Uncrowded Summer destinations in the American West

This article may contain referral links. Read our DISCLOSURE

Cummins originally sponsored this look at summer travel in the American West.

Are you looking for summer destinations in the American West that aren’t crowded? If you’re like Alan and me, traveling in the summer is a challenge. Crowds, especially over the July 4th and Labor Day holidays, are not for us. But who wants to stay home during beautiful days filled with long hours of sunlight?

We avoid the summer crowds by choosing holiday spots at off-the-beaten-path destinations, state parks rather than national parks, or less popular places that are actually hidden gems. Alan and I can always visit premier national parks or beaches during the spring and fall shoulder seasons, or even winter.

Of course before leaving for our summer holiday trip, we use the how to prepare your home for vacation tips that I wrote for Cummins. Who wants to get a call from the house sitter about problems at home?

Alan always checks to make sure that our home generator is operating correctly. After all, those security lights and cameras won’t run without electricity.

Summer destinations in the American West without the crowds

Looking into the stone chasm at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, an uncrowded summer destination.
North Rim, Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers dramatic views without too many other tourists around.

Back to choosing summer travel that isn’t crowded—where should you go? Because of its wide-open spaces and lower population, a summer out West offers many destinations for escaping tourism. While I can’t promise a lack of people, here are six ideas that offer an alternative to popular destinations that fit my criteria for best places to visit out West in the summer.

Sizzling summer fun in Tucson, Arizona

Looking from inside a stone ramada to the desert mountains of Saguaro National Park West.
An evening picnic in a ramada at Saguaro National Park West is the prefect spot to watch an Arizona sunset.

I won’t lie to you, Tucson can be hot, hot, hot in the summer. After living in Tucson for 11 years, I should know.

But if you visit in July, after the monsoon has arrived, and are willing to follow hot weather safety precautions like drinking lots of water and avoiding being outdoors in the middle of the day, you’ll experience the Old Pueblo like the locals do. The trick is to get up early, stay up late, and take an afternoon siesta.

Summer is the time when locals enjoy Tucson, without the snowbird crowds. Get up early to hike—I can’t stress that enough—to bike, hike or ride horses in Saguaro National Park or Catalina State Park.

Later, lounge in the pool of the resort hotel that you booked at a discounted summer rate. RV travelers will easily find a spot in one of the many RV parks, however it’s always smart to book ahead.

In 2015, Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, the first in the United States. Besides a dizzying array of culinary choices, your budget will smile at the special pricing many Tucson restaurants offer during the summer months.

Exploring the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona

A Grand Canyon view from the North Rim. Photo by Donna Hull.

One can never escape the crowds at the Grand Canyon. But the big ditch is worth a trip, especially if you travel to the North Rim to escape the hordes of tourists. You will still see people but at a more manageable level.

Save this U.S. road trip for the very end of summer. Open from May 15 to October 15, the North Rim is studded with pine and aspen forests to the very rim of the canyon. Spend your days hiking the trails above and below the rim, driving the 23-mile scenic route to Cape Royal, and photographing brilliant sunrises and sunsets.

The Grand Canyon Lodge books up months in advance, as does the North Rim Campground, so your trip here requires advance preparation. The campground does not have hook-ups but there is a dumping station.

Didn’t snag a reservation? Don’t give up! Keep checking back because cancellations do happen.

Discovering beauty and culture on the Enchanted Circle Drive, New Mexico

An adobe church surrounded by green landscape.
Include the High Road to Taos on your summer driving adventure. Don’t miss the Santuario de Chimayo.

If you’re looking for a summer road trip that includes a range of landscape, history and cultural sites, the Enchanted Circle Highway will take you there. The journey circumnavigates Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest point.

Although you can take this drive as a day trip, I highly recommend spending more time because there’s so much to explore. Red River is worth a stop for the night. But if you only have one day, Taos makes a good headquarters, although the town gets busy.

Unfortunately, you won’t totally escape the business of summer season. However it’s far less crowded than Glacier’s Going to the Sun Road or a hiking in Smoky Mountains National Park.

