A View From Your Seat: National Parks

Every park carries a unique appeal. It might be a monument--or literally Mammoth Caves

Sometimes your travel schedule may not permit an extended stay, however. But don't let deter you from seeing some great jewels of the National Park Service.

All regions of the country offer parks suited for day-trippers who are just passing through:

  1. Racetrack Road in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The lowest point in the Northern Hemisphere is found here in Death Valley.
    Arguably the most memorable part of Racetrack Road is Teakettle Junction, which mysteriously became a roadside shrine to tea. For decades, visitors have left teakettles at this one point in the desert landscape. No one, not even the Smithsonian, seems to know exactly how or why the phenomenon began.
  2. Badlands, South Dakota.
    You can drive a loop around the park in about an hour. It will take longer to see Sage Creek Rim Road and areas with animals.
  3. Kolob Terrace Road, Zion National Park, Utah.
    Colorful rock formations and desert landscape unfold before this scenic stretch of roadway.
  4. Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee.
    This meandering drive on the subdued side of a busy park weaves through a historic community.
  5. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.
    Check out these massive pieces of timber that weigh as much as stones and marvel at the strident rock formations.
  6. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
    The Rim Drive is a 33-mile loop that rings around the circular lake. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. The lake rests inside a caldera created nearly 8,000 years ago when a mountain collapsed after a volcanic eruption.
  7. Denali National Park, Alaska.
  8. Craters of the Moon in Idaho.
  9. This gem of the national park system offers six campgrounds, three of which allow RVs. Check out the Thunderbird Falls Trail, home to a refurbished view deck. Go in the winter to see the waterfalls freeze.
  10. Honorable Mention: Fantastic Caverns, Springfield Missouri.

Home to America’s only ride-through cave, Fantastic Caverns was discovered in 1862 by an Ozarks farmer. Five years later a dozen women explored the cave than now hosts tram tours for visitors of all ages.