By Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Do you long to be surrounded by summery pastures and sweet edelweiss high in the Bavarian Alps, like Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music?" Or would you prefer the snowy challenge of a glacier heli-ski assault? This selection of majestic peaks draws from several varied sources. One thing is for certain: Only the lucky few will personally see all of these seven beautiful mountain ranges in one lifetime.
Carved from vast glaciers, covered with pines and firs, and bottomed out with gorgeous lakes, these snow-topped peaks are magnificent and imposing. One of the best ways to explore the splendor of the Canadian Rockies near Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise in Alberta is to depart from Vancouver for a two-day excursion via the deluxe Rocky Mountaineer train. The tracks pass over bridges, above canyons and river gorges, and through winding terrain where cars cannot venture, all the while providing an uninterrupted view skyward through the glass domed carriages and from an outdoor platform that's a photographer's dream.
As the symbol of Switzerland, the pyramid-shaped Matterhorn is said to be the world's most-photographed mountain. Hearty visitors can ride to the top of the world, boarding an aerial cable car in Zermatt to reach the Alps' highest mountain station, more than 12,500 feet above sea level. Alternatively, a 45-minute ride on Gornergrat Bahn, the world's first cog railway, reaches 10,134 feet to take in 29 magnificent snow-covered peaks and seven glaciers. The Glacier Express train, a far more comfortable -- nevertheless spectacular -- journey, crosses 291 bridges and takes eight hours between Zermatt and St. Moritz.
Andes of Latin America
From Venezuela to Chile, 50 volcanoes dot the 4,300 miles of the world's longest mountain range, also one of the tallest on Earth. The mystery and marvel of a 15th century Incan sanctuary, Machu Picchu, attracts masses of tourists to the 1.5-mile high destination in Peru. Tourism and guided adventures are established in some places, such as the legendary Patagonia (itself equal in size to Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico combined), but much of the Andes is wilderness.
Sierra Nevada In California
The California/Nevada mountain range is packed with superlatives including Yosemite National Park, celebrated for its waterfalls, granite walls, and domes. More Sierra Nevada awe-inducing sights include the giant redwoods, Earth's most massive trees, and Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in America's lower 48 states. Also within Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park is Kings River Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in North America.
Himalayas of Nepal
Mostly inaccessible, the Great Himalayan region features a huge line of dozens of snowy peaks averaging over 20,000 feet. One of the youngest mountain ranges on Earth is also the world's highest above sea level, crowned by Mt. Everest. Sharply up in numbers, nearly three-quarter million people visited Nepal in 2016, according to The Himalayan Times, and TripAdvisor readers voted Kathmandu as the #1 destination in 2017.
A fossil archipelago, the Dolomites are unique among mountain ranges, jutting straight up, chimney-like, in surprising towers, spires, and pinnacles. Their rosy glow at dusk is so captivating as to have coined its own adjective in Italian, "enrosadira." Speaking with admiration of their unique quality, Le Corbusier, one of the most noted architects of the 20th century, called the Dolomites the "most beautiful architectonic work in the world." Driving hiking, biking, and skiing are among the Dolomites' top experiences.
Southern New Zealand Alps
Want to see the best view of the Milky Way on Earth? Come to Mt. Cook National Park, where the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, biggest in the world, means zero light pollution and the best stargazing. From anywhere within 100 miles, Mt. Cook stands out as the tallest peak (12,000 feet-plus) among the alpine region of South Island. Seeing New Zealand's mountain range from a helicopter is one of the best ways to appreciate the peaks' mesmerizing beauty and dramatic scale.
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