Photograph: Courtesy Visit Phoenix/

10 pretty mountain views in the U.S. that are a must-visit

Lofty, inspiring, hikeable, Instagrammable: we love these gorgeous mountains, especially in summertime

Erika Mailman

Catching a glimpse of a mountain range rising from the plains can make for a profound moment. Part of why we travel is to feel surprised, see something different from what we can see at home, and learn how others live. And to live in the shadow of a mountain and experience the changes of the seasons through its profile is extraordinary. No wonder some people plan their travel around a hike with views of a range, enjoy its ski slopes in winter, hail its silhouette from a boat or a train, or just enjoy the picturesque hairpins from the car. No matter how the panorama happens—even if it’s a view of the valley from the heights of the mountain itself—we are lucky to have been part of it! Here is a short list of the 10 best mountain views in the U.S. to jumpstart your itinerary—we’ve included a mix of “well, that’s a given” mountains and some lesser-known but highly beloved ones.


The best national parks in the U.S.
The best national forests in the U.S.

Best mountain views in the U.S.

1. Mt. Hood, Oregon

Part of what makes Mt. Hood so dramatic is that it is its own solo upcrop of stratovolcano, sitting tall above a wooded plain. Often covered in snow—the mountain has 12 glaciers— while green grass carpets the valley, this 11,249-foot tall mountain is striking and sculptural. The Mt. Hood National Forest offers 1.1 million acres with year-round recreation. Atop the summit, stay at the 1937 Timberline Lodge, a beautiful example of rustic architecture seen in the movie The Shining. Just so you know, Mt. Hood is an active volcano that last erupted in 1866.

2. Mount Rainier, Washington

A national park encompasses this 14,410-foot stalwart, glaciated peak with five rivers. It’s also (gulp) an active volcano that has scientists a little concerned. It offers beautiful wildflower meadows and ancient forests: check out the webcams to see if snow still lingers. You can usually find Paradise (an area on the south slope) snow-free from mid-July through late September. Mount Rainier is the tallest volcano and fifth highest peak in the contiguous United States, and only about half of the people who try to climb it reach the summit. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail wraps around the mountain and takes most people 10 days to complete. If you’re lucky, you might spot a red fox or a hoary marmot during your visit to this powerfully beautiful mountain.


3. Denali, Alaska

This mountain’s the highest on our list—and the tallest in the world that is completely above sea level. Though its official height is 20,310 feet, its base is already at 2,000 feet, and it measures more than 18,000 from base to summit, one-third more than the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest. Today, parts of the park are closed due to landslides, but visitors can still access 43 miles of the scenic Park Road. You must be an expert to climb Denali, but if you’re not, you can enjoy off-trail hiking here (Denali exists in part to provide a trail-less wilderness, so you won’t find bridges over waterways: the park is basically 6 million acres of wild land, with one small road going through it). This is home to wolves, caribou, Dall sheep, moose and bears, among others. To capture the iconic panorama of the mountain from a distance (like from Anchorage 130 miles away!), try hiking Kesugi Ridge or kayak at Byers Lake. There are also highway rest stops labeled as Denali Viewpoints.

4. Mount Shasta, California

If you think there’s something holy about this mountain, you’re not the only one. Native Americans of various tribes believe in its sacredness and consider it the center of the universe and the home of its Creator. Catching a glimpse of it from the roadway, you’ll gasp. As naturalist John Muir said, “When I first caught sight of Mount Shasta… my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since.” Gorgeous, with its summit sometimes wrapped in a lenticular cloud (I know, no one knows what that is, but it’s pretty and also fun to say!), the mountain reaches a lofty 14,879 feet. It’s actually a stratovolcano, which is built of alternating layers of lava and ash, making it more steep than a normal, or “shield,” volcano. Every May, watch for the McCloud Mushroom Festival, which focuses on the area’s wild mushrooms. We hesitate to mention this in a paragraph extolling the mountain’s sacredness, but there are also sci-fi theories about it housing half-human descendants called Lemurians.


