Earth Day asks people to be mindful of the world around us, paying attention to the wonder and beauty of the natural world. You are already aware of the restorative and inspirational aspects of rocks and trees and skies and seas. Sometimes, an intentional climb up to where you can see the vastness of the world around you provides an extra measure of repose and reflection. Here are a few favorite places where you can have a scenic overlook on Earth Day and every day.
Pikes Peak, above Colorado Springs, Colorado.
This is perhaps America’s most famous scenic overlook; the view serves as the inspiration for Katherine Lee Bates’ beloved hymn, “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies”, the USA’s “other” national anthem. The drive up the mountain and back is a hair-raising challenge for even the most seasoned of drivers. This is not said to discourage you; since having driven it, you will boast about it forever after. But if you are even a tad hesitant, by all means drive up to Manitou Springs, and take the cog railway up to the lofty summit. How high is it? Can you say “14,114”? What a treat it is to have the natural world all around you, described by the very knowledgeable folks on the train. Take some jackets and sweatshirts, hats, and so forth because even if it is balmy summer at the base of the mountain, it will be cold at the top. Be sure to walk to the overlook where the story of the song is depicted in bronze tablets. Enjoy the bracing air and the matchless views eastward, toward Kansas.
Mt. Rose Highway Scenic Overlook, Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
A mere four miles outside of Incline Village, in North Lake Tahoe, one of the best panoramic views in America awaits you. Travel Nevada Highway 431 to the overlook, which is at 7,562 feet above sea level. Below, the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe glisten amid the evergreen festooned slopes of the Sierra Madre mountains. Mark Twain describes the view best: “At last the Lake burst upon us – a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still! It was a vast oval, and one would have to use up eighty or a hundred good miles in traveling around it. As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”
Glen Canyon Dam Overlook, Cameron, Arizona.
This overlook is also known as The White House. Amazing Arizona red rocks, sculpted by wind and water, create a long oval frame with the massive 710 foot high dam at the far end. The fabled Colorado River glistens 400 feet below you. The walk to and from the viewing point and back again can be accomplished in a half hour or less. Or linger if you prefer. It is a short 10 minute hike down a stairway sculpted into the red rock. There is a handrail, but the stairs can become slick. You cannot help make magnificent photographs at the overlook. Do be careful with small children and keep your pets on a leash, as there are some dangerously low areas of the wall between you and the precipice. This and many other scenic overlooks are sacred spaces to indigenous people, so please enjoy this natural wonder in an attitude of respectfulness.
South Rim Drive, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Montrose, Colorado.
South Rim Drive and especially Pulpit Rock, provide breathtaking vistas of the rugged beauty of both sides of the canyon. Pulpit Rock is a dramatic outcropping 7761 feet above sea level. Its sheer drop to the Gunnison River below makes it quite an experience. It’s a short walk to the overlook. Be sure to take a photo of it, as well as of the views. From here you can see how the river and geology have interacted differently on each side of the canyon’s north and south faces. Before your drive, take the time to watch the excellent introductory film at the visitors center.
Bryce Canyon, Tropic, Utah.
Bryce Canyon offers the visitor thirteen viewpoints along the National Park’s 38-mile round-trip scenic drive. We recommend Brice Point and Inspiration Point for those who want the biggest vistas filled with the most hoodoos. These overlooks can be crowded, so take your time. Bryce Point is the easier of the two to access; both let you get the sweep of the full amphitheater. The Canyon is named for Ebenezer Bryce, who came west with the Mormons to build buildings. He lived in the Canyon that bears his name for about a decade, and is famous for saying this about its vastness: “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.” So, leave your cows at home when you visit!
McWay Falls. Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, Monterey County, California.
This is an impossibly gorgeous circular beach and waterfall, at the base of cliffs along the famous Pacific Coast Highway. McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park; it flows year-round. The beach is protected from human visiting, so as you gaze down upon it you will not see any footprints in the sand except those of birds. Some of the best photos you will ever take, you will take here. This was once private land, later deeded to the state of California. To turn it into a scenic overlook, the state bulldozed the “Waterfall House” that stood on the land; down it went, over the cliff. Please use the parking area across the Pacific Coast Highway; there is a small fee to do so, but it helps the state keep such natural wonders open to the public.
