One of the great joys of being a car enthusiast is spending a few hours on a beautiful stretch of road. Forget the morning commute — that’s just a necessary evil. Taking in nature’s beauty from behind the wheel of a favorite car, however, is another thing entirely.
America’s national parks offer incredible views and winding pavement that few places on the planet can match. If you’ve never taken a day to get out and see them or planned a road trip that passes through these picturesque landscapes, you’re missing out. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Glacier National Park, Montana
Carved out of the natural beauty that divides the U.S. from Canada, Glacier’s unusual geological formations are worthy of stopping to take a look up close. Make sure you travel the creatively named “Going-to-the-Sun” Road, which winds through the mountains. You’ll want to stop at several scenic landmarks to see the sights.
2. Olympic National Park, Washington
Washington is known for its lush forests and natural beauty, and Olympic National Park certainly makes you understand why. The park leaves nothing to be desired for nature lovers and is one of the few places where you can see coastlines, rainforests and mountains within just a couple hours of driving.
3. Joshua Tree National Park, California
Nearly 800,000 acres of California open space has been a refuge for nature lovers since FDR first declared the park a protected space in 1936. With so much ground to cover, there are many ways to see Joshua Tree by car, including an expansive camping area that will require something with ground clearance and possibly even four-wheel drive. Local car clubs have been known to cruise the scenic roads, and Joshua Tree can be an excellent place to connect with other aficionados.
4. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Perhaps one of the best known national parks in the country, the sheer magnitude of Grand Canyon can be challenging to take in. One of the best ways to experience the Canyon is to start at the South Rim and take a five-hour drive to the North Rim. It’s a perspective you won’t be able to get on foot with a hiking pole.
5. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
A truly unique natural spectacle rewards those who travel the long road uphill to reach Crater Lake. But the drive up is equally as stunning as the alpine reservoir itself. Surrounded by verdant Redwood forests, plan to spend around three hours making your way from the base of the hill to the top. It’s worth every minute.
6. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
The Badland’s landscape is unlike anything else in the U.S., and it has several roads winding through it that are perfect for taking it all in. Along the way, you’ll spot numerous opportunities to pull over and take a stroll through the unique geography.
7. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
The Shenandoah Valley has a rustic beauty that evokes turn-of-the-century oil paintings, particularly during the fall when leaves change to vibrant hues of orange and yellow. For a truly spectacular experience, you can connect two national parks by making the drive from Shenandoah to the Great Smoky Mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Much of the drive is technically not spent in protected national park territory, but that doesn’t make it any less breathtaking.
8. Gettysburg National Park, Pennsylvania
Few places in America carry the historical gravitas of Gettysburg. The historic battlefield where over 7,000 soldiers gave their lives is pockmarked with historical monuments and memories of the famous battle that took place there. You could spend an entire day in the park just visiting all of the exciting things there are to see, but the countryside itself is not to be missed.
9. Acadia National Park, Maine
This 27-mile coastal loop should be on every driver’s bucket list. Maine might not be the biggest state on the map, but it can compete with the best in terms of natural beauty. If you were looking for a reason to visit, here it is.
These are just some of the places you can get behind the wheel and take in the beauty that America’s countryside has to offer. We’re lucky to live in such an expansive place where you can still get out and enjoy the fresh air in any of 59 incredible national parks. Where did you last visit? Let us know in the comments below.