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Jesse Weber | 06.19.2016

If you're still finalizing your plans for a summer road trip, consider putting some of these destinations on your route. Summer heat in the West can be brutal, but the higher altitudes of Idaho, Colorado, and Utah are more pleasant and also pack some incredible scenery.


Driving from the Northwest, we'll start with the Gem State. Much of its mountainous interior is inaccessible by car, but you can get to many highlights if you are willing to leave the interstate. Summer is the perfect time to head for the hills because snow pack and wet roads make many places hard to reach at other times of year. Rugged hikes, cold alpine lakes, and steamy hot springs make for a world of adventure.

  • Redfish Lake is a large alpine lake under the stunning backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains, and it is easy to drive to. You can fish, swim, rent kayaks, or charter a boat ride across the lake. Many great hiking trails and climbing routes start from this area as well.
  • Washington Lake is a more remote destination that is reached by a rough road. Backcountry hikers looking to get further off of the beaten path will love the seclusion and abundance of wildlife along these high-elevation trails
  • Jerry Johnson Hot Springs are a collection of pools and warm waterfalls fed by natural springs along the serene Lochsa River. An easy hike from the road gets you to this blissful retreat.
  • Shoshone Falls Park in Twin Falls is taller than Niagara Falls and is set within a dramatic canyon in an otherwise flat landscape. It is a very easy stop off of the interstate that is perfect for a midday picnic or an afternoon stroll. Also nearby is the world-famous Perrine Bridge, where you may spot BASE jumpers parachuting into the canyon.
  • City of Rocks is a wonderland of megalithic spires and domes that pop up seemingly out of nowhere in the Southern Idaho high country. There are many campsites, all with spectacular views, and hiking trails of all lengths and difficulties. The hard granite formations are a paradise for rock climbers who come from all over the world to scale them.


Next is Utah, home to much of the country's most picturesque scenery. High elevations of the northern mountains remain pleasantly cool, and even the southern deserts are dotted with shady retreats and swimming holes. The following destinations are just a small taste of the adventures to be had on Utah's diverse landscape.

Wasatch Mountain Biking draws riders from all over the West, from beginners to experts. The plethora of trails includes classics like Wardsworth CreekMill Creek Pipeline, Desolation Lake, and the unbeatable Wasatch Crest Trail. There are also park and downhill thrills like Trailside Park,  Big Mountain downhill, and Stumpjumper.

Mount Agassiz and Naturalist Basin together are a gem of the Uintas, the tallest range in Utah. Trails here provide a healthy dose of montane forest, alpine lakes, and mountain vistas. There are various options for day hikes and backcountry camping.

Zion National Park is at the top of most people's Utah list already, but not everyone takes the opportunity to go deeper, quite literally, into the landscape. Seek shade and cold water in slot canyon hikes like the famous Narrows, Emerald Pools, and the lesser-traveled Subway Canyon or Taylor Creek.

Capitol Reef is a national park that many road trippers overlook, but it is treasure trove of desert adventures. Multi-colored cliffs jut dramatically upward from the flatlands exposing contorted sandstone layers and otherworldly formations. Check out uncrowded landmarks like Cassidy Arch and Chimney Rock, which are both short hikes, and simply enjoy a cruise along the park's scenic drive.

Hell's Backbone is an eye-popping tour of Southern Utah's high country and the story of its past. Travel this historic auto route over a mountain pass and the locally famous Hell's Backbone Bridge. You don't have to leave the car for incredible scenery, but the road also access numerous trails and campsites that make a weekend well spent.

The Colorado River near Moab puts Utah on the map for whitewater adventure because it is the highest quality stretch of desert river that can easily be done as a day trip. Cool water graciously contrasts with broiling desert, allowing for incredible views without suffering from the heat. Leisurely pools, fun rapids, comfortable campsites, and roadside access provide every reason to bring a boat into the desert. 


Finally comes Colorado, a state world famous for its Rocky Mountain splendor. Incredible road trip destinations are not hard to find. You don't even have to leave your car to get eyefulls of the landscape along Colorado's many scenic highways. To really take it all in, you should huff to the top of a peak or dunk in a frigid lake, and there are plenty to choose from. Here are just a few of the best.

If you want to tackle a 14er, Mount Bierstadt is a great choice. Colorado's 14ers are all of the mountains higher than 14,000 feet, and the state has 58. Bierstadt is one of the most popular because of its relatively simple access and beginner-friendly hiking route. Afternoon thunderstorms hold a stopwatch to safe hiking time, however, so start really early if you want to reach the summit.

Diamond Lake has everything you could ask for in an alpine wilderness hike--snowy peaks, waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife, and few crowds. The round-trip hike to the lake is less than 6 miles, but connecting trails offer endless opportunities. Backcountry camping is available by permit, so you can watch moonlight on the water and have it all to yourself.

Maroon Bells is where you'll find a few iconic photo locations near Aspen. This place is hard to beat in the fall when the aspens turn aflame, but summer turns up the heat for swimming in the lakes and camping under the stars. Though the highlight spots are usually crowded, you can easily snap a few photos and quickly escape onto one of many wilderness trails.

A Colorado road trip wouldn't be complete without visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. With more than 300 miles of trails, 70 peaks, and hundreds of lakes, the wealth of opportunity can be overwhelming, so you should carefully choose what's best for you. Twin Sisters Peak is a particularly rewarding hike of moderate difficulty. If you are driving the ultra-scenic Highway 34 through the park, consider Peak 12,150 Hike as a side trip, which will put your legs to work for even more expansive views.

Boulder is another hotspot for adventure, and also for culture. When spending a few days here, don't miss out on spectacular hikes around the Flatirons, Eldorado Canyon, and Brainard Lake. On a hot afternoon in the city, join the locals on inner tubes in Boulder Creek. These are just a few highlights of the highly accessible Front Range, with a world of adventure beyond.


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