There's nothing like it – driving through the peaks and valleys of a mountain range with your windows down and the music playing in time with the curves in the road.
Click here to listen to the perfect playlist for your mountain drive, whether you're winding through the snowcapped Rockies or the rolling Appalachian hills. With their driving rhythms, prominent guitar melodies and soulful vocals, these tunes are heart-stirring melodies evoke the grandness of the mountain landscape.
Adventure has always defined the United States' backbone, and these vast mountain ranges remain unscarred by roads or summer homes, largely thanks to the USA’s brilliant public lands system.
You’re likely familiar with the big ones: Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks, but more than half of the total area of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho is national forests, monuments and recreation areas, all open for everyone to enjoy. This is America’s playground, where there's still plenty of wild places to be wild in (and drive through).
Few national parks are as magnificent and pristine as Glacier, where grizzly bears roam free in a wilderness that's both easily accessible to humans, yet authentically wild. It's renowned for its historic "parkitecture" lodges, an intact pre-Columbian ecosystem and the spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Road. This 53-mile mountain route is a National Historic Landmark, purpose-built for you to drive into this gorgeous country.
Grand Teton to Yellowstone
America's most beloved national park, Yellowstone, is conveniently paired with America's most impressive mountain range, the Tetons, in this epic two-for-one journey. Start in Jackson, Wyoming and end in Lamar Valley or the Mammoth Hot Springs.
As if having the world's highest concentration of geysers wasn't enough, Yellowstone also excels in landscape and wildlife department. You stand a good chance of spotting herds of bison, lumbering grizzlies and packs of wolves as you drive past the country's largest alpine lake and countless gushing waterfalls. Approach from the south, and you'll be overwhelmed by the craggy peaks of the Tetons towering above the pristine Snake River valley.
1500 miles east of the Rockies runs one of the world’s oldest mountain chains: the Appalachians. In its heyday, its peaks rivaled those of the Alps, but today the range favors vibrant green ridges over rocky cliffs, and its hills harbor a fascinating ecosystem, a distinctive culture and plenty of characterful towns.
The Appalachians stretch all the way from northern Georgia into New Brunswick, and the famous Appalachian Trail that winds along its spine is the longest hiking-only path in the world at 2,190 miles in length. Don’t let the mountain chain's enormity put you off, though: there are plenty of hiking options – ranging from easy to difficult – and picturesque driving routes. Those willing to dive in will be rewarded with an enormous variety of waterfalls and swimming holes, rock formations, rare flora and wildlife.
Blue Ridge Parkway
This drive on America’s favorite byway curves through the leafy Appalachians, swooping up the East Coast’s highest peak and heading towards the Smokies, pausing at America's largest mansion.
The Blue Ridge Parkway winds for 469 sumptuous miles, from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains. As it carves through a rugged landscape of craggy peaks, crashing waterfalls and thick forests, each languid curve unveils another panorama of multi-hued trees and mist-shrouded mountains, with tantalizing viewpoints encouraging frequent stops. No billboards spoil the views, and there’s seldom even a sign of human presence.
The Great Smokies
Alas, Hobbiton and Narnia don't exist. But if you crave a land of wonders, take this drive through the Smokies, home to vibrant greenery, strutting wildlife, whispering waterfalls and the irrepressible Dollywood.
You can observe the beauty of the Great Smokies from your car, but the exhilarating, crash-bang, breathe-it-in wonder of the place can't be fully appreciated until you leave your vehicle. Hold tight as you bounce over Nantahala rapids. Nod to foraging black bears as you bicycle Cades Cove. And press your nose against windows in downtown Gatlinburg, where ogling short stacks is the best way to choose the right pancake place.