Beach vacations are great, but sometimes you’re in the mood for something a little more active.
America’s many mountain ranges are among our country’s natural treasures, regularly drawing visitors from around the globe. Whether it’s a winding river cutting through the Appalachians, sprawling powder slopes in the Rockies, or a crisp vista overlooking the Adirondacks, you’ll find both vitamin D and lounge time in an alpine escape.
The activities you can do there seem endless: hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing and simply feasting your eyes on dazzling views you won’t find anywhere else. More importantly, you won’t find yourself bored poolside, with a book you hated 13 pages in. (If skiing is your jam and you’re looking for a winter-specific escape, check out our list of the best snowy destinations instead.)
You don’t need to summit the tallest crag in Colorado to have a fantastic mountainous adventure. In fact, there are peaks in almost every U.S. state, meaning you probably won’t have to travel far. Even better, with Wanderu, you can compare prices on cheap bus, train and plane tickets to bluffs near and far.
Miles above sea level, the choice is always yours: You can tackle a tough-but-rewarding trail, or crack open a cold one by the lake and watch the sunset over the sierras. With that in mind, here are 10 terrific, off-the-beaten-path mountain destinations.
1. Yosemite Valley, CA
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Yosemite National Park is one of the most epic and iconic places in the world. Whether you’re looking for a low-incline, low-energy mosey or you want to out-do Alex Honnold of Free Solo (our hands aren’t sweating, yours are), Yosemite has it all.
A midnight hike to the top of Half Dome for sunrise will require a permit (they’re open in March!), but the views and experience are unforgettable. Simply being down in the valley is awe-inspiring, and any adventuring you partake in will elevate your experience (figuratively and literally).
2. Bend, OR
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Known for quirky Portland, Oregon has a stunning access point to rugged mountain landscapes: Bend. A cute city packed with breweries, Bend could warrant a trip of its own, but its proximity to the Cascade Mountains lands it a spot on this list.
Hiking and mountain biking are a big draw, while warmer months practically beg you to hop on a canoe or kayak and float along the Deschutes River. A special feature near Bend is Lava Butte, where you can walk on molten land and experience all things volcanic.
3. Asheville, NC
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Like Bend, we’d argue you should make two separate trips to Asheville (or just an extended one): a trip for the city itself, and one for the mountains surrounding it. Those who frequent Asheville can enjoy the Blue Ridge Mountains, thick with trees that tinge powder blue when viewed from a distance.
While hiking is certainly welcome and encouraged, a drive up Blue Ridge Parkway is the most time-effective way to encounter the near-500 miles of roadway through this gorgeous range. For a quick afternoon stop, check out Mount Mitchell north of the city. It’s the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, with a restaurant and — maybe more importantly — restrooms.
4. Spearfish, SD
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Nestled in the northern Black Hills, Spearfish is home to one of the only rivers in the world that flows so fast it freezes from the bottom up. 😲
Didn’t ask for that information? OK, fair. What’s important here is that hiking, mountain biking and all your other favorite mountain activities can be realized in Spearfish. Town is not far from Bridal Veil Falls, which are gorgeous year-round and don’t require a marriage license to visit.
5. Keene, NY
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Maybe you haven’t heard of Keene, and that’s OK. Keene hasn’t heard of you, either. Surrounded by mountains in upstate New York, you’ll be too distracted by Mother Nature to care what town you’re closest to.
Mount Marcy is one of the top hiking spots in the area, and Lake Tear of the Clouds has one of the best names you’ll ever encounter. Marcy is New York’s tallest mountain (higher than the Empire State Building, if you can believe) and Tear of the Clouds its highest lake, so while you won’t be able to see corporate bankers milling about on city streets below, you’ll be physically very far above anyone in NYC. And that has to count for something.
6. Whitefish, MT
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Quickly becoming a staple of alpine adventures out west, Whitefish is not a place to be overlooked. Whether it’s skiing in the winter or hiking and mountain biking when it’s a bit nicer out, this is definitely a place for action.
Biking is very popular on Going-to-the-Sun Road, and Whitefish Lake State Park offers a flatter hiking option with prime mountain views. But don’t forget: The exhilarating Glacier National Park is just 25 miles away, which is definitely not to be missed.
7. Delaware Water Gap, PA
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: What is a “water gap,” you ask? Essentially, it’s when a flowing body of water (typically a river) cuts through mountains and forms said “gap.”
But really, don’t worry about what a water gap is or isn’t, because you’ll miss out on the fun of this place. The Delaware Water Gap borders New Jersey and Pennsylvania and is in close proximity to Mount Tammany, featuring fantastic hiking, paddling and swimming. There’s also a section of the Appalachian Trail that cuts through the area if you want to hop on and tell your friends you’ve hiked the Appalachian (even for just, like, two miles).
8. Harper’s Ferry, WV
TOP ATTRACTIONS: Potomac River, Shenandoah River, Loudoun Heights.
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Down in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Harper’s Ferry is parked right on the confluence of the Shenandoah River (🎶 Country roads, take me home … you know the rest) and the Potomac River.
In an area dotted with mountains and ridges, there are a ton of trails to hike and bike down, and the river access offers fun options like tubing and rafting. All-in-all, this is a pretty quaint, cozy destination — maybe the quaintest on our list!
9. Woodstock, VT
TOP ATTRACTIONS: Green Mountains, Billings Farm & Museum, Taftsville Covered Bridge.
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: No, not that Woodstock. You can experience all the New England charm you can handle here, surrounded by the lush Green Mountains. In Woodstock you’ll find another spot that’s inviting year-round: kayaking in summer, snow sports in winter, and hiking in whatever temperature you feel comfortable. Woodstock is countryside/farmland/mountainous-chic without being kitschy — and that’s a niche intersection we’re happy to celebrate.
10. Frisco, CO
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: And of course, what would this list be without a city in Colorado? You can trek here for access to major ski resorts like Breckenridge or Copper Mountain, and stay for the stunning views over the Dillon Reservoir.
Skiing and hiking are two of the most popular activities here, but being so close to the water opens up room for fishing, rafting, skating (in winter) and more — it just depends on the season. Frisco is a fantastic place to soak in the Rockies without the teeming crowds of more well-known Colorado alpine destinations.
When we say you can scale whatever mountain you put your mind to, we mean it literally: Wanderu gives you access to the world, with affordable deals to cities big and small across the U.S., Canada and Europe. Search tickets on Wanderu.com or on the free Wanderu app to see what schedules and destinations best fit your budget.
If traveling somewhere scenic is your main motivating factor, check out our ranking of the most Instagrammed and Instagrammable National Parks for some interesting inspiration. Or maybe you realized a beach is more your speed after all. Whether it’s for spring break or any break at all, here are some of the best beach getaways.