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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?


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.

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

- 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

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...

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