Reader Participation Day: What's The Most Fantastic 20-Mile Ride In The National Parks?

One of the views along the Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park. NPS photo by Todd M. Edgar.

There are plenty of long-distance rides in the National Park System that are fantastic. The 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway is one, and the 105-mile Skyline Drive in Shenandoah Park is another.

But where are the best short drives?

For instance, the 16-mile drive from Madison Junction in Yellowstone National Park to the Old Faithful area takes you past some spectacular thermal features -- Fountain Flat Drive, Firehole Lake Drive with the short hike to Fountain Paint Pots, the Midway Geyser Basin with Grand Prismatic Spring, Biscuit Basin, Black Sand Basin. And drifting through it all is the Firehole River.

The short ride on a portion of the Park Loop Road (aka Ocean Drive) in Acadia National Park from Bar Harbor to Otter Cliff takes in the trailhead to the Precipice Trail, leads to Sand Beach and the trail to the Beehive, and Thunder Hole. And all along the way you've got beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean.

And, of course, the 18-mile Rim Road at Bryce Canyon National Park shows off the colorful underbelly of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.

So, where are the best rides, no longer than 20 miles one-way, in the National Park System?


That's easy. My favorite is the up and over route in Rocky Mountain National Park, going either by the Old Fall River Road or Trail Ridge Road.

The drive from McDonald Lodge to Logan Pass on The Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park. It is so awesome I can't sit in the front pasenger's seat. There is no drive that even comes close to being as spectacular!

Wow, what a question. There are so many. Certainly Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP is probably my favorite but Caprice beat me to that one. I'm going to throw out there the Cades Cove loop in Great Smoky Mountains NP has to be on my list. I have done that one many times but one event along that loop stands out more than the others.

While leisurely driving the loop one fall day I noticed a couple of folks out in a field near some leafless oak trees. Up in one tree was a mother black bear and her two, almost as big as her, cubs. They were reaching out and pulling in limbs that still had acorns on them and eating the acorns. The most amazing thing was to watch the mother bear try to pull a limb as big as a man's arm over to eat the acorns on it. Not being successful was not a possibility for her so with two bites of her powerful jaws she took two hugh chuncks out of the limb and then broke it off so she could get to the couple of dozen acorns on the end. Wow! I left that area with a much greater respect for the power of a black bear.

Its a beautiful drive with lots of wildlife, waterfalls, historic buildings and wonderful views of those Great Smoky Mountains.

Though it's technically 25 miles round trip, riding from the entrance of Denali National Park to Savage River where the paved road ends is one of the most challenging and beautiful rides I've ever done. You get to see scenes most only see from a car or bus, and climb 1500' in the process! The ride back down is obviously much easier, and the trek up is well worth it.

Cades Cove. A little short, but I have done multiple loops. A beautiful ride, lots to see.

I think driving (or now riding a bus) in Zion is always great, but Glacier's Going to the sun road is spectacular.

Arches NP from entrance to Devils Garden is extremely scenic with views of the local geology and the nearby Manti La Sal Mountains. One of my favorite drives in the west!

The 11 mile loop road around Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains NP is a wonderful blend of scenic beauty, wildlife, and history. I prefer to visit Cades Cove very early in the morning when the deer, turkey, and black bears are out where visitors can observe them from a safe distance.When I want a less crowded scenic drive in the Smokies, I head to Heintooga Ridge and take the one-way gravel road that winds between the ridges down to Straight Fork. This minimally-used road has everything I want--high-mountain vistas, wildflowers, plenty of trees, and beautiful streams--all without crowds!

I also love the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive through the Virgin River Gorge at Zion NP. You just can't beat the towering cliffs of the Great White Throne and Angel's Landing.

Zion and the Smokies are obvious choices, but what about some less obvious ones? I love driving through the battlefields at Gettysburg. The drive along Seminary Ridge and Confederate Avenue to the summit of Little Round Top are as beautiful and moving as any I've taken in any National Park.

