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America's Ultimate 7 National Parks Road Trips
Enjoy red-rock canyons, hair-raising bends and surreal geologic wonders on an unforgettable drive.
Take an epic drive.
Jaw-dropping natural splendors, otherworldly rock formations and sublime panoramic views are just a few of the things you'll find at America's prized national parks. While the parks on this list offer diverse landscapes – from the craggy coastlines of Maine and the crimson-colored spires of Arizona to ice-carved cliffs in the Rockies – they attract outdoor lovers of all kinds with epic hiking trails, spectacular wildlife and impressive peaks, lakes and canyons. And the best way to experience these national parks, in all their glory, is on a postcard-worthy drive. Read on for a road trip to remember.
Acadia National Park, Maine
On Acadia's iconic 27-mile Park Loop Road, spectators can take in spellbinding Atlantic Ocean and Maine coastal views as they wind along the rugged shoreline. Start north of Acadia on state Route 3, and head past the picturesque Champlain Mountain Overlook. Continue onto Hulls Cove from Route 3 to weave past Thunder Hole, Otter Cliff and the park's crown jewel: Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic coast. Along the way, make sure to pause for a hike or bike along the area's famed network of Carriage Roads and explore can't-miss sights such as Sand Beach and Jordan Pond for memorable photo ops.
Yosemite National Park, California
With spectacular scenery and dependably good weather conditions, it's easy to see why road-trippers are lured to the Golden State, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo. For those yearning for a quick drive from San Francisco, Saglie points to Yosemite, which is located just 165 miles west of San Francisco International Airport. Take Tioga Pass Road on state Highway 120 for enchanting views of Half Dome and Sierra Nevada high country. Sarah Stocking, Lonely Planet's California and Mexico destination editor, suggests stopping by Tuolumne Meadows "for a beautiful landscape of wildflowers and streams set against the mountain peaks." Just keep in mind the road is typically open from the end of May or early June through November and closes seasonally, so check current conditions.
Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, Utah
On this scenic route to some of Utah's best places to visit, road-trippers can cruise through remote roads across the Southwest, looping past dramatic canyon walls and gorges such as the Narrows and Angels Landing, before continuing on for approximately 85 miles north along U.S. Highway 89 to Bryce Canyon, where ochre-colored hoodoos await. Take a break to explore the sweeping plateau along the Pink Ledges Trail in Red Canyon, or stroll along the Rim Trail for jaw-dropping vantage points of hoodoos, the amphitheater and Sunset, Sunrise and Inspiration points. Afterward, travel along state Highway 24 to Capitol Reef, where you can take in striking rock layers, soaring spires and dramatic canyons.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Spanning 6 million acres, Denali National Park is monumental, to say the least. Along the five-hour drive from Anchorage along Highway 3, you'll pass soaring mountains (hat tip: Mount McKinley), and picturesque paths like Mountain Vista Trail. Pause for a meal at Talkeetna, a small town located near mile 99 with plenty of charm and casual eateries. Once you enter the park, hop on the reliable shuttles or tour buses to experience the park's 92-mile Denali Park Road, snaking through sheer cliffs, billowing mountains and excellent wildlife-viewing areas. If you want to stay overnight, retreat to the campgrounds at Wonder Lake at mile 85, located near Denali to take in arresting vantage points.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Ice-carved cliffs, soaring mountains and glittering alpine lakes lure outdoorsy types to cross the Continental Divide at Logan Pass on Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road. Stretching over 50 miles on a two-lane road, the scenic route weaves past cedar forests, plunging waterfalls and picturesque overlooks. Along the way, look for bighorn sheep, mountain goats and other wildlife. Take time to stretch your legs and enjoy a leisurely break for a picnic at scenic spots such as Rising Sun and Saint Mary Lake. Start your journey to Logan Pass from the park's east or west entrances, located 18 miles and 32 miles from the beginning of Going-to-the-Sun Road, respectively. Keep in mind, the route takes about two hours to complete.
Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Visitors on Skyline Drive's 105-mile route snake through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, catching sight of the Shenandoah Valley and the rolling mountain passes, along with local wildlife such as turkeys and black bears. Start along U.S. Route 340 to enter the 200,000-acre park at Front Royal, Virginia. Along the way, stop to enjoy a leisurely picnic and hike one the area's lovely trails, which burst with purple dogwoods, orange hickories and other eye-catching foliage come autumn. For more impressive views, check out Clingmans Dome, the tallest point in the Great Smoky Mountains prior to entering the park.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Start your tour of the Grand Canyon at South Rim off U.S. Route 180 to take in sweeping vistas of the Colorado River. From there, head to the lesser-visited North Rim to explore must-see sights such as Bright Angel Point, Point Imperial and Cape Royal, or hike along the area's serene trails weaving through evergreen forests. If you want to stay for the night, head to North Rim Campground along the Kaibab Plateau, where you can easily access the Bridle Trail and the Transept Trail and enjoy picnic areas, campfire rings, prime wildlife-viewing areas while soaking in the surrounding canyon.
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