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2007: Drives
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The Best of the National Parks: Drives
Fifty easy-to-execute plans that put you in the wild heart of America's national parks, whether you love hiking, paddling, climbing, wildlife viewing, or sublime lodges.   By Robert Earle Howells   Illustration by Jesse Lefkowitz

Illustration: Car on road


National Parks 2007:

Best Hikes  Best Paddling  |  Best Wildlife  |  Best Treks 

Best Drives  |  Best Climbs  |  Best Lodges  |  See All National Parks

Best Trip: Rafting the Grand Canyon

Acadia National Park, Maine
State Route 102 and Park Loop Road
In the national parks, roadbuilding has never been about forging the "fastest route between two points." More, it's an art form; one dedicated to delivering the country's most remarkable sights with all the showmanship of a Broadway spectacle. Nowhere is that craft more apparent than in Acadia. When you leave State Route 3 to head into the park, it's like dropping into a forgotten world, where coastal New England was all lighthouses, lobster villages, and deeply forested mountains tumbling to the sea.

The best trip links the two lobes of Mount Desert Island, Acadia's heart. Start on the more mellow western side, cruising south on Route 102. In the sleepy town of Somesville, take in the wooden footbridge over Somes Creek; it's reminiscent of Monet's Giverny. Four miles (six kilometers) south of town, pull off at the Acadia Mountain trailhead and hoof up 681 feet (208 meters) to the peak's bald summit. Below, Somes Sound, which may or may not be the only fjord on the East Coast (a matter left to geological nitpickers), stretches seven miles (eleven kilometers) to the Atlantic. Farther south, Bass Harbor Lighthouse, dating to 1858, stands as one of those great ghosts of New England, still beaming its warning signal every eight seconds on foggy (i.e., most) days.

Upon your return to Somesville, go east on State Routes 198 and 233 to pick up the 27-mile (43-kilometer) Park Loop Road, which circles the eastern side of Mount Desert. It is here that the coast comes alive with sea cliffs, balsam forests, and offshore islands. Stop at Schooner Head Overlook for a primo vista of Egg Rock Lighthouse, then round out your trip atop the glacier-scoured pate of 1,530-foot (466-meter) Cadillac Mountain. If you happen to be there at dawn (from October to March, at least), you might be the first person in the country to see the sun.

Inside Word: You can't buy fresher (or cheaper) "spiders" than those served up all day, every day at Beal's Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor. A one-pounder (half a kilogram) goes for about eight bucks.

Vitals:
To cut down on your emissions, take the free, propane-powered Island Explorer bus (www.exploreacadia.com). It'll drop you anywhere on Park Loop Road. For more information, visit
www.nps.gov/acad.



Colorado National Monument, Colorado
Rim Rock Drive
The most overlooked red-rock repository in the West is also home to one of the country's most spectacular drives. The 23-mile (37-kilometer) Rim Rock Drive winds above steep-walled canyons and monolithic sandstone formations, while linking 19 viewpoints and 14 hiking trails—every one worth a stop.

Vitals:
For maps, visit www.nps.gov/colm.
                                    

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Skyline Drive
Just beyond Washington, D.C.'s hot air is the fresh breeze of Skyline Drive. The 105-mile (169-kilometer) road courses through a near-primordial Virginia—all hollows, running creeks, and sweeps of flowering azaleas. From the start in Front Royal to the end in Rockfish Gap, you'll trace the crest of the Blue Ridge and take in views of the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley.

Vitals:
For maps, visit www.nps.gov/shen
 

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands Loop Road
Alien buttes, wind blasted pinnacles, and bone-dry canyons—Badlands National Park is home to some of the most otherworldly terrain in the lower 48. For a taste, drive the 36-mile (58-kilometer) Loop Road, which skirts the legendary Badlands Wall, a 60-mile (97-kilometer) stretch of buttes between Kadoka and Scenic. 

Vitals:
For maps, visit www.nps.gov/badl.          
 

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road
No 11-mile (18-kilometer) ride anywhere takes in such varied amazements as Crater Rim Drive, which circles Kilauea's summit crater through desert and rain forest as sulfur fumes waft up from the crater floor. Add to the excitement by dropping 3,700 feet (1,128 meters) in 20 miles (32 kilometers) on Chain of Craters Road. Take a short hike and you might see the oozing, lava-spewing world of a volcanic eruption in progress.

Vitals:
For maps, visit
www.nps.gov/havo.

National Parks 2007:

Best Hikes  Best Paddling  |  Best Wildlife  |  Best Treks 

Best Drives  |  Best Climbs  |  Best Lodges  |  See All National Parks

Best Trip: Rafting the Grand Canyon

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