The West is like a huge 3-D geology textbook, and nowhere is the West's signature more clearly inscribed than on the landscape of southern Utah. This is geology on a monumental scale — wind and water and organic chemistry have sculpted enormous amphitheaters, impenetrable slot canyons, towering spires, and weird formations, all splashed with primary colors and stark shadows. On this trip you'll travel through eerie desert terrain, scramble down slickrock, and hike through subalpine meadows.
Day One: Salt Lake City to Panguitch. Mileage: 246. Drive time: 4-5 hours. Route: I-15 south to Scipio; U.S. 50 southeast to Salina; U.S. 89 south to Panguitch. Stopovers and side trips: Stop at Mount Nebo Recreation Area, about 40 miles south of Provo, near the town of Nephi. The 32-mile Mount Nebo Scenic Loop takes you through the Wasatch Mountains, with views of the surrounding valleys and of Mount Nebo, the highest peak in the Wasatch Range at 11,877 feet. As you leave the interstate behind, admire the Pavant Range, the Tushar Mountains, and the Sevier Valley on your way south. A good stop for lunch is Cowboy's Smokehouse, 95 N. Main in Panguitch, which serves great mesquite-barbecued ribs and brisket. Bedtime: Canyon Lodge (doubles, $62; 800-440-8292) on Main Street in Panguitch, your archetypal drive-up motel, is clean and cheap, and has a hot tub in a gazebo; plus proprietor June Ann Miller will help you with trip plans.
Day Two: Panguitch to Bryce Canyon National Park. Mileage: 25. Drive time: 40 minutes. Route: U.S. 89 south to Utah 12 east. Stopovers and side trips: Stop at Red Canyon for a classic family photo next to the drive-through sandstone arch. At Bryce Canyon ($10 entrance fee, valid for seven days), if you're in good shape, hike the 8.3-mile Fairyland Loop Trail (4-5 hours) down into hoodoo land and through juniper and mountain mahogany. Make sure you have water, warm clothes, and sturdy boots (ankle injuries are common here). Bedtime: You can't beat staying in the park when the tour buses pull away and the stars hug the canyon rim. Stay in one of the cabins at Bryce Canyon Lodge, a registered National Historic Landmark built in 1925. Each cabin comes with two double beds, full bath, and gas fireplace (doubles, $88-$121; 303-297-2757; reserve far in advance). The lodge also has modern hotel rooms in a two-story annex for $78 per night.
Day Three: Bryce Canyon National Park. Mileage: 34 miles round-trip from the visitor center to Rainbow Point. Drive time: About 1 hour. Route: To Rainbow Point and back. Stopovers and side trips: Drive to the end of the 17-mile scenic drive at Rainbow Point, then hike the one-mile Bristlecone Loop Trail to see ancient bristlecone pines that have survived for more than 2,000 years — some of the oldest living things on earth — clinging to windswept cliffs. Stop at the Sunset Point overlook and hike the Navajo Loop and Queen's Garden trails to get a close look at hoodoos and other fabulous rock formations (about three miles total; 2-3 hours). Horseback rides below the rim are available April-October (call 435-679-8665). Check at the visitor center for a schedule of ranger-guided hikes and evening talks. Bedtime: Stay a second night at Bryce Canyon Lodge. Another option is Best Western Rubys Inn (doubles, $105-$125; 800-528-1234), just outside the park boundary, with an indoor pool.
Day Four: Bryce Canyon to Boulder. Mileage: 90. Drive time: 2-plus hours (you'll stop along the way). Route: Utah 12 east (a state-designated Scenic Byway). Stopovers and side trips: At Kodachrome Basin State Park (25 miles east), named by the National Geographic Society for the rich hues in the rock formations, you'll skirt the northwestern section of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. You can do some off-road hiking as long as you watch the weather (thunderstorms cause flash floods and render many roads impassable). Toward Boulder, turn off on any of the numerous four-wheel-drive dirt roads for short hikes on slickrock and into slot canyons. Bedtime: Boulder Mountain Lodge at the junction of Burr Trail and Utah 12 (doubles, $69-$98; 800-556-3446) is a neo-rustic haven built by a former monkey-wrencher turned eco-developer.
