Drivable mountain destinations with 500 miles; Spirits need a lift? Head for the mountains – Travel 2023

Lodge in a meadow
Bascom Lodge on Mount Greylock.
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TRAVEL 2023 – There’s no place better than a mountaintop to pause from the busyness of life and gain a grand perspective afforded by the elevated view.

The Northeast is abundant with mountain peaks that offer spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding landscape for miles. Fortunately, some of these peaks are drivable, so visitors can experience them even if they aren’t up for a hike or bike ride to the summit.

For Capital Region residents, these peaks are relatively close. Here is a sampling of drivable mountain destinations within 500 miles. They’re listed from shortest to longest distances from Schenectady.

For a quick day trip, Prospect Mountain is roughly 50 miles away. The entrance to the 5.5-mile Veteran’s Memorial Highway, constructed in 1969, is about a half mile south of Lake George Village across from the Lake George Chamber of Commerce (a good location to punch into the GPS). After paying the entrance fee of $10 per car, drivers can make their way to the top of this 2,030-foot summit, which takes about 10 minutes with no stops. However, along the way there are three parking lots to pause and soak in the views.

The last parking lot is 155 feet from the summit, which is accessible via a quarter-mile trail or a shuttle. At the top, visitors are treated to a 100-mile view including Lake George, the Queen of American Lakes.

The New York Department of Environmental conservation provides restrooms, picnic facilities, a nature trail and a look at the ruins of the Old Cable Railway, the world’s largest cable railroad that operated from 1895 to 1903.

Heading roughly the same distance southwest of Albany, 55 miles, is Mount Greylock State Reservation in Massachusetts. Two toll-free roads with lookout opportunities lead to the Mount Greylock’s acme at 3,491 feet, the highest point in the Berkshires. Rockwell Road is an eight-mile drive, and Notch Road is seven miles; both take about 20 minutes to drive.

Views encompassing the Taconic Range, the southern Green Mountains and parts of Connecticut extend for 90 miles. Due to the nature of the forest, made up of hardwood trees, this is a prime place for leaf-peeping in October. Visitors can have a picnic lunch at the summit or go to the rustic stone and oak beam Bascom Lodge, which operates a bakery and restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The lodge also has nine rooms available for overnight stays.

To the northeast of Schenectady and, again, a similar distance of 59 miles, is Mount Equinox Skyline Drive in Arlington, Vermont. Visitors pay $25 for a car and driver and $5 for each additional passenger to drive up the longest privately owned toll road in the United States. Rates rise slightly in October.

The journey begins on Route 7A between Manchester and Arlington at the welcome center. As visitors wind their way up the 5.2-mile road, they pass through four different forest types before making it to the 3,848-foot summit. There, they’re afforded views of the Adirondack Mountains to the west and the Taconic and Berkshire ranges to the south.

Be prepared for at least a 10-degree drop in temperature between the base and the summit with winds to go along with it. In 2012, the Order of Carthusians, which has its monastery nearby, funded the construction of the Saint Bruno Scenic Viewing Center at Equinox’s zenith. A hydroelectric plant provides power so the center uses no fossil fuels, an appropriate green design that honors its surroundings.

In addition to hiking it, visitors can access Whiteface Mountain, one of the highest Adirondack peaks and the fifth highest in the state, via the Whiteface Memorial Highway. The drive to the start of this five-mile road is just 127 miles away off Route 431 in Wilmington. The cost is $20 for a vehicle and driver, $20 for a second person and $10 for each additional passenger.

As with most mountain-driving roads, there are several viewpoints along the way to admire the Adirondack wilderness and lakes, including Lake Placid. The road ends at a parking lot at 4,610 feet where visitors can see the Adirondacks, Vermont and even Canada on a clear day.

Getting to the actual 4,876-foot summit requires a 0.2-mile hike on a nature trail or an elevator ride if it is operating. At the end of the road, chefs at the 4610’ Grill, dubbed “the highest food truck in New York,” serve up what the website describes as “gourmet rustic cuisine.” Souvenirs of the ascent are available in the nearby Castle Gift Shop.

