Duration

20 days/21 nights

Distance Traveled

4,105 miles (6,918 kilometers)

Gateway Cities

Salt Lake City (SLC)

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  • Soda Springs, Idaho

  • Blackfoot River, Montana

  • Enchanted Highway, North Dakota

  • Redlin Art Center, South Dakota

  • Fossil Butte, Wyoming

Overview

Arrival Gateway – Salt Lake City (SLC)
Day 1: Minnetonka Caves | Soda Springs | Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
Day 2: Shoshone Falls, Idaho
Day 3: Hells Canyon, Idaho
Day 4: Route of the Hiawatha | Wallace, Idaho
Day 5: Missoula, Montana
Day 6: Bitterroot Valley | Bannack | Butte,  Montana
Day 7: Virginia City & Nevada City | Bozeman, Montana
Day 8: Billings, Montana
Day 9: Enchanted Highway, North Dakota
Day 10: Minot (Home to Norsk Høstfest) | Scandinavian Park, North Dakota
Day 11: International Peace Garden, North Dakota
Day 12: Jamestown | Frontier Village, North Dakota
Day 13: Aberdeen | Watertown | Brookings, South Dakota
Day 14: DeSmet | Pierre, South Dakota
Day 15: Sturgis, South Dakota
Day 16: Lead | Hill City, South Dakota
Day 17: Thermopolis, Wyoming
Day 18: Kilpecker Sand Dunes | Boar’s Tusk, Wyoming
Day 19: Flaming Gorge, Wyoming
Day 20: Fossil Butte, Wyoming
Departure Gateway – Salt Lake City (SLC)

Off the Beaten Path

Day-by-day Itinerary

Catch a connecting flight into Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) for your arrival day into the region. Relax, catch up on sleep, and prepare for your big adventure through the region!

Soda Springs Geyser; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:

Head north from Salt Lake City to take a guided tour of Minnetonka Cave inside St. Charles Canyon above Bear Lake. The limestone cave stretches for a half-mile of enchanting stalactites, stalagmites and banded travertine. One of only two caverns administered by the U.S. Forest Service, the cave also serves as a sanctuary for several bat species.

On your way to Lava Hot Springs, take the Oregon Trail-Bear Lake Scenic Byway and make a pit stop at the Soda Springs Geyser to witness the only captive geyser in the world – erupting every hour on the hour and reaching heights of 100 feet.

Once you’ve arrived in the town of Lava Hot Springs, take the plunge into the famous Lava Hot Springs hot pools. The natural mineral pools are one of the best ways to relax and submerge yourself in the soothing wonder of nature. The world-class facility and spa features five indoor and outdoor sulfur-free pools heated between 38–44° C.

Overnight: Lava Hot Springs

Shoshone Falls; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:

Tucked away in the high desert of Southern Idaho, Shoshone Falls – the Niagara of the West – thunders as it plunges into the rugged Snake River Canyon. Shoshone Falls is one of the largest natural waterfalls in the U.S. at 65 meters tall and 274 meters wide, making it taller than Niagara Falls. Spring and early summer are the best times to see the full power of the falls when water flows are high.

Overnight: Twin Falls or Boise

Hells Canyon; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:

Carved by the powerful Snake River and physically separating the borders of Idaho and Oregon for more than 100 miles, Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America at over 2,100 meters. Access Hells Canyon via the Hells Canyon Dam outside of Cambridge and take your pick of rafting and jet boating guides to match your preferred adrenaline rush and ideal amount of time spent on the water.

For those wanting to feel as connected to the water as possible, whitewater rafting through rapids reaching as high as Class IV is your closest connection to absorbing that energy. If a more leisurely approach is your style, a jet boat cruise will have you comfortably cutting through the waves.

Off the water, there’s plenty of outdoor adventure to be had at Hells Canyon National Recreation Area with hiking and mountain biking through dramatic terrain vegetation of the canyon. No matter which route you chose, you’re sure to be treated to some fantastic canyon views including Nez Perce pictographs, bighorn sheep, black bears, deer, eagles and other wildlife.

Overnight: McCall or Riggins

Route of the Hiawatha; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:

Imagine gliding down a trail of abandoned rail-bed on a mountain bike while soaring trees reach to the sky creating a wall or a plush bed of greenery. The Route of the Hiawatha provides North Idaho visitors the chance to experience a breath-taking experience along the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains. This mountain bike or hike trail spans 15 miles pocketed by sky-high trestles and train tunnels following the abandoned Northern Pacific railroad tracks. The full trail is downhill and suitable for all ages. Planning is also sweat-free with bike equipment rentals available at Lookout Pass Ski Area and a shuttle bus to ferry you back to the top.

After your hearty bike ride, make your way to nearby Wallace. Founded in 1884 after the discovery of silver lodes, the town and surrounding area is the richest silver mining district in the world, earning it the nickname of “Silver Capital of the World.”

In 2004, the town officially declared itself the “Center of the Universe.” The entire downtown of Wallace is also on the National Register of Historic Places, preserving a stretch of quaint and eccentric buildings ideal for wandering and exploring this unique destination.

Jump on the Sierra Silver Mine Tour to hear stories from a hard-rock miner and witness how silver is extracted from underground. Learn about the town’s history of bordellos at the Oasis Bordello Museum. Enjoy a pint of local beer at Wallace Brewing.

Overnight: Wallace

Blackfoot River; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:

Make your way to Missoula by getting off the interstate and following the 22-mile long St. Regis-Paradise Scenic Byway that leads to the National Bison Range. The range is home to about 350-500 of American Bison and numerous other wildlife. After exploring one of the scenic drives at the range, continue to Missoula. Another option is to drive directly to Missoula and consider taking in some whitewater rafting on one of Missoula’s beautiful rivers. Multiple outfitters lead trips on the Blackfoot, Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers. Take an evening hike on the “M” Trail up Mount Sentinel to see the sunset over the Missoula Valley before turning in for the night.

Overnight: Missoula

Bannack State Park; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:

Continue south on U.S. 93 along the Bitterroot River through this picturesque valley. Make a stop at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge to meet some of Montana’s wildest locals. Take time to stop at the Big Hole National Battlefield, which is a memorial to the people who fought and died here on August 9 and 10, 1877. Self-guiding trails take you to points of interest on the Battlefield. Next up is Bannack State Park. Walk the deserted streets of Bannack and discover for yourself what the old west was really like. Bannack is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the country and offers free tours in the summer. Continue to Butte for the evening and explore its unique uptown restaurants, bars and shops. Take a Trolley Tour to learn about its colorful characters and copper mining history.

Overnight: Butte

Virginia City; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:

Virginia City served as the Montana Territorial Capital for 10 years, until the gold ran out. Just a mile away lies Nevada City, a western town created from a collection of buildings from other ghost towns. Both towns have been largely restored and preserved and have become living examples of the real Old West. Original buildings, dating from the Territorial days, are filled with merchandise and implements used when gold camps flourished in the West. Boardwalks, mechanical music machines, a penny arcade, antique automobiles and even a two-story outhouse add to the Old West atmosphere. Virginia City offers visitors the opportunity to pan for gold, take stagecoach rides, ghost tours, train rides, firetruck tours and see an old-time play.

Continue to Bozeman where you can enjoy this thriving arts and culture community with a historic western