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Take the Car: 6 Beautiful Vermont Mountains You Can Drive Up

Some say that the journey is as important as the destination, and for the most part, I wholeheartedly agree.

But, I have to admit that sometimes I want dessert before dinner and a gorgeous mountain vista without climbing breathlessly to the top.

Mount Ascutney, Okemo Mountain, and Mount Philo: 3 gorgeous Vermont Mountains you can drive up.
Mount Ascutney, Okemo Mountain, and Mount Philo: 3 gorgeous Vermont Mountains you can drive up.

If you have limited mobility, don’t have a lot of time, or just don’t enjoy hiking, I’ve got six gorgeous drive-up summits in Vermont for you — perfect for your next picnic, sunset, or low-key adventure.

Disclaimer: Three of these summits feature a view at or near the parking lot at the summit and are suitable for those in wheelchairs or with other mobility impairments. The other three require a short walk or a hike for the best views, and two have towers you can climb for even more impressive views.

So pack your favorite picnic fare, your camera, and your sense of adventure, it’s time to climb one of these incredible Vermont mountains without breaking a sweat.

Mount Equinox Skyline Drive in Sunderland, Vermont

Universally Accessible: Yes, the parking lot and visitor center are accessible for those with mobility impairments.
Cost: Car & Driver $25, additional passengers $5 each, motorcycles $20, additional rider $5 each, kids under 10 are free.
Dogs: Yes, on-leash
Open dates: Memorial Day Weekend through October 31

Summer view from the top of Mount Equinox in Vermont.
Views from the top of Mount Equinox

Located off Route 7A between Manchester and Arlington, Mount Equinox Skyline Drive is the longest privately owned, paved toll road in the United States. It ascends 3,248 feet over 5.2 miles to the top of Mount Equinox , which is the highest mountain in the Taconic Range at 3,855 feet.

The hike up to the top of Mount Equinox is one of the most strenuous hikes in southern Vermont (and still worth doing at least once). I love hiking around the Equinox Preserve, but I prefer driving to the summit.

Mount Equinox Skyline Drive was completed in 1947 and is owned by the Carthusian Order, a monastic order of the Catholic Church, and the only charterhouse of the Carthusians in the United States.

While no Vermont drive is completely free of frost heaves and potholes, Skyline Drive is known as one of the safest and best-engineered toll roads in the country.

This beautiful drive has lots of vantage points on the way up, a two-story visitor center at the top with exhibits featuring the history of the mountain and the toll road, and a short hiking trail leading to this fantastic view of Manchester Village.

View from Lookout Rock, which is a short hike from the parking lot at the Mount Equinox summit.
View from Lookout Rock, which is a short hike from the parking lot at the Mount Equinox summit.

Also Read: 17 of the Best Things to Do in Manchester, VT

Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, Vermont

Universally Accessible: No
Cost: Free
Dogs: Yes
Open dates: The road is open when the snow has melted. In the winter, Okemo Mountain Road is a ski trail.

View from the top of the fire tower on Okemo.
View from the top of the fire tower on Okemo

Okemo Mountain Road is the only road on this list that is free to drive up. It’s part of Okemo Mountain Resort located in the town of Ludlow, which is one of our favorite towns to use as a vacation home base.

The road to the summit is about 4.5 miles, with several spots where you can pull over and take in expansive views of the Green Mountains. This seasonal road becomes a ski trail in the winter, but when there’s no snow on the ground, you can drive under the ski lifts and past the snowmaking equipment and imagine how much fun skiing or riding Okemo must be.

View from Ludlow Overlook off Okemo Mountain Road
View from Ludlow Overlook off Okemo Mountain Road

Once you get to the small parking area at the top, it’s another 200 yards up a gravel road, and a very short section of a hiking trail leading to the historic fire tower.

The tower was built by the CCC in 1934 and is one of the oldest in Vermont. It climbs an additional 60 feet above the surrounding trees, giving you 360-degree views of the Green Mountains.

After taking in the views, you can hike another .4 mile to the Summit Cafe for a bite to eat (weekends only in the summer and fall). Follow Mountain Road to Glades Peak Quad and continue down the Buckhorn trail, which are both well-marked.

If you would rather hike to the top of Okemo, it’s 6 miles, round trip and gains about 1,930 feet in elevation. I’ve included this beautiful mountain hike in the 3rd edition of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont.

Also Read: A Spectacular Fall Foliage Weekend in Ludlow, Vermont

Mount Ascutney in Windsor County, Vermont

Universally Accessible: The parking lot at the top is paved and suitable for wheelchairs, but there are no amenities at the summit.
Cost: Adults $5, Kids $2
Dogs: Yes, on-leash
Open dates: May 20 – October 20

A summer view from the summit of Mt. Ascutney in Vermont.
View from the top of Mount Ascutney

Built between 1935 and 1938, Mount Ascutney State Park was one of the very first state parks established in Vermont. The mountain’s first hiking trail was created way before that — in 1825. It was the first organized mountain hiking trail in Vermont, and some accounts suggest it was the first in the country.

Today, hikers can scale the mountain from one of four trailheads, or they can explore a series of summit trails after driving up the 3.7-mile toll road.

Mt. Ascutney is unique as far as Vermont mountains go. It’s a monadnock — an isolated mountain of erosion-resistant rock, in this case, granite. It’s a conspicuous mountain, towering 3,144 feet above the Connecticut River Valley below, but it’s not part of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

View from the top of Mount Ascutney
Connecticut River from one of the roadside overlooks

After driving up the toll road (Mount Ascutney Parkway) to the parking lot near the summit of Mount Ascutney, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the green mountains.

