Nature has its charms in any season, but the colder ones certainly make many natural destinations harder to access, particularly in mountainous areas. For that reason, it's especially important to take advantage when some of the nation's most beautiful drives become accessible to vehicle traffic after the long thaw of spring.
NORTH CASCADES HIGHWAY
The northernmost route through the Cascade Mountain Range is unsurprisingly closed in winter, but Scenic Route 20 -- a byway and portion of the larger Cascade Loop Route -- reopened in mid-May to all drivers, campers, and mountaineers eager to experience the especially dramatic glacier-topped peaks of North Cascades National Park.
Some Glacier National Park sightseeing remain open in winter, but it's worth going when it opens all the way to its highest point at Logan Pass, offering panoramic views from an observation area right atop the Continental Divide. This doesn't typically occur until sometime in June, or possibly July.
TRAIL RIDGE ROAD
Nicknamed the "highway to the sky," this 48-mile road traverses the length of Rocky Mountain National Park and curves its way up steep elevations gains to reach a breathtaking 12,183 feet. Trail Ridge Road is open only to pedestrians and bicyclists until the weather permits cars, usually in late May.
The only route encircling the length of the magnificent volcanic Crater Lake is closed almost completely through the region's harsh winter. The roads are slow to open even in summer, when East Rim Drive and the Pinnacles Road -- going to one of the park's most distinct geological formations -- can remain closed until mid-July.
CEDAR BREAKS SCENIC DRIVE
This scenic route in southwest Utah runs 5 miles through the underrated Cedar Breaks National Monument, not far from Bryce Canyon National Park. The road offers lush meadows and many pullouts overlooking the area's distinct blend of red rock and subalpine forest in summer. It's typically closed to all vehicles but snowmobiles through late May -- and is open now.
GRAND CANYON HIGHWAY
The Grand Canyon Highway leads devoted visitors to the canyon's less traveled North Rim, and as of mid-May, is open to vehicle traffic. It's a long drive from the South Rim, but it's worth it for the vehicle-accessible lookout points and hiking trails that follow the rocks all the way down to the Colorado River.
EBBETTS PASS NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY
The Alpine State Highway, otherwise known as California State Route 4, covers most of Ebbetts Pass, crossing the central Sierra Nevada Mountains from Arnold to Markleeville and passing all manner of hiking trails and recreational opportunities along the way. The highway opens after the spring snowmelt, usually by Memorial Day.
The much-photographed Yosemite Valley remains open through the winter, but only summer visitors can access the mountain-traversing Tioga Road, which sometimes can't open for the season until late June or early July. Visit Yosemite Creek to see what the park's famous falls look like from the top.
Sunrise Road and the highway to it are closed for the trying winters of Mount Rainier National Park, with neither expected to open until late June. The 15-mile road winds steeply upward around peaks and rivers to a visitor center and trailhead, offering views of the park's enormous namesake mountain along the way.
Where: Montana and Wyoming
Sometimes called the most beautiful drive in the nation, this designated "All-American Road" begins in Montana, then dips into Wyoming before arriving at a 10,947-foot-high pass near Yellowstone National Park. Crews cleared the road for use just in time for Memorial Day weekend with warnings that "unpredictable weather conditions may cause temporary closures throughout the summer."
GRAND LOOP ROAD
Running alongside Yellowstone Lake and through buffalo-dense valleys, this road connects many of Yellowstone National Park's best hiking trails and most scenic areas, including of course scores of geysers. The loop is open for the summer at this point.
ALPINE LOOP SCENIC BYWAY
Beginning at the mouth of the American Fork Canyon, this is the most popular drive through the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and with good reason. Lush vegetation including aspen groves lead to campgrounds and quiet wilderness areas. The route is expected to open at the end of May or in June but is known for colorful foliage come fall.
BIG MOUNTAIN PASS
Traverse the Wasatch Mountains along the same route as the Mormon pioneers who settled in nearby Salt Lake City in 1847. The steep elevation gain of the first half-mile leads to numerous lookout points atop the area's mostly bald mountains. The seasonal highway opened for the summer in May.
Steep elevations gains and varied Rocky Mountain ecosystems characterize this 22-mile route connecting two larger highways that cross the Colorado mountains from east to west. See the wildflowers that emerge on summit meadows once the road reopens to vehicles in the late spring.
NORTH RIM ROAD
Both the North and South Rim Roads of Black Canyon at the Gunnison National Park are closed in the winter but reopen sometime in April or May, as they have this year. The South Rim is more accessible, but the unpaved northern road includes multiple stopping points overlooking the impressively vertical canyon walls.
CALIFORNIA STATE ROUTE 180
Motorists needn't bother visiting Kings Canyon National Park in winter, when the mountainous portion of this route beginning in the congested San Joaquin Valley closes due to snow. The route is reopened for the summer, allowing vehicle access to this underrated park's giant Sequoia groves and lush valley floors.
Once the primary route of access to Denali National Park, this gravel highway is wisely closed in winter. But in fairer weather, the second-highest road in Alaska boasts stunning vistas of multiple mountain ranges, river valleys, and glaciers. Bring a tent, canoe, or fishing rod in summer, when the route opens all the way through. For now, only the western portion closer to the national park is accessible.
CASCADE LAKES SCENIC BYWAY
The Cascade Mountains' recreational opportunities never have an off-season, but this route from Bend to the Oregon State Route 58 allows vehicle access only after winter has begun to thaw, usually in March. This leaves plenty of time to see the spring blooms along the mountaintop meadows or hike among the area's more than 100 alpine lakes in summer.
HELLS CANYON SCENIC BYWAY
This relatively undiscovered mountainous area in the state's east is perfect for a summer weekend spent driving and hiking through the Wallowa Mountains. The 218-mile loop is almost entirely reopened for the season, with only a short stretch still closed to vehicles from lingering winter conditions.
Crossing the McKenzie Pass over the Cascades, the McKenzie Highway (also known as Oregon State Route 242) includes two federal wilderness areas and many more opportunities for hiking through volcanic rock formations and old growth forest. The route, which reaches 5,325 feet in elevation, isn't expected to open for vehicles until late June or early July.
MOUNT NEBO LOOP SCENIC BYWAY
It takes only an hour to cover this 38-mile road, but you'll want much more time than that to fully appreciate the route's salt flats, sandstone cliffs, red rock formations, and rocky peaks like that of the area's tallest mountain, Mount Nebo. The route, which is now open, is famous for its fall colors but closed in winter.
HIGHLAND SCENIC HIGHWAY
Where: West Virginia
Winding north to south through the Allegheny Mountains, this byway passes four scenic overlooks, each offering hiking opportunities, in just 43 miles. The spring blooms and fall foliage are major attractions on either end of the winter, when more than half the route typically closes to all except snowmobiles and cross-country skiers from November to April.
BEAR NOTCH ROAD
Where: New Hampshire
Kancamagus Highway, the main scenic route through the rugged White Mountains, remains open throughout the year, but only warm-weather visitors can drive this nine-mile connecting route, home to numerous hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and a unique "experimental forest." The road reopened for the season when conditions improved in May.