Starting to figure out some of this has been pretty easy.... other parts not as much. We knew we wanted to go to a bunch of the biggest and best known parks, but quickly realized that adding in all the parks in the continental west wasn't an outrageous idea, geographically speaking. But actually getting a route between all of them was harder than it should be.
That's how we landed on a more or less counter-clockwise route that takes us straight down to Austin, through the parks in the southern half of California, southern Arizona and Texas, and then back up through NM, northern AZ, and the rest of the trip. This should give us 5 weeks or so in March and early April to do Yosemite, Kings/Sequoia, Death Valley, J-Tree, Saguaro, and Big Bend.
From Austin, we'll head back through NM, to the Grand Canyon, and up to the dense parks of Utah and Colorado (Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, etc), over to the Dakotas in late May / early June, and down to Wyoming for the Tetons and Yellowstone, where I'm hoping to spend a couple of weeks. Next up, Glacier, then over to Washington for the Cascades, Mt Rainier and Olympic, down through Oregon to Crater Lake NP, and back to CA for Redwoods and Lassen Volcanic.
We also want to add in stops in Los Angeles, Kingman, AZ, Denver, Seattle, and Portland to see friends and family and take hot showers and sleep on real beds, time allowing.
We've made our best educated guesses about how much time we'll want to spend in each park and how long it takes to get between them, but whether we'll actually want to keep to that schedule when we're on the road is another question!
Anything else we absolutely have to see or do on the way? Let us know in the comments!