Take any of the boulder-encrusted trails that meander around the summit and you’ll find yourself in a dark, enchanting forest that smells like Christmas because of the abundance of spruce and fir trees.

For a 360° view of the Green Mountains and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, climb the 24.5-foot high observation tower. Interpretive signs name the distant peaks in all directions, and it’s a pretty good spot for a selfie.

Also Read: Hiking and Camping at Mount Ascutney State Park

Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont

Universally Accessible: No
Cost: $32 for car and driver, $12 per passenger
Dogs: Yes, on-leash
Open dates: Late May to mid-October

Hikers on the Long Trail going over Mount Mansfield.
Hikers on the Long Trail going over Mount Mansfield

At 4,395 feet, Mt. Mansfield in Stowe is Vermont’s highest mountain.

On a clear day, you can see west to Lake Champlain, north to Canada, and east to New Hampshire. There are several trails leading to the top, but if you don’t have time for an all-day hike, consider driving the auto-toll road or riding the gondola to the top of the mountain from Stowe Mountain Resort.

The toll road takes you right to the top of Mt. Mansfield, the peak that is locally called “the Nose.”

The eastern views from the parking lot are impressive, but if you hike the Long Trail from the Nose to the Chin (the actual highest point on Mount Mansfield), you can walk through the alpine tundra and experience epic views in every direction. It’s 2.8 miles round-trip to complete the hike, and while it’s not extremely steep, it’s very rocky.

The auto-toll road in Stowe is the most expensive on this list, and I would also add that the road is not in great condition and is very narrow.

Stowe Mountain Resort also runs the Gondola SkyRide to the top if white-knuckle driving isn’t for you. Either way, I recommend getting yourself to the top of Mount Mansfield if you can!

Also Read: 18 Delightful Things to Do in Stowe, Vermont

Mount Philo in Charlotte, Vermont

Universally Accessible: Yes, there are accessible trails, picnic areas, and restrooms at the summit.
Cost: $5 for adults, $2 for kids
Dogs: Yes, on-leash
Open dates: Memorial Day Weekend to October 31

Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks from the top of Mount Philo
Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks from the top of Mount Philo

Mount Philo State Park was Vermont’s first state park, created in 1924. You can reach the summit by hiking a 1.9-mile loop that climbs 550 feet in elevation, or you can drive to the top for a mountaintop picnic and a beautiful sunset over Lake Champlain.

Mount Philo is a small peak at 968 feet, rising steeply from the rolling farmland in the Champlain Valley. Scattered picnic areas at the summit make this a fantastic spot to bring lunch and spend the afternoon. Rocky outcroppings provide impressive views toward Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks beyond.

Mount Philo Views

In September, the summit becomes a lively destination for raptor enthusiasts who come to witness large numbers of migrating hawks on their annual journey to warmer climates.

If you visit Mount Philo in the summer, you can cool off in Lake Champlain at nearby Kingsland Bay State Park.

Also Read: Incredible Camping Near Burlington, Vermont

Owl’s Head in Peacham, Vermont

Universally Accessible: No, the viewpoint parking is about 1/4 mile from the summit.
Cost: $5 for adults, $2 for kids
Dogs: Yes, on-leash
Open dates: Memorial Day Weekend to mid-October

Kettle Pond from the top of Owl’s Head in Groton State Forest

Owl’s Head is a low but prominent mountain peak in Groton State Forest with easy access and expansive views. The mile-long auto road ascends to within 1/4 mile of the summit, providing an easy alternative to the 3.8-mile hike for those who can’t (or don’t want to) walk far.

There are picnic tables at the summit parking area and a wide path leads to restrooms and a picnic pavilion. From here, it’s a short 1/4-mile to the summit, climbing 100 feet before popping out on a wide, rocky outcropping with an octagonal stone fire lookout tower, which the CCC built in the 1930s.

The views to the west and south include Kettle Pond (also in Groton State Forest) and a distant view of Camel’s Hump.

Also Read: A Secret Vermont Treasure: Groton State Forest

Tips for Driving Mountain Roads in Vermont

If you’re not accustomed to driving on mountain roads, it can be a harrowing experience, but as long as you go slowly, remain alert, and follow these helpful tips, you’ll be fine!

  • Use a low gear going up and down. Downshift into a low gear when driving steep mountain roads. This will keep your speed low without having to use your brakes.
  • Do not ride your brakes. This brings me to my next point, refrain from using constant pressure on your brakes. Instead, pulse your foot on the brake pedal so your brakes don’t overheat from overuse.
  • Give the uphill vehicle the right of way. It’s far easier for a driver going downhill to back up or pull over than someone going uphill, especially if the uphill driver has a manual transmission.
  • Give the car in front of you plenty of space. There’s no point being frustrated or in a hurry!
  • Use the pull-offs when you can. All of these roads include spots to pull off to give yourself and your brakes a break.

Vermont Mountains with Roads Leading to the Top Map

Ready to plan a day trip to one of these Vermont mountain roads? Click on the square in the upper right corner to expand the map.

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A collage featuring views from the top of Vermont Mountains that you can drive up.

Tara Schatz is a freelance writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Vermont Explored and Back Road Ramblers, an American road trip blog. She is also the co-author of the 3rd edition of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont, released in May 2023, and the author of 100+ Wonderful Ways to Experience Vermont.

Jeff Cenga

Tuesday 9th of April 2024

Great article!! I will definitely add these to my annual fall foliage season trip this year but what about the Burke Mountain Toll Road that goes to the top of Burke Mountain?

I did not even know about the one in Peacham !! 🙂

Tara Schatz

Tuesday 9th of April 2024

I haven't been up to the top of Burke yet, but I plan to change that this year, and then I will add it to the list. Enjoy your trip to Vermont!