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?
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.
|STATE||PARK||NEARBY AIRPORTS||OTHER AIRPORTS||AIRLINES|
|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||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|
|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|
|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|
|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:
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:
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:
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.
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!