Summer heat getting you low? Go high – really high! – with this soaring salute to the West’s favorite fir-covered mountain playground.
SNEAK "PEAK": A ROCKY MOUNTAINS PRIMER All you ever wanted to know about the snowcapped, 80,000,000-year-old tectonic wonder to the north, but were afraid to ask.
ORIGIN STORY Like most mountain ranges, the Rockies were created by a collision of tectonic plates, when the Pacific oceanic plate dived – or subducted – under the North American continental plate. The question that baffles geologists: Why did the Rockies make their home so far inland? In a paper authored in 2010, University of Colorado at Boulder geologist Craig Jones offered one possible theory. In his model, Jones proposes that the oceanic plate encountered an unusually thick, rocky portion of the continental plate under Wyoming, stymying its smooth, shallow journey under the continent and ultimately causing a massive upsurge of granite and rocky material (i.e. the Rockies). This could explain why Arizona’s portion of the Colorado Plateau, formed during the same collision, is relatively flat and low-elevation: no rocky sub-layer.
Term to Know: VIA FERRATA
Italian for “iron road,” it’s a system of fixed rungs, steps and ladders anchored into a rock face that lets non-mountaineers experience the adrenaline-soaked vertical rush of rock climbing with none – or little, anyway – of the danger to life and limb. It’s all the rage in high-elevation vacationing. Stay at The Hotel Telluride, just an hour’s flight from Phoenix, and get the “Ropes & Rungs” adventure package: three nights at the hotel, plus a day of Via Ferrata, meals and more ($1,999 for two). thehoteltelluride.com
ROCKIES FACTOIDS The Rockies stretch from northern New Mexico deep into Canada. Some geologists generously plot the range’s northern limit near Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.
Length: 2,759 miles (almost exactly the distance from LA to NYC)
Age: The mountains were formed 50-80 million years ago, but the rocky material itself can be much older – including shale-like argillite (1.7 billion years).
First visitors: Paleo-Indian tribes lived in the Rockies up to 6,000 years ago, hunting game in the mountains in the summer and migrating back to the plains for the winter. The Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado was the first European to lay eyes on the Rockies.
TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN For long, deep, comtemplative eyefuls of the Rockies, no means of transport beats the humble locomotive. With the help of Trains Magazine contributors Justin Franz and Kevin P. Keefe, we pick the best rides.
Amtrak California Zephyr
“The [route] from Denver to Winter Park [Colorado] might be one of the most spectacular,” Franz says. “I rode it last year while on assignment, and the scenery is simply breathtaking. [It includes] a trip through the 6-mile long Moffat Tunnel.”
Amtrak Southwest Chief
The legendary route between Chicago and Los Angeles “cuts through the southern foot of the Rockies in southeast Colorado and northern New Mexico,” Keefe says. Travel tip: Board the train at the whistle stops in Winslow or Flagstaff to enjoy the Rockies without stepping foot in a car.
Amtrak Empire Builder
You can take this train from the Canadian Rockies (Banff, Jasper) all the way to Glacier National Park in Montana. Along the way, look for “great railroad-related artifacts” like the Izaak Walton Inn (pictured above; see page 108) and Belton Chalet, Franz recommends.
Durango & Silverton
For a heady blast of nostalgia – and exciting vertiginous views – hop on this steam-powered micro-locomotive connecting the two eponymous Colorado mining towns. “Probably one of the best train rides I’ve ever taken, especially from the railroad’s home-built [and 360-degree-view-enabling] dome car,” Franz says.
Arcing northeast from Santa Fe, the Sangre de Cristo mountains constitute the southernmost range in the Rockies. Before plunging into southern Colorado, the mountain range (translation: “blood of Christ”) bestows on New Mexico some of its most profound natural delights, including the subalpine wilderness near Taos, where winter skiing gives way to summer hiking and wandering come May.
PLACES TO KNOW
Taos Ski Valley
The region’s seminal ski destination is the only hospitality game in town when it comes to resort luxury in the Cristos, offering a diverse menu of summer activities and services, from hiking to fly-fishing. skitaos.com
It’s the highest point in New Mexico (13,167 feet) and the dominant feature of the Sangre de Cristos. Visible from Taos Ski Valley and hikeable without special gear for the fit and motivated.
The famed artist colony and funky high desert getaway is located about 20 minutes down the mountain from the ski resort.
HOOFING IT Lace up your hiking boots for these near-Sangre destinations.
