Looking for a travel guide to the Rockies – or the ‘American Mountain West’? Want to know where to hike and kayak? Me, too! That’s why I brought in a local to share her best western travel tips. Take it away, Lauren!
Big skies, tall mountains, and snowy peaks into July, the Mountain West is exactly what I read about in the history books. Though I never thought I’d live here, after almost 10 years in New York and DC, I decided that I’d try the Mountain West out for a few months.
Almost a year later, I’ve backpacked in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, and skied Big Sky, Winter Park, and Bridger Bowl. Needless to say, I might be sticking around for a while.
Must Go in the Mountain West
Affectionately known as “Boz-angeles”, this small Montana college town has a mixed personality of wild-and-free adventure types and Ph.D-holding environmentalists. With unparalleled skiing in the winter, and tons of free lectures, outdoor film screenings, and local food festivals in the summer, it’s hard to find a bad time to visit.
McCall is one of those towns you’ve never heard of, which is the reason you should visit. About 90 minutes north of Boise, a McCall winter holds skiing, snowshoeing and Winter Fest, which draws 10,000 people for a weekend of music, food, and ice sculptures. Summer brings aqua enthusiasts for kayaking, fishing, and sitting in a cafe on the shore of the Payette Lake, staring into tree-covered mountains.
Though Breckenridge is a famed ski town, its high season is actually summer. With long, warm days, and clear, cool nights, Breckenridge has that small-town charm and is nestled in the heart of an outdoor playground. Have breakfast on Main Street, get to the trailhead at 9 am, hike for a few hours and then go fly-fishing on the Colorado River, all before dinner.
Must Do in the Mountain West
Get thee to a National Park
Put that RV to use and start driving! Wyoming’s got the Grand Tetons, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming share Yellowstone, Utah’s home to Zion and Bryce Canyon, and Colorado has Rocky Mountain National. And those are just the major ones!
Here’s what you do: grab your friends, buy a bunch of inflatable inner tubes, pack a few p-cords and your adult beverage of choice and launch into one of the rivers. In Montana, there are the Gallatin, Madison, and Yellowstone, which flow just leisurely enough for you and your friends to spend a day on the water, cold drink in hand, and still making it to town in time for happy hour. Win!
Relax with a soak
With natural hot springs abounding, outdoor soaking is a popular activity at night after a hard day playing outside. Usually only costing around $5, some hot springs have yummy treats, local beers on tap, and live bluegrass music.
Must Eat in the Mountain West
I’ve been a vegetarian since 2008, but when, within the first week of me landing in Montana, a friend of mine tossed me an elk burger that he had hunted himself the previous fall, I couldn’t say no.
A nice, cold microbrew
The winters are so long and cold here that a local has to get through it somehow. Instead of paying for a mediocre beer in a can, try a local beer or cider on tap. And because it’s local, no shipping is required. Friendly for the environment and friendly for your wallet!
Cultural tips for traveling in the Mountain West
People hunt and own guns, but still believe in social equality.
Being from the east coast, I found that the number of people here who own guns and actually used them to be shocking. But, most of these people also believe in social equality, lessening our overall impact on the environment, and other stereotypically “liberal” ideals.
Expect to be invited on an outdoor adventure rather than to happy hour.
As I was making friends here in the Mountain West, I found that instead of grabbing brunch or 2-for-1 beers, we’d hike after work or cross-country ski on Sunday morning. Better on my waistline for sure.
Cheap travel tips for the Mountain West
If you want to get the most bang for your buck, pack a tent and camp. Since so many people camp out here, some campgrounds are equipped with pools and even hot tubs! Sure, you’re sleeping in a tent, but leave the fly off at night, watch the moon rise, and you’ll forget all about that bedbug-ridden mattress from the Super 8 down the road.
Cruise America rents RVs to get around between the National Parks. These puppies will cost you some change in gas, but you have the option of traveling AND sleeping in them.
And! Walmart allows all RV’s and campers to stay in their parking lots for as long as they want for free. Say what you will about Walmart, but after a long night of driving around looking for a campground, sometimes it’s nice to know that mall police won’t be knocking on your door at 2 am telling you to move on.