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It’s a simple scientific fact vacations are good for your health. They remove you from the activities and environment you associate with stress and anxiety. Why not take it one step further and get as far away from people as possible by taking a road trip to one of these four mountain passes only open in the summer months.

Monitor Pass

Elevation: 8,314 Feet

Monitor Pass
Photo by: Bob Wick; The view – from a 9,000-foot (2,700 m) peak just south of Monitor Pass – looks towards Topaz Lake, Nevada. Bureau of Land Management / Public domain

Out of all the passes on this list, Monitor Pass is unique. Instead of being a base point surrounded by looming peaks, once you crest the summit, you’ll find wide-open views and a few small peaks, including Leviathan Peak that’s about 600’ taller than the road. If you’re a person that likes to explore via dirt roads, the countryside is dotted with them including one to the summit of Leviathan Peak. From here, you’ll get sweeping views of the pass as well as some of the larger peaks looming in the distance of the Eastern Sierra. For true off-roading options, check out our article Pavement – Shmavement – Off Roading In The High Sierra.

Minaret Summit

Elevation: 9,265 Feet

Learn more about the Minaret Vista

Minaret Vista
Image appears courtesy: Visit Mammoth

Not a trans-Sierra pass per say, but rather a destination. This short drive (30 minutes round-trip) from Mammoth Lakes provides some of the easiest access to jaw-dropping views in all of the Eastern Sierra. From Minaret Vista, you’ll get up close and personal views of Mt. Ritter, Mt. Banner, and of course the Minarets.

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

Elevation: 7,300 Feet

Learn more about the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

Best Scenic Byways High Sierra Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway
Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway – Image appears courtesy: Visit Yoemite – Madera County. Photo by Kim Lawson

Yearning for Yosemite but without the crowds? Look no further than the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, one of the many beautiful scenic byways in the High Sierra. It gives you access to attractions like Globe Rock and Eagle Beak. It’s an opportunity to gaze upon the 230,000+ acre Ansel Adams wilderness. From the Mile High Vista, you’ll see its features of lofty mountains as high as 14,000 feet. This ninety-mile journey will feel less like a drive and more like an adventure with some sections even being dirt.

Sonora Pass

Elevation 9,624 Feet

Waterfall on Sonora Pass during fall
Image appears courtesy: Visit Tuolumne County

Despite Tioga getting the claim to fame for being the tallest pass in the Sierra, Sonora may boast the most unique named natural wonders. In fact, the attractions sound less like Earth and more like something from a Lord Of The Rings film. The Trail of the Ancient Dwarves. The Columns of The Giants. The Trail of The Gargoyles. Each of these provide a separate adventure featuring one-of-a kind geological formations unlike you’ve seen anywhere else. To learn more about them and others like this, check out our article: 6 Hidden Gems in the High Sierra to visit in the summer.

If you’re looking for stunning Instagram-worthy photos and most importantly as few travelers as possible, these stretches of road are a good place to start. For most of these passes, be aware that you’re miles away from civilization. So make sure you have a full gas tank, food, and plenty of water.

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at

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