Day Five: Boulder to Capitol Reef National Park. Mileage: 90 round-trip. Drive time: 65 minutes each way. Route: Utah 12 to Utah 24 east. Stopovers and side trips: Get trail maps at Dixie National Forest Wildcat Guard Station. At Capitol Reef, fill up on cherries or apricots in the unlikeliest fruit orchards in the national parks, part of the historic 1890s Mormon settlement of Fruita. Weather permitting, explore the short foot trails and spur roads along the 25-mile Scenic Drive to Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. Early morning and early evening are the best times to drive the scenic route and view the multihued cliffs that form the west face of the Waterpocket Fold. If you've brought your mountain bikes, you can take off on the more than 250 miles of paved and dirt roads within the park (off-road mountain biking is prohibited). Bedtime: Head back to Boulder and a TV-less rest at Boulder Mountain Lodge.
Day Six: Boulder to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area via the Burr Trail to Torrey. Mileage: 180. Drive time: 5 hours. Route: Drive the notorious 66-mile Burr Trail Scenic Backway through the Waterpocket Fold, descending 800 feet into Capitol Reef National Park. A combination of paved and dirt road, the Backway is recommended in dry weather only as no services are available along the route. (We made it trouble-free in a passenger car, but most guides recommend four-wheel drive.) The Trail terminates at Bullfrog on Lake Powell, part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. To complete the loop, return via Utah 276 to Utah 95 north along the Henry Mountains. At Hanksville, head west on Utah 24 to Torrey. Stopovers and side trips: Before you leave Boulder, visit Anasazi Indian Village State Park to see remnants of one of the largest Anasazi settlements west of the Colorado River. Break up the drive with short exploratory hikes. Several trails branch off the Burr Trail, including one to the Strike Valley Overlook within the bounds of Capitol Reef National Park, and mountain biking is permitted on the roads. Bedtime: The Wonderland Inn (doubles, $64-$76; 800-458-0216) near Torrey, at the junction of Utah 12 and Utah 24, has 50 modern southwestern-style rooms, a restaurant, and a heated pool.
Day Seven: Torrey to Salt Lake City. Mileage: 230. Drive time: 4-5 hours. Route: Utah 24 west and north to U.S. 89 near Sigurd; at Salina, take U.S. 50 north to Scipio, then I-15 north to Salt Lake City. Stopovers and side trips: Search for signs of Steve Young or Jim McMahon at Brigham Young University in Provo. The Recreational Map of Utah, available at many gas stations, is a good source for roads and some trailheads. The Bureau of Land Management will send you a map of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument that covers much of this trip; call 435-539-4001. — Debra Shore
Day One: Portland to Camden Hills State Park. Mileage: 88. Drive time: 2 hours. Route: Northeast from Portland on U.S. 1. Stopovers and side trips: Check out L.L. Bean's mammoth store in Freeport, a mere 30-minute drive from Portland, and its adjacent new shop, L.L. Kids.
Ten miles south of the town of Camden, Rockland is one of the historic shipbuilding centers of the East. You can take a cruise on a windjammer out of Camden, Rockport, or Rockland and sail among the Penobscot Bay Islands; to book two- to six-night sails, contact the Maine Windjammer Association at 800-807-9463. At Camden Hills State Park (207-236-3109), two miles north of Camden, take the two-hour (round-trip) hike to Maiden Cliff. The easy trail (good for ages six and up) climbs slowly through a thicket of hemlocks to ledges overlooking the waters of Megunticook Lake. Bedtime: Camp at one of the 112 sites in Camden Hills State Park ($8-$16 per night).
Day Two: Camden Hills to Lake St. George State Park. Mileage: 34. Drive time: 1 hour. Route: North on U.S. 1 to Lincolnville, then west on Maine 173 and Maine 3 to Liberty. Stopovers and side trips: From Camden Hills, it's a ten-minute drive to Lincolnville, where you catch the 20-minute ferry ride to Islesboro (for a ferry schedule, call 207-789-5611). The island has a 28-mile, mostly flat bike loop; rent bikes at the Spouter Inn, across the street from the ferry in Lincolnville (full day, $15; 207-789-5171). Picnic at Pendleton Point, where harbor seals and loons often lounge on the rocks; then cool off at Lake St. George State Park, one of the warmest swimming holes in Maine. Bedtime: Camp at one of the park's 38 sites (about $13-$17 per night; 207-589-4255 for reservations).