5. Sierra Nevada, California

This impressive mountain range lies mostly in California, although some parts edge into Nevada. Skiiers and bikers who love Lake Tahoe enjoy this sprawl that stretches 400 miles north-south and 50-80 miles east-west. The most impressive peak is Mount Whitney (14,505 feet), the highest point in the mainland U.S. The beautiful national park Yosemite is also part of the Sierra, as are Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. For history lovers, the Gold Rush took place in its western foothills. There are many ways to explore this range, but one we recommend is to take the Amtrak Zephyr train and glue yourself to the windows. Incredible hikes, such as one at Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe, let you see the mountains paired with crystalline water.

6. Camelback Mountain, Arizona

This beautiful saguaro-studded 2,704-foot mountain can be seen from the greater Phoenix and Scottsdale area, and hikers ascend its year-round trails to exult 360-degree views of the metropolitan area. The Echo Canyon trail and the Cholla Trail (named for the cholla cactus) are both relatively hard (but worthwhile) thanks to quick elevation gains. If you’d rather look at the mountain with a retro martini glass in hand than climb it, stay at the mid-century modern Hotel Valley Ho with incredible views. The summit is said to look like a kneeling camel’s hump and head, hence the name.


7. Grand Tetons, Wyoming

The Teton range, informally called the Grand Tetons, is just pretty...can a mountain range be feminine? Yes, if the translation is literally “big breasts.” The Grand Teton National Park provides access to these alpine upthrusts with backcountry camping, biking, fishing, boating, scenic drives, and more. There are 200 miles of trails with various levels of approachability; you can be a beginner and have a great time exploring the raw beauty. The craggy peaks kind of look like what a kid draws when asked to draw mountains: we love their triangularity. The highest peak is Grand Teton at 13,770 feet. Best of all, the park’s headquarters are in a town called Moose. And bonus: this park is only 31 miles from Yellowstone National Park.

8. The Rockies, Colorado & others

Officially known as the Rocky Mountains, the Rockies are the largest mountain system in North America. Although we generally associate them with Colorado, perhaps because of the Rocky Mountain National Park, they start in Canada and also incorporate Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. They include many other named ranges, such as the Wasatch Range and the Grand Tetons. The highest peak is Mount Elbert in Colorado, at 14,440 feet in elevation. And if Wilson Peak looks at all familiar to you, it’s literally the mountain on the Coors label. Lining up your bottle with a view of Wilson Peak is an Instagram post just waiting to happen.


9. Mount Washington, New Hampshire

Known for hosting the world’s worst weather, this small (6,288 feet) mountain has sub-zero temps and hurricane-like winds in winter that earn comparisons to Mt. Everest and polar regions. But hey, if you can manage to get your car up to the summit—through four distinct ecological zones—you get a free bumper sticker that says, “This car climbed Mt. Washington” (after paying $45 to use the Mt. Washington Auto Road). People say it’s a harrowing white-knuckle half-hour drive, and you earn that sticker. There’s an observatory on top, and you can ride The Cog, the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world. Bird lovers will want to take the Bicknell’s Thrush Tour to see this secretive, high-elevation bird. Mount Washington is a state park in the White Mountain National Forest, and the views of it—and from it—are spectacular.

10. Lookout Mountain, Tennessee

The site of an 1863 Civil War battle, Lookout Mountain, has lots for the history buff to explore, including a castle-like gate at Point Park. At the Lover’s Leap lookout, you can see seven different states with the naked eye. There’s also Ruby Falls, the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the U.S.; see it by taking a 260-foot elevator ride to the bottom, then start your guided walk up the cavern trail. Visit Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village if your traveling partner is youthful. There’s also an incline railway, caves, a 200-foot suspended the beautiful sight of this gentle rise seen from downtown Chattanooga.

    You may also like
    You may also like