You’ve probably seen cars with bumper stickers declaring “This car climbed Mount Washington.” Opened in 1864, the Mount Washington Auto Road is the oldest man-made attraction in the United States, with its first tourists making the climb by horse-drawn carriage.

Located 257 miles from Schenectady in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, at 6,288 feet this peak is the highest in the northeastern United States. A driver will pay $40 plus $15 for each additional adult passenger, with slightly higher rates during the mountain’s peak seasons. An audio tour of the drive is available in a downloadable app.

Without stopping, the seven-mile drive through four different ecological zones takes about half an hour each way. There are several pull-offs where visitors can take short hikes or simply enjoy the views. On the way down, these pull-offs provide a place to cool the vehicle’s brakes. Driving does take some skill, and the website provides directions on how to safely drive the 12-degree incline road void of guardrails.

Now that COVID is over and borders are open, stargazers are in for an international treat at Québec Province’s Mont Mégantic National Park located 341 miles from Schenectady. The summit that gave the park its name is just over nine miles north of the border between Québec and the United States where New Hampshire and Maine meet.

Here, visitors are invited not to look down, but up. Mont Mégantic distinguishes itself because staff worked as part of a team to create the first ever International Dark Sky Reserve in 2007. This is a designation from the International Dark-Sky Association, an organization dedicated to reducing and educating people about light pollution.

As a result, the mountain offers not only stunning daytime views but also a brilliant look at the night sky where the stars take center stage. The AstroLab at the base of the mountain is home to the Popular Observatory, dedicated to the public with various programs that help visitors explore the evening sky. The observatory located at the 3,615- foot summit is reserved for scientists’ use, but visitors can take a daytime ticketed tour.

Those planning a visit to Acadia National Park, a 465-mile drive from Schenectady, can get a bird’s-eye view of the ocean from the highest point on America’s Atlantic coast, Cadillac Mountain.

This trip requires online ticketing in advance, as visitors cannot purchase tickets for the Cadillac Summit Road at the park. In addition to a $6 vehicle ticket, visitors also must purchase an entrance pass for the park itself. Sunrise is a popular time to drive up the 3.5-mile, two-lane road to the 1,530-foot summit.

Visitors can learn more about the park and vistas through interpretive signs offered at the pull-offs along the way. The trip provides spectacular views of the Atlantic, including Bar Harbor, the Schoodic Peninsula and the islands in Frenchman’s Bay, as well as Maine’s iconic blueberry fields. The summit has a gift shop and paved walking trails between scenic overlooks. Other Northeast mountain driving excursions include Pack Monadnock Mountain in Peterborough, New Hampshire; Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont; Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine; and Mount Battie in Camden, Maine.

For the latest
It’s wise to check a mountain’s website for the most up to date information on rates, weather and traffic conditions, fees and hours.
* Prospect Mountain: dec.ny.gov/outdoor/113217.html
* Mount Greylock: mass.gov/locations/mount-greylock-state-reservation
* Mount Equinox: equinoxmountain.com/
* Whiteface Mountain: whiteface.com
* Mount Washington: mt-washington.com
* Mont Mégantic: thesummitdrive.com/summits/mont-megantic
* Cadillac Mountain: nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/cadillac-mountain.htm

Trip tips
Eric Stigberg, managing director of public affairs for AAA Northway, offers the tips to have a safe and smooth trip to the summit:
* Cellphone coverage (and thus GPS) might be spotty, so bring a paper map as a backup to easily find the summit road entries.
*  Make sure you have a full tank of gas.
*  Be aware of the road signs and observe the posted speed limit. “Look for signs for curves and grades to be prepared as you’re headed into a sharp curve or steep grade,” he said.
* Watch out for wildlife crossing the road.
* Don’t pass unless the road permits it.

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