In national parks throughout the West, rangers and traffic engineers work long hours to nudge travelers out of their cars and onto trails – or at least onto shuttle buses and other less-polluting alternatives. But the dramatic roads that the National Park Service carved out in the early 20th century aren’t going away.
Here are eight of the most memorable national park roads I’ve driven west of the Mississippi. Many close in winter.
▪ Tioga Road, Yosemite National Park. This seasonal route connects the Owens Valley to the Sierra. Tioga Road runs 59 miles from its eastern terminus at U.S. 395 in Lee Vining (near Mono Lake) to its intersection with Big Oak Flat Road at Crane Flat. From there, most people take Big Oak Flat Road 16 more miles to Yosemite Valley.
Views include Tuolumne Meadows, Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake. Road usually opens in May or June and closes in November. www.nps.gov/yose
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▪ Conzelman Road, Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This 5-mile, year-round road (also popular with bicyclists) climbs into the Marin Headlands and looks down on the Golden Gate Bridge, with San Francisco beyond it.
Near its end is the Point Bonita Lighthouse. www.nps.gov/goga
▪ Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Mont. This seasonal 50-mile road connects the park’s east and west entrances through Logan Pass. It offers epic mountain, valley and lake views.
It typically remains open May to September, depending on weather. www.nps.gov/glac
▪ Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo. This 48-mile seasonal road connects the park’s western entrance at Grand Lake to its eastern entrance in Estes Park.
It crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass and reaches 12,183 feet near Fall River Pass. Typically open to vehicles from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. www.nps.gov/romo
▪ Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park, Ore. This 33-mile summer-only road circles the Crater Lake caldera, offering deep blue views. www.nps.gov/crla
▪ Titus Canyon Road, Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada. This 24-mile, one-way gravel road begins just across the Nevada state line, then twists and turns through steep canyons. The most rugged ride on this list. www.nps.gov/deva
▪ Grand Loop Road, Yellowstone National Park, Mont. The roads at the heart of Yellowstone make a figure eight.
My favorite stretch is part of the lower loop: the 16 miles north of Yellowstone Lake and south of Canyon Village. There the road, which closes in winter, winds through Hayden Valley, overlooking the Yellowstone River and treeless lowlands that make for prime wildlife viewing. www.nps.gov/yell
▪ Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Redwood National and State Parks. It’s not as famous or as long as the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants farther south in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, but this 10-mile detour off U.S. 101, about 6 miles north of Orick, threads its way among towering redwoods without signage or commercial traffic. www.nps.gov/redw