Find a high-altitude escape for every season at these scenic adventurelands
Written bySunsetJanuary 10, 2013
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Photo by Paul Richer
1 of 20Photo by Paul Richer
Move over, Vermont. In fall, the red maples, yellow aspens, and green pines light up the hills in this college town, 1 1/2 hours north of Salt Lake. For epic autumn hues, try the Wind Cave hike (2 miles each way) on the northern end of Logan Canyon just outside town, with its acres of blood orange big-tooth maples. Before you go, get color updates from the Forest Service (435/755-3620).
Stay: The six-room Riter Mansion (theritermansion.com) bed-and-breakfast serves apple pancakes with views of maples. From $99.
Photo by Glenn Oakley
2 of 20Photo by Glenn Oakley
Bald Mountain, ID
Idaho’s ski paradise, 2 1/2 hours east of Boise, is Bald Mountain (aka Baldy), known for its steep pitch and bone-dry powder. For a hangout alternative to the town of Sun Valley, head to nearby Ketchum for its stylish indie shops, saloons, and restaurants rivaling what you’d find in the big city.
Stay: Wake up in one of the three ski-in yurts at Galena Lodge (galenalodge.com), with your order of freshly baked breakfast muffins delivered to your front flap. From $125.
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Photo by J. P. Greenwood
3 of 20Photo by J. P. Greenwood
Palomar Mountain, CA
Most famous for its namesake observatory, this mountain, 1 1/2 hours northeast of downtown San Diego, is a lush springtime playground, with 10+ miles of hiking trails through meadows, creeks, and forests.
Stay: In the Gold Rush town of Julian, the Craftsman-style Orchard Hill Country Inn (orchardhill.com) has a hammock and cookies waiting for you. From $195.
Photo by Gina Sabatella
4 of 20Photo by Gina Sabatella
The white-knuckle drive to Jerome, 50 minutes northeast of Prescott, won’t quickly be forgotten. It ascends to above 7,000 feet, then descends to the old mining town, reenergized with galleries, historic inns, and wine-tasting rooms. At 15° to 20° cooler than Phoenix, Jerome is a fine place to beat the heat.
Stay: Main Street’s 1898 Connor Hotel (connorhotel.com) has a dozen rooms, some with gas-fired woodstoves and windows framing red-rock mountains. From $95.
There are more than 350 miles of hiking trails in Rocky Mountain Park, but one of the prettiest is to Mills Lake, framed by pine trees and snowcapped peaks. It’s a 2- to 3-hour hike from Estes Park on a well-marked trail. You'll make several river crossings over wooden bridges. Stop partway for the roar and spray of Alberta Falls. Afterwards, return to the historic town for a ghostly tour and good eats.
Photo by Thomas J. Story
6 of 20Photo by Thomas J. Story
Red River, NM
The hikes are strenuous, but the rewards sweet in Red River, the tiny ski burg 36 miles from Taos in the heart of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Brave your way up Wheeler Peak (fs.usda.gov/carson), the state’s highest mountain, at 13,161 feet, in a rigorous 16-mile round-trip excursion. (Hike starts about 8 miles southeast of downtown at the Horseshoe Lake/East Fork Trail.) Or stay in town and let the Platinum Chairlift whisk you up Red River Ski Area ($15; redriverskiarea.com) past 10,000 feet, then follow easy marked trails or just fan out along the mountainside.
Stay: Cozy up in the forested riverside cabins at Copper King Lodge (copperkinglodge.com), where a river-facing hot tub and fishing holes are just steps from your door. From $79; 3-night min.
Photo courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
7 of 20Photo courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Jackson Hole, WY
You hardly even need to pedal on most of the beginner trails at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Bike Park ($35/day;jacksonhole.com)—you just glide. Access the park’s six trails via the Teewinot Lift, then speed down 4-foot-wide, luge-track-smooth paths. Don’t miss the Lucky Charm trail, where you’ll pedal over a 377-foot-long wooden bike bridge. You'll find plenty to be thrilled about off the mountain, too. For a small town, Jackson packs big-city punch when it comes to lodging and dining—at places like the Kitchen, where Wagyu flank steak is topped with pecan butter and served with foie gras Yukon Gold potatoes ($$$; 155 N. Glenwood St.; 307/734-1633).
