Catch the best mountain sights right from your car window on these scenic high-elevation drives
Fact: The West is filled with amazing mountain scenery. Also fact: We’ve got our fair share of epic road trip routes. Add those two together for your next vacation and you get major bang for your buck in the form of a high-elevation scenic drive.
A new data study by Geotab, a GPS solutions and connected transportation company, used high-altitude road coordinates from the U.S. Geological Survey combined with an outdoor photographer’s expertise to determine the drivable peaks with the most stunning views in each state. It’s no surprise that states in the West claim the top six most breathtaking spots. Outdoor photographer Tony Bynum weighed in on the final picks: “In general, western U.S. scenery is the ‘best’, with a tendency to offer better visibility – up to 100 miles on clear days. I’ve visited all of the roads on this list and there is simply nothing like Alaska for solitude and breadth of views.”
If you decide to take the high road and use these destinations as a planning point for summer trips, the view out your window will never be a dull one. The majority of these roads are closed in winter due to snow, so plan for a visit in the warmer months. Check out the full interactive piece here and the best roads in the West below.
Atigun Pass on the Dalton Highway, Alaska: 4,757 ft.
The Atigun Pass in northern Alaska was originally created as a route to service an oil pipeline system. Now, it promises the best views of the mostly uninhabited Brooks Range of mountains in Alaska’s Yukon territory. It’s located at mile marker 244 of Dalton Highway, right near the Continental Divide. Rivers to the north empty into the Arctic Ocean while the southern rivers flow to the Bering Sea. The climate and occasional steep grade can make the drive a bit challenging, but the views are some of the most rewarding in the West. For a glimpse of this route from the safety of your living room, catch some wild driving on seasons 3 and 4 of the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Colorado: 14,132 ft.
This byway boasts the highest paved road in North America. The road begins at a National Forest information center in Idaho Springs and ends at the peak of Mount Evans. Stop to hike at Echo Lake and gaze at the towering mountains at the summit viewing platform at the end of the road.
Beartooth Highway, Wyoming: 10,953 ft.
Tack on this 68-mile winding road (pictured above) to a Yellowstone National Park vacation. Watch for grazing mountain goats as you conquer the switchbacks through Montana and Wyoming that lead to the northeast entrance of the park. Make a pit stop or stay for a day in the towns of Cody, Cook City, or Red Lodge.
Courtesy of W.M. Keck Observatory, Andrew Richard Hara
Mauna Kea Access Road, Hawaii: 13,781 ft.
Commandeer a 4-wheel drive car from sea level to about 14,000 ft. in less than two hours to experience the coldest temperatures Hawaii has to offer. Astronomy lovers make pilgrimages to this dormant volcano for its access to the clearest night skies; the Hawaiian people go in search of spiritual connection. Watch the sunset from the summit and stop at the Visitor’s Information Station (pictured above) for nighttime stargazing.
National Forest Development Road 5400, Washington: 7,419 ft.
Travel to Hart’s Pass and continue onto Slate Peak for spectacular panoramic views of the Cascade Mountains. The drive is challenging; it’s a single-lane road with pullouts, steep drops, and gravel. However, the payoff is huge, as there are few other places in the state where you can get year-round snow-capped mountain views without a hike. You’ll find a fire tower lookout at the top as well as a concrete slab—all that remains of a proposed but never-built Air Force radar station. Spot Canada 18 miles north through the Pasayten Wilderness and remember to bring a coat if you plan to stay for the sunset.
Steens Mountain Loop Road, Oregon: 9,714 ft.
This 52-mile loop beginning in the small town of Frenchglen climbs up Oregon’s eighth-tallest mountain. Pass by deep gorges, wild rivers, and vast panoramas, making a can’t-miss-it stop at the Wildhorse Lake overlook near the Steens Mountain summit. Camping, hiking, and exploring on horseback are popular ways to experience this wilderness area.