The United States has a vast array of majestic mountain vistas, including rugged seaside elevations in Maine, fiery pinnacles in Nevada, and icy peaks in Alaska.
If you’re ready to scale new heights, check out these breathtaking destinations.
Acadia National Park (Maine)
Anyone who loves both mountain vistas and expansive ocean views should immediately put Acadia National Park—located on Maine’s shoreline—on their travel itinerary. Most of the 47,000 acres of this national park resides on Mount Desert Island, which boasts numerous meadows, forests, and sparkling lakes and ponds along with the resort town of Bar Harbor.
Take a leisurely drive along Acadia’s twenty-seven-mile-long Park Loop Road past mountain views and rocky coastline to reach Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the North Atlantic coast at 1,530 feet. Along the way, stop at Otter Cliff, a pink-granite precipice that juts more than one hundred feet above the ocean. Another option is to hop on the fare-free Island Explorer shuttle, which goes to most of the park’s destinations. (It does miss some must-see spots, though, most notably Cadillac Summit Road.)
You can also enjoy forty-five miles of rustic carriage roads closed to motorized vehicles by traversing them on foot, via bicycle, or even in a horse-drawn carriage.
Before you go: Purchase a park entrance pass; if you plan to drive Cadillac Summit Road, you’ll need to purchase a vehicle reservation as well. Both are available at recreation.gov.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee)
This national park, stretching across 522,427 acres, is the most visited in America, and it’s easy to see why. Its idyllic expanse traverses North Carolina and Tennessee and includes babbling streams, waterfalls, flower-filled meadows, quiet forests, and some of the tallest peaks east of the Mississippi River. These summits belong to the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are famous for their characteristically hazy blue appearance and are part of the greater Appalachian Mountain range.
During your visit, be sure to hike or drive up to Clingmans Dome, the park’s highest point, for 360-degree views from its observation tower. The Appalachian Trail, which runs for seventy-one miles through the park, is one of several hiking trails that lead to this peak.
Before you go: While no admission fee is required, you will need to buy a parking tag, available at recreation.gov. The park is open year-round, but the road to Clingmans Dome closes from December to April, so if you plan to visit the site during those months, prepare for a much longer hike!
Mount Magazine State Park (Arkansas)
At a dizzying 2,753 feet, Mount Magazine in Arkansas the state’s highest point and can be reached by driving the picturesque Mount Magazine Scenic Byway through the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. The state park offers picture-worthy panoramas of lush forests and the Arkansas River Valley, plus ample opportunities for rock climbing, wildlife watching, camping, and horseback riding. Or you can lace up your walking shoes and take the 1.5-mile, moderately difficult hiking trail up to Signal Hill, the loftiest point on the mountain.
If you’re interested in an extended stay, the park boasts a resort mountain lodge along with thirteen fully equipped cabins, all of which overlook the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. It also offers eighteen campsites, each with water, electric, and sewer hookups.
Before you go: Admission is free for all fifty-two state parks in Arkansas. Peak season is March through November, though any time of year is good to visit—year-round temperatures average around 56 degrees and rarely exceed 90 degrees in summer.
Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)
Nestled in Nevada’s Mojave Desert less than an hour northeast of Las Vegas, this jaw-dropping natural area offers views of the rugged limestone Muddy Mountains. It also boasts 40,000 acres of red sandstone formations that look so brilliant, they appear to be on fire—hence the name. Amazingly, these vivid outcrops got their start during the Jurassic period, forming 150 million years ago from minerals, pressure, and shifting sand.
A hike or drive through this seemingly endless natural area will give you the best opportunity to experience its beauty, including the 2,000-year-old prehistoric petroglyphs carved into the desert rocks. And if that’s not enough, you can always take a visit to the nearby Lake Mead National Recreation area for some swimming, fishing, camping, or hiking.
Before you go: You must pay an admission fee (per vehicle) when you enter the park. While it is open year-round from sunrise to sunset, consider visiting between October and April when the climate is best, especially if you’d prefer to hike through it—from June through August, temperatures can rise to over 100 degrees.
Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
The greatest of North American peaks is undoubtedly Denali, which translates to “the high one” or “the great one.” Formerly known as Mount McKinley, this perennially snow-capped glacial mountain is the continent’s highest, towering over the Alaskan landscape at more than 20,000 feet.
While Denali’s peaks are visible from many points in Alaska, even in distant Anchorage, the ultimate way to enjoy its impressive beauty is to see it up close in Denali National Park and Preserve. Be sure to purchase a ride on one of the available bus tours; much of the single ninety-two-mile road that runs through this natural area’s six million acres is closed to private vehicles. These tours offer plentiful mountain views and opportunities to see the surrounding tundra, forests, and wildlife such as caribou, grizzly bears, moose, and eagles. If you prefer to enjoy Denali’s impressive offerings on foot, you could also navigate any of its thirty-five miles of hiking trails.
Before you go: The park’s road is only open in summer, when average temperatures are about 50 degrees (it can get as low as negative 40 degrees in winter). However, you are still able to visit the park at any time of the year. Admission tickets can be purchased at recreation.gov.
If the views you hope to see are in any of our country’s national parks, consider getting a US Park Pass for annual admittance to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. That way, you might be able to enjoy all the stunning natural sites you want while keeping your spending low.