They say you’re not supposed to look down on others, but if you do it from the top of a gorgeous mountain, it can be pretty rewarding. For those willing to test their mental and physical endurance, the opportunity to reach high elevations and observe the world from a new perspective is worth the effort. Here, five epic peaks across America that are perfect for both novice and expert mountaineers alike.
The icy, 11,240-foot summit of Mt. Hood—a dormant volcano covered with 11 active glaciers—is the highest peak in Oregon. Less than 100 miles from Portland, the mountain is located within a wilderness area, and lower elevations are blanketed by forested slopes and alpine meadows. Paths like the popular Timberline Trail #600 wind through glacial creeks and flowing rivers. The South Side is a popular route, but there are no easy paths on Mt. Hood. A climbing permit is required, so a local guide service is highly recommended.
This fourteener (a mountain with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet) is in the Arapahoe National Forest and sits on the Continental Divide. It’s considered one of the easier fourteeners to summit and its proximity to Denver makes it a favorite of weekend climbers and their pets—dogs (and mountain goats) are welcome here. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, cross another fourteener—Torreys Peak—off your list. It's less than a mile away. Get an early start to soak up the sunrise views.
The reward for reaching the Mount Mitchell summit—the highest peak east of the Mississippi—is a museum, shop and an observation deck. About 30 miles northeast of Asheville, there are multiple trails to choose from at Mount Mitchell State Park: Traverse the Deep Gap Trail, which takes you from Mount Mitchell to the second highest peak, Mount Craig, or explore the short Balsam Nature Trail, less than a mile long, for a passive stroll through aromatic native Fraser firs.
Scale the summit ridge of Mount Mansfield—the highest peak in Vermont and about a 45-mile drive from Burlington—and you’ll be standing in an alpine tundra that survived the ice age. The mountain’s ridgeline is known for resembling the silhouette of a human face gazing at the sky (particularly when observed from the east) and the peaks are categorized accordingly. The Chin, the highest point, the Nose (home to TV and radio transmitter towers) and the Adam’s Apple are prominent landmarks, enticing skiers and hikers year-round. The popular Long Trail, America’s oldest long-distance hiking trail, is a long stretch of alpine zone that winds through varying terrain from the Adams Apple to the Forehead, across majestic lakes and alpine forests.
The iconic red sandstone, water-carved canyons and soaring cliffs of Moab, Utah—less than 120 miles southwest of Grand Junction—are the ideal setting for beginners and experts alike. From canyoneering to adventurous hiking and rock climbing, there’s an opportunity for thrill-seekers of all levels. The Hunter Canyon Trail climbs up a winding canyon lined with soaring sandstone cliffs, a spring-fed creek and wild flora. Just west of Moab are Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch, ideal for a short expedition, inexperienced hikers and a picturesque photo-op. Search for shadowy canyons during the blazing summer months.