21 Fantastic Places for Fall Foliage in Colorado

While you may think that you have to head to the northeast for the best fall foliage in the United States, you’d be wrong!

You can make your way to none other than Colorado, one of the most stunning southwestern destinations, for some beautiful colors as well.

In Colorado, most of the state gets all four seasons, including autumn, with one of the most breathtaking shows of color in the country. Because of that, there are countless epic fall foliage destinations in Colorado, from beautiful drives to small towns and even cities.

By the end of this post, you’ll be planning your next fall trip to Colorado. Be sure to save the post for later to make sure you don’t lose it!

Here are the best places for fall foliage in Colorado!

Best Places for Fall Foliage in Colorado

Aspen

yellow aspens and evergreen trees reflecting in maroon lake like a painting with the snow-capped mountains behind it in autumn in colorado

First up is none other than Aspen, one of the top destinations in Colorado to visit if you’re on the hunt for fall foliage.

Most people hit up Aspen in the winter for its skiing and snowboarding, but the fall colors are honestly more magical than the winter snow!

Fall foliage in Aspen starts around September. Because of the different elevations in Aspen, part of the town sees a lot more fall colors than the rest, making for some unique photos and experiences.

Around Aspen, there are quite a few spots to check out the fall foliage. The most popular spot is Maroon Bells, which you’ve probably seen a photo of online already without even realizing it! This area is surrounded by beautiful aspens set against Maroon Lake.

Other significant areas for fall colors in Aspen include Castle Creek Road, Aspen Mountain (try one of the hikes!), and Smuggler Mountain. No matter which you pick, you’ll truly be rewarded with epic views and beautiful fall foliage.

Breckenridge

many evergreen trees in the mountains of breckenridge with visible ski runs in the distance and a cluster of yellow aspen trees in the foreground

This post would not be complete without including Breckenridge! Famously known as a ski and snowboard winter destination like Aspen, Breckenridge is easily one of the best fall foliage spots in Colorado.

During the fall, Breckenridge’s mountains get covered in the most beautiful colors from top to bottom. Whether you like going hiking and want to go to high altitudes to take in the colors from above on one of these great Breckenridge hikes, or you’d rather stay in the town, you’ll be able to witness it all.

One of the best spots to see fall colors in Breckenridge is at the French Gulch. This area is filled with great trails and is near the Golden Horseshoe. Here, you can check out the aspens as they change colors in the fall!

Idaho Springs

Fall colors in trees in Idaho Springs a small town in Colorado

Idaho Springs is one of those destinations that is often overlooked as a place to visit in Colorado.

With a population of less than 2,000, people think that this probably that there isn’t much going on in this small town! However, it’s a beautiful small town in Colorado that’s perfect for checking out fall foliage in the state.

If you’re up for doing a bit of a drive to get fall colors here, consider going on Squaw Pass. It goes between Idaho Springs and Evergreen and goes near the beautiful Echo Lake. It even passes Mount Evans Byway, another excellent road trip spot.

Should driving not be what you’re interested in, head to St. Mary’s Glacier, which you can get to from Fall River Road. Many events are held in the fall in Idaho Springs so that you can take in the colors from downtown!

Estes Park

brilliant orange-yellow trees in estes park along a small river or creek

If you’ve heard of Colorado, you’ve probably heard of Estes Park. It’s located in the northern part of Colorado and is a perfect home base for those who want to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.

The best spot to see fall foliage here is to take the Estes Park Aerial Tramway! This tram brings you to the top of nearby Prospect Mountain. From here, you can look out and see the town and surrounding mountains covered in fall colors.

You can also enjoy the fall foliage by just exploring the town of Estes Park itself. It’s filled with great restaurants and fall events that you won’t want to miss out on!

Rocky Mountain National Park

yellow trees in the distance at rocky mountain national park with mountains and small green trees

Another absolute must-visit spot in the fall to see fall foliage is Rocky Mountain National Park. Most people situate themselves in Estes Park while visiting, but you can also opt to stay in Grand Lake, which is another great town.

The absolute best spot that Rocky Mountain National Park is pretty well known for is Trail Ridge Road. Along this drive, you can see so many amazing views of the fall foliage, and they don’t even compare to other spots on this list.

You could also consider doing one of the many hikes located in the park, like the Keyhole Route, which is recommended for only the most experienced of hikers. A decent portion of it is just climbing rocks, but the view is fantastic!

Steamboat Springs

a large cumulus cloud over orange, yellow and green fall trees in steamboat springs colorado

Next is Steamboat Springs, located in Yampa Valley. This mountain town has a very small-town feel, but it’s still much larger than Idaho Springs, with a population of around 13,000 people.

When visiting Steamboat Springs, be sure to stop by the Old Town Hot Springs. This is one of the best places for fall foliage, and you’ll be able to relax outside in beautiful hot springs while looking around and checking out the colorful mountains.

If outdoor adventuring is more your style versus relaxing, you can go biking on the Steamboat Brew Trail or other trails in the area. You can also consider going hiking or camping!

Independence Pass

driving through the mountain pass of independence pass with road, yellow trees, light snow and mountains in the fall in colorado

Independence Pass is one of the most unreal mountain drives that you can do while visiting Colorado in fall!

As you might imagine, you’ll be able to get unparalleled views during the entire drive, which is why it’s such a great spot to see Colorado’s fall foliage.

This drive which also sometimes still goes by its former name, Hunter Pass, has an elevation of about 12,000 feet. It goes right through what’s called the Continental Divide and passes near Aspen, Colorado, another great spot on this list.

The entire drive only takes about an hour or two, but of course, that depends on the number of times you stop along the drive. Parts of the drive are very steep, so if you’re not a fan of heights, you might want to skip out on this drive!

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

yellow aspen trees, next to some still-green aspens, near mountains in colorado in fall

While most people know Colorado for its four national parks, it has terrific state parks that are perfect for visiting if you want to see fall foliage with fewer crowds. Golden Gate Canyon State Park is no exception to that!

The park covers around 12,000 acres and has more than 40 miles of trails that you can hike if you’re an outdoor lover. Each one of these hikes provides the perfect opportunity to witness Colorado’s fall foliage firsthand.

It’s located near Golden, a delightful small town that’s not that far from Denver. This is a great place to stay while exploring the park. While in Golden, be sure also to check out the local breweries and maybe even tour Coors Brewery if you have the time.

San Juan Skyway

fence with lots of orange and yellow trees in front of snow-capped mountain peaks in colorado in the fall

The San Juan Skyway is one of the most unique drives on this list just because of the fantastic views of the San Juan Mountains. If road trips are your thing, then you’re going to love this drive for checking out the fall foliage.

This is a rather long drive compared to other ones on this list. It’s just over 200 miles long, and you’ll be able to finish the entire drive in about seven hours tops.

However, it could take longer if you make lots of stops along the way. Because of the views, you just might want to!

Great spots to stop off in the area include Telluride and Durango. Durango, in particular, is home to an amazing railroad that allows you to see fall colors from a unique perspective: from a locomotive twisting through the mountains!

Durango

train in durango going by a river with some fall foliage in colorado turning yellow

Next up is Durango, which is a spot near the San Juan Skyway! This town is located in southwestern Colorado near New Mexico.

While it’s a lot further south than most of the other locations on this list, it’s still an epic spot for fall colors in Colorado.

The best way to witness the fall colors here is to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. It offers scenic viewpoints the entire way, and you will honestly love the whole experience. Plus, it’s about five hours long, so you get your money’s worth from it.

Another way to witness fall foliage here is to go on one of the many hiking trails! Some of the most popular include the Cascade Creek Trail, Colorado Trail, and Hermosa Creek Trail.

Each one is great, but they range in difficulty, so be sure to pick one based on your hiking experience.

Ouray

the town of ouray at the base of mountains with some trees starting to turn yellow in the fall

Ouray is probably the smallest town on this list, with a population of fewer than 1,000 people. However, it’s nestled right in the mountains, making it a beautiful destination if you plan on witnessing fall foliage in Colorado.

It’s also another destination near the San Juan Skyway. Fall foliage is an absolute must-see in Ouray just because mountains surround it; you can’t possibly miss the changing of the leaves here, even if you tried.

The best time to catch fall foliage here is between September and October. If you come too late in the season that everything may have already fallen off the trees as winter starts to come early sometimes, depending on the year.

Some of the most popular things to do while visiting here are to check out Perimeter Trail, Box Canyon Waterfall and Park, and the Yankee Boy Basin.

Kebler Pass

red and yellow aspen and green evergreen trees in a field area in colorado with mountains covered in snow in the distance

For a beautiful mountain drive, look no further than Kebler Pass. This mountain pass is located at just over 10,000 feet high in elevation, and the drive goes through the mountains and is surrounded by beautiful trees.

To do the drive, you can start in either Panoia or Crested Butte. Both are great starting spots. The entire drive is just around thirty miles long, so it’s not the longest drive. However, there are some fantastic viewpoints along the way, so you may want to make consistent stops.

In total, the drive takes about two hours. Be on the lookout for the beautiful aspen and evergreen trees, which turn into beautiful colors in the fall. Keep in mind that the majority of the road is not paved, so some spots of the road may be kind of rough.

Boulder

fall foliage in boulder colorado changing in front of the rocky mountains flatirons

Known for being one of the best day trips from Denver and also for being home to the beautiful Flatirons, Boulder is one of the top spots to check out fall foliage in Colorado. Boulder is at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and turns gorgeous colors in the fall.

Easily the most incredible way to check out the fall foliage in Boulder is to do one of the incredible hikes through the Flatirons. There is a wide range of trail options, and each one will bring you right along the beautiful mountain range here.

Another great way to enjoy the fall foliage here is to head downtown. This is a great option if you’re not much of an outdoors person. Check out Pearl Street Mall and walk along the street to enjoy some great shops and beautiful trees.

Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest

the beautiful orange and green plains of the arapaho forest in autumn

Colorado is also home to a beautiful national forest called Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest. It’s located near Boulder and Fort Collins, two great spots to situate yourself while exploring this area.

As you might imagine, this is an incredibly epic spot to witness fall foliage because it’s a forest. Almost everywhere you look, you can see the trees in mystical fall colors that will truly take your breath away.

The easiest way to witness the fall foliage here is to go hiking on one of the many trails. They range in distance from three miles all the way to fourteen miles or so.

The most popular hikes here include the Chicago Lakes Trail, Grays Peak National Recreation Trail, Chief Mountain Trail, and Cascade Creek Trail.

Telluride

orange and yellow trees along an unpaved road in telluride colorado in the fall

Telluride is another one of the most popular winter destinations like Aspen and Breckenridge that’s located in the Rocky Mountains.

It used to be a mining town during the Victorian era, so it has a fascinating history that you won’t want to miss out on.

Because it’s located in the mountains, it’s surrounded by excellent fall foliage spots. It starts here around late September and lasts through October. Sometimes it begins in early September, too; it depends on the year.

To get an unforgettable view of the fall foliage while visiting Colorado, you’re going to want to take a ride on the Telluride and Mountain Village Gondola.

It will give you genuinely unparalleled views because the gondola is so high up compared to other spots in the area. Plus, all you have to do is sit and relax in the gondola!

Crested Butte

yellow aspens among small cute wood cabins in crested butte colorado in fall colors

Crested Butte is easily one of the most recognizable spots in Colorado. It’s a great spot that people flock to for winter because of the many Nordic ski routes in the area, but it’s amazing during autumn if you want to check out Colorado’s fall foliage.

There are stunning drives that are incredibly scenic in Crested Butte to witness fall colors. The West Elk Loop is a great one that people love driving, and it can take about a full day or so. Other fantastic rides include Kebler Pass, which was mentioned earlier in this post.

For small-town fall colors, head downtown. The downtown area is filled with great restaurants and fun little local shops worth exploring. Plus, the streets are lined with trees, so you can witness the fall foliage in a fun way. You may even be able to meet with some locals!

If you want an even more amazing time while in Crested Butte, try renting one of the beautiful wooden lodges in the area. Each of them is situated in a spot with great views of the mountains, and they’re all pretty large so you can travel with a large group of people.

Vail

the beautiful mountain town of vail colorado with yellow aspen trees around it

Vail is famous for its skiing trails because it’s home to its epic ski resort of the same name.

It’s a place that almost feels European when you visit it, making you forget that you’re just in Colorado. However, it’s also a fantastic spot to go and check out fall colors in the state.

Fall colors in Vail are pretty easy to spot, but here are a few of the best-recommended spots to check out.

A super-easy way to check out fall colors is to hop on the gondolas, which will bring you up and down the mountain range. The Eagle Bahn Gondola is a popular one to check out, as is Gondola One, located in Vail Village.

If you love the outdoors, you can also consider checking out the many biking and hiking trails. Vail is pretty well known for its excellent mountain biking, so even if it’s entirely new for you, you’ll enjoy it here.

Frisco

the small town of frisco colorado with tall trees rising above it with a view of the water behind it

Frisco, Colorado, is a small town with a population of around 3,000 people. It’s near Breckenridge but is just as much worth visiting if you’re on the hunt for excellent fall foliage in Colorado!

Frisco is a top-rated destination among skiers because it’s right in the mountains — which also makes it perfect in fall in Colorado as well!

For outdoor enthusiasts, be sure to witness the fall colors on the Vail Pass Bike Shuttle. It’s about fourteen miles long and will bring you to downtown from Vail Pass. Plus, it’s a well-paved bike path, so you won’t have to worry about accidentally biking into rocks.

If you’re traveling with kids or you just want to have some fun, you’ll want to hop on the Rocky Mountain Coaster.

It’s located at Copper Mountain and is one of the longest coasters of its kind. It’s just shy of 6,000 feet long and will provide you with epic views of the surrounding area while getting your adrenaline pumping!

Georgetown Loop Railroad

taking the georgetown loop railway with yellow aspens and evergreen trees

While this may seem like a bit of a weird thing to include on this list of the best places for fall foliage in Colorado, it truly is a place with incredible views!

It’s located about an hour or so from downtown Denver, making it a great destination to check out.

The train runs between Silver Plume and Georgetown and is only about two miles long. However, the views along the way are amazing. It crosses some great bridges too, so you’ll be able to look out and take some photos of the landscape.

They only run the train a certain amount of times each day, so you’ll have to check their online schedule to see when you can catch it. While it’s not the longest train to take in Colorado, it sure does offer a fun way to see the scenery.

Denver

green grassy park field with colorful orange and red trees and a manmade lake in denver colorado in the fall

Yes, the city of Denver is actually on this list! You probably think that being a big city, Denver would not be a good spot for checking out leaves and the changing colors, but it totally is. The secret is that you have to check out the many parks in the area.

City Park is one of Denver’s largest parks, and it’s also home to the Denver Zoo. This is a great spot to bike or walk the trails. It’s perfect for outdoor recreation, so you really can’t go wrong here. You can check out the fall colors with all the surrounding trees.

Other amazing spots to check out the fall colors here include Sloan’s Lake Confluence Park. Confluence Park, in particular, has some great hills that look out into the surrounding mountains in the Denver area.

If you really want to enjoy the fall colors while doing something outside in Denver, you could head to Wash Park.

This park has a great lake in it where you can go boating on kayaks, canoes, or even pedal boats. Just head to the boat rental center right by the lake and take your pick of boats!

Complete Guide to the Avalanche Lake Hike in Glacier National Park

Nestled on the west side of Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful hikes in the country: Avalanche Lake, sitting pretty at an elevation of 3,905 feet.

This Montana park draws over two million visitors a year, most of them being hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Avalanche Lake is known for its impressive beauty and is rated one of the top attractions in the whole park. It’s a must-see when you are visiting Glacier National Park.

Keep reading to find out what you need to know about the Avalanche Lake hike before you go!

PLANNING YOUR AVALANCHE LAKE HIKE AT-A-GLANCE:

Mileage: 5.9 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 757 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Getting Around: Most poeple who travel to Glacier National Park use a car, whether that's their own personal car or a rental from a nearby airport. There is also a shuttle that stops at Avalanche, you can read more here.

Gear: Be prepared for all manner of weather on this hike! You'll want layers that can adjust to variable temperatures, waterproof layers (like this rain jacket), proper hiking boots (I love my Ahnu boots), and you'll probably want some trekking poles to help you on the descent.

Need To Know: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed site. 

You also need a separate ticket to access Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is different than your general entry into Glacier National Park.

How To Get to Avalanche Lake

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

Note: Access to Avalanche Lake is only possible via Going-to-the-Sun Road via the West Entrance of the park, which requires a separate ticket to enter.

Once you enter the park, you will drive towards Apgar Campground. You will begin to see signs for Going-to-the-Sun-Road. Make a right onto Going-to-the-Sun-Road and begin your drive towards the trailhead.

You will first pass Lake McDonald on your left. Once you get to the end of Lake McDonald, you will be a little over nine miles from the trailhead.

You will then see signs for Avalanche Lake. Keep in mind, the main parking area holds about ten cars and is normally full, unless you get lucky and see a hiker leaving the parking lot.

It is recommended to loop around and wait for someone to leave if there is no availability. Popular times are 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM, and 12:00 PM.

There is additional parking about a half-mile north of the trailhead where another five to ten cars can be parked.

You can walk the road back to the trailhead if you find a spot there. This will add mileage to your trip, but it is well worth it once you see the beauty of the lake.

Keep in mind the reservation system is currently in place at Glacier National Park. You will not be able to access this trailhead unless you have a Going-to-the-Sun-Road entry ticket.

History of Avalanche Lake

You are probably wondering how Avalanche Lake got its name… well, you’re looking at it!

The lake’s turquoise blue waters are due to the abundance of avalanches that fall down the Sperry Glacier, the mountain that sits behind the lake.

Avalanche Lake got its name in 1895 from Dr. Lyman Sperry, who is the namesake of Sperry Glacier. The glacier itself provides the water for the lake, from its constant avalanches.

Dr. Lyman was in awe of how many avalanches he witnessed during his short time visiting the lake — hence its name.

