The Highest Highway in New York Will Make Any Driver’s Palms Sweat

Written by Terra Leach
Published: November 22, 2023
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Key Points

  • The most elevated highway in New York is the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway.
  • This 8-mile-long scenic drive is located in Essex County and sits at the base of Whiteface Mountain in the quaint Adirondack town of Wilmington.
  • You can see an abundance of wildlife when driving up this colossal highway, including beavers, moose, and great horned owls.

Whether you’re looking for a drive full of natural beauty or just want an adrenaline rush atop a mountain, New York state’s highest highway is worth the drive. The Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway climbs around the great Adirondack Mountains and offers a scenic drive full of nature and wildlife.

What Is the Highest Highway in New York?

Whiteface Memorial Highway is the highest highway you can drive your vehicle on in New York.

©daveynin / CC BY 2.0 – License

The highest highway in New York is the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway, or New York State Route 431. Open since 1936, Whiteface Memorial Highway has become a state icon and sought-after tourist attraction. It is located in Essex County and sits at the base of Whiteface Mountain in the quaint Adirondack town of Wilmington. Only eight miles long, this scenic drive winds you around the mountain, taking you directly to 4,867 feet.

History of Whiteface Memorial Highway

Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway

Whiteface Memorial Highway is colder at the top, so if you’re planning to drive the whole way up, be sure to dress in layers!

©Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.com

Plans for the highway started in 1910 when New York’s governor, John Alden Dix, and state engineer J. R. Thomas discussed constructing a road to the top of Whiteface Mountain. The two wanted to help make the area more accessible to tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. Even though construction began in 1929, progress was slowed due to the financial impacts of the great depression, and it wasn’t officially opened to the public till 1935. It was named Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway as a tribute to the veterans of World War I.

Over the years, it has undergone periodic improvements and restoration to ensure its safety and accessibility.

Why Do People Drive on This New York Highway?

Whiteface Mountain top building summit with green forest

A castle and a breathtaking view wait atop Whiteface Mountain.

©sebastienlemyre/Shutterstock.com

In 1980, Whiteface Mountain gained global recognition after its connecting body of water, Lake Placid, was used in the Winter Olympic Games. Since then, it has been a popular tourist attraction. While it takes approximately 20 minutes to drive its entire route, there are several panoramic stops along the way. Each one offers photographic views of the Adirondack Mountains. You can even see Vermont and Canada on a clear day!

If you’re brave enough to drive to the top, there is an enchanting gift shop made out of a castle and a food truck for re-energizing. For the ultimate breathtaking view, you can walk a fifth of a mile along the Alpine Nature Trail or take the elevator. Once you reach the top, you are 4,687 feet above sea level!

Wildlife Near the Highest Highway in New York

You can find a variety of wildlife roaming along this New York highway as it climbs upward. Let’s take a look at a few of these fascinating creatures.

Beaver

North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) Reflected - captive animal

Beavers warn other family members of oncoming danger by slapping their tails against the water.

©Holly Kuchera/Shutterstock.com

With an estimated 60,000 beavers living in the Adirondack Mountains, beavers inhabit shores, wood streams, and marshes. They have flat tails, which act as a rudder. This allows them to navigate waterways in search of herbaceous vegetation. It also helps to regulate their internal temperature.

Moose

Moose hiding among the tress

Moose have large extended noses that allow them to feed underwater without becoming flooded.

©ArtBBNV/Shutterstock.com

These massive creatures with large physiques and sprawling antlers are iconic animals, which forest for food along this historic highway. They are the hugest member of the deer species and the largest mammal in the State of New York. Moose thrive in the young forestry of the Whiteface Mountains, where they feast on buds and saplings.

Great Horned Owl

Beautiful and impressive smart Great horned owl, Bird of Prey

Great horned owls have ear tufts, which become erect when they become agitated or annoyed.

©agustavop/iStock via Getty Images

With wide yellow eyes and a deep hooting voice, the great horned owl perches in trees along this highway. They nest in hollow cavities and broken parts of trees. They also dwell on rocky ledges, artificial platforms, and inside caves. These skilled hunters eat small rodents, including skunks, opossums, and rabbits.

Where Is Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway Located on the Map?

Also known as NY-431, Whiteface Veterans Memorial begins at an intersection with NY 86 in Wilmington and climbs Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks.

Below is the highway on a map.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © daveynin / CC BY 2.0 – License / Original


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About the Author

Terra Leach is a writer at A - Z Animals, primarily covering mammals, wildlife, dogs, cats, and the environment. Terra holds a Master's Degree in Communications from Shippensburg University, which she earned in 2012. Terra is a marketing specialist by day and volunteers for the National Audubon Society and Cornell University. A resident of Michigan, Terra is an avid boater, loves the surrounding lakes, and generally doing anything outdoors.

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