This year, are you looking to travel somewhere different, somewhere you’ve never been—or, perhaps, never heard of before? If so, you’re in luck: Follow these paths, and you’ll find splendid scenery, outdoor adventures, and incredible food along the way.
San Juan River, Utah
Picture it: an otherworldly landscape of deep canyons, soaring pinnacles, and Technicolored bluffs, as far as the eye can see. The best part? You didn’t have to make a reservation, and you’ve got this glorious red rock view all to yourself. Welcome to Valley of the Gods, an under-the-radar backcountry spot in Utah’s southwest corner. The San Juan River Valley is home to just over 15,000 people—and classic southern Utah scenery. But whereas Zion and Bryce saw over 5 million visitors combined in 2020, two stunning San Juan River Valley monuments—Natural Bridges and Hovenweep—welcomed just 72,398 that same year.
The stargazing is prime at Natural Bridges, the first-ever International Dark Sky Park. Meanwhile, at Hovenweep, you can marvel at the scenery and the ingenuity of the Ancestral Puebloans, whose carefully constructed towers—built over 700 years ago—still stand today. For a closer look at indigenous life, visit Edge of the Cedars State Park, and climb into a 1,000-year-old kiva. Refuel afterward in the town of Bluff, where Twin Rocks Cafe turns out Navajo tacos, made with fry bread and topped with homemade chili and all the fixin's.
Yaak Valley, Montana
With mountains upon mountains blanketed with Douglas firs, pristine alpine meadows, and tiny roads meandering through the forests, Montana’s Yaak Valley feels like a place untouched by time. And, in many ways, it is. Cell service is practically nonexistent here, there’s nary a building in sight, and the nearest towns—Libby and Troy—are 37 and 40 miles away. But by exiting the land of reliable WiFi and entering this rural valley in northwest Montana, you’ll earn access to 180,000 wild, roadless acres dotted with old-growth forests, an area that’s home to grizzly bears, elk, pileated woodpeckers, and everything in between.
Pack your necessities (and bear spray) and explore the valley’s 1,400 miles of trails. The 1.5-mile Flatiron Mountain Trail, a ridgeline hike, delivers panoramic views of the Yaak and Kootenai areas. Or, in late spring, witness the wonder by raft, canoe, or kayak. Local guide Jim Hammons, owner of Montana River Tours & Adventure Guides, recommends floating the Kootenai River from Troy to Kootenai Vista, a 2 to 3-hour trip. This section has some rapids, followed by a mellow stretch ideal for swimming. Along the way, keep an eye out—the Kootenai attracts bald eagles, osprey, and great blue herons. You might end the day at Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company, a women-owned brewery that calls itself “Libby’s Living Room.” What to order? The Yaak Attack IPA, naturally.