Established in 1872, Yellowstone was the very first national park in the world. But it took another 44 years for Congress to create the National Park Service on August 25, 1916.
Today, there are 59 national parks in the U.S. covering over 84 million acres of land. While Yellowstone is the oldest, California’s Pinnacles National Park, created in 2013, is the newest; they also join a growing list of national monuments, too. To celebrate this most noteworthy anniversary, take a road trip to a uniquely American treasure. These five off-the-beaten path areas are worth the adventure.
Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, Colorado
Take a deep breath as you stand on the rocky rim of southwest Colorado’s Black Canyon and peer down the 2,000 feet to the raging Gunnison River below. So narrow is this crack in the earth, and so vertical are its sides, that the river below gets a maximum of just 33 minutes of direct sunlight a day. And, there are some jaw-dropping driving roads around the Canyon. The East Portal Road at the south rim leads to the river via a series of turns and 16 percent grades. Then there’s the gravel road leading to the Canyon’s North Rim and its six breathtaking overlooks. That’s when you’ll really appreciate the 4MOTION® all-wheel drive system of the Golf Alltrack.
Getting there: Drive 14 miles northeast from Montrose, Colorado, or 264 miles from Denver. More info: www.nps.gov/blca
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Nestled among some of the most rugged and visually stunning mountains in the southeastern U.S., the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park plays Eden to hikers, bikers, campers, anglers and wildlife watchers. Herds of mighty elk roam the valley, and the Cove Creek Road, a part-gravel, part-paved two-lane road, snakes along, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the new Golf Alltrack. And in autumn, Cataloochee is a magnet for leaf peepers as the sugar maples, hickories and scarlet oaks don their spectacular autumn regalia.
Getting there: The three main entrances to the park are in Gatlinburg, TN; Townsend, TN; and Cherokee, NC. More info: www.nps.gov/grsm
Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree National Park, California
California’s Joshua Tree National Park is a popular destination, with more than 2 million visitors in 2015. But at 1.2 million square miles, it’s huge—so there’s room for everyone. To have fun getting to know the Golf Alltrack and get a flavor of the park’s magnificent landscape, take a drive on the unpaved Geology Tour Road. You’ll only need to traverse the first five or six miles to encounter some of the most dramatic scenery — and appreciate how nimbly the Golf Alltrack can handle road conditions. Visit at night, and you’ll enjoy a beautiful stargazing experience unique to the West.
Getting there: Take Park Blvd. from Twentynine Palms, California or Joshua Tree. More info: www.nps.gov/jotr
Dagger Flat Auto Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas
National parks don’t come much more remote than Big Bend. Straddling the Rio Grande with West Texas on one side and Mexico on the other, it’s one of the least-visited national parks. Yet make the 242-mile trip from Midland, Texas, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular scenery, including the soaring Chisos range, massive canyons and a wild river. After adventure-seekers pack their trail-smart gear into the expansive storage of the Alltrack, they tend to turn to the rugged Dagger Flat Auto Trail, which passes through forests of dagger yucca trees, as well as the 14-mile Old Maverick Road, which moves through the Terlingua Creek Badlands down to the banks of the Rio Grande. Important: Roads like those discussed here are subject to weather-related closings from time to time, so always call ahead or check the NPS website before you go.
Getting there: It’s 28 miles from Terlingua, Texas, or 559 miles west from Dallas to the park’s main entrance at Panther Junction. More info: www.nps.gov/bibe
Driving in Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park
During spring, summer and fall, Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park is a watery wonderland with over 30 lakes and more than 900 islands to explore. Strap a kayak to the roof of the Alltrack so you can paddle to your heart’s content when you get there. In fact, for most of the year, a kayak or motorboat is the only way you can reach the park’s remote Rainy Lake area. But come winter, pack your cross-country skis—or borrow snowshoes free of charge from Visitor Center—and you’re ready for a day in the powder.
Getting there: From Duluth it’s three hours drive, or five hours from Minneapolis-St.Paul. More info: www.nps.gov/voya