Modoc Plateau, Calif.
Hardy hikers can try an eight- to 10-mile cross-country hike up Hot Springs Peak in the trail-less Skedaddle Mountains east of Susanville, Calif. But there's an easier option to tap the beauty of this high-desert range: Drive the 31-mile unpaved Buckhorn Backcountry Byway that starts east of Ravendale and continues into Nevada.
Info: Modoc National Forest, (530) 233-5811
Heart of the Great Basin, Nev.
This is what the Wild West is all about. High-desert hills dotted with sagebrush and juniper give rise to roughly hewn 12,000-foot-tall Toiyabe, Toquima and Monitor peaks.
The jumping-off point is Austin, a "living" ghost town about 170 miles east of Reno that's smack dab in the center of Nevada. Hardy hikers and backpackers can walk pieces or all of the 72-mile Toiyabe Crest Trail to see glacier-carved canyons and remote creeks up close or take an easy quarter-mile walk to see Native American pictographs and petroglyphs inside Toquima Cave as well as some nearby hot springs.
Info: Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, (775) 964-2200, http://www.austinnevada.com; Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Austin Ranger District, (775) 964-2671
San Rafael Swell, Utah
This stretch of south-central Utah could well have turned up in a John Ford movie (though he favored Monument Valley, Ariz., for his classic westerns). Interstate 70 cuts right through the area about 75 miles long and 40 miles wide, offering sweeping views of this land of spires, arches, narrow canyons and gorges.
The must-see stop: Goblin Valley State Park, which looks like clay blobs left on an abandoned potter's wheel. Meander around the bizarre landscape of stone hoodoos and rock domes and you'll catch views of the usually snowy Henry Mountains in the distance. The park is between Green River and Hanksville at the southern end of the swell.
Info: Goblin Valley State Park, (435) 275-4584
Northern Prairie, Mont.
This is where big grasslands meet Big Sky.
The rolling, undulating sea of prairie has been deemed the largest native grasslands remaining in the United States. No dramatic rock formations or craggy peaks clutter the horizon; this more nuanced landscape provides nesting grounds for the long-billed curlew, a shorebird that winters in California.
A good point of entry is Pine Butte Guest Ranch run by the Nature Conservancy, which offers naturalist-led hikes, horseback rides and cabins from which you can watch light and wind play with the grasses. The ranch is five miles north of Choteau on Montana Highway 89 and is open until the first week in October.
Info: Pine Butte Guest Ranch, (406) 466-2158
Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve, N.M.
The lesser prairie chicken has become an iconic figure in this 58,000-acre area of New Mexico west of Roswell.