Summer 2020 will go down in history as the summer of the roadtrip. And at that the local roadtrip. Some international borders require quarantines and if you buy a flight in June, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get in by August. Concerts, weddings, conferences, film fests, sporting events, comps. Canceled. And long roadtrips – hell, all you need to do is look at the uptick in cases in Florida and Texas and Arizona and suddenly you see a better incentive to stay local. Not that you’re worried about getting it but nobody wants to be that outbreak monkey who kills gam gam and pop pop. And being crushed in bed for a week because you wanted to sample the greens in Phoenix or check out the first Ron Jon’s would make you feel stupid.
Here’s our picks of our favorite rocky mountain road trips for 2021:
Rocky Mountain Vacations
What: UTV Adventure less than an hour from Jackson Hole
These first two are perfect for the local looking to get out of town but just far enough to feel “away” – whether you’re a year-round local or a second-home owner who made it to your mountain paradise before lockdowns. Also, if you like to play with vehicles with roaring engines. But they both also function as destinations in and of themselves. Just like Daniel’s Summit, Togwotee is located near the top of a winding mountain pass. Togwotee Mountain lodge is a winter snowmobile mecca, and in the summer you trade those snowmachines for side-by-sides (UTVs) and take the whole family on an epic journey around the continental divide.
What: Rent a house, play golf, fish, hike, shoot guns, stare at the Tetons
We promise, this will be the last Jackson Hole local spot. But we had to include it because it’s in our back yard, and it’s a place not to be missed for anybody either looking to get that high-end all-in package or a local trying to get a staycation that hits everything. An 18-hole golf course; 6 miles of Snake River access and stocked trout ponds for the kiddies as well as an in-club fly shop (and an Orvis Fly Fishing School); a skeet range; horseback riding (and hiking) trails. And they have tennis, archery, racquetball, running, even hippie golf (the kind with a frisbee). And if you do all of this and are bored, there’s the Tetons like literally right there. And arguably the finest rooms in Jackson Hole. Because don’t you owe yourself the most luxurious place to indulge in every great experience you love?
What: Waterslides, Hot pools, and High Dives
Lava Hot Springs is just outside Pocatello, an Idaho university town with museums, restaurants, an actual proper city. Ish. But Lava Hot Springs is a destination on its own. Wanna just chill in hot springs pools? You can do that. How about crushing some water slides? That too. And launching your ugly-ass backflip off the high-dive platform? Done. And the town that has sprung up around this park is everything from a romantic getaway to a family mini-adventure. A perfect overnight dip from Jackson, even SLC.
What: Absolute relaxation just outside Boze-Angeles
Bozeman is a truly cosmopolitan city, full of amazing eateries, fun bars, and book stores; but maybe you want to go somewhere to have a few days just chilling in luxury with your special somebody. That’s where Rainbow Ranch Lodge comes in. It’s touted as a wedding destination because it’s romantic, beautiful, with one of the finest restaurants in the area and even a chill little pool for a dip. Plus borders the Gallatin, one of the country’s finest and most storied fishing river. “River runs through it” country.
What: Atomic power between the moon and the high point
There are a couple forgotten crossroads in this country; Arco is one of my favorite. It was the birthplace of atomic energy (seriously, they lit it for 15 minutes during the cold war using a reactor and it became the center of the nuclear race). There are two drinking joints in town where you can sit at the bar and rip cigs, which is frankly something missing from most bars IMHO (and I don’t even smoke). Maybe you notice the submarine conning tower, number 666. The Lost River motel is a time warp. But just outside town to the west is Craters of the Moon, where you can explore a seemingly endless field of lava rock. Go north you get to Borah peak, the tallest point in Idaho. Looking for the small town time forgot, there’s no place better.
What: Jurassic Park in the high plains
Ancient history is what makes the American west so unique – and Dinosaur National Monument not only has so much tribal history and ruins, it’s home to a ton of dinosaur fossils – over 800 pelontological sites. The land is gorgeous, full of wild canyons and rivers, hiking trails and a ton of super unique, colorful rock formations. And you can stay in the small nearby town of Dinosaur – what it may lack in sumptuous luxury hotels, it makes up for in the fact that it’s about the closest city to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem with recreational dispensaries. And you can bring the bike for a few laps at Vernal on your way.
What: America’s Dry Fly Paradise
When the spring melt blows out all the lower rivers, the Henry’s Fork is the first spot that every angler flocks to. Nestled in the Caribou Targhee, this place is just down river from Island Park and about 45 minutes from the West Entrance to Yellowstone, and therby close to the forks of the Madison as well. If you didn’t catch the salmon fly hatch at the beginning of the summer, that’s OK; the dry fly fishing at the Henry’s Fork is bomber all summer, and the river is just scenic and mellow enough for a perfect family float. Henry’s Lodge is pretty barebones, but in the best possible way.
What: The mountain bikers’ dream just up from Grand Junction
You like endless miles of single track? Fruita is your jam, with seemingly rides for everybody from kooks like me to sick riders like seemingly everybody else in the Tetons. And while it’s slightly more than the 5-hour limit we set, 7 hours isn’t very far to get to Colorado’s finest mountain bike destination. Plus you have all the fun of Grand Junction, a college town with killer views.
What: Live the cowboy dream halfway between Yellowstone and Cody
I’m not a big fan of country and wonder how many folks I see are real cowboys or just dress up like them; that said, it sure is fun to play cowboy for a couple days. Rim Rock Ranch is a former working ranch that has shifted to trail riding, snowmobiling and hunting trips. But it doesn’t feel like Disneyland like so many other dude ranches (or guest ranches, depending on who you ask). It feels down home, with guest houses that are western but not rundown; comfortable but not toney-feeling. With a stocked trout pond and heated pool, game room and such there’s plenty to take care of your free time. And the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum of the west in Cody is probably one of the finest celebrations of the western life, from cultural highlights to the most amazing gun collection you’ll see anywhere.
What: ATV Adventure less than 45 minutes from Park City
Heber City is a corner of the paradise surrounding Park City, and just beyond Heber City is Daniel’s Pass, road winding from canyon to summit to fishing paradise Strawberry Reservoir. But the pass itself is a source of adventure. Rent an ATV and rip roar up backcountry roads and cross rivers up into high alpine air on your way to Daniel’s Summit Lodge. A high-end rustic high alpine resort offering options ranging from in-lodge, cabin, and big mountain home, it’s moto fun for all whether you’re looking for a weeklong R&R&A or just an overnight from the wild times at Park City.