July Road Trip: Where to Travel in July

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July is a great time to travel just about anywhere in the U.S.  The weather is great, snow has melted, trails are open, and just about everybody has some vacation time.  As a result, you’ll probably be fighting some crowds, no matter where you go.  So what destinations are worth the trouble in July?  Which ones simply can’t, or shouldn’t, be visited any other month of the year? Let’s take a look at some of your July road trip best bets.

July Road Trip: Northwest Montana & Glacier National Park

July road trip on Going to the Sun Road

A few years back, I learned the hard way: you just can’t rush the arrival of summer in Glacier National Park.  This crown jewel of the national park system has a stunning scenic highway — Going to the Sun Road — that doesn’t open until the plows can clear all the snow.  I visited in late June, thinking the road would certainly be open by then.  That year, it didn’t open until the 4th of July.

There’s still plenty to do if you end up in Glacier National Park in June — areas of the park like Many Glacier offer hikes like Grinnell Glacier Trail that will not disappoint.  But, you simply must drive GTTS at least once in your life, so you might as well plan your visit at a time when it will be possible.  When the road is open, you’ll have access to Logan Pass and the incomparable Highline Trail.

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Glacier National Park isn’t very close to anything.  Kalispell and Missoula have small airports that will probably be expensive. Spokane, Washington is 280 miles away, and Billings, Montana is 425 miles away, but those airports aren’t very big either.  Seattle is 550 miles.  Canadians might want to consider flying into Calgary and making the 280-mile (450 km) drive south.

Why it’s the best time:

Glacier’s Going to the Sun Road often doesn’t open until the beginning of July, and by late September, it will be snowing again.  That gives you a narrow window of opportunity, making a July road trip to Glacier ideal.  Another great thing about July in Glacier: bear grass.  This odd-looking plant (sort of like a 4-foot-tall Q-tip) should be blooming everywhere in July (although some years are much better than others).

 

July Road Trip: Lassen Volcanic National Park

July road trip through Lassen Volcanic National Park

Much like Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’ll have to wait until at least June to drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California.  Lassen is one of our country’s lesser-known and less-visited parks, which is the main reason I’m mentioning it as a July destination.  The truth is, visitor numbers double from June to July, so June would probably be the better month to avoid the crowds.  But, even in busy July, Lassen sees between 100,000-120,000 visitors — about one-fifth of what Zion National Park sees in July. So, it’s still a pretty good bet for a mid-summer visit.

What will you find in Lassen?  Think of it as a miniature Yellowstone. In an area known as Bumpass Hell, you’ll be able to hike through a maze of geothermal features like fumaroles, as they release steam and boiling-hot sulfur water from underground.  Hiking trails are plentiful, and the drive through the park is quite scenic.  And while you’re in northern California, the Redwoods and the Lost Coast are both close-by.

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Reno and Sacramento are both convenient for a July road trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  You might find a cheaper deal on airfare and rental cars by arriving at one of the San Francisco-area airports, without having to add much to your odometer.

Why it’s the best time:

The weather should be perfect at Lassen in July.  The road through the park should open by early June.  July is the busiest month of the year for the park, but the crowds should be manageable.

 

July Road Trip: Beartooth Highway

July road trip on the Beartooth Highway

It’s a road that Charles Kuralt called the “most beautiful drive in America“. That should be enough to put it on your road trip must-do list.  This meandering route over the Beartooth Mountains provides access to the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, and along the way, the views are astounding as you reach an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet.  Hike down to Gardner Lake. Consider an overnight stay at the Top of the World store, to make the magic last a little longer.  And as a bonus, you can also drive the scenic Chief Joseph Highway, which connects the Beartooth to Cody, Wyoming.

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Billings (BIL) is nearby.  It often offers the cheapest airfare of any Montana airport.  Bozeman (BZN) is another option.  If you don’t mind a scenic road trip up to Montana, you could fly into Salt Lake City or Denver.

Why it’s the best time:

The Beartooth Highway closes during the winter and spring.  It’s usually open by Memorial Day, but frequent snowstorms may cause it to shut down for a day or two at a time during June.  It should be open and mostly snow-free in time for a July road trip.  (Chief Joseph Highway remains open year-round, but will be treacherous after snowstorms throughout winter and spring).

Of note, I do not recommend visiting Yellowstone National Park in July.  Nearly a million people visit Yellowstone each year during July, resulting in traffic jams and overflowing parking areas.  Your Beartooth visit will probably include a visit to Yellowstone, but I’d recommend spending more time along the Beartooth Highway, and lowering your expectations for your drive through Yellowstone.

 

July Road Trip: Red Canyon & Scenic Utah Highway 12

July road trip up Utah 12 - Red Canyon

Nestled in the middle of southern Utah is one of the most extraordinary roads you’ll ever drive.  Highway 12 crosses through a landscape carved by the Escalante River, climbs to 9,200 feet, tip-toes across a narrow ridge known as the Hogback, and provides access to amazing places like Bryce Canyon National Park, Kodachrome Basin, Grosvenor Arch, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  You could easily devote an entire vacation to the attractions just off U-12.

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Las Vegas or Salt Lake City.  Both are about 300 miles away, but either drive will be scenic and rewarding.

Why it’s the best time:

Snow can be a factor at higher elevations earlier in the year, but by July, that won’t be a problem.  Neighboring national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon will be crowded, but far fewer people will venture up U-12 to Capitol Reef at its northern end.  The likelihood of dry weather adds the ability to drive side roads like Cottonwood Canyon Road and Hole-In-The-Rock Road, which could be impassable when wet or snowy.

 

Start your search for a July getaway right now! Pick a state to begin:

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