Welcome to our 2nd Annual “Where in the West Should I Go?” This year, we’ve added some places, so you have more of the West to explore. The full list is only available to subscribers, though much of it isn’t behind the paywall. We’ll also be posting throughout the year on our Substack. Sign up for that here. With this issue, we’re now officially an all-digital publication. I thank everyone for their support of our print publication, especially the many contributors we’ve had. Enjoy your 2023 in the West!
Contributors: Richard Bednarski, Cole Clark, Marlene Flynn, Sara Hall, Matt Harding, Jill Hedgecock, Ryan Ireland, Lisa Maloney, Brooke Marshall, Courtney Essay Messenbaugh, Rick Moore, Dorothy O’Donnell, Morissa Pawl-Frederico, Kat Smith, Dave Stamboulis
Homer: Homer draws all manner of visitors, from cruise ships to private sailboats and vacationing Alaskans from other parts of the state – and almost every single attraction and shop in town remains locally owned.
Nome: Despite its cosmopolitan nature, Nome can only be reached by plane or ship – unless you happen to live along one of the three rough, unpaved roads that radiate out with Nome at the hub.
Talkeetna: Talkeetna is famous for its relaxed, friendly vibe. Sometimes that vibe gets a little lost in the crowds of tourists that visit every day during the summer. But if you stop and chat with the locals, you’ll find that the people just don’t come any friendlier.
Valdez: The drive to the shores of Prince William Sound is one of the most spectacular in the state, and it takes you through some of the features that define big adventure in Alaska.
Coronado National Memorial: A trip to Tucson and Arizona’s southeast region would be incomplete without a visit to Coronado National Memorial, a nature preserve that includes a hike to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Flagstaff: With its quaint downtown, views of Humphreys Peak and as a gateway to the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff may be the best city in the West. With a population just north of 75,000, Flagstaff is a small city that packs in “small town” charm.
Kingman: Named after Lewis Kingman, an engineer for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, the city very much embraces the rails to this day. Kingman station has daily services on Amtrak on the Southwest Chief between Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s also home to the Kingman Railroad Museum inside the city’s historic Railroad Depot.
Marble Canyon: Located just southwest of Page, Marble Canyon is the easterly route to get you to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, but it’s worth a stop on its own.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest: Adventurers in search of the world’s oldest living tree need not look any further than the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forestin central California. The forest is located in the White Mountains within Inyo National Forest.
Angel Island State Park: Angel Island, a California State Park and the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay, is a hidden gem for Bay Area tourists. Not only is it one of the most historically significant features of the bay, but on clear days, its scenic views are unparalleled.
Lost Sierra: Find Idyllic Mountain Beauty and Outdoor Fun in the Lost Sierra | Story and photos by Dorothy O’Donnell
Mendocino Coast: Meat and dairy aren’t on the menu at Stanford Inn by the Sea. But even if you’re a die-hard carnivore, the gourmet plant-based fare served here will win you over. While the food at this sustainable resort on the Mendocino Coast is delicious, it’s the idyllic setting and Zen vibe that keep luring me and my vegan daughter back year after year, contributor Dorothy O’Donnell says.
Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge: Located in far northwestern Colorado along the Green River, the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge is a 12,150-acre park below the Flaming Gorge Dam. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which operates the refuge, calls it “an oasis to both wildlife and humans seeking shelter from the surrounding harsh, semi-arid environment.”
Maroon Pass: At the height of summer, when the snow has (mostly) melted and the wildflowers are exploding in the high country, you can embark on a breathtaking 10-mile hike along Maroon Pass from Crested Butte to Aspen (or the reverse).
Rio Grande National Forest: In south-central Colorado, you’ll find 1.8 million acres of mountain peaks, rugged canyons and ancient calderas – all located in Rio Grande National Forest. With four-season weather, there’s lots of opportunities to hike, camp, fish, hunt and even cut down your very own Christmas tree in the winter.
Telluride: Telluride, a Colorado city of some 2,600 people in the southwestern part of the state, is a must-visit in the West. The tiny town is an arts haven, hosting the annual Telluride Film Festival and the Telluride Jazz Festival – two staples of the region.
Lānaʻi: Lānaʻi is Hawaii’s sixth largest island and the smallest publicly accessible – and inhabited – island in the chain. With a population of 3,367, the island has an interesting history.
Moloka’i Forest Reserve: Difficult to visit, the Molokaʻi Forest Reserve should only be on the most intrepid traveler’s list. Those who venture there will be rewarded with a secluded, otherworldly experience.