Stay: Tour the collection of cowboy paintings before turning in at down- town’s Wort Hotel (worthotel.com). Not sleepy? The hotel’s Silver Dollar Bar has killer jalapeño margaritas, live bluegrass, and more than 2,000 coins inlaid in its bar top. From $389.
Situated in Colorado’s "Banana Belt" and surrounded by three mountain ranges, Salida gets only a fraction of the snow that blankets the surrounding high country―and milder temperatures too. But if you're really looking to get warm, the 100° pools at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort (pool use $15; 20 miles from Salida at 15870 County Rd. 162, Nathrop; 888/395-7799) are just the place to take the edge off the winter chill. Take in views of snow-shrouded 14ers while you warm up in the two manmade thermal pools overlooking Chalk Creek, and over a dozen natural creekside pools winding through the valley below. If you're still itching to work up a sweat, head to nearby Monarch Mountain ski area (skimonarch.com). Located 20 miles west of town, with 63 ski trails (22720 W. U.S. 50).
Photo by Janis Nicolay
9 of 20Photo by Janis Nicolay
At the West’s biggest ski resort, you can live it up or find some Olympic-sized deals. Want to hit the slopes? Fresh Tracks (whistlerblackcomb.com), the get-on-the-mountain-first breakfast ticket program, is just $18 with a $95 lift ticket—a heckuva lot cheaper than a helicopter ride. For that, you get a hearty breakfast at the Roundhouse Lodge and first crack at the slopes. Not an alpine skier? Tour 34 miles of cross-country trails at Whistler Olympic Park in Callaghan Valley ($22; 5 Callaghan Valley Rd.;whistlerolympicpark.com), or sign up for a horse-drawn sleigh ride with Blackcomb Sleighrides ($54;blackcombsleighrides.com).
Stay: For ski-in/ski-out convenience without Whistler Village prices, find some buddies and split a comfy two-bedroom condo at Legends Whistler (lodgingovations.com), at the base of the Creekside gondola. It’s only $395 a night and offers quick mountain access, plus a full kitchen. 2-night weekend min.
Photo by David Fenton
10 of 20Photo by David Fenton
Crested Butte, CO
Hiking is plentiful here, but two wheels are the true star: At this birthplace of mountain biking, you’ll find more bikes than people. Grab one from the Alpineer for a spin on the Lower Loop, a 10-mile network of single- and double-track trails and dirt roads. Or jump on the Upper Loop, a track east of town that takes you along Mt. Crested Butte ($20/day;alpineer.com). Leave the wheels behind as you whiz through a canopy of dazzling aspens on the Crested Butte Zipline Tour, a two-hour adventure that spans five connected lines and three suspended bridges (from $59; 970/349-2211).
Stay: Even inns here get in on the bike love, like the Ruby of Crested Butte (therubyofcrestedbutte.com), a luxe but low-key B&B with 1,000-thread-count sheets, Frette robes, and loaner cruisers in a rack out front. From $229; 2-night min.
The 1,600-square-mile park―dubbed by explorer George Bird Grinnell as “The Crown of the Continent”―Glacier National Park can let its numbers speak for themselves. The park features 185 named mountains, 762 lakes, 25 glaciers, 68 species of mammals―including black bears and grizzly bears―277 species of birds, and 700 miles of hiking trails. However, the numbers, staggering though they may be, don't do the magical scenery justice. Glacier is a must on any Western traveler's bucket list.
This college town with mountain spirit and cowboy characteristics makes for a fantastic fall getaway, as scorching summer temps have cooled at 7,165 feet, and there’s a grab bag of outdoor adventures. Hike the granite hoodoos in Medicine Bow National Forest (pictured), and keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife: elk, moose, and rock climbers.
Fresh powder and no lift lines? It’s just another day at Big Sky. It may not share the glory of the glitzy resort towns in Colorado and Utah, but with more snow and open space, this undersung skiing nirvana can rest on its own laurels. Between the town's two ski resorts--Big Sky and Moonlight Basin--there are three mountains used by an average of only 2,500 skiers per day ... it works out to 2 acres per skier. Combine uncrowdedness and lots of fluffy powder with a laid-back cowboy culture, and you've got the perfect winter weekend.
