Known worldwide as hallmarks of immense beauty, moving history, and unrivaled recreational activities, America’s National Parks draw citizens and international travelers alike to discover the matchless experience each park provides. Drive America’s Byways through these national parks from coast to coast along icy fjords, 19th-century aqueducts, coastal marshes, and beyond.
Adventures in Nature
Catch the spirit of adventure as you begin your tour of America’s National Parks on America's Byways. Just west of Seward on Alaska's Seward Highway lies Kenai Fjords National Park, whose vast terrain was carved by glaciers, earthquakes, and ocean storms. See the park in all its glory on a scenic flight over endless ice fields divided by rugged mountains and spotted with wildlife. For a more intimate view, hop on a tour boat and see the park’s glacier from the bay. If you’re lucky, you’ll glimpse a surfacing Orca whale or otters, sea lions, puffins, and other majestic coastal wildlife. For a more secluded experience, hire a guide and tour the coastline in a kayak or strap on your snowshoes and trek across the frozen terrain. However, before you climb any mountains or hike any glaciers, read up on glacier travel techniques so you’re prepared for your trip.
Prefer fire to ice? Ignite your own adventure and bask in the desert sun in North America’s lowest and driest point—California’s Death Valley National Park—on the Death Valley Scenic Byway. Before you explore the park, pick up a handheld GPS unit from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. These handy devices use "global positioning system" technology to pick up audio and video information relevant to where you are in the park. Over 1,000 miles of paved and dirt roads span the 3.4 million-acre park, guiding you through the towering sandstone at Titus Canyon, the polished marble of Mosaic Canyon, the gently rippled dunes at Mesquite Flat, and the serene waters of Darwin Falls. Despite its desert setting, Death Valley is home to over 1,000 plant species, including beautiful wildflowers of almost every color that bloom from mid-February to early June. Keep an eye out for rare endemic species such as the Death Valley Monkeyflower, the Eureka Dunes Evening Primrose, and the Rock Lady.
Hey, kids! How can you get to be a Junior Ranger, enjoy special activities and get a Junior Ranger badge and certificate? Go to the Junior Ranger website and find out!
National Parks Week is generally the third or fourth week of April. Visit their website for all the happenings at a National Park near you.
Travel America's Byways to National Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites and Trails near you! Browse this list by state and byway.
For more GPS navigation adventures, head east across the US to Minnesota, where the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area lies on the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway and the Great River Road. This park is a geocaching paradise in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Both young and old will love biking, hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing the park's many trails to find the "treasure" in the caches cleverly hidden throughout the park. Don't have a GPS? No problem! You can rent one at the East Coon Rapids Dam section of the park, on the Mississippi River just a few miles north of downtown Minneapolis.
Journey further eastward to the southern shore of Lake Erie in Ohio and let someone else do the driving for a change! Climb aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and see the lush forests, hills, and wildlife of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park from the relaxing comfort of this historic railroad on the Ohio & Erie Canalway. Only a few miles south of Cleveland, the railroad’s brightly painted train glides effortlessly past mirrored lakes, white-tailed deer, and years of rich history preserved at sites throughout the valley. If you’d like to take a break from the train for a refreshing bike ride on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, you’re in luck! The train’s new flexible schedule allows you to board or exit the train at any of its six stops, making a one-way ride back to your car even easier.
Our Nation's History
The byways of America’s National Parks are also excellent places to discover the fascinating history of those who came before us, from the centuries of Native American civilizations through the formation of the Thirteen Colonies, to the Civil War era, the present day, and more.
Start your tour of our country’s history in the Connecticut section of the Quinebaug & Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor. SR-169 traverses this valley from north to south. The Heritage Corridor encompasses a series of 35 towns, so unlike most other national parks, more than 300,000 people call it "home." Also known as “the last green valley,” the park vivifies classic "New England" with its pastures edged in hand-laid stone fences, its white-steepled churches, and its town squares and historic houses. You may want to start at one of the park’s visitor centers, located in Willington, Coventry, and Norwich to plan your visit. You can also find informational brochures in each of the 21 towns in Connecticut’s Quiet Corner.