Avalanche Lake is also unique because it is one of the few lakes of its size that still has fish in it! It is rare to have fish in the area due to its size and elevation. Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the most popular fish found here in the lake.

The lake itself is a mile and a half long with a depth of 54 feet in some sections, which is an impressive depth for its relatively smaller size.

The Avalanche Lake Hike: Step by Step

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

Hiking to Avalanche Lake via the Trail of the Cedars is an unforgettable trek! The reason it is so distinctive is that it is two top-rated hikes in one.

First, you will begin your hike at the start of Trail of the Cedars, which is 0.9 miles long.

This hike starts you out in a wooded forest filled with green trees and mossy rocks. There is a wooden boardwalk that goes through the woodland which you will follow along.

Wildlife such as deer and moose walk the trail freely here and are commonly spotted. The sound of flowing rivers will surround you. Small cascading waterfalls line the trail.

You will even pass over a wooden bridge that provides astonishing views of the bright blue waterfalls!

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

This part of the hike is for all skill levels and is even wheelchair-friendly due to the boardwalk.

The trail lives up to its name: you will be surrounded by enormous cedar trees throughout your whole walk! The Trail of the Cedars hike is recommended on very sunny or hot days due to the amount of shade the cedars provide.

Surround yourself in the majestic wilderness while enjoying a much-needed hike in Glacier National Park that will bring you back to nature.

Halfway through the Trail of the Cedars is the start of the Avalanche Lake Trail. Avalanche Lake is two miles from Trail of the Cedars, with an additional two miles back.

This makes the hike in total around 5.9 miles with a 757-foot elevation gain, since you only do half of the Trail of Cedars’ length. This trail is rated as moderate and can be quite the workout, especially on hot summer days.

As soon as you follow the signs to the left on Trail of the Cedars, you will begin your ascent to Avalanche Lake.

The first part of the hike is completely uphill on a dirt trail. There are large wooden steps built into the trail in certain sections, making it an intense workout!

Stop and enjoy the views during this uphill battle whenever you need to catch your breath. You will be surrounded by icy blue rivers and vibrant green mossy trees. It is a very peaceful hike with background sounds of birds chirping and running water over the rocks!

Once you get about a mile and a half up, the trail begins to level out, making the last half mile pure excitement. You will continue your way through the trees until you spot a crystal blue image in the distance, peeking through the trees.

Another wooden boardwalk appears and you will follow that to the lake. The trees will part and the incredible Avalanche Lake will sit before you: a tranquil oasis of clear water merging with turquoise blue water.

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

The stunning mountains behind the lake showcase rivers flowing down the sides. A lush green forest fills the surrounding areas. When the sun hits just right, you can see the snow still sitting on the top of the peak. It’s an absolutely scenic and beautiful visual.

Most hikers spend their day here on the sandy beaches of Avalanche Lake. Visitors take off their shoes and soak their feet in the cold glacier water.

Some even become brave enough to swim in it, which is allowed but not commonly seen due to how cold the water is, even in the heart of the summer!

It is recommended to bring lunch and a small blanket to sit on, as this is a remarkable spot to have a bucket list picnic. Hikers lounge out on the beach and enjoy the views.

The hike can be crowded, but there is enough room for everyone to have their space at the beach.

If you want a less crowded area, continue on the boardwalk for ten minutes to reach the other side of the lake. This side is rumored to be just as beautiful with fewer people around!

If you are lucky enough, you can even find your own secluded beach on this side. A lot of people think that the main entrance is the only stop off of the lake, but the trail continues all the way around. I would recommend spending some time at both beaches for optimal views.

When you are ready, begin your descent back down another two miles following the same route you used earlier. The wooden steps are high in some parts, making it a bit strenuous on the knees.

If you have knee issues, plan on bringing a brace or using a walking stick for the hike back down.

Once you reach the bottom of Avalanche Lake Trailhead, you will continue on the Trail of the Cedars to the left. This will eventually loop the Trail of the Cedars trail and provide some new scenery.

The trail ends in half of a mile and brings you back out to the parking lot where you started.

Final Things to Know About the Avalanche Lake Hike

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

Due to its popularity, this hike to Avalanche Lake can get very crowded!

Just take your time and use hiker etiquette. If you’re descending the trail, step aside and give space to the people climbing up.

Also do not go off-trail and be respectful of the marked trail signs…. yes, even (and especially) for photos!

If you encounter wildlife, give them enough space and do not approach. Glacier National Park is grizzly bear country, so always be bear aware. You may want to bring bear spray or bear bells.

The hike itself can take anywhere from two to three hours depending on your level of fitness. Add on an additional two hours to spend at the lake. Plan for a total of five hours to fully enjoy this gorgeous day hike!

Remember to pack a delicious lunch and yummy snacks to eat at the top. Most importantly, bring extra water. It may be cooler at the lake with a slight breeze but your body needs additional water for those hot summer days.

If you don’t want to bring a lot of water, you may want to bring a filtering water bottle like the Grayl so you can fill up on delicious glacier water that is filtered so as to be safe to drink!

***

There is a reason why Glacier National Park has gained so much popularity over the past three years. Avalanche Lake shows the secret as to why: a mix between glaciers, waterfalls, and a lush forest makes the beauty surreal.

After driving all over this park, the Avalanche Lake hike took my breath away the most, becoming one of my favorite hikes of all time. 

If you have one day or five hours in this park, drop everything else and hike the famous Avalanche Lake: a view that is often only seen on computer screensavers will come to life before your eyes.

Lace up your hiking boots and visit this Montana hotspot — Avalanche Lake is waiting for you to visit!

9 Fun Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Rocky Mountain National Park is a winter wonderland located outside the adorable mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado.

The park is 415 square miles and only a two-hour drive from Denver, Colorado, making it an excellent day trip from Denver or an easy addition to your Denver itinerary.

Rocky Mountain is known for its snowy winters and massive peaks. Snow normally begins in late October and ends well into the middle of May.

This pattern attracts ski bums and winter enthusiasts to the area each year. Ice climbing, cross country skiing, and winter hiking are the most sought-after activities here, in this national park that is known for being a winter playground with stunning views of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.

The activities are limitless and this guide to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in winter will help you navigate them all!

Rocky Mountains Winter Packing List

Landscape view of Rocky Mountains National Park in Colorado with trees in the foreground and mountains in the background.

Locals joke that you need to pack for every season when visiting or hiking in Colorado… well, that joke is actually true!

Sometimes you might start your hike with the weather being sixty degrees and sunny, but as you climb, the higher your elevation is, putting yourself in more extreme weather situations.

The temperature can drop to single digits, with added wind chills on top of it. Layers, layers, and even more layers are the key to staying warm!

Your first layer should be your base layer. Merino wool is known to keep you the warmest and is very comfortable and breathable — we suggest these ones by Merino.tech (leggings + top layer), which use 100% merino wool from farms in New Zealand.

Your middle layer is your insulation layer, which helps you retain body heat. Using fleece (like this one from North Face) as your middle layer is highly recommended and extra comfortable.

Your outer layer is your final layer and where you will be spending most of your money. Heavy winter jackets with protective layers and a hood are preferred — I also use North Face for this layer, in particular, their insulated Metropolis parka (which I’ve had for 15 years and loved!).

In Colorado, you want to make sure you have a reliable windshield in your outer layer, as the wind chill above the treeline or mountains cuts you totally differently. If you also get caught in a snow or rainstorm, this will help keep you dry and protect your other layers.

It is okay if you do not wear all three layers at the start of your adventure — just have them available, as the higher you get, the colder it will get.

That is why it is recommended to have all of these options in your backpack, so you can easily add or remove layers, depending on the weather.

Happy family with arms around each other enjoying beautiful mountain view on winter hiking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A warm winter hat and insulated, waterproof gloves are a must-have. Use fabrics that will not get soggy when wet.

Multiple pairs of socks (preferably wool socks) should always be in your backpack. This is important in case you step into a heavy snowpack or puddle when hiking.

Your socks could become frozen, risking hypothermia or frostbite. Having multiple pairs of socks you can layer up with if you get wet or extra cold is key. It is an extremely lightweight but important hiking hack for winter.

Always remember that when it comes to playing in the winter snow, you must prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Being over-prepared could save your life — or others around you.

Microspikes and/or snowshoes (depending on the amount of snow on the ground) are needed when attempting any winter hiking.

Microspikes help keep your grip with chains or small spikes that slip over your hiking boots. They help you stay grounded on icy trails and will prevent you from falling. I used and loved these Yaktrax while hiking in Arctic Norway.

They are a lifesaver and it is rare to spot hikers without them! There is nothing worse than losing traction and sliding down an icy mountain.

In addition, after a heavy snowfall, you will need snowshoes. The mountains get pounded with multiple feet of snow and it takes a while for it to become packed down.

In these conditions, one wrong step could have you post-holing, covering your body in the snow!

Snowshoes will keep you above the soft snow instead of having you fall through it out.

Most of the time, you will start off with microspikes until you reach a higher elevation. That is when you swap them out for the snowshoes. They are a dynamic duo for winter mountain hiking and will make your life ten times easier!

Most hiking trails are not even accessible without them. It is ideal to always bring them with you, even if you think you won’t need them.

Snowshoes can be expensive — you can get a cheap-ish pair on Amazon, or invest in a heavier-duty pair from REI — so many people choose to rent a pair in Estes Park if they don’t plan to hike in the snow frequently.

Avalanche Awareness

Sign reading "avalanche area: no stopping or standing next two miles" with snow in the background

According to reports from the CAIC, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, there are over two thousand avalanches in Colorado every season.

It’s important to be avalanche-aware whenever you head out into the winter backcountry.

If you see an avalanche heading towards you, do not try to run away from it. The best thing you can do is move to the side, grab something sturdy, and hold one arm up.

If you have one arm up and get buried, the rescue team will be able to locate you faster, increasing your chances for survival. 

Even though getting caught in an avalanche is slim, it is very important to be prepared!

Having an avalanche transceiver (and more importantly, knowing how to use it) may save your life.

If you stick to more traversed areas of the park, this is likely not necessary, but if you want to go into the backcountry, it is essential.

You are probably wondering how avalanches even start. Simply put, an avalanche occurs when a layer of snow collapses and slides downhill.

There are four factors that cause this natural wonder: a steep slope, heavy snow cover, a layer of snow that is weak, and of course (as all the movies have shown!) a trigger.

Backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers are the biggest cause of avalanches, due to the vibrations from machinery and boards. Some other causes are earthquakes or even rain and wind combined with heavy snowfall.

Warming temperatures can be a common factor, causing the melted snow to become heavier.

The CAIC has a map on their website that shows the Rocky Mountain Range, including Rocky Mountain National Park.

It is updated every day in the winter months to display what level of threat is in the area: 1 being the lowest and 5, extreme, being the most dangerous.

It is highly recommended to make this website your winter tool before any outdoor activities in the Rocky Mountains. You can view the conditions map here

Winter Road Closures

Snow Covered Trail Ridge Road in  Rocky Mountain National Park in winter before the closed part of the season starts

Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles with an elevation of 12,183 feet at its highest point.

It is one of the most talked-about and famous roads in all of Colorado, and a popular Colorado scenic drive, drawing over 900,000 visitors each month in the summer.

This drive is not for the faint of heart and can be downright terrifying to most people! This is caused by the lack of guard rails and very steep drop-off.

In the summer, you can take the road from Estes Park which is the east entrance of the park, all the way to Grand Lake, which is the west entrance of the park, allowing you to visit both of these Rocky Mountain towns.

Driving the road is allowed in the summer months, depending on when the snowfall declines. It normally reopens around late May to mid-June. 

Don’t worry, you can still explore it during the winter months, but only by foot and by ski! 

The road is plowed up the viewpoint section of Many Parks Curve; cars are not allowed past this point.

Trail Ridge Road is the only road that officially shuts down every winter from October until Memorial Day weekend. The other roads in the park are very well maintained, even after heavy snowfall.

All of the roads are paved and plowed throughout the park, keeping winter visits popular and safe to visitors.

Winter Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park

People walking on the frozen surface of Dream Lake in winter on a sunny day in Colorado

Weather can be tricky at Rocky Mountain National Park in winter!

Colorado is known for its 300 days of sunshine and also snowy destinations, an odd combination for knowing what to expect.

Weather can — and does — quickly change from fifty and sunny to blizzard conditions frequently!

Checking the weather before your departure is always recommended. Being prepared for all weather conditions is a must.

Snow typically begins falling in October and doesn’t stop until late April to mid-May., but keep in mind that every year is different. 

You can call the Rocky Mountain National Park information line at 970-586-1206 for the latest conditions and snow reports.

Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Ice climb the frozen waterfalls.

Ice climbing is a hard but popular mountaineering activity in Colorado. This fun winter activity includes climbing frozen waterfalls or large rocks covered with ice.

Luckily, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a remote and scenic ice climbing area, making it a bucket list winter destination for ice climbers.

In the Wild Basin area of the park, you’ll find Hidden Falls, located twelve miles south of Estes Park near the Longs Peak Trailhead.

There will be signs for the horse trail about one hundred yards from the ranger station: that is where the trailhead begins.

If you are interested in ice climbing but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered!

This waterfall freezes in mid-winter, drawing skilled climbers to the region. The trail to Hidden Falls can get very snowy and icy at times. It is recommended to be prepared and have the correct equipment before taking on this challenge.

The American Alpine Institute provides technical climbing education to new students.

This mountaineering school offers courses in ice climbing, rock climbing, glacier skills, and more. They even have an Introduction class to Alpine Ice Climbing, a six-day course led in different locations all around the country.

Whether you want to take on the hobby long-term or just try it out, they are there to ensure you are doing it safely. Check out their courses on their website here.

No time for a long course? The Kent Mountain Adventure Center in Estes Park offers one-day intro classes that get you started on ice climbing.

Have winter fun in the Hidden Valley Snow Park.

Once a ski resort in the 1950s until the 1990s, Hidden Valley was a popular spot for locals to ski and snowboard.

Initially, chair lifts were not available at the resort, causing the skiers to hike up the runs and ski down. Later, lifts were built, creating a full ski experience.

However, the National Park Service eventually closed the slopes in the early 1990s.

Today, the lifts are gone and it has become a backcountry skiing and snowboarding destination. The runs are narrow, allowing skiers to alternate turns down the slope.

In order to get there, enter from the Estes Park entrance and drive to the Hidden Valley picnic area. You will see signs for parking, and a lot of people getting ready to enjoy the area!

If snow tubing is more your speed, then Hidden Valley has got you covered. The bunny hill from the old ski resort is now used for sledding and tubing!

After heavy snowstorms, families and large groups flock to this area. Be sure to bring your own tubes and sleds (or rent them in Estes Park before entering Rocky Mountain National Park) as there are no rentals inside the park!

Children riding on an inflatable snow tube in Rocky Mountain national park in winter

Go cross-country skiing.

Cross-country skiing is a fun sport that involves gliding across the snow while getting a fantastic workout.

Cross-country skiing requires skiers to use a back and forth motion with their legs, as if they are running with skis on. No wonder it’s such a good workout!

In Rocky Mountain National Park in winter, Trail Ridge Road closes to vehicles, allowing cross-country skiers to use the road as their playground, with a stunning workout view at 12,000 feet in the air.

The road is a steady uphill climb on the way up — which makes it even more enjoyable coming back!

Cross-country skiing is a great winter activity in Colorado, and there are lots of options to choose from in RMNP in winter.

If Trail Ridge Road is a little out of your league, you can try Glacier Basin Campground Loop: a beginner-friendly 2.7-mile loop through a forest with stunning views of the surrounding lake!

Tackle some winter hikes.

Dream Lake – Easy

One of the most photographed locations in Rocky Mountain National Park is the famous Dream Lake.

The name fits the scenery and this spot is perhaps even more stunning in the winter! The snow falls around the crevices in the mountain, creating a dreamscape of a winter wonderland.

In cold temperatures — typically by around January — the lake freezes over and is covered with snow, allowing you to walk out to the middle of the lake for that perfect photo opportunity! Note: Be sure to ask a park ranger if the lake is safely frozen over before embarking on this hike

The hike itself is rated as easy and only two miles long. Due to the high elevation of the park, the elevation gain of 426 can be moderate for those sensitive to uphill gain.

Either way, seeing this view in person is worth the extra effort!

You even pass Nymph Lake on your hike back to Bear Lake parking lot, which is another gorgeous place to extend your hike if you want more winter scenery.

Keep in mind that the Bear Lake Parking lot fills up relatively quickly in both the winter and summer months. It is important to get there early as the park rangers will close the road off once it fills up!

The snowy landscape of a frozen-over Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter in Colorado

Emerald Lake – Moderate

About a mile after Dream Lake is Emerald Lake, making it a great addition to your winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park if you want to get some extra mileage in with even more gorgeous views!

The trail is 3.2 miles and starts at the Bear Lake parking lot, similar to the previous hike mentioned. Once you get to Dream Lake, you will continue north on the trail around the shore of the lake, bringing you through a very lush pine forest.

You will then arrive at Emerald Lake, where you will be able to see the views of Flattop Mountain! The views become even more breathtaking around sunrise and sunset.

Emerald lake in rocky mountains national park, CO in winter with frozen ice sheet on the lake and snow

Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail – Hard

This is a winter hike that is rated as hard but makes it on most visitors’ bucket lists — only tackle it if you are an experienced winter hiker!

Making it to Sky Pond in the winter months is a great achievement for hikers: this 9.4-mile trek through the snow and ice is only recommended to be taken on by hikers with some experience.

If you’ve never hiked in the winter before, stick to one of the previous two hikes, and add this to your Rocky Mountain National Park winter bucket list for future years!

Start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lot, then begin your journey through the snowy forest.

Eventually, you will reach Loch Lake, which is normally frozen over in the winter months. You can either walk on the lake or around it, depending on how thick the ice is (you may want to ask a ranger before embarking on this hike).

