A rugged mountain land that has often typified the West, the northern Rocky Mountains remain a region that captures the adventurous spirit of the outdoors. A region that encompasses Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, the northern Rockies include some of the most spectacular backcountry destinations in the Lower 48, like the Sawtooths, the Tetons, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park. This region, more than the Sierra Nevada or any other in the United States, inspired the idea of conservation.
These parks and places endure today, and they are some of the busiest outdoor recreation areas in the country. Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier national parks received no fewer than 2.9 million visitors each in 2016. They are stunning outdoor destinations, well known and easy to find.
That said, there is more in the northern Rockies than these mainstays. Here are a few of adventures off the beaten path that you should put on your list for this summer.
- Spectacular alpine lakes characterize the Medicine Bow region of the Snowy Range in southern Wyoming. Near the Colorado border, it’s a reasonable drive from Denver metro. Expect long vistas and towering peaks. Two of the best: Shelf Lakes via the Gap Lakes Trail, a moderate and secluded 5.7-mile trail with minimal elevation gain, and Medicine Bow Peak, a 3.4-mile ascent with a boulder scramble for the last tenth of a mile.
- No conversation about the Wind River Range is complete without mentioning Cirque of the Towers. Consider that due diligence and check out the Titcomb Basin instead. Like the Cirque, it’s a long trek at 28 miles. Prep for an overnight and scenery as rugged as any in the West.
- The Teton Crest Trail is a logistically challenging 50 miles, but it never drops below 9,000 feet in elevation.
- The Taggart and Bradley Lakes are much more accessible in Teton National Park, and the trails are much gentler, too.
- Easy to miss the 212-foot Shoshone Falls on your way through Idaho on I-84. Do yourself a favor: don’t.
- The Sawtooths around Stanley are Idaho’s hotbed for outdoor activities, but don’t sleep on Castle Rocks State Park and City of Rocks. One word: granite. There are hiking trails here, but the rock climbing is the main attraction.
- Borah Peak is Idaho’s highest summit at over 12,000 feet. A peak bagger’s challenge at 3.5 miles in length with 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
- Float the Boise River and check off on your local’s rite of passage.
- The Seven Devils offer isolation and beautiful wildflower vistas along 18 miles near Hell’s Canyon. Check out the active fire lookout, Heavens Gate.
- The entirety of the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail is worth thru-hiking, but make a short trip to Lake Koocanusa. The lake’s vivid blues are startling, and Yaak is a great outdoor town in the West with saloons and outfitters to enjoy.
- Black Canyon Lake requires a boulder hop as the trail nears the lake, but that’s supposed to be a bad thing. Nearby Grasshopper Glacier gets its name from millions of grasshoppers embedded in the ice. Do not eat the grasshoppers.
- Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is an arid scrubland, and the Middle View Trail is a unique 5-mile tour of it. Be sure to tour the caverns, as well.