Ask Me: What Should We Do on a Trip to Colorado, Yellowstone, and the Southwest?
I’ve been a fan of your blog for a while now, and I really enjoy it. I’ve got three boys that range from 16 to six, so finding things to do that all three can enjoy is a bit of a challenge. My wife and I are in the planning stages of a two-week trip out West. We’re looking at starting right before Memorial Day and then running though the 15th of June. We’re thinking of flying out to Denver and using that as a start/stop point for trips out to Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, etc. The only concern that I have is that it’s a little early in the year and there’s going to be snow still around, limiting some of our hiking options. Another thought I’d had was to head to Mesa Verde and see that park. Any suggestions about weather or options I’m missing?
I’ve been out West a couple of times for work, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Wind River Range, but only in August/Sept./October.
The Plains, VA
Thanks for writing and following The Big Outside, I’m glad you enjoy it.
You are heading West early in the season for hiking in the Rockies. If you haven’t already, read this post of mine, where I answer a similar question from a reader about early summer hiking in Colorado.
Are you restricted to those dates? It’s a difficult time because there will probably still be a lot of snow in the mountains, and the high desert, like the Mesa Verde area, gets pretty hot by then. If you want to hike in the Rockies and you have flexibility with your dates, consider going in the late-July to mid-August window, when much of the snow is gone and the wildflowers are blooming. In mid-summer, the wildflowers in sub-alpine meadows of the Colorado Rockies will be some of the best you will ever see.
Those dates are fine for visiting Yellowstone, because so many of that park’s main attractions can be seen on short walks and hikes. But snow at higher elevations will probably prevent you from taking longer hikes there, too. Check out my “Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone.”
If you’re committed to those dates, Mesa Verde National Park is a wonderful spot. The walks to the ancient ruins are fairly short, and you can do them first thing in the morning in June, the coolest time of day. We went there when my kids were a toddler and infant and had no trouble seeing that park’s signature attractions with little kids in tow. Similarly, while I haven’t yet been to Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, friends of mine have raved about it, and it’s on my list.
Not far from Mesa Verde are other high-desert parks in the Four Corners area that you might consider exploring, where you can see a lot of great sights that are easily accessible either near the road or on short hikes, so you can do them during the cooler hours of morning and evening. See my story about a family trip to Canyonlands and Arches (lead photo, above) national parks, near Moab, Utah. You can see many highlights of Arches either from the roadside or on short hikes that can be done in a few hours or less, including Delicate Arch, the Windows Section, Courthouse Towers, Fiery Furnace, and Devils Garden. You can also easily access great views in Canyonlands, parts of which are at higher and cooler elevations, like the Island in the Sky District.
You might also consider a multi-day float trip on the Green River through Canyonlands, one of my family’s all-time favorite trips, very beginner-friendly, and for which you can find all the needed support services right in Moab. The first half of June would be hot on the Green River, but that’s good for swimming. Natural Bridges National Monument is another spot in that corner of southern Utah that’s on my list.
I’ve written numerous stories about hiking and backpacking destinations in southern Utah that might interest you.
Plus, Mesa Verde/Four Corners isn’t too far from Durango, Colorado, and the Western Slope of the Rockies. Highway 550 north of Durango climbs high into the mountains, one of the West’s most scenic drives. From Molas Pass between Durango and Silverton on 550, at almost 11,000 feet, I’ve dayhiked a gorgeous and fairly easy stretch of the Colorado Trail that I found a description of here. Again, I would expect to find it snow-covered then, so either be prepared for that, or try to do it later in the summer.
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If you’re considering focusing your trip on the Four Corners area, Denver is a long drive from there. I would consider flying to a closer major airport, like Salt Lake City, or a regional airport.
I suggest that you look at the Rockies, including Colorado to Yellowstone, as best for a little later in summer, and the desert destinations (Mesa Verde, southern Utah, etc.) as better in mid-spring.
I hope that’s helpful. Thanks again for writing. Let me know if you have other questions.
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