From there, continue on until you reach Lake of Glass. You may think your hike is almost over once you reach this lake, but it is not!

You will then have to climb the falls to the top where Sky Pond is. This can be especially difficult in the winter, but it is doable. It is important to go slow and make sure you have proper hand and footing.

Due to the slipperiness of the icy rocks, it is important that you bring your microspikes!

This hike may be difficult, but the views are breathtaking for the whole 9.4 miles. Be sure to pack some lunch and enjoy it at Sky Pond before heading back.

Hiking Trail to a Frozen Lake Beneath "The Spearhead" in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park

Long’s Peak – Extremely Difficult

This is a Colorado 14er that is rated dangerous and sometimes deadly — so only undertake this with sufficient experience.

Be sure to follow all safety guidelines, let people know where you are going, and have an GPS-enabled SOS device on you such as the Garmin InReach Mini, which can send out an alert in case you get injured or lost without cell reception (which you will most definitely not have out on this hike!).

For the uninitiated, a 14er is a mountain peak that sits at 14,000 feet or more. Colorado has 58 of them located all over the state.

For those trying to tackle all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers, Long’s is a staple in Rocky Mountain National Park, one that is only encouraged to be taken on by mountaineers who are properly trained — especially in the winter.

20,000 people come to Rocky Mountain every year in an attempt to summit this mountain, but only half of those climbers make it to the top and back down. It is rumored to be the most tried and failed fourteener in the state!

Unfortunately, there have been 58 people who have died while trying to complete this hike since the year 2000, so it is not without its risks (hence our suggestion for a SOS safety device).

The difficulty is due to the distance of 14.8 miles and the scramble at the top. The hike turns into a climb accompanied by very steep drop-offs.

One wrong move can become fatal, so experience in climbing is a must. Since the distance is so long, most hikers get an overnight camping permit to break it up. This can also be dangerous due to the quickly changing weather, especially in the winter months.

Long’s Peak is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it takes most people that long to accomplish it. Even though it can be scary, it is a beautiful peak and a good goal to have for those who take it seriously.

View of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Go snowshoeing.

Hiking trails become snowshoeing trails in the winter in Colorado, and Rocky Mountain National Park in winter has plenty of trails to bring them on!

It is common to see the above trails filled with snowshoers in the winter. After heavy snowstorms, hiking the trail without them becomes impossible.

Sometimes the snow is too fresh and can be as high as your chest! The snowshoes allow you to stay above the powder, keeping you safe from falling through.

If you are visiting the area you can rent snowshoes at local mountain shops in the town of Estes Park, Colorado for the day.

Explore the cute mountain town of Estes Park.

The east entrance of Estes Park is the most popular entry point in the winter season.

Since Trail Ridge Road connects you to the west entrance, and it is closed in the winter, there are not many winter activities available on that side of the park.

As a result, the already bustling Estes Park gets even more lively in the winter, as it’s the primary access point into the park.

In the winter, Estes Park resembles a picturesque snowy postcard, filled with mountain views and wildlife. Moose are commonly spotted roaming the streets downtown and outside lodging facilities!

Restaurants and shops line the streets of their quaint downtown area to enjoy after your action-packed day.

Estes Park downtown in winter with plowed streets and the city covered in snow

Enjoy accommodations in the area such as cozy winter cabins or their spooky Stanley Hotel.

The Stanley Hotel is famous in the area, known for its haunting encounters. Author Stephen King stayed at the hotel, which inspired his book and (that was later turned into the famous movie) The Shining.

You can even tour the Stanley Hotel during the day if staying overnight is out of your comfort zone!

Local ranches and farms offer horseback riding activities, even in the winter.

You will drive through the downtown area of this town when leaving and entering Rocky Mountain National Park.

Even if you’re just passing through, it is a convenient place to grab snacks or gear prior to spending the day in the park.

End your adventure by spending some time at Lake Estes, a 185-acre lake with views of Rocky Mountain National Park from afar.

It’s also a great place to visit in the holiday season when the lights are up all over town!

Rocky Mountain National Park Tips

With endless winter activities and stunning views, Rocky Mountain National Park is a winter lover’s paradise!

Making sure you have the proper equipment and gear for winter activities is beyond important in Colorado. A well-stocked hiking backpack will be your best friend in these adventures!

There is a $25 vehicle entrance fee into the park, but if you are planning on visiting multiple times over the course of the winter or multiple national parks, I suggest you buy an America the Beautiful Pass.

It’s just $80 for an annual pass (good for one entire vehicle!) for all the national parks and 2,000+ federally-managed sites!

Buy your America the Beautiful pass online at REI!

Finally, Rocky Mountain National Park is requiring reservations from May 28 to October 11, with their new timed entry permit system. If you are visiting in that time frame you will need to make a reservation online.

It is not stated if they will be extended into the winter months as of yet, but be prepared for that to be a possibility.

The Rocky Mountains are waiting for you to explore their snowy peaks. Come see this real-life winter wonderland for yourself.

North Rim Vs. South Rim Grand Canyon: Which Side is Right for You?

grand canyon lodge at sunset in the north rim grand canyon

The Grand Canyon is rightfully one of the most renowned landmarks in all of America, and there’s no wonder that it figures high on nearly everyone’s national parks bucket list.

The Grand Canyon was formed by the rushing waters of the Colorado River after many million years of erosion and assisted by plate tectonics which uplifted the Colorado Plateau, creating an even more…. well, grand, of a canyon!

The Grand Canyon National Park site encompasses a massive 1,902 square miles. At its longest point, the Grand Canyon measures 277 miles across, and is up to 18 miles wide… which means that the North and the South Rims are quite far apart!

In fact, to drive from the visitor center at the North Rim to the visitor center at the South Rim takes about 4 hours!

As a result, you’ll likely want to pick one or the other. 

Allison standing at the South rim of the grand canyon
Me standing at the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2017

If you are doing a huge, long Southwest road trip and have 2+ more weeks in the region, you can easily see both sides, but frankly, seeing one side of the Grand Canyon is plenty for one trip.

I spaced out my visits to the South Rim and the North Rim, visiting the South Rim in May of 2017 and just completing my visit to the North Rim in July of 2021.

In this post, I’ll quickly cover a few frequently asked questions about visiting the Grand Canyon, explain the difference and pros and cons of the North Rim vs. the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and give some tips to help you pick which side of the Grand Canyon is better for your trip.

I’ll also include things to do on each side of the Grand Canyon, specific to the North Rim or the South Rim.

Finally, I’ll also have some tips on where to stay, including some feedback about the campsite I stayed at as well as suggestions for accommodations.

Grand Canyon FAQs

Which is better to see: the North Rim or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon?

Honestly: either!

If we are strictly talking views, both sides of the Grand Canyon offer exquisite ones. There is no real reason to privilege one side over the other in terms of what you can see.

When I go into whether you should pick the North Rim vs. the South Rim, views aren’t a factor, but itinerary, how far in advance you are planning, and time of year you are visiting the Grand Canyon all are!

Allison at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2017
At the South Rim of the Grand Canyon near sunset in 2017

Is visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon worth it?

Absolutely! The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is every bit as beautiful as its more popular southern rim. 

However, if you’re already visiting the South Rim for sure, I don’t know that the North Rim warrants a separate journey on the same trip.

I’d suggest picking one side of the Grand Canyon per trip. If you visit the area again on another road trip, then pick the side you haven’t visited before!

At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunrise in 2021

Where is the best view of the Grand Canyon?

Every view of the Grand Canyon is pretty stunning. I’ll list a few of the best viewpoints of the Grand Canyon broken down between the two rims.

North Rim Viewpoints: Bright Angel Point, Cape Royal, Point Imperial, Walhalla Overlook.

South Rim Viewpoints: Mather Point, Yavapai Point, Yaki Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point.

Yavapai Point at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Can you drive from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon?

Totally… but it takes time! 4 hours, in fact. 

From the South Rim to the North Rim, you’ll leave the Tusayan / Grand Canyon Village area, drive along Highway 64 until you reach Highway 89 at Cameron. 

From there, you’d drive until Marble Canyon, then take Highway 89A to Jacob Lake. Once reaching Jacob Lake, you’d take Highway 67 the rest of the way.

This driving route would also work in reverse if you were visiting the North Rim first and then going to the South Rim.

However, I wouldn’t really advise this unless you have a ton of time that you only want to dedicate to Grand Canyon National Park. 

If you are visiting the Grand Canyon as part of a larger Southwest itinerary, I’d suggest allocating more time for other destinations and places.

So many places to visit in the Southwest, so little time!

What is the difference between North Rim and South Rim Grand Canyon?

That’s what this post is all about! We’ll go into more detail below, but here’s the TL;DR.

North Rim: Far less crowded (only 10% of the visitors), more remote, fewer amenities, better for a Utah parks road trip, not able to be visited in winter months, better in summer months.

South Rim: Much more crowded (90% of the visitors go here), better for Arizona road trips, better for day trips, more amenities and lodging options, open year-round.

One other thing to keep in mind is the appreciable elevation difference between North and South.

The elevation at the South Rim is 6,804 feet; the elevation at the North Rim is 8,297 feet (and up to 8,803 feet at Point Imperial, the highest point of the Canyon rim).

The South Rim tends to be several degrees hotter in summer as a result. However, hikers should note that the altitude is a little easier to adjust to at the South Rim, whereas hikers at the North Rim will have a little more struggle with the altitude.

Sign that reads "point imperial elevation 8803"
The highest point on the Canyon Rim!

Are there entrance fees to the Grand Canyon?

Yes. Park entrance fees are $35 per vehicle to the Grand Canyon. That grants 7 days of access to both the North and the South Rims, as they are both operated as one National Park Service site.

Both the North and the South Rim are also included in your America the Beautiful Pass, which can be purchased online at REI before your trip.

Which is the best time of the year to go to the Grand Canyon?

It depends! 

If you’re visiting the North Rim, know that it’s only open between May 15 and October 15… and any of those times is a good time to go! The North Rim is not very crowded, so any time will be fine within that period.

If you’re visiting the South Rim, the Grand Canyon is able to be visited year-round! However, the South Rim is very crowded in the summer and even in the shoulder seasons. 

I visited the South Rim in early May and it was packed… I can’t even imagine peak summer!

The South Rim is a popular option if you are visiting the Grand Canyon in winter, as it’s open year-round and is really beautiful under a layer of snow!

Snow covered landscape of the Grand Canyon in the winter months
Views of the Grand Canyon at wintertime (South Rim)

What is the best place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park?

There are so many options when it comes to where to stay!

North Rim: The Grand Canyon Lodge is the main traditional accommodation option. I went here to check out the sunset and it looked like a fantastic place to stay.

There is also the North Rim Campground, where I stayed — and I loved it! For $20 a night, I literally could see Grand Canyon views squeezed between some pine trees. It was incredible.

South Rim: There are so many options! The main lodges are Bright Angel Lodge, Yavapai Lodge, and the Thunderbird Lodge, but these need to be booked well in advance…. like 6+ months, typically.

There are also lots of great vacation rentals near the Grand Canyon if all the traditional accommodations and lodges within the National Park Service site are full!

Additionally, you can also stay at the Mather Campground outside of the South Rim.

Note that Bright Angel Campground is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and has limited campsites that can only be accessed via a hike, for which you need a (highly coveted, hard-to-get) backcountry permit.

There’s also the Phantom Ranch located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon as well if you are hiking in!

One of the cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge (North Rim) — almost worth booking a trip for on its own!

Pick the North Rim if… 

… You want to avoid the crowds.

Grand Canyon National Park sees nearly 6 million visitors each year… but 90% of those visitors will only see the South Rim.

Only 10% of people who visit the Grand Canyon make it to the North Rim of the park…. meaning that only some 600,000 people a year visit the North Rim, period. 

This means that the North Rim is far less crowded than the South Rim all year round.

I went to the North Rim right after the Fourth of July weekend, and it was really quiet and peaceful. 

Meanwhile, I visited the South Rim a few years back in early May, during the shoulder season before school holidays and summer vacations, and it was extremely busy and crowded.

For me, the serenity of the North Rim makes up for the fact that there are fewer amenities and activities around it. But more on that in a bit!

Views as seen from the North Rim

… You are also visiting Utah national parks.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon gets a bad rap for being “harder to reach” but I’m not really sure why that is.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is only open from May 15 to October 15 each year, but within that time frame, it’s very accessible, especially if you are doing a Southwest road trip that involves some of Southern Utah’s Mighty 5.

From Zion National Park to the North Rim, it’s 122 miles and 2 hours and 45 minutes.

From Bryce Canyon National Park to the North Rim, it’s 157 miles and 3 hours. 

Additionally, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty easily accessible from Page, AZ (where you’ll find Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend). 

From Page, it’s just 124 miles driving, which takes about 2 hours, 20 minutes.

However, from other places in Arizona, such as Flagstaff, Sedona, or points along Route 66, the South Rim is more convenient.

sign for sedona arizona with red rocks in the background
If you want to stay in Sedona, I suggest the South Rim, vs. the North Rim!

… You want to see wild bison.

One of the coolest things about visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is that the park encompasses a massive bison herd! 

Normally people think they need to head all the way to Yellowstone National Park if they want to see bison… but that’s not the case! 

There is a huge herd of bison living on the Kaibab Plateau, which you’ll find after you enter the NPS park boundary and the entrance station, but before you reach the North Rim.

The bison stay very close to the roadside and it’s very easy to spot them. In fact, on my trip into the North Rim, the bison literally were crossing the road and traffic was stopped until they passed!

On my trip out of the North Rim, coming out the same way we came in, there were still plenty of bison quite close to the roadside. 

Keep in mind that bison are wild animals and you should never approach them or make them feel uncomfortable. Staying in the car is the safest way to observe them, unless they are quite far away.

Stay at least 25 yards away as per the NPS guidelines, and watch for signs of them being uncomfortable (eye contact, raised tails). Bison can and do attack humans, so be careful.

Bison standing by the side of the road along the way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Things to Do at the North Rim

Catch the sunrise at Bright Angel Point.

One of the best places to catch the sunrise at the North Rim is at Bright Angel Point, which connects with both the Transept Trail (the trailhead is right in the campground!) and the Grand Canyon Lodge Area.

From the Grand Canyon Lodge, it’s about a 0.3-mile hike one-way, which takes about 10 minutes. The views at sunset are spectacular!

If you’re staying at the North Rim campsite, you can also do a sunrise hike to Bright Angel Point via the Transept Trail. 

Please note that there are no dogs allowed on the trail to Bright Angel Point or anywhere on the Transept Trail.

Sunrise at Bright Angel Point is a dream!

Watch the sunset from the Grand Canyon Lodge.

One of the best places to watch the sunset at the North Rim is from the Grand Canyon Lodge area, near the main parking lot for the North Rim.

You can either check out the viewpoints near it, from the dining area in the lodge, from the outdoor patio area of the lodge, or down the stairs there is access to the viewpoint via the Transept Trail.

Seeing the Grand canyon lodge at sunset with brilliant colors in the sky
The Grand Canyon Lodge at sunset at the North Rim is phenomenal!

Walk the Transept Trail.

The beautiful Transept Trail connects North Rim Campground with both the Grand Canyon Lodge and Bright Angel Point.

It’s a serene, easy, and peaceful trail. To the Grand Canyon Lodge from the campgrounds, it’s 1.2 miles one-way (2.4 miles round-trip). To Bright Angel Point, it’s 1.5 miles one-way (3 miles round-trip).

It’s a great and easy day hike option that has you on the rim of the canyon vs. going into it!

walking the transept trail towards bright angel point at sunset with trees and clouds and canyon
Views along the Transept Trail at sunset

Drive the Cape Royal Road.

This beautiful scenic drive is the southernmost point of the North Rim, with the widest panorama of all — 270 degrees of horizon is filled with the beautiful canyon!

The drive is 15 miles from the North Rim Visitor Center along a narrow and winding road, and it’s a bit hair-raising at times — but it’s extremely beautiful, especially as you reach the Walhalla Plateau. 

Once arriving at the Cape Royal parking area, there is a small paved 0.3-mile trail you can take to the overlook, which offers unparalleled views.

You’ll see a number of sights along the trail, including Freya Castle, Wotans Throne, and Angels Window.

Angels Window: one reason to visit the North Rim vs the South Rim!

How to Get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Turn onto Highway 67 once you reach Jacob’s Lake. From Jacob’s Lake, it’s a little under 1 hour drive.

To get to Jacob’s Lake, you’ll be coming on Highway 89A, either from Utah (Kanab area) or from Arizona (Page + Marble Springs).

From Page: 2 hours 20 minutes

From Zion: 2 hours 45 minutes

From Bryce: 3 hours

From the South Rim: 4 hours

From Las Vegas: 4 hours 30 minutes

From Phoenix: 6 hours

the red rocks of zion canyon and hiking trails
Zion National Park is a popular waypoint for North Rim adventures!

Pick the South Rim if… 

… Accessibility is a concern for you and your group.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the far more built-up of the two, which means that there are a lot more accommodations in place for people with disabilities.

However, that’s not to say that the North Rim is inaccessible or not suitable for people with disabilities. 

The Grand Canyon Lodge is wheelchair accessible and the North Rim Campground has 6 accessible campsites, as well as accessible restrooms. Point Imperial and Cape Royal are accessible as well.

Both the Transept Trail and access to Bright Angel Point are not accessible, and the overlook by the Grand Canyon Lodge is definitely not accessible and would be hard for those with mobility limitations (stairs and deep steps).

The South Rim has a lot more accessibility options. Both the Bright Angel Trail and North Kaibab Trail are accessible up to a certain point. 

The shuttle buses that service the South Rim are all wheelchair accessible, with ramps and space to carry wheelchairs (up to 30″ wide by 48″ long). The bus can also ‘kneel’ for those who would like a reduced step up to the bus.

