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