If you are ready to do more than take a boat cruise this vacation, sign up for a Rocky Mountain road trip. The Rocky Mountains are an ideal place to visit any time of the year, especially if you love the great outdoors. From a backdrop of majestic mountains to quaint surrounding towns, you will have a road trip to remember - which road trip will you take?
Canadian Rockies in Alberta
One of the most scenic routes in the western part of Canada, the drive between the national parks of Jasper and Banff goes on for close to 300 miles. Take a day or two to explore Jasper, stopping for a relaxing dip in the Miette Hot Springs and hiking in Maligne Canyon. Then, head south toward the pristine waters of Lake Louise and end your trip in Banff, where you can take a gondola right up to Sulphur Mountain's peak and canoe your way down Bow River. If you make this trip in the winter, you may even get to see the Northern Lights - if you're in the right place at the right time.
Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana
The 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, located in Montana, is a must-do drive when you go to Montana's Glacier National Park. This route takes about three days and winds around mountains, offering you incredible views of glacial waters, green peaks and cloud-covered peaks before you hit Logan's Pass and cross the Continental Divide. This is definitely a trip you will want to make during the summer, as the winter brings hazardous conditions that close large portions of the road and can throw your trip timetable right out of the window.
San Juan Skyway in Colorado
Also known as the Million-Dollar Highway, the 233-mile San Juan Skyway in Colorado makes its way through two beautiful forests, four mountain passes and the Mesa Verde National Park. This national park is home to stunning views and a host of historical relics. The park is a World Heritage park that features more than 4,000 Pueblo Indian rock dwellings, with these fascinating dwellings still remaining intact and well-preserved. Besides the park, when you take this five-day road trip, stop at the town of Ouray to sample the hot springs and check out the "Old West" town trio of Durango, Telluride and Silverton.
Santa Fe/Taos Loop in New Mexico
The 178-mile loop from Santa Fe's High Road to Taos, which is bounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is full of things to see and do. You'll pass by chilli farms, apple orchards, pueblo villages with clear Spanish influences and Native American ruins on the approximately four-day trip. Make it a point to see the quaint towns of Truchas and Chimayó, the latter of which has a famous church known all over for its healing dirt. The Santuario de Chimayo church is a National Historic Landmark, and more than 300,000 people visit the church annually for spirithealing. To complete this loop, get on the Low Road that runs right across the Rio Grande and goes back toward Santa Fe.
Route 12 in Utah
Route 12, or the "Scenic Byway," covers 124 miles of isolated, rugged terrain and links Bryce Canyon to the Capitol Reef National Park. At the park, there are hundreds of jutting, vivid orange and red rock spires, known as hoodoos. Spend an entire day exploring the 50 miles of trails in Bryce Canyon by horseback, on foot or by car for a day you'll never forget. Make time for a stop in the beautiful ranch town of Boulder, where you can sample a traditional southwestern meal. This town is also the home of the famous Polar Bear Plunge, which sees hundreds of people taking a dip in the frozen waters of a reservoir beach on New Year's Day each year.
The Scenic Loop in Montana
Wildlife of all kinds, incredible mountain peaks and bright streams await you on this 400-mile loop. Start at Glacier National Park and wind your way down through the Great Bear, Scapegoat and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas. There is fishing, horseback riding, hiking and more to do along the way, and if your timing is right, you might even be able to catch a rodeo being held in one of the western towns along the route.
Trail Ridge Road in Colorado
This road was constructed in the early 1930s and is designed to take you right into the heart of the Rocky Mountains. You can start out in either Estes Park or Grand Lake, and the trail winds through meadows and mountain forests before sweeping up to a tundra right above the tree line. Here, you'll find vivid colors and bristling winds that will take your breath away. Make sure to bring a jacket with you, as the weather at higher elevations can be hard to predict.
US Highway 89 in Colorado and Utah
The sprawling US Highway 89 enters the Rocky Mountain area right where it descends the Colorado Plateau to the City of Provo in Utah. It re-ascends the mountains near Logan in Utah and winds down to the base of the Grand Tetons. On this drive, you can expect stunning scenery with variable weather because of the high mountain surroundings. The road does generally follow the valleys of the mountains, however, and does not cross many high alpine passes. Snow is a possibility all year and, during the winter, portions of the road may be closed.
Bear Lake Road in Colorado
Winding Bear Lake Road takes you right past hiking trails, campgrounds, Moraine Park Museum and the Sprague Lake. This road is open during the winter, and Bear Lake becomes a hive of winter fun once it freezes over!
Cache la Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway in Colorado
This byway goes right over the scenic Cameron Pass and by the Poudre River, the only National Wild and Scenic River designated by the federal government in the state. The pass is the place to be for wintertime fun, and you can also spot moose, deer and antelope on its north side.