Get ready to choose your own adventure in these three world class destinations in the west.
From striking deserts and the nation’s deepest lake to enchanted forests and magnificent waterfalls, we’ve curated the best of the west for you to check off on your bucket list this year.
1. Choose Your Own Adventure in Southern Utah— National Park Options
Escape to the otherworldly landscapes of southern Utah and choose from several of the state’s National Parks, including Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Zion National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, the breathtaking Bryce Canyon National Park, and other amazing areas.
Adventures await. For starters, there are spectacular day hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion and canyoneering. You can explore Zion’s famed The Narrows, or sleep under the stars and stargaze, or mountain bike up Moab’s Whole Enchilada Trail. You can raft the Colorado River that winds through the Utah desert and learn about the Native American Tribes that have called that land home and tended to its sacred nature from the beginning. You can also scout fabled nooks and crannies that housed infamous outlaws of the Old West, such as Cassidy Arch in Capitol Reef that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used to hide from the law.
Pro tip—the best time of year to go is during the “shoulder seasons,” which are the times of year when you're waiting for spring to officially turn into hot summer again and for autumn to officially turn into cool winter. While the window for good weather is a little bigger during the spring/summer transition, those are your best bets for timing the weather in the desert before it’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.
2. Crater Lake National Park
There are plenty of shorter day hikes to choose from at Crater Lake National Park, but, if you’re feeling ambitious, you will love the 33-mile trail that loops all the way around the caldera rim of Crater Lake and back. In the summertime, you can even finish off your hike with a refreshing dip in the lake at the end of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the only designated swim area in the park. Let your eyes absorb the rich azure hues as you gaze at the expanse of the deepest lake in the U.S., with depths measuring at 1,493ft—also making it one of the deepest lakes in the world.
And for all the geology lovers out there, stop by the Ranger Station to pick up some fun facts to share with friends about the lake—among other things, you’ll learn that before it became Crater Lake as we know it today, it was Mount Mazama, a 12,000 ft. volcano whose eruption (and collapse) more than 7,700 years ago led to the formation of a caldera. Visit trails and vista lookout points, such as Grouse Hill and Redcloud Cliff, that were the exact spots where lava flows erupted more than 25,000 years ago.
3. Olympic National Park
Nestled in the enchanting PNW on the Washington Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is home to countless awe-inspiring views and adventures. From fern-covered forest floors and sky-high evergreens to gorgeous gushing waterfalls around what feels like every turn, you’re sure to find some inspiration and exploration in the lush Olympic National Park. Backpackers, climbers, runners, and hikers from all over seek out the variety of ecosystems that truly offer something for everyone.
Easily one of the best waterfall destinations in the nation is the Enchanted Valley along the Quinault River. Experienced hikers and backpackers start at the Graves Creek Trailhead and head 13.5 miles in, where they are rewarded with dramatic landscapes, lush wildlife, and a look at what’s been endearingly called the “Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls,” thanks to the enormous amounts of water that cascade down the rocky cliffs in the area, as well as the Enchanted Valley Chalet, a mystical-looking three-story chalet built almost a hundred years ago as a backcountry lodge.