In the Rocky Mountains, the US takes on truly epic proportions. Here the Great Plains of the American West collide with the dramatic Rockies, one of the most beautiful mountain ranges on earth. Day trips in this region are filled with opportunities to explore hiking trails, get in some skiing, and discover the mining history of the region.
Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.
Best day trips from Denver
Boulder prides itself on near-perfect weather and a manicured campus. The college-town atmosphere means Boulder has plenty of arts, culture, live music, and intellectual debates. Beyond the campus, the town is a lovely grouping of small retail enclaves, walking paths, parks and Victorian houses dating back a hundred years. On the edge of town, you have one of the best open-space park systems in the US with amazing outdoor adventures right at your door. 30min by car.
Rocky Mountain National Park
On top of the world, the mighty Rocky Mountain National Park is home to loads of wild animals, plenty of great backwoods hiking and top scenic drives that are choked with RVs in summertime. As in most of America's national parks, the key is leaving the road system and getting into the backcountry. Advance reservations may be required to enter. 1hr 30min by car.
Copper isn’t as glitzy as some other Colorado ski resorts, but offers up amazing terrain, a few super steep bowls and fun hike-to runs. Get an early start from Denver for a day of skiing. Located in Summit County, the resort and little village also gives easy access to Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin. Nov–Apr (opening in 2020 is delayed to Nov 30); 2hr from Denver by car.
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Best day trips from Salt Lake City
Park City Museum
A well-staged interactive museum touches on the highlights of the town's history as a mining boomtown, hippie hangout and premier ski resort. The Park City Museum also features fascinating exhibits on the world's first underground ski lift, a real dungeon in the basement and a 3-D map of mining tunnels under the mountain. 40min by car.
As you ride the Snowbird Aerial Tram to the 11,000ft summit of Hidden Peak, the grandeur and immensity of this ski resort reveals itself. Find new lines in the 2500 acres of world-class terrain and enjoy the village’s fun restaurants and activities. Nov–May (plus summer lift service); 40min by car.
Antelope Island State Park
White-sand beaches, birds and buffalo are what attract people to the pretty, 15-mile-long Antelope Island State Park. The largest island in the Great Salt Lake is home to a 600-strong herd of American bison (buffalo). The October roundup, for veterinary examination, is a thrilling wildlife spectacle. Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds stop to feast on tiny brine shrimp along the Great Salt Lake’s shore en route to distant lands during fall and spring migrations. 1hr 15min by car.
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Best day trips from Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The wilderness of the Grand Teton National Park is home to bear, moose and elk in number, and played a fundamental role in the history of American alpine climbing. Some 12 imposing glacier-carved summits frame the singular Grand Teton (13,775ft). And while the view is breathtaking from the valley floor, it only gets more impressive on the trail. It's well worth hiking the dramatic canyons of fragrant forest to sublime alpine lakes surrounded by wildflowers in summer. 30min by car.
Museum of the Mountain Man
Devoted to the myths and legends that surround the pioneer white fur trappers who came to these parts in the 1820s, this engaging Pinedale museum is an essential (if incomplete) part of the story of the West, from the conflicts with grizzlies and the land's Native American inhabitants to the hardships these men faced. 1hr 30min by car.
Sinks Canyon State Park
Beautiful Sinks Canyon State Park centers on a curious sink and rise feature of the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River. The real draw here is the pristine mountain valley through which the river flows – nearly a hundred bird species have been recorded here. This rugged playground is flanked by bluffs well-known by climbers, and trails popular with hikers and mountain bikers. Several campgrounds within and beyond the park are a great base for exploration. 3hr by car.
Best day trips from Boise, Idaho
Hells Canyon, Oregon
Over its 13-million-year life span, Snake River, which straddles the border between Oregon and Idaho, has carved out the deepest river gorge in North America –at 8000ft from highest peak to river, it's deeper even than the Grand Canyon (though not nearly as dramatic). Hells Canyon’s most spectacular scenery is perhaps along Snake River, following 25 miles of paved road (Idaho's Rte 454) toward Hells Canyon Dam; here dramatic canyon walls loom almost vertically. There are several good hiking trails on the way to the dam. 40min by car.
Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve
This otherworldly, apocalyptic landscape, born from millennia of volcanic activity, is arguably the richest volcanic landscape in the Lower 48. Open year-round, the main hiking trails of Craters of the Moon and the Loop Rd only open when snows permit. 3hr by car.
Yankee Fork Gold Dredge
The biggest spud in Idaho is not a potato, but the 17.5-ton pylon that held the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge in place as it chewed its way upstream, digging for gold. Fourteen miles northeast of Stanley, the fully intact dredge is an impressive machine and makes for a great side trip into Idaho's nostalgically destructive mining past. Tours offered from the Saturday before Memorial Day through Labor Day; 3hr by car.
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