Day Three: Lake St. George State Park to Baxter State Park. Mileage: 141. Drive time: 3 hours. Route: Northeast on Maine 3 to Stockton Springs, U.S. 1A North to Bangor, then I-395 West to I-95 North in Bangor. Take Exit 56 in Medway and continue on Maine 11/157 west to Millinocket. From Millinocket, follow Baxter State Park road for 18 miles to reach the Togue Pond gatehouse and Baxter State Park. Stopovers and side trips: Once in Baxter, park at the Roaring Brook Campground. Either set up camp here, or, if you plan to climb Mount Katahdin the following day, shoulder your backpacks and hike the 3.3-mile trail to Chimney Pond Campground (about two to three hours with kids under seven). A good resting point is Basin Ponds, about two miles in. Chimney Pond sits directly below 5,267-foot-high Mount Katahdin. Bedtime: Chimney Pond or Roaring Brook campgrounds. Both campgrounds are popular, so reserve well in advance ($6 per person for tenting and staying in lean-tos; call 207-723-5140).
Day Four: Hike Mount Katahdin from Chimney Pond or hike South Turner Mountain from Roaring Brook Campground. Stopovers and side trips: Hike the peak Thoreau called "vast, Titanic, such as man never inhabits." The best route for families is the 2.2-mile Saddle Trail (five to six hours round-trip), which starts at Chimney Pond. Once you reach Baxter Peak, the summit of Katahdin, you can take in the spectacular views of northern Maine — Chesuncook Lake, the West Branch of the Penobscot River, and Big and Little Spencer Mountains. From Roaring Brook Campground, the hike up South Turner Mountain (four miles round-trip) also rewards you with exquisite views with less than half the effort of climbing Katahdin. Take Sandy Stream Pond Trail to the pond, then veer right on the South Turner Mountain Trail. Bedtime: Back at Chimney Pond or Roaring Brook Campground.
Day Five: Baxter State Park to Portland. Mileage: 231. Drive time: 4 hours. Route: Make your way back to Medway, then head straight down I-95. Stopovers and side trips: From Roaring Brook Campground, you'll head back to Portland. Break up the drive with a stop in Old Town (Exit 51), where the canoes of the same name are built. The factory store is open to the public at 130 North Main Street (call 207-827-5513). — Stephen Jermanok
The mountain scenery along the Banff-to-Jasper route through the Canadian Rockies may be stunning, but the route itself is a fume-spewing parade of RVs and tour buses. The solution? Seek out equally riveting scenery sans all the company just west of the Rockies among the less-famous mountain ranges of southeastern British Columbia. This trip starts in Calgary, but you can also access the route from the west via Vancouver or Kamloops, or from the south via Spokane, Washington.
Day One: Calgary to Field and Emerald Lake. Mileage: About 136. Drive time: 3 hours. Route: Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) west through Banff and Lake Louise. Stopovers and side trips: A dip in Banff Upper Hot Springs, the site of the first Canadian national park in 1885, is worth a side trip. In Yoho National Park, which borders Banff National Park on the west, explore the area around Emerald Lake, about six miles west of Field (within the park's boundary), via the flat, 3.2-mile loop that circles the lake. Canoe rentals and horseback riding are available at the lake; call Emerald Sports at 250-343-6000. Bedtime: Rooms at Emerald Lake Lodge (doubles, $182-$288; 250-343-6321) are pricey, but worth it (note: all prices quoted are in U.S. dollars). Built in 1902, the lodge sits on a 13-acre peninsula overlooking Emerald Lake and Mount Burgess. Each of the 85 rooms, housed in 24 cabin-style units, has a private balcony, sitting area, and fireplace. The campground at Takakkaw Falls ($8 per night), ten miles east of Field, requires a five-minute walk in, giving it a more intimate, backcountry feel than Kicking Horse Campground ($11 per site), 7.5 miles west along the Trans-Canada Highway, with vehicle-accessible campsites. For campsite availability, call 250-343-6783.
