The 10 Most Drivable National Parks in the U.S.

Start planning your next road trip.

By: Joe Sills

With more than four million miles of pavement on U.S. roads, travelers are faced with an abundance of scenic routes from sea to shining sea. And with 58 parks in the national park system, many of those roads zip straight through some of America’s finest landscapes. But which roads are the finest? We spent a summer driving across the country to find out. 

These are the most drivable national parks in the U.S.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

The gates of Rocky Mountain National Park sit less than two hours from Denver, making this western 415-square-mile fortress one of the most accessible parks in the country. That shouldn’t deter travelers looking for unparalleled views, though, as Rocky Mountain serves up a surreal, arctic tundra atop America’s highest tarmac: Trail Ridge Road. 

Trail Ridge Road carries drivers 48 miles west from the city of Estes Park, across the continental divide and into the town of Grand Lake. At 12,183 feet, its highest point is often a swirling dreamscape of shifting clouds, spitting snow and wandering elk.

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

The most popular time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is during the elk rut from mid-September through mid-October, so plan accordingly. However, regardless of when you venture to Rocky Mountain National Park, the sky-high views are unrivaled.

2. Glacier National Park

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

There’s no stretch of American asphalt quite like Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. The perilous, 50-mile highway tattoos a path along the bones of North America’s geologic foundations, putting drivers face-to-face with death-defying views of a prehistoric glacial valley. The path here is precious, often opening only by June or July and remaining fully passable for just a few months, as the snow can pack back in by October.

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

Going-to-the-Sun Road is an unmissable experience; but travelers who want to ditch the crowds can leave the pavement for one of Glacier’s many loose gravel roads that dot their way through unblemished wilderness—and equally impressive views—near the outpost of Polebridge, Mont. (pictured), and the Canadian border.

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Photo by: Susan Sills

Susan Sills

You won’t escape the crowds in the Smokies, which are often open year-round thanks to their lower elevations and southern location on the Tennessee/North Carolina border. However, you’ll still find plenty of natural beauty cruising through the heart of one of America’s most ancient mountain ranges. Autumn views here, in particular, are hard to top.

Geologists say the Appalachian Mountains are at least four times older than the Rocky Mountains. These mountains have been aged like a fine, geologic wine, leaving travelers with sweeping panoramas of soft, rolling peaks that melt into the early morning fog and glowing afternoon sunsets.

4. Badlands National Park

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

Isolated from its nearest National Park neighbors by hundreds of miles, South Dakota’s Badlands National Park rewards travelers on Interstate 90 with an immense moonscape that’s easily accessible by car. For road warriors making a continental crossing of the U.S., the park’s surreal network of pinnacles, abundance of wildlife and roadside campsites make the Badlands a can’t-miss destination midway across America.

5. Olympic National Park

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

Home to temperate rainforests, glaciers and rocky Pacific Northwest coastline, Washington’s Olympic National Park serves up an unequalled array of diversity among U.S. parks. Tucked onto the lower 48’s westernmost coast on the Olympic Peninsula, this mega-park is easy to get turned around in. 

Most visitors follow the famed U.S. Highway 101 towards rocky Ruby Beach before sidetracking up Hurricane Ridge Road for a treacherous, winding drive along its cliffs and unobstructed views of the Cascade Mountains at the road’s pinnacle. Olympic’s South Shore Road carries trail happy travelers to multiple trailheads for the Quinault Rainforest Trail, where a mystic, evergreen world awaits.

6. Yosemite National Park

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

A photographer’s paradise, California’s Yosemite National Park is renowned for first-class hiking and climbing in one of the most picturesque landscapes on Earth. Underrated, however, are the park’s roads, which ferry visitors to-and-from trailheads. The phenomenal Glacier Point Road puts drivers face-to-face with the iconic halfdome at Washburn Point and Glacier Point. 

En route, drivers can pull off at Tunnel View, soaking in the sweeping views of Yosemite Valley that fueled Ansel Adams’ dreams, before driving across the spine of Sierra’s on the stunning engineering marvel that is the 9,943-foot Tioga Pass. 

Pro tip: Avoid the crowds by making this drive at sunrise.

7. Bryce Canyon National Park

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

The most compact of Utah’s Big Five national parks at just 55 square miles, Bryce Canyon punches above its weight with an all-star caliber driving tour that carries travelers to scenic vista after scenic vista. Parking areas at Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point and Natural Bridge give quick and easy access to views that are sure to make your jaw drop.

