Blog Post Oct 26, 2018

10 Scenic National Park Drives

These 10 parks offer incredible views of some of America's most beautiful places with plenty of opportunities to get out and explore along the way.

1. Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular drives in the National Park System. Since 1932, this winding 50-mile byway has given visitors access to overlooks and hikes in the heart of the park, with views of mountains, valleys, waterfalls, glaciers and numerous kinds of wildlife. Be sure to stop at Logan Pass, which is located on the Continental Divide and marks the highest point on the road at 6,647 feet in elevation. The Jackson Glacier Overlook is another notable stop, offering a look at one of few park glaciers that can still be seen from a road. Note that most of the road is closed from late fall until well into the spring — but if you happen to visit in the off-season, you’re still in luck, as every road in Glacier is scenic.


2. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

This stunning seven-and-a-half-mile drive is named after a local lumberjack who loved the view from the bluffs so much, he helped build a road through the difficult terrain in the 1960s so others could enjoy it, too. Visitors who take a self-guided tour of this loop can enjoy overlooks of several lakes, including a gorgeous vantage point over Lake Michigan (shown here); views of the park’s famous sand dunes, including the enormous but rapidly eroding Sleeping Bear Dune, which scientists estimate to be around 2,000 years old; forests of sugar maple and beech trees; and plenty of spots along the way to enjoy a picnic, take a walk or just linger in the sunshine.


3. Conzelman Road, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California

The five-mile route from the Golden Gate Bridge north to Point Bonita offers a breathtaking look at San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean from an area known as the Marin Headlands. Fate generally deals drivers on this road one of two options: a crystal-clear day with picture-perfect views of the bridge and the city, or a cold and foggy day with equally beautiful mist-shrouded vistas. Visitors who arrive at Point Bonita between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday can also tour the working lighthouse there to learn more about the area’s history — and to see even more spectacular views. Check the Park Conservancy website for other events at this popular park.


4. Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

Unlike many Civil War battlefields, Gettysburg is so well-preserved that visitors can still get a sense of the landscape as it was in 1863 when the turning point in the American Civil War took place there. Visitors taking a self-guided auto tour around the battlefield can experience the rolling fields and scenic mountains of southern Pennsylvania while trying to imagine the agrarian landscape torn apart by war. Fall is an ideal time to explore the area, feel the crisp air, see the falling leaves and imagine Lincoln making his famous address 155 Novembers ago.


5. Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, Washington

Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve on Whidbey Island offers a network of rural roads that connect farms, cemeteries, historic structures, scenic overlooks, trailheads, beaches and a restored lighthouse. The island features dramatic bluffs overlooking the Puget Sound, as well as woods, grassland prairies, military forts and historic Coupeville, one of the oldest towns in Washington State. On a clear day, one can see — from the windshield — Mount Baker and other mountains in the Cascade Range, as well as the Olympic Mountains to the west across the ocean. Lucky visitors might even catch sight of whales or a passing submarine!


6. Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Cades Cove is one of the most popular areas within the nation’s most-visited national park, so it is not always the best place to go looking for solitude. However, this 11-mile loop is a lovely spot to view fall colors and see some of the park’s abundant wildlife, from bears to foxes to wild turkeys. Visitors can spend the better part of a day exploring the area’s historic structures and quietly strolling along trails and abandoned roads. It’s also an ideal choice for those who prefer to enjoy the postcard-perfect scenery by bicycle.


7. Cathedral Valley Loop, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Visitors looking to explore this remote, 59-mile backcountry route will need a high-clearance vehicle and plenty of fuel and water. So few people take this drive, you might not see another car the entire trip, which is part of the appeal. What you will see: incredible layered sandstone monoliths, multicolored mesas and buttes, a sinkhole made of gypsum, and sweeping, colorful desert views in all directions. Even the names of the landmarks along the loop — Brushy Basin, Bentonite Hills, Temple of the Sun — exude beauty and adventure. Check with a ranger before you go, as weather conditions vary, and these rough, unpaved roads are sometimes impassable.


8. Summit Road to Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine

The 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the Atlantic Coast and one of the first places in the country where you can see the sunrise. The short but scenic Summit Road twists for 3.5 miles up the mountain with observation points along the way; the panoramic views at the top are one of the main attractions at the park. Extend the drive and enjoy more of the rocky, rugged coast with a trip around the Park Road Loop, a 27-mile circuit with stops at Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff. Note that the road is closed from December through April.


9. Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

This famously clear, jewel-blue lake sits in a rugged portion of the Cascade Range, surrounded by sheer cliffs and old-growth forests. The park’s beauty is obscured by snow most of the year — an average of 44 feet annually — making the June to October season especially precious for visitors. When it is open, the 33-mile Rim Drive is a leisurely way to get 360-degree experience of the park, with opportunities to stop at overlooks and enjoy short hikes at various points along the way.


10. Park Loop Road, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

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Striking mountains, lush meadows, the meandering Snake River, and plentiful wildlife: This 42-mile loop has all this and more, and this simply gorgeous drive is one of the top attractions at Grand Teton. A handful of overlooks provide some of the best vistas in the park, as well as the chance to see bison, elk, pronghorn, bald eagles and waterfowl in their natural habitat. Take side trips to Jenny Lake and up to the top of Signal Mountain to explore more of the landscape, and spend time at Mormon Row to see historic homesteads, including the famous T. A. Moulton Barn and other picturesque structures.