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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: September 11, 2015

4 mountains you can drive up (plus other scenic spots to enjoy with minimal physical effort!)

Some hikers shudder at the thought (summits should be hard-earned!) but here’s the thing: Not everyone can hike. And not everyone wants to.

Written by: Shannon Bryan
Summit photos are obligatory these days. But the question is, did I hike up or drive up to reach this summit? Wendy Almeida photos

Summit photos are obligatory these days. But the question is, did I hike up or drive up to reach this summit? Wendy Almeida photo

Mountain summits aren’t easy to come by.

Getting up there requires effort. And probably a lot of sweating.

A couple years ago, when my friend and colleague Wendy Almeida (who also happens to be the editor of this magazine) decided to hike Mount Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, we trained for it. That 6,288-foot elevation gain ain’t no joke. So we spent every other weekend of that summer hiking progressively steeper, progressively taller mountains to get ourselves (and our calves and quads) used to the ascent. We also learned a bit about hiking in the northeast – like how dramatically the temperature can fluctuate from sea level to summit or how Fritos taste even better when on the trail (I suspect it’s the tremendous amount of salt that’s so appealing, especially after all that sweating. Remember I mentioned the sweating?). We also got acquainted with some stunning parts of Maine and New Hampshire – incredible vistas that extend for miles and calm (and frigid) mountaintop ponds that seemed to appear just when we needed them. We even made some trail friends along the way – at least while each hike lasted.

So finally, very early on a Friday morning at the end of August, we started up Mount Washington’s Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. We hiked along and scrambled over rocks and began shedding layers as the trail grew steeper. We stopped to pant and drink water and take in the scenery. We played leap frog with other hikers who would pass us while we rested only to be passed by us 20 minutes later as they took a breather. And we sweat. That is until we reached Lakes of the Clouds Hut, where we stopped to eat lunch and put on warmer layers like hats and gloves and pants. (What you’ve heard about Mount Washington’s extreme weather is true. While we were boiling in tank tops for the first half the hike, beyond the hut it gets much colder and windier.) Then we continued up, up, up, watching our footing on the loose rocks and wondering: Are we there yet?

Then we saw it: The Mount Washington Observatory, perched on the summit like some medieval gatekeeper, signaled our triumph! And so did all the people…in flipflops…and the parking lot full of cars…and the cafeteria serving pizza by the slice.

Whaaaa?

Check out those views from Mount Washington's summit! And the cars! The cars? Wendy Almeida photo

Check out those views from Mount Washington’s summit! And the cars! The cars? Wendy Almeida photo

So yea, you can also drive up Mount Washington. There’s even the Cog Railway, which carries passengers to the summit every day of the week from late April through November.

This means no effort. No sweating. And you still get one stunning summit experience.

Washington isn’t the only mountain around here with a handy road to the top. Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island, Mount Agamenticus in York and Mount Battie in Camden do too, which means there are no less than four mountains you can summit in your sedan.

Some hikers shudder at the thought (summits should be hard-earned!) but here’s the thing: Not everyone can hike. And not everyone wants to.

When I was touring a parent with bad knees around Maine not long ago, I loved that I could chauffeur her straight to the peak of Mount Battie, where her breath could be taken away by that view and not by the impossible hike up.

And even the non-outdoorsy, nature-averting, hike-despising among us should have a chance to see Maine or New Hampshire from 600, 2,000 or 6,000 feet up. Because it’s wonderful.

And because summit vistas are for everyone.

4 Mountains you can summit in your sedan

The view from Mount Washington from close to the summit. Shannon Bryan photo

The view from Mount Washington from close to the summit. Shannon Bryan photo

Mount Washington
Located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Mount Washington is a popular hike and drive. The Auto Road is open from mid-May to October and visitors can drive themselves or take a guided tour (two-hour tours are $35 round trio, $30 one-way). There’s plenty of space to wander and take photos, a gift shop, restrooms, as well as a cafeteria where you can buy lunch or get out of the elements. The Cog Railway is also an option from the end of April through November. In the winter, take a SnowCoach Tour ($49 adults, $30 juniors). It doesn’t go all the way to the summit, but it still gets to great mountain views.
How to get there: Entry to the auto road is located at 1 Mount Washington Auto Road, Gorham, New Hampshire
Cost: To drive yourself on the Auto Road, car and driver cost $18, each additional adult is $8. Motorcycle and operator are $16 and passenger $8. Children age 5-12 are $6 and children under 5 are free.
When is the road open: Auto road is open from May through October. Check the website for specific open/closed dates.
FMI: mtwashingtonautoroad.com and www.thecog.com

A woman walks her rescue dog along the granite paths of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Gordon Chibroski/Press Herald file photo

A woman walks her rescue dog along the granite paths of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Gordon Chibroski/Press Herald file photo

