6 Scenic Drives That'll Make You Reach for the Car Keys Right Now

November 16, 2017Katherine RivardNPF Blog
— Victor Wei

The trail mix is already half eaten and your friends have quickly realized that your contribution to the carpool’s karaoke session leaves something to be desired. Just when patience is beginning to wear thin and your internet connection is no longer able to support the Spotify playlist — you see the ranger station ahead and know that happy things await.

Long hikes in the fall or kayaking in the summer are two of the myriad of ways to enjoy the park, but the glory of a simple scenic drive must not be forgotten. Hop in your car and head to any number of parks to spend a pleasant day cruising past breathtaking nature scenes.

A Recreational Drive Through the Past

Natchez Trace Parkway

One of the best-known parks for driving, Natchez Trace Parkway slithers through Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The 444-mile drive has frequent stops with short trails to follow, and tells the story of the many groups that followed along the same path throughout history. Visit earthen mounds that attest to the lasting legacy of American Indian cultural achievements and pass through the same area once explored by General Andrew Jackson and his troops during the War of 1812.

Cruisin’ Through the Swamp

An early morning view of the trees from afar

Big Cypress National Preserve offers visitors the chance to experience the region by car as you travel along the 27-mile Loop Road. Much of the path is gravel and all of it offers a unique look into the area’s natural ecosystem and culture. This swampy Florida park’s namesake Cypress trees line the road as you keep your eyes peeled for endangered wood storks, playful river otters, and fearsome alligators. 

A Scenic Route, Fit for a President

A crescent moon hovers within a gray sky over a quiet field with a single buffalo at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Richard Boatti, Share The Experience

In the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’ll find the Scenic Loop Drive — complete with pullouts and interpretive signs. Drive the 36-mile route after stopping in the visitor center to see a short park film and to explore Roosevelt’s first ranch cabin. Completing the entire route requires at least 90 minutes, but on the way, you’ll have stunning views of the park and experience the preserved rugged landscape, just as young Roosevelt saw it.

Desert Views from Within Your Car

bright orange and pink sunset behind a lone sugaro cactus at Organ Pipe National Monument
National Park Service

Passing through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Puerto Blanco Drive is one of the most popular scenic drives in the park. Visitors can stop at Senita Basin, Quitobaquito Springs, or many other spots where they can expect beautiful views of the Sonoran Desert. This drive allows visitors to Arizona to see the 28 types of prickly cacti — including the rare organ pipe cactus for which the park is named — from the safety of their seat.

Drive by Canyons in the Lone Star State

Endless horizon in Big Bend National Park

Thirty miles of historic and geologic features — this is Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive in Texas’s Big Bend National Park. Take stops at one of the only remaining homesteads or pull over at the scenic overlooks. The park is filled with sweeping dessert views and interspersed with stunning canyons. If your legs get stiff, pull off the road at Santa Elena Canyon and follow a short trail into the canyon, where you’ll stand in awe of 1,500 foot walls!

Out West with Windows Down and Eyes Wide

Bottom arc of a rainbow going into the pillars hoodoos of Colorado National Monument
Amy Hudechek, Share the Experience

Exploring the Wild West by car is never a bad idea — all the views and a fraction of the heat. Drive Colorado National Monument’s 23-mile Rim Rock Drive and you’ll pass by almost two-billion years of rock erosion. Stop along the way to see the Saddlehorn Visitor Center or any number of viewpoints and hiking trails. You’ll be stunned by the park’s red rock canyons, but don’t let them distract you from possibly seeing iconic eagles as they soar above.        

Whether tacked onto the return drive after a formidable hike, or simply a way to see the outdoors and get away from the daily grind, scenic loops and long park drives make for lasting memories with friends or family in the comfort of your car.

This year, the National Park Foundation is excited to once again partner with Subaru as we celebrate the 10th year of the Share the Love Event. Anyone who leases or buys a new Subaru vehicle now through January 2 can “Share the Love” for the parks by selecting the National Park Foundation as their charity of choice. In return, Subaru will donate $250 to the National Park Foundation for each purchase or lease — and that means that future generations will be able to enjoy the parks for years to come.

For even more ideas of how to explore the parks by car, download our free “Road Trippin’” Owner’s Guide, then go #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque!

Comments

I'm surprised that you don't have the "Going to the Sun " road on this list. Although it used to be a little of a "white knuckles" drive, I think it has probably been made a little less stressful since undergoing road improvements a few years ago. It's absolutely the best way to see Glacier National Park.
Frank
Batha
While "Going to the Sun" highway is spectacular, the "Beartooth" Highway from Red Lodge through Cooke City is more than spectacular. It is, however, still stressful due to the heights, switchbacks and steep drops into the valleys.
Thomas
Savage
I think they are going for the lesser-known options. Anyone familiar with the park system would right away think of not only Going to the Sun Highway, but also Trail Ridge Rd (Rocky Mountain NP), Skyline Drive (Shenandoah), and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
John
Ausema
I only found the Theodore Roosevelt NP a few months ago. It was a worthwhile stop on the way to Glacier NP.
Greg
Foote
When I saw Colorado National Monument on the road sign on I70, I thought it would probably be some statue commerating something. How wrong I was! It's the most amazing, not to be missed National Park that you can drive through with numerous pull offs, over looks, and trails to check things out. The best part is when you're up on the rim looking down and can see hikers looking like tiny ants in the canyon. You can yell down to them and see them looking around trying to figure out where the people are that they are hearing talking to them. The scenery, rock formations, park staff, and drive are exceptional. Much better than most of the overrated parks that most people visit. Well worth a visit and plan to spend more time than you'd think because it's so amazing. Colorado National Monument is one National Park that I'd enjoy visiting again when I can spend more time checking out its breathtakingly beautiful sights.
Sherry
Friedrichs

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