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For a long weekend or cool summer vacation, these five mountain towns are easy to get to and even easier to love

Boulder, Utah

Red canyons in Boulder, Utah
Photo: National Park Service
Illustration: Ryan Vellinga

Fine dining at the top step of a natural wonder

The other Boulder (Utah, not Colorado) isn’t the easiest of our five destinations to get to — it’s a five-and-a-half hour drive with a few twists and turns — but the payoff is massive, as you land in a bonanza of natural wonders. Even the drive itself, on Scenic Byway 12 passing through Bryce Canyon, is so spectacular that the Federal Highway Administration designated it one of the country’s 184 All American Roads. My husband and I find the high-desert mix of mountain forests and sandstone cliffs so enchanting that we eloped there. And every time we go back, we leave wishing we had more time to stay.


If you plan to eat multiple meals at Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm (more below), then you’ll want to book a room at Boulder Mountain Lodge. Besides being comfy and well-appointed, it’s just steps from the celebrated restaurant on Highway 12 ($130 and up, For something more off the beaten path, check out Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch, which has everything from tent camping and yurts to cabins and a classic lodge ($130 and up,


No offense to Mother Nature, but the food in Boulder is the main draw for many visitors. Hell’s Backbone Grill Owners Jen Castle and Blake Spalding have created something so special with their farm-to-table restaurant that they’ve earned a top Zagat rating and been James Beard Award semifinalists twice. Don’t leave without a package of Castle’s Blue Ribbon Black-Powder biscuit mix ( For breakfast or lunch, make time to visit Kiva Koffeehouse on the 12 between Boulder and Escalante. The java’s fine, but the view? Breathtaking (

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There are gazillions of hikes within a stone’s throw of Boulder, but if you only have time for one, go to Capitol Reef. There are treks of every difficulty level there — from wheelchair-accessible walks to backcountry backpacking — and the geologically diverse scenery is awe-inspiring, no matter which one you choose ( For something closer to town and more family-oriented, check out the Anasazi State Park Museum. The site holds Pueblo ruins and artifacts from as far back as 1050 CE, along with short interpretive trails, picnic areas, and interactive exhibits (


Hell’s Backbone Grill gets its name from a 35-mile scenic drive that includes a hair-raising one-lane bridge over a deep gorge in the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the road in 1933 as the first connector between Boulder and nearby Escalante, Utah (now also on Highway 12). Meandering through aspen and ponderosa pine forest, the gravel road takes around two hours to complete ( If you’re afraid of heights, then try the 67-mile Burr Trail, another historic — and highly scenic — drive, this one connecting Boulder to Bullfrog Marina at Lake Powell. It’s a rough backcountry road, but those with high-clearance/four-wheel-drive vehicles have access to a smorgasbord of sweeping vistas along the way: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.