Last Updated on April 2, 2019 by Janet Frost
Strangely, I find that mountain destinations call to me like a siren from the deep. Midwest mountain ranges are few and far between. Honestly, even the things we call mountains require a stretch of the imagination. At 1,772 feet, the highest peak in the Midwest is Missouri’s Taum Sauk Mountain in The Ozarks. We have rivers, forests, prairies, plains, hills, bluffs, outcroppings, lakes and even Great Lakes, But we do not have mountains, not the kind that form a rocky rugged silhouette against the horizon for miles. In my late middle years I have developed a passion for real mountains.
I am NOT a mountain climber
Let’s clear this up right away, I am NOT a mountaineer or mountain climber. Too many years are behind me to become a crazy “Peak Bagger” at this point. However, I am a mountain lover and I can still manage to do some great hiking. Mountain destinations can be rocky or deeply forested, topped with tundra snow or dotted with cacti, I love them all.
So many mountain destinations so little time…
As I started planning this post I wondered if I had visited enough mountain destinations to list. While they are not some of the world’s most exotic or famous ranges, I have a few in my repertoire. Here is the list of my current favorites, and a few I plan to add soon:
I will start with the furthest from home because this trip really kicked my mountain drive into gear. In 2015 we visited family in Bergen, Norway with a brief stop in Munich, Germany first. As every tourist in Munich does, we booked a bus tour to Neuschwanstein Castle. The castle is located in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, part of the Tyrol Mountain Range. The road there was picturesque countryside despite the rainy day. The Hohenschwangau valley is beautiful and sits just a few miles from the Austrian border. It turns out that Neuschwanstein Castle is really kind of a let down and bus tours are NOT our thing. But the Alpine backdrop was a gorgeous photo-op and the call of these mountains left us wanting more.
Luckily we would get our wish in Norway. The Scandinavian Mountain Range runs through the Scandinavian Peninsula with the vast majority running through Norway. I talked about the Norwegian’s hardiness in a post a few weeks ago. The country consists of rocky slopes falling into deep frigid fjords that are dotted with innumerable islands. While their peaks may not rival the elevations found in the rest of Europe, they are challenging, remote and ubiquitous.
DNT (Den Norske Turistforning)
The Norwegian Trekking Association, or DNT, is an extensive organization across Norway. Their mission is to promote outdoor activities that will preserve the environment and culture of this beautiful country. DNT was formed in 1868 and today numbers over 260,000 members, 22,000 km of marked trails and 7,000 km of ski tracks. They offer adventurous mountain sports tours and courses for mountaineering and glacier hiking. In addition to volunteer maintenance of all these trails they also host 550 cabins for trekkers.
The cabins vary in size and accommodations. There are staffed lodges, self-service cabins and no-service cabins. It was to one of these adorable, remote cabins that we headed with Laila, Tom’s cousin. We struck out on the Folgefonna Glacier Trail. The trail was a route for 19th century European tourists to get from the fjord in Sunndal up and over the glacier. The Breidablikk Cottage on the trail to the glacier was our destination. It is a small self-service cabin built as a “resting hut” in the 1800’s.
After a full day of hiking and scrambling through a variety of terrain this little oasis was literally heaven at 4330 ft. Laila, the hardy Norwegian, carried in food and drink. The cabin was equipped with cut wood, cooking utensils and bedding. Laila knew the inner workings of the DNT and had a precious little skeleton key that gave us access. Although we both thought we might expire on this mountain destination, fat and lazy Americans that we are, it was an experience we will cherish forever.
A happy consequence of our time in Norway, was that now we considered ourselves Hikers. For decades I had been trying to drag my family out to hike, with very limited success. It seems that what was missing was mountains. Well there are plenty of mountain destinations right here in the U.S. We started with Arizona and progressed to the immensely popular Grand Circle in Utah, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
Our first Arizona experience was a week in Sedona. Technically the red rock formations in Sedona are not really mountains. But this otherworldly landscape seems like mountains to a Midwesterner. The whole Southwest is a fascinating mix of mountain ranges, plateaus and canyons. The hiking potential is limitless.
