Autumn is the perfect time to hit the road and drive to – or even through – a national park. Grab your keys and set out on an open road adventure and discover the beauty and history of our national parks along the way.Less
Tour Colorado National Monument by taking a drive along Rim Rock Drive, a 23-mile trek that offers a bird’s eye view of the park’s sheer-walled, red rock canyons that are hundreds of millions of years old. See if you can spot any bighorn sheep or eagles and stop at scenic overlooks to capture the perfect photo. Warning: some bits of the drive can be challenging, narrow, and steep, so be cautious as you travel along the road, shared with bicyclists!
If autumn to you means embracing the eerie, mysterious side of things, then a trip to Big Cypress National Preserve may be in order. Explore dwarf cypress forests, pine forests, and deep strands within the park by journeying along the 27-mile Loop Road drive, and keep your eyes peeled for any of the park’s amazing wildlife. Be sure to ask a ranger about current road conditions before you set out – this mostly gravel route can be tricky to navigate in wet conditions.
Make a leaf-peeping trip to Maine’s Acadia National Park and follow the 27-mile Park Loop Road to take in some of the park’s most popular areas, such as Jordan Pond and Sand Beach. Enjoy panoramic views from Cadillac Mountain, especially lovely at sunset. One of the main ways to navigate around the park, the road can get crowded at times, so make sure you’re aware of parked cars and cyclists you may encounter on your drive.
Spot some iconic American wildlife as you cruise through Great Smoky Mountains National Park along Cades Cove Loop Road. A one-way, 11-mile loop through the park’s broad valley, this drive is one of the best ways to see the park’s wildlife, including white-tailed deer, turkeys, black bears, coyotes, and more. Make sure to give yourself enough time to complete the loop – at least 2 to 4 hours – and be courteous to other park visitors along the way!
As you travel along Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, stop and picnic at the mile-high Craggy Gardens, about 20 miles from Asheville. Providing breathtaking views of the southern Appalachian ridges in the distance, Craggy Gardens is remarkable in the fall as fog dusts the tops of the mountains’ ridges and red mountain ash berry springs up in clusters. You can even stretch your legs and take a 1.5-mile hike on Craggy Pinnacle Trail to the top of the mountains to enjoy panoramic views.
Take the popular Ajo Mountain Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to retrace the steps of people who have traveled through this rugged landscape over the past millennia. A mostly gravel, 21-mile path through the park’s backcountry, the drive is full of twists and turns and offers great views of volcanic mountains and desert plants alike.
Cedar Mountain in Cedar Breaks National Monument is often considered one of the best places to experience bursts of fall colors, and with many scenic highways near the park, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the changing colors of the season. Try the five-mile scenic drive on Utah Highway 148, heading north, to see some of the park’s main attractions, including the North View and Sunset overlooks, and Point Supreme campground and picnic area.
One of the most iconic drives in national parks, Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park is as old as the park itself! The only public road through the park, Skyline Drive is a great way to take in the vast expanse of Shenandoah, with all its fall foliage and breathtaking views. On a clear day, this 105-mile cruise will take about three hours to complete, providing plenty of opportunities to stop at scenic overlooks and take in the beauty of the park.
Taking a scenic drive along Arches National Park’s paved roads is one way to get a lot out of the park if your time is limited. Make sure to visit the Windows section of the park to peer at some of the largest arches in the park, and the Delicate Arch Viewpoint to see the world’s most famous stone arch. Parking at popular viewpoints can be limited, especially during peak hours, so try to plan your trip early in the morning or later in the afternoon or evening to avoid crowds.