Ten Great Scenic Mountain Drives
- Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park
Introduction. Connected to the Blue Ridge Parkway is Shenandoah National Parks Skyline Drive in northern Virginia. The two are joined at Waynesboro, Virginia, where the Blue Ridge Parkway begins and...
- The Blue Ridge Parkway
Theres little doubt that the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) is the most popular and famous scenic drive in the country. Its purpose is not to go anywhere, but just meander along the ridges, hills, and valleys of...
- "Passing" through Colorado
Colorado is well-endowed with mountains and beautiful scenery. Although the mountains have their rugged corners and rise to lofty heights, for the most part they are highly accessible because of the many...
Middlebury Gap, Vermont. Vermont Route 125 crosses the point of land at the east-west divide of the Green Mountains. Reaching a maximum height of 2140’ Middlebury Gap is one of many east-west passes in the state of Vermont. Other well know roads that traverse the backbone of the Green Mountain State are Brandbury Gap (2170'), Lincoln Gap (2424'), Appalachian Gap (2356'), Smugglers Notch (2156') and Hazens Notch (1750'). Middlebury Gap, between Ripton and Hancock, includes two spectacular waterfalls, Texas Falls and Bailey Falls that are just off the roadside. Texas Falls has a developed trail system, picnic grounds and parking area, but Bailey Falls is a bit more difficult to find. Beautiful views of Breadloaf Mountain (3835’) are seen to the north from the west side.
Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire. NH 112. This beautiful mountain road travels through the southern part of the White Mountains and is especially popular in the fall because of the colors. The highway runs 34.5 miles and past a number of noted waterfalls and beautiful peaks such as Mount Osceola (4356') and Mount Hancock (4403') before cresting at 2855’ feet. Other well-know drives in the area include the notches of the White Mountains. Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch, accessible by Routes U.S 302 and I-93, are among the best known in the White Mountains. Old Man of the Mountains, immortalized in Hawthorne’s The Great Stone Face, was visible from Franconia Notch, until it collapsed in 2003.
Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina. Start at the Blue Ridge Parkway mile post 355, the mother of all scenic mountain drives, and take NC Route 128. The five mile spur road leads through Mt. Mitchell State Park and stops just below the summit of the highest point east of the Mississippi River, North Carolina, and the Appalachians – Mount Mitchell (6684'). Despite the relatively southern location the high elevations along this road will seem like driving in Colorado or Canada. Balsam fir and red spruce dominate the flora. Fall is best time of year for this trip as the visibility can be rainy and poor in the summer months. The views of the craggy Black Mountains from the Mount Mitchell observatory, a short walk from the parking lot, are spectacular and unlike anything in this part of the country.
Trail Ridge Road, Colorado. Going over the crest of the Continental Divide and reaching a maximum elevation of 12,183’ in Rocky Mountain National Park this road, much of it above timberline, takes in some of the best views of the northern Colorado Rockies, especially of Longs Peak (14,256’). It’s closed during the winter months because of the excessive snowfalls. It is the highest paved pass in the state. Other passes along the the same road include Fall River Pass and Milner Pass. Fall River Pass , or fall River Road is a one-way up only road that joins the Trail Ridge Road at Fall River Pass (11,796'). Alpine meadows, fir forests, Glacier Gorge, Forest Canyon and the Never Summer Mountains are all viewable. Wildlife includes marmor, elk, bighorn sheep, and the black bear.
Independence Pass, Colorado. This is the second highest paved mountain pass in the state and takes State Highway 82 over the Continental Divide at 12,095’ joining Leadville and Aspen. A number of Fourteener’s, or peaks above 14,000’ are visible from the pass, including the state’s highest, Mount Elbert (14,440’). The pass is closed in winter because of the snowfall.
Snowy Range Pass, Wyoming. Travel on State Route 130 about 45 miles west of Laramie, Wyoming. The highway passes over the northern crest of the Medicine Bow Mountains cresting at 10,840’. The summit of this wind-blown road winds through flagged trees and numerous alpine lakes with excellent views of Medicine Bow Peak (12,013’).
Beartooth Highway, Wyoming and Montana. U.S. 212 winds through the spectacular BeartoothMountains along the Wyoming-Montana state line and has a maximum elevation of 10,947’ well above timberline in this part of the country. Glacial cirques and rugged peaks, many with remnant glaciers, characterize the Beartooth, which include Granite Peak (12,800’) the highest point in Montana. The pass is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day because of the snowfall. The rugged Beartooth Mountains are, for the most part, an expanse of inaccessible wilderness and the Beartooth Highway is the only access other than footpaths.
Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, Utah. Start in Kamas, Utah and take State Route 150. This byway travels over Utah’s highest mountain pass at the western end of the Uinta Mountains through the Wasatch National Forest. Excellent views of the Uintas high peaks and Mirror Lake. The craggy outline of Hayden Peak (12,485') is the highlight. The road reaches 10,715’ at Bald Mountain Pass just breaking tree line just below the craggy Bald Mountain (11,948’). Watch out for mountain goats which were reintroduced to the area in the mid-eighties. Start in Kamas (6437’). Total elevation gain is 4250’ and 55 miles to Mirror Lake from Kamas.
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, Nevada. Take Route 488 west of Baker, Nevada into the Great Basin National Park and a right onto the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. The highlights of this are the views of Wheeler Peak (13063’), the bristlecone pine forests, alpine lakes, and the only remnant glacier in the Great Basin, which requires a short hike from the road’s terminus.
Whitney Portal Road, California. Leading west from Lone Pine, California (3737’), this access road dead-ends at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to the highest mountain in the lower forty-eight. From the Owens Valley, the road climbs 4,500 feet and has spectacular views of Mount Whitney (14,497’), Lone Pine Peak (12,944') and the rugged Sierra front from most points along the road. The granite Alabama Hills provide another spectacular feature and an interesting frame at the foot of the high peaks. Nearby is Movie Flats, well-known for the number of films that have been shot in this location because of the inspiring backdrop of peaks. Access is west from U.S. 395.
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