Here are some of the amazing drives we’ve had while traveling. Many of these are strictly “leave the RV at the park” trips. From our experience you must head all warnings on these roads – if they say “22 foot max vehicle length” then do not try it in your 30 foot motor home! In fact, in most cases, I wouldn’t even try it in a 22 ft motor home. These are in no particular order so let’s get started..
1.) Park Loop Road – Acadia National Park. This 27 mile, mostly one way, loop offers stunning views of the Maine coast as well as beautiful forests and gardens to explore. It’s an easy drive which does have vehicle size restrictions which are listed here. Because many of the parking areas at the major sights/trailheads along the way are very small and tight I would recommend leaving the large vehicles behind and traveling on the shuttle from the main visitors center or by smaller passenger cars. We stopped at most of the sights and it’s hard to pick a favorite, but we really enjoyed the ranger program at Sand Beach. The story behind the beach is amazing and the kids loved the activities the Ranger did with them.
2.) Going to the Sun Road – Glacier National Park. Many consider this the most beautiful drive in America. It has its own information page dedicated to it here. It’s typically only open from July – September, and has significant vehicle restrictions. We drove it in early July and I have to say, it was terrifying. We drove it from Apgar and the first several miles along lake McDonald are no problem. We drove it in an Excursion, which is high, wide and long and probably not the best vehicle to do it in. After passing lake McDonald, the road starts up the mountain. Here’s where it starts to get hairy. The road is basically a narrow ledge carved on a granite cliff face all the way up to Logan pass. Don’t get me wrong, the views are stunning – absolutely amazing in fact. But this is a road you have to drive, really pay attention and drive. We went up early to try to get parking at Logan Pass (the lot is usually packed by 10am) so we did it during the time bicycles are allowed (they have to be off the road between 11am and 4pm). The bikes just add to the treachery – for both cyclist and motorist so be extra careful and aware if you drive it during cycling hours.
For our trip, the family loved it – they got to sit back and enjoy the views. For me, the heights, cliffs, blind corners, extremely low or non-existent guard rails and dodging bicycles was almost too much. To top it off, Logan Pass parking lot was full when we got there at 9:45am so we didn’t get to hike there. We went down the east side, which was a much easier drive.
I would definitely recommend driving it once just to say you did it. If you’re afraid of heights, have driven it before, or really need to see the Logan pass area then I would opt for the Shuttle from Apgar or Mary ‘s Lake. You’ll get to focus on the beauty and not the stress of the drive.
3.) Hurricane Ridge – Olympic National Park. Easy drive up the mountain. There are a couple of tunnels with height restrictions but all in all, not a difficult drive. There are plenty of pull offs and a few trail heads along the way. The visitor center at the top has lots of parking and there are several trails leading out to the wilderness from there. Just before the visitors center is the entrance to the Obstruction Point road. It’s a dirt road that goes several miles back to the Obstruction Point trailhead – we didn’t drive it, but have heard it’s pretty narrow in spots. Past the visitors center, the road narrows substantially and goes a couple of miles further to the Hurricane Hill trail head. We did do that, and it is a beautiful hike leading to the peak of Hurricane Hill which offers stunning views of Port Angeles and the Strait of Juan De Fuca.
4.) Crescent Lake – Olympic National Park. US-101 runs for about 10 miles along the south shore of Crescent Lake. The Storm King Ranger Station is toward the eastern end of this stretch of road and it offers swimming, boating, a lodge and access to the Marymere Falls and Storm King hiking trails. Crescent Lake is pretty big, cold, deep and has alkaline water high in mineral content, which makes its water stunningly clear and blue. US-101 winds along the shoreline and gives many great points to see all the beauty the lake has to offer.
5.) The Generals Highway – Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park. This is Highway 198 leading into the southwest entrance to the park. Once in the park, it becomes The Generals Highway. The first section is no problem, a two lane road winding through the desert hills. Stop at the visitors center to get more information on the park and pick up a map if you haven’t already. Past the visitors center is where it starts to get interesting. Vehicles longer then 22′ are discouraged and for good reason. For several miles you’ll be treated to a steep, winding two lane road carved out of the cliff faces as you make your way up to the redwood groves at the top. The road offers stunning views of the desert valley below and is challenging to navigate, but not as tough as the Going to the Sun Road. The steep grade and several hairpin turns would make it very difficult to navigate with a larger vehicle. Once you reach the top you almost instantly go from desert to lush redwood forest, the transition is as stark as it is stunning. Huge trees line the road as you continue on. The General Sherman tree is along this road. The trails leading to it have a very large parking lot and there are overflow lots further down the road should the main lot be full. It’s an easy hike and definitely worth the stop – it is the largest known living thing on the planet by volume.
