Meet the Intermountain Region
The Intermountain Region is home to a staggering 20 national parks. These lands, once belonging to indigenous people, all yield a different experience. From the Canadian border (where I live just outside Glacier National Park) to the Mexican border, these parks invite exploration.
In the north, tectonic forces built the Rocky Mountains, and glaciers shaped them. The resulting landscapes contain rugged peaks that plunge into clear lakes. In the midst, a seething volcano still erupts with geysers. These parks are home to iconic megafauna, like bison, bears, moose, wolves, and elk.
In the southwest, rivers carved canyons through deserts. From narrow slots to gigantic rifts, these canyons hold magic in arches, slickrock, hoodoos, desert varnish, and vivid colors. Despite arid climate, these parks swell with blooming cacti, wildflowers, birds, and a variety of creatures, from lizards to coyotes.
Let’s meet the national parks of the Intermountain Region:
Hidden Lake at Glacier National Park/Photo by Becky Lomax
Glacier National Park, MT
Glaciers stomped footprints of huge lakes and chiseled peaks in this park bordering Canada. Bicycle, drive, tour, or hike from its crowning Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Yellowstone National Park, WY
Our first national park, Yellowstone wows with gushing geysers, thundering waterfalls, and epic wildlife. Drive, hike, or bike through its sputtering volcanic landscape.
Grand Teton National Park, WY
Hiking trails zigzag through this craggy spine of peaks, which seem to plunge into moraine lakes. Float the Snake River for ever-changing angles on the peaks and wildlife-watching.
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Elk congregate in lush valley meadows, circled by lofty summits holding hidden lakes. Drive Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the country.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO
A deep chasm of black volcanic rock plummets to the Gunnison River. Visit both rims for different angles to peer into the narrow slot.
Bison at Yellowstone National Park/Photo by Becky Lomax
Zion National Park, UT
Monolithic slabs create natural cathedrals along a river-carved canyon. Squeeze through slot canyons, bound up slickrock, or hike in the Virgin River.
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
This canyon stairsteps down through vertical fingers of red and pink. Hike down into a jumble of hoodoos that spark the imagination with their whimsical shapes.
Capitol Reef National Park, UT
An enormous wrinkle of rock called the Waterpocket Fold rises from the desert. Drive or hike through canyons in this otherworldly realm of white and orange.
Delicate Arch at Arches National Park/Photo by Neal Herbert/Courtesy of NPS
Arches National Park, UT
Delicate orange rock arches create windows in the scenery. Hike to these artistic natural wonders and then take in the star-filled night sky.
Canyonlands National Park, UT
The confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers cuts this park into separate districts. Hike through canyon mazes and mountain bike or drive along rugged back roads.
Mesa Verde National Park, CO
Impressive stone-and-mortar cliff dwellings hold clues to the Ancestral Puebloans who built them. Take guided tours to explore these ancient archaeological treasures.
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park/Photo courtesy of NPS
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, CO
This immense sandbox holds the continent’s tallest sand dunes. Go sand sledding, climb dunes, or splash in creek waves.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Sunrise and sunset illuminate this massive, mile-deep canyon with color. Hike the rim or hike down into the inner canyon to the Colorado River.
Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
Pastel badlands strewn with petrified wood line the scenic drive here. Hike past fractured petrified tree rounds that crystalized into brilliant hues.
Petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park/Photo by Becky Lomax
Saguaro National Park, AZ
Stately saguaro cacti live here longer than humans. Hike, bike, or drive through the park’s two districts to soak up the beauty of the Sonoran Desert.
White Sands National Park, NM
Gypsum sand dunes shift daily in the winds, covering footprints and drifting over the sand road that requires plowing. Hike or drive through this sparkling white landscape.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
Caves deep underground contain stalactites, flowstones, and intricate speleothems. Join a ranger to explore its awe-inspiring depths.
Dripstone at Carlsbad Caverns National Park/Photo by Becky Lomax
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX
Made from an ancient sea reef, the highest peak in Texas overlooks the Chihuahuan Desert. Among canyons, hiking trails traverse this arid park to hidden oases.
Big Bend National Park, TX
With colorful cacti and tropical birds, this mountain, canyon, and desert park bursts with color and song. Float the Rio Grande for the ultimate in border experiences.
Header photo: White Sands National Park/Photo by Becky Lomax
Becky Lomax has explored the Intermountain parks from Glacier to Big Bend. She is the author of Moon USA National Parks, Moon Glacier National Park, and Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton. In her next life, she hopes to come back as a mountain goat in the Rockies.