Most overlooks at the South Rim are wheelchair accessible and there are also many scenic drive options with accessible viewpoints and plenty of accessible restrooms

An excellent and far more complete guide to accessibility for people with disabilities is available on Frommer’s here; I’ve merely summarized a bit of the information here, but they cover it all!

… You are primarily visiting Arizona destinations.

One of the main reasons why you might want to choose the South Rim of the Grand Canyon over the North Rim is that it is far better if you are following an Arizona road trip itinerary (like mine!).

The South Rim is easily accessible by day trip from Williams, AZ (part of Route 66!) or Flagstaff, AZ. I personally visited the South Rim on a day trip from Flagstaff and I found it perfect, as it was only 90 minutes away by car. Just enough time for sightseeing and a day hike!

The South Rim is also a popular day trip from Sedona, Arizona, which is about a 2-hour drive each way. It’s a little bit of a long day, but it works!

Sedona church next to cactus
Sedona is an easy day trip destination for Grand Canyon adventures!

The only place in Arizona that the North Rim is easily accessible to is Page, AZ, which is right at the Utah border. 

In fact, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon pairs way better with a Utah National Parks itinerary than an Arizona road trip itinerary! 

If you were to do that, I would sandwich it between Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park to minimize your backtracking.

allison looking over the edge of bryce canyon and its orange hoodoos
Bryce Canyon National Park is an easy stop before or after the North Rim!

… You want lots of activity options.

There are so many things you can do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, including a ton of tour options and fun additional activities you can add to your trip. 

Helicopter ride? Those leave right from Grand Canyon Village and there are more helicopter tour companies than you can shake a stick at.

(And if you can afford it, do it — I did a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, and it’s one of my top 5 travel experiences of my entire lifetime).

Book your helicopter tour online here!

Allison in a helicopter taking off for the Grand Canyon
About to take off to check out the Grand Canyon via helicopter!
View over the Grand Canyon via helicopter
Viewing the Grand Canyon from above in a helicopter — priceless!

Small scenic plane tour? Yup, they have those too! 

They cover the Zuni Corridor, Point Imperial, the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, and even points on the North Rim such as Point Imperial, the Kaibab Plateau, and Kaibab National Forest.

Book your scenic plane tour here!

Pink Jeep Tour? Absolutely! Pink Jeep Tours is one of my favorite tour companies (I’ve used them in both Las Vegas’s Valley of Fire and in Sedona) and they offer incredible sightseeing tours right from the South Rim.

I didn’t get a chance to do a Pink Jeep Tour on my trip to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, but I wish I had. Judging from past experience, it’s a great way to see the Grand Canyon through rose-colored glasses!

Book your Pink Jeep Tour online here!

Allison standing on top of a pink jeep in the valley of fire of las vegas

And these are but three of the many great Grand Canyon activities leaving from the South Rim.

Below are a few other select activities! The below tours leave from Tusayan and Williams, two spots near Grand Canyon Village.

… You are planning at the last minute.

Because the South Rim is so much more accessible and built-up than the North Rim, it’s not a problem at all to plan at the last minute.

If you want accommodations at the North Rim, you have one option inside the park, one option just outside it, one campground, and then a whole lot of nothing until you reach Jacob Lake one hour away (and there’s not much there, either).

If you are visiting the South Rim at the last minute, you don’t really have to worry because there are dozens of great vacation rentals near the Grand Canyon, plus abundant options in Williams and even Flagstaff. 

The main lodges will likely be booked up well in advance at the South Rim, but I was even able to find campsites at Mather Campground (the big South Rim campground) open with just one-week advance booking in the middle of July, peak season!

one of the lodges at the grand canyon south rim
One of the three lodges at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Things to Do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Walk some (or all of!) the Rim Trail.

The Rim Trail is a mostly-paved, easy trail that stretches between the South Kaibab Trail (which you can take into the canyon) all the way west to Hermits Rest.

The Rim Trail offers 13 miles of paved trail, but you can do any fraction of it and return via shuttle bus at any of the designated stops, so it’s easy to tailor to your own preferences and abilities.

girl sitting on the edge of a brick wall on the paved rim trail looking over the expanse of the grand canyon in mid afternoon sunlight

Take one of the many day hikes available.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has a ton of fantastic day hikes you can do — including short hikes into the canyon.

No need to sweat the Rim to Rim hike — there are plenty of in-between options!

Here are 5 of my favorite South Rim hikes including very short options that take about 1-2 hours to complete and can be done by total beginners.

a hike in the south rim of the grand canyon

Take a tough descent to Skeleton Point and back.

The South Kaibab Trail will take you all the way into the belly of the beast, but there are plenty of stop and turn-around points that make your hike in the Grand Canyon a lot less cumbersome.

The hike on the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point and back is a great 6-mile hike that’s hard but not insane. Keep in mind the 2,000+ feet of elevation gain (and loss) when considering this hike!

a sign reading skeleton point halfway down into the grand canyon with expansive views of the canyon everywhere you look
The turn-around marker at Skeleton Point, two thousand feet below the Canyon rim

Check out the Desert View Watchtower.

Take the Desert View Drive 23 miles between Grand Canyon Village and the small settlement of Desert View for a beautiful drive.

It’s also home to a really cool viewpoint on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!

Note that the Desert View Watchtower itself is currently closed due to the pandemic; however, it’s still well worth visiting for its beauty and the gorgeous drive to get there!

a brick-style watchtower towering over the south rim of the grand canyon; a couple wearing backpacks looking over the canyon off in the distance
The Desert View Watchtower is a popular South Rim viewpoint!

How to Get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Williams, Arizona is a great gateway to the Grand Canyon!

Here is where you’ll find the historic and scenic Grand Canyon railway, which is one hell of a way to make an entrance to the South Rim!

Book your Grand Canyon Railway tickets online here!

the historic grand canyon train from a straight-on angle
The scenic Grand Canyon Railway connects Williams and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Driving into the South Rim is also totally possible. You can come in via Las Vegas or via Flagstaff, depending on your trip itinerary.

From Vegas, you’ll take I-11 to the Hoover Dam, where you can check out one of the coolest marvels of engineering in the United States.

Did you know that the concrete in the middle of the Hoover Dam is still not dry nearly 100 years later?

You can also walk — on foot! — between Nevada and Arizona.

the giant dam at the hoover dam, holding in water from lake mead, near the border of arizona and nevada
The beautiful engineering of the Hoover Dam

Then you can continue along Highway 93 into Arizona, then turn onto I-40 / Route 66 in Kingman. Take that to Williams, AZ, where you’ll turn onto Highway 64, which brings you right to the Grand Canyon.

If coming from Tucson, Phoenix, Sedona, or any point south in Arizona, first make your way to Flagstaff (likely via I-17)

Then, take either I-40 / Route 66 to Williams then up to Highway 64, or alternately take Highway 180 up to Grand Canyon Junction and then onto Highway 64 to Grand Canyon Village and the South Rim Visitor Center.

What about the Grand Canyon West Rim?

I would advise against it, personally, in favor of the North or the South Rim. 

Yes, there is the Grand Canyon Skywalk attraction, which is $23 per person plus park admission. 

a skywalk deck at the grand canyon west rim, looking over canyon views below
People out on the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West Rim

Other than that there is not too much to see compared to North and South Rims (though there are a few other viewpoints, which you can check out more information on here.)

Plus, it has a separate $45 per person admission fee, as the site is not on national park land, but rather it is owned and operated by the Hualapai Native American tribe. That means your America the Beautiful pass will not apply, either.

In favor of it, I will say that it is beautiful, and it’s convenient if you are coming from Las Vegas, as it’s only a 2-hour, 15-minute drive (and hence it is a popular Vegas day trip!). 

It’s also a popular option for small group rafting trips which can be organized to depart from here.

people rafting on the colorado river which is part of the grand canyon around the sunrise hours
Rafting is a popular activity from Grand Canyon West

It’s a great option if you are coming from Vegas on a day trip and that’s all the time you have for the Grand Canyon. If you want an organized day tour, this is an affordable and easy one that has to option to add the Skywalk.

Book your Grand Canyon West Rim tour here!

But if you have more time, I’d offer that you should pick either the South Rim or the North Rim, especially if it’s your first time at the Grand Canyon!

Pick Both if… 

… You are visiting both Arizona and Utah and have plenty of time.

There is no reason not to visit both the North and the South Rim! 

I am writing this guide targeting people who want to choose between the North Rim or the South Rim, but there’s no law saying you have to visit just one.

If your road trip encompasses both Arizona destinations and Utah destinations, it’s pretty easy to visit both sides without a lot of backtracking!

the brilliant red rocks of sedona arizona, part of a popular arizona road trip itinerary
Sedona is a must-visit in Arizona!

If you want to visit both, this is how I would route it: Nevada / Southern Arizona sights (Las Vegas, Tucson, Phoenix) –> Sedona –> Flagstaff –> South Rim –> Page –> North Rim –> Zion –> Bryce Canyon –> Other Utah National Parks (Capitol Reef, Arches/Canyonlands in Moab).

Obviously the same also works in reverse!

5 Must-Do Hikes in Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge, Colorado is home to world-class skiing in the winter months and exceptional hiking in the summer.

In the summer, hiking in Breckenridge means beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, a myriad of wildflowers, and great forests to immerse yourself in. 

There is truly something for everyone in Breckenridge in the summertime. You can walk down Main Street, window shopping and eating delicious food, or you can dive into the vast trail network in the area.

There are over 100 different hiking trails in Breckenridge, Colorado. The five trails in Breck I will be talking about are a few of my favorites and offer a wide variety of terrain and scenery to enjoy.

A Note Before Hiking in Breckenridge

The mountains around the resort town of Breckenridge Colorado

Hiking and mountain biking are very popular in and around town. Many trails in the summer do become very saturated with mountain bikers.

If you do find yourself on a trail with a ton of bikers make sure to stay alert, always listen for bikes and keep your eyes up.

If you are hiking and encounter bikers, it is always helpful for hikers to step off the trail and let the bikers through so they don’t have to dismount, especially if the bikers are climbing.

The town of Breckenridge is located at an elevation of 9,600 feet. It is important to drink plenty of water in the days leading up to traveling into town as well as continue to hydrate when getting to town. 

Some signs of altitude sickness are headache, fatigue, and trouble breathing in adults.  For children, altitude sickness often manifests as a stomach ache. 

It is important to give yourself time to acclimate before pushing yourself on a challenging hike.

Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks with you on the trails. It is helpful to carry a backpack on all of your hikes.

It is also extremely important to pack a few extra layers. The weather in the mountains can change extremely fast, and oftentimes it does not matter what your weather app says.  Be prepared for anything!

If you have some binoculars, I would pack them as well because there is no shortage of wildlife in this area.

Enjoy your trip!

The Best Hikes in Breckenridge

Bald Mountain Trail

Snow dusted mountain in Breckenridge Colorado hiking trails

Distance: 10.5 miles out and back

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation gain: 3,075 ft

The Bald Mountain Trail leads you to the top of one of the infamous 13ers in the community, Bald Mountain. 

The Bald Mountain trailhead is located just east of town. On the drive to the trailhead, you get a tour or the beautiful homes in the community. 

For this trail, you park at the intersection of Baldy Rd (Rd 520) and Goldenview Dr, right by the Summit Stage bus stop. After you park look to the other side of the road, for the dirt road that is the Bald Mountain Trail.

This hike is best accessed from June through October.  Snow can still be found along the trail in June as you get higher in elevation. 

This trail offers expansive views of Breckenridge Ski Resort, The Ten Mile Range, and  Mt. Guyot, as well as beautiful wildflowers and some wildlife. 

Look for a cabin in the woods on your right within the first 0.5 mile of the hike! Further along the hike, about 1.5 miles in you will pass by Iowa Mill, which was built in 1935.

When you get to the top, be prepared to put on extra layers as you will be at the top of a 13,000-foot mountain and it can be a bit breezy up there.

When you are finished, you can head back down the same way you came to get back to the car!

Quandary Peak Trail

People hiking up the steep section of Quandary Peak in Colorado near Breckenridge hiking spots

Distance: 6.6 miles out and back

Difficulty: Difficult

Elevation gain: 3,570 ft

Quandary Peak is the only 14er in the Ten Mile Range and is a great  introductory 14er. 

This is a heavily trafficked hike near Breckenridge, best accessed July through September, that offers a spectacular journey through various landscapes. 

When attempting to do any 14er, make sure you are acclimated to the elevation that you are starting at, because you will be going to an elevation of over 14,000 feet. 

Start early, not only because the parking lot can fill up fast, but you want to give yourself ample time to get to the top. 

In the mountains, it is typical for afternoon showers to come in, so getting up and down the mountain as early as you can is helpful. 

Bring layers! Sometimes it can feel like a different climate on the top than it did at the parking lot. A wind/rain layer and an extra mid-layer can help you stay warm at the top so you don’t have to cut your time short.

Last but not least, pack snacks and more water than you think you will need.  Anything can happen on this adventure. You want to be prepared for weather, injuries, and anything else you can think of. 

Parking for The Quandary Peak Trail is located off of Rt 9 on Blue Lakes Road.  Once you park you walk onto McCullough Gulch Rd for a short while until you come across the Quandary Peaks Trail on your left. 

At this point, you will be on a single-track trail that switchbacks through the amazing forest.  After you get above the treeline, you are hiking an exposed ridge with 360-degree views. The trail gets extremely rocky and the wind will start to howl! 

As you get closer to the top you might see some mountain goats. Once to the top, you get great views of the Gore and Sawatch Ranges.

Once you’re done taking in the views, head back down the same way you started. Take your time on the way down and watch your footing.

Spruce Creek Trail to Mohawk Lakes Trail

Mohawk Lake is surrounded by lichen covered rocks. It is a popular hiking trail in Breckenridge Colorado

Distance: 8.4 miles out and back

Difficulty: Difficult

Elevation gain: 2,106 ft

The Mohawk Lakes Trail is a must! This is a heavily trafficked trail, best used from July through October.

You start at the Spruce Creek Trailhead and begin gradually gaining elevation.  Once you get to an intersection of the Wheeler Trail and McCullough Gulch Rd, continue straight to get to the Mohawk Lakes Trail.

There are seven lakes along this trail and you can see all of them if you would like. First you will get to Mayflower Lakes. 

After this, the trail begins to get steeper, but it is worth the effort to keep going to see the biggest lake, Mohawk Lake. Once you get to Mohawk Lake you can turn around to make the hike shorter, or you can continue on to see three more lakes.

I do recommend hiking to all seven lakes if you have the energy to get there as there are not many hikes in the county to see that many alpine lakes!

Gold Hill (Colorado Trail seg 7.1 & 7.2)

A partly cloudy day hiking in Breckenridge with trees and mountains capped with snow in the distance
Photo Credit: Katie Jakubowski

Distance: 7.2 miles out and back

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation gain: 1,466 ft

The Upper and Lower Gold Hill Trails offer you an opportunity to hike a small section of the Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trails runs 567 miles from Denver to Durango.

You park just off of Route 9 at the bottom of Sherwood Trail Road.  From there you get on the Gold Hill Trail. 

You start to climb on the trail and continue to gradually climb for 3.6 miles until you reach the Peaks Trail. 

Just a quarter-mile into the trail, you get amazing views of Breckenridge ski resort.  When you look back across Route 9, you can see the Colorado Trail switchbacks.

The sage in the area smells amazing and the wildflowers in peak season are incredible. 

You can go as far as you would like on this trail, and even add extra miles on the Peaks Trail if you’re feeling good!

B & B to Reiling Dredge to Minnie Mine

The remains of an old mine by the water in Breckenridge Colorado
Photo Credit: Katie Jakubowski

Distance: 3 mile loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation gain: 413 ft

This 3-mile heavily trafficked loop trail in Breckenridge offers you a view into history!

Breckenridge started as a mining community. On this loop, you are able to see The Reiling Dredge, which used to mine gold in the area, as well as all of the rock and sediment the dredge left behind.

You park at the B & B trailhead off of French Gulch Road and make your way to the B & B Mine Trail. 

After hiking for about 1 mile, you will come across the Railing Dredge, which has sunk and now sits in the most beautiful water.  

After leaving the dredge you will cross the road and head to the Minnie Mine Trail.  Once you get back to French Gulch Road, make a right to head back to your car.

This is a low-intensity trail in Breck you can do if you just want to get out for a nice walk. You will come across many old artifacts around the trail so keep your eyes peeled! This is the trail to do if you are interested in seeing history.

15 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Sahara Desert Tour

Taking a Sahara Desert tour and riding camels into the orange-hued sand dunes was a big bucket list item of mine. 

Perhaps it’s because I watched Aladdin far too many times as a kid (sorry Mom). Or maybe because after riding horses and going dog-sledding, this seemed like the logical next step?

Or perhaps it was the solitude of the desert and the immensity of the dunes that compelled me. Either way: I was sold.

Whatever the reason, when I was in Morocco I spent nearly two days of my life in a van from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert. Was it worth it? Well… it’s complicated.

Photo of shadows in the sand dunes in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. A line of camels is walking in the desert on a sand ridge.

Like with much of my Moroccan experience, there were some serious highs and lows, and I wish I had been better aware of what the Sahara tour would actually entail — which is why I’ve written this post for you.

I found that managing my expectations was key to enjoying my time in Morocco, and I think it will be the same for you.

So, is a Sahara tour worth it? I’ll let you decide.

If you’re wondering if a Sahara Desert tour is worth the money, I’m here to break it down for you – the good, the bad, and the truly WTF experiences I had along the way.

Without further ado, here are the top 15 things I wish somebody told me before my Morocco desert tour.

Ripples of sand and sand dunes in a beautiful orange color in the Sahara Desert in Morocco
Is a Sahara tour worth it? I’ll let you decide.

Morocco Desert Tour FAQs

How do you get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco?

The best way to get to the Sahara Desert is typically by guided tour from one of Morocco’s main tourist hubs. 

You can also take a bus to Merzouga and then book some desert activities separately. 

