To road trip through the entire length of the Rocky Mountains would be a nearly 2,000-mile trip, starting in the northern-most part of British Columbia, Canada, and traveling all the way down to New Mexico. Whether you plan to traverse the whole range or just make stops in the parts closest to you, you can find breathtaking views and out-of-this-world landscapes in all parts of the Rockies. However, it's best to narrow them down to the places you most want to see and can most realistically get to (if you're driving through Colorado, then getting to Jasper National Park isn't likely to make your itinerary).
The following list of the top destinations to visit in the Rocky Mountains starts north in Canada and moves south, so you can easily plan your trip based on your starting point. And although those road trips are all included with driving in mind, the Rockies are best enjoyed in the outdoors, whether you're hiking, trekking, kayaking, bouldering, camping, or whatever activity you choose. So don't forget to pull over and enjoy the scenery.
Because these roads are in the Rocky Mountains, many of them are closed during bad weather or even all winter and spring. Be sure to check local road conditions for safety before heading out.
Icefields Parkway, Jasper and Banff National Parks
One of North America's most stunning drives, the Icefields Parkway traverses Jasper and Banff national parks, the crown jewels of the Canadian Rockies. This scenic road starts in the town of Jasper where Highway 93 begins—also known as the Icefields Parkway—and winds down until Highway 93 merges with the Trans-Canadian Highway near the idyllic Lake Louise. The route is 144 miles long but with so many scenic viewpoints, trailheads, waterfalls, and sweeping valleys that you should factor in at least an entire day for taking it all in, if not longer.
Some highlights along the route include the Jasper Skytram at the very beginning, the glass-floored and heart-racing Skywalk, and the Instagram-famous Peyto Lake. The terminus of the Icefields Parkway will bring travelers right to Lake Louise and the Valley of Ten Peaks in Banff National Park, two remote areas that are perfect for camping, hiking, or just having a picnic underneath their natural splendor.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Loop
The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is actually a combination of two national parks: Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, and Glacier National Park in Montana. The international park is filled with beautiful mountain peaks, wildflower patches, and alpine meadows, and this year-round getaway has something unique to offer each season of the year. If you can't choose which side of the park you want to visit, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Loop gives visitors the chance to experience the best of both worlds.
There is no officially designated loop, but to circle both parks you'll drive approximately 300–400 miles, depending on exactly which routes you take. One scenic section that shouldn't be missed is the so-called Going-to-the-Sun Road on the U.S. side, the only road that traverses Glacier National Park from east to west. It's a difficult drive with many hairpin turns and it's only open from summer to fall, but the reward is well worth the challenge. If you do plan to drive the entire loop, make sure you have passports for all passengers on hand when crossing the international border.
Beartooth Highway to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is the most visited location in the entire Rocky Mountain range, but getting there can be just as much a part of the experience as actually seeing the park. There are a number of ways to enter America's first national park, but coming in from Montana along the Beartooth Highway is considered by many to be the most scenic.
This famous roadway starts on Highway 212 in the town of Red Lodge, Montana—about an hour south of Billings—and winds through the mountains of southern Montana and northern Wyoming before terminating at the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The entire route from Red Lodge to Yellowstone is only 68 miles, but between the elevation gain, winding roads, and stopping for pictures, you should plan for it to take at least two to three hours. From there, you can continue the drive through the Yellowstone loop and see what else the park has to hold.
Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park
A list of road trips through the Rockies isn't complete without at least one route that goes through Rocky Mountain National Park, and while there are many to choose from, the Trail Ridge Road is one of the most popular—and for good reason. The route starts at the doorstep of the national park in Estes Park, Colorado, traveling west through mountains and across the Continental Divide along U.S. Highway 34 for 48 miles until reaching the city of Grand Lake.
Reaching elevations of over 12,000 feet, it's one of the highest points you can reach in a car in all of North America and provides some of the most exquisite views. But don't enjoy all of them from inside the car. Be sure to pullover in designated areas to take in the views, hike along the nearby trails, and breathe in the fresh alpine air.
Royal Gorge in Cañon City, Colorado
Unlike many of the famous gorges in the United States that are expansive and broad—like the Grand Canyon—the Royal Gorge is deep and narrow, making it a unique one to visit. The Royal Gorge Bridge offers great views down into the gorge itself, though this might not be the best destination for vertigo sufferers. You might also see the excursion train taking visitors along the railroad that runs along the bottom of the gorge. And if you're interested, you can book a trip on the train during your visit, raft through the gorge, or zipline above it, depending on how adventurous you're feeling.