If you continue on and leave park, the northwest entrance is much less steep and windy.
6.) The Redwoods Highway – US-199 between Grants Pass, OR and Crescent City, CA. This is one of the primary routes to get from southern Oregon to US-101 at Crescent City, CA where you can go right into the Redwoods National and State Parks or head north/south along the coast. The Oregon portion is easy. Some bigger hills with passing lanes, but mostly rolling hills and 2 to 4 lanes of traffic. Heading west, you’ll eventually enter CA – there’s a mandatory invasive species checkpoint you’ll have to go through so be prepared for that (no veggies, fruit, plants, zebra mussels, gypsy moths, etc allowed). After your shakedown, you’ll pass through a tunnel and there will be a rest area on the right. Stop there to take a break, you’ll thank yourself later. After leaving the rest area, the trip gets interesting. From there to the US-101 interchange the road is winding, narrow and stunningly beautiful. The first 3/4 of the trip is spent following a river winding through deep canyons. The last 1/4 of the trip is driving through the Redwood forests near the coast. Neither is easier than the other. In the canyons, the road runs along cliff faces on sharp turns with no curb space – careful not to drag yourself down the sides. Also, be weary of “Joe canyon racer” who thinks it’s a good idea to take sharp, blind corners at break neck speeds and using 1/2 of your lane to do it is ok. Once you get into the redwoods, the trees are huge and many of them have expanded into the road. They are kind enough to put reflective markers on them (apparently a tree the size of shuttle rocket booster is easy to miss), but many of them on the sharp curves on the road still bares the scars of trucks/trailers dragging down the side of them.
Going west is probably easier than east – it is down hill. Heading east (which we have not done) you’ll encounter a several miles of 6%+ uphill climbs.
All in all, it’s a beautiful stretch of road. Probably better traveled in a car then an RV, but doable in either and definitely worth the trip.
7.) Davison Road – Redwoods State Park. This road leads back to the beach, where there is a campground and the access parking lot for lots of trails, including the Fern Canyon trail. When you turn onto to the road from US-101 you pass through an elk viewing field. Where the field ends, the fun begins. You’ll come to a big sign at the bottom of a hill – where the forest seems to just swallow the road. That signs warns no trailers and gives very specific vehicle size limits. Do not ignore that sign. The forest looks like it’s swallowing the road because it does. As you climb the hill it doesn’t take long to start questioning yourself – “what have I gotten myself into?”. The road itself is hard packed gravel is extremely narrow, has steep drop offs on the side with no shoulder and yet amazingly – is 2 way. You’ll spend almost as much time thinking “what happens if someone is coming the other way” as you will quickly swinging your steering wheel back and forth to navigate this extremely tight winding roadway. About the only thing my wife said for the 7+ mile trip was “tell me when I can open my eyes”. We did have to pass oncoming traffic in a couple of spots, you really have to pay attention to where the road is wide enough because you may have to back up a good distance to find a spot where you can both fit. In fact, even though I though the road was extremely narrow in the beginning, it got much worse in spots. There were sections that I felt our Explorer was almost too wide all by itself.
Once you get down to the beach area it flattens out and turns into a true two lane dirt road. There was at least one washout where a river was crossing the road that we had to drive through. It looked worse then it was. When we got to the final parking lot, there was a Mazda Miata and many other small cars parked there so the washout didn’t seem to be stopping anyone from getting back there.
On the plus side, the Fern Canyon hike was beautiful and totally worth the drive. On top of that, the drive itself gave me a feeling of accomplishment. If you take your time, go slow and pay close attention to whats coming it’s easily doable.