1. Rio Grande Gorge: Think “mini Grand Canyon.” Running south from the Colorado border past the Taos foothills, it’s a sub-subapline stunner that offers rafting and hiking, plus petroglyph sightings and hot springs at the bottom of the gorge. taos.org
2. Williams Lake: Located just below Wheeler Peak, it’s one of the most popular backcountry spots in the Sangre de Cristos, accessible via a trailhead at Taos Ski Valley and a rocky but very manageable 2-mile hike. A pleasant meadow just before the lake is perfect for picnicking. www.fs.usda.gov
3. Horseshoe Lake: For more experienced adventurers, this 12.4-mile back-and-out trail east of Wheeler Peak offers plentiful summer sightings of Bighorn sheep and interesting winged beasties. With a fishing license and stamp, you can also plumb it for cutthroat trout. www.fs.usda.gov
WHERE TO STAY
On the Mountain: Taos Ski Valley’s new boutique hotel The Blake is tantalizingly positioned for quick mountain access, just steps from the chairlifts and myriad hiking trails. Sustainability- and art-minded, the hotel also features a first-rate spa. $169/night. skitaos.com/theblake
Off the Mountain: Funky and fantastic, the Historic Taos Inn offers a bit of history to go with its acclaimed on-site restaurant, Doc Martin’s, and convenient location downtown. $78/night. taosinn.com
The “Alpine Mat”
With its 13,000-foot elevation, Wheeler Peak is one of the few places in New Mexico that can sustain a true alpine “mat” of brilliantly colored flowers, like stonecups and forget-me-nots.
Spot these adorable furry mammals – which resemble miniaturized, tail-less rabbits – on the rocky slopes of Wheeler Peak on your ascent. During the summer, they’re typically stashing leaves and grasses under rocks for the winter ahead.
You have to go above the timberline (approximately 11,000 feet) to catch sight of these plump, gray-plumed lovelies as they transit north in the late spring.
3 MUST-TRY RESTAURANTS
If you’re craving some hearty, calorie-packed Teutonic cuisine after a day of hiking, this is so your place. Located in Taos Ski Valley, at the base of Kachina Peak, it offers soul-soaring views on a chateau-style deck while you tear into surprisingly nuanced classics like spätzle in cream sauce with a chorus of Bavarian sausages, or grilled sea bass over truffled potatoes with daikon. skitaos.com
192 at The Blake
Upscale pub grub and cocktails are the order of the day at this on-site hotel restaurant at Taos Ski Valley. skitaos.com
La Cueva Café
For a delicious blast of chile-centric New Mexico cooking, be sure to hit this beloved micro-diner in downtown Taos, where mole enchiladas and rellenos rule. One caveat: no liquor license. lacuevacafe.com
If the Rocky Mountain states were school kids, Colorado would be the class president. It’s home to the titular Rocky Mountain National Park and a whopping 53 “fourteeners” (mountain peaks with elevations of at least 14,000 feet) – the most of any state. For our great Rockies adventure, we spent some time with perhaps the state’s oddest couple: crunchy, collegiate Boulder nestled at the base of the Rockies, and conservative Colorado Springs in the Rockies’ Southern Range. Watched over by the white-capped Pikes Peak, COS was once called “The Evangelical Vatican,” with a large military population that notably banned recreational marijuana dispensaries while the rest of the state reaps its mile-high rewards. For a fun Rockies trip, we say opposites attract.
Experience the Essence of Chautauqua
The Colorado Chautauqua National Historic Landmark in Boulder is one of only a handful of Chautauquas in the U.S. still in operation today. Called “the most American thing in America” by Teddy Roosevelt, Chatauqua was an adult education movement in the U.S. popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in which Chatauquans would attend vaudeville performances, political and ethics lectures, and live music – think of it as a summer camp for adults, with hourly Ted Talks. Today, the Boulder Chautauqua – just a five-minute drive west of downtown, perched in an idyllic meadow at the base of the Flatirons – remains as popular as ever. Here’s how to spend a day channeling the Chautauqua spirit. chautauqua.com
Breakfast “chat”: Fuel up for a hike at the Dining Hall (pictured with the Flatirons below) with traditional cafeteria fare like flapjacks and steak and eggs, or embrace Boulder’s off-kilter spirit with duck confit crêpes or a tofu scramble. If the weather’s nice, you’ll have to fight for a table on the rustic, charming patio. It’ll be worth the bruises, though.
Hike: Start at the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage, open seven days a week, to get trail recommendations, learn about the local flora and fauna, and fill up your water bottle. The most famous trail in the Flatirons is Royal Arch – a 3.5-mile, round-trip, steep climb ending at an arched boulder formation with incredible views of the city below. It’s rated difficult, but historical photos from the Ranger Cottage of women in corsets and petticoats chilling around the arch will give you the motivation you need to keep climbing.