Alternately, if you really want to avoid the drive, you can fly to Errachadia Airport. However, it’s still 2 hours away by car from Merzouga, and you won’t be saving that much time.

How do I get to the desert from Marrakech?

Visiting the Sahara Desert from Marrakech is the most common way to access it. But it’s not close! It’s typically about 12 hours to the desert (one way), spread across two days of transit on the way there and then one full day on the way back.

Typically guided tour is best but other options include booking a bus to Merzouga, renting a car and driving to the Sahara, and flying to Errachadia and then booking a taxi to get you to Merzouga.

What are the best desert tours in Morocco?

I’ve done a ton of research on what the best tour companies are after my subpar experience (which you can read about more below). 

If you’re coming from Marrakech, I suggest this tour. If you’re coming from Fes, I suggest this tour.

If you are coming from Essaouira, Rabat, or Casablanca, it’s a lot further to the desert and I suggest making a waypoint at Marrakech.

The rooftops of Marrakech with the tall minaret of the mosque and Atlas Mountains in the distance on a sunny day

What sand dunes will I see in the Merzouga Desert?

Since most desert tours from Marrakech go as fast as possible, you will likely see the Erg Chebbi dunes, which are the closest to Merzouga.

On a 3-day tour to the Sahara, you will not see Erg Chigaga, the largest dune in the Sahara. This would require different planning than your standard Sahara desert tour.

What are the best things to do in the Sahara Desert?

There are all sorts of activities you can do in the Moroccan desert — from camel trekking to desert glamping to sandboarding to ATV riding and more. 

A 3-day tour actually gives you fairly limited time in the Sahara Desert. You will do a sunset camel trek, have a desert camp meal, sleep in a tent, stargaze, and be able to watch the sunrise before leaving again — that’s about it.

If you want more time in the Sahara Desert, I suggest taking the bus to Merzouga and planning an independent trip there rather than taking one of the Marrakech tours.

How do I visit the Sahara Desert independently?

Eco tents in a glampsite in Morocco with views of the dunes and some desert shrubbery on a hazy day.

If you don’t want to do a tour, you can visit the Sahara Desert (fairly) independently by getting yourself to Merzouga, either by bus or rental car, and then renting accommodations in the desert.

There are all levels of desert camp available. There are some great luxury glamping options such as the Sahara Desert Luxury Camp and the Desert Bivouac Merzouga which offer improved amenities such as private bathrooms and beautifully designed rooms.

There are also more bare-bones accommodation options like Desert Berber Fire Camp and Dune Merzouga Camp.

Tip: When pricing out your trip and making decisions, don’t just look at the base price, but also look for what’s included in each property and make an assessment based on that. You may have to pay for transit, meals, etc. which could eat into your “savings!”

What to Pack for a Sahara Desert Tour

Person tossing sand while wearing a scarf around their head sitting in the orange sand of the Sahara Desert

Motion sickness pills: Don’t underestimate how winding the roads will be leading out to the desert! You will cross all sorts of high mountain passes between Marrakech and the Sahara Desert. Motion sickness pills will be your friend. I had motion sickness bands and they helped (but not quite enough). I wish I had Dramamine!

Snacks: I didn’t enjoy the food at the lunches we stopped at along the way and I wish I had packed enough snacks to skip a lunch or two. Snacks can also be a nice pick-me-up when you need a little sugar rush after countless hours of driving. I like packing Larabars for a pick-me-up.

A filter water bottle: I used a lot of plastic during my Sahara desert tour and I regret it. I since have become more conscious of my plastic waste and now use a Grayl water bottle which filters out all manner of icky, undrinkable water and makes it 100% safe to consume.

Long sleeve shirt and pants: Even if it’s hot, you’ll want to have your arms and legs covered for multiple reasons during your desert tour. For one, it’ll protect you from the hot Moroccan sun… but for another, it’ll shield you (a tiny bit) from prying eyes.

A scarf: It can occasionally get windy in the Sahara Desert. Your guides will insist that you have a scarf they can wrap around you like a turban to protect your face from the sand, and they will make a stop in Erfoud or somewhere nearby the desert to buy overpriced scarves. Just bring your own scarf because the scarves you can buy there are not good quality and are basically single-use.

Layers (in winter): If you’re visiting the Sahara in the winter, you’ll want to bring warm layers as the desert can drop down to freezing in the nighttime (not kidding!). Bring a thermal top/leggings (I like these from 32 Degrees) as well as a thin down jacket to keep you warm.

A camera and tripod (for night photography): You’ll want a camera with a zoom lens and the ability to use manual settings to capture the best of the desert in all its beauty. A smartphone won’t quite do it!

This is the camera I used in the Sahara desert. I also suggest a tripod if you want to photograph the Milky Way and do some astrophotography — you’ll likely never find darker skies!

Tents for camping in the Sahara Desert at night, lit up by a fire or lantern, with the Milky Way overhead

Things to Know Before Your Morocco Sahara Desert Tour

You cannot do a Sahara desert trip on a day trip from Marrakech.

Merzouga, the gateway to the Sahara, is 350 miles or around 560 kilometers of winding mountain passes and dizzying curves away from Marrakech. 

As a result, you shouldn’t expect to be able to reach the Sahara in a day from Marrakech! At a bare minimum, you need 3 days, all of which will entail serious amounts of driving. 

It’s about 12 hours of driving in a van each way between Marrakech and Merzouga, not including stops, so expect to spend a good portion of your 3 day Sahara desert tour on the road.

If you only have time to do a day trip from Marrakech, you will simply not be able to see true sand dunes like you can see in Merzouga and Erg Chebbi, full stop. Adjust your expectations so you won’t be disappointed! 

Cushions set up around tables to enjoy tea in the rock desert outside of Marrakech
A desert camp in Agafay Desert outside of Marrakech

If you only have one day, you can do a camel ride through the rocky desert and palm grove outside of Marrakech. Prices are quite reasonable – you can check prices for one-day tours here.

With two days, you’re a little better off – you can get to the Zagora Desert and do a sunset camel ride, a desert overnight, and a sunrise camel ride the next day. 

Tours to Zagora are a little pricier than the day trip, obviously, but still a good value at under $50 per day – learn more about two-day tours here.

While Zagora isn’t quite as impressive as Merzouga (by a good margin), it’s still a worthwhile option to compare. I wrote quite a bit more on how to decide between the two in this post on choosing between Merzouga vs. Zagora for your Morocco desert trip.

A desert camp in Zagora, Morocco

If you can spare the time and the money, then I highly recommend picking the Sahara desert.

 In my opinion, the rock desert and palm oasis outside of Marrakech is nowhere close to how spectacular the Sahara Desert is. As a result, it should only be booked if you have extremely limited time or funds and have a camel ride on your Morocco bucket list. 

The Zagora Desert is closer to what you want from a Sahara Desert tour, but it’s still a ton of driving plus an overnight, so I’d urge you to just go for the full three day tour instead. 

It’s not much more money (about $30 more than the Zagora tour), and absolutely nothing in my life compares to the beauty of seeing the sun rise and set in the Sahara Desert for myself with my own eyes.

Book your 3 day Sahara desert tour here!

The Sahara Desert is even more magical than you expect.

People in the Sahara Desert on a camel trek through the sand dunes led by Berber guides

In my 60+ countries of travel, I’ve still never seen anything quite as beautiful as the Sahara Desert, even to this day and even despite some negative experiences I had there (more on that in just a bit).

There is something otherworldly about the contrast between the orange sand and the blue sky, and the way the sand rippled in perfect formations that look drawn by an artist’s hand

As sunset fell, I almost wanted to pinch myself to confirm that it was real. But if it was a dream, I didn’t want to wake up.

The softness of the orange sand, the seeming infiniteness of the rolling dunes, the way that footsteps looked as they left magical trails in the sand, and the inky blackness of the sky punctured by a million tiny stars at night — there’s simply no comparison to the Sahara Desert.

Getting to the Sahara Desert from Marrakech is a royal pain, and yet it is completely and utterly worth it.

Book your Sahara tour in advance so you can read reviews.

berber guides leading a small group of four people through the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert

The worst piece of advice that I got about taking a tour to the Sahara desert is that you shouldn’t book it in advance and rather wait for a tout in the souks to offer you a better price.

Here’s the thing: you will likely get a cheaper price, but you will not get a better deal, as you will make up for that price difference somewhere, either with poor quality service or through scams and upsells along the trip. 

I went on one of the cheapest tours I could find, and I don’t recall the company name as I booked it from a random tout in the souk (as I was told to do). But I can tell you — I didn’t save any money in the end, and I had a worse trip for it. 

One of the worst parts was getting told that the A/C in the van is “broken” on a 115 degree Fahrenheit day so they can save on gas. 

They put on the fan and insisted the A/C wouldn’t work, and they only put it on after I insisted many, many times… upon which, the A/C magically worked perfectly.

I was constantly up-charged on everything, from lunch to the made-in-China scarves that they insist you need for the desert. I was stubborn and just tied a shirt around my head at this point, just to prove a point.

Oh, and I also got scammed by a rug vendor in a Berber village, but more on that later.

Instead, I highly recommend booking your Sahara desert tour in advance with a company with a good reputation and a strong online presence. 

Quite frankly, it’s not because of any merits of the company itself or the uniqueness of the tour. All tours follow a similar route (High Atlas Mountains, Aït Benhaddou Kasbah [which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site], the Dades Valley & Dades Gorge, Todra Gorge, Ouarzazate, etc.)

It’s just because a company that has put in work to establish a solid online presence has a ton more to lose than the hundred or so indistinguishable tour companies who make their profit off of selling to tourists on the street, for whom reputation and word of mouth means little. 

They will be more scrupulous and careful as to protect their reputation and their livelihood, and that’s a good thing for the consumer.

After carefully researching several Sahara Desert tour offerings and comparing them to my own experience, the company that I’m comfortable recommending to my readers is Ando Travel

With an average of 4.4 stars out of nearly 2,000 verified reviews, including several positive reviews from women, this company is tried and tested in a way that I’m comfortable with recommending, despite not having tried this exact tour for myself. 

You can check tour specifics, itinerary details, and prices here on Get Your Guide

A sunset happening in the Sahara desert with an orange-toned sky.

In the sake of fairness, it’s important to note there are some bad reviews, mostly from people who said that there’s too much driving — unfortunately, this is true no matter what company you go with. 

Be aware no matter what you choose that the Sahara desert is huge, as it’s the largest desert in Africa (and the largest hot desert, period, after the Antarctic and Arctic deserts). 

Morocco’s section of the Sahara Desert is basically on the border of Algeria, and you have to cross through the High Atlas Mountains, so there is simply no avoiding the drive. 

Any shorter tour will not take you to the Sahara, but instead to far less impressive rocky deserts closer to Marrakech.

If you want to go onward to Fes after your trip instead of returning to Marrakech (a common choice to avoid backtracking, and one that I made), they also run a tour from Marrakech to the Sahara ending in Fes, which you can find here.

Be cautious and do your research if you are a solo female traveler.

The sun setting over the Sahara Desert with brilliant pink and dark clouds

I’m telling you this because I, in my eternally stupid penny-pinching ways, did exactly the opposite and paid the price. 

I don’t remember what the exact name of the tour company I went with: something incredibly generic, literally like Sahara Tour Morocco (I should note that I did this tour before becoming a more diligent note-taker as a blogger)

I followed the (bad) advice of others and just went wandering through Marrakech and booked it in-person from one of the men selling tours, as I was told it was the best (read: cheapest) way to book a Sahara desert tour by other backpackers. 

While sure, it was cheaper (I paid about the equivalent of $75 USD for a 3-day trip in July, after some haggling), I ended up having a pretty horrible experience. 

They lied about many things: the inclusions, the air conditioning, how I’d get to Fes after my tour finished. But worst of all – I was sexually harassed by my guides, and I was nearly groped in my sleep on my tour. 

It all started innocently enough, sitting after dinner chatting with a guide trying to learn more about Berber culture. 

Without victim-blaming myself, I must say that I need to remind myself that North American (and specifically Californian) friendliness is not always the smartest move with people from more conservative cultures, as some men take talkativeness as an invitation.

After a while, this guide got progressively creepier and creepier as the night got darker, angling closer to me as we talked. 

Then he asked me if I wanted to go somewhere alone with him to see the stars better (um, they’re plainly overhead, but k), despite my repeated insistence that I just wanted to sit and enjoy by myself.

Eventually, I had to tell him quite directly that he was bothering me and needed to leave me alone, and he went away. It may sound simple enough, but for a nonconfrontational girl like me who hates conflict, it was difficult. 

Luckily, he left without much protest, and I enjoyed the next few hours a lot, chatting with my fellow travelers and admiring the vastness of the sky and the hints of the Milky Way overhead.

Later that night, choosing to sleep outside where there was a breeze instead of the stuffy, impossible to breathe in tents (as all the other travelers were doing), a different guide set up his sleeping site about five feet from me. 

He placed a large pillow as a buffer between us, which I took comfort in, and I fell asleep. I honestly remember feeling glad that I had a benevolent guardian to keep me away from the creep who was hitting on me earlier.

I woke up maybe an hour later to him staring at me, saying “shhhhh,” just a few inches away from my face, the pillow he had placed between us nowhere to be seen. It was, in a word, terrifying. 

He tried to tell me to go back to sleep, but you better believe my a** was up and in my hot stuffy tent as quickly as I could manage in my sleep-drunk state. I didn’t sleep much the rest of the night, obviously.

Since I didn’t book online, had no plans to return to Marrakech (I ended my tour in Fes), or have any papers confirming who I went with, I didn’t really have a way to review the tour. I also didn’t feel comfortable going to the police for a variety of reasons (language barrier, gender norms, etc). 

If I had booked it online, I could have read reviews from other female travelers. In the event that something happened, it would have been much easier to report the bad behavior I experienced on this tour and to ensure it wouldn’t happen to other female travelers down the line. 

I still feel sort of sick to my stomach when I think about not being able to report this and the fact that this behavior will likely continue to other women. This is why I recommend booking in advance with a reputable company.

Ripples in the sand in the Sahara Desert beautiful orange sand

For solo female travelers, I recommend booking online. I suggest this tour if you want to go onward to Fes, or this tour if you want to go back to Marrakech at the end of your trip.

Sadly, this kind of behavior is not that uncommon for Morocco. Other women have had similar experiences with their guides in the desert (read Lauren of Never Ending Footsteps’ experience here and my friend Kiona’s experience with Morocco here

I’ve also, of course, heard positive stories as well, though these usually come from men or people who traveled as a couple. 

As a solo female traveler, I can tell you though that it’s better to spend the extra money and book a tour in advance so you can read all the reviews. That won’t completely shield you from an assault or harassment, but it’s one small (but important) layer of protection.

A lot of fuss is made about dressing properly in Morocco. I will say that I was covered up almost all the time and not particularly provocative in any way, shape, or form, and I was harassed frequently.

Allison wearing a dress that comes down to her knees and a white light linen jacket
A typical outfit I wore on my Sahara Desert Tour, outside of Dades Gorge (my skirt didn’t show my knees, it just blew up a little in the wind as I took the photo)

When writing this post, since I didn’t have a personal tour recommendation, I vetted the companies and pored through the reviews pretty thoroughly. 

The tour I recommend above looks to be the best, safest option for solo female travelers; however, I’d check reviews again before you book as things may have changed since when I wrote this.

Read what is included carefully.

Camel shadow on the sand dune in Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco

My Sahara desert tour included round-trip transportation to and from Marrakech and the Sahara Desert. This included pick up and drop off at your riad.

When booking my tour with one of the tour operators in the medina, I told them I wanted to go onwards to Fes, a common thing tourists do to avoid backtracking. 

The tour operators said that all the transportation (including to Fes) was included in the price they gave me, but I never got that in writing, and surprise surprise – when it came time to get a shared taxi towards Fes, we ended up having to fork out about $30 USD or so per person to get there. 

But at this point, after nearly being groped by one of the guides, I was ready to get out of there — no matter what the cost.

Tip: If you want to go onward to Fes like I did and avoid backtracking, be sure it is included on your tour! I suggest this Marrakech to Merzourga to Fes desert tour.

The shuttle bus was comfortable enough, but they kept insisting that the A/C was broken after the first day, which was annoying, as I was overheating with only the fan on. 

After enough of the minibus complained, they turned it on again and voila: it was magically working. Strange.

The tour included two nights accommodation, one in a hotel on the way to the desert and one in the desert camp itself. The accommodations at both were of decent quality, actually, they were better than I expected for the price, to be fair. The tour cost included the camel ride as well.

a dish of meatballs served with bread in a tagine
A (much better) meal in Marrakech

Here are a few things most tours do not include: no lunch on any of the days, so you’ll have to either BYO food or add on another $10 USD or so for each meal. 

No matter what tour you go on, you can be guaranteed that you’ll be forced to eat at expensive, mediocre restaurants — likely wherever your tour guides get the best kickback, unfortunately! 

Most tours don’t include any beverages, water, personal expenses, etc. If you choose to not return to Marrakech and instead go onwards to Fez from Merzouga, that transportation is not included, either.

Keep your expectations in line with reality.

rugs surrounding a campfire and some makeshift tents in the Sahara

The price range of Sahara Desert tours varies wildly based on the level of luxury. 

One blog post I read said their (comped) tour cost $700 USD per person for a 3-day tour, which is expensive for many — and definitely an outlier for Morocco.

However, it would absolutely be worth it for a special occasion like a honeymoon when you won’t want to be crammed in a van with 15-odd other travelers. 

Meanwhile, on the low end, you can spend as little as $75 USD for a 3 day – but with significant sacrifices in comfort, luxury, and flexibility. 

You won’t be staying at the luxury desert camps you’ve seen the Instagram girls enjoying, but rather bare-bones tents with an outhouse and very few creature comforts. 

But who needs showers when you can bathe in the gorgeous light of a million tiny stars in the clearest night sky you’ll ever get a chance to see?

