Summer vacations in the Rocky Mountains are joyous. Fertile valleys come back to life. Clear streams and rivers sound like music. Vistas stretch out forever. The meadows and mountains are pristine. Viewing wildlife is a joy—there are often mothers with their young, born in the spring. Wildflowers bloom in summer tundra, and the skies are a perfect shade of blue.
Go hiking or bicycling. The trails closed in winter open up, and the air is sweet. Rent gear and go fishing or hire a fly-fishing guide. Even if you don’t catch anything, being by crystalline water is healing. Rafting, swimming, tubing—the Rocky Mountains have streams, rivers, and coves waiting to be explored.
Summer is also the perfect time for climbers and mountaineers to get elevated. There are ranger programs in the parks, and during the evening they’re often around a campfire—this is the stuff memories are made of. Horseback riding, for novices and pros, is a true western experience. Pack a picnic and find a quiet place for the family or fuel your romance. Everything is possible on a Rocky Mountain summer vacation.
Discover our Rocky Mountain Favorite Places and Secret Spots…
Yellowstone’s Boiling River
There are only two thermal features in Yellowstone that you can swim, and this is one of them. The Boiling River is a stretch of the Gardner River at Yellowstone’s north entrance. Hot water from geysers flows over waterfalls and combines with river water to create the perfect temperature. Get in and soak for pure relaxation.
First, stop at the Old Faithful Visitor Center for the scoop on this landmark geyser and other geothermal features. Jim Bridger, the storytelling mountain man of the 19th century, was amazed by what he saw. The Bozeman, Montana, newspapers refused to print his accounts of Old Faithful, believing they were tall tales. The Upper Geyser Basin, an area surrounding Old Faithful, has the largest concentration of geysers in the world. Discover them. (And stay on the trails!)
Fishing in the Colorado Rockies
There is fishing, fabulous fishing, in Rocky Mountain National Park and it’s not far from beautiful Denver and Boulder. Wake up at dawn for a private lesson with a fishing guide and learn the secret places that only a few know. When you walk into a river, you feel reborn. There are rainbow trout, cutthroat trout (distinguished by the red stripes on their jawline), brown trout, and brook trout. Catch and release or cook what you catch and savor your meal.
Mesa Verde and the Arches
These wild places are two hours apart, and scenery on the back roads between them is extraordinary. Mesa Verde was established to save 4,700 archaeological sites built by the Ancestral Puebloans between 500 AD and 1300 AD. There are cliff dwellings, pithouses, towers, and farming storage. For more than 700 years people flourished here. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of just a generation or two, they left. Why is still a mystery. Heading west, Arches is bordered by the Colorado River. There are more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the image we all recognize, Delicate Arch. Its softly sculpted red-orange form, rising to a grand height, seems to defy what’s possible.
The Snake River through the Tetons
The source of the mighty Snake River is in Yellowstone, and the finest way to experience the river is by rafting through the Tetons. There are whitewater stretches for thrill seekers, and there are floats and gentle miles perfect for the entire family. The best time to get on a raft is very early when the sun catches morning light and glints off the water. The guides are great people with stories of the river, past and present.
A Sunrise Hot Air Balloon
Consider a sunrise hot air balloon over Yellowstone and The Tetons. The views are breathtaking, especially after you’ve explored the area from the ground. During the summer it’s warm enough for easy lifts, and you’ll ride the thermals like a hawk.
The National Elk Refuge
Even in the middle of summer, when Jackson Hole is busy, you may find yourself alone here. Just outside the town of Jackson, the refuge was created in 1912 to protect habitat and provide sanctuary for one of the largest elk herds on Earth. One of the best things that can happen begins with a sudden sound. You realize it’s the sound of hundreds of wings taking to the air. A flock of white herons rises above you and your breath catches. White herons love the shallow waters in this refuge as well as the elk do.