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