- Published on
Best Scenic Overlooks in U.S. National Parks
- Jonathan Chum
The national parks of the United States are a treasure trove of natural beauty and awe-inspiring views. From waterfalls to mountains, forests to deserts, each park has its own unique wonders to behold. If you're looking for some spectacular scenery while visiting your favorite national park, then look no further than this list of scenic overlooks.
1. Many Parks Curve Overlook, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The Many Parks Curve Overlook is one of the best scenic overlooks in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Located on Trail Ridge Road at an elevation of 7,000 feet, this overlook provides a breathtaking view of the Colorado River and its many tributaries as they wind through the mountains. The trailhead for this hike can be found about eight miles east of Estes Park on Trail Ridge Road. It's well worth it!
2. Bryce Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Point is the highest point in Bryce Canyon National Park, which means it's also the best place for sunrise and sunset views. If you're looking for a place to watch the sun rise over one of Utah's most famous landmarks, this is it---and if you get there just after sunrise, you'll be able to see fissures glowing with morning light. If you prefer nightfall views, Bryce Point offers some of the best sunset vantage points in Southern Utah as well.
3. North or South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- The South Rim is higher, more exposed and popular. It's also the most accessible part of Grand Canyon National Park with lodging options, restaurants and other amenities. This can be both good and bad: while there are plenty of places where you can safely view the canyon from above (and even down below via Bright Angel Trail), it will be harder to find quiet moments away from tourists.
- The North Rim is quieter but harder to get to by car; you need a permit or special access pass in order to drive all the way through Kaibab National Forest (where it's located). From there, you can walk into Supai Village for day hikes along Havasu Creek into one of several waterfalls. The downside? You won't have as many options for meals as at South Rim hotels; bring snacks with you!
4. Stony Hill Overlook, Denali National Park, Alaska
If you're looking for an expansive scenic overlook, Denali National Park is the place to visit. It's also home to Denali, the tallest mountain in North America (20,310 ft). The Stony Hill Overlook provides a breathtaking view of Mount McKinley (or "Denali" as it's called locally) from a cliff 1,200 feet above Wonder Lake.
To get there: Take the Talkeetna Spur Road from the visitor center and drive 0.5 miles until it ends at Stony Hill Overlook parking area.
5. Morton Overlook, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Location: The overlook is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. To get there from civilization, head east on US-441 and take exit 16A. Turn left onto Fontana Dam Road (NC-28) to reach the overlook parking area. It's about a mile from this point to the actual overlook itself, but it may be worth walking all that way for great views of Fontana Lake and surrounding mountains.*
What you can see from this lookout: First off, you'll want to grab a seat at one of the benches along the edge of Morton Overlook---this place has great views in every direction! Looking southward across Fontana Lake will bring into view some pretty fantastic mountain ranges like Big Laurel Mountain and Chimney Top Mountain; keep your eyes peeled for wildlife as well.*
How to get there: From civilization (or wherever), hop onto US-441 and drive east until you reach exit 16A. Take that exit towards Fontana Dam Road (NC-28) then turn left onto Fontana Dam Road (NC-28). After approximately 1 mile turn right at the sign reading "Morton Overlook." Follow this road up a steep hill with switchbacks until reaching its end where you'll find parking spaces next to restrooms and informational kiosks.*
What else is nearby? Along with having incredible scenic beauty all around them, visitors can also enjoy other activities at these parks including hiking trails such as Alum Cave Trail or Gregory Bald Trail; fishing at Conasauga River Access Area which connects two points along river banks or driving through Cades Cove Loop Rd where visitors may see black bears roaming freely among other animals like deer.*
6. Snake River Overlook, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Snake River Overlook is one of Grand Teton National Park's most popular overlooks. Located on the south rim of Jackson Hole, this scenic spot offers a view of the Snake River and mountains to the east. You can access this overlook by car or on foot from Moran Road.
7. Range View Overlook, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Range View Overlook is located in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. This scenic overlook can be reached by taking a short walk from the parking lot. In addition to its easy accessibility, Range View Overlook offers spectacular views of the surrounding region year-round (though it's especially beautiful during winter). If you're traveling through Virginia in the autumn months, head over to Range View Overlook for some stunning fall foliage views.
Shenandoah National Park offers many other scenic overlooks for visitors to enjoy as well!
8. Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California
Location: Tunnel View Overlook on Wawona Road, approximately 30 minutes from Yosemite Valley
What you can see: A wide variety of views and landscapes, including Half Dome (visible in the distance), Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan and more.
Best time to visit: May through September are the best months for seeing this panoramic view.
How to get there: Drive east along California State Route 41 (Wawona Road) until you reach a small parking lot with restrooms at the end of it; then walk towards a sign that reads "Tunnel View." The hike up is fairly easy, but nonetheless steep enough that people who are out of shape might have trouble getting back down without assistance from someone else if they're not careful about where they place their feet or hands on rocks or trees as they descend.
The park offers several other iconic overlooks within its boundaries---the Mariposa Grove has one called Glacier Point Road Lookout which provides sweeping views over Yosemite Valley and beyond its south rim; Sentinel Dome offers an excellent view of Half Dome from above; but none compares with Tunnel View's grandeur."
9. Sinnott Memorial Overlook, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Sinnott Memorial Overlook is a scenic overlook in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. It offers a great view of Wizard Island and the lake as well as other parts of the park. This is a short walk from the Rim Village parking lot and it's an easy hike for people of all ages to enjoy.
10. Canyon Overlook, Zion National Park, Utah
Located in the southern section of Zion National Park, this overlook offers a beautiful view of the Virgin River and its surrounding canyons. Though you'll want to visit before summer to avoid the heat, this is an ideal spot for watching wildlife and taking photos of nearby waterfalls. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also hike down into the canyon for a closer look at its natural wonders.
With so many incredible overlooks in U.S. national parks, it can be hard to choose the best one for you. But if you're looking to get away from it all and enjoy nature at its finest, look no further than these scenic overlooks. Whether you want to take in the beauty of canyons or mountains, there's something here for everyone!