Hikers can come up with dozens of reasons why they love to get out on the trail. But when a long trek leads to a perfect postcard view that goes on forever—well, it’s tough to beat. Thankfully New England is blessed with a number of mountain ranges that offer a variety of hikes—from easily accessible to quite challenging—that feature spectacular views for those willing to do some climbing.
Of course, in addition to the climbing, those mountain views come with an additional challenge—the weather. You can expect high winds atop the mountain peaks, and severe storms can pop up quickly. Wearing multiple layers is a good idea, and a windproof, soft-shell jacket is a smart thing to bring along on any trip. Make sure to check the weather before exposing yourself to the elements.
Here are nine incredible Northeastern hikes that offer panoramic views, which are well worth the climbs (and the exposure to the elements).
1. Mount Washington | New Hampshire
An endless sea of blue from the peak of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Robert Lindsdell
Mt. Washington, the highest peak in New England at 6,288 feet, is perhaps even better known for its high winds. The highest wind speed ever recorded at the Mt. Washington Observatory was 231 mph, still the world record for the fastest wind not involving a tropical cyclone.
The Presidential Traverse is the most challenging hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, as it hits every peak in the Presidential Range over the course of 23 miles and more than 9,000 feet of elevation change. Most hikers go north to south, with the toughest climbs early, starting at Mt. Madison, 5,367 feet, and finishing at Mt. Jackson, 4,052 feet. (Mt. Washington is in the middle.) This is obviously for experienced hikers with a significant amount of outdoor experience. But if you’re up for the challenge, this hike is almost entirely above the tree line, offering amazing views for nearly the entire route.
2. Mount Katahdin | Maine
Traversing a tricky section of Mount Katahdin’s Knife’s Edge Trail Jue Wang
The northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Mt. Katahdin is a well-known hiking destination, and at 5,267 feet, it’s the tallest point in Maine. As you can guess from its name, the Knife’s Edge Trail leading up the mountain in Maine’s Baxter State Park isn’t for the faint of heart. Traversing the Knife’s Edge Ridge from Baxter Peak to Pamola Peak, the trail encompasses four peaks in total and is one of the more amazing hiking experiences in the country. The trail itself is just a mile long, but in places it’s only a few feet wide with serious drop-offs on either side.
For those who aren’t quite up for such a harrowing adventure (or if the Knife’s Edge is closed due to high winds), you’ll find several other trails leading to both Pamola and Baxter’s Peak, which offer similar spectacular views without the high-wire act.
3. Cadillac Mountain | Maine
Sweeping sunset views from Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain Basheer Tome
Located on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park , Cadillac Mountain is one of the more unique locations in the country. With a relatively high elevation (1,582 feet), it takes the title of being the highest peak within 25 miles of the North Atlantic seaboard. It’s also the first place to view the sunrise in the United States during the fall and winter months. There are literally dozens of hiking trails to choose from to reach the summit encompassing a variety of difficulty levels—the easiest being a paved road to the top. On clear days, you can see Mt. Katahdin to the north and Nova Scotia to the east.
For those looking for a bit of a challenge, the 7.7-mile South Ridge Trail goes from Bar Harbor to the summit. Known for its abundant wildflowers, the trail features a gradual, forested climb up to the ridge. But once on the mountain, you’ll find commanding views of the park’s forests, glacial lakes, and the Porcupine Islands, which dot the surrounding harbors.
4. Mount Lafayette | New Hampshire
The Franconia Ridge traverse is one of the most iconic and scenic hikes in New England. Billy Bergen
On the northern edge of the Franconia Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Mt. Lafayette is one of the most popular hiking destinations in a state filled with them. At 5,260 feet, Mt. Lafayette isn’t the tallest mountain, but it’s combination of size, accessibility, and scenic views make it a must-do stop for New England hikers.
You have several hiking choices to get to the summit, but the Old Bridle Path and Greenleaf Trail is the most popular route. Both will take to you Greenleaf Hut, which is just above the tree line at 4,200 feet and offers accommodations, food, and information on the area. You can also choose the longer Falling Waters Trail, with some spectacular waterfalls along the way, which hits Little Haystack Mountain first before continuing on to Mt. Lafayette.
