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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?


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.

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