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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

Whether it’s an impromptu day trip, a weekend getaway, or a much-needed multi-day vacation, road trips are a great way to relax, recharge and have some fun. And where better to do just that than in the mountains? Just pack the car and bring your appetite for jaw-dropping scenery, good food and the call of the open road. This list of five great mountain road trips will guide you along some of the best experiences the American West has to offer.

RELATED: 8 great road trip apps you need to download now

Colorado: The San Juan Skyway

With 26 designated scenic byways, Colorado screams road trip potential. If you must choose only one, head for the looping 235-mile long San Juan Skyway. Start your journey in Durango with a Frappajoe from Durango Joes, then head west on US-160 through rolling hills and wonderful mesas. In Cortez, take CO-145 and begin your ascent into the glorious multihued San Juan Mountains. Pull over at Lizard Head Peak Vista to marvel at Lizard Peak, a 13,113-foot spire-like volcanic neck. Farther along, take a swim in Trout Lake or hike to Bridal Veil Falls, plunging 365 feet off a cliff near the idyllic mountain town of Telluride. Reward yourself with a delicious lunch at Smuggler Union Restaurant & Brewery before hitting the road again. After you pass Ridgeway, head south on US-550 to Ouray where you begin your drive along the “Million Dollar Highway.” This cliff-hanger’s hairpin turns, waterfalls and mountain views will blow your mind for 25 adventurous miles to Silverton. Mountain peaks, valleys and a changing landscape of aspens, fir and ponderosa pine welcome you on the drive back to Durango. If you only have time for a day trip, the “Million Dollar Highway” is the essential trek for road trippers in the area.

Oregon: West Cascades Scenic Byway

If you’re near Portland, the 215-mile West Cascade Scenic Byway may be just what you’re looking for. Think mountain lakes, covered bridges, old-growth forest and the lush slopes of the Western Cascades. Starting early in Estacada, OR-224 quickly enters Mount Hood National Forest—a great opportunity for hiking or an early picnic. Bathe in Bagby Natural Hot Springs, a short detour in the drive after the highway turns into Forest Road 46. Picturesque views of Mount Jefferson’s snow-capped peak and Detroit Lake State Park arise when the road merges onto OR-22. If you’ve packed your pole, plan on fishing here. A looping trail off of OR-126 takes you to Koosah and Sahalie Falls, a wonderful pair of 100- and 70-foot waterfalls. As you near Box Canyon, the high point of the drive, plenty of trails into the Three Sisters Wilderness offer a wondrous snowy peak, lava field, lake and forest photo-ops. Your day trip ends 30, heavily-forested miles later in Westfir where you can grab a burger at Stewart’s 58 Drive-In.  If you’ve come for the weekend, Crater Lake is two hours south or grab your mountain bike and hit the twisting single-track trails around Oakridge. A stay at the Best Western Oakridge Inn keeps you close to all the action.

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Washington: North Cascades Scenic Highway

The 140-mile North Cascades Scenic Highway may be the best drive in Washington State. This mountainous weekend road trip leaves the town of Sedro-Woolley, an hour north of Seattle. Alongside the Skagit River, stock up on seasonal produce at a local farm for a picnic underneath the forest canopy in Rockport State Park. If you love ice cream, visit the Cascadian Farm Roadside Stand before the ascent to Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Here, take advantage of the route’s turnouts for photos of lush forest, waterfalls, and glacier-capped mountains. Next, visit the emerald waters of Diablo Lake, a popular spot for swimming and boating. Seattle City Light offers a boat tour as well. The drive tops out on Washington Pass for an incredible view of the surrounding Cascades before steeply descending into the Methow Valley. Dine on locally inspired cuisine at Arrowleaf Bistro in Winthrop and rest up at Mt. Gardner Inn. Enjoy a morning horseback ride the following day before ending the drive in Twisp and heading home.

Idaho: Drive the Sawtooths  

Take two days to make the best of this 240-mile weekend road trip along the Ponderosa Pine and Sawtooth Scenic Byways. Leave Boise and drive north on ID-21 to Idaho City—a walkable and well-preserved 1860s gold-rush town. Make sure you grab a slice of huckleberry cheesecake at Trudy’s Kitchen before you leave. Continuing northeast, the natural springs of Kirkham Hot Springs await—a hot-yet-relaxing spot for a soak. After an hour’s drive, highlighted by wonderful views of the Sawtooth Range, check into Mountain Village Lodge in Stanley. Spend the rest of the afternoon surrounded by the area’s natural beauty while SUP boarding on Stanley Lake. Day two’s drive heads south on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway to Redfish Lake. Beach lounging, kayaking and canoeing are popular here. Farther south, stop at Galena Summit Overlook for one more panoramic views, but save plenty of time to explore Idaho’s underworld at Shoshone Ice Cave or Mammoth Cave before the drive ends in Shoshone.

Montana and Wyoming: Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier  

Prepare for sensory overload on this near 600-mile week-long road trip through mountain ranges and three National Parks. From Jackson, Wyoming, visit Grand Teton National Park. Tackle the 7-mile looping trail around Phelps Lake then drive to the Jenny Lake Overlook for an amazing Instagram-worthy photo of the Tetons towering above. Sweeping sunset views might entice a stay at Jackson Lake Lodge.

The John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway leads to Yellowstone’s south entrance. Set up basecamp in or near the park, then plan on two days of exploring. One day, chill along the shores of Yellowstone Lake with views of the Teton and Absaroka Mountains, then peer into the chasm of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The following day, hike one the park’s many trails, watch Old Faithful erupt, and check out multi-colored Grand Prismatic Spring. From there, it’s on to Montana and a comfy stay at Yellowstone Pioneer Lodge in Livingston. Stay a day and hike to mountain lakes and waterfalls in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

It’s a beautiful yet lengthy 6-hour trek to Glacier from Livingston, so fuel up midway in Missoula just off I-90 at Biga Pizza or with a maple latte from Black Coffee Roasting Company. Heading north along US-93 takes you past the stunning waters of Flathead Lake which means you’re getting close. Check into the Travel Inn in Columbia Falls near West Glacier for the duration of your road trip. Tomorrow’s early start delivers views of pink alpenglow along the Continental Divide and a heart-pounding hike to Grinnell Glacier, one of the last in the park. The best way to end this epic journey is the dramatic Going-to-the-Sun Road, a narrow cliff-hugging route underneath waterfalls, ultimately ending with a view you’ll always remember.

Tagged: Colorado, Wyoming

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Joe Rogers

Joe Rogers

Joe Rogers

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