5. Stratton Mountain | Vermont
The view from the Stratton Mountain fire tower Andy Arthur
The popular ski resort is a hiking mecca in the summer, as it is crossed by two of the country’s most famous hiking trails—the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail. But you don’t need to be a thru-hiker to enjoy the views from this nearly 4,000-foot peak. You can enjoy a day hike that takes you to the top of Mt. Stratton and its impressive Green Mountain views.
From the trailhead at the base of the mountain, the path winds through a mixed hardwood/softwood forest that takes you on a gradual ascent up the mountain. At the summit, you’ll find a fire tower that offers amazing 360-degree views of the region.
6. Mount Abraham | Vermont
Exposure to the wind and elements atop Vermont’s Mount Abraham dvs
Mt. Abraham , named for President Lincoln, is another summit on the Long Trail. The 4,017-foot peak is the 5th tallest in Vermont, and it features excellent panoramic views of the Green Mountain National Forest, the White Mountains, the Adirondacks, and Killington Peak. Hikers can choose from shorter routes to the summit or take a longer path that includes the 4,083-foot-tall Mt. Ellen, which is less than 3 miles away, and allows you to hit two of Vermont’s five 4,000-foot peaks in one trip. The shorter route is about 2.6 miles one way, while the long route ends up being about an 11-mile round-trip.
Just past the summit of Abraham lies the wreckage of a small Cessna plane, which crashed in 1973. While it’s not much more than a rusty old fuselage and ripped-off wing today, it’s still a rather eerie and fascinating thing to see.
7. Mount Norwottuck | Massachusetts
Sunrise over the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts as seen from Mount Norwottuck. Christopher, Tania, and Isabella Luna
Mt. Norwottuck is the highest peak of the Holyoke Range in central Massachusetts. At 1,106 feet, you don’t have nearly the significant climbing as the other peaks on the list, but the peak rises steeply from the countryside and offers sweeping views over the Pioneer Valley. There are a number of hiking trails that cross Mount Norwottuck including the 114-mile Metacomet-Monadnock Trail and the 47-mile Robert Frost Trail. For an easy day trip to the summit, start at Mt. Holyoke Range State Park in Amherst, Mass., which offers a visitors’ center and plenty of information on the trails and region. A hike to the top of Mt. Norwottuck only takes about 25 minutes, with about 400 feet in elevation change, making this a great family hike. But at the top, you are still rewarded with an excellent view of the Holyoke Range and the surrounding towns.
8. Cascade Mountain | New York
The view from Cascade Peak in the Adirondacks Dave Hosford
Cascade Mountain is known as the runt of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks (46 peaks in the Adirondacks higher than 4,000 feet), but it remains popular for its pleasant grades and multiple ledges as you climb up to the summit at 4,098 feet. Many refer to Cascade Mountain as a good introduction to the 46ers. The trail to the summit—which is only a 4.8-mile round trip—has steep inclines in the beginning through a densely wooded area, finally opening up at a ledge. The mountain’s exposed, bare-rock summit is actually the result of a 1903 fire, rather than an alpine ecosystem, but the summit view is nonetheless one of the best in the Adirondacks. It offers excellent views of Champlain Valley as well as hundreds of different Adirondack peaks sprawling into the distance as far as the eye can see. If at all possible, catch the summit at sunrise—it’s a must-do experience that you won’t easily forget.
9. Whiteface Mountain | New York
Whiteface Mountain Geoffrey Williams
Located in Wilmington, N.Y., Whiteface Mountain is the older and more popular sibling of Cascade Mountain—and the fifth highest mountain in New York at 4,865 feet. It’s most famous for hosting alpine skiing during the 1980 Winter Olympics. To get to the summit you have a variety of choices: The primary trailhead is off of the Atmospheric Science Research Center Road, which offers a 3.9-mile hike to the summit. Two secondary routes offer 5.7-mile and 6-mile trips to the summit from other starting points.
If you’re just interested in seeing the top of the mountain, it is accessible via a road just below the summit. An elevator will actually take you to the visitor’s center near the peak—but where’s the fun in that? Once you reach the summit of Whiteface, you’ll find 360-degree views of New York State and Vermont. On a clear day, you may even be able to spot the skyscrapers in Montreal.