Photo by Ashley Davis Tilly
14 of 20Photo by Ashley Davis Tilly
Mix the start-up energy of Silicon Valley with the craftiness of Portland and gorgeous Rocky Mountain scenery, and you’ve got Boulder: the most-inspired town in the West. These days, as you cruise along Pearl Street east of the Mall on a cherry red ride from B-cycle, Boulder’s nonprofit bike-sharing system, every other storefront begs you to slam on the brakes: an artisanal cheese shop, coffee roaster, craft-driven bar, DIY workshop selling handmade everything, and on and on, until every new stop leads to the question: Is this the next Portlandia? There’s something for every type of dreamer here, whether you’re an entrepreneur or hobbyist, local or tourist. Boulder could be the place that feeds your desire to try something new, as long as you listen to that creative calling and pull over.
Imagine a national park-level wilderness without national park-level crowds. No bus tours. No traffic. No entrance fees. Just drop-to-your-knees gorgeous land full of hiking trails, hot springs, trout-filled streams, and some of the best lemonade you've ever tasted.
Photo courtesy of Logan Brumm
16 of 20Photo courtesy of Logan Brumm
Sunshine, great dining, and golden leaves: “Flag” is Arizona's capital of autumn. In fall, the air in Flagstaff is crisp as a Winesap, the skies are the dictionary definition of blue, and the return of 18,000 NAU students gives "Flag" a Red Bull–swigging, outdoorsy zing. Explore the historic downtown or head to the hills for some seasonal hiking. Also, don't miss Coconino National Forest, located north of town, for the state's most spectacular aspens set against the backdrop of dormant volcano Humphreys Peak.
A reinvented logging town populated by skateboarding students, Cali refugees, and athletes-in-training (all of whom care deeply about what they eat and where it comes from—the closer, the better), Bend is experiencing a flood of locavore dining and nouveau food carts. But the area's crowning jewel is located just 22 miles west, rising out of the Deschutes National Forest: solitary Mt. Bachelor. It’s a challenging ski area: 3,683 acres of exhilarating, windswept runs with a 3,365-foot vertical drop.
Stay: The boutiquey Oxford Hotel (from $179;www.oxfordhotelbend.com) puts you in the heart of downtown’s buzzy small-plates scene—and one of the stars is the hotel’s own 10 Below restaurant.
Photo by Andrea M. Gómez
18 of 20Photo by Andrea M. Gómez
Summer in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon means miles of easygoing hikes with jagged granite scenery and knee- deep wildflowers. Let the tram zoom you from Snowbird’s village to the top of Hidden Peak (11,000 feet!), then hike into Mineral Basin before taking a free ride down on the Peruvian Express lift. For an even easier tour, hop on the Alpine Slide (above), a high-speed chute that winds 1,300 thrilling feet from the top of the Chickadee Chairlift back to the village. Tram $16, slide $11;snowbird.com
Stay: At the Inn at Snowbird (from $99;snowbird.com), which greatly reduces rates in summer, your condolike room—complete with kitchen and wood- burning fireplace—is just steps from the slopes. Next door, the Lodge Bistro ($$$; 801/933-2145) has comforting classics like American Kobe bavette steak with mashed potatoes and housemade steak sauce.
19 of 20Carmel Zucker
Steamboat Springs, CO
Head to Howelsen Hill—just a short walk from downtown—and let the horse do all the work at Sombrero Ranch, where guides trot you through miles of shaded, pine-studded trails overlooking the lush Yampa Valley (1-hour tour $35; 970/879-2306). It’s a water wonderland at downtown’s Old Town Hot Springs (from $18;oldtownhotsprings.org), where eight mineral pools (feeding off the naturally bubbly Heart Spring), two twisty water-tube slides, and an in-pool climbing wall await.
Stay: Opened in 1948, the Old West–themed Hotel Bristol (steamboathotelbristol.com) is complete with saloon and Native American quilts in the bedrooms. From $96.
Surrounded by a 360° kingdom of Swiss Alps–style peaks, and conveniently located between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, Mammoth is an ideal choice for a California ski weekend. The mountain is king, but plenty of off-slope adventures can be had, like full-moon snowshoe hikes, natural hot springs, and dog-sledding.