Mini Travel Guide: The Mountain West of America

Looking for a travel guide to the Rockies or the mountain west? Click through for Rockies travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to travel the Rockies cheaply and safely!

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.

Looking for a travel guide to the Rockies or the mountain west? Click through for Rockies travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to travel the Rockies cheaply and safely!

Must Go in the Mountain West

Bozeman, Montana

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, Idaho

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.

Breckenridge, CO

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

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!

Go floating

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

Must Eat in the Mountain West

Elk

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

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.

Looking for a travel guide to the Rockies or the mountain west? Click through for Rockies travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to travel the Rockies cheaply and safely!

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.

If neither of those are your speed, Airbnb is usually cheaper than a hotel, expecially if you’re traveling with a group or staying someplace for a few days. Here’s a gorgeous cabin in Montana for $51 a night and here’s a room on a Wyoming ranch for $33. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $40 towards your first booking!

Thanks so much for sharing, Lauren!  I know tons of you live out west – what other advice can you share or other Mountain West travel tips? 
photos by  dawn, c//  thomas green //  evil erin, // tapirtantrum // america y’all, // bhantu.t, //  Lisa Lyne Blevins  //  Brina Blum  //  Redd Angelo on Unsplash

12 Comments

MeghanSara

Thank you! As a city girl myself, I always cast romanticism on the mountain states. These photos make it look so tempting!

Reply
BADICKEN

Great read! As a Montanan, I agree that floating with a cold microbrew is the best way to spend a nice hot summer day! I do have a few other tips though..

A. Everyone I know owns a gun, my family alone has no less than 35.. My Dad bought my Mom a handgun for Valentines. If you plan on hiking and backpacking most locals would consider you foolish to not carry a handgun.. This is Griz and Moose country! Not to mention Mountain Lions!

B. If you are lucky enough to travel in Montana go to Glacier National Park not Yellowstone..also, Bozeman is great but nothing beats traveling the back roads!! I recommend traveling up the Big Hole Valley, through the Bitterroot and up to Missoula.

C. Go to Missoula! They have a fantastic art scene and the BEST places to eat… The Staggering Ox for sandwiches with homemade bread from soup cans, The Silk Road for tapas, and George Clooney's personal favorite, The Red Bird.

D. Visit a Ghost Town/Mission/Native American Cultural Center…Montana has the best history!

E. If you are traveling in winter, consider bringing chains for your car tires. You may need them to get up the pass!

F. I didn't go to a one-room school house (although my Grandma was a teacher in one!) and we have electricity. These kind of questions will not be endearing to locals. Also, a large percentage of Montanans hat California.. so be prepared to hear over -generalizations and terrible jokes. This is because Californians are been considered responsible for buying farmland and turning it into subdivisions and because they ask ignorant questions. Other than that, most Montanans are friendly even if a bit gruff.

🙂 Happy Trails!

Reply
Maggie

I want to go there so badly my heart hurts! I'm considering a move to Utah in a year or two to work at an animal sanctuary right in the middle of some great climbing and hiking, and this just strengthens my resolve. What a GREAT article and photos – I'm getting jittery at my desk! Thank you Sarah and Lauren!

Reply
Melinda DiOrio

Ooo, thanks for all the suggestions Lauren! I live on the east coast and have been meaning to do an out-west trip for a while now. Hopefully I'll get to check out some of your destinations.

Reply
Ashley Ciara Thompson

I was surprised not to see Glacier National Park mentioned… Definitely make it a point to go there. So, so beautiful. I also consider the Flathead/Whitefish area to be incredibly beautiful and have lovely memories of spending summers there, playing on the lake, visiting all the tiny towns around the area. Kalispell is a larger city around that area, and nearby Bigfork was a fun little place to go (although it's worth driving around and exploring). There is a bison reserve around the area, too.

My advice is to drive all around Flathead lake (beautiful drive), check out the towns, go to Glacier, go to Kalispell, Whitefish, etc. So worth it. I miss it so much…

Reply
K

As a Montana native it makes my heart swell to see it featured as more than gun-toting cowboys and cow pastures. I have to second that everyone should visit Missoula at least once. The music and art scene is pretty fantastic, Badlander, Top Hat and the Rhino are all excellent bars and music venues and we do boast some pretty awesome food. El Cazador, the Dino Cafe, and Big Dipper ice cream are definitely not to be missed.

On a side note, Butte, Montana or Butte, America as it is affectionately known, is also worth a visit. The buildings all have lots of history and its been featured on a few ghost hunter shows. The Berkeley Pit, a leftover from the mining boom, is fairly infamous. If you happen to be in the neighborhood around St. Patty's Day, Butte throws one of the largest parties that shut down streets uptown all day as there are not open container laws. A large portion of the populaton are Irish and are very proud of their heritage.

Reply
Anonymous

Great tips and ideas! One correction though: not every Walmart allows you to camp overnight (or various reasons). Always check with the customer arrived desk or the store manager before settling in for the night.

Reply
Anonymous

* that was meant to say "for" various reasons and the customer "service" desk, oops!

Reply
Jane

Hi Sarah,
My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
I was looking for blogs about Big Sky to share on our site and I came across your post…If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
Hope to hear from you soon!
Jane

Reply
Lucinda Stawell

This trip looks awesome! My friends have also decided to go on a vacation this summer after visiting this blog and getting inspired, we are going to try all summer activities such as Breckenridge Zip line, Horseback Riding, tracking, and many more! We also liked the idea of “travel on cheap”

Reply

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.