Only when you traverse the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho does the immense size of the American West really hit home. Stretching over one thousand miles from the virgin forests on the Canadian border to the deserts of New Mexico, America’s rugged spine encompasses an astonishing array of landscapes – geyser basins, lava flows, arid valleys and huge sand dunes – each in its own way as dramatic as the region’s magnificent snow-capped peaks. All that geological grandeur is enhanced by wildlife such as bison, bear, moose and elk, and the conspicuous legacy of the miners, cowboys, outlaws and Native Americans who struggled over the area’s rich resources during the nineteenth century.

Each of the four states has its own distinct character. Colorado, with fifty peaks over 14,000ft, is the most mountainous and populated, as well as the economic leader of the region with a liberal, progressive reputation. Friendly, sophisticated Denver, the Rockies’ only major metropolis, is also the most visited city, in part because it serves as gateway to some of the best ski resorts in the country. Less touched by the tourist circus is vast, brawny Montana, where the “Big Sky” looks down on a glorious verdant manuscript scribbled over with gushing streams, lakes and tiny communities.

Vast stretches of scrubland fill Wyoming, the country’s least populous state, its most conservative and traditionally Western, best known for gurgling, spitting Yellowstone, adjacent Grand Teton National Park and the nearby Bighorn Mountains. Rugged, remote whitewater rafting hub Idaho holds some of the Rocky Mountains’ last unexplored wildernesses, most notably the mighty Sawtooth range.

Attempt to rush around every national park and major town and you’ll miss out on one of the Rockies’ real delights – coaxing your car along the tight switchback roads that wind up and over precipitous mountain passes, especially through the majestic Continental Divide. At some point it’s worth forsaking motorized transport, to see at least some of the area by bike; the Rockies contain some of the most challenging and rewarding cycling terrain on the continent. And of course, you cannot really claim to have experienced the mountains unless you embark on a hike or two.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

USA features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Total eclipse of the heart (of America): where to see the 2017 solar eclipse

Total eclipse of the heart (of America): where to see the 2017 solar eclipse

Most visitors who trek through the vast interior of the USA are in search of natural wonders on the ground. But on August 21, 2017, they’ll be in search of a…

24 Nov 2016 • AnneLise Sorensen insert_drive_file Article
A Las Vegas survival guide: the dos and don’ts of Sin City

A Las Vegas survival guide: the dos and don’ts of Sin City

Few destinations can match the unbridled hedonism of Las Vegas. Nevada’s pulsating desert city, a tangle of neon-lit casinos and roaring freeways, is one of t…

16 Nov 2016 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
The dos and don'ts of Thanksgiving travel

The dos and don'ts of Thanksgiving travel

The only thing more challenging than an interminable turkey meal with a squabbling family? Getting there in the first place. Thanksgiving may kick off the mo…

11 Nov 2016 • AnneLise Sorensen insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month