Cadillac Mountain
Located in Acadia National Park, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain on the east coast of the U.S. – it’s also the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise in fall and winter. But even during the summer, lots of visitors turn up before dawn to see it. The parking lot fills up quickly in the summer. At the summit, there’s a .3-mile hiking loop.
How to get there: Follow signs to Cadillac Mountain from Acadia National Park’s Park Loop Road.
Cost: $25 park entry fee per vehicle from May through October (good for seven days).
When is the road open: April 15 to November 30
FMI: www.nps.gov

A couple enjoys a walking trail at the Mount Agamenticus park area near the lookout facility. Gordon Chibroski/Press Herald file photo

A couple enjoys a walking trail at the Mount Agamenticus park area near the lookout facility. Gordon Chibroski/Press Herald file photo

Mount Agamenticus
The Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region covers nearly 30,000 acres in the towns of York, Eliot, Ogunquit and South Berwick and there’s plenty of unique flora and fauna to be found there. At the summit, explore some of the trails and enjoy the views. The Learning Lodge is open on weekend and there are picnic tables and restrooms available.

How to get there: Entry to the summit road is off Mountain Road in York. There is a gravel parking lot and a paved road to the summit. Hike or drive – last chance to decide!
Cost: Free
When is the road open: Year-round. April through September from 6 a.m. to sunset, October through March 7 a.m. to sunset
FMI: www.agamenticus.org

The view from the summit of Mount Battie in Camden State Park. Shannon Bryan photo

The view from the summit of Mount Battie in Camden State Park. Shannon Bryan photo

Mount Battie
Camden Hills State Park is home to two mountains with glorious views – Mount Battie and Mount Megunticook – but you can only drive up one of them. Luckily Mount Battie, while shorter than its neighbor, still has great views and a stone tower. There are several coin-operated binoculars up there so you can really zoom in on Camden, the harbor and the islands below.
How to get there: Enter Camden State Park, 280 Belfast Rd, Camden, and follow signs to summit.
Cost: $3 per person for Maine residents, $4.50 for non-residents, $1.50 for non-resident seniors, free for Maine seniors.
When is the road open: The Auto Road is open year-round to hikers, but closed in the winter to cars. In the spring, summer and fall, the road is open 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily
FMI: www.maine.gov

More stunning scenes you can enjoy with minimal physical effort!

People enjoy the view from the Height of the Land scenic overlook on Rt 17 heading into Rangeley. Carl D. Walsh/Press Herald file photo

People enjoy the view from the Height of the Land scenic overlook on Rt 17 heading into Rangeley. Carl D. Walsh/Press Herald file photo

Height of Land
Route 17, Rangeley | www.tripadvisor.com | [Get directions]
This scenic overlook is a stopping point – and gawking point – on Route 17 in Rangeley. “Crowds can be found gathering at the Height of Land, where even on a hazy day the view pours over Mooselookmeguntic Lake and Toothaker and Students islands,” wrote Deirdre Fleming, staff writer at the Portland Press Herald. “On a good day the site lets a visitor travel in their mind over Rangeley and Cupsuptic lakes, west to the White Mountains and east to Saddleback Mountain. Dusk draws locals to see a sky full of shades of purple and orange. Press Herald file photo

Blowing Cave
Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport | www.trails.com
Check it out at high tide for spurts of water up to 30 feet in the air. And it’s right off Ocean Ave.

Screw Auger Falls
Route 26, Grafton Notch State Park, New Hampshire | www.newenglandwaterfalls.com |
[Get directions]
The 23-foot waterfall follows a narrow gorge along the Bear River and offers shallow wading pools. The best view of the falls is from the rock ledge overlooking the gorge. Short walking path to get there.

Glen Ellis Falls
Off Route 16, Pinkham Notch, Coos, New Hampshire | www.newenglandwaterfalls.com | [Get directions]
There’s a brief hike – brief! – to view this waterwall, which plunges over 60 feet.

Two Lights State Park. Doug Jones/Press Herald file photo

Two Lights State Park. Doug Jones/Press Herald file photo

Two Lights State Park
7 Tower Drive, Cape Elizabeth | www.maine.gov | [Get directions]
Open year-round, Two Lights State Park has incredible ocean views paired with those rugged coastal rocks Maine is known for. Gorgeous views just a short jaunt from the parking lot.

Diana’s Baths
West Side Road, Bartlett, New Hampshire | northconwaynh.com | [Get directions]
6/10ths of a mile walk on a flat path. Not too tough and definitely worth the chance to dip into the cool water and lounge about for the afternoon.

Fort Allen Park
Eastern Promenade, Portland | www.easternpromenade.org | [Get directions]
Take advantage of the easy parking at Fort Allen Park, where you don’t even have to get out of your car to enjoy the views of Casco Bay.

Flume Cascade and Silver Cascade
Route 302, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire | www.newenglandwaterfalls.com | [Get directions]
Watch the water fall from the comfort of the driver’s seat. Or venture closer.

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