Travel Musings

4 Great National Park Scenic Drives

National Parks are often so-designated because of the high concentration of natural beauty within.   And one of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of each National Park is to take advantage of its designated scenic drives.  Many U.S. National Parks have at least one. Some have even more.   Let me show you a few of my favorite National Park scenic drives.

Arches National Park Scenic Drive

Arches National Park is a popular national park located near Moab Utah. This scenic drive starts at the Visitors Center and extends for 18 miles through the heart of the Park.  All the major attractions in Arches are accessed off this road.  

Points of Interest

Park Avenue and the Courthouse Towers

This is the first parking area after entering the Park and marks the trailhead for a 2 mile roundtrip hike down through these giant sandstone fins.  Further past the parking area are various pullouts for non-hikers to enjoy the monoliths.

A view down Park Avenue in Arches National Park
The Organ - one of the sandstone monoliths that can be found along one of the Arches National Park Scenic Drive
A view of The Organ from a scenic drive pullout

Balanced Rock

One of Arches National Park’s most iconic and oft-photographed features, Balanced Rock sits adjacent to the Scenic Drive.  Here, you’ll find a parking area and a short trail to the Rock.

Balanced Rock sits along the Arches National Park Scenic Drive

Fiery Furnace

The Fiery Furnace is a concentrated collection of narrow sandstone canyons and sandstone fins, and the Scenic Drive takes you right past.  You can also stop at several nearby pullouts and viewpoints to further appreciate this natural wonder.

The Arches National Park Scenic Drive passing by the Fiery Furnace

Devil’s Garden

This popular hiking area and adjacent campground sits at the end of the Scenic Drive.  Here you can take a short flat hike to the world’s longest natural arch – Landscape Arch.  Devil’s Garden also features longer hikes to multiple different arches.

Spur Roads to Famous Arches

Two different paved roads branch off the scenic drive and take you to the Park’s two most famous Arches – Delicate Arch (hiking is required to reach Utah’s most iconic site) and Double Arch (located just off the road).

Delicate Arch in Utah's Arches National Park
Double Arch in Utah's Arches National Park

Click here to read more about these Sites in Arches National Park

Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive

I feel that Capitol Reef is Utah’s most underappreciated National Park. Its scenic drive starts at the Visitors Center and follows Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket Fold for 8 miles.  There are 11 different paved pullouts along the way for you to stop and take in the grandeur. 

Points of Interest

Historic Fruita

The scenic road starts by passing through what remains of the  historic pioneer town of Fruita.  Some of the original buildings remain, like the barn pictured below.  Another of these has been preserved as the Gifford House. It’s famous for producing delicious pies featuring fruit from the area’s namesake orchards.  

An abandoned barn in Fruita Utah along the Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive

Waterpocket Fold Views

The Waterpocket Fold is the key geologic feature of Capitol Reef National Park.  In brief, it’s a 100 mile stretch of the earth’s surface that wrinkled up when certain tectonic plates collided millions of years ago, causing one side to raise higher than the other.  Over time, water then eroded the earth’s surface, both revealing and reshaping the Wrinkle. 

This geologic wonder is easily appreciated from the various pullouts while traveling along this scenic drive:

The Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive following the waterpocket fold
A view of the waterpocket fold from the Capitol Reef National Park Scenic Drive

Cassidy Arch and Grand Wash Trails 

Two of the Park’s best trails can be accessed at the end of a 1.3 mile dirt road that branches off the scenic drive.

Cassidy Arch in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park
Cassidy Arch
The trail through Capitol Reef's Grand Wash
Grand Wash

Capitol Gorge  

The paved scenic drive ends at Capitol Gorge, but a dirt road continues through Capitol Gorge – a ravine that cuts through the Waterpocket Fold.  Where the paved road ends, you’ll find a parking area and access to another popular trail – the Capitol Gorge Trail.

Bryce Canyon National Park Scenic Drive

The Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive starts at the Park’s entrance and travels south for 18 miles along the length of the Park.  Bryce Canyon National Park, located in Southwest Utah, sits on top of a high plateau.  Erosion along its eastern edge has created the hoodoo wonderland that makes Bryce Canyon famous.  This scenic drive takes you along the top of the plateau through a pine forest, with 13 different stops and viewpoints.  Each features a parking area of varying sizes.  

Points of Interest

Amphitheater Viewpoints

I believe that the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater is Utah’s single most spectacular site. It can be witnessed from several different viewpoints, all accessed from the northern section of the scenic drive. You can also access some of the Park’s best hikes including the Navajo Loop, Queen’s Garden, and Rim Trails in this area. 

The view from Bryce Canyon's Sunrise Point
Sunrise Point

The view from Bryce Canyon's Sunset Point
Sunset Point

The view from Bryce Canyon's Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point

The view from Bryce Point along the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater
Bryce Point

Southern Viewpoints

You can access two different viewpoints from the large parking area at the southern end of the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive.  

The view from Rainbow Point at the southern edge of Bryce Canyon National Park's Scenic Drive
Rainbow Point

A view from the Bristlecone Loop Trail near Yovimpa Point in Bryce Canyon National park
Yovimpa Point

Viewpoints in between

In between the Amphitheater and southern end, you’ll find pullouts and small parking areas for the rest of the scenic drive’s viewpoints, including these three:

The view from Paria Point at Bryce Canyon
Paria View Point

The view at Natural Bridge View Point at Bryce Canyon
Natural Bridge View Point

The view from Aqua Canyon in Bryce Canyon National Park
Agua Canyon View Point

North Rim Grand Canyon Scenic Drive

This scenic drive starts just a few miles north of the North Rim Visitors Center in this famed Northern Arizona national park. It then travels 23 miles eastward from the Park’s main road.  It’s a winding drive through pine forest, and takes you to two of the North Rim’s most spectacular viewpoints.  Along its length you’ll also find picnic areas and smaller pullouts to look out and across the grandest of canyons.

Points of Interest

Imperial Point

This is the highest point on the North Rim at 8800 feet and offers commanding views out to the east side of the Grand Canyon.

One of the views from Imperial Point - one of the stops along the scenic drive at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Point Royal

Here you’ll find a large dirt parking lot and a short 0.8 mile round trip hike (easy and paved) out to a 270 degree view of the Grand Canyon.  And as a bonus, you’ll pass the famed Angel’s Window while hiking to the Point. You can even walk out onto it.

One of the views from the Grand Canyon's Point Royal
Angel's window near Point Royal at the Grand Canyon's North Rim

Click here to read more about our snowy visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Zion National Park Scenic Drives

Utah’s Zion National Park has 4 different scenic drives!  Rather than showing you these here, I’ve outlined these in another post dedicated specifically to the Scenic Drives of Zion National Park.

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