My vote goes to Olympic National Park. There are 4 roads in that park that are between 15-20 miles each. The Hurrican Ridge road leads you 17 miles up to spectacular mountain viewswildflower sets and so much more. The 18 mile road into Sol Duc takes you along the Sol Duc river, and in the fall the colors are changing and the salmon are jumping. The 15 mile winding stretch around Lake Crescent takes you to another world. And then of course there is the 19 mile journey into the Hoh Rainforest. Amazing green canopies of Sprice and Maple tress greet you. From the nurse logs, mosses, down to the banana slugs up to the largest unmanaged heard of Roosevelt Elk, this is a drive worth taking.

Obviously, it is the drive from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. The road is in good shape, uncrowded, and the scenery during the drive is unsurpassed. Cedar Grove doesn't match the scenic beauty of Yosemite Valley, but it is a lot more pleasant to visit.

For pure fun, the jeep ride to The Racetrack at Death Valley.

For the views and interesting environment, Trail Ridge Road.

And the drive from Desert View to Hermits Rest is spectacular...

- Rim Rock Drive at Colorado NM (I know, 23 mi is slightly over the 20 mi mark, but I have to add it nevertheless).

- Newton B. Drury Parkway at Redwood NP

- Ajo Mountain Drive at Organ Pipe Cactus NM

One of my favorite memories in a national park was watching the sunrise at the top of Haleakala and then riding our bikes down the many switchbacks on that glorious mountain road. It was breathtaking (and cold!) to watch the sun rise over the clouds, but the day only got better as we soaked in the amazing scenery all the way down. I can still smell the eucalyptus grove. I agree with past comments about Going to the Sun Road in Glacier and about the Park Loop in Acadia, but the tropical glory in Haleakala deserves to be on the list too.

Cactus Forest Drive in Saguaro National Park is simply amazing, especially after it rains and mists linger across the land in March. Heart of the Sands Drive is up there too.

Further east, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Sleeping Bear Dunes can give viewpoints one is shocked to learn come from Michigan.

Many have told me that have seemingly been everywhere and done everything that the 17 mile Mule Ride into the Grand Canyon (Phantom Ranch) going down the Bright Angel Trail and returning up the ridge the South Kaibab follows to Yaki Point is the best ride and also the best thing they've EVER done. Something about being so humbled by the experience that it was transformational.

How about the ride between Chinquapin and Glacier Point in Yosemite? It's hard to end up in a better place.


Rick Smith
How about the ride between Chinquapin and Glacier Point in Yosemite? It's hard to end up in a better place.
I don't recall it being that interesting until finally reaching Glacier Point. And even then, the parking lot is tucked away and you need to walk a bit before seeing anything all that interesting. Maybe Washburn Point is interesting.

I do recall that Sunrise Road at Mt Rainier NP was spectacular.

One of my favorite local roads is Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands area of Golden Gate NRA. I recently took this road to the Point Bonita Lighthouse, and there are expansive views of the Golden Gate, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean.

Here's a photo of people biking on the one way section:

Here are some great shots, although they're a little bit too large to link inline:

This video shows the way east with views of the Golden Gate Bridge:

This one shows the one way section going west on the way to the Point Bonita Lighthouse:

They're currently rebuilding the road and upgrading the parking areas.

Conzelman Road Reopening in Marin Headlands

The best part is that it isn't remote. It's right off the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's spectacular during the day when one can see for miles into the Pacific and during the night when people see the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

The road from Longmire to Paradise, and the road from the park entrance up to Sunrise, both at Mt. Rainier. The road to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic. Definitely the stretch of Yellowstone's Grand Loop between Norris and Old Faithful, but also the stretch north of Lake to Canyon, through Hayden Valley, usually with herds of bison looking like they're waiting to be extras in Dances With Wolves [g]. The road that ends at the Gateway to the Narrows trail in Zion.

Unfortunately, the only time I've been to Cade's Cove it took me *four hours* to get from the turnoff to the buildings at the far end of the loop. In all good conscience, a road that's as congested as I-5 through Seattle at rush hour is not a good recommendation.. Which is why I'm also not recommending the road to Glacier Point in Yosemite. However, the route down from Tuolumne Meadows to Lee Vining was absolutely amazing.