Most tours cost somewhere in the ballpark of $100-200 USD for a 3 day, 2 night Sahara tour, and that’s a fair price.

The tour that I recommend above is a little more expensive than I paid, costing around $130 USD, or about $43 per day (currently running a promotion for about $100!) – which I think is fair given all the inclusions and its good reviews. 

Check out the ratings & reviews of this Sahara Desert Tour!

There is also this private tour option by the same company which routes Marrakech – Merzouga – Fes.

This is a great option if you are continuing onwards north to places like Fes, Meknes, Chefchaouen, and Tangier.

Riding a camel is not at all like riding a horse.

A group of camels near the dusk hour sitting on the sand

If you’ve romanticized a camel ride in the desert, let me demystify that for you. This is no pleasant horse ride through a field. 

Riding a camel is among the least comfortable things I’ve done, and I’m amazed that people actually even trained camels to be ridden after feeling how freaking uncomfortable it can be!

While camel trekking, my thighs were sore by the end of the first hour. I could barely feel my butt when I got off the camel. 

The camel slid in the sand quite a bit, leaving me lurching and clutching on for dear life (camels are even taller than they look).

Anyway, the next day, I was given the option to ride on the roof of their ATV or go back the same way doing a camel trek – you better believe I chose the roof (though TBH, that was mostly to avoid the creepy guide).

Despite my complaining about the discomfort, however, I’d do it again – the views are simply that magical, and the camel ride — as uncomfortable as it is — is a huge part of the desert experience.

Going in the summer isn’t the worst idea ever.

view of Erg Chebbi Dunes in the Sahara Desert - at sunrise, in Morocco

I did my Sahara Desert tour in July… aka the stupidest time in the world to go to Morocco. 

It was 115° F (46° C) in the desert the day we arrived… so that may have had something to do with why the prices were so low.  

The car was hot and stuffy, but that was because my driver purposely shut off the A/C, something that won’t happen on a reputable tour.

Still, I’ll say that 115° F in Morocco isn’t nearly as bad as 90° F and humid in NYC (I’m a Californian who grew up in a particularly hot part of the state, and I will fight to the death that dry heat is 100x better than wet heat). 

To me, the desert heat wasn’t a deal-breaker, especially since we arrived at the desert at sunset when the night breeze was already coming in nice and cool.

And at night, it cooled down to a nice 75° F (24° C) or so, and it was downright pleasant and beautiful with a light wind.

The tents were still like an oven that would have been impossible to sleep in, but outside underneath the stars downright pleasant (minus the would-be gropey guide…)

On the other hand, it will be freezing in the winter.

Man wearing winter clothes standing in the Sahara dunes

Many people approach the desert with the misconception that it’s hot year-round, but this is patently false. 

The desert is home to wild temperature swings – even in the summer, a 115° F day dropped to a 75° F night, a 40° F temperature variation. This is standard. 

This is true even in the winter. In the peak winter months such as January, the desert will be around 65° F / 18° C in the day and hovering around 32° F / 0° C at night.

And yes, it even snows sometimes in the Sahara!

If you visit the Sahara Desert in winter, you’ll want to bring some thermal tops (I like these from 32 Degrees) as well as a thin down jacket to keep you warm.

Be prepared for long days of driving and some dull stops.

Atlas mountains in Morocco with a road below it at a mountain pass on a sunny day
The beautiful Atlas Mountains on the way to the desert.

It’s about two long days in a van from Marrakech just to get to the Sahara desert (not including the 12 hour drive on the way back). 

If you have 2 or 3 weeks in Morocco, that’s fine – but if you have a really limited amount of time for your trip, it’s a lot of time in a car.

The views are simply beautiful, particularly the Atlas Mountains and the Dades Gorge, so keep your camera at the ready to snap some shots. You’ll pull over a few times at scenic overlooks throughout the trip, which helps to break up the drive.

However, besides stopping at the UNESCO site of Ait Ben Haddou (where some scenes of Game of Thrones were filmed) and a pretty gorge, most of the stops are pretty uninteresting. 

Many stops were aimed at getting as much money out of you as possible as opposed to being interesting for sightseeing. This is common with group tours, even small group tours, but it was annoying nonetheless.

I will say that they did give us a lot of bathroom stops, which as someone with a clinically small bladder, I really appreciated!

Bring some anti-nausea pills.

Allison, the author of the article, standing with a dress with matching seasickness bands and shoes
When your motion sickness bracelets match your shoes, that’s fashion.

There are so many twists and turns on the road to the Sahara Desert because you have to pass through the Atlas Mountains, the Dades Gorge, and the Tizi n’Tichka mountain pass — all of which involve countless hairpin turns!

I get motion sickness quite easily, so I lulled myself into a state of near-constant semi-slumber for the two days with the help of my Sea Bands

They worked okay at keeping me from barfing, but I would have preferred actual Dramamine (personally, I’d choose the normal version over the non-drowsy, to better help me sleep of all those hours in the van).

I’d also bring some stomach medicine like Pepto Bismol tablets just in case, as Morocco has some issues with food safety and undrinkable tap water that can end up messing with some travelers’ stomachs. 

I was fine during my two weeks in Morocco, but I know several people who got food poisoning while they were there, so better safe than sorry. 

Bring plenty of cash (about $100 USD worth).

A wallet on a table with 20 50 100 and 200 dirham notes

There are plenty of little add-ons throughout the Sahara Desert tour that end up driving up the price quite a bit. 

Figure about $1 per bottle of water (unless you come equipped with your own Steripen or LifeStraw water purifier, which I recommend to help reduce plastic waste), $2 per soda, money for tips for various people you encounter along the way, and extra for souvenirs and strongly “recommended” purchases along the way.

Your guides will also take you to expensive and uninspiring restaurants for lunch, though since I wasn’t a big fan of Moroccan food to begin with, that wasn’t a huge loss in terms of flavor. 

The cost of lunch while on your Sahara desert tour is usually about $10 USD per meal, which is about 3 times the price of a meal elsewhere in Morocco.

This is pretty standard for every tour and is part of the reason why the price of your Sahara Desert tour is so low – virtually all tour guides are getting a kickback for bringing people to the restaurant.

Be aware that most stops are designed for the guides to make more money

Pretty much every stop we made along the way to the desert was rushed and not that interesting. 

All of these stops seemed designed for us to spend extra money, rather than to enjoy a particularly beautiful location.

For example, the stop at the rug store, the gift shops at Ait Ben Haddou, and the completely unnecessary stops to encourage us to buy specific scarves to wrap around our heads for the desert tour.

I understand this is how they make up for their slim margins, but I just wish the tour cost a bit more and we didn’t spend so much time making a million souvenir stops and instead spent more time at the few stops that were interesting, like Ait Ben Haddou and Ouarzazate and the Draa Valley and the Gorge. 

But anyway, that’s how guided tours in Morocco go, I guess!

Buy a rug with caution.

A man pouring mint tea at a rug shop

In a moment of weakness, I splurged on a gorgeous hand-woven Berber rug at the village near Tinghir, paying about $35 USD for a very small lambswool rug. 

Mind you, when I took this Sahara desert tour, I didn’t even have a home — so why I needed a rug was beyond me.

Anyway, when I unwrapped it a few days later, I discovered they had swapped it out for another one entirely!

Despite not having touched the rug, I opened it to find it completely and totally falling apart at the edges.

I ended up trashing it rather than lugging around a fraying rug for the rest of my trip. Nice one, friendly-seeming rug guy. Nice one indeed.

Anyway, when I unwrapped it, I discovered they had swapped it out for another one entirely – it was completely and totally falling apart at the edges, and I ended up trashing it rather than lugging around a fraying rug for the rest of my trip. Nice one, friendly-seeming rug guy. Nice one indeed.

Consider the pros and cons carefully.

A hazy sunrise in the Sahara desert

While I had a mixed bag of experiences, in my opinion, it was still absolutely worth taking a Sahara Desert tour, as it was a huge bucket list item. 

However, if I could do it again, I would have researched what tour I took, and not have just gone with the cheapest desert tour option that a tout offered me on the streets of Marrakesh. My safety is worth more than a few dollars, and so is yours.

I don’t want to scare you from taking a Sahara desert tour: thousands of solo female travelers take them, and take them safely.

But in the spirit of full transparency, I want to share my experience with you so you can be prepared should any shadiness occur in the Sahara. (And judging by the fact that my story is not unique, that is a possibility).

I will readily admit that traveling Morocco can be frustrating as a woman. Adjust yourself accordingly: be courteous, but distant; not rude, but not friendly, and you’ll likely have a more positive experience than I did.

I’m of the belief that you shouldn’t let fear dictate what you do or take away from your dreams. 

Even though I had a bad experience on my Sahara desert tour, there are a few things I could have done differently. 

I could made friends with and stuck with other female travelers rather than chatting with the guides. 

I could have vetted the tours more carefully and picked one with better reviews rather than the lowest price.

To be clear, this is not to victim blame myself, nor to victim blame anyone who has had something similar happen to them – it is solely upon the predator to not be a predator, and not on the victim to prevent harassment or an attack.

However, just like there are measures to can take to avoid theft, there are a few things you can do to make yourself slightly safer against harassment from men. 

I hate that I have to write this here, but my experience is so not out of the ordinary that I feel compelled to share these tips. Sadly, these are just facts of life for traveling alone in a country as unfriendly to solo women as Morocco is.

If you don’t like the idea of a Sahara desert tour, you could take the badass alternative and rent a car and driving out to the Sahara Desert, like fellow travelers Along Dusty Roads did. 

But again, if you’re solo, this may not be the best course of action – road trips are always best enjoyed with a travel buddy.

Ultimately, you’ll have to make the call, but in my gut and despite what happened to me, I say go for it – the Sahara desert is something that must be seen to be believed. 

Even with all the crap I dealt with on my 3 day Sahara tour — I wouldn’t take it back. I’d just go with another company, obviously.

More Morocco Travel Resources

I’ve written quite a bit to help you plan the perfect trip to Morocco! 

First, start with my Morocco travel planning checklist – it walks you through every step of the planning process.

Next, check out my Morocco packing list with specific advice for what women might want to wear in Morocco. 

If you are starting your trip in Marrakech, like most people do, I have a guide to the best riads in Marrakech on any budget, as well as a guide to spending 3 days in Marrakech with recommended tours and outings.

The 12 Best Hikes in Golden, Colorado (Picked By a Local!)

Dakota Ridge near Golden Colorado a beautiful hiking area

Golden is one of Colorado’s underrated mountain towns — and it should be your next stop for a great hike near Denver!

A former gold rush town that sits at  5,629 feet, Golden is located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Historically, it was the capital of the Colorado Territory from 1862 to 1867; it is the ancestral home of the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) and Cheyenne Indigenous peoples.

Currently, it is known for being the home to the infamous Coors Brewery and the Colorado School of Mines.

The hiking in Golden is a hiker’s playground, offering a whopping 70 trails, ranging from easy to moderate.

Whether you want to take a leisurely stroll or push yourself, there is a trail for every adventurer. Here are some of the best hikes in Golden, Colorado!

The Best Hikes in Golden, Colorado

South Table Mountain Trail

Beautiful spring landscape in South Table Mountain Park, Golden, Colorado

Mileage: 2 miles

Elevation Gain: 482 feet

A shorter hike in Golden is South Table Mountain, a two-mile loop that starts at the edge of downtown.

The hike brings you to the top of Castle Rock, a popular landmark in Golden that you can view from all over the area!

This spot is recommended for sunset hiking in Golden and the breathtaking views you’ll find there. The trail is a bit steep going up, but the scenery makes it worth it.

North Table Mountain

Sunset hitting different rock formations on a hike on North Table Mountain Golden Colorado

Mileage: 8.3 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,125 feet

If you are looking for a longer workout, hiking North Table Mountain and Rim Rock Loop will be a better pick for you!

This mountain is known for its mountain biking, but it is also great for hikers in Golden looking for a challenge.

The trailhead starts at Tony Grampsas Memorial Sports Complex – Golden Bike Park. Be aware and share the trail with the cyclists!

The 360-degree views at the top make the distance well worth it! You can even spot Coors Brewery on your way to the top.

Chimney Gulch Trail from Highway 6

Views of Rocky Mountain foothills near Golden Colorado on the Chimney Gulch Trail on a sunny, cloudless day

Mileage: 6.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,755 feet

This is an out-and-back trail in Golden that brings you to the top of Lookout Mountain, one of the most popular mountain roads in the area!

You will be crossing Lookout Mountain Road a few times during this hike, and it is important to be alert for cars and cyclists when crossing.

The hike is rated as moderate but it does have a higher elevation gain.

To get to the trailhead drive up W 6th Ave, towards Lookout Mountain. This scenic spot will show you all of Golden and even Denver in the distance!

Terry Park at Clear Creek

Landscape in the fall at Clear Creek with fall foliage and a mountain in the distance with the letter M

Mileage: 1.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 65 feet

This is one of the easiest hikes in Golden; in fact, it is a more of a nice stroll through the town!

Terry Park at Clear Creek is a shorter route with very minimal elevation gain. We recommend it for all skill levels, and it is great for families.

It is a paved path along Clear Creek, which is a branch of the South Platte River, making it the perfect option for winter hiking as well.

In December, you can see the town lit up with holiday lights! Marvel at statues and trees surrounding downtown Golden on this relaxing path.

Mt Galbraith Park

Scenic view of Golden, Colorado from the top of Mt. Galbraith trail

Mileage: 4.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 928 feet

Located off of Golden Gate Canyon Road is Mt Galbraith Park, a Golden hiking area with over five miles of gorgeous trails.

Mt Galbraith Loop via Cedar Gulch Trail is the most popular in the park, a 4-mile loop that circles the top of the peak. Certain parts of the hike do become narrow, so keep that in mind when planning this hike.

There is a dirt parking lot right off the main road at the trailheadm making this trail is a great option for those living in Denver.

Get a break from the city life and soak in those mountain views, while getting a good workout among this scenic spot known for its unique rock formations.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park – Racoon Trail

yellow aspen trees in the fall in golden colorado

Mileage: 3.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 754 feet

When summer begins to turn to fall, Colorado becomes an even more picturesque landscape!

The aspen trees turn from green to golden in early September in Colorado, as the leaves began to change colors at higher elevations.

In Golden, the colorful aspens normally turn yellow in early October, though this is depending on the year.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park is rated one of the top places in the state to view this once-a-year event!

Hike through the golden aspens on Racoon Trail, located in the northern part of the park. This is a scenic loop that is a little over three miles with moderate elevation gain.

Parking can be limited near the trailhead, particularly during the fall, so it is recommended to get an early start!

If parking is unavailable, you can use other lots in the park for added mileage.

Keep in mind, this is a state park. That means there is a $10 entrance fee, unless you have a State Park Pass. 

Beaver Brook Trail

View from Beaver Brook Trail in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

Mileage: 13.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,297 feet

Those looking for a challenge can take on this difficult hike in Golden!

Unlike most trails, the elevation gain is mostly on the way back, making it a unique challenge for experienced hikers.

The trail starts in Golden and eventually drops you down near Clear Creek. After a few miles through the forest, you eventually drop even further out to Chief Hosa.

It is important to make sure you have enough energy and fuel for the climb back to the trailhead! Packing high-energy snacks like nuts and protein bars is a smart idea.

Take your time on this one and soak up the views of the canyon throughout the trail. It is tough, but it is worth it!

Apex & Enchanted Forest Loop

City of Golden, Colorado as seen from the Lookout Mountain Road also known as the Lariat Loop Scenic Byway

Mileage: 5.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,234 feet

Apex Open Space Park is located only a few minutes from downtown Golden. Follow Lookout Mountain Rd to the trailhead.

Note this park has unique rules to help mountain bikers and hikers share the road. Even calendar dates (for example, the 2nd, 4th, etc.) are reserved for bikes only, no hikers or equestrians.

Odd calendar dates (ex: 1st, 3rd, etc.) are reserved for hikers and equestrians only, no bikes.

This is a perfect summer hiking destination in Golden, since half of the trail is in the sun and the other half in the shade.

Enjoy the colorful wildflowers along the dirt path in the spring and early summer!

Clear Creek Trail

Path along Clear Creek in Golden Colorado

Mileage: 20.1 miles

Elevation Gain:  226 feet

This is a great option If you are looking to improve on distance hiking, without massive elevation changes.

This long trail starts off of US-6 west of downtown Golden. The trail follows the twenty miles of Clear Creek all the way from Golden to Adams City.

Along the hike, pass the Colorado Railroad Museum, the adorable Prospect Park, and the Lowell Ponds Wildlife Area. 

This is a unique hike that actually runs opposite of the mountains towards the city. The path is paved and is ideal for biking or cycling.

Hikers recommend this during the winter months for a long walk along the river. Of course, you can just do a small portion of this hike if the full 20 miles aren’t for you!

Golden Open Space Trail

Open space hike in Colorado in winter or fall

Mileage: 2.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 101 feet

Park on the left side of Tony Grampas park and follow the sign for the bike park.

This short and sweet trail brings you by the Golden High Country Archers Range and the Golden Bike Park. Bring your dog since there is a dog park you will be passing as well!

You even walk through local neighborhoods, all while getting in those hilly views. The dirt path is mostly shaded taking you through the forest, while the other half is out in the sun through the neighborhood, offering you a little bit of everything.

Mother Cabrini Shrine

Many steps leading up to the shrine with views of Golden Colorado around it

Mileage: 0.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 173 feet

This hike in Golden leads you to a shrine to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, known as Mother Cabrini, where you can hi up to the 22-foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Mother Cabrini found this property in 1902. It was used as a summer camp for the Queen of Heaven Orphanage. The purpose was to provide outdoor activities to the girls at the orphanage.

It was built in 1954 at the highest point of the site. You can now trek up the 373-step stairway that leads you to the statue. This is a short but sweet hike that is very historic to the area.

