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8 of the most memorable drives in the West

Our reporter drove all 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs through Virginia and North Carolina.

In national parks throughout the West, rangers and traffic engineers work long hours to nudge travelers out of their cars and onto trails — or at least onto shuttle buses and other less polluting alternatives. But the dramatic roads that the National Park Service carved out in the early 20th century aren’t going away.

Here are eight of the most memorable national park roads I’ve driven west of the Mississippi. Many close in winter.

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Tioga Road

Yosemite National Park, Calif.

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The shadow of a photographer is cast on a boulder at Olmsted Point in the high country off Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park.
The shadow of a photographer is cast on a boulder at Olmsted Point in the high country off Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times )

This seasonal route connects the Owens Valley to the Sierra. Tioga Road runs 59 miles from its eastern terminus at U.S. 395 in Lee Vining (near Mono Lake) to its intersection with Big Oak Flat Road at Crane Flat. From there, most people take Big Oak Flat Road 16 more miles to Yosemite Valley.

Views include Tuolumne Meadows, Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake. Road usually opens in May or June and closes in November.

Conzelman Road

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Calif.

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Dusk settles along the Marin Headlands and the Point Bonita Lighthouse in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Dusk settles along the Marin Headlands and the Point Bonita Lighthouse in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

This five-mile, year-round road (also popular with bicyclists) climbs into the Marin Headlands and looks down on the Golden Gate Bridge, with San Francisco beyond  it.

Near its end is the Point Bonita Lighthouse and more views to the north.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Glacier National Park, Mont.

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park was designed to blend into its mountain setting.
Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park was designed to blend into its mountain setting.
(NPS / Tim Rains )

This seasonal 50-mile road connects the park’s east and west entrances through Logan Pass. It offers epic mountain, valley and lake views.

It was completed in 1933, but it’s been under major rehabilitation since 2007. It typically remains open May to September, depending on weather.

Trail Ridge Road

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.

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Trail Ridge Road reaches elevations of more than 12,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Trail Ridge Road reaches elevations of more than 12,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park.
(National Park Service )

This 48-mile seasonal road connects the park’s western entrance at Grand Lake to its eastern entrance in Estes Park.

It crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass and reaches 12,183 feet near Fall River Pass.  Typically open to vehicles from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.

Rim Drive

Crater Lake National Park, Ore.

A view of Wizard Island from Discovery Point along Rim Drive in Crater Lake National Park.
A view of Wizard Island from Discovery Point along Rim Drive in Crater Lake National Park.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times )

This 33-mile summer-only road circles the Crater Lake caldera, offering many deep blue views.

Titus Canyon Road

Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

On the dirt road to Titus Canyon, Mark Buche takes a moment to take in a desert view in Death Valley National Park.
On the dirt road to Titus Canyon, Mark Buche takes a moment to take in a desert view in Death Valley National Park.
(Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times )
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This 24-mile, one-way gravel road begins just across the Nevada state line, twists and turns through steep canyons. The most rugged ride on this list.

Grand Loop Road

Yellowstone National Park, Mont. (The park also includes bits of Wyoming and Idaho, but this road is in Montana.)

Bison roam  in the Hayden Valley of Yellowstone National Park. The herds frequently graze near roads, stopping traffic while visitors snap photos.
Bison roam in the Hayden Valley of Yellowstone National Park. The herds frequently graze near roads, stopping traffic while visitors snap photos.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times )

The roads at the heart of Yellowstone make a figure 8.  

My favorite stretch is part of the lower loop: the 16 miles north of Yellowstone Lake and south of Canyon Village. There the road, which closes in winter, winds through Hayden Valley, overlooking the Yellowstone River and treeless lowlands that make for wide panoramas and prime wildlife viewing.

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway

Redwood National and State Parks, Calif.

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a 10-mile detour among towering redwoods in Northern California.
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a 10-mile detour among towering redwoods in Northern California.
(National Park Service )

It’s not as famous or as long as the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants farther south in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, but this 10-mile detour off U.S. 101, about six miles north of Orick, threads its way among towering redwoods without signage or commercial traffic. It’s a revelation even if it’s raining or foggy, which is often.

chris.reynolds@latimes.com

Twitter: @mrcsreynolds

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