When it comes to mountains in the U.S., most people have heard of the rugged Rockies out West, the rolling Appalachians on the East Coast, and the picturesque Cascades of the Pacific Northwest. But did you know there are lesser-known ranges scattered around the country that are just as pristine and far less crowded? Here are six American mountain ranges that should be on your radar.
Arbuckle Mountains, Oklahoma
When you think of Oklahoma, you probably don’t picture waterfalls, lakes, castles, and caves hidden within an ancient mountain range, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in the Arbuckle Mountains. Located in south-central Oklahoma, the mountains’ rock cores date back 1.3 billion years, making the range one of the oldest in the U.S.
One of the main places of interest in the Arbuckle Mountains is Turner Falls Park, home to a beautiful, 77-foot-tall waterfall (the tallest in Oklahoma), complete with a natural swimming hole. The family-friendly park also has a number of nature trails, a 20th-century castle, and a series of hidden caves to be explored. Several miles north from Turner Falls is Washita River, which flows through an impressive canyon.
With 350-foot-tall canyon walls and stunning landforms, this picturesque stretch of river is best explored on a kayaking or whitewater rafting tour. East of the river in the rolling foothills is the Lake of the Arbuckles, which is home to Chickasaw National Recreation Area, a popular place for camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing, and hunting.
Henry Mountains, Utah
An expansive 2 million acres of land extend across the desert landscape of south-central Utah, peppering the arid region with peaks belonging to the wild and remote Henry Mountains. The sandstone arches and five major peaks are the range's main attractions — drawing tourists interested in the region’s unique geology.
Three campgrounds and one picnic area are open to the public, along with many other remote and undeveloped camp areas. Take care as many wild animals, such as bison, deer, antelope, and mountain lions, are common in the area. Scenic drives in the range offer vistas of remarkable natural features like “Little Egypt” and “Waterpocket Folds” and access to numerous trailheads, including the 5.6-mile ridge trail that summits Mount Ellen.
You can even embark on extended backcountry trips; just make sure you’re prepared for the elements (pack extra water and warm clothing) and to be out of supply range. The Henrys are so remote and infrequently patrolled that you might not see anyone else during your visit.
Sawatch Range, Colorado
Colorado is known for its mountainous landscape, and no region is more rugged than the vast Sawatch Range. High in elevation, eight of the 20 tallest peaks in the Rockies reside in the Sawatchs and form the Continental Divide, including the massive 14,440-foot-tall Mount Elbert — the tallest peak in Colorado.
Hiking in the area draws an adventurous crowd eager to tackle the 14,000-foot-plus peaks of the Collegiate Range (a section of the Sawatch Range that includes Mount Yale, Mount Harvard, and Mount Princeton), however there are plenty of moderate trails for novice trailblazers as well.
Twin Lakes, a small alpine community, is nestled in the foothills and built around two pristine lakes with several nearby campsites. Kayaking, canoeing, and fishing are popular pastimes with the lakes and surrounding scenery doubling as a peaceful haven for a nature retreat.
Cabinet Range, Montana
Montana is synonymous with mountains, lakes, forests, and wildlife, and nothing displays this state’s beauty better than Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area. Located in the northwestern corner of Montana, the Cabinet Mountains are a string of glacial peaks that stretch for 35 miles. Its status as a protected wilderness means there are no motorized vehicles, bikes, or hunting allowed, which adds to the area’s beauty.
Over 30 hiking trails provide access to the area’s snow-capped peaks, ranging from 2,000 to more than 8,000 feet tall (hit Berray Mountain Trail for unbeatable views), as well as many glacier lakes that are perfect for fishing and paddling and forested valleys ideal for wildlife viewing. For those vying to experience Glacier National Park, but unwilling to deal with the crowds, the less-popular Cabinet Mountains are a worthy alternative.
Toiyabe Range, Nevada
Considered to be the longest range in Nevada, the Toiyabe Range spans over 117 miles from the 150-year-old ghost town of Austin to the Arc Dome Wilderness Area. The 115,000 acres of protected wilderness are home to the range’s tallest peaks and the most challenging hiking trails. Thru-hikers shouldn’t miss the Toiyabe Crest Trail, a 36-mile, point-to-point trek above the treeline with an elevation gain of over 11,000 feet and rewarding views of mountains and basins as far as the eye can see.
Camping is the easiest way to access the area’s best secluded trails and there are many designated areas — both developed and undeveloped — in which hikers can set up camp. When you make it off the trails, Spencer Hot Springs offers some relief for sore muscles.
Organ Range, New Mexico
The scenic Organ Range boasts rocky peaks that soar 9,000 feet above the Chihuahuan Desert, close to the Mexican border in southern New Mexico. Dedicated to preserving prehistoric, biologic, and geologic sites of interest, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument encompasses the lower half of the range and includes the popular Robledo, Doña Ana, and Sierra de las Uvas ranges and the more remote Potrillo Range.
Multiple trails stem from Dripping Springs Visitor Center, which serves as a base for campers and hikers to explore the area. Dripping Springs Trail is a great introduction to the area’s history, leading past significant ruins from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Many visitors also flock to see the Needles, rocky spires that jut into the sky, while equestrians enjoy the rugged terrain of the Doña Ana Mountains and local wineries along their riding routes. Those looking for an other-worldly experience should head south to the lava fields, sand dunes, and volcanic cinder cones of Potrillo Mountains Wilderness Area.