6 of the most amazing national park drives in the US
Monday, June 09, 2014
One of the best things the federal government has accomplished over the last 100 years or so has been establishing and reasonably maintaining America's network of 59 national parks. These enclaves are spread across 27 states and protect more than 52 million acres of real estate.
Many millions of people visit the parks annually, drawn by reasonable entrance fees (ranging from $10 to $25 per vehicle), spectacular scenery and myriad recreational opportunities.
For some — those who can't or won't get out and hike, bike or paddle — sightseeing is the next best option. With some parks being better than others for taking in the sights from the windows of a car or RV, here are six parks that offer the best drive trip experience.
At the Lassen Peak Viewpoint, you'll witness the majesty of Lassen Peak from the highest point on the park road at 8,512 feet.
Lassen Volcanic National Park in north-central California is an amazing mix of smoking fumaroles, jagged peaks, flowery meadows, rushing streams and numerous extinct volcanoes.
A 30-mile paved roadway through the heart of the park offers an excellent introduction to the preserve's many wonders. A handy road guide, available at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, will lead you to such features as the Sulphur Works, where you can enjoy a safe hydrothermal experience, surrounded by a gurgling symphony of venting steam and boiling mud pots.
At the Lassen Peak Viewpoint, you'll witness the majesty of Lassen Peak from the highest point on the park road at 8,512 feet. A scenic pull-out just down the road reveals the park's softer side with views over Kings Creek Meadow, seasonally sprinkled with wildflowers. Later, looking out over Chaos Crags and Jumbles, a scattered field of boulders reminds of the devastation wrought by one of Lassen Peak's last eruptions.
Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park provides a remarkable view over the wildly eroded, vibrantly colored badlands below.
Death Valley National Park covers 3.4 million acres of southeastern California desert and mountains, making it the largest national park in the contiguous United States.
One of this park's best drives leads from the entrance at Death Valley Junction along Hwy 190 to Zabriskie Point for a remarkable view over the wildly eroded, vibrantly colored badlands below. Continue along the entrance road and treat yourself to some air conditioning and perhaps a meal or overnight stay at Furnace Creek Inn, which — nestled in an oasis-like setting — may appear as a mirage, but in reality is a luxury 66-room resort.
Exit the Inn and drive south along Badwater Road to Artist's Drive, a 9-mile loop drive through a lunar-like landscape of multihued volcanic and sedimentary hills. Continue down Badwater Road to Badwater Basin, lowest point in the U.S. at 282 feet below sea level.
Kolob Canyons in Zion National Park reveal narrow box canyons cut into the western edge of the Colorado Plateau, forming sheer 2,000-foot cliffs.
Kolob Canyons in Zion National Park hide away in the less-traveled northwest corner of Zion (just off Exit 40 on Interstate 15), carving a winding course through a crimson canyonland fringed by forest.
It's a short five-mile drive, but it packs plenty of scenic punch, revealing narrow box canyons cut into the western edge of the Colorado Plateau, forming sheer 2,000-foot cliffs. The route features a number of scenic viewpoints and access to a variety of hiking trails.
A high desert region now, some 225 million years ago the Petrified Forest National Park was a vast floodplain where forests of pine-like trees succumbed to mineral-laden water.
Petrified Forest National Park presents a land of scenic splendor and fascinating science, featuring one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood. A paved 28-mile route bisects the 93,533-acre park, located in northeastern Arizona, connecting its north entrance on Interstate 40 with a southern gateway on Highway 280.
A high desert region now, some 225 million years ago the area was a vast floodplain where forests of pine-like trees succumbed to mineral-laden water. Through millions of years of geologic evolution, the Earth's crust rose to reveal a scattered layer of logs.
Infused with silica and other minerals that began to crystalize, the logs eventually became petrified — trees literally turned to stone. And here they remain today, along with the fossilized remains of dinosaurs, fish and plants, posing mute testimony to the long and tortured history of Mother Earth.
A spin along the park drive, with its numerous viewpoints, reveals a fallen forest of logs, the exposed ends of which exhibit colorful rings of agate, jasper and amethyst. Omnipresent too are marvelous views of the Painted Desert, a vibrant expanse of badlands that make up a large portion of the park.
Going to the Sun Road traverses Glacier National Park for 50 miles, winding along mountainsides and hugging the shores of the park’s two largest lakes. This route rewards you with dramatic views and an experience long to be remembered.
Glacier National Park encompasses 1.4 million acres of Montana wilderness and some of the most sensational mountain scenery in the Rocky Mountain West. The park gets its name from the more than 50 glaciers located within its bounds.
Built in 1932, Going to the Sun Road traverses the park from east to west for 50 miles, winding along mountainsides and hugging the shores of the park's two largest lakes. Numerous turnouts and wayside exhibits allow you to to stop and enjoy the park at your own pace. It is a route that rewards you with dramatic views and an experience long to be remembered.
Portions of the road are open year-round, and the entire length may be open mid-June to mid-September — with the possible closure of some sections due to heavy snow. In September, 2014 a section of the road east of Logan Pass will close for maintenance — but you'll still be able to drive to Logan Pass from the west entrance.
At Santa Elena Canyon, the Rio Grande has sliced a 1,500-foot vertical chasm out of pure limestone to form one of the most magnificent canyons in the American West.
Big Bend National Park is one of the largest, most remote and lightly visited of America’s national parks. Covering more than 800,000 acres of high desert and mountains in southwest Texas, it borders Mexico along a 118-mile stretch of the Rio Grande River.
Aptly named after a large bend in the Rio Grande, the park draws only about 300,000 visitors a year, but those who come relish in its rugged scenery and diverse wildlife, and also its distinctive border culture that goes back to the 16th and 17th centuries when Spanish conquistadors crossed the Rio Grande here in search of gold.
The 30-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive highlights a number of the park's key natural and historical features. It leads south from Santa Elena Junction, taking in a pair of old ranches — Sam Nail and Homer Wilson — that predate establishment of the park and continue on to scenic overlooks that provide unparalleled views of the entire western side of the park.
The Maxwell drive concludes with a visit to Castolon Historic District, once the headquarters of a cotton farming enterprise and later an Army cavalry camp. Saving the best until last, it affords a grand view of Santa Elena Canyon. Here the Rio Grande has sliced a 1,500-foot vertical chasm out of pure limestone to form one of the most magnificent canyons in the American West.
For more information, go to the National Park Service website at www.nps.gov.
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