Sometimes the open road is simply a path from one destination to another—but sometimes the road is the attraction itself. When it comes to scenic drives through national parks, the journey and the destination are often one and the same. Vistas, wildlife sightings, and opportunities for outdoor recreation await in national parks across the country—if you have the right vehicle to navigate them.
RVs and National Park Roads
As much as you may love visiting national parks in your RV, not all park roads are built to accommodate a camper or travel trailer. Whether the road is a historic carriage route or climbs its way up a steep mountainside, there are some routes that have restrictions on vehicle type, length, width, or height.
The National Park Service (NPS) doesn’t have a centralized resource for road restrictions across the parks it manages, but individual park websites sometimes have this information. You can also use the Togo RV and Roadtrippers apps to get RV-specific navigation on public roads. This helps you plan your driving route with the ease of knowing that you’re traveling a safe path. And as always, be sure to observe and heed any on-road signage and park guidance.
But if you have a small camper that can handle nimble roads, or you’re traveling with a tow vehicle and can leave your trailer behind, here are eight scenic drives in national parks worth taking.
Cadillac Summit Road, Acadia National Park
Visitors to Maine’s Acadia National Park won’t want to miss the short drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Cadillac Mountain is not only the highest point on the eastern coast of the U.S., but it’s also the first place in the country where you can see the sunrise from October to March.
Cadillac Summit Road is a paved, 3.5-mile route that’s open to cars, trucks, bicycles, and walkers. RVs and trailers are not allowed, but it’s worth the extra effort to unhitch—at the top, you get stunning views of Maine’s rugged and beautiful coastal landscape. Note that vehicle reservations are required to drive Cadillac Summit Road from mid-May through mid-October.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Enjoy the beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a drive on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a 6-mile loop that starts just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This scenic drive features mountain views, historic buildings, and streams running over mossy boulders. You’ll also find trailheads along the route for both Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls.
Busses, trailers, and motorhomes are not allowed on this road, so unhitch your tow vehicle or toad to experience the beauty of Roaring Fork.
Hot Springs Mountain Road, Hot Springs National Park
Relaxation awaits at Arkansas’ Hot Springs National Park, where the scenic landscape and therapeutic hot springs have beckoned tourists for nearly 200 years. Though the park’s main attraction is the natural hot baths, there’s plenty of wooded beauty to explore, too. The one-time carriage road up Hot Springs Mountain is a favorite of visitors, but its narrow switchbacks aren’t designed for campers longer than 30 feet.
At the top, check out the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, a 216-foot tower with an observation deck.
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park
Drive through the heart of Montana’s Glacier National Park on Going-to-the-Sun Road. This 50-mile scenic drive twists, turns, climbs, and switches back to the top of 6,466-foot Logan Pass and down the other side. Popular stops along the road include the Logan Pass Visitor Center, Lake McDonald Lodge, and the Trail of the Cedars.
The middle 28 miles of Going-to-the-Sun-Road, between Avalanche Campground and the Rising Sun picnic area, are open to personal vehicles only. Vehicles and vehicle combinations cannot exceed 21 feet total or be wider than 8 feet, including mirrors.
For camping along Going-to-the-Sun Road, check out Sprague Creek Campground, Rising Sun Campground, and Apgar Campground. These campgrounds are all located on parts of the road that are accessible to larger vehicles.
Signal Mountain Road, Grand Teton National Park
Enjoy panoramic views of the iconic Teton Mountains at the top of Signal Mountain Road in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Signal Mountain Road is a winding, narrow, 5-mile out-and-back route with two gorgeous mountain viewpoints. Trailers and RVs are prohibited, so be sure to unhook your toad or bring along your tow vehicle for this adventure.
Howland Hill Road, Redwoods National and State Park
Nestle into the soaring redwood forest on the 10-mile Howland Hill Road in California’s Redwoods National and State Park. If the views on the scenic drive look familiar, it may be because Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was filmed nearby. Howland Hill Road was built as a road for stagecoaches and it shows—its narrow dirt surface passes just inches from the enormous redwoods.
According to the NPS, RVs, trucks, and vehicles with trailers are too wide for Howland Hill Road (though I managed to squeak through in my 16-foot campervan). Parking along the road is extremely limited.
Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park
Soak in lake views and alpine vistas along Crater Lake National Park‘s Rim Drive in Oregon. This historic route winds for 33 miles around Crater Lake, whose clear and deep waters gather at the top of a dormant volcano. First cleared in 1913 and paved in 1931, Rim Drive was designed to blend into the landscape and offers 30 scenic overlooks.
While RVs and trailers are allowed on Rim Drive, they aren’t recommended. In addition to being a narrow and winding road, there are tight curves, no shoulders, steep drop-offs, and nowhere to turn around; most of the scenic overlooks only accommodate passenger-sized vehicles. To get the most out of the experience, leave your camper at the campsite and explore lightly.
Mesa Top Ruins Road, Mesa Verde National Park
Perched on top of a wide and flat mesa, Mesa Verde National Park is enjoyable for anyone interested in cliff dwellings, scenic views, wildlife sightings, and expansive night skies. The park entrance and nearby Morefield Campground are just outside the city of Cortez, Colorado. Once past the campground, the road climbs its way to the mesa top. Single-unit RVs, such as a motorhome, Class C, or van, are allowed up Main Road and around Mesa Top Ruins scenic drive, but trailers and motorhomes with towed vehicles are not.
If you’re not staying at the campground, the park allows you to leave your trailer or RV in the visitor center parking lot.
Do you have a favorite national park scenic drive? Share it with us below!