines
Colorado Black Canyon of the Gunnison GUC, GJT ASE DL, UA
Colorado Great Sand Dunes GUC ABQ, DEN, DRO All airlines
Colorado Mesa Verde DRO ABQ, GJT All airlines
Colorado Rocky Mountain DEN All airlines
Florida Biscayne FLL, MIA, PBI All airlines
Florida Dry Tortugas EYW AA, DL, UA, US
Florida Everglades FLL, MIA, RSW All airlines
Hawaii Haleakala OGG AA, AS, HA, UA
Hawaii Hawii Volcanoes ITO, KOA AA, AS, HA, UA
Kentucky Mammoth Cave SDF, BNA CVG All airlines
Maine Acadia BHB PWM All airlines
Michigan Isle Royale CMX MQT,YQT AA,AC,DL,UA
Minnesota Voyageurs INL MSP All airlines
Montana Glacier FCA AS
New Mexico Carlsbad Caverns ELP All airlines
Newfoundland Gros Morne (Canada) YDF AC
Nevada Great Basin LAS,SLC All airlines
North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt MOT DL, F9, UA
Ohio Cuyahoga Valley CAK, CLE All airlines
Oregon Crater Lake MFR PDX AS, DL, UA
South Carolina Congaree CAE,CHS,CLT,GSP All airlines
South Dakota Badlands RAP AA, DL, UA
South Dakota Wind Cave RAP AA, DL, UA
Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains TYS ATL, BNA, CLT All airlines
Texas Guadalupe Mountains ELP All airlines
Texas Big Bend ELP, MAF All airlines
Utah Arches CNY, DRO, GJT SLC All airlines
Utah Bryce Canyon SGU LAS, GJT, SLC All airlines
Utah Canyonlands CNY, DRO, GJT SLC All airlines
Utah Capitol Reef GJT, SLC All airlines
Utah Zion LAS, SGU All airlines
Virginia Shenandoah RIC, BWI, CHO, DCA, IAD All airlines
Washington Mount Ranier SEA PDX, YKM All airlines
Washington North Cascades SEA, BLI All airlines
Washington Olympic SEA All airlines
Wyoming Grand Teton Mountains JAC COD, WYS AA, DL, F9, UA
Wyoming Yellowstone BZN, COD, WYS JAC AA, DL, F9, UA

Airports in Blue have generally good award availability on at least one program, Red are more difficult, and Black often require more miles or multiple awards.

What makes an airport easy to get to? It’s a hub, or has service on several major airlines or Southwest. For instance, Denver is about as easy as it gets for airport access. At less than 2 hours drive from Denver to Rocky Mountain National park, from the Central time zone you can make that a leave-home-after-5-and-be-home-the-next-night trip. We did just that in June 2013 and it was great! If a quick search for summer 2015 travel as of September 2014 finds little or no coach saver availability and Southwest doesn’t serve the airport, it’s  not likely to be an ‘easy’ airport to get to using miles.

Easy airport, easy drive:

Some of the airports with good access and within 2 hours drive of National Parks.

Burbank BUR or other Los Angeles area airports – Channel Islands National Park

Cleveland CLE – Cuyahoga Valley national Park

Columbia CAE – Congaree National Park

Denver DEN – Rocky Mountain National Park

Durango DRO – Mesa Verde National Park

El Paso ELP – Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Cavern National Parks

Fresno FAT – Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks

Las Vegas LAS – Death Valley National Park (This might be better during a season other than summer. Or not.)

Little Rock LIT – Hot Springs National Park

Louisville SDF or Nashville BNA – Mammoth Cave National Park

Miami MIA or Ft Lauderdale FLL or Ft Myers RSW – Biscayne and Everglades National Parks

Minot MOT – Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Ontario ONT – Joshua Tree National Park (the other L.A. area airports are all more than 2 hours away but also possibilities)

San Jose SJC – Pinnacles National Park

Seattle SEA – Mt Ranier, Olympic, and North Cascades National Parks

Tucson TUS – Saguaro National Park

Richmond or Washington BWI or IAD or DCA – Shenandoah National Park

Easy airport, longer drive:


The drive is worth it! All maps courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.

