Ridin' The High Roads: Best Mountain Passes To Drive
All across the West you can find year-round paved roads that cross major mountain divides and offer some of the best mountain views in the nation. Plus, many are home to ski and snowboard resorts.
Up in the Northwest on the Idaho-Montana border, I-90 crosses over the Bitterroot Range at Lookout Pass, elevation 4,710 feet – the highest point on I-90 between Seattle and Missoula. Right atop the pass is Lookout Pass Mountain where the two-state views of the Coeur d'Alene Mountains roll out in all directions.
Since the mid-1800s, California's Donner Pass was the preferred route over the northern Sierras. The eastern approach from Reno is steep, passing through funky Truckee. Take Donner Pass Road exit and pass rock-walled switchbacks and arcing Donner Pass Bridge before 7,056-foot summit. Scenic vistas are memorable; plus, Sugar Bowl, Donner Ski Ranch and Boreal Mountain resorts hug the divide.
Colorado is split by the Continental Divide – home to more than a dozen routes kept open all year. Crossing the divide along Colo. 9 at 11,542 feet, Hoosier Pass is the second highest year-round pass route in the state – and one with spectacular scenery.
To the south, the South Platte River runs into the expanse of South Park, while the Blue River headwaters trace to the north among a passel of 14,000-foot peaks. Not far down Colo. 9 is Breckenridge.
Tennessee Pass (10,424 feet) traverses a low spot in the highest Rocky Mountains. A treasure trove for history buffs, it was the first railroad route (1881) to pierce the central Rockies. The historic silver mining town of Leadville is the gateway, and on the way up, motorists pass Camp Hale, the WWII training site for the 10th Mountain Division. And, snowcat-skiing Ski Cooper/Chicago Ridge sits atop the pass.