We’ve rounded up our faves from three months of summer travels, just for you and your travel bucket list! Click any highlighted title for the full original blog post, and additional photos, for each of these special places!
BEST NATIONAL PARK
WINNER! THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK, Medora, North Dakota: The New York Times’ pick for the “#5 Place to See in the World,” TRNP has nature views, nature and wildlife galore, historical sites, hiking trails leading out in every direction, and is blissfully crowd-free compared to other National Parks. Toss in the famous Medora Musical, an epic golf course and the 144-mile Maah Daah Hey biking/hiking trail in the cute nearby town, and you’ve got a fun destination to get excited about!
Runner-Up: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Montrose, CO
WINNER! CRESTED BUTTE, CO The staggering views are around every turn here in this alpine paradise, known as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado. with lush public lands, hundreds of hiking and biking trails leading off into the mountains and through the valleys, and scenic passes like Kebler and Schofield, your camera trigger finger is gonna get real tired capturing every luscious view! *This is the place to which we would most like to return someday!*
Runner-Up: Bisti Badlands in the De Na Zin Wilderness, Farmington, NM
BEST MOVIE INSPIRATION
Runner-Up: Kanab, UT: “The Outlaw Josey Wales”
WINNER! MILWAUKEE RAILROAD TRAIL, Butte, MT: Our favorite activity in Butte was a bike ride on the abandoned circa-1909 Milwaukee Railroad Line bed. This 4.5-mile crushed-gravel trail was made all the more enjoyable by its long and winding route through granite boulders, over a 600 foot steel trestle, and through two long, dark tunnels, one of which was completely iced over! Woot, woot, what a blast! We saw only one other person, enjoyed epic long-range views, and were thrilled that the path was basically flat, because who likes hills? Nobody, that’s who!
Runner-Up: The Mineral Trail, Leadville, CO
WINNER! Turquoise Lake, Leadville, CO. Five miles west of Leadville sits Turquoise Lake, one of Colorado’s favorite high-altitude recreation destinations. Dammed in the 19th century and named for the rare turquoise deposits found nearby, Turquoise Lake offers 1,800 acres or year-round recreational fun. At 10,000 feet, the sun is warm and the water is cool — a perfect match! Just don’t forget your sunscreen!
Runner-Up: Curt Gowdy State Park, Cheyenne, WY
BEST CAVE TOUR
WINNER! Lewis and Clark Caverns, Whitehall, MT: These superstar caves are the largest limestone caverns in the Northwest, and super-dee-dooper fun to tour! Rather than just walking from area to area, you’ll find yourself bending, crouching, duck-waddling, squishing and sliding on your butt, through twisty/turny passageways, just like the early explorers of the cave! Don’t forget your sturdy shoes … you’re going to be taking a 30 minute hike up 1,000 feet elevation, just to get to the entrance of the cave, and then traversing steep steps up and down — over 600 steps, that EACH took three days to carve into the rock. Besides the cave, this park has great hiking trails, too!
Runner-Up: Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer, SD
BEST GUIDED TOUR
WINNER! Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Kanab, UT: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is … well …. a state park … made of sand dunes … that are coral pink in color. The main things to do here are walk in the sand, slide down the sand, or drive over the sand. Since walking is hard, take an ATV tour back into the depths of the 3,700 acre park instead! Best advice? “Scream with your mouth closed!” The company that takes you out into the dunes is well organized, fun, and chill, so you’ll feel like you’re just out with some of your buddies!
Runner-Up: Copper King Mansion, Butte, MT
BEST CAMPING – BOONDOCKING
WINNER! Old Paria Road, 40 miles west of Kanab, UT: If you’re not familiar with the term, boondocking is where you camp for free on open land (usually owned by the BLM), with no utility hookups, and just hope for the best. This location has you perfectly places for some incredible, banner trailheads to hike The Wave, Wire Pass slot canyon, and the Toadstool Hoodoos. It’s remote, it’s quiet, and it’s beautiful! The downside, it’s down a bumpy washboard road. But sometimes you gotta pay that price — it was worth it!
Runner-Up: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, ND
BEST CAMPING – WITH HOOKUPS
WINNER! Blue Mesa Outpost, Gunnison, CO: We never got tired of gazing outward at the constantly changing views of the lake through our RV’s front windshield! A cute little campground (RVs + cabins) with sites overlooking the beautiful Blue Mesa Reservoir. Half the sites face the water, half backup to the water. A cute and earnest young couple owns and runs the park and clearly take a lot of pride in it. Sites are lengthy pull-throughs with full hookups, so you can stay a while! Close to a small marina, Dillon Pinnacles hiking trail, and miles and miles of beach literally a 3-5 minute drive away.