8.) Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway – Redwoods State Park. This is a scenic bypass that runs for 10 miles from US 101 just south of Klamath, CA back to US 101 just north of Berry Glenn. There are a lot of giant redwoods along this stretch of road and it’s a much nicer trip then the corresponding section of US 101. There are also a number of pull offs and small side roads (no RV’s) leading to multiple hiking trails. If you want to see big trees and not walk far, this is your road, it is absolutely stunning.
9.) Yosemite Valley Loop Road – This is the stunning road that runs through the Yosemite Valley In Yosemite national park. It’s amazingly beautiful. It’s a one way loop and it gets very crowded as you might expect. Make sure you stop at the main visitors center, there’s a movie theater there that runs features on the park and some good exhibits on how the park was formed.
10.) US-101 Washington, Oregon, California Coast. This is an amazing road. The best sections are in Oregon and offers views from sea level tidal areas to seaside cliffs towering over the ocean. It’s a slow drive for most of it and there are many areas that have tight turns and blind corners. There is a tunnel just north of Florence that my Garmin RV 770 LMTS yelled at me repeatedly about. Our trailer is 11′ 8″ tall and the Garmin has the tunnel height at 11′ 6″. The tunnel is actually steeply arched and 11′ 6″ at the curb, but 14′ 6″ at the center. We had no problem going through.
This is a long stretch of road. We’ve driven many parts including:
- Newport, OR to Florence, OR
- Sequim, WA to Ruby Beach, WA
- Sequim, WA to Rt 26 in Oregon (through Astoria and almost to Cannon Beach)
- Crescent City, CA to Santa Rosa, CA via Leggett, CA.
and have not had any issues with tunnels or things that trailer would not fit through.
If you ever have a chance to drive this by all means do, but make sure you set aside adequate time. This a place to absorb the scenery, not just fly through it.
11.) Road to Paradise – Mount Rainier National Park. From the southwest gate of Mount Rainier National park, this two lane road is about an hour-long winding trip up the mountain that is sure to please. It starts at the entrance gate in the dense low forest. As you climb you’ll pass several hiking trails, rivers and waterfalls – most with turnoffs and or parking areas if you want to get out and explore.
One of the most striking features of this road is visible on a clear day when the mountain top can be seen. As you drive, the forest on either side of the road towers above you and in several location the road lines up perfectly so this frames the peak of the mountain perfectly. You really get the sense that you’re “driving up the mountain”. As you continue to climb, the forest will thin out until you reach the Paradise area which is located above the tree line in the alpine meadow region of the mountain. When you get there, the first thing you’ll pass is a parking lot for hikers. If you plan to hike (and you should) and there are spaces there grab one. The lodge is about a 1/4 mile further up and only allows 2 hour parking in its lot. If the first lot is full, the lodge lot probably will be too. If you continue on past the lodge lot then you’ll start down hill along the loop which will take you back to the main road. This section is one way but there is parking allowed on the shoulder. Even this fills up so plan on getting there before 10am if you’d like to park and hike.
12.) Wind River Canyon – US 20 from Thermopolis WY to Shoshoni, WY. If you’re going to or coming from the east and want to use the Yellowstone east entrance this is part of the route you’ll want to take. From the east, the Bighorn mountains stand in the way. There’s two routes over the mountains, one outright dangerous and the other less dangerous, and another route that goes around/through them. This is the latter route and it’s very easy and very beautiful. We took it headed east from Yellowstone but going the other direction should be equally simple. From Thermopolis you head south on rt 20. Shortly after leaving Thermopolis you’ll pick up the Wind River which the road will follow. You’ll see the mountains rising out of the flat plains you’re diving over and they look daunting. As you approach the mountains, you’ll notice that the road never really goes up as the power of the Wind River has carved a deep canyon right through the mountains. You’ll enter that canyon and continue to follow the river all the way through. You basically follow the river for several miles surrounded on either side by sheer cliff faces several thousand feet high. Toward the south end, you pass through three tunnels and come up to Boyson Reservoir. After Shoshoni you pick up US 26 east which takes you to 80 in Casper. From Thermopolis you can take 120 to Cody (also a great little town).
There’s camping there at the state park at Boyson reservoir if you want to stop and enjoy the area. There are also some famous hot springs and a dinosaur fossil dig site in Thermopolis which are worth checking out.
I have more I’ll be adding over time, along with some photos as I did them up. If you have a favorite drive, please let me know, I’d love to hear about it.