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
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
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
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
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
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.