Runner-Up: Crested Butte RV Resort, Crested Butte, CO
WINNER! Brewery Follies, Virginia City, MT: Don’t miss the Brewery Follies, a hilarious comedy music of the rowdy, bawdy sort. If you are easily offended, this is not the place for you! The show takes place inside an old, delapidated former brewery; meaning, even if it’s no longer in operation, you shall drink beer! In this case, made from the same Gilbert Brewery recipe that was produced here in the 1860’s, and it was darn delicious. The theater is tiny, the production is homespun, and it was the FUNNIEST show we have seen in years and years! We are still quoting lines and singing bits of the songs, months later!
Runner-Up: Central City Opera House, Central City, CO
WINNER! Three Lakes Trail, Somerset, CO: About 20 miles from Crested Butte along Kebler Pass (a gorgeous drive in itself), the aptly-named Three Lakes Loop hike takes you above and around not one, not two, but three gorgeous lakes! It is a popular trail (for good reason!) and provides a beautiful hike near timberline, which travels past alpine lakes and is only moderately difficult. The trail crosses a meadow with numerous wildflowers, and then gradually ascends through spruce-fir while skirting the aforementioned lakes. We loved every step … don’t forget to put a little picnic lunch in your backpack!
Runner-Up: Hells Canyon Trail at Jewel Cave, Custer, SD
BEST GHOST TOWN
WINNER! Nevada City, MT (and Virginia City, MT): Nevada City is comprised of a collection of 100+ buildings that have been carefully preserved from other locations all over Montana and moved here between 1945-1978. This entire town is an outdoor living museum, and has one of the largest collections of Old West artifacts outside the Smithsonian. Down the road, Virginia City, though more touristy, is similarly “frozen in time” since the gold rush days. “Resisting Change Since 1863” is their motto, and that pretty much sums it up!
Runner-Up: St. Elmo Ghost Town, Nathrop, CO
BEST HOT SPRINGS
WINNER! Mystic Hot Springs, Monroe, UT (south of Salt Lake City) I’ll just say it: we are obsessed with hot springs. But the most unusual hot springs we’ve ever encountered is Mystic Hot Springs, a completely funky place that was just our style! Dumpy, hippie, weird and wonderful, a bunch of bathtubs have been sunk into the hillside, and the rock continues to grow over the edges of them from the mineral water constantly flowing. An on-site campground keeps you close to the action. Don’t have your own RV? Rent one of their old busses that have been converted into hotel rooms! I promise you will never find another place like this!
Runner-Up: Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, Buena Vista, CO
BEST OFF LEASH ADVENTURES
WINNER! Bisti Badlands of the De-Na-Zin Wilderness, Farmington, NM Near the Four Corners region, on the Navajo Nation Reservation, is a mostly-unknown, quite mysterious, and fascinatingly unusual place. It’s a mixed bag of some of the most unusual scenery found anywhere in the Southwest! Hoodoos! Clinkers! Petrified logs! Mushrooms! Dinosaur eggs! There are three main trailheads over 60 square miles, but nothing is marked, nothing is obvious, there is no path or footprints of previous visitors to follow. Because of its remote location, few people ever go here. What does that mean in the real world? OFF LEASH TIME, BABY!
Runner-Up: Beaches of Blue Mesa Reservoir, Gunnison, CO
BEST DOWNTOWN DISTRICT
WINNER! Bozeman, MT A lively college town, downtown Bozeman has a classic Main Street with an old-western feel. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that parts of the movie “A River Runs Through It” were filmed in this picturesque downtown. The nearby Bozeman Sculpture Park and Museum of the Rockies are super-fun Bozeman diversions. The vibe on Main Street is always lively and upbeat, with musicians playing on the corners, lots of food trucks and breweries and coffee shops (we are still fantasizing about The Wild Crumb bakery, and Sweet Peaks homemade ice cream). And for a town of fewer than 50,000 people, Bozeman’s bar and restaurant scene rivals that of cities three times its size.
Runner-Up: Laramie, WY
WINNER! Skogen Kitchen, Custer, SD We spent Fathers Day visiting one of the best restaurants we’ve had in all our travels! If ever in Custer, South Dakota, don’t miss eating at Skogen Kitchen, but be sure you have reservations, because it’s a teeny tiny little place! It’s what they call a “chef driven concept,” meaning meals are not only scrumptious, but super unusual and innovative. Owners Joseph Raney (Chef) and Eliza Raney (GM) moved here from Southern California, and you’ll see them and their staff working hard on your behalf in the open-air kitchen. Here’s a little food porn for you!
Runner-Up: Philip’s homemade pizza made at the RV in our Ooni portable pizza oven
WINNER! Montrose County Fair, Montrose, CO This fair and rodeo was so homespun, so charming, so unexpected. It was the first one we’ve ever attended that is solely focused on animals (no carnival rides!), and young people, and participation as opposed to winning. The rodeo was terrific and the location, surrounded by the mountains of Montrose, was spectacular. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows everyone, and cares about each other. Young kids would come up the stands to say hello to old people and they would discuss whether so-and-so’s rabbit got a ribbon that day. It was that kind of affair, and completely wonderful.