Molokini Crater: Located just off of Maui, Molokini is a crescent-shaped islet formed by a partially submerged volcanic crater, making it the perfect spot for a Hawaiian snorkeling or diving adventure.
Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park: Located on Kauaʻi, Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is a 6,175-acre state park on the northwestern edge of this Hawaiian island. It’s perhaps one of the most picturesque areas in Hawaii and was formed to protect the Kalalau Valley.
Boise: The capital and most populous city in Idaho, Boise is called the “unexpected West” by the local tourism bureau. Both “urban and wild,” they say their “lively, clean, artistic, vibrant, tree-lined city is just steps from all you want to discover.”
Pocatello: Making your way through Pocatello, about 160 miles north of Salt Lake City, start in the city’s historic downtown. Often dubbed Old Town Pocatello, city leaders have done a lot to keep the area revived and thriving.
Priest Lake: In the northernmost reaches of the Idaho panhandle, you’ll find the beautiful Priest Lake, a place for recreation and relaxation. At 19 miles long and with nearly 80 miles of shoreline, there’s plenty to do on the 300-foot-deep lake.
Sawtooth Wilderness: For the quintessential outdoor experience in Idaho, adventurers should head to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Covering 756,000 acres, the recreation area has more than 700 miles of trails, 40 peaks rising over 10,000 feet and more than 300 high-elevation alpine lakes.
Custer Gallatin National Forest: The Custer Gallatin National Forest is the vast, 3.1-million-acre lands bordering Yellowstone National Park. It includes the Absaroka-Beartooth and Lee Metcalf wilderness areas. This part of the West is for the adventurer, with plenty to do off the beaten path.
Flathead National Forest: On your way up to Glacier National Park, a long stop at nearby Flathead National Forest is in order. Located in the Rocky Mountains of Northwest Montana, the 2.4-million-acre forest is packed with lakes and rugged wilderness that makes Glacier look like Times Square (well, we won’t go that far, but Flathead sure is remote).
Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Located on the namesake Medicine Lake in the northeast part of Montana, the Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a terrific getaway for nature lovers. Between the Missouri River and the Canadian border, the refuge was established in 1935, providing a safe breeding and stopover habitat for a number of migratory birds.
Route of the Hiawatha: The self-proclaimed crown jewel of rail-to-trail adventures, Route of the Hiawatha is a 15-mile packed dirt bike path through the Bitterroot Mountains, including 10 train tunnels, seven railroad trestles and crossing the Montana-Idaho state line.
Boulder City: Nine decades ago it would have been hard to imagine that Boulder City, Nevada, southeast of Las Vegas, would one day be a tourist destination in its own right. In the early 1930s it was a U.S. government “company town,” where thousands of men, in the most brutal and dangerous of desert conditions, built Hoover Dam to harness the power of the Colorado River and provide electricity and water to the growing Southwest.
Great Basin National Park: In the middle of the high desert of the Great Basin lies one of America’s hidden gems, which is home to Nevada’s tallest peak, ancient trees and some of the darkest night skies in the country.
Lamoille Canyon: The centerpiece at the heart of the Rubies is Lamoille Canyon. A 12-mile paved scenic drive winds its way through the glacier-carved canyon. There are plenty of places to pull over and admire the impressive landscape or explore the beaver ponds along Lamoille Creek.
Reno: Save the gambling for Vegas; there’s so much more to Reno than casinos. “The Biggest Little City in the World” is a gateway to outdoor adventures from stunning hikes to desert hot springs, and whitewater kayaking to world-class skiing.
A visit to New Mexico conjures up images of relaxation, adventure, art, history and gastrotourism. Usually folks flock to Taos or Santa Fe or Albuquerque for their New Mexican excursion. In 2023, leave the big cities behind and hit the backroads – you’ll see a whole different side of The Land of Enchantment. Our contributor Ryan Ireland takes readers through Jemez Springs, Magdalena, Cloudcroft and El Morro National Monument. Click here to read the story.
Baker City: Big Sky Country is not the exclusive property of Montana. With a number of ways to approach the magic that is Oregon, one of the best is to enter from the east. Baker City has been called the “base camp of eastern Oregon,” and for good reason.
Hayden Covered Bridge: There is a surprise waiting about three miles west of the town of Alsea, via a short turn off the highway, called the Hayden Covered Bridge. There are still about 50 of these historic bridges left in the state that once numbered almost 600.