Dakota Ridge Trail

Beautiful Spring Hike at Dakota Ridge in Denver, Colorado, with red rocks amphitheater visible

Mileage: 5.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,099 feet

Located right off Highway 70 west is North Dinosaur Open Space Park, a great place for a hike near Golden.

This hike starts you uphill and then drops you down, making it another uphill journey on the way back.

Follow the ridge between Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Green Mountain. You can do the trail in either direction!

This is a fun workout that makes you feel as if you are hiking in the sky once you reach the top. Enjoy the scenery of the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater — it’s simply stunning!

***

The foothills near Golden, Colorado are a convenient option for those looking for a day hike only 25minutes outside of downtown Denver.

Take an easier stroll downtown for those looking for an easy and relaxing day, or for those seeking a challenge, head into the mountains for that steep uphill climb!

Since most of these trails are in the foothills, be aware of rattlesnake activity, which are commonly reported from early spring through mid-fall. Always watch the path and never pick up large rocks where they could be hiding.

In the winter months, take advantage of the snow-capped mountain vistas, but be sure to pack and dress appropriately for the weather.

Golden, Colorado has a hike for every season and every skill level. Lace up your boots and head into the foothills. Afterward, take advantage of the delicious dining options downtown. You earned it!

How to Visit the Valley of Fire From Las Vegas: Day Trip Guide

Just 45 minutes outside of Vegas is one of the most spectacularly under-the-radar spots in the entire American Southwest: Nevada’s Valley of Fire.

The American Southwest road trip is so popular that it’s become a tad predictable. You’ll hit Zion and Bryce and Arches, for sure. The Grand Canyon, because duh. 

You’ll pop through Page, Arizona for Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, if only to keep the ‘gram happy. 

If you’re intrepid, you’ll visit a few of the lesser-known national parks and monuments scattered along the way — perhaps Canyonlands or Capitol Reef to finish up Utah’s Mighty 5, or check out Monument Valley or Grand Staircase.

But my favorite stop of any Southwest road trip is even less well-known than many of these. It’s not even a National Park. It’s just a humble little state park, an easy day trip from Vegas. 

Where is the Valley of Fire?

Allison standing in the Valley of Fire on a tour

Valley of Fire State Park is located in Overton, NV, about 45 miles and 45 minutes from Las Vegas.

There are two ways to get there: via the East Entrance and via the West Entrance.

This tour assumes you are visiting the Valley of Fire from Las Vegas on a full-day excursion, and thus will use the West Entrance. 

This closest to Fire Cave, Windstone Arch, and the Beehives (the first stops on this Valley of Fire tour as written).

The way to get here is via the Las Vegas Freeway (I-15), followed by exiting at the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza. You can stop here for some shopping or a bathroom break before continuing on the Valley of Fire Highway.

At the West Entrance, you’ll need to pay a $10 entrance fee for a Nevada vehicle ($15 entrance fee for an out-of-state car).

If you enter via the East Entrance for some reason, such as if you are coming from Zion National Park, you’ll want to follow this itinerary in reverse.

To get here, before reaching Las Vegas, you’ll exit off I-15 (Las Vegas Freeway) onto Highway 169, through Moapa Valley and Overton.

Map for This Valley of Fire Itinerary

One Day in Valley of Fire Itinerary

This Valley of Fire itinerary assumes you are visiting Valley of Fire from Las Vegas on a self-guided day trip with a car, either your own or a rental car.

Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental from Las Vegas here.

Get an early start because this is a jam-packed day in Valley of Fire State Park!

Allison walking in the valley of fire on the road throughout the park

Start at the Fire Cave and Windstone Arch.

As you enter the park, your first stop is just a quick side-trip off of Valley of Fire Highway, turning left down a dirt road.

There will be a small parking area for Fire Cave / Windstone Rock, a series of wind caves and arches that are absolutely stunning, with lots of little notches in the rocks carved by wind erosion over the course of millennia.

This is a more off-the-beaten-path area of the park and not too many people will be here, so enjoy the solitude while it lasts!

The arch and several unique holes made in the red sandstone rock over the course of many years from wind erosion

Check out the Beehives.

Head back to the main road and park in the Beehives parking lot. You’ll be surrounded by beautiful red rock formations everywhere you look, including the eponymous “beehives” made of sandstone rock. 

These “beehives” have a fascinating geological story behind them. They are marked with hundreds of grooved lines that indicate layers of sediment that were deposited over time. 

The grooves of these “beehives” alternate in different directions according to the wind or water movement that deposited the sandstone silt there, where it then built up on top of each other to form these unique sandstone formations!

The "beehive" formations at Valley of Fire State Park

See the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock.

At this next stop, you’ll get to see amazing Native American petroglyphs that are well over 4,000 years old. 

These rock carvings were made about 50-feet up on a boulder, and while there is now a staircase to reach them, you have to wonder how the original artists got up here!

Start at the Atlatl Rock Picnic Area and follow the trail up to the staircase. From there, it’s just under 90 steps up to the viewing area where you can see the incredible petroglyphs etched into the rock.

Not much is known definitively about these petroglyphs due to their age, but the reigning theory is that they were carved by Ancestral Puebloans, perhaps by a shaman due to the height of the carvings.

Unfortunately, there is some contemporary graffiti next to the ancient petroglyphs. Please do not add any marks of your own, so that people can continue to enjoy this beautiful piece of art history.

Petroglyphs of a hunting scene with a person figure and some bighorn sheep

Marvel at Arch Rock.

A short distance from Atlatl Rock is your next stop on this one-day Valley of Fire itinerary, Arch Rock! 

You’ll have to park your car in the parking lot and then make your way down just a 0.1-mile path until you reach the viewpoint for Arch Rock. 

Do not climb on it! This is a very fragile piece of the park. Please obey the signage and don’t do anything to mess up the natural beauty of this special place.

The sandstone arch of arch rock in Valley of Fire near Las Vegas

Check out the Seven Sisters en route to Elephant Rock.

The next place on this Valley of Fire itinerary is a quick stop: you may want to pull over and snap a photo or you may just want to pass through, depending on how much time you want to spend in the park.

The Seven Sisters are a smattering of rock formations straddling the road as you make your way towards Elephant Rock. They are cool to notice, but perhaps not worth a long stop.

Seven Sisters rock formations in the Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada near Las Vegas.

Snap some photos of the unique Elephant Rock.

Next up is one of my favorite places in all of Valley of Fire: Elephant Rock!

Make your way to the parking lot and find the trailhead for Elephant Rock. Follow the short trail up about a quarter-mile until you are at the backside of the “elephant” in the rock, looking over the valley and the road below.

This is the best and most “lifelike” shot!

You can either head back out the way you came, or you could continue on the loop — the full hike is only 1.2 miles and it’s really beautiful, and the crowds thin out after the Elephant Rock viewpoint. 

However, if it’s so hot out that even a short hike sounds unappealing, you can snap a photo of Elephant Rock from the front side (not quite as beautiful, but also cool!) or just go to the viewpoint and back, less than half a mile in distance.

Double back to the Visitor Center.

After spending some time snapping photos of the different rock formations in the park, it’s time to drop by the Visitor Center to learn a bit about the history of the park. 

The Visitor Center is really informative (and it’s also air-conditioned, which is a nice break from the park’s relentless heat!) and tells you all about how the park was formed, geologically speaking.

The Valley of Fire is over 150 million years old, and its undulations and rock formations were created by millions of years of erosion and fault line activity. 

The park is known for its “Aztec Sandstone”, its red sandstone formations rich in iron oxide which gives it that special characteristic hue.

Around the Visitor Center, there are some other cool rock formations that are fun to pose on!

Allison standing on a rock near the Visitor Center of Valley of Fire

Take some photos of Balanced Rock.

As you leave the Valley of Fire Visitor Center and start heading down Mouse’s Tank Road towards the rest that the park has to offer, you’ll spot Balanced Rock almost immediately after leaving the parking lot!

This gorgeous and seemingly precariously-balanced rock formation is one of the park’s most unique landmarks. It’s worth a stop for a photo, at least, before you continue on the scenic Mouse’s Tank Road!

Photo of Balanced Rock, a rock balancing on another rock in the valley of fire red rock landscape

Hike to Mouse’s Tank or extend to Fire Canyon Wash.

The hike to Petroglyph Canyon via Mouse’s Tank Trail is only 0.4 miles one-way (0.8 miles return) and it’s worth the short detour!

The canyon is filled with historic Native American petroglyphs, as the name would suggest, and it’s really beautiful and scenic. 

The hike is short and easy, with a mostly sandy trail and limited elevation gain (no more than 60 feet).

If you want to continue onto Fire Canyon Wash, this is a longer hiking trail than others that I’ve recommended in this one-day Valley of Fire itinerary. 

I suggest it only in the non-summer months, otherwise it is too hot for a hike of this length. You can read more about it here.

Hike the Rainbow Vista Trail.

Since the Valley of Fire can be really hot most of the year, I’m trying to be mindful of only recommending short trails that are absolutely worth the effort.

Well, Rainbow Vista Trail is exactly that! In less than a mile roundtrip, with a negligible amount of elevation change, you can reach the beautiful viewpoint with a gorgeous 360-degree view of the surrounding rainbow rocks for which the area is named.

It’s a short, sweet, and stunning hike: the best of all worlds!

Trail marker on the Rainbow Vista trail in the Valley of Fire State Park, southern Nevada.

Snap a photo on Mouse’s Tank Road.

As you continue on towards Fire Wave and other points in the park, you’ll likely want to pull over several times!

This is the best place to snap some amazing “Southwest road” shots as the elevation gain creates beautiful undulations in the road against the red rock formations.

Keep an eye out as you drive — you may spot some bighorn sheep, the state animal of Nevada, grazing on the park lands!

Hike the Pink Canyon.

One of the lesser-known hikes in Valley of Fire is Pink Canyon, also called Pastel Canyon.

Typically, people speed right past on it on their way to the Fire Wave, but I’m here to beg you to stop and visit!

The trailhead can be a bit hard to find. You can put “Pastel (Pink) Canyon Trail” into Google Maps or go to these coordinates: 36°28’46.4″N 114°31’35.7″W

This is an amazing short hike that will take you around 30 minutes to complete. You’ll go through a sandstone slot canyon with pinkish-toned rock, hence the name of the trail.

It’s absolutely stunning and it’s far less crowded than other areas of the park, despite being (in my opinion) one of the best parts!

Pink Canyon Sandstone Bands at Valley of Fire State Park Landscape Views

Check out Fire Wave.

Next up is one of the most famous places to visit in Valley of Fire State Park: the Fire Wave!

This is a great short and easy hike, which can be done in about 30 minutes (including time for photos!).

Note that the beginning is a bit sandy, then there are some loose rocks near the beginning of the trail, but then it’s easy from there!

I suggest going later in the day, when the heat has worn off and when the red rocks pick up more color from the golden hour.

Take the White Domes Trail.

This scenic hike through a white slot canyon is the perfect way to end your day in Valley of Fire.

It’s a 1.1-mile hike that can get quite busy, so this is the perfect way to cap off the early evening, when many day trippers have already returned to Las Vegas.

On this hiking trail, you may find a small ruin left over from the filming of the movie The Professionals

It is so small you may not notice it unless you are looking for it, but it’s a cool piece of trivia to know. All that remains is a little rock wall that formed part of a hacienda, with some wooden posts sticking out. 

My Experience Visiting Valley of Fire State Park

Although I had rented a car in preparation for a road trip around the Southwest, my friend and I decided to take a guided tour through Valley of Fire State Park with Pink Jeep Tours

We wanted to rest up for the thousands of miles we’d be driving and have someone lead the way to all the best sights in the park, and it ended up being a great decision.

We had a great time and saw so much of the park without the stress!

We arrived at the Valley of Fire early, before the sun reached its midday intensity. 

Immediately, we were stunned by the landscape. A rusty red color was everywhere the eye could see. 

The landscape so reminiscent of Mars that it’s actually taken its place in such artistic masterpieces (please hear the sarcasm here, I know it’s the internet) as Total Recall.

Our first stop was The Beehives — aptly named for their oddly round hive-shaped forms. 

After that, we made our way to perhaps the most famous resident of the Valley of Fire: Elephant Rock

Our awesome guide, Dennis — who jokingly went by “Dennis the Menace” — pointed out other, less popular “wildlife” in the parks, encouraging us to imagine shapes in the rocks. It brought me back to laying on my back as a kid, watching clouds float past in the sky. 

We all got into the spirit, seeing everything from baby elephants to Sphinxes to turtles and beyond, each “wildlife spotting” getting more fantastical as the day went on.

But more than any one specific sight on the tour, I enjoyed the grandness and scale of it as a whole. Despite how little known it is outside of the Vegas area, it’s actually huge: I’m talking over 45,000 acres huge. 

It’s grand in another way, too: it’s amazingly old. 

The rocks are essentially the calcified results of ancient sand dunes, more than twice as old as the last living dinosaurs. 

150 million years ago, these dunes formed: dinosaurs last walked the Earth about 65 million years ago. So yeah, they’re pretty freaking old!

And even before the sand dunes formed, all this land was once ocean floor, forced up by roiling plate tectonics and active volcanoes and weathered by time.

Allison walking in the valley of fire

If you’d like to experience the Valley of Fire on a day trip from Vegas, I highly recommend going with Pink Jeep Tours! 

A tour starts at 9 AM and will get you back by 3 PM including roundtrip transfers to your hotel. A tour costs $169, including transfers, all the bottled water you can drink (trust me, you’ll need a lot!), and a packed lunch.

Book your Pink Jeep tour online here!

Another Way to Visit the Valley of Fire

Allison with a bottle of champagne at the Valley of Fire at sunset

While I visited Valley of Fire on a pink Jeep tour, I also visited another way: by helicopter! 

While it was an expensive experience, it absolutely is the most bucket-list-worthy way to visit the Valley of Fire!

Starting in Las Vegas, we were picked up at our hotel for a transfer to the helicopter launch pads outside of Las Vegas. After being given a quick safety briefing, we rose up in the sky on our way to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon!

Allison in a helicopter over the Valley of FIre

On our way, we passed over the gorgeous Lake Mead and the world-famous feat of engineering, the Hoover Dam, until we arrived at the Grand Canyon.

We didn’t land at the Grand Canyon but rather flew over it for about 20-30 minutes, enjoying all the incredible views that this magical national park has to offer.

Then we landed at the Valley of Fire for sunset!

We were totally alone when we landed: no other tours do this, as it is exclusive to this one helicopter tour.

We enjoyed a delicious champagne toast as the sun sunk into the horizon, and the setting sun set the stage for one of the most spectacular colorful shows possible.

The rocks were ablaze with color!

As we returned, the sky darkened and the Las Vegas Strip came alive. We flew over it, sparkling in its full glory, and landed back at where we started.

All in all, the tour took about 3 hours including a 30-minute stop in the Valley of Fire. I would strongly suggest this as a way to complement further exploration of Valley of Fire State Park! 

Seeing it both at ground level and from above really makes you realize the scale and splendor of this unique place.

Book your helicopter sunset Grand Canyon & Valley of Fire tour online here!

Sunset toast over the Valley of Fire with a bottle of champagne!

Want More Time in the Valley of Fire?

If you have a little more time and are interested in some camping, I’d highly recommend a longer stay at the Valley of Fire! 

Camping is first come, first serve and costs $20-30 per night depending on if you need utility hookups. 

Then you’ll get a chance to do some of the longer hikes and see the lovely colors as the sunrises and sunsets set the rocks ablaze.

Where to Go After the Valley of Fire

The Valley of Fire is a great addition to any Las Vegas itinerary. But it also makes a phenomenal stop on a larger Southwest road trip! 

I often suggest people start their road trips of the Southwest in Las Vegas because the car rentals here are quite cheap, and Vegas is not far from many worthwhile stops in Utah and Arizona. 

To explore more of the Las Vegas area, I recommend adding a trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. You can also visit Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam.

You could also explore Southern California, such as the Mojave Desert and Death Valley National Park.

Where to Stay in Las Vegas

BOUTIQUE | The W is the funkiest boutique hotel in all of Vegas — perfect for the ‘gram! The rooms are over the top and ridiculously outlandish and the staff is amazing with their personalized recommendations and greetings.

I loved the calm of the pool there compared to at the SLS (which you can also visit if you stay at the W!). It was an awesome oasis in the middle of crazy Vegas. Can’t rate highly enough! 
>> Check prices, ratings, and availability at The W here.

Relaxing at the W hotel in Las Vegas

BUDGET | For a cool place to stay in Las Vegas on a budget, the Golden Nugget is the classic choice! Highly-rated yet affordable, the Golden Nugget is located off the Strip in the heart of the funky Fremont Street area of Las Vegas, one of my favorite parts of the city.

The Golden Nugget is nostalgic and charming, with a retro facade with updated interiors. It has all the amenities of splashier Vegas hotels — outdoor pool, poolside bar, sauna, and even aquarium-side dining. Baller on a budget!
>> Check prices, ratings, and availability at the Golden Nugget here.

LUXURY | The beautiful The Wynn Las Vegas is a great luxury place to stay in Vegas that is still funky, unique, and decidedly Vegas.

With a luxe full-service spa, five oasis-style pools with cabana areas, designer boutiques on the property, upscale rooms, and a dedicated concierge service to facilitate all you need in the Vegas area, you’ll feel like you just struck it rich!
>> Check prices, ratings, and availability at the Wynn Las Vegas here.

Big Island Hikes: 17 Breathtaking Hikes on Hawaiʻi

the waterfall of rainbow falls in hawaii surrounded by lush green foliage

Hiking on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi is one of the greatest opportunities to enjoy incredible landscapes and inspiring views.

The Big Island is otherwise known as the island of Hawaiʻi, and it’s received the nickname of “The Big Island” to distinguish itself from the U.S. state of Hawaii.

The Big Island is of the most beautiful places on earth to hike. One of the coolest things about the Big Island is that there are eight different climate zones. On just one island, you can explore rainforests, desert areas, and ice caps (plus more).