Educate yourself: “Boulder is a city within a park, versus a city with parks,” says Boulder CVB director of marketing Kim Farin. Indeed, since 1898, Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department (take that, Leslie Knope) has officially protected 45,000 acres of land around the city of Boulder. As such, the OSMP runs a slew of nature education programs for families, many based out of the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage. Look for kids’ story time and nature hikes, bushcraft furniture-making and old-timey guided hikes in long skirts like the original Chautauqua pioneers. naturehikes.org
WHERE TO STAY
High-end: Located one block from downtown’s famous Pearl Street, the Hotel Boulderado (pictured above) is a behemoth of brick that’s loomed over the gold panners and college kids who’ve flocked here since 1910. Ride the original clunky elevator, climb the grand staircase beneath the wowing stained-glass ceiling or venture below ground to the dark License No. 1 speakeasy. Rooms start at $430 in May. boulderado.com
Budget: At Boulder Adventure Lodge, enjoy a traditional queen room with an en suite hot tub, rough it in the four-bunk hostel room or rough it even more by pitching your tent on their hillside decks. Rather than a concierge, guests get an “adventure tablet” to sign up for programming including group rock climbs, water rafting and yoga. A bunk is $55. a-lodge.com.
Rocky Mountain Columbine
Colorado schoolchildren chose the columbine as the state’s official flower in 1899. It’s a lovely yet tough plant, with late-spring firework blooms of deep lavender surrounding white petals and claw-like spurs at the base.
It’s estimated that upward of 12,000 black bears live in Colorado. When hiking in bear country, heed warning signs, make a lot of noise and report sightings to park rangers. If you do come across one, walk away slowly.
A city ordinance proclaims that pet dogs do not have “owners,” they have “guardians.” Ask residents about this, and they’ll chuckle, “Only in Boulder!”
3 MUST-TRY RESTAURANTS
The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse
A gift to Boulder from sister city Dushanbe, Tajikistan, the teahouse is like a magic carpet ride to ancient Persia with colorfully carved walls, an indoor water feature and more than 100 teas. boulderteahouse.com
West Flanders Brewing Co.
Would it be a trip to a Colorado college town without craft beer? Pair award-winning Belgian beer with locally sourced, elevated pub grub like poutine fries and chicken pot pie with pretzel crust. wfbrews.com
Find artisan ice cream and non-dairy popsicles at this Parisian-chic paletería. Cool off after a summer hike with a chocolate-cherry-goat cheese pop dipped in dark chocolate that will transport you to another dimension. lepopsboulder.com
Three Ways to Achieve Enlightenment
According to Indian legend, the Garden of the Gods was created by a great flood. As the story goes, the Great Spirit Manitou turned the drowned animals into sandstone formations in the valley below Pikes Peak, atop which sat a gate to heaven. Hundreds of years later, people came from all over the world seeking wellness in the dry climate of this high desert. A spiritual dynamism lingers to this day. We’ve compiled three more ways to bottle it.
1. International Health & Wellness Center at Garden of the Gods Collection country club:
The $10 million, 30,000-square-foot IHWC opened on the grounds of the 66-year-old Garden of the Gods Club last June. The center is open to everyone – cancer patients and traveling executives alike – and focuses on a combination of Western and Eastern sciences. Visit the egg-like BOD POD for a full-body health assessment in just a few minutes. Then align your chakras with holistic practitioner Charlene Wang before jetting upstairs for a
Terra-py body treatment using mud from the terra (earth). ihwcwellness.com
2. Bike the Garden: The Garden of the Gods is accessible via foot or car, but the best way is via electric bike. Retired tech guy Mark Smith runs Amp’d Adventures (pictured, opposite)with his wife, Debbie, leading large and private tours through the ethereal garden aboard their fleet of fat-tired electric bikes. With an electric bike, you don’t have to worry about hills or headwinds, so you can zip through the park with the ease of a god. ampdadventures.com
3. Drink at the Fountain of Youth: Centuries ago, Native American tribes worshipped the mineral springs – believed to be imbued with healing, medicinal properties – found several miles north of Colorado Springs in the area now fittingly called Manitou Springs. Currently, there are eight springs open to the public, each with its own distinct flavor and effervescence. Pull up a free map on manitoumineralsprings.org, get a clean cup or water bottle, fill up and get hydrated. A word to LaCroix aficionados and carbonated water haters: the springs taste like flat soda water.