Checking the event calendars at Taos.org or EnchantedCircle.org alerts you to summer events when the region will be more crowded. Miss a fun event because of too many people? That’s your choice.

Stops worth exploring on your Enchanted Circle drive include the Taos Pueblo, Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, Wild Rivers Recreation Area, and Eagle Nest State Park. In Questa, the San Antonio de Padua Church definitely deserves a look.

As you near Angel Fire, stop at Vietnam Veterans National Memorial State Park. The Westfall family built this sobering tribute to their son who died in the Vietnam War.

Campers will find hook-ups in several private campgrounds in and around Eagle Nest.

Enjoying food, wine and recreation in North Fork Valley, Colorado

A cup sits on a railing with a vineyard in the distance.
Staying at a bed and breakfast in Hotchkiss means morning coffee with a vineyard view.

Whether you’re an outdoor lover, organic food geek, or wine aficionado, the North Fork Valley on Colorado’s Western Slope will satiate your passion. With three charming small towns to explore—Hotchkiss, Paonia, and Crawford, you’ll find plenty of things to do including wine tasting, organic farm dinners or gallery hopping.

Paonia and Crawford State Parks provide plenty of outdoor recreation like hiking, biking and fishing as well as campgrounds. And the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a few short miles away.

If your travel feet become itchy for a scenic drive, Alan and I recommend the Kebler Pass Scenic Route from Paonia to Crested Butte. The dirt road drive takes about 2 hours and is oh-so-worth-it.

Alan and I enjoyed at stay at Leroux Creek Inn and Vineyards in Hotchkiss. Unfortunately, they are no longer in the lodging business. Here are more places to stay.

Soaking in Fishtail Montana’s rural charms

A white building with red roof and signs on the building.
The Fishtail General Store offers outside seating in a unique setting.

If all the tourists at Yellowstone knew what waited on the other side of the Absaroka Mountains, Fishtail would be a crowded village. Fortunately for you and me, most of the tourists stay in Yellowstone.

Surrounded by scenic mountains, fly-fishing streams, and excellent hiking trails, rural Montana doesn’t get any more gorgeous than this. Just driving to the trailheads offers scenic inspiration, especially to the Elk Lake trailhead.

Floating Rosebud Creek is another popular summer activity. And then there’s that cute Fishtail General Store. I think that Fishtail is one of the best summer vacations out west that you’ve never heard of.

Rent a cabin to kick back and breathe in the fresh, mountain air in between boomer travel adventures. Campers will find plenty of RV campgrounds in the area, although most do not have hook-ups.

And if you happen to be visiting over the 4th of July, head to Red Lodge for the parade and fireworks or eat your fill of barbecue in Absarokee on July 5.

Introducing the Bitterroot Valley of Montana

Sides of a canyon with steep, pointed stone peaks.
The jagged peaks of Blodgett Canyon is Montana’s answer to Yosemite.

I can’t end my summer off-the-beaten-path suggestions without mention my home Montana valley—the Bitterroot, about an hour south of Missoula. You’ll find 6 charming small towns with shopping and eateries strung down the length of the valley: Lolo, Florence, Stevensville, Victor, Corvallis, Hamilton and Darby.

A paved bike trail travels beside Highway 93 all the way from Missoula to Hamilton. Fly Fish the Bitterroot River or hike any number of trails that lead into the Bitterroot or Sapphire Mountains. Blodgett Canyon Trail is my favorite with Kootenai Creek Trail a close second.

My picks for lodging include Bitterroot River Bed and Breakfast, the historic Stevensville Hotel or the luxurious Triple Creek Ranch. Campgrounds, some with RV hook-ups are scattered up and down the river corridor.

Have I introduced you to new destinations to try? I can’t promise that you won’t find other visitors enjoying these beautiful places. But, compared to the crowds in Yosemite National Park or Glacier National Park, you’ll feel as if you have them to yourself.

Save to Pinterest

Uncrowded summer destinations in the American West

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

Boomer travelers rely on our weekly email newsletter for fresh travel inspiration, tips, and advice. It's free! No spam, unsubscribe anytime.