Atlanta ATL or Charlotte CLT or Nashville BNA – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

El Paso ELP – Big Bend National Park

Las Vegas LAS – Zion or Grand Canyon National Parks

Minneapolis MSP – Voyageurs National Park

Phoenix PHX – Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Petrified Forest National Parks

Portland, ME PWM – Acadia National Park

Sacramento SMF or Reno RNO – Lassen Volcanic National Park

Salt Lake City SLC – Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Great Basin National Parks (loop road trip, anyone?!)

More difficult airport access:


These airports may not be as easy to get to, but worth the extra work or miles.

Anchorage ANC – Kenai Fjords and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks    Best access on Frontier and Alaska.

Calgary YYC – Banff National Park (Canada)    Some access on UA and AA, good access on US business class.

Deer Lake YDF – Gros Morne National Park (Canada)    Air Canada only using partner miles, via United or AC to Toronto.

Fairbanks FAI – Denali National Park    Best access on Frontier and Alaska.

Gunnison GUC – Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Great Sand Dunes National Parks    Some access on UA.

Gustavus GST or Juneau JNU – Glacier Bay National Park (no road access, take a boat from Juneau)   Access from Seattle on Alaska Airlines.

Kahului (Maui) OGG – Haleakala National Park    Good access, may require multiple awards and use of West Coast Sweet Spot, Hawaii rates.

Kalispell FCA – Glacier National Park   Good access but only from Seattle on Alaska Airlines.

Key West EYW – Dry Tortugas National Park   Some access on AA, DL, UA and US.

King Salmon AKN – Katmai National Park   Good access from ANC on Alaska Airlines.

Kona KOA or Hilo ITO – Hawaii Volcano National Park    Good access, may require multiple awards and use of West Coast Sweet Spot, Hawaii rates.

Jackson Hole JAC – Grand Teton Mountains National Park    Access on AA, UA and Frontier.

Medford MFR – Crater Lake and Redwood National Parks    Good access on Alaska Airlines.

Rapid City RAP – Badlands  and Wind Cave National Parks    Some access on UA.

West Yellowstone WYS or Bozemon BZN – Yellowstone National Park    Best access is on Frontier. Some access to BZN on UA.

Anchorage, Barrow or Nome – Gates of the Arctic, Kobuk Valley and Lake Clark  National Parks    Actually you can get to these, but they have no roads to or within the park. Buy Rent a plane or take a day trip by air taxi or tour, starting around $600 per person. Or a dogsled or something. Probably not a doable budget family trip for most of us, except as an expensive day trip from ANC or FAI.

A few Frontier routes worth looking at.

A few Frontier routes worth looking at.

I wrote about the possibility of using Frontier Airlines to get to Alaska, but they may also be the best option for travel to these other Western National park areas via Denver. If you can get there on another program, great. If not, check out Frontier. Before Frontier began their push to serve the East coast, there were a lot more routes out here.

Since 2012 we have visited Big Bend, Grand Teton Mountains, Kenai Fjords, Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Parks. By all means take full advantage of the opportunities miles and points give you to travel around the world, but don’t forget the awesome sights that aren’t so far away. Is there a park or area that belongs on here or that I overlooked? Please let me know!

– Kenny

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • BNAJames September 9, 2014, 10:12 pm

    Great resource. I’ve had 4 work trips to Vegas in the last year and each time I’ve headed north to Zion. I’ve had good success with the Quality Inn in Springdale on Choice points. Awesome scenery and one of the most underrated NP’s. I’ve done Yellowstone via BZN and Delta is another good option. Going back to snowmobile and snowshoe in Feb.

    • Kenny September 9, 2014, 10:37 pm

      Thanks James! Yes, Delta is the primary airline for a lot of these airports with service from SLC. You have to plan on 16.5K – 20K miles each way which adds up for a family, but it’s worth it if you can manufacture the miles easily enough.