WHERE TO STAY
High-end: Situated on a hill above the Garden of the Gods, every room at the Garden of the Gods Resort has a spectacular view of the red-rock animal gods and snow-capped Pikes Peak beyond. The infinity edge pool is a great place to unwind after a tennis match or round of links on the 27-hole golf course. Rooms start at $287 in May. gardenofthegodsclub.com
Budget: Just two blocks north of downtown Colorado Springs, The Crescent Lily Inn is operated out of a 1898 Victorian home. Each room has a queen or king bed, a private bathroom and a writing desk so you can make like Frank H. Maynard and craft the next great American West poem. Rooms start at $99. crescentlilyinn.com.
3 MUST-TRY RESTAURANTS COLORADO SPRINGS
Grand View Dining Room at Garden of the Gods Resort
The sweeping views of the mountains from the resort’s fine dining room (open only to guests) make locally sourced dishes like beet risotto, braised beef short rib with haricots verts and smoked tomato jam, and rumchata cheesecake that much more grand.
Located inside the circa-1916 Ivywild Elementary School, Bristol Brewing set up shop in a wing of the old schoolhouse in 2013. The brewers conduct hoppy experiments with craft brews like cherry or mango sours and coffee stout to serve alongside a filling pub menu of squeaky cheese curds, cheddar soup and bratwurst. bristolbrewing.com
Nosh on traditional Spanish tapas made with Colorado ingredients. Order some bocados (snacks) like serrano jamón-wrapped dates, roasted garlic and toast, and anchovy-stuffed olives with a glass of Tempranillo from Cariñena in northern Spain. tapateria.com
COLORADO SPRINGS WILDLIFE
Named for their big ears, akin to those of a mule, these deer are so prolific around Colorado Springs that the city has considered allowing them to be hunted within city limits. Indeed, you can often see them ambling along residential sidewalks and gardens without a care in the world.
America’s version of the meerkat, i.e. furballs that live in colonies and stand guard on their haunches. Though long reviled as pests by ranchers and farmers, they play a key role in the Great Plains ecosystem. Spot them running across rural roads.
Peak wildflower season varies depending on winter weather, but between May and late June is typically considered the best time to see the hills awash in a rainbow of buds. Keep your eyes peeled for the periwinkle cornflower – a sweet brushstroke burst of rare blue in nature.
“Wilderness is the source of what we can imagine and what we cannot – the taproot of consciousness,” Utah conservationist and activist Terry Tempest Williams writes in The Hour of Land. Surveying the beauty of Williams’ native Utah, it’s easy to understand her metaphysical inspiration. Utah is home to the Wasatch Mountain Range, on the western edge of the Rockies, which stretches about 160 craggy miles from the northern border with Idaho to Central Utah. Sharp ridgelines formed by Pleistocene glaciers are dotted with alpine lakes, thick forests and more ski resorts than you can shake the Book of Mormon at.
The Wasatch Mountains encompass an archipelago of canyons, valleys and pristine mountaintop lakes, with ample opportunities for outdoor exploration and recreation all year long – most within a 20-minute to hour-long drive from Salt Lake City. visitutah.com
Hike: For the best views of the Great Salt Lake, head to Antelope Island State Park. Frary Peak (6.6 miles) is the highest point on the island, while the Mueller Park to Elephant Rock trail (7 miles) is family- and dog-friendly.
Bike: Serious mountain bikers should tackle the Wasatch Crest Trail, a sliver of singletrack that winds along the top of the Wasatch Range. A steep climb dubbed Puke Hill (so physically exerting you may vomit) by locals will test your mettle, but you’ll be rewarded with bucolic views of alpine meadows and aspen glades.
Camp: Northern Utah boasts four camping regions bordering the Great Salt Lake: Bridgerland, Golden Spike Empire, Great Salt Lake Country and Mountainland, along with county and city campgrounds. utahstateparks.reserveamerica.com
Choose your own adventure: Enlist the help of the rugged guides at All Seasons Adventures (allseasonsadventures.com), who will craft custom outdoors itineraries – mountain biking, whitewater rafting and fly-fishing in the summer; dog-sledding, snowshoeing and fat biking in the winter.
WHERE TO STAY
Swanky: Set up camp at the Waldorf
Astoria Park City and pretend you’re a celebrity in town for the Sundance Film Festival – or at least a moneyed ski bunny. May rates range from $269/night for one guest room to $1,399/night for a four-bedroom, bi-level suite. waldorfastoriaparkcity.com
Cool: Centrally located in Downtown SLC, the colorful Kimpton Hotel Monaco Salt Lake City has a cool backstory: The building was a historical bank. May rates start at $186/night. ihg.com/kimptonhotels
The Provo River is world-famous for its fly-fishing. Step into some waders and cast a reel with the guides at All Seasons Adventures. allseasonsadventures.com
Keep an eye out for these cuties even in the city limits, as they’re liable to stop traffic with their meanderings. The Shiras moose’s face is lighter brown in the summer and darker as breeding season approaches in the fall and winter.
