As humans, we’re always looking to move up. Whether that means climbing the corporate ladder or meeting a set of personal goals, everyone’s trying to end up on top of the world. In geographic terms, this manifests itself quite literally: there are scores of people out there who are on a quest to climb higher and higher. Some of these mountaineers go straight for the big prize at Everest, while some take it even further by summiting the highest peak on each continent. My personal favorite of these climbing goals is, of course, US based: many people set the goal of reaching the highest point in each of the 50 states. Definitely a worthy pursuit, and perhaps one I’ll try one day!
This highpointing mission, however, is not without its drawbacks. Many of America’s tallest summits subject the climber to brutal conditions, and some require multiple-day-long hikes and special equipment. It got me thinking: maybe there was a more accessible goal? One that involved less hiking boots, one that could be done as a family? Finally, the answer hit me: not everyone could climb, but just about anyone can drive! Why not bring your car to the loftiest of heights with you? With my new goal in mind, I set about creating a map of the highest paved roads in each state. Behold:
Click on each marker for details and elevations!
I chose paved roads to make this goal accessible to any car, not just four wheelers (and also because the number of unmapped dirt roads would have made research on this nearly impossible). I found many of these roads using Google Earth’s elevation tool: I looked up the state’s high point, found the closest roads, and scoured them until I found a convincing high point. Dangerousroads.com was also a helpful resource. Now, let’s take a look at some of the standouts.
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Colorado – 14,130’
It’s not all that surprising that Colorado has the highest paved road of any state. What’s surprising is just how high it is. Mount Evans Road is the highest paved road in all of North America, and it absolutely shatters its competition – it’s nearly 3,000 feet higher than the next entry. Its only real challengers come from within Colorado, where Pike’s Peak Road also hits the 14,000’ mark and Independence Pass breaks 12,000’. The road is a gauntlet for drivers – the tough switchbacks in exposed conditions are enough to make the most experienced road warrior white-knuckle the wheel. I drove up Mount Evans in June a few years ago, and there was still snow on the very top portion of the road. This thing is a beast, and absolutely deserves the top spot. It’s also a great place to start if you actually want to see each of the 50 highest roads – it’s literally all downhill from here.
Overlooking the highest paved road in America from the summit.
Hawaii – 11,141’
The drive up to the Mauna Loa Observatory might not be the highest drive in the US, but it may well be the most harrowing. For starters, the drive up Mount Evans begins at about 6,000 feet above sea level, meaning the total elevation gain is about 8,000 feet. If you’re going up Mauna Loa, you’re starting from sea level, so the total altitude change is even greater. The road is also essentially only one lane, and filled with potholes from constant volcanic activity underground. The result is an insanely treacherous drive to the observatory, but the views make it worth it in the end. The craziest thing about this road is that Mauna Kea, the neighboring volcano, has an even higher and steeper drive – it just happens to be unpaved.
Nearly at the top!Note the narrow road.
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Florida – 340’
Florida’s high point, Britton Hill, is the lowest in the country at 345 feet. Its highest road also wins that title, at a nearly subterranean 340 feet. Both the road and the actual high point are located just south of the Alabama border, on a small county road that provides access to the hamlet of Lakewood. There’s a small rest area with a monument at Britton Hill itself – however, the high point of the road is actually located a few hundred feet north of the rest area’s parking lot. At over 100’ shorter than any other high road in America, Florida easily underwhelms its competitors.
Sure looks like a summit to me! Britton Hill just ahead.
Delaware – 448’
Like Florida, Delaware’s highest road cuts right by its highest point – and neither are particularly impressive. The First State’s summit is Ebright Azimuth, located just feet from the Pennsylvania border. It’s in the middle of a subdivision in a suburb of Wilmington – if it didn’t make the cut for lowest roads, it may have made the list of the most accessible ones at the end of this article. After driving over this unimpressive high road, you can park your car at the nearby radio tower and walk to the actual highpoint, where there’s an informational sign. While Delaware may not have a world-beating peak, it did beat out Louisiana’s road by a mere 8 feet to claim its spot on this list!
The road and the Azimuth.
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Way Out in the Middle of Nowhere
Idaho – Mount Harrison Road
Idaho’s highest road cuts so far into the wilderness on such small roads, I honestly couldn’t believe the whole thing was paved. I had to pore over every inch of the long and winding drive up Mount Harrison to make sure there were no patches of gravel or dirt. The drive begins off of a small state road in the southern part of the state, and twists nearly 12 miles on a tiny National Forest road before you reach the summit. By the time you’re at the top, you’ve climbed to 9,261’, and the only roads other than the ones you came in on are over 10 miles away. There’s a small fire tower at the top, and the views are breathtaking.
View from the top. Turn around to see the highest road.
Nevada – Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive
Nevada’s highest road is one of several located within a National Park. In this case, the Wheeler Peak Scenic drive takes tourists up Great Basin National Park’s highest peak, topping out at 10,161’. The drive is the usual winding alpine climb, and while it’s remote, it’s not all that different from other contenders like Mount Evans Road. What sets this one apart is the daunting drive to the access point. Great Basin is located on US 50 through Nevada, dubbed “The Loneliest Road in America.” In the 500 miles between Reno and I-15 in Utah, there are a whopping 7 towns on the entire route – and that’s if you include the National Park base of Baker, which technically is out of the way on a side road. If you’re going up Wheeler Peak, you’re committing to at least a full day’s drive before you see any significant signs of civilization.
Right on the highpoint; the campground is ahead.
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Nice and Convenient
Ohio – In a Parking Lot
Getting to Ohio’s highest road is as simple as grabbing the right parking spot. The Buckeye State’s paved summit is located just east of the town of Bellefontaine, in the parking lot of the appropriately named Hi-Point Career Center. Hi-Point, which serves as both a technical school and career advising office, has been perched atop Ohio’s high point, Campbell Hill, since 1974. That means it’s only a 10-second walk from the highest paved road to the actual high point! Since the Career Center is a school, both of these points are only accessible on weekdays. Still, this is probably the easiest high road to stop at on the entire list.
Campbell Hill. The high road is in front of you; the highpoint, behind you.
Nebraska – Right on the Highway
When it comes to the Great Plains states, the general rule is that the farther west you go, the higher the elevation (I covered an example of this in my very first article). Therefore, it’s no surprise that Nebraska’s highest road lies along the far western edge of its panhandle. But even in this remote corner of the state, it’s not too difficult to get to the highest road – just take I-80 westbound to the exit 8 ramp! This is the only example in the country where the highest road happens to be an interstate. It makes sense that it’s in sparse Nebraska, where the landscape is tame enough to support an interstate but secluded enough that there are very few paved secondary roads in the area. This is also the “fastest” high road – you can check this one off the list at a brisk 75 mph!