A visit to the Rocky Mountain can be many things, since the mountains themselves span several states, regions, and climates across two different countries; they’re truly a natural wonder and you get a majestic feeling from them regardless of where you’re watching them from. But with so many different opportunities and areas for adventure, where can you possibly begin?
Since there are numerous national parks and monuments waiting for you all around the Rockies, we think the best way to help you choose which one to visit this summer is to list what we consider to be the absolute best five out of them and tell you a little about each so you can make up your mind with the rest of your party.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
If this is going to be your first time in the Rockies, then you’ll want the scenic beauty of Colorado to surround you during the whole trip. The Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best national parks in Colorado, and is teeming with breathtaking vistas, an abundance of unique wildlife such as rare birds, bighorn sheep, herds of elk, and more, along with bright emerald-colored grasslands. Most people enter through Estes Park, a lovely town down in the foot of the mountains, and beyond it, you’ll find a paradise for anyone who loves hiking, camping, nature photography and, during the winter months, skiing.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Just to reach the Glacier National Park, you’ll need to traverse the fantastic Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile mountain drive that will let you take in the beauty of the land before you even set foot in it. After that, you’ll be able to treat yourself to some of the most incredibly scenic hikes you’ve ever had around the valleys and crystalline blue lakes which, just like Tom Hanks describes them in Forrest Gump, look “like two skies, one on top of the other”. Aside from the glaciers and the wildlife you can expect to encounter in this park, as Glacier is also bear country, so make sure to follow the rangers’ advice and follow their safety precautions if you want to see them from a safe distance, or if you just want to stay clear of them.
Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah
Stretching across the border between Colorado and Utah, the Dinosaur National Monument is home to over 800 paleontological sites and lets you have a close look at the fossilized remains of countless dinosaur species, many of which were first discovered in this area, and visit the sites where Native Americans lived for centuries. The Quarry Exhibit Halls alone houses some 1,500 unique dinosaur bones, but this isn’t all there is to see. There are plenty of outdoor activities that let you appreciate the majestic cliff faces where the Native Americans who once lived in this lands painted their petroglyphs and pictographs, making the DNM a cultural and historical flair to the natural history angle.
Yellowstone National Park; Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
It’s not just that we couldn’t leave out the first and most famous National Park in all of North America, but it’s, to this day, one of the most beautiful natural reserves on Earth. Considered to be the first national park in the whole world, Yellowstone is home to perhaps one of finest populations of megafauna wildlife in North America, with over 60 different species of mammals, including the famous American bison herds. About half of the world’s geysers, including Old Faithful, are here in Yellowstone, but that’s far all of it; you can hike, camp, boat, fish, and sightsee to your heart’s content. The Rockies don’t get much better than this.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho
If you think Idaho is home to little more than potatoes and harsh winds, you’re missing out. Those who are quick to discount this noble state ignore that the Craters of the Moon National Monument features some incredible, unreal-looking landscapes that you won’t find anywhere else. The blackened, rugged terrain is the product of thousands of years of volcanism and lava flows. That volcanism makes the soil seem as if magically transported from another planet entirely, but that’s only the beginning since you can also find amazing views of the surrounding valleys, twisted rock formations scattered about the place, former lava beds, and cinder cones, and even some quirky-looking cave mouths. Perfect for a family drive or hike, just remember to bring lots of water because of the very high temperatures.
Whichever you do end up visiting, enjoy the experience as much as you can and be safe. Hire a professional maid service while you’re at it, so you can come back to a clean and fresh home!