The Wasatch Range is aflame with color in the spring and summer, when prince’s plume, glacier lilies and wandering daisies wake from their wintry slumber. Pick up a copy of Wasatch Wildflowers by Steve Hegji for a comprehensive guide.
3 MUST-TRY RESTAURANTS
The Eating Establishment
A beloved local diner since 1972, The Eating Establishment got new owners – including Modern Family’s Ty Burrell – and a hipster makeover in 2017. Enjoy its signature “breakfast all day” (we’re partial to the Belgian waffle and local Frody’s Salt & Smoke Meats sausage) or come for lunch or dinner for Thai-style popcorn chicken and nouveau Salisbury steak tarted up with red wine. theeatingestablishment.net
The Cardenas family has been serving traditional Mexican dishes in the Salt Lake Valley since 1965. The cochinita pibil and chile colorado are tops, but it’s the assortment of heavenly moles that keeps customers lining up: negro, amarillo, poblano, verde, coloradito and red pipían, available drizzled over dishes or in pints to go. Multiple Salt Lake City locations, rediguana.com
Pig & A Jelly Jar
Locally sourced Southern comfort food is the name of the game at the twee Pig & A Jelly Jar restaurants. Sip a cup of coffee from Hugo Coffee Roasters while you munch on fried chicken and biscuits with house-made jam and chow-chow for breakfast, or swig a Piggy Back Peach Session IPA from Uinta Brewing Co. while you take down a maple- and brown-sugar-brined barbecue pork sandwich for lunch or dinner. Locations in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Holladay, pigandajellyjar.com
A state of intriguing topographical contradiction, Wyoming boasts a choice morsel of Rocky Mountain beauty in its far northwest corner, where the Grand Tetons rise in queenly fashion over serene meadows and glassy streams. Punctuated by Yellowstone National Park – which sits over the largest active supervolcano in North America – the Rockies recede into shrubby basin in the east before popping up again, mischievously, in the guise of the tidy but formidable Bighorn Mountains.
Sheridan Loop Tour
Billed as the “next Jackson Hole” by state tourism officials, the turn-of-the-century ranching town of Sheridan (pop. 18,000) is starting to fill out as a tourism and second-home destination, and makes for a fine starting point for two unique adventure itineraries.
The “Eastern Loop”
Start in Sheridan. Have dinner at The Brinton Bistro, described by The Sheridan Press editor Mike Pruden as “a nice little spot with an amazing view of the Bighorn Mountains” where “the chef isn’t afraid to try new things.” Summer only. Opens May 4. See more options on page 105.
Take the SR-14 out of town for the northern, slightly more scenic route to Devil’s Tower National Monument, the imperious natural monolith where Richard Dreyfuss was whisked into outer space by his willowy alien friends in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Loop back west through the Bighorn National Forest on SR-16, aka the Cloud Peak Skyway, getting raw eyefuls of the range’s two highest peaks: Black Tooth (13,005 feet, pictured above) and Cloud Peak (13,175 feet), famed for its stunning cobalt glacier lake. Return to Sheridan on SR-14, cutting through the north section of the forest, where sightings of the eponymous ungulates are plentiful.
The “Western Loop”
Take SR-14 west through Bighorn National Forest into the vast Wyoming Basin, a shrub steppe residing between the state’s main mountain ranges. Enter Yellowstone National Park through the town of Cody and snap a selfie at Old Faithful. And rest your mind: Though the geyser sits atop an active volcano, there hasn’t been a species-snuffing super-eruption in 640,000 years.
Hop on SR-191 south to Grand Teton National Park (pictured below) and its two must-visit satellite towns: Teton Village and Jackson. Do your thing.
Backtrack back up to SR-26 and jog east through the Wind River Reservation, cutting north to loop back to Sheridan via the aforementioned Cloud Peak Skyway. Sample the Sheridan dining scene.
PLACES TO KNOW
Second home to celebrity superbeings like Harrison Ford and Sandra Bullock, the famed ski destination becomes a hiking and wildlife-watching mecca in the summer.
Sadly, nonstop commercial flights from Phoenix to Wyoming don’t exist, but one-stop flights on United Airlines to this picturesque foothills town – commonly cited as the “eastern door” to the Rockies – are affordable ($382 round trip).
Located in the south-central part of the state, this college town makes for convenient ingress into Wyoming, with one-stop flight routes from Phoenix and plenty of hospitality options.