Jordan Valley: In eastern Oregon, bordering Idaho, is the city of Jordan Valley. First populated by the Northern Paiute people, the area is perhaps most notable for the Pillars of Rome, a 40-minute drive west of the city.
Portland Japanese Garden: Tucked into the hills of Portland’s Washington Park just three miles west of downtown, a splendor both subtle and stirring calls to the visitor. Welcome to the Portland Japanese Garden.
Bear Lake State Park: Bear Lake State Park is perfect for family trips and for those who enjoy the water. Boats, jet skis, kayaks and canoes all share the lake, which has a bustling summertime marina at the state park.
Halls Crossing: Halls Crossing, with its marinas and nearby campgrounds, makes for a great starting point in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. From Bullfrog Bay and Reflection Canyon to the San Juan River and Forbidding Canyon’s Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the region has so much to offer further northeast of Lake Powell.
Park City: East of Salt Lake City by a 30-mile drive is Park City, a resort town where skiing and snowboarding is a way of life. It’s renowned in the West for being home to some of the biggest and best ski resorts in the U.S.
Route 9 through Zion: Start your journey along Utah’s Route 9 in the city of Hurricane. A couple of great, quick detours there – presumably on your way to Zion National Park – are Quail Creek and Sand Hollow state parks.
Colville National Forest: Located in the northern reaches of the state, and spanning from the border with Idaho to about midway into Washington, Colville National Forest is a sprawling 1.5-million acre forest shaped by Ice Age glaciers more than 10,000 years ago.
Goat Rocks Wilderness: Goat Rocks Traverse: Washington’s Best Backpacking | Story and photos by Dave Stamboulis
San Juan Islands: The San Juan Islands are an archipelago of around 400 islands and rocks, 128 of which are named, and all of which are the ancestral lands and waters of the Coast Salish people. Each island has its own unique charm.
Walla Walla: Walla Walla gets its name from the native Walawalałáma people, whose name is translated to “many waters.” While not a land of many waters, the Walla Walla, Washington area is home to more than 120 wineries, making it a popular wine destination alongside Yakima, its neighbor located 130 miles away.
Bighorn National Forest: With over 1.1 million acres of land, Bighorn National Forest is one of the oldest protected forest lands in the nation. It’s yet another massive area of the sprawling West that should be a must-visit for every regional traveler.
Casper: Right in the heart of Wyoming is the friendly city that the ghost must have been named after. With a relatively small population of about 60,000, it’s still the second-largest city in Wyoming.
Jackson: With its location in the Jackson Hole Valley, the town of Jackson is the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. It should be your base of operations for a trip there in 2023.
Keyhole State Park: Located on the western edge of the Black Hills in northeastern Wyoming, Keyhole State Park is a favorite among locals and should be a favorite among visitors as well.
Alliance: Alliance is a city of about 8,000 in the Nebraska panhandle known for a quirky roadside destination just north of town. Carhenge is a replica of England’s Stonehenge formed out of vintage American cars and covered in gray spray paint to match the stone icon.
Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway: Along the Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway, some of the best things to do are golfing, hunting and fishing. This part of the country used to be part of an ocean floor, which is why the soil is made of sand for miles and miles.
The Enchanted Highway: I-94 running through North Dakota isn’t exactly the most scenic highway in America. But there’s a surprise at Exit 72 – a 110-foot tall scrap metal sculpture of a flock of geese flying across a massive eye with an iris of gold.
Little Missouri National Grassland: Little Missouri National Grassland, part of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, is a 1-million-acre grassland, which is the largest in the country. Within its borders is the far more famous Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but Little Missouri has its own share of magical outdoor destinations.
Black Hills National Forest: Black Hills National Forest is mainly in western South Dakota, though it bleeds into northeastern Wyoming, too. It is 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains, perfect for escaping into the woods.
Shadehill State Recreation Area: Right near the North Dakota-South Dakota border, Shadehill State Recreation Area is on the Shadehill Reservoir, one of western South Dakota’s few large lakes. It’s a great spot to connect with nature and have a relaxing day.
Big Bend Ranch State Park: While you assuredly need to visit Big Bend National Park, its neighbor to the west – Big Bend Ranch State Park – is worth time, too. Ideally, you’ll have at least a few days in each park.
El Paso: El Paso is the heart and soul of West Texas, a region of the country about which many songs have been written. Set at 3,740 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, (part of the Rockies) El Paso is indisputably a Western town.