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To make a long road trip worth the drive, choose a whole region to explore rather than one specific location. By making an entire region your target during a road trip, you leave room for unexpected adventures, multiple stops and a more flexible travel plan. If a road trip is in your future plans, 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, Montana, can get pretty pricey, so most people who take the trip to Glacier make it in their cars. Driving to Northwest Montana is a big feat: The border-hugging location requires a multi-day drive for most travelers. Still, thousands of people flock to the area every year. It’s simply worth the trip.
The main attraction 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. Consider the lively little town of Whitefish (and beautiful Whitefish Lake) and the clear blue water of Flathead Lake. Anglers will relish days on 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.
Northwest Wyoming claims two national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Serene and scenic, Grand Teton 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 Jackson Hole Ski Resort, and the lovely town of Jackson. Head north to Yellowstone, the world’s first 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 into the massive Yellowstone Caldera (a.k.a. Yellowstone Supervolcano), which hosts hot spots, geysers and mud pots. Take the time to explore waterfalls, the Yellowstone River and the beautiful Hayden Valley as you drive through the park. 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 thanks to its proximity to the densely populated Front Range of Colorado. You’ll find thousands of acres of national forest in this region, as well as Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 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 the town’s famed festivals or climb the thrilling via ferrata, a series of metal cables and ladders on a sheer cliff. Nicknamed the “Switzerland of America,” Ouray draws climbers and hikers from around the world. Known as “the last great Colorado ski town,” Crested Butte is worth checking out in any season. Plus, don’t miss 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? Head to Southern Utah. This breathtaking region boasts a whopping five national parks—Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Zion. Plus, the newly created Bears Ears National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and 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 should be your first stop. Hiking? Head to Arches National Park. If you’re looking to spend some time on the water, check out Lake Powell. Canyonlands National Park offers stunning views and mazes of slot canyons, and you’ll find adventurous backcountry hiking and camping in the canyons of the Escalante River.