3 MUST-TRY RESTAURANTS JACKSON HOLE
Snake River Brewing
“Really fun atmosphere… and great beer, I’ve been told,” Jackson Hole magazine editor Dina Mishev, a non-beer-drinker, says. snakeriverbrewing.com
Snake River Grill
“It’s kind of the best restaurant in town,” says Mishev of the pan-American gastropub. Recommended dish: fork-tender pork shank with a cider shellac, but the sweet onion rings starter – looped on a branding iron – is the most Instagram-able. snakerivergrill.com
Croissants, French toast with lemon curd and other a.m.-centric delights make it a required third option for breakfast fans, by Mishev’s reckoning. persephonebakery.com
3 MUST-TRY RESTAURANTS SHERIDAN
Wyoming Cattle & Creek Company
The town’s most classic eatery, according to newspaperman Pruden, befitting the Cowboy State’s “meat and potatoes” essence. “The Devil’s Tower burger is a personal favorite, combining a burger with a good pulled pork sandwich and topped with Swiss cheese.” cattleandcreek.com
For a fancier option, Pruden recommends this contemporary American diner on Main Street in Sheridan’s historic downtown. Recommended dish: hedonistic mac and cheese with white cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, gouda and fontina. frackeltons.com
Big Horn Mercantile
Located in Big Horn, closer to the mountains, it’s the “hidden gem” of the bunch, according to Pruden. “They make brick oven pizza, and it’s up there with the best pizza I’ve ever had.” Recommended: the barbecued chicken. bighornmerc.com
National Elk Refuge near Jackson
Spring is prime viewing season at the 24,740-acre habitat, as the animals unveil their newborn calves and begin their migration to Yellowstone for the summer.
Wyoming’s forests are dominated by this gnarled subalpine conifer. Find it: Bighorn National Forest.
Known for its brilliant canary yellow flowers, the plant blooms in May and early June. Find it: Grand Teton National Park.
The Rocky Mountains extend into Idaho via two ranges: the Cabinet Mountains in the panhandle and the Sawtooth Range – so named for the serrated appearance of its more than 134 peaks – in Central Idaho. The so-called Sawtooth Wilderness is home to 202 perennial snow fields, a 40-mile fault line and a surprising number of celebrity connections for an area so remote: Carole King had a ranch outside Stanley (population: 69) for decades, Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood own properties in Sun Valley, and Ernest Hemingway finished For Whom the Bell Tolls in the Sun Valley Lodge in 1936. “Papa” also committed suicide at his Ketchum ranch in 1961, but don’t be discouraged – the sun invariably rises over this glorious swath of the Rockies during the dry summer months.
GETTING “ROCKY” IN IDAHO
Hit the ground running on your first day in the Gem State.
Start: Fly to Boise Airport. Nonstop, round-trip flights on Southwest and American Airlines (roughly two hours each way) are available from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Drive: Rent a car and drive to Stanley, Idaho, on the scenic route from Highway 55 to Highway 21. You’ll cruise by crystalline creeks and gargantuan trees and have ample opportunities to pull over for nature photos.
Arrive: Pull into the Redfish Lake Lodge (see “Where to Stay”) and take a shuttle across the lake to begin the hike to Lily Lake.
Drive: Head over to nearby Ketchum to ride horses at Sun Valley Stables (sunvalley.com), explore Sun Valley shops and traipse around downtown. Stop at The Pioneer Saloon (pioneersaloon.com) for the signature margarita and locals’ favorite prime rib. Enjoy a nightcap schooner of beer at Grumpy’s (grumpyssunvalley.com), a dive bar/restaurant that prides itself on serving “Burgers & Beer, Not Steak & Lobster.”
Finish: Head back to Stanley after nightfall and sip a cup of cocoa under the stars at Redfish Lake.
WHERE TO STAY
Splurge: For a breathtaking view of the Grand Mogul (one of the Sawtooth Range’s most majestic peaks, it clocks in at 9,733 feet above sea level), stay at the Redfish Lake Lodge (redfishlake.com) and walk along its marina ($86-$650/night). For a bit of luxe skiing history, check in to the Sun Valley Lodge (sunvalley.com/lodging), which opened in 1936 as the first destination ski resort in America ($253-$629/night).
Save: The Salmon River flows right along the decks of the Redfish Riverside Inn’s rustic yet well-appointed cabin-style rooms, so you’ll fall asleep and awake to the soothing swoosh of rushing water. Room rates: $125-$205/night. redfishriversideinn.com
Marked by white fur on their sides, bellies and backsides, these shy sweeties summer in the Sawtooth Valley and migrate south to the Snake River Plain in winter.