Day Two: Field to Rogers Pass. Mileage: 91. Drive time: 2 hours. Route: Continue west on the Trans-Canada Highway through Golden. Stopovers and side trips: Go rafting on the Kicking Horse River; check with Alpine Rafting (888-599-5299) in Golden (whitewater conditions may not be safe for children under six; the rapids are class II to IV in summer). Your best bet for hiking is the eight-mile round-trip Asulkan Valley Trail in Glacier National Park, which rises at a moderate incline to a large glacial basin. Bedtime: Illecillewaet Campground (250-837-7500; $9 per site), about three miles west of Rogers Pass, is large but well laid out to accentuate privacy. Ask for a campsite along the Illecillewaet River. Right in Rogers Pass, Glacier Park Lodge (doubles, $83-$119; 250-837-2126) is an adequate Best Western and the only lodging within the park.
Day Three: Rogers Pass to Revelstoke. Mileage: About 43. Drive time: About 1 hour. Route: Continue west on the Trans-Canada Highway. Stopovers and side trips: A paved road heads to the summit of Mount Revelstoke, from which an easy 3.7-mile trail leads to pretty Eva Lake. Summit Cycle Tours (250-837-3734) runs guided bike rides down the Mount Revelstoke road, as well as hike-bike combos and sunrise bike rides. In Revelstoke, check out the 90-foot restored Mikado steam engine in the Revelstoke Railway Museum at 719 Track Street West ($6.50 per family; 250-837-6060). Bedtime: The Regent Inn (doubles, $65-$79; 250-837-2107) in downtown Revelstoke has one of the best restaurants in town, serving steaks and seafood in a casually elegant setting suitable for families.
Day Four: Revelstoke to Slocan. Mileage: About 112. Drive time: 3 hours. Route: Take Highway 23 south from Revelstoke to the free ferry (250-837-4375) at Shelter Bay. Continue south on Highway 23 to Nakusp, then south on Highway 6 through New Denver to Slocan. Stopovers and side trips: Try canoeing on Slocan Lake or the slow-moving Slocan River, surrounded by the mountains of Valhalla and Kokanee Glacier provincial parks. Check at Lemon Creek Lodge and Campground, six miles southwest of Slocan, for canoe rentals and guide service. They provide half-day ($13), full-day ($20), and multiday trips to Indian pictographs, waterfalls, great fishing spots, and Slocan Lake's sandy beaches. The best access to hiking in Kokanee Glacier park is from Gibson Lake; the moderately difficult 5.6-mile trail to Slocan Chief Cabin is good for kids five and up. Another option is the easy 1.6-mile Gibson Lake Loop Trail, which takes you past old abandoned mining areas with views of the surrounding Selkirk Mountains. From Slocan, loop north on Highway 6 back to New Denver, east on Highway 31A, south to Balfour, then west for about seven miles to Gibson Lake Road. Bedtime: Small and casual Lemon Creek Lodge (doubles, $40-$47, including breakfast; 250-355-2403) is great for kicking back. Surrounded by lakes, waterfalls, and mountains, the lodge facilities include a hand-built post-and-beam main building with ten bedrooms, a hot tub, a sauna, two cabins, and a 24-site campground. The lodge can arrange hikes, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, and horseback riding.
Day Five: Slocan to Cranbrook. Mileage: 180. Drive time: 5 hours. Route: Highway 6 north to New Denver. Go east on Highway 31A to Kaslo, then south on Highway 31 to Balfour. Cross Kootenay Lake on the free ferry (250-229-4215), then follow Highway 3A south to Creston. Turn onto Highway 3 east to Cranbrook. Stopovers and side trips: In Kaslo, visit the S.S. Moyie (250-353-2525), a restored turn-of-the-century passenger stern-wheeler. In Creston, turn west on Highway 3 for three miles to the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, home to one of Canada's densest concentrations of nesting osprey as well as 260 other species of birds. Call 250-428-3260 about guided hikes and canoe excursions. Bedtime: Moyie Lake Campground ($10 per site; 250-422-4200), about 12.5 miles south of Cranbrook, occupies a lakeside spot about a mile off the highway. Plenty of moderately priced motel accommodations are also available in Cranbrook.
