There’s nothing like a breathtaking view of a panoramic vista. But if you think the best vantage points are impossible to access unless you’re a serious climber-adventurer like Will Gadd or an astronaut in the International Space Station, think again: We’ve rounded up 8 of them that are readily accessible by mere mortals. Whether it’s a hike, gondola ride or train to the top, these views are not to be missed. As Gadd himself says, “There’s no shortage of eye candy in the world.”
1 Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix, France
“There are very few spots like it in the world,” says adventurer Will Gadd, who has climbed frozen Niagara Falls, disappearing ice atop Mt. Kilimanjaro and sea stacks in Newfoundland, among others. So if he says go, you should. “Normally it takes a day or two to get that high into the true alpine, land of ice and snow, but the cable car zaps you up there in minutes,” he says. “It’s very rare to be that high with no effort, and the scenery is truly amazing.” Don’t miss the glass observation box, which hangs in mid-air. Ballsy as it may be to climb inside, we want to know whose job it is to Squeegee down the outside of the glass.
2 Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park, Utah
For hikers only, so park the car and lace up your boots. At 5,785 ft., it’s a strenuous climb, especially the final half mile which follows a narrow sandstone path that only sometimes offers anchored chain handrails along with sheer cliffs. This one’s not for those with a fear of heights, but the reward at the top is an unparalleled view of one off the most spectacular national parks in the entire U.S. system.
3 Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Warning: This one’s less about the “getting there” and more about the “trying not to toss your cookies once you do”. Because while your final destination is an impressive 702 ft. above the craggy Atlantic shore below, it’s reached by an easy stroll across a plain of grass so idyllic, who could blame you if you were lulled into a peaceful reverie and continued right on like a lemming off a cliff. But that wouldn’t end well, so take our advice and carefully inch up as close as you dare to the edge. The drop is incredible and you’ve undoubtedly seen it already in films such as “Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince,” “The Princess Bride,” and “The Guns of Navarrone,” so you know it’s the real deal.
4 Corcovado Mountain, Brazil
It’s touristy and it’s crowded, but it’s worth it: Corcovado (“hunchback” in Portuguese) is Brazil’s tallest mountain (2,329 ft.), topped by the 125-foot statue of “Christ the Redeemer” and situated within the city limits of Rio de Janeiro. It can be climbed (there are dozens of routes), but most opt for the electric train, despite the long lines. Either way, the summit offers dazzling day or night views of the city, with its skyscrapers, favelas and island-pocked harbor. When the fog rolls in, the mist shrouding the islands and mountains adds a mystical touch evoking Neverland or Avatar’s Pandora.
5 Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort Summit, California
At 11,053 feet, it’s probably one of the best vistas in the entire state that doesn’t require crampons and pitons or a full-day hike to access. You reach it via gondola, and once at the summit, you’ll enjoy a 360-degree view of up to 400 miles under optimal conditions. That means you’ll be gazing upon Yosemite National Park, the great San Joaquin Valley, the jagged Minarets, the distant White Mountains and Long Valley, formed 700 hundred thousand or so years ago when a giant caldera blew its lid and spewed lava and ash over 1,500 square miles. There’s an information center with guides who can answer your questions, and for skiers and boarders there’s the added bonus of an epic run down the mountain.
6 Mauna Kea Volcano, Hawaii
Who couldn’t use “stood atop an enormous volcano” on their list of life’s accomplishments? And with this one, at 13,796 feet above sea level, the feat includes an unmatched view of the island, Pacific Ocean, sunsets and, looking up, a spectacular view of the night sky. Why else would there be dozens of international observatories located here? Reachable by 4x4, you’ll want to heed the warnings and precautions to avoid altitude sickness.
7 Pikes Peak, Colorado
Its true height has been in question almost as long as humans have been climbing it. Early southwest explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike, from whom the mountain got its moniker, over-estimated it to be a whopping 18,000 ft. and possibly forever unclimbable, while various subsequent measurements, building additions and recalculations have put it variously between 14,109 ft. and 14,155 ft. But one thing is certain: The incredible view of amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties above the fruited plains inspired the lyrics to Katherine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful.” And if it can do that, chances are it’ll inspire you, too. Pikes Peak can be summited by car or cog railway, which was first constructed by Zalman Simmons, owner of the Simmons Mattress Company, so it has to be a relaxing journey, right?
8 Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Skip ground level viewing with its crush of tourists and make the drive and subsequent three-mile hike up the Fairy Falls trail for the best panorama. The intense colors are the result of bacteria in the water which change seasonally, tending toward oranges and reds in summer and dark green in winter. Whatever colors you find, it’s one of those almost unbelievable feats of nature situated in a breathtaking vista.