You may hear these birds before you see them. Their trumpeting call has a rolled “r” sound, akin to the tongue-twirling “rr” sound in Spanish, and can be heard from great distances.
Watch where you drive: Parts of the Sawtooth Wilderness are closed to vehicles in the winter to protect the elk range.
3 MUST-TRY RESTAURANTS
Stanley Baking Co. & Café
Tim and Becky Cron’s bakeshop and café – set in a darling log cabin – is open from mid-May through October. Locals and tourists queue for breakfast dishes, sandwiches (the Turkey Gobbler, with turkey, cranberry-apple chutney, Brie and arugula on locally baked Bigwood Bread, was our fave) and baked goods. stanleybakingco.com
Set in Stanley Town Square, SS slings elevated, global pub grub like Snake River Kobe beef sliders, zingy pad Thai and Sun Valley smoked trout with Brie. Order a flight of local Sawtooth Brewery suds to pair. stanleysluice.com
You can’t leave Idaho without gorging on potatoes. Our top tuber pick: the roasted garlic mashed potatoes at Sawtooth Hotel, a historical inn and restaurant built in 1931 then revamped and reopened in 2010 by the Crons. The dish also features pork schnitzel with lemon-caper butter, but we’re here for the carbs. sawtoothhotel.com
The Northern Rockies are so central to the character of Montana that they even inspired its name: montaña is Spanish for “mountain,” and one of the state’s unofficial slogans is “Land of the Shining Mountains.” The jewel of the Montana Rockies is Glacier National Park, dubbed “The Crown of the Continent” by naturalist and historian George Bird Grinnell in 1908. GNP is a range of rugged, hornlike peaks dappled in its titular frozen icefields, which tower over a series of lakes and prairies near the Canadian border. Follow the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road and you can easily traverse the park in one day by vehicle, or veer off for a weeklong hiking adventure. Whatever you decide, don’t forget your bear spray.
Glacier National Park Day Trip
Morning: Start with a mug of Montana Coffee Traders (coffeetraders.com) brew on the porch swing overlooking the train tracks at Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, the halfway point between the east and west entrances of Glacier National Park. Head east with a stop at Goat Lick Overlook, where salty rocks attract jolly-looking mountain goats. Traverse Maria’s Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide, and enter the east end of GNP through St. Mary. $30 per vehicle for a weeklong pass.
Midday: Begin an afternoon of sightseeing along the historic, 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun. Points of interest: Jackson Glacier and the 408-foot wonder-of-modern-construction East Tunnel. Recharge with a midday bite at Jammer Joe’s Grill & Pizzeria in Lake McDonald before hiking Hidden Lake Trail, which offers intimate views of wildlife-rich Reynolds Mountain and Reynolds Creek, or the more difficult Gunsight Pass Trailhead, which ascends the Continental Divide and offers rare views of subalpine lakes and mountain vistas.
Evening: Drive north to treat yourself to a huckleberry bear claw and some Old West charm at Polebridge Mercantile (polebridgemerc.com), 25 miles northwest of the west entrance of GNP. Finish your day with stargazing at Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first transboundary Dark Sky Park in the world. (Don’t worry: You don’t have to cross into Canada to watch the stars.) Check out the aurora borealis or gleaming views of the Milky Way at one of the ranger-led star parties held throughout the summer. nps.gov
WHERE TO STAY
Historical: Izaak Walton Inn was built in 1939 as lodging for the crew of the Great Northern Railway. It’s now a rustic, railroad-themed, chalet-style hotel with caboose and cabin rooms ($109-$295/night), and serves as a stop for the Amtrak Empire Builder passenger train lines. izaakwaltoninn.com
Outdoorsy: Camp inside the park for $10-$23 per night (recreation.gov). Most sites are first-come, first-served, but reservations can be made in advance at Fish Creek and St. Mary with select spots at Apgar and Many Glacier. For a more climate-controlled stay in the park, bunk at one of the lodges such as Many Glacier Hotel in “the Switzerland of North America” on Swiftcurrent Lake ($207-$476/night). glaciernationalparklodges.com
With their fluffy white fur and perma-grins, these hooved rascals resemble a beastly Santa Claus.
Three species of marmot have been identified in Montana: the tawny, petite, yellow-bellied marmot; the larger, silvery hoary marmot; and the big, brown woodchuck. Fun fact: A family unit of marmot includes one male and several females and, fittingly, is called a “harem.”
Despite their name, these tall green stalks topped with poufy bouquets of petals belong to a species of corn lily, not grass.