Runner-Up: Greeley Stampede, Greeley, CO
BEST ROADSIDE ATTRACTION
WINNER! The Enchanted Highway, Dickinson, ND The Enchanted Highway is a 32-mile stretch of an old county highway in the middle of nowhere, upon which seven enormous metal sculptures have been erected. In the ultimate story of ambition, local farmer Gary Greff, with no artistic training and zero knowledge of how to weld, took action upon his belief that small towns are magical and deserve to be visited. He set out to create these massive …and I do mean MASSIVE! … sculptures, which all relate to the values and interests of people living in this part of North Dakota. Even though it’s not near much of anything, it’s worth the detour! Do it!
Runner-Up: Carhenge, Alliance, NE
BEST UNPLANNED ADVENTURE
WINNER! Robidoux Rendezvous Bike Race, Gering, NE While in Gering to visit Scotts Bluff National Monument, we accidentally stumbled upon a small bike race. Now, if I stumble upon a bike race, I say “that’s nice” and run the other way. Not Philip, he says “HEY I wanna do that!” This one used to be called the “Quick and Dirty,” but that sounded, well, just a little too dirty, I guess, so now it’s the Robidoux Rendezvous. This is a relatively new race, just 5 or so years old, and held completely on gravel roads. The race had options as long as 100 miles, and portion of it even went along the ruts of old wagon trains, which still exist in this area. Afterwards, food, music and R&R. It was a great time in a small town!
Runner-Up: Loveland Sculpture Garden, Loveland, CO
BEST SCENIC DRIVE
WINNER! Drive to the top of Mount Evans, Georgetown, CO One of our most exciting days of the summer included a drive up to the top of Mount Evans via the highest paved road in North America, and the 5th highest paved road in the world. This road climbs 7,000 feet in just 28 miles, with “top-of-the-world views” of alpine lakes and the Continental Divide, plus fun wildlife sightings. It’s also pretty freakin’ stomach-clenching driving, with few guardrails, steep turns, and extremely narrow roads, which only added to the excitement! At the summit of Mount Evans, at a whopping 14,130 elevation, you’ll find the ruins of the Crest House restaurant, which burned down in 1979, and well as the highest astronomical observatory in North America.
Runner-Up: Kebler Pass, between Paonia and Crested Butte, CO
WINNER! World Museum of Mining, Butte, MT Butte is called the “Richest Hill on Earth” because of the immense amount of precious metals pulled from the Earth here since the 1800’s. Accordingly, at the World Museum of Mining, built on an actual site of the abandoned historic Orphan Girl mine, you are able to go down, down, down underground on a fabulous tour led by former miners. We were also able to climb up into an enormous steel 100-foot headframe and hoist house, clamber into their large collection of mining equipment and vehicles, and wander a well-curated re-creation of a typical 1890’s mining town. It was a lot of fun!
Runner-Up: Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, MT
WINNER! Willie’s Distillery, Ennis, MT: Here in Ennis, “a drinking town with a fishing problem,” Willie’s Distillery is a small craft distillery with quite a following. They must follow Montana’s rule for distilleries: “One and Done,” meaning you can order exactly one thing with no more than 2 ounces of alcohol. On the flip side, you can stumble out the door and down the street clutching your 2 ounces, and you can buy as many full bottles as you wish. I don’t really get this logic, but my Huckleberry Russian (because everything in Montana is huckleberry) was made even more enjoyable by the live music in this charming, lively place. If you develop a fondness for Willie’s products, they are widely available throughout the state.
Runner-Up: Montanya Distillers, Crested Butte, MT
WINNER! “Chocolate Falls,” Navajo Nation north of Flagstaff, AZ. If your fantasies almost always include chocolate, this is the place for you! (Try not to think about the fact that this “chocolate” is actually flowing mud.) The real name is Grand Falls, but that’s not nearly as descriptive a name for this “flowing fondue fountain.” (Hey! that’s an even better name!) It only runs a few times a year after periods of heavy monsoon rain, so you’ve got to time your visit right in late summer, but this place is a marvel like you won’t find anywhere else on earth! If you go ahead and hike down into the canyon to the base, instead of just viewing from the top, you’ll be rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience you won’t soon forget!
Runner-Up: Bisti Badlands in the De-Na-Zah Wilderness, Farmington, NM
BEST NEW TRAVEL BUDDY
WINNER! Finn – 9 months old. She did great on her first multiple-month RV trip! And is ready for more!
And that’s a wrap on our recap of Summer ’22! We hope you’ve enjoyed this list and found even more travel planning inspiration for your adventures! Finn hopes you have a beautiful day … today and everyday!
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