A vast, scenic landscape provides the timeless backdrop for the western United States. Mountains rise against big blue skies, geysers and hot springs bubble up from the earth, and wildlife abounds. Appreciative residents live among it all in manageable yet exciting cities and towns. Near the middle of the West region you’ll find Yellowstone National Park, one of the highlights of the U.S. National Park system. An ideal way to experience everything the region has to offer is to take a road trip through the states of Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho that showcases Yellowstone and offers a chance to explore so much more of what the West has to offer. The gateway for your journey: the easily accessible capital of Utah, Salt Lake City.
Stop One: Salt Lake City, Utah
Take note of two things when you arrive in Salt Lake City: First, it’s a big, busy city of almost 200,000 residents, but it’s set beside the stunning landscape of the Wasatch Mountains and their world-class ski and snowboard resorts; second, Salt Lake City International Airport sits only 12 kilometers from the center of the city. Start your journey in the historic and spiritual heart of Salt Lake City, Temple Square. It’s the spot where the city was founded in 1847. Nearby you’ll find a variety of eateries and bars, and you can shop at City Creek Center, which boasts more than 100 stores and restaurants.
Spend a few days exploring the city, or start your journey to Yellowstone sooner. To do so, head north on Interstate Highway 15 toward your next stop.
Two: Ogden, Utah
In 1869, workers completed the transcontinental railroad, making Ogden a transportation hub. To get a sense of the importance of Ogden during that time, make 25th Street your first stop. The historic area features shops, galleries, locally owned restaurants and Union Station, site of the Utah State Railroad Museum.
Other attractions in and around the city cater to adventurers. Take a scenic drive up into the Upper Ogden Valley for a hike, or go to the Salomon Center, where you can skydive, rock climb and even surf – all indoors.
When you’re finished exploring Ogden, get back on Interstate 15 and drive farther north.
Stop Three: Brigham City, Utah
Where the Bear River flows into the Great Salt Lake resides the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a 32,000-plus-hectare swath of marsh, open water, uplands and alkali mudflats just 27 kilometers from the travelled of Brigham City. The refuge is home to the largest colony of White-faced ibis in North America and plenty of other birds that migrate along the Pacific and Central flyways of the continent. For a comfortable view of the wildlife, take the kilometres self-guided auto tour.
On your way back to Brigham City, visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the transcontinental railroad was completed, before continuing northeast around Box Elder Peak along U.S. Highway 89/91.
Stop Four: Logan, Utah
If you’re a 19-kilometre, make Logan Canyon the focus of your time in Logan. Camp here or just make a day trip to hike, mountain bike or ride a horse. The canyon’s terrain is varied, so beginners and experts alike can find challenges to match their skill levels. Or try your hand at fly fishing on the Logan River. During the winter months, ski the 335 hectares at Beaver Mountain Ski Resort or ride snowmobiles on nearby trails.
If you’re not an outdoors person, visit during July or August to take in the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre’s season. When you’ve experienced all you can of Logan, continue north on Highway 89.
Stop Five: Bear Lake, Utah
Bear Lake stretches across the Utah border and into southern Idaho, offering plenty of opportunities to explore and play on its majestic blue waters. Stand-up paddle boarding and Jet Ski riding are popular pastimes here, as is fishing. The lake is renown for having four species of fish – Bonneville cisco, Bonneville whitefish, Bear Lake whitefish and the Bear Lake sculpin – found nowhere else in the world. If you’re not looking to catch trophy fish here, walk the trails in the local mountains. From the top, you’ll find spectacular views of the lake.
To get a better sense of how pioneers in the West and Pacific regions of the United States paddleboarding along trails through the area, visit the National Oregon/California Trail Center in nearby Montpelier, Idaho. Take a simulated wagon ride, then thank modern technology for your car as you continue driving north on Highway 89.