3 MUST-TRY RESTAURANTS
While there is no shortage of delicious eateries inside GNP, the best and most creative cuisine is in nearby Whitefish. Though huckleberries are not the state fruit of Montana (that honor goes to neighboring Idaho), they should be – the aubergine-tinted berries dot every menu in the area. Here are three places to get your fix:
Mary Lou Covey (the “Lou”) and Laura Hansen (the “la”) specialize in Americana breakfast and lunch dishes and scratch-baked pies (get the huckleberry, obviously!) at their restaurant tucked in the basement of a masonic temple in downtown Whitefish. whitefishrestaurant.com
Sweet Peaks Ice Cream
Montana’s answer to Sweet Republic uses locally sourced ingredients in quirky and creative seasonal flavors like avocado toast (rye-soaked sweet cream swirled into avocado ice cream). Our summer pick: anything with huckleberry. sweetpeaksicecream.com
Bayou meets glacier at this New Orleans-style café offering chicken and andouille gumbo, spicy jambalaya and elk meatloaf with – you guessed it – a huckleberry demi-glace. tupelogrille.com
Geologically speaking, the lower Canadian Rockies near Calgary have more in common with Arizona than their same-named counterparts in Wyoming and Colorado – composed of shale and limestone, they have the same tiered, sedimentary silhouette as the Grand Canyon and other sandstone formations. Where they clearly differ: lushness and incomparable lacustrine beauty. This is world-class lake-porn, ladies and gentleman. Dive in.
The region’s lakes owe their lovely aquamarine hue to the rock flour (i.e. silt) carried into them by glacier meltwater in the spring and summer. Created by grinding rock action underneath the glacier, the flour reflects the sunlight in a way that conjures a spectacular green color.
Best time to visit? July and August are when the glacier flows are highest; consequently, this is when the lakes are most intensely colored.
How many lakes are there? Literally hundreds between Banff and Jasper national parks, but about four dozen of significant size.
Can you swim in them? Depends. Swimming is prohibited in Moraine Lake, for instance, but merely prohibitive in Lake Louise (pictured opposite, bottom), where the temps rarely peak above 40 degrees F. Your best bet: lower-elevation Johnson Lake, which has a nice beach.
Best hike? The Johnston Canyon hike is only about 45 minutes round trip but leads you into a completely different world, hugging a series of waterfalls and culminating at the Ink Pots, a family of colored canyon pools. Gorgeous.
WHERE TO STAY
Historical: Styled after a Scottish Baronial castle, the Fairmont Banff Springs dates to 1888 and is posed provocatively in a quilt of sylvan greenery. A great place for a lobby drink even if you don’t stay there. $252/night. fairmont.com/banff-springs
Luxe: Another castle-inspired hotel, Fairmont Chateau Lake is a Victorian/Tudor-revival hybrid on the shores of lovely Lake Louise. $230/night. fairmont.com/lake-louise
Woodsy: Pyramid Lake Resort isn’t a gothic stunner like the two above, but it’s comfortable and rustic, set on a lake in Jasper National Park. $115/night. mpljasper.com/hotels/pyramid-lake-resort
PLACES TO KNOW
Banff National Park
Canada’s most famous, developed and picturesque national park.
The name of both a hamlet in Banff and the eerily pretty, cutlet-shape lake near it. Highly canoe-able in the summer.
Jasper National Park
Banff’s more rustic twin to the north, connected via the scenic Icefields Parkway.
3 MUST-TRY RESTAURANTS
The Grizzly House
Formerly a swingers’ club in the ’70s, this fondue hot spot is now the consensus ironically hip eatery in Banff, according to a group of Canadian expats we polled in the Valley. Cook your own game meats like boar, bison and elk while random-dialing local residents on your table’s own personal ’70s-era land-line telephone. So groovy! banffgrizzlyhouse.com
Upscale global cuisine with a sexy bias toward grilled meats. It’s Banff’s answer to Hillstone, basically. saltlik.com/banff
“Cool vibes and plenty of decent options on the menu,” one Canuck enthused over this Asian-Western eatery and cocktail bar in Jasper. evildavesgrill.com
Sure, Banff has bighorn – it’s the Rockies, after all – but we’re more excited to see this plus-size, thick-coated cousin of the common ground squirrel.
“Alpine Zone” Flowers
Find hearty spring wildflowers like moss campion and purple saxifrage above the tree line, where no fir nor pine dare grow. Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park is a good spot for guaranteed sightings beginning in July.
Take the Plain of Six Glaciers hike on the slopes of Mt. Fairview near Lake Louise for your best chance to spot these elusive, bearded beasties.