Take the Great Lakes Seaway Trail to another heritage area, the brand-new Niagara Falls National Heritage Area in western New York. Designated by Congress in December 2008, the area is home to evolving American history and culture. Stop by and explore its three National Historic Landmarks: the Adams Power Transformer House (birthplace of the modern hydroelectric power station), the Niagara Reservation (the oldest state park in the country), and the Colonial Niagara Historic District in Lewiston and Youngstown, home of Old Fort Niagara, where you can find old military architecture and fortifications, living history programs, historical exhibits, and archaeology.
Come to the northern end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia, and visit some of the hundreds of historical sites protected by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Be sure to greet the friendly mules of the C&O Canal, descendants of the original “work engines” of the Ohio Canal. Like their ancestors, these mules still pull canal boats today, guided by park rangers in historic dress. Ride the canal boat to Georgetown in DC or Great Falls in MD/VA and enjoy the gentle lull of the water and your encounter with history.
Head south and follow the history of our nation to the turbulent colonial years on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Cradled by this rich maritime landscape is the nation's oldest port and oldest continually occupied city. Linger throughout your journey to absorb the influence of Native American, French, Spanish, British, African and Minorcan cultures on this lush area of La Florida, aptly named by Ponce de Leon. Drive the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway and explore two historical landmarks drenched in exciting stories from the glory days of the Spanish empire. First, stop at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a symbol of Spain’s struggle to lay claim to this area of the New World over 330 years ago. Work your way through the fort’s casements on a self-guided tour and watch re-enactors in period dress demonstrate the lifestyles and weapons of the Spanish colonists who first inhabited the fort. A beacon of light from the St. Augustine Lighthouse draws you (across the Bridge of Lions) to Anastasia Island.
Expand your tour 15 miles south on the byway at Fort Matanzas National Monument. A further testament to the former might of the Spanish Empire, this fort stands at the southern river approach to St. Augustine. Feel free to wander through the fort and view the 30-foot coquina (shellstone) tower, the black powder storage room and the officer’s quarters. See re-enactors provide demonstrations of the fort’s artillery from the gun deck. Outside the fort, walk the nature trail on Rattlesnake Island or listen to the soothing sound of waves while you comb the beach for shells and driftwood.
Delve further into the Deep South’s wealth of history and follow the Natchez Trace Parkway to one of several sites managed by the National Park Service in Mississippi. At the Natchez National Historical Park in Natchez, take a tour of Melrose Mansion, a Greek revival-style structure representing the glory days of the Old South and the “Cotton Kingdom.” Catch a glimpse of southern living before the Civil War and learn how slaves helped run the monumental estate. Head north on the parkway and brush up on your Civil War history at the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, which today contains over 1,300 monuments, plaques and markers, making it one of the most monument-rich sites in the world. The original battlefield has been remarkably preserved and includes over 20 miles of reconstructed trenches and earthworks.
Continue your Civil War history expedition on Kentucky’s Wilderness Road Heritage Highway in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. If you’d prefer to hoof it on your own, you won’t be disappointed. The park is home to abundant wildlife, including over 150 species of birds. Hike through the ruins of General Zollicoffer’s Civil War fortifications scattered throughout the Gap and take in rewarding views of wildflowers in spring and intricate geologic formations year-round. For a more formal tour, visit the Hensley Settlement or venture underground to the Gap Cave’s subterranean cathedral.
Our Fiery Planet
Head over toward the Pacific Coast and discover the products of our planet’s fiery inner turbulence at Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park on the Chinook Scenic Byway. As you hike the park’s 260 miles of trails, stop to admire the results of the volcano’s 1840 eruption, such as the interesting shapes created by lava flows and the abundance of plant life fed by the layers of mineral-rich ash and pumice spread over the surrounding landscape. An excellent example of this explosion of flora is the aptly named Paradise area, where wildflower meadows create a color tapestry between tall groves of evergreens. For a more extreme experience with the mountain, join the ranks of thousands of mountaineers who successfully make the ascent to the top of the 14,410-foot volcano. This option is not for the faint of heart, so make sure you’re prepared for the trip!