Gates Pass Scenic Overlook, 8451 West McCain Loop, Tucson, Arizona.
Enjoy the arid, rugged beauty of the desert landscape offered by Gates Pass. The road you travel is historic as well as scenic; it dates back to 1883. Pioneer Thomas Gates created this shortcut through the Tucson Mountains. Jagged peaks, scruffy underbrush and stands of saguaro cacti await your viewing pleasure at an elevation of 3,172 feet. If you can go at sunset, you will be greatly rewarded. Just before the top of Gates Pass on the right as you drive out from Tucson, you will find the parking area for the overlook.
Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook, near Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Do you enjoy the beauty of the mountain scenery? This overlook is for you. It provides a dramatic view of the Great Smokey Mountains and the town of Gatlinburg below. We highly recommend going at night; the twinkling lights of Gatlinburg are quite lovely. Day or night, if you appreciate a simple an spectacular view, stop and savor. The parking lot is roomy and well kept. Keep an eye out for bears; they are frequently spotted here.
A. J. “Allie” Cole Scenic Overlook, Benedicta, Maine.
This overlook provides superb views of Salmon Stream Lake in the foreground and Mount Katahdin beyond it. You can reach it via I-95 northbound only, at mile marker 252. The scenic overlook was named for Maine’s highway pioneer A. J. “Allie” Cole. Allie began horse drawn mail, freight and passenger service between Enfield and Burlington, Maine, in 1914. In the 1920’s he advanced to hauling freight in motorized trucks. Severe winter snowstorms, combined with the lack of public plowing caused Allie to abandon this service every winter until 1928. That year, he stationed his own plow crews at Silver Ridge to keep the road open. It was not until 1935 the State took over Allie’s winter plowing to provide winter long access into Maine’s northwoods.
Hyner View State Park, Hyner, Pennsylvania.
Hyner View State Park is a six acre Pennsylvania state park in Chapman Township, Clinton County, three miles north of Hyner on Pennsylvania Route 120. Situated in the Deep Valleys Section of the Appalachians. Drive your car up the paved, winding road to get to this beautiful, high vista overlooking the beautiful West Branch of the Susquehanna River. The access is easy and the view is great. You may see hang gliders. The park is encompassed by the Sproul State Forest, Pennsylvania’s largest state forest. The park on the bottom of the mountain, Hyner Run, offers a fantastic, free swimming pool.
South Lookout, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, near Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania.
Begin at the park entrance gate and go straight to the South Lookout. South Lookout is a wheelchair accessible, 1,383-foot Sanctuary hawk watch promontory, in the midst of the a wild bird sanctuary along the Appalachian flyway in eastern Pennsylvania. Depending on the season, you may see migrating raptors; an average of 20,000 hawks and eagles visit the sanctuary every year. The Visitor Center houses a shop and restroom facilities; the habitat garden alongside it is home to native plants. Take one-mile “Lookout Trail” from the Visitor Center to the close by South Lookout (elevation 1300 feet) and the North Lookout (elevation 1521 feet) with a 200 degree panoramic view.
Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This is the only urban scenic overlook in our list. The urban landscape is entirely dependent upon the natural landscape which still predominates at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, to form the Ohio River. This is what made Pittsburgh a place of strategic importance in Colonial days, and the premier industrial city in the nation in for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. So what will you see? Rivers, mountains, skyscrapers, trains, river barges, inclines, and more. Along the entire length of the mount, Grandview Avenue offers great vantage points of Pittsburgh’s stunning skyline. Find a restaurant with big windows, for a meal to savor the view. Ride the inclines. Mt. Washington is a playground for all ages.
County Road 12 Scenic Overlook, South Bristol, New York.
Looking for an incredible view in the Finger Lakes region of New York? How about a great picnic spot? Head for the County Road 12 Overlook in Carolabarb Park located between South Bristol and Naples, NY. Enjoy the view of Canandaigua Lake, stretching as far as the eye can see. The overlook is located near Monica’s Pies (stop for some!). For complete directions, click here.