An Insider’s Guide toNational Parks in the Mountain West

America’s mountain west national parks showcase natural features found nowhere else on planet Earth. Within these parks, the raw power of nature is on full display, sculpting and refining the land through a combination of brute force and patient erosion. Rivers, volcanoes, earthquakes, wind, and water have all contributed in shaping this collection of amazing, distinct landscapes.

At the forefront of these parks is the grandfather of them all, Yellowstone—America’s first national park. Powerful geothermal forces boil under the crust of the land, creating exquisite pools, explosive geysers, and bubbling mudpools. Beyond the steaming skin of Yellowstone is a wilderness paradise, highlighted by crashing waterfalls, swift rivers, remote mountains, and an assortment of wildlife. There is no place on Earth quite like Yellowstone—the blistering caldera that churns under the surface is a simmering explosion that will one day put an exclamation mark on the land that will forever change this dynamic region.

Grand Tetons National Park
Grand Tetons National Park Billy Gast

The Rocky Mountains are home to several incredible national parks, including the namesake Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. High elevation summits in this trio range from rounded, glacier-smoothed domes to jagged, crooked spires. Mountain ecosystems demonstrate the extremes of nature, from the brutal winter winds and destructive avalanches to the delicate meadows of colorful flowers alongside peaceful creeks. Each season offers a dramatic costume change in each of these places, which is a great benefit for those who are able to visit in different times of the year.

If Yellowstone and the mountain parks represent violent, abrupt geological change, several other parks are definitive of drawn out topological designs. Great Sand Dunes National Park has been built over the centuries, as sand carried by the wind has been deposited at the foot of 14,000’ peaks. Capitol Reef and Great Basin National Parks are the remains of ancient oceans and glacial runways that are home to caves, mountains, and craggy natural arches. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park elevate the art of natural sculpture to its most elaborate, with impossible-looking stone arches, pillars of balanced rock, and deep canyons decorated with remote arches and janky towers. And then there’s Zion National Park, which is a combination of all these features.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park Ryan Smith

One of the most dramatic and overlooked national parks in this region is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a severe gash cut into the rind of the planet. Dropping over 1,000 vertical feet, this narrow canyon is a beacon for the adventurous. In contrast to the compact erosion of the Black Canyon, the well-named Grand Canyon is a massive work of erosive forces, creating the deepest, widest canyon system in the world.

Finally, Mesa Verde National Park preserves the human aspect of a barren landscape. Airy cliff dwellings, decorated with petroglyphs, are memories of a culture long since passed that once thrived in the arid Colorado desert.

America’s mountain west national parks offer a lifetime of adventure and a variety of terrain, wildlife, and features. They are premier destinations for those wanting to indulge in the elegant and raw beauty of the wilderness.

Featured photo by Andrew Smith.

Fall in Love With The Outside Road Tour

RootsRated and Marmot are teaming up to celebrate the Outside by hosting Pint Nights in speciality retailers across the country. At each Fall In Love With The Outside Road Tour event, we will raise money for local conservation groups, while playing live music, pouring cold brews, hosting tent pitching contests, playing outdoor trivia, and having conversations about where to go outdoors and all things we love outside.

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