  • Barb September 9, 2014, 10:53 pm

    Nice post Kenny. We’ve enjoyed visiting National Parks over the years with our kids and they’ve always liked doing the Junior Ranger Programs. There are also some great National Monuments such as White Sands in New Mexico which is not only spectacular but super fun for sledding over the sand (especially good after it rains!) I did both White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns during a trip to El Paso while I was climbing at Hueco Tanks (A Texas state park!) so easily done with a flight to ELP.

    As to Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is only a 30 minute drive from the Strip and is renowned for climbing and hiking. It is worth just driving the loop road for a nice break from the neon lights. Red Rocks is the only reason I go to Vegas.

    • Kenny September 9, 2014, 11:22 pm

      Thanks Barb. I struggled with how to handle other parks – we loved Bandelier National Monument near Santa Fe. In order to keep it down to a usable post, I decided to defer to those designated as National Parks. They’re definitely not the only great great outdoors destinations!

  • Mel September 10, 2014, 8:10 am

    Thank you! As we complete our life goal to visit all the National Parks, this post will come in handy.

  • Narayan September 10, 2014, 10:11 am

    Nice list Kenny. Have visited 4 on this list. Do have my sights set on more. My kids have always enjoyed it.

  • Jon September 10, 2014, 10:59 am

    Hi Kenny, I’ve been into the points/miles game since 2009, but just came across your blog in the past month. I’m just up the road from you in New Braunfels, with kids (although the youngest graduates HS this year), but my wife is a teacher, so I will still be tied to the school schedule. I’m glad to see your posts that share similar limitations on time, airports, etc..

    Your post is a great reminder that points and miles are useful beyond foreign, big-city trips. Denver is a great base for loop trips, our family did the following in June:
    SAT>>DEN>>Scottsbluff-Chimney Rock NM>>Carhenge>>Wind Cave NP,>>Jewel Cave NP>> Mount Rushmore NM>>Badlands NP>>Devils Tower NM>>Theo. Roosevelt NP>>Little Bighorn NM>>Agate Fossil Beds NM>>Ft. Laramie NHS>>DEN>>SAT

    Another great loop from DEN is through the western WY and Colorado NPs, and other loops can be done from PHX, LAS, or SLC to cover the parks in UT/AZ.

    Those making a goal to visit all of the NPS sites should get a Passport book, and of course an annual NPS/BLM lands pass saves a lot of money.

    • Kenny September 12, 2014, 11:57 pm

      Thanks Jon, that sounds like an awesome trip! So far all of our family national park trips have been short as we’re also trying to make the most of international opportunities. There are definitely some great opportunities for loop trips in Colorado and Utah. Bonnie’s disability qualifies her for an Access Pass so we don’t have to pay entrance fees at national parks.

  • Flyer September 12, 2014, 3:47 pm

    Great post. I am bookmarking it. Just back from LAS and I recommend both Zion and Death Valley. Did DV this past Feb and it was gorgeous.
    Though not a NP I do recommend Valley of Fire State Park which is one hour from the strip.

    • Kenny September 12, 2014, 11:58 pm

      Yeah, there are other parks that belong on that list. Thanks for the tip on Valley of Fire.

  • Boon September 14, 2014, 12:46 pm

    Awesome resource!

    Small note, Shenandoah NP is in Virginia not WV and RIC should be listed at least as an “other airport” (it is closer to the south entrance than BWI is to any entrance)

  • Boon September 14, 2014, 12:51 pm

    Another note RE: LAS.

    We did a day trip to Zion on our last day in Vegas. We had a red-eye back to the East Coast so rather than participate in the debauchery for any longer we checked out early in the morning and drove to Zion. It was an awesome day, not nearly enough to see it all but enough to know we needed to come back. The drive was fun too.

    • Kenny September 14, 2014, 5:11 pm

      Thanks for your comments and correction Boon. I added RIC and fixed the chart on Shenandoah. And added the 9 parks I had missed initially!

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