National Parks Week: 3 Scenic Park Drives Everyone Should Do at Least Once

From Great Smoky Mountains and Petrified Forest to Zion National Park these scenic drives are worth the trip

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has impacted RV travel right now. As RVers, travel is our way of life and, if you’re like us, you’re feeling the frustration of being limited to one location without the freedom to travel. 2020 is certainly presenting new challenges and now, more than ever, we realize that the freedom to travel is something we can’t take for granted. Now is a great time to start thinking of places you’d like to go—especially bucket-list destinations.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Park Week is celebrated each year in April as a reminder of America’s rich heritage of lands set aside for preservation and enjoyment. Taking a scenic drive through the national parks is a perfect way to appreciate their beauty and timelessness so we have selected a few favorites.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lovers of the outdoors might take advantage of hiking and camping in the parks while others want to experience the beauty of the parks in a more relaxed way. For everyone a road trip is an ideal start. The parks are often remote so prep the RV, fuel up, and plan your outing with these tips.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest national park in the East, Great Smoky Mountains is also America’s most-visited national park. Wildlife, forests, hiking trails, streams, wildflowers, and more than 90 historic structures make this park unique and popular. The hazy morning mist gave the mountains their name and waterfalls throughout the park including one that you can actually walk behind attract hikers to its more than 800 miles of trails.

Scenic Drives

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 270 miles of road, mostly paved, offer a variety of scenic drives. Guide booklets are available at the park’s four visitor centers. Cades Cove is one of the most visited areas of the park and it can be accessed after a scenic 25-mile drive from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail nearly six miles of winding one-way road through the forest includes views of mountains, rushing streams, wildlife, and historic buildings.

If You’re Not a Hiker

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A waterfall called the “Place of a Thousand Drips” can be seen from the car at Stop 15 near the end of Roaring Fork Nature Trail. Meigs Falls can also be seen from the parking area on Little River Road near Cades Cove.

Petrified Forest Road, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This national park features trees dating back more than 200 million years that have turned to stone by absorbing minerals from the water that once surrounded them. The park also includes fossilized flora and fauna, petroglyphs, wildflowers, colorful rock formations, and wildlife. Hiking trails allow visitors to see the petrified wood, petroglyphs, and fossils.

Scenic Drives

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trip from one end of the park to the other is about 28 miles. There’s so much to see from the Painted Desert in the north to the southern half of the drive where most of the petrified wood lies. Hiking trails along the way take visitors close to the sights. Starting in the north at Exit 311 off I-40, stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center to see an 18-minute film, hands-on exhibits, and a short walking trail.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your next stop should be the Painted Desert Inn now a National Historic Landmark and museum. Originally built with petrified wood, the Inn has been restored and in summer there’s an ice cream parlor, a reminder of the Inn’s days as a popular stop on Route 66. Continue south to the Rainbow Forest Museum near the park’s southern entrance for paleontological exhibits and access to several hiking trails, including the one to Agate House.

If You’re Not a Hiker

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 28-mile drive passes through a variety of environments, colorful rock formations, and scenic pullouts with spectacular views. At the Crystal Forest Trail, petrified logs can easily be seen within steps of the parking area. It’s possible to spot wildlife along the drive as well.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park in southwestern Utah is known for spectacular scenery that includes colorful mountains, peaks, sandstone formations, canyons, waterfalls, cliffs, and wildlife. Zion’s popularity has led to vehicle limitations and two shuttle routes for transportation through the park from March to November.

Scenic Drive

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 54-mile route starts at the intersection of Highway 9 and I-15 about nine miles east of St. George and ends at the Mt. Carmel Junction. From November until March, you’ll be able to drive the entire route but from spring through fall the Zion Canyon section is closed to cars. Take the free shuttle which makes nine stops and takes about an hour and a half..

If You’re Not a Hiker

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion’s shuttles are ideal to see the breathtaking scenery. Stops include the Zion Human History Museum, Zion Lodge, and Canyon Junction where guests can enjoy 360-degree views.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure. —Michael Frome

National Parks Week: Teetering in the Unknown

From Shenandoah and Arches to Joshua Tree National Park these scenic drives are worth the trip

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has impacted RV travel right now. As RVers, travel is our way of life and, if you’re like us, you’re feeling the frustration of being limited to one location without the freedom to travel. 2020 is certainly presenting new challenges and now, more than ever, we realize that the freedom to travel is something we can’t take for granted. Now is a great time to start thinking of places you’d like to go—especially national parks.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The late travel icon Anthony Bourdain might have said it best: “Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.” It’s about that friction of nervous excitement, that exultant moment, giving way to revelation as you open your senses to somewhere different and new. That’s the mark of an RV trip well taken.

White National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Teetering in the unknown” doesn’t necessarily mean winging it—you need to know where to go before you actually go and just as important the why and the when. That’s where we come in. We littered our motorhome with maps to find the three coolest road trips in honor of National Parks Week.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state of Virginia is home to Shenandoah National Park set along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western part of the state. The park features a range of environments including forests, wetlands, and mountain peaks as well as waterfalls, hiking trails, picnic areas, and wildlife.

Scenic Drive

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting at the Front Royal Entrance, you’ll get to the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center in about four miles. Take in the view and make plans for hikes to take and waterfalls to see. Skyline Drive is the starting point for a variety of hiking trails many of which permit dogs making Shenandoah one of the most pet-friendly national parks.

If You’re Not a Hiker

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll very likely spot wildlife like bears, deer, groundhogs, or wild turkeys crossing the road from your car and many overlooks from the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains provide stunning views.

Scenic Drive, Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In southeastern Utah, near the town of Moab, is a wonderland of more than 2,000 sandstone arches, set in a picturesque landscape of soaring fins and spires. The arches come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only three feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America.

Scenic Drives

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff and winds along the arid terrain along the first amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road initially passes the Park Avenue area and then Courthouse Towers. The road then comes to the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock, where a 55-foot-high boulder sits precariously on a narrow pedestal.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turnoffs lead to the Windows section and Wolfe Ranch and the Delicate Arch viewpoints. Once again on the main road, the Scenic Drive provides overlooks for Salt Valley and Fiery Furnace. Fiery Furnace is home to a fascinating labyrinth of ridges and narrow canyons. The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

If You’re Not a Hiker

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world, the park also features massive sandstone fins, giant balanced rocks, and hundreds of towering pinnacles—all in vibrant oranges, reds, and other colors.

Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is located in southeastern California about an hour east of Palm Springs. Named for the twisted trees that reminded early Mormon settlers of arms reaching up in prayer, Joshua Tree includes parts of both the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Striking rock formations, boulders, and varied terrain make Joshua Tree popular with hikers, campers, and rock climbers. The weather ranges from very hot summers to colder winters and occasional snow.

Scenic Drives

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park can be entered from the north at either Joshua Tree or Twenty-nine Palms. From the south the entrance is from I-10 and the first Visitor Center is at Cottonwood. Stop at the Cholla Cactus Garden where you can walk (carefully) on a path among the prickly cacti. Geology Tour Road is an 18-mile drive through some of the park’s most fascinating landscapes. The Keys View detour takes you to an elevation of 5,185 feet for views of the Coachella Valley, Salton Sea, and San Jacinto Peak.

If You’re Not a Hiker

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll be surrounded by views of rocks, hills, Joshua Trees, and more on the drive through the park. The panoramic sights from Keys View can be seen from the parking area.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius