Skip the Beach: Our Top 5 Mountain Road Trips

Labor Day Weekend is often seen as the last goodbye to summer beach trips. Which means beachgoers encounter sweltering traffic jams, crowded beaches, and higher hotel rates. But there’s another way to enjoy the late summer holiday: head to the mountains.

The air is crisper, the temperatures are cooler—a nice break from the heat. Mountains are naturally isolated, so you’re sure to find peace and relaxation, even along the busier routes. Our favorite mountain road trips include some popular spots, while others are hidden gems on the map. They represent many regions of the country, so pack up the family vehicle and hit the alpine roads to enjoy the scenery and fresh air.

5. Porcupine Mountains, MI

Top Five Mountain Road Trips

Tucked away on the southern banks of Lake Superior lie the Porcupine Mountains. The Porkies are home to more than 90 austere waterfalls. You may recognize two of the Porkies’ most notable waterfalls, Bond Falls and Agate Falls, from a national ad campaign for certain sport-utility vehicles. Find the falls just off Highways 28 and 45. Continue on Highway 45 at dusk for a chance to view the mysterious Paulding Light in the distance. Local legend claims the light is the ghost of an old railroad brakeman waving his lantern in warning. The Midwest’s Porkies rank at number five on our list.

4. Great Smoky Mountains, NC and TN

Top Five Mountain Road Trips

The Great Smoky Mountains, often shrouded in mist, straddle the North Carolina and Tennessee border and offer some of the most awesome views in the southeast, as well as some of the most technical roads we’ve driven. Visitors to the observation tower at Clingmans Dome (follow Clingmans Dome Road) are rewarded with a 100-mile view. Motorists embarking on the meandering 11-mile drive through Cades Cove may think they’ve stepped back in time. Enjoy the cove’s numerous historic sites, pristine environment, and abundant wildlife. The Great Smoky Mountains come in at number four.

3. Adirondack State Park, NY

Top Five Mountain Road Trips

Drive north on New York’s I-87 until you hit Lake George and go west from there to find Adirondack State Park, nestled between Schroon Lake and Lake Placid, the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics. The Adirondacks host the state’s highest peak, Mount Marcy at 5,343 ft., and offer plenty of scenic driving on Route 73 through timber forests, alpine meadows, and quaint towns (think Adirondack chairs). This northeast Appalachian drive comes in at number three.

2. Lake Tahoe, CA/NV

Top Five Mountain Road Trips

Drive west, between the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and you will find the sparkling turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe. Also home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, Lake Tahoe sits at 6,255 ft. elevation and is so large that the California-Nevada border runs through its center. If you’re coming from California, I-80 to a curvy Rt. 89 will get you the north end of the lake. Then follow 89 to South Lake Tahoe and take a moment to stop at the breathtaking Emerald Bay viewpoint. From Nevada, you can start from Carson City and follow the steep and spiraled climb up Rt. 50. You’re in for an inspiring drive no matter which state you’re coming from. Tahoe ranks at number two on our list.

1. Going to the Sun Road, Montana

Top Five Mountain Road Trips

In the heart of Glacier National Park, this 33-mile stretch of alpine road carves through the peaks and gorges of the northern Rocky Mountains. Stunning views of 10,000 ft. mountains, pristine lakes, misty water falls, and lush forest make up the scenery. The Sun Road is aptly named as you gain elevation driving through mountain tunnels and along stone bridges with steep valleys hugging the road’s edge. This breathtaking drive ranks as our number one alpine road in the U.S.

Do you have any favorite mountain road trips you’ve taken? Share in the comments.

Comments

  1. pamela woodward says:

    Mountain trips sound like a great vacation.

  2. If I can come to America, I will try to visit these places. I would like to see everything with my own eyes …

  3. Yes my favorite car is ford

  4. Bob Wheeler says:

    The Lake Tahoe trip is great but avoid the trip during snow storms

  5. Please keep these posts coming. There is so much to see in our country. So many majestic sites that people often arent educated on. Most within a days driving. With a little planning and the help of your posts, hopefully many will be able to enjoy them? thank you

    • Scott said says:

      If your in the Midwest, northwest Arkansas is just beautiful, drive the back roads for days and stay in a different small town every night or find one as a base to travel from. I found Harrison as a great small town.

  6. Ed Trausneck says:

    I’ve driven the first four roads. I agree they r special. My two sons drove the Going to the Sun highway this summer! May I also suggest the Cloudcroft, NM area. No wonder native Americans deem that area sacred! Try it! U will love it!

  7. Jim Trahan says:

    I find it extremely hard to believe that you failed to include the beautiful scenic Beartooth Highway in your list. A 50+ mile stretch of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana to the east, and the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park to the west, this lovely drive was once referred to by none other than Charles Kuralt as the most beautiful scenic highway in America. And he should know. I think he drove them all during his “On the Road with Charles Kuralt” TV series. At the height of the highway’s climb is the Beartooth Pass summit, just short of 11,000 feet in elevation.

    • Bev Phillips says:

      I went thru there in 1980 on our way to Yellowstone! It was simply beautiful & so amazing!! ❤️

    • Charles A Gregory says:

      I have completed 4 of the 5 trips but agree Beartooth is fantastic! Not easy, not convenient, but beautiful. Important: check even in August that the previous winter’s snow damage allows thru passage. 1st trip motorcycle crystal blue sky with a 100 mile view at 8,000 ft plus, heading east to Red Lodge became one with a thunderstorm. Awesome since somehow I survived.

    • Dori Silies says:

      Jim, I hope many, many people see your post and travel there to Beartooth instead of inundating us here in the Smokies. The traffic, consequent pollution, noise, litter, dogs chasing wildlife and more and more influx of “questionable characters” to this one-of-a-kind-in-the-world area is getting worse every year. Every year, from spring to Labor Day and then during October, I watch and cringe at how bad it gets every year. (Please stop including the Smokies on your lists for a while!)

  8. Honorable mention: My. Rainier national park

  9. Teddy mathews says:

    Loved number 3 so much moved there adirondack park gods country

  10. Barb Jensen says:

    We love the million dollar highway between Montrose and Cortez Coloado that winds through Oray and Silverton on the West side of Colorado. Breathtaking on a motorcycle..

  11. Wayne Fulmer says:

    We’ve been in all 50 states and 9 Canadian provinces. Some fabulous trips. Our favorite was: Go to Albuquerque, turn north up the spine of the Rockies to Jasper, Alberta, Canada. It’s a long trip but, at 82 and retired for 25 years, it was AWESOME.
    Of all our trips, I would have a hard time picking just 5 favorites. We’ve been to all 5 of those mentioned in your list and thoroughly enjoyed all. Going through them, my mind kept saying “Yeah, but what about _________.

  12. Jeff Tischler says:

    The drive from Front Royal, VA all the way to the Smokies makes a great vacation. You start with the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah Nat’l Pk and continue along the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway into Tennessee. What a trip!!!

    • Eric Hansen says:

      Right on Jeff. I took that trip in 1966 with my parents on the way from N.J. to FL. Then in 1973 went with my wife. This is God’s country!

    • Thomas Byers says:

      I live in Roanoke Va. and haven’t been fortunate enough to see but number 3 on the list. Must agree with you on the Sky Line Drive trip. Beautiful!

  13. Anywhere in swva or east tn or Carolina and west by God va is good

    • James Brooks says:

      You seem to be familiar with Tail of the Dragon in east Tennessee and western North Carolina, if you’re not, take US 129 out of either Deals Gap, TN or Robbinsville, NC. Not very scenic but oh, the challenge

  14. How could they not have the great black hills of south Dakota…i realize it’s not a mountain so to speak, however it’s elevated hills are the most beautiful and scenic highways in America. Just beautiful. plus, you have access to for state parks that are just breathtaking.. Enjoy.

  15. I have been to all of the 5 places mentioned. Loved them. I also drove the Beartooth, Oray/Silvertion, Sky line drive, and the Rocky Mt. Park. I hope to drive them all again and maybe find some new ones. God has made some beautiful places to see in America.

  16. The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania on route 6 very scenic

  17. Don’t forget Beartooth Highway in Montana. That is a gorgeous drive.

  18. Nobody has mentioned the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Driving north up rte 93 through Franconia Notch is absolutely breathtaking. Then bear right onto rte 3 then right on 302.
    This will take you through the beautiful Crawford Notch. And don’t forget to stop at the old restored Crawford Notch train station. Just a mile or less ahead is the Crawford Notch overlook.
    You won’t want to leave. Then continue down 302 through the notch and pass through the small quant towns of Jackson and Glenn on your way to North Conway and Conway. 302 turns into 16. Follow that down to the Kancamagus Highway and enjoy 32 miles of breathtaking scenery. You’ll pass Rocky Gorge and then the road takes you through Kancamagus Pass, the highest point of the highway, with scenic overlooks that are just too awesome to describe. When you continue down the highway, it leads you into the village of Lincoln. Go through the village and make a right at rte 3. Drive up by Clarkes Trading Post and you have completed the loop.

  19. Ken Roberts says:

    Chief Joseph Highway going to Yellowstone..Excellent!

  20. Casey Holm says:

    Should add the Talimena Pass from Talihena, Oklahoma – Mena, Arkansas to this list!

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