Climbing Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Peaks

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., stood before a quarter-million supporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, calling for an end to racism and injustice. Dr. King’s repetition of “I Have a Dream” will echo into the future as one of history’s greatest pieces of rhetoric. But, at the end, Dr. King shared his hope to see freedom spread throughout the country from the tops of various high points, listing mountains and hills from New Hampshire to California.

Climbing these peaks is hardly comparable to the challenges Dr. King faced during his life, but working through this summit list is a fun way to honor the freedoms for which he fought.

Mount Washington from Mount Monroe. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Mount Washington from Mount Monroe. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

“And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire”

Dr. King first mentions our local prodigious hilltops. However, perhaps the reason he wasn’t specific is, New Hampshire has 48 peaks that are 4,000 feet or higher.

Mount Washington is the highest, at 6,289 feet—certainly prodigious enough. It’s known for its ever-changing weather, so, if you’re planning on starting here, be sure to be prepared for any and all conditions. To get to the top, you can take a number of popular trailheads, including the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Lion Head Trail, and Boott Spur.

But, perhaps Dr. King truly meant “hilltops” rather than mountains. In this case, Mount Major is found in the Belknap Mountain Range, overlooking Alton Bay. With a summit of 1,785 feet, it’s a much easier task to tackle than its northern kin. The most common trailhead, Mount Major and Brook Trail Loop, is a 3.8-mile round-trip hike that is dog friendly and is great for all skill levels.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

“Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York”

New York features two prominent mountain ranges: the Adirondacks and the Catskills. The more southerly Catskills are known for their lush forests and waterfalls, while the “mightier” Adirondacks are home to New York’s largest mountain. Mount Marcy stands at 5,344 feet and is known by climbers to need few technical skills, but getting to the peak requires a round-trip hike over 14 miles and lots of stamina. The most popular trailhead is located by the Adirondack Lodge, passing Marcy Dam and Indian Falls before going above treeline.

For those looking for something slightly less “mighty,” Big Slide Mountain, at 4,240 feet, is an eight- to 10-mile round-trip journey, depending on which route you choose, making it a little more suitable for all skill levels.

“Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania”

It is interesting that Dr. King uses the adjective “heightening” to describe Pennsylvania’s Alleghenies. Believe it or not, these mountains are getting smaller due to time and erosion. According to geologists, the Alleghenies, and the Appalachian Mountains in general, are four times older than the Rocky Mountains, and may have even been just as large or even larger at some point!

Mount Davis stands at 3,213 feet and is the highest peak in Pennsylvania. It can be summited all year round, but overgrowth during the summer makes the trail a little more difficult. The average round-trip hike is 5.4 miles.

Another option could be Blue Knob, the state’s second-tallest mountain, at 3,146 feet. On a clear day from the summit, you can see for up to 42 miles.

Credit: Dustin Gaffke
Credit: Dustin Gaffke

“Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado”

Although four times younger than the Appalachians, the Rocky Mountains are already double their height. In fact, 58 of Colorado’s mountains are 14,000 feet or higher, and are often referred to as 14-ers. The tallest of them all is Longs Peak (14,259 feet), which is located on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. This 15-mile strenuous hike offers a spectacular view. The most popular trail up the mountain, the Keyhole Route, attracts thousands of adventurers every summer, so be sure to plan ahead.

Another popular “snowcapped Rocky” is Pikes Peak. At 14,115 feet, it can be seen from all over the state. The summit is unlike many other mountains’—although somewhat similar to New Hampshire’s Mount Washington—in that people can drive cars or take the cog railway all the way to the top. Even though the trail is heavily trafficked during the summer months, the view from the summit is a must-see for any adventurer, having inspired the poem “America the Beautiful.”

Credit: David Doan
Credit: David Doan

“Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California”

California’s landscape varies from the north’s water-rich forests to the southern portion’s drought-stricken desert. Again, Dr. King leaves specificity to the imagination, so we’ll stick with the trend of the highest and most popular.

Of the twelve 14-ers in California, Mount Whitney is the tallest, standing at 14,497 feet. Along with this distinction, it’s also the highest point in the continental United States. There is no easy way to the top, with the most accessible being a strenuous 22-mile hike from the Whitney Portal trailhead. Climbing this one should be left to experienced mountaineers.

If you’re less experienced, there are still plenty of “curvaceous” slopes to explore. Located in Lassen Volcanic National Park is Mount Lassen (10,457 feet). Although it is still active, the five-mile round-trip hike to the summit begins in the Lassen Peak parking area.

Credit: Chris Yunker
Credit: Chris Yunker

“But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia”

This is the first mountain that Martin Luther King, Jr., named specifically. At 1,686 feet, however, Stone Mountain is far from Georgia’s tallest. Located east of Atlanta, it’s home to the Confederate Hall Historical & Environmental Education Center, as well as the Confederate Memorial Carving. It was also the Ku Klux Klan’s revival location in 1915 and, because of these factors, was likely mentioned for its historical connections.

Getting to the top requires a 2.2-mile round-trip hike known as the Walk-Up Trail. On a clear day from the summit, you can see 60 miles into the horizon, including the Atlanta skyline to the west.

Credit: Woody Hibbard
Credit: Woody Hibbard

“Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee”

The only other mountain mentioned specifically in the speech stands at 1,850 feet. Beginning in Alabama, Lookout Mountain grows to a peak in Tennessee and overlooks the Chattanooga River. Lookout Mountain also played a crucial role in the Civil War, where, at the “Battle Above the Clouds,” the Union Army captured a Confederate stronghold.

One way to the top is by taking Point Park to Sunset Rock. This 3.5-mile round-trip hike perfectly captures the scenic terrain that makes up the mountain. Another route begins in either of the parking lots near the historic Cravens House and is a 2.2-mile round-trip trek.

“Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring”

The final mountains mentioned in the speech are probably also the vaguest. While Mississippi played a critical role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s, the state isn’t known for being mountainous, which is probably why Dr. King referenced “hills” and “molehills.”

In the present, the state’s highest point is Woodall Mountain (807 feet) and has the dubious honor of being the bloodiest high point, home to a Civil War battle that resulted in the deaths of almost 8,000 soldiers.

If approaching the mountain from the north, take CR-233 south and look out for the Woodall Mountain trailhead. If approaching from the south, follow CR-176 heading north, before turning onto a dirt road that will allow you to drive almost all the way to the summit.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr., challenged the American people to push aside prejudice and history and look proudly into the future. He wanted to hear freedom ringing from the tops of every peak, so enjoy the liberties that he helped solidify and go climb some mountains!