Whether you want the ultimate summer drive or foliage road trip with a view, these nine New England mountain driving experiences are sure to deliver.
By William Scheller
May 11 2022
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There are times when being there beats getting there by a long shot. We want our beautiful New England vistas, and we want them now — so, onward and upward, in our cars. Herewith, a rundown of nine New England mountain summits attainable by auto road. Some are among the region’s loftiest and most majestic mountains; others are mere bumps on the landscape — but bumps with a view. Whether you’re looking for the ultimate summer drive or foliage road trip with a view, these nine mountain driving experiences are sure to deliver.
Rockwell Road, the eight-mile route to the highest point in the Berkshires — and in Massachusetts — begins at the Mount Greylock Reservation Visitor Center in Lanesboro. Views from the 3,491-foot summit stretch across the Taconic Range and southern Green Mountains, and far to the east beyond the Hoosic River. This is mostly hardwood forest, so foliage drivers take note: the colors are intense in early October. Bascom Lodge on the summit has both private and bunk-room overnight accommodations. At the tippy-top of Greylock is a 1932 war memorial tower that looks like an upside-down Art Deco golf tee.
The road in Miller State Park to the top of New Hampshire’s “other” Monadnock is only 1.2 miles long, but the 2,290-foot summit offers uninterrupted 360-degree views, carpeted with color in autumn. Climb to an observation platform on a radio tower to see Mount Monadnock, Vermont’s Green Mountains, and Mount Wachusett in Massachusetts. On a clear day, you can make out the Boston skyline, 55 miles distant.
The grand New England mountain driving experience in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Superlatives reign on the Northeast’s highest peak. At 6,288 feet you’ll find the strongest wind speeds on earth, the worst weather in New England, and the oldest man-made attraction in the United States. That’s the eight-mile auto road, which has been open since 1861 (horses took four hours; you’ll take about a half-hour each way by car) and which can tug at the nerves of the squeamish with its narrow, guardrail-free route to the clouds. On roughly one day out of three, vistas from the summit range 30 to 40 miles; when it’s really clear, you’ll see beyond the Green Mountains to New York’s Adirondacks and all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in Portland, Maine. At the summit is the renowned Mount Washington Observatory and its interesting little museum. Foliage isn’t much of an issue up here, as you’re way above treeline, but the views of it from here rank among the best.
Located near the southern tip of Maine’s long coastline, 691-foot Agamenticus looms over the town of York and its beaches, offering views of the ocean and of the dappled forests of the Maine and New Hampshire hinterlands. The road is only a little more than half a mile long and ends at an odd stone cairn that is said to mark the grave of St. Aspinquid, a 17th-century Native American medicine man. If you’re not venturing farther north to our next two Maine coastal mountains, this is a great place to watch the sunrise.
SEE MORE: York Beach, Maine | Skee-Ball, Goldenrod Kisses, and the Most Photographed Lighthouse in New England
This is one of the finest vantage points on Maine’s midcoast — an easy, 1.6-mile drive through a state park to an 800-foot summit that looks out over all creation — or at least that part of it blessed with a Penobscot Bay address. Beyond the white spires of Camden, set against fall colors, you can look out across Vinalhaven, Deer Island, and Isle au Haut, with Blue Hill in the distance. For an even better vantage point, climb the squat stone tower that has stood on the summit for nearly 80 years.
SEE MORE:Rockport & Camden | Two Miles of Coastal Beauty
In search of mountain driving with a sunrise reward? This is the place to go when you want to be first in the United States to greet the first rays of dawn. The Cadillac summit road winds for just over two miles to the windblown, pink granite, 1,530-foot crest that stands as the East Coast’s loftiest spot. Along with that first glimpse of the sunrise (you’ll share it with a small throng; after all, this is popular Acadia National Park) are sweeping vistas of Bar Harbor, the islands of Frenchman’s Bay, the Schoodic Peninsula, and the vast Maine blueberry bushes, which in autumn turn fire-red. Mount Katahdin stands over 110 miles to the north-northwest, just in case conditions are optimal, but there’s nothing wrong with being content with that salt-sprayed realm directly below.
SEE MORE:Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain
The rooftop of Vermont doesn’t belong only to Stowe skiers and Long Trail hikers; the 4.5-mile Toll Road, an intermediate ski trail in winter, snakes to a 3,850-foot elevation just under the “nose” of Mansfield, a mountain said to resemble the profile of a reclining human (the high point is the 4,395-foot chin). At the lower elevations, the surrounding autumn hardwoods are spectacular; higher up, they give way to distant panoramas with a muted, heathery palette. The nearer views include the forbidding rock walls of Smugglers’ Notch, with the adjacent ski trails of Spruce Peak and Madonna Mountain; beyond, north to south, are distant Jay Peak, Mount Washington, and Camel’s Hump. To the west, the Champlain Valley unfolds: The great lake sprawls north to south, framed by the high peaks of the Adirondacks.
Southwestern Vermont’s most prominent peak is in the Taconics, not the Green Mountains — and it’s the property of a Carthusian monastery. The 5.2-mile Sky Line Drive traverses the monks’ mountain fastness, climbing to a 3,835-foot elevation that commands views of the Battenkill Valley, the Massachusetts Berkshires, the Green Mountains, and — under superlative conditions — the White Mountains in New Hampshire and the Adirondacks to the west. Up top, there’s a skein of hiking trails and, occasionally, hang gliders are spotted overhead.
Tucked away in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is the most remote — and one of the most rewarding — of our mountain driving experiences. Burke Mountain, at 3,267 feet, is the training ground for many American Olympic skiers. It also offers a route to the top, replete with hair-raising switchbacks, knockout foliage (the yellows of birches dominate in these parts), and views that take in virtually the entire northern portion of the Green Mountain State. That’s Lake Willoughby over there to the west, nestled between mounts Pisgah and Hor; farther south is the profile of Mount Mansfield. Over to the east is Mount Washington; up north, it actually looks as if winter is about to come lumbering over that nameless jumble of Canadian hills.
SEE MORE:Guide to East Burke, Vermont
This article was originally published in 2009 and has been updated.