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Here’s a fun little fact for you: The Great Outdoors are scientifically proven to improve your family’s health and happiness. And when it comes to seeing some of the best of America, few regions are more compelling than the Mountain West states (for the record, that’s everything west of the Midwest except Washington, Oregon, and California). With so much to see, however, where should you turn your attention? If you can only visit one place in each of the eight Mountain West states, these should be your top spots.
Arizona: The Grand Canyon’s South Rim
While there are two sides of the Grand Canyon, the South Rim is known for slightly superior views. On top of that, it’s more family-friendly, thanks to its onsite amenities, paved rim trails, and wheelchair accessibility. In truth, this one-of-a-kind place has been an American institution for more than a century since it was first designated a National Park. It’s a must for any traveling family.
New Mexico: White Sands National Park’s Dune Field
Welcome to the largest white dunefield in the world, and the number one rated attraction in the Enchanted State. As one of America’s newest National Parks, White Sands is a great place to sled, hike, photograph or even drive on the sprawling dunes.
Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Emerald Lake Trail
This National Park is undeniably the centerpiece of the Rocky Mountains. Located near the delightful town of Estes Park, the 3-mile Emerald Lake Trail is easily doable for most families, and is absolutely stunning. While visiting the park, stay several nights at Glacier Basin Campground, which is arguably the most scenic car-camping spot in America.
Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring
Thanks to its sprouting geysers, colorful thermal features, boiling mud pots, lake, canyon, and active wildlife, this was the first National Park in the world. More than 150 years later, the park’s famed Old Faithful geyser still draws huge crowds but its rainbow-rimmed Grand Prismatic Spring is now the park’s most photographed thermal feature, and a sight to see. Marvel at its bright orange, yellow, green and blue hues created by different species of heat-loving bacteria. Given Yellowstone’s hefty size, however, you’ll either need to stay a week or prioritize all the incredible things there are to see here.
Montana: Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road
There are glaciers in America and this National Park has the largest collection of them. It’s also home to one of the most stunning drives in the country, Going-to-the-Sun Road which takes you through the length over the park and over Logan’s Pass. While areas of it are certainly extreme, overall this is a wonderful family destination.
Idaho: Middle Fork’s Salmon River
In a state known for its river rafting, Middle Fork of the Salmon River is arguably the best of the best. And if you go during summer when flows are at their easiest, it’s also a great family adventure for anyone ages 5 and up (or any family with strong swimmers). What a place!
Utah: Monument Valley’s Scenic Byway 163
It would be easy to name one of Utah’s famous National Parks here, but when it comes to sheer iconicness, nothing beats the timeless backdrop of Monument Valley. Made famous by dozens of Western films, this is the picture people often see in their heads when imagining the American West. Drive south on Scenic Byway 163 from Mexican Hat. It’s one of the best views of the triple buttes and it’s the same location where Forrest Gump decided to quit his cross-country run. (Note: While the highway through Monument Valley is open, the visitor center is currently closed due to Covid-19.)
Nevada: Great Basin National Park’s Lehman Caves
Welcome to the state-sized desert that separates the Mountain West from the Pacific Coast. But more than that, Great Basin National Park is home to Bristlecone Pine, the oldest tree in the world that can live for 5,000 years! Walking through a grove of them or seeing the famous Lehman Caves is a walk back in time. Discovered in the 1800s, the caverns are especially enchanting, filled with stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, soda straws, and the less common shields. (Note: Cave tours are currently suspended for Covid; check the park’s web site for updates).
About the author: Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his wife, five children, and “bullador beagle.”
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