From cities and towns to national parks and lesser-known landscapes, this inaugural special section from the Winter 2022 issue has your travel through the West covered! We’ve curated a list of 52 places to visit this year – four in each of the 13 states we cover. If you travel at a breakneck pace, that’s one a week. Otherwise, let this guide serve as inspiration – to take that road trip to Taos, New Mexico, to see the stellar views at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado, to be crowned “king of the hill” at Mount Ballyhoo in Alaska.
Explore more about these 52 places by clicking the links below. What are some of your favorite places in the West? Did they make this year’s list? Make your voice heard by sending a letter (email@example.com), taking our current reader poll or submitting photos, poems or other art for our Best of the West section (email firstname.lastname@example.org with Best of the West in the subject line).
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Contributors: Jason Collins, Sarah Gianelli, Ryan Slattery, Sara Hall, Cori Solomon, Josh Berman, Joe Giglio, Nickolaus Hines, Doug Rapp, Jen Peng, John Gist, Ben Mack, David Dudley, Debbie Stone, Rick Stedman, Mary Stroka, Kate Meadows and Matt Harding.
Fairbanks: Fairbanks, Alaska’s third largest city, is a hotspot for artwork that travels back through ancestral history to over 2,000 years ago. From ivory carvings created by Alaska Natives from the Iñupiaq culture to Aleut and Alutiiq headdresses, the city is packed with Alaska Native art history.
Kenai Fjords National Park: This park boasts views of about 40 glaciers cascading from the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States.
Mount Ballyhoo: Mount Ballyhoo is a place for adventurers with its spectacular views, beautiful lightly-trafficked hiking trails and rich history.
Utqiagvik: The Whale Bone Arch is found on the beach near the Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Station in Utqiagvik, which is home to one of the largest Inupiaq settlements in Alaska. The town of Utqiagvik (formerly called Barrow) is the northernmost town in the United States and the ninth northernmost town in the world.
Jerome: Four miles of hairpin turns climb up to Jerome, where it sits at a mile high. Its rickety buildings and multi-story wooden porches cling to the slopes of Cleopatra Hill, while several grand structures solidly hold court with plenty of room to breathe.
Kaibab National Forest: Despite being located next to one of our most visited national parks, Kaibab is grossly undervalued (like all our national forest lands). It offers the best of Northern Arizona – spectacular sightseeing in all four seasons, free camping, historic sites, ample hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as fishing and boating opportunities.
Tombstone: The Wild West lives in Tombstone. Its legendary characters and famous folklore past comes alive daily in this dusty Arizona town 34 road miles from the Mexican border.
Yuma: If you’re looking for sun, heat or lettuce, look no further! Yuma is the sunniest city in the U.S., boasting sunny days roughly 90% of the year.
Channel Islands National Park: “Close to the California mainland, yet worlds apart.” This Channel Islands National Park motto says a lot about the five islands that make up one of the country’s least-visited national parks.
Mojave National Preserve: Much less famous than its neighbor to the south, Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve is a gem in its own right.
Santa Ynez Valley: The Central Coast beckons as one drives north along Highway 101. The road turns inland from the ocean, ascending into Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara Wine Country.
Thousand Lakes Wilderness: Nestled in the Cascade Range just north of Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California is the Thousand Lakes Wilderness. This area of 16,335 acres features a number of lakes (although not actually 1,000), streams, trails and backcountry campsites.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Like the more well-known Grand Canyon, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has a North and South Rim with lots of different viewpoints and hiking options. Located in southwestern Colorado, the area is truly stunning.
Grand Lake: At 400 feet deep, Grand Lake is Colorado’s deepest lake and perhaps its most beautiful. Dubbed the “Gateway to the Rockies,” it’s a must-visit for anyone heading to that famous national park.
Pagosa Springs: Southwest of Denver lies the San Luis Valley, an 8,000-square-mile high-elevation expanse extending from the Continental Divide southward to New Mexico. It’s the gateway to Pagosa Springs, a key anchor on the Historic Colorado Hot Springs Route.
Royal Gorge: This area remains one of Colorado’s more accessible, but still semi-hidden gems, with plenty to experience – from “glamping” in wall tents at Echo Canyon Campground to an elegant dinner aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad to rafting on the Arkansas River.
Jaws Lookout: Are you trying to see some of the biggest waves on the planet? Then look no further than Maui’s Jaws Lookout. Jaws is the local nickname for the Pe’ahi surf break, one of the best big wave surfing destinations in the world.
Kilauea Volcano: Head over to the Big Island to experience Hawaii’s only active volcano and witness the magnificence of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire.
North Shore: If you want to enjoy a piña colada on the beach, swim with turtles or see the biggest waves of your life, then Oahu’s North Shore should be your next travel destination.
Waimea Canyon: Imagine witnessing the immense beauty of the Grand Canyon, but on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean minutes away from the beach.
Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve: When President Calvin Coolidge designated Craters of the Moon a national monument and preserve, he called the area in southern Idaho a “weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself.” He wasn’t exaggerating.
Lake Pend Oreille: Located in the Idaho Panhandle northeast of Coeur d’Alene is the state’s biggest lake – the massive Lake Pend Oreille. At 43 miles long and with 111 miles of shoreline, there’s a multitude of parks, beaches, trails, campgrounds and more that surround it.
Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests: Much of the West is wild, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a wilder expanse than what exists in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, which covers a solid portion of northern Idaho at some 4 million acres.
Twin Falls: Twin Falls is known by adrenaline heads in part thanks to Evel Knievel’s failed attempt to jump the more than 1,300-foot-wide Snake River Canyon in 1974. His ramp still stands, but BASE jumpers are much more common than daredevils these days.
Billings: Just west of where I-90 and I-94 meet is Montana’s biggest city – Billings. Road trippers, this is not a place to just stop for food and keep driving… it’s a city chock full of museums, art and recreation opportunities in the great outdoors.
Great Falls: Great Falls truly offers some of the best of Montana. It’s pure West.
Kootenai National Forest: Don’t skip Glacier National Park, but do head west to Kootenai National Forest, located in the northwesternmost part of Montana.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument: Located in north central Montana (and obviously on the Missouri River), this national monument is remote, and access isn’t as easy as more popular public lands. However, those who take the time to figure it out will be rewarded.
Austin: Along the Lincoln Highway, or more specifically the portion of Highway 50 known as the Loneliest Road in America, lies Austin, Nevada.
Las Vegas: While smoke-filled casinos are still the bread and butter of Sin City, Las Vegas has continued to grow and develop into so much more.
Valley of Fire State Park: Valley of Fire State Park is about an hour from Vegas and is a perfect getaway from that city and a must-stop on a road trip to more popular regional destinations like Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce.
Virginia City: During the 1870s, this booming frontier town was considered “the richest place on Earth.”
Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge: Located near Socorro, this 57,000-plus acre refuge is home to the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the yellow-billed cuckoo, the Rio Grande silvery minnow and other endangered species. It’s also home to more familiar animals – mountain lions, reptiles, bats, rats and deer.
City of Rocks State Park: This park has been described as, “In the middle of a place very close to nowhere, just south of somewhere and a little past over there.” In other words, it’s remote.
Taos: There might not be anywhere in New Mexico that better exemplifies the state’s “Land of Enchantment” motto than Taos.
White Sands National Park: No, it’s not snow. By the name, you probably already knew that. The world’s largest gypsum dune field at some 275 square miles, it’s perhaps the most otherworldly place on our planet.
Bend: Perhaps most famously these days, Bend is home to “The Last Blockbuster.” But it’s so much more than the last of that video store chain (though any movie buff really ought to stop there).
Crater Lake National Park: Like many favorite national parks in the West, with Crater Lake, it all starts at the rim. Though closed for part of the year, a summer cruise along Rim Drive is a must on your trip to southwestern Oregon.
Eastern Oregon: Rugged Eastern Oregon might not be the first place people think of when they think of luxury. But the Geiser Grand Hotel was once considered the nicest hotel between Salt Lake City and Portland.
Northwest Oregon: The Oregon Coast is a well-known tourist destination. But just inland is a vast green land of rolling hills, beautiful forests, hidden waterfalls and more.
Ashley National Forest: Elevations in this forest range from 6,000 feet to 13,527 feet at Kings Peak, the tallest peak in the state of Utah and a highlight of the region along with the adjacent Gilbert Peak.
Goosenecks State Park: While Horseshoe Bend is an amazing sight to behold, it’s possible you’ve never heard of the perhaps even more astonishing Goosenecks State Park, named due to the deep meander of the San Juan River.
Kanab: Situated in the southeast corner of Utah, Kanab is close to a number of major attractions: Grand Canyon’s North Rim, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Lake Powell.
Monticello: About an hour south of Moab and its famous Arches National Park lies the city of Monticello. It’s the second most populous city in San Juan County, but with a population of about 2,600, it’s far from metropolitan.
Centralia: Located midway between Seattle and Portland on I-5, it’s easy to see why West Coast road trippers might stop for some grub in Centralia and keep moving along. But a mile and a half down Harrison Avenue is the city’s downtown, packed with antiques in antique buildings, bookstores and all kinds of quaint shops.
Metaline Falls: Population in the town of Metaline Falls maxed out in 1950 when it was 547, according to the U.S. Census. It may be a tiny town, but it’s a historically and geographically interesting place.
Olympic National Park: Often referred to as “three parks in one,” Olympic National Park boasts a trio of ecosystems: glacier-capped peaks, old-growth and temperate rain forests and wild Pacific coastline.
Yakima: Anyone who’s enjoyed a craft beer or two has most likely had a taste of Yakima’s most famous crop. Nearly 75% of the hops used in the United States come from Yakima Valley, and for beer lovers, it’s hard to beat drinking a hoppy beer in the home of American hops.
Cody: Whether you’re strolling the streets of Cody or perusing the five museums in town, the Wild West is proudly on full display.
Devil’s Tower: It rises like a colossal claw from the ground. On a clear day, you can see it from I-90, way off in the distance (if you know where to look).
Fossil Butte National Monument: The monument provides a unique snapshot of life that was present 50 million years ago on Earth – from one of the earliest horses, Protorohippus venticolus, to tiny insects and small flowers.
Green River Lakes: Fifty miles north of Pinedale (population 1,200), at the end of a long dirt road, the Green River Lakes lie cradled at the base of 12,000-foot mountain peaks at the edge of the Bridger Wilderness in Bridger Teton National Forest.