Paired with a sublime mountainous drive up U.S. Highway 89 to the park’s entrance, Bryce Canyon earns a top 10 spot among drivable national parks.

8. Death Valley National Park

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

With radiator-busting temperatures, tire-puncturing rocks and a spare supply of gasoline, Death Valley is few people’s idea of a leisurely cruise. What the park is, however, is humbling. One hundred miles outside of Las Vegas, U.S. Highway 190 carries wary travelers under the shadow of the Funeral Mountains and into the heart of Death Valley. Here, the highway dances like an obsidian ribbon through the Martian landscape, making pit stops at Badwater Basin, the Mesquite Sand Dunes, Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells.

Those who survive the westward journey will soon find themselves in the relative oasis of Lone Pine, Calif., near the base of the Lower 48’s tallest peak, Mount Whitney.

9. Arches National Park

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

Arches needs no introduction to park junkies. The 155-square-mile stretch bordering the Colorado River and Moab, Utah houses some 2,500 natural stone arches. Rookie visitors may be surprised to learn that many of those arches, including the storied Landscape and Turret arches, are clearly visible from the road. Rock formations like the Parade of Elephants, Park Avenue and the Courthouse Towers also lie along Arches Scenic Drive, which beckons travelers off of U.S. 191 before carrying them on towards another member of Utah’s Big Five: Canyonlands.

10. Sequoia National Park

Photo by: Joe Sills

Joe Sills

Rounding out our list in the southern reaches of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the narrow General’s Highway puts drivers under the shadows of the Giant Forest. This ancient grove of sequoia and redwood trees deep in the heart of Sequoia National Park dwarfs even the largest vehicles on the road. Here, drivers can feel the power of some the world’s largest trees right from their seat. 

Hiking trails, however, abound from a parking lot at the Giant Forest Museum. From there, the stout of heart can make a trek through the Giant Forest and the Congress Trail towards the largest tree (by volume) in the world: the General Sherman Tree. 

50 States of National Parks

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Little River Canyon National Preserve (Alabama)

Plan your trip to the Yellowhammer State. See the full list of Alabama national parks here.

Photo By: Jeff Schreier Photography

Denali National Park (Alaska)

Explore a world of wild beauty and pure adventure. See the full list of Alaska national parks here.

Photo By: National Park Service/Tim Rains

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Adventure awaits in The Grand Canyon State. See the full list of Arizona national parks here.

Photo By: Image Bank / Getty Images

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (Arkansas)

Historic battles, hot springs, the Ozarks and more! See the full list of Arkansas national parks here.

Photo By: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Redwood National and State Parks (California)

Iconic landscapes and unforgettable experiences. See the full list of California national parks here.

Photo By: Visit California/Carol Highsmith

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve (Colorado)

The Rocky Mountains and so much more. See the full list of Colorado national parks here.

Photo By: Alison Turner

Twin Brooks Park (Connecticut)

These New England landscapes tell a unique story. See the full list of Connecticut national parks here.

Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network (Delaware)

Discover the beauty of America’s first state. See the full list of Delaware national parks here.

Photo By: James River Association, flickr

Washington Monument (District of Columbia)

Plan your trip to the nation’s capital. See the full list of District of Columbia national parks here.

Photo By: Dennis Govoni / Getty Images

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Everglades, alligators and underwater adventures. See the full list of Florida national parks here.

Photo By: NPS photo

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (Georgia)

Lush greenery, roaring rivers and plenty of peaches. See the full list of Georgia national parks here.

Photo By: Sebastien Windal / iStock

Kalaupapa National Historic Park (Hawaii)

Stunning landscapes abound on these mythic islands. See the full list of Hawaii national parks here.

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve (Idaho)

Where friendly faces and rugged wilderness meet. See the full list of Idaho national parks here.

Photo By: Jarrod Clift

Lincoln Home National Historic Site (Illinois)

Plan your trip to the Land of Lincoln. See the full list of Illinois national parks here.

Photo By: Joe Scherschel

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Indiana)

Start your adventure in the Hoosier State. See the full list of Indiana national parks here.

Photo By: Christine Livingston / Indiana Dunes Tourism

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail (Iowa)

A celebration of Midwestern history. See the full list of Iowa national parks here.

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Prairies, plains and trails await in the Midwest. See the full list of Kansas national parks here.

Photo By: Walter Bibikow

Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (Kentucky)

Explore vast caves, mountain peaks and more. See the full list of Kentucky national parks here.

