By Emily Reeves, Sierra Trading Post
To make a long road trip worthwhile, try choosing a region to explore rather than a particular location to visit. By making an entire region your target during a road trip, you leave room for unexpected adventures, multiple exciting stops and a more flexible travel plan. If you have a road trip in your future, you can’t go wrong with heading to one (or all) of these four regions in the Rocky Mountains.
Flying to Glacier National Park Airport in Kalispell, MT can get pretty pricey, so most people who take the trip to Glacier are making it in their cars. Driving to Northwest Montana is often a big feat – the border-hugging location means a multi-day driving commitment for many. Still, thousands of people flock to the area every year because it’s simply worth the trip.
The main attraction in Northwest Montana is the stunning Glacier National Park; with 1,583 square miles of glacier-carved terrain, 700 miles of hiking trails, and a rich diversity of wildlife. However, there’s so much more to love about the region – like the lively little town of Whitefish (and beautiful Whitefish Lake) and the clear, blue water of Flathead Lake. Anglers live for days spent on the banks of the Flathead River, which is perfect for rafting, as well. With so much to offer, there’s no doubt that Northwest Montana is one of the most road-trip worthy regions in the Rocky Mountains.
Of the two national parks in Northwest Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is the furthest south. The serene and scenic park includes the jagged peaks of the Teton Range, alpine lakes and streams, the Snake River and over 200 miles of trails to explore. Just a few miles from the southern boundary lies the world-renowned skiing destination, Jackson Hole Ski Resort, and the lovely town of Jackson.
Further north is the world’s first national park, the beloved Yellowstone National Park. You can make the most of your road trip by driving through Grand Teton National Park to reach the south entrance to Yellowstone National park via highway US-191 (closed in winter). It’s a scenic drive that will bring you near the Yellowstone Caldera (aka Yellowstone Supervolcano), which hosts hot spots, geysers and mud pots. You can also take time to explore waterfalls, the Yellowstone River and the beautiful Hayden valley on this drive. And of course, if you make it all the way to Yellowstone, you better not forget to get your eyes on the famous Old Faithful geyser!
Colorado’s Western Slope
Of the four regions highlighted here, this may be the most accessible because of its proximity to the densely populated Front Range of Colorado. There’s thousands of acres of national forest in this region, as well as one national park – Black Canyon of the Gunnison. What else makes it road-trip worthy? Amazing mountain towns like Telluride, Ouray and Crested Butte, to name a few.
Head to Telluride to enjoy endless views of the surrounding rugged peaks, experience one of their famous festivals or climb the beloved Via feratta. Nicknamed the “Switzerland of America,” Ouray is a favorite location for climbers and hikers from around the world. Crested Butte is known as “the last great Colorado ski town,” and is worth checking out in any season. Plus, after a few days spent adventuring in the outdoors, you can find tucked-away gems like the little town of Paonia, where you can enjoy a day (or seven) of wine tasting, visiting local orchards and lounging by the river.
Like to mountain bike? Hike? Boat? Explore? Then it’s definitely worth it to drive to Southern Utah. This breathtaking region boasts a whopping five national parks — Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Zion National Park. Plus, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the beautiful Lake Powell add even more reasons to visit. You could spend months driving around the area and still miss something.
If you’re into mountain biking, then Moab and Arches National Park should be your first stop. If you’re looking to spend some time on the water, check out Lake Powell. Canyonlands National Park offers stunning views from a plethora of trails, and you can find some of the best backcountry hiking and camping in the canyons of the Escalante River.