Discover more of the West Coast’s world-famous volcanoes as you venture south into Oregon and California. The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway ushers you to several of our nation’s most scenic volcanic sites. A source of inspiration and curiosity for hundreds of years, Crater Lake National Park is home to America’s deepest lake and a picturesque volcanic basin that's sure to etch itself into your memory. Drive your car around the rim of the crater and see clear blue water that’s interrupted only by a pair of islands rising out of the lake's calm glassy surface. Get a closer look when you take a brief hike down to the lake from the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead and join a boat tour across the lake. To learn more about the area, head to the lake’s Science and Learning Center, where researchers and visitors will learn about the conditions that led to the lake’s formation and the unique ecosystem supported there. Join the ranks of teachers, scientists, and artists who frequently visit the center, and become a citizen scientist. Get involved at the center with activities like the Lichen Bioblitz, an opportunity for members of the community to team up with scientists and researchers and collect specimens from throughout the park. Plan your trip now -- the park is open all winter, but many of the facilities in this stunning park are only available in the summer!
Follow the byway south into California and visit Lava Beds National Monument, a wild and unpredictable landscape filled with caves, wildflowers, and history. Evidence of volcanic activity is everywhere. Spend hours exploring some of the more than 700 tube caves, cinder and spatter cones, and 'lava beds' created by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago. Venture above ground to hike past black lava flows laden with brightly colored wildflowers and contemplate the unique cultural legacy created by 11,000 years of continuous human habitations. Years ago, the Modoc Tribe inhabited the ancient flows until 1872, when they resisted relocation to a reservation and the US Army was sent in. Pay your respects at tragic sites from California’s only major Indian war (PDF) , including a "lava fortress" that the Native Americans barricaded themselves inside during the conflict.
Near the southern end of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, explore Lassen Peak and the damage from its 1915 eruption at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Explore 20 hiking trails winding though riveting views of nature at its most peaceful and violent extremes. Bask in the serenity emanating from Cold Boiling Lake, or witness turbulent boiling fumaroles (volcanic gas vents), thumping mud pots, and steaming ground. For your own safety, stay on the wooden walkways, especially in areas with hydrothermal activity.
Journey to the heart of the Southwest where Capulin Volcano National Monument towers 8,182 feet above sea level near the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico. Get up close and personal with this ancient volcanic site. Drive on the paved road to the rim of the crater for unobstructed views of northeastern New Mexico terrain and a sheer 400-foot descent into the crater. If you’re feeling adventurous, hop on one of several trails that lead around the rim and into the depths of the crater and its surrounding lava flows. Maps, child-carrier backpacks, and safety information about the volcano are available at the visitor center.
If you’re looking for a volcano adventure east of the Mississippi River, follow Virginia’s Skyline Drive. Travel this byway amidst more than 500 miles of hiking trails through Shenandoah National Park. Take a ranger-guided hike through long-extinct volcanic rifts, or search for evidence of the ancient fury these mountains once possessed.
No matter your pleasure or your location, America’s National Parks offer a range of activities and scenery as diverse as the people who visit them. Create your own adventures and share the memories you’ll have for a lifetime as you follow America’s Byways through some of our country’s most awe-inspiring national parks.
- Public domain. Courtesy of Shenandoah National Park
- Public domain. Photo from National Park Service
- Public domain. Photo supplied by the Cuyahoga Scenic Valley Railroad
- Public domain.
- Copyright © January 2007 Chuck Kochmann.
- Copyright © 2001 SEKTDA.
- Copyright © September 2005 Neil Li.
- Public domain.
- Public domain. National Park Service, 1992
- Public domain. Siskiyou County Visitors Bureau, 2001
- Public domain. Photo by Richard Arguello