Photo By: Danita Delimont

Poverty Point National Monument (Louisiana)

Discover bayous and blues history down South. See the full list of Louisiana national parks here.

Photo By: zrfphoto

Acadia National Park (Maine)

Explore Northern coastlines, trails and mountains. See the full list of Maine national parks here.

Photo By: By Kim Carpenter (Near Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park 8911) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons>

Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine (Maryland)

Visit historic battlefields, monuments and parks. See the full list of Maryland national parks here.

Photo By: Buyenlarge

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area (Massachusetts)

Explore peaceful beaches and historic sites. See the full list of Massachusetts national parks here.

Photo By: Kindra Clineff

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

Visit magnificent rock formations and sandy shores. See the full list of Michigan national parks here.

Photo By: Stephen Saks

Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

Journey to fresh rivers, lakes and waterfalls. See the full list of Minnesota national parks here.

Photo By: StevenSchremp

Tupelo National Battlefield (Mississippi)

Scenic roads and sandy beaches await in Mississippi. See the full list of Mississippi national parks here.

Photo By: UniversalImagesGroup

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Missouri)

Explore wide open spaces and historic paths. See the full list of Missouri national parks here.

Photo By: Danita Delimont

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (Montana)

Experience our adventure in Big Sky Country. See the full list of Montana national parks here.

Photo By: zrfphoto

Agate Fossil Beds (Nebraska)

See plains and trails pioneers traveled before you. See the full list of Nebraska national parks here.

Photo By: Posnov / Getty Images

Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Rugged adventures await in the Great Basin Desert. See the full list of Nevada national parks here.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site (New Hampshire)

See beautiful foliage and trails in New England. See the full list of New Hampshire national parks here.

Gateway National Recreation Area (New Jersey)

Northern shores, immigration history and much more. See the full list of New Jersey national parks here.

Photo By: E+ / Getty Images

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)

See Southwestern deserts, canyons and petroglyphs. See the full list of New Mexico national parks here.

Governors Island National Monument (New York)

Majestic waterfalls, historic homes and much more. See the full list of New York national parks here.

Photo By: Thinkstock

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

See mountaintops, scenic parkways and sandy shores. See the full list of North Carolina national parks here.

Photo By: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Find adventure in vast, rugged landscapes. See the full list of North Dakota national parks here.

Photo By: Peter Baer, flickr

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

Find scenic trails, monuments and aviation history. See the full list of Ohio national parks here.

Photo By: zrfphoto

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site (Oklahoma)

Visit symbolic memorials, historic trails and more. See the full list of Oklahoma national parks here.

Photo By: Danita Delimont

Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)

Breathtaking views of mountains, valleys and lakes. See the full list of Oregon national parks here.

Photo By: Moment Open / Getty Images

Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

Bucket list trips for the American history buff. See the full list of Pennsylvania national parks here.

Photo By: Ron Cogswell, flickr

Touro Synagogue National Historic Site (Rhode Island)

Where history and culture meet. See the full list of Rhode Island national parks here.

Photo By: Swampyank at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

Discover the tallest trees in the Southeast. See the full list of South Carolina national parks here.

Photo By: Eric Foltz / iStock

Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota)

Discover Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and more. See the full list of South Dakota national parks here.

Photo By: Thinkstock

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee)

A go-to destination for outdoor adventure. See the full list of Tennessee national parks here.

Photo By: WerksMedia

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Adventure awaits in the Lone Star State. See the full list of Texas national parks here.

Photo By: Ian Shive / Aurora Photos

Arches National Park (Utah)

Discover "The Mighty 5" and so much more! See the full list of Utah national parks here.

Photo By: Whit Richardson / Aurora Photos

Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park (Vermont)

Appropriately dubbed the Green Mountain State. See the full list of Vermont national parks here.

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

The stunning backdrop to early American history. See the full list of Virginia national parks here.

Mount Ranier National Park (Washington)

Explore the nation’s Northwest corner. See the full list of Washington national parks here.

Photo By: Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Gauley River National Recreation Area (West Virginia)

Discover historic mountains, rivers and towns. See the full list of West Virginia national parks here.

Photo By: Trevor Clark / Aurora Photos

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Enjoy this state’s ample water and rolling hills. See the full list of Wisconsin national parks here.

Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)

The least populous state has room to roam. See the full list of Wyoming national parks here.

Photo By: iStockPhoto.com/dmathies

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