Day Six: Cranbrook to Invermere. Mileage: About 50. Drive time: 1.5 hours. Route: Highway 93/95 north to Invermere. Stopovers and side trips: Stay on Highway 95 through Cranbrook and go nine miles north to Fort Steele (250-426-6923), a reconstruction of a nineteenth-century mining town. From Wilmer, about three miles northwest of Invermere, the gravel road along Horsethief Creek leads 32 miles to the Lake of the Hanging Glacier Trail, whose name says it all. Bedtime: Delphine Lodge (doubles, $40-$53; 250-342-6851) in Wilmer is a comfortable, turn-of-the-century B&B. Day Seven: Invermere to Calgary. Mileage: About 200. Drive time: 5 hours. Route: Highway 93/95 north to Radium Hot Springs. Continue northeast on Highway 93 through Kootenay National Park. Go east on the Trans-Canada Highway through Banff to Calgary. Stopovers and side trips: The pools of Radium Hot Springs (250-347-9615), just east of the town of the same name on Highway 93, are often packed in summer but worth a stop. For a relatively short hike to break up the trip back to Calgary, try the 2.8-mile Stanley Glacier Trail (about 56 miles northeast of Radium Hot Springs off Highway 93). The trail provides quick access to a stunning glacial basin; it's like hiking into the bottom of a giant rock-and-ice teacup. — Peter Oliver
Deep in Cheddarhead country, in the Land of the Spotted Dairy Cow, northern Wisconsin still has plenty of places with more deer than people (or cows), and more wild and woolly places than farms. Here, if you stop to listen and look, you'll hear the call of wild geese or the laughter of a loon; spot a bald eagle or witness the small miracle of a beaver dam. With the kids, explore cool woods and waterfalls in wide-open spaces that give new meaning to the term Òfamily room.Ó Pitch a tent and, as darkness falls, watch the stars dance across the sky in a way that will stretch a child's imagination well beyond a 27-inch TV screen. Follow this road tour from Wausau to the Door Peninsula and you'll find that a Wisconsin Northwoods vacation will become one of your family's fondest memories — provided you don't mind becoming a Cheddarhead for a week.
Day one: Wausau to Rib Mountain State Park to Council Grounds State Park. Mileage: 30. Drive time: 1 hour. Route: Take U.S. 51 north to Merrill, then west on Wisconsin 107. Stopovers and side trips: Stop in at Rib Mountain State Park (715-842-2522), five miles southwest of Wausau on Park Road, off Rib Mountain Drive (County Road NN). This billion-year-old hill is one of the oldest geologic formations on earth, with views of the Wisconsin River Valley from the top of the 60-foot observation tower. Leaving Rib Mountain, head north on U.S. 51 to Merrill. Bedtime: Council Grounds State Park (715-536-8773) along the Wisconsin River a short distance northwest of Merrill, has a campground with modern rest rooms, a swimming beach on Lake Alexander, and picnic areas. Overnight camping permits cost $10-$12 for non-Wisconsin residents, $8-$10 for residents. Daily admission is extra: $7 out-of-state, $5 in-state; $18 for an annual pass for residents, $25 for nonresidents.
Day two: Council Grounds State Park to Franklin Lake Campground in Nicolet National Forest. Mileage: 75. Drive time: 2 hours. Route: Wisconsin 107 north to Tomahawk, and U.S. 51 north to U.S. 8. Head east on U.S. 8 to Rhinelander, then north on Wisconsin 17 to Eagle River. From Eagle River, take Wisconsin 70 east 15 miles to Franklin Lake Campground. Stopovers and side trips: Climb the observation tower to the highest point in Wisconsin — 1,951-foot Timm's Hill, located 29 miles west of Tomahawk on Wisconsin 86. The area surrounding Timm's Hill is part of a county park with picnic facilities, 7.5 miles of hiking trails, and hiking access to the extensive Ice Age Trail System.