When you come to Hawaiʻi, you will realize that it is largely made up of two massive mountains, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

Mauna Loa is the largest mountain by volume in the world, whereas Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world if you count what’s below sea level — move over, Everest!

These massive mountains lend themselves to some pretty stellar hiking on the Big Island, as you can imagine!

There is also incredible hiking in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, where you may even get to see lava flowing.

The Big Island is named so because the lava is always flowing, and therefore new land is born every day. It’s the biggest island of the Hawaiʻian islands, but it’s also the newest. There are five volcanoes on the island of Hawaiʻi: Kīlauea, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea (Maunakea), Kohala, and Hualālai.

When I lived on the Big Island, I was able to walk right up to the lava flow when hiking in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park! However, this was because of the timing and is not guaranteed. It just depends on what the lava is doing.

This is also why helicopter rides are a popular attraction on the Big Island. You can always see the flow overhead; it is just too difficult to get to if the lava is flowing in a remote area.

Check out Hawaii helicopters tour online here!

In addition to high elevation climbs and hiking amongst volcanoes, the Big Island is full of beautiful green forests and offers coastal hiking and gorgeous valleys.

Hike on the desert plains, along the shoreline, in the rain forest, or through lava tubes. It does not really matter; every place is spectacular. The Big Island is just that amazing.

We will categorize these Big Island hikes based on regions: Kaʻū, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, Hāmākua, Kohala, Kona, Saddle Road, and Puna.

female hiker standing on mauna loa looking at the clouds and views below the summit

Hikes in Kaʻū

First, we have rural and scenic Kaʻū, which is home to South Point, the southernmost point in the United States.

There are great places to hike on the plains of this area while enjoying the intensity of the dramatic landscapes, as the ocean is always in sight.

There are no amenities in the Kaʻū hiking areas, so bring what you need to have a safe, comfortable journey: some local Hawaiʻian foods to snack on, plenty of water, comfortable clothing and footwear, and anything you need for camping.

You can, however, freely camp on the public lands here. Leave no litter or trash behind, and be sure to dig a hole for your bathroom needs.

South Point

Length: 0.5 miles
Rating: Easy
Route Type: Out and back

You can drive down the dirt roads leading to South Point, where you can then take the short hike to South Point, the southernmost point in the United States.

You may see people jumping off the cliff into the ocean here.. and, you may want to join them! There is a ladder you can climb back up after you jump.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to jump off the cliff, you will enjoy spacious views of the Pacific Ocean.

Papakōlea (Green Sands Beach)

Length: 5.6 miles
Rating: Moderate
Route Type: Out and back

From South Point, you can make the trek to Green Sands Beach. This unique beach gets its name from mineral deposits of olivine crystals.

These deposits come from an ancient lava flow which formed this beach. The beach also contains black and white sands so it is greener in some areas than in others.

The hike follows a dirt road, which makes it easy to navigate. You may even be able to hop a ride with a local driving to the beach. Hitchhiking is very common on the Big Island.

However, I would not recommend driving a rental to Papakōlea unless it’s a 4-wheel drive, as the road is rough.

Once you arrive, either hiking or hitchhiking your way to the beach, stop for a few moments and breathe and take in the beauty. The views are wonderful.

Note: Do not remove any sand from here or any Hawai’ian beach – it’s illegal and fines can be as high as $100,000 (plus Pele may curse you!)

Kaʻū Desert Trailhead

Length: 3.8 miles
Rating: Easy
Route Type: Out and back.

When visiting the Kaʻū district, you want to be sure to check out this trail on the Big Island! It’s special because you will have the opportunity to see fossils of human footprints in the rock along the path.

You will be exposed to the Kaʻū “desert,” which is largely desolate. You should bring lots of water, a hat, and sunscreen.

You will see some wildflowers and the prolific ohia tree along the way. Plus, enjoy more impressive views of the Pacific!

Punaluʻu (Black Sands Beach)

Length: 5.8 miles
Rating: Moderate
Route Type: Out and back

Come here if you want to see sea turtles — they are almost always laying on the beach!

Plus you get to see rare black sand beaches made of lava rock. You can tweak this hike to your liking or hike the entire length of Punaluʻu Bay.

Plus, there are many places to post up on the beach here. There are also restrooms and sometimes food vendors.

Hikes in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

This park has it all… including a luxury hotel! There are camping areas here as well if you’re looking for a more low-key way to spend a few nights in this gorgeous national park.

You can fill your water at the visitors center and check out the displays, or head down Chain of Craters Road to view the sea arch. You can find petroglyphs, lava tubes, rainforest, and desolate craters. It is of the ultimate in Big Island hiking destinations!

You can even see the glow of Kilauea Caldera at its corresponding museum! Peep the steam vents on your way down Crater Rim Drive to see the caldera. The glow of the caldera can be seen from long distances

Halapē (Puʻu Loa via the Puna Coast Trail)

reddish brown rock with bits of green grass and vegetation on this big island hike to halape

Length: 11.3 miles
Rating: Difficult
Route Type: Point-to-point

This hike is not for you if you are an inexperienced hiker. You will need a water filter to refill water, or you’ll have to bring a lot of water to handle this 11-mile one-way, 22-mile roundtrip hike.

Due to its length, this hike is ideal for an overnight backpacking trip; however, you will need a permit for backcountry adventures.

You will find Halapē on the Puʻu Loa via the Puna Coast Trail. You will begin and end on a road, so if you’re traveling with a friend and two cars, you may want to leave vehicles on either end.

Otherwise, you’ll have to prepare a ride ahead of time or hike all the way back, doubling the length of this difficult hike.

This will be a tough but rewarding Big Island hike with some pretty hefty elevation gains. However, you won’t be disappointed with the result. The reward of hiking to Halapē is supreme!

Picture a private beach and freshwater swimming holes in an incredible oasis amongst the desolate lava fields, practically all to yourself.

Puʻu Loa Petroglyphs Trail

Length: 1.2 miles
Rating: Easy
Route Type: Out and back

This is a convenient trail stop-off on your way down Chain of Craters Road, which you can take to check out the sea arch.

This road is a major pipeline through the park with many stops along the way which make a great introduction to hiking on the Big Island.

We like this stop as it is an easy hike with an incredible connection to the ancient Hawaiʻians, where you can acknowledge and pay your respects to their centuries of stewardships of the island.

There is a boardwalk along with parts of the trail which increases the ease of this walk, so this is really one that shouldn’t be skipped while hiking the Big Island.

Kīlauea Craters Trail and Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tubes)

people hiking on the Kīlauea crater trail with volcanic landscapes on a sunny day

Length: 8.0 miles
Rating: Moderate
Route Type: Loop

This trail will give you a well-round experience of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. You will hike in the craters of long-since-erupted areas of the volcanoes you will be walking on. You may even see steam rising from the ground!

You will get to experience jungle and rare plant species that can only grow in this unique landscape. Plus, as you hike, you’ll walk across lava fields and through lava tube caves — be sure to bring sturdy hiking shoes, as these volcanic rocks can be jagged and rough!

Hikes in Hilo

Hilo is a rainy area of the Big Island, so you’ll want to come equipped with some weatherproof gear if hiking near Hilo.

It is one of the busier areas of the island, though it is not as busy as Kona. There are lots of places to check out here, but we will stick with hikes for now!

One of the main draws for hikes in this area is the waterfalls: there are several, and we’ll cover a few of the best Big Island waterfall hikes below.

Rainbow Falls (Waiānuenue)

the rainbow falls waterfall in big island with green lush plants in the foreground

Length: 0.1-0.2 miles
Rating: Easy
Route Type: Out and back

This is one of the most photographed spots in Hilo, and the hike couldn’t be easier!

You can easily view them after a short 0.1-mile hike. Then hike further up the trail to the upper falls (0.2 miles).

When you venture upwards you will get to view one of the most incredible banyan trees I have ever seen — it is over 1000 years old and truly majestic.

Trust me, you will want to climb it. It is not too difficult as the tree allows for “hallways” that form along its many branches. It is a spectacular sight to see and a fun playground for all.

Waiʻale Falls Trail and Boiling Pots Lookout

Sunset over the park with the waterfall and a lot of greenery and lava rocks. Boiling pots on the Big Island. Tropical forest.

Length: 0.6 miles (plus an additional 0.3 miles for the Boiling Pots lookout).
Rating: Moderate
Route Type: Out and back

Here you can view another gorgeous waterfall, plus the Boiling Pots Lookout is pretty stellar, too, and the rapids below will surely impress!

It is also nice as these are two more short hikes with great rewards. You can easily do Rainbow Falls and Waiʻale Falls in a single day of hiking in Hilo. Have a waterfall-themed hike day!

Liliʻuokalani Botanical Garden, Banyan Drive, and Coconut Island Loop

a giant banyan tree in big island hawaii

Length: 2.3 miles
Rating: Easy
Route Type: Loop

This is a great way to see a few Hilo landmarks in one fell swoop!

The Liliʻuokalani Gardens are absolutely lovely: you’ll feel like you’re in Japan as you walk through these 25-acre gardens, which were built in 1917 as tribute to the Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaiʻi to work the sugar cane fields.

The gardens are named after the last reigning monarch of Hawaiʻi, Queen Liliʻuokalani, who was overthrown when the United States invaded the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, as a way of honoring her.

You’ll continue down along Banyan Drive, which is cool because of the beautiful banyans, of course! The banyans were planted by celebrities who have placards on the trees. It’s known as the “Hilo Walk of Fame”.

Finally, Coconut Island is a tiny little island with a park, restrooms, and some beaches. It is popular to jump off the tower in the waters of Hilo Bay from here.

Fun fact: Coconut Island was originally called Mokuola by the Native Hawai’ians. It translates literally to “island [moku] of life [ola]” but can be understood as meaning “healing island”. It was said that one could heal themselves by swimming around the island three times!

Hikes in Hāmākua

Head north from Hilo to picturesque Hāmākua, which is an excellent part of the island for “rainbow hunting” in the wet climate of Hilo… plus it is just such a beautiful part of the island!

Get lost in the jungle or a sacred valley as you explore Hāmākua.

Waipiʻo Valley Trail

Length: 4.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Route Type: Out and back

This is by far one of the most beautiful hiking spots on the Big Island! It is truly magical.

You will have to endure the steep grade of the road down into the valley, but it is worth every step.

Also, be aware that there is a river crossing here. At times the river is not passable due to heavy rainfall, so keep that in mind.

Waipiʻo Valley is a sacred valley to the Native Hawaiʻians (kānaka maoli). It was a place where they lived and celebrated together. In fact, King Kamehameha — the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi — was raised in this valley.

I urge you to remember this when you visit. Hold space for the remaining kānaka maoli, the Native Hawaiʻians, from whom this beautiful land was taken, and who suffered devastating effects from U.S. imperialism, colonization, and annexation.

You can do this by ensuring history stays alive by learning the history of Hawaiʻi and approaching the culture and language of Hawaiʻi with curiosity.

You will have a fuller, more rewarding experience in Hawaiʻi in general if you hold to this rule of respect and curiosity.

Hikes in Kohala

Kohala is situated at the very top of the Big Island. There are just a couple of spots for hiking here.

Be sure to stop in the wonderful town of Hawi to fuel up for your trip. The town is so charming, you might not ever want to leave!

Pololū Trail and ʻĀwini Lookout

the rugged becah of polulu after a hike on the big island

Length: 0.9 miles (3.9 miles to ʻĀwini)
Difficulty: Moderate
Route Type: Out and back

This Big Island trail will take you down to Pololū Valley, where you can enjoy views of the ocean and the green mountains which cascade along the coastline.

There are some swings here for you to enjoy. We suggest bringing a hammock to relax in while taking in the sights and sounds.

The beach is pretty rocky in parts, but if you bring a hammock, you will be all set!

To explore the area more, keep hiking past the beach and follow the trail up to ʻĀwini Lookout. It can be pretty wet and muddy to hike but you get great views and the heart pumping. This is where the 3.9 miles comes in!

Hikes in Kona

Next, we have the “Kona side”. There is a huge amount of things to do in the Kona district!

One of the big draws of Kona is hiking to some hidden beaches along the coast. Plus there are forest and lava hikes for you to enjoy among the many other activities in Kona!

Makalawena Beach (Pu‘u Ali‘i)

Length: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Route Type: Out and back

This is the best beach on the Big Island (the hike is fully worth it!)! It is rarely crowded by beachgoers because of the effort it takes to get there.

You will walk down a road to reach the beach. It has no shade so be sure to bring your reef-safe sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water.

Once you reach the beach you can continue walking to make this a 4-mile hike if you desire. The waters are usually calm for swimming so you may want to just jump right in and enjoy the blue water and white sandy beach!

Puʻu Wa’awa’a Cinder Cone Trail

green and orange cinder cone seen from above

Length: 7.1 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Route Type: Loop

Puʻu Waʻawaʻa Cinder Cone State Park has many great hikes! We like this one as you end up at the top of Puʻu Wa’awa’a

You will get to see an awesome view of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two of my favorite mountains in the world.

The rock formation is also super cool, and you can enjoy wildflowers and spacious views from here

Kealakekua Bay

brilliant turquoise waters in a bay in hawaii big island

Length: 3.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Route Type: Out and back

To find the unmarked trailhead, park on Nāpōʻopoʻo Road at telephone pole #4. There are other turn-outs to park in so please do not block the road!

This is an awesome Big Island hike that ends at the bay, so you may want to bring snorkel gear along. You may get to see ruins from old Hawaiʻian villages.

At low tide, you may see the placard which marks where Captain Cook landed. The story is that Captain Cook was killed by Native Hawaiʻians, but the full story is rarely told.

The real story is that Captain Cook, on this third voyage to Hawaiʻi, attempted to kidnap the King Kalaniʻōpuʻu to hold for ransom in return for a stolen boat, and that Captain Cook died in the struggle. (So, yeah, if you attempt to kidnap the king, you can’t really be surprised by the results…)

Along this hike, besides seeing this interesting historical landmark, you may also get to see Hawaiian spinner dolphins and other beautiful wildlife.

Best Saddle Road Hikes

Cutting across the island is Saddle Road. It is from here you can access hikes on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. You may even want to summit them!

Prepare for the cooler temperatures that occur at higher altitudes. Also, be aware that hiking at these elevations can cause Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Remember to stop frequently if you choose to hike up the mountain, which is almost 14,000 feet!

Bring plenty of water and snacks. Take your time and allow yourself to acclimate to the elevation. Be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen. It feels cool, but you are super exposed to the sun!

Mauna Loa Summit

volcanic rock and cinder cones on the mauna loa summit trail on the big island

Length: 13 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Route type: Out and back

When you climb Mauna Loa, you are hiking on the world’s largest mountain by volume in the world and the world’s largest volcano!

To get to the trailhead, take Saddle Road to Mauna Kea Observatory Road (between mile markers 27 and 28). Park at the trailhead after 17.5 miles of driving on this road. It is one lane in some spots and rough so drive carefully.

Bring a map, although the route is marked with cairns so it is relatively easy to navigate. Just be sure not to hop on the Mauna Loa Trail that begins in the lowland; that is not the same trail you are on here.

Mauna Kea (Maunakea) Summit via Humu’ula Trail

summit of mauna kea the tallest mountain in hawaii

Length: 12 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Route Type: Out and back

To get to the trailhead follow the same directions for Mauna Loa’s trailhead but stop at Ellison Onizuka Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station after about 6 miles.

This is where the trailhead will be. You need a permit to hike Mauna Kea (spelled Maunukea in the Hawaiian language), but it is easy to do with a self-registration station at the trailhead. Be sure to drop off your registration at the visitor center!

You will get to hike past Lake Waiau which is the highest lake in the Pacific Basin. Plus when you climb Mauna Kea, you are hiking the highest mountain in Hawaiʻi, in the Pacific Rim, and the highest sea mountain in the world.

Mauna Kea is named for the Hawaiian sky god Wākea, making this a sacred mountain. Please remember this as you climb. Do not litter or remove anything from the island you are not permitted to.

Honor the tumultuous history of this mountain. There are still many activists protesting the 30 Meter Telescope and further development of Maunakea, as it is just that sacred to the kānaka maoli.

A note about “leaving no trace”: this is a Western concept that is not practiced by many Indigenous groups. You may see some offerings made by the Native Hawaiʻians to the goddess of Maunakea, Poliʻahu; however, this is not needed by outsiders as it can be offensive if done incorrectly.

You absolutely should not interfere with anyone you see leaving an offering, as this is not your place as a visitor. “Leave no trace” does not apply to Indigenous people following their ancestral Indigenous practices, and enforcing this on them is a form of cultural erasure.

In addition to these massive Big Island summit hikes on Saddle Road, there are plenty of shorter hikes you can do.

Puʻu ʻo‘o Trail (8.3 miles), Pu’u Kalepeamoa Loop (1.3 or 3.8 miles), or Kaūmana Trail (2.7 miles) are some other great options for this area.

Puna District

Views of the sea and black lava rocks of recent eruptions of Kilauea from Kalapana for sunset, Puna district, Big island, Hawaii

The only district not fully covered in this article includes the Puna District. This is where a lot of the rainfall on the island occurs.

If the lava is flowing in the right direction, you can access the lava flow from the Puna District. Hiking on the Kalapana Lava Fields to see lava pouring from the mountainside is truly awe-inspiring.

I hope you get to experience it when you visit the Big Island. There are many beautiful spots along the Red Road to explore, as well. Puna is a really special part of the island, so don’t count it out!

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The Big Island is full of adventure and learning opportunities, where you can learn the history of these islands through connecting with its nature and its beauty.

Show up with an open heart and an open mind full of curiosity, and the island will embrace you. Honor the ancient and present-day Native Hawai’ians through educating yourself and taking care of this sacred place.

It is full of jaw-dropping views and incredible experiences, so leave it just as beautiful as you found it. Enjoy your exploration as you hike the Big Island!