Road Trips: Best Scenic Drives in the National Parks

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Be wowed by the amazing landscapes on these park roads

Posted by: Xanterra on November 5, 2018

These drives take you deep into some of the most stunning scenery in the country — from wide grassy plains and endless glaciers to high-alpine tundra and soaring mountain peaks.

Of the many ways to enjoy the national parks, driving along their scenic highways is surely one of the best. These drives take you deep into some of the most stunning scenery in the country — from wide grassy plains and endless glaciers to high-alpine tundra and soaring mountain peaks. So hop in your car and spend a few hours cruising past breathtaking natural landscapes and amazing wildlife you won’t soon forget.

SR Watchtower with Dead Tree and Canyon

Desert View Drive, Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz.

Yes, you can explore the nation’s largest canyon by hiking, mule riding, flying, or rafting. But if you want to go by car, Desert View Drive (also called East Rim Drive) is the undisputed show stopper. A scenic stretch of Arizona Highway 64, it extends 25 miles along the Grand Canyon rim from Grand Canyon Village to Desert View Watchtower. And it rewards with dazzling views of the canyon’s central region and the undulating Colorado River from canyon overlooks such as Grandview Point, Yaki Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point, and Navajo Point, all over 7,000 feet high. The drive ends at Desert View Watchtower, a 1932 replica of a prehistoric Indian tower. The 70-foot-high tower, the highest point on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, commands a gorgeous view of the Grand Canyon, including the Painted Desert to the east and the San Francisco Peaks to the south.

For more information, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.

Bison

 

Lamar Valley Road, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. and Mont.

Considered America’s Serengeti, the Lamar Valley’s wide grassy plain is a wonderland of the wildlife typical of the nation’s first national park. The 29-mile Lamar Valley Road that runs between Tower Junction/Roosevelt and the Northeast Entrance offers an incomparable front-row seat to this spectacle of nature. And you never know what you’ll see. Large herds of wild bison and elk roam freely here. Grizzly and black bears, wolves, antelope, otters, bighorn sheep, and coyotes are also visible along the road, which is one of the least traveled in the park. Scattered pullouts offer multiple opportunities to stop your car and scan the sagebrush-covered valley with binoculars or scopes for a glimpse of these species or to take in the expansive view. Time your drive for dusk or dawn when the animals are most active to guarantee the best sightings. It makes for a North American safari you’ll not soon forget.

For more information, visit YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com.

Going to the Sun Road

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Mont.

Stretching for 52 miles, the poetically named Going to the Sun Road traverses some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in North America, between the east and west entrances of Glacier National Park. One of Glacier’s most popular attractions, it provides an accessible pathway through the heart of the park. Crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, it snakes through a dramatic terrain of massive glaciers, lovely valleys, soaring peaks and cliffs, plunging waterfalls, and two lakes. There is also the opportunity for wildlife sightings.

If you don’t want to drive your own vehicle, you can take the famous Red Bus Tours and complimentary National Park Service shuttles. But take note that the highway is only open seasonally, depending on the weather, with Logan Pass only accessible mid-June through mid-September.

For more information, visit glaciernationalparklodges.com or call 855-733-4522.

Sun set on the mountains

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.

Do you pine for 12,000-foot peaks, high-alpine tundra, and sweeping mountain vistas? Then don’t miss the 48-mile-long Trail Ridge Road, aptly known as Highway to the Sky. Linking Estes Park and Grand Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, the scenic byway crosses the Continental Divide at a soaring 12,183 feet, making it the highest continuously paved road in the United States. Nationally designated an All American Road, it opens Memorial Day weekend and closes in October.

Head out on the road early to catch the dazzling sunrises and grazing wildlife, such as bighorn sheep and elk. Take your time to stop at popular turnouts, including Medicine Bow Curve, Many Parks Curve, and Forest Canyon Overlook. Instagram your #dramashots of towering peaks and open tundra that resembles a moonscape of rock and jagged cliffs. And consider yourself lucky to have witnessed one of the most popular scenic drives in Colorado.

For more information, visit shop.trailridgegiftstore.com/shop.

Zion Road

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Zion National Park, Utah

To experience the grandeur and beauty of Zion National Park from your car, take the 57-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Start the drive from the intersection of Highway 9 and Highway 15 (near St. George) and head east toward Mount Carmel Junction. The fact that it can be a white-knuckle drive with its towering 2,000-foot-high cliffs and relatively few guardrails makes the experience all the more dramatic. But the road rewards you with gorgeous views of the park floor, occasional sightings of bighorn sheep and other wildlife, and many of the park’s well-known landmarks. As you snake through the narrow, steep canyon, you’ll pass some of the iconic rock formations, including the Court of the Patriarchs, the Sentinel, and the Great White Throne, as well as the 6,670-foot-tall Checkerboard Mesa dome.

Keep in mind that from March to November, the part of the road that runs through the park’s canyon will be closed to cars. But you can catch the park’s free shuttle during that time.

For more information, visit zionlodge.com or call 888-297-2757.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from the Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.


Author

Written by: Veronica Stoddart

Award-winning travel editor and writer Veronica Stoddart was the former editor in chief of the Travel Media Group at USA TODAY. She has written for nearly two dozen publications and websites.

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