Single peaks and mountain ranges dot the Phoenix landscape.You can start in a quiet suburban community and within minutes you are in a mountain desert wilderness. Just northeast of Phoenix is the McDowell Range, giving the city an iconic horizon and hikers a spectacular city view. With over 50 miles of multi-use trails, the range is defined by Saddleback Mountain in the south and Granite Mountain to the north. The McDowells comprise popular landmarks such as Pinnacle Peak and Tom’s Thumb. My dream is to hike these mountains everyday.
Within an easy day trip out of Phoenix are several other mountain towns. The summer heat of the Phoenix valley chases many residents up into the cooler mountains. Three popular destinations are Payson, Prescott, and Flagstaff.
Payson 90 minutes Northeast of Phoenix, is considered Rim Country. The Mazatzal Range with Mazatzal Peak at 7900 ft and Four Peaks at 7600 creates a vast array of hiking and mountain sports opportunities in the Payson area. This is a popular summer destination for Phoenix residents.
Prescott, 90 minutes directly North of Phoenix, is known for its “Western Victorian” history and culture. Established early in the gold rush era of Arizona it still embraces an Old West atmosphere. Prescott, at 5500ft elevation, is surrounded by the Bradshaw Mountain Range and a spectacular Ponderosa Pine forest.
Flagstaff, at an elevation of 7000 ft, lies in the San Francisco Peaks. The crowning jewel is Humphrey’s Peak at 12,630 and the gateway to the Grand Canyon. Flagstaff’s four seasons provide a refreshing respite in hot Arizona. Flagstaff culture revolves around the surrounding mountains and its adventurous visitors.
This list comprises just a very few of the “high” points of mountain destinations in Arizona.
Mountain ranges, monuments, canyons, buttes and mesas cover the state of Utah. Southeastern Utah exhibits the erosion topographic characteristics of the Colorado Plateau. A large portion of the Grand Circle, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Arches NP, and Canyonlands NP falls into this region of Utah. We circled these majestic parks in 2016. I shared the highlights of our Grand Circle Tour in this post. We loved the hikes in these parks. One swing through only scratches the surface of these mountainscapes (technically canyons and monuments).
The real mountains in Utah are in the North of the state. The Bear River, Wasatch and Unita ranges, with peaks over 10,000 and 13,000 ft, represent the Rocky Mountains. This region will have to go on our to-do list for now. But we have experienced the Rockies in Colorado.
Colorado is a haven for free-spirited outdoor lovers. The state is flush with mountain sports (and great beer I might add!) Just like all the other mountain destinations mentioned, the choices are limitless. I have visited Rocky Mountain NP several times in my life.This park serves up a unique experience every time. An outdoor culture dominates the entire state. Everyone rides bikes to work, and hikes on the weekends.
Boulder is the quintessential college town with a heavy dose of wilderness thrown in. A visit to Boulder can be; hiking, mountain biking or mountaineering all morning, chilling with a world famous craft beer in the afternoon and experiencing exceptional cuisine in the evening. We enjoyed several trails in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The Rocky Mountain NP is an easy day trip out of Boulder.
Breckenridge is a ski town. As you pull into town, the ski slopes dominate the landscape. Because we don’t ski, we visit in the summer. Breckenridge, nestled into the Ten Mile and Mosquito Ranges of the Rockies, provides a high elevation playground. Like Boulder, there are residents and visitors mountain biking, hiking, ATVing and yes, drinking beer!
Mountain Destinations on My Bucket List
The Rocky Mountain Range runs more than 3,000 miles from British Columbia, Canada to New Mexico, United States. Beyond Rocky Mountain NP, this range boasts such iconic mountain destinations as:
- Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, US)
- Mount Rainer National Park (Washington, US)
- Glacier National Park (Montana, US)
- Waterton Lakes National Park (Canadian side of Glacier)
- Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming, US)
- Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada)
- Jasper National Park (Alberta, Canada)
- Sangre de Cristos southern most Rockies in New Mexico
- Western Alps in Northern Italy and Switzerland
- Dolmites in Italy
- Andes in Chile and Argentina
This is an ambitious list. I had better get started!! See you on the next peak…..
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