After leaving Timm's Hill, return to Tomahawk and continue north to Eagle River, then head east on Wisconsin 70. After a few miles you'll enter the 661,000-acre Nicolet National Forest (715-362-1300), with more than 1,200 lakes, several rivers, and 1,100 miles of streams where anglers can find trout, pike, bass, muskie, walleye, and panfish. Suitable for beginning canoeists, a 15-mile stretch of the river from the Brule River Campground at Wisconsin 55 near Nelma, Wisconsin, to the Wisconson 139 bridge, is also good for trout fishing and spotting bald eagles. Rental canoes are available from Hawk's Nest Canoe Outfitters in Eagle River (800-688-7471). Bedtime: Pitch your tent at one of Franklin Lake Campground's 77 pine-shaded sites, several of which sit on the lake where you can swim, canoe, or fish for walleye, bass, and bluegill. There are pit toilets and showers; the charge is $10-$12 per night. Call the Eagle River Ranger Station at 715-479-2827.
Day three: Franklin Lake Campground to Boulder Lake Campground in the Nicolet National Forest. Mileage: 85. Drive time: 2 hours. Route: From Franklin Lake Campground, head east on Wisconsin 70 to Wisconsin 55; go south on Wisconsin 55 to Langlade, and continue south about five more miles to County Road WW; turn left on WW and go 0.6 miles to Campground Drive (Forest Route 2116); turn left again and go 1.2 miles to the campground. Stopovers and side trips: From Langlade, take a raft trip down the Wolf River for some of the finest whitewater in Wisconsin (Section 3 from Langlade to the Wild Wolf Inn is a good stretch for newcomers). For raft rental, guided trips, or a place to stay (other than a tent), contact Herb's Rafts at the Wild Wolf Inn (715-882-8611), about six miles from Langlade. The Bear Paw Inn (715-882-3502), a bed and breakfast/outdoor education center located three miles south of Langlade on Wisconsin 55, rents inflatable kayaks, and whitewater canoes and kayaks; has a whitewater kayak and canoe school; and offers several trips on the Wolf River. The inn also rents mountain bikes. Bedtime: Boulder Lake Campground has 89 wooded sites ($12 per night), a sandy beach, hiking trails, and good fishing. Call the Lakewood Ranger District at 715-276-6333 for information.
Days four and five: Boulder Lake Campground (Langlade) to Peninsula State Park, Door County. Mileage: 140 miles direct. Drive time: 3-4 hours. Route: From Langlade, take Wisconsin 55 south to Shawano; go east on Wisconsin 29 to Green Bay, and then follow Wisconsin 57 and Wisconsin 42 north to Door County. Peninsula State Park is located just north of Fish Creek on County Road F, west off Wisconsin 42. Stopovers and side trips: Stop at Whitefish Dunes State Park (920-823-2400), overlooking the broad Whitefish Bay, with impressive 200-foot-high dunes. Neighboring Cave Point County Park, where waves explode against limestone cliffs, is a favorite of photographers. Stop at Baileys Harbor, midway up the peninsula on Lake Michigan, for a picnic lunch. About 19 miles farther is Newport State Park (920-854-2500), a wilderness park with 2,440 acres of forest and 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
Outside the park are Gills Rock and Ellison Bay, small ports famous for their fish boils. A passenger ferry at Gills Rock will carry you six miles northeast to Washington Island, site of the oldest Icelandic settlement in the U.S. Rent a bike or moped at the island dock, and scoot the few miles to Schoolhouse Beach, on the northern side of Washington Island, for a chilly swim and a picnic. Washington Island also serves as the launching point for a one-mile ferry to Rock Island, the most secluded of the county's state parks (920-847-2235). The primitive 900-acre preserve has ten miles of hiking trails and Wisconsin's oldest lighthouse. Bedtime: Camp at one of Peninsula State Park's four campgrounds ($10-$12 per night for non-Wisconsin residents; $8-$10 for residents); call 920-868-3258. Contact the Door County Chamber of Commerce at 920-743-4456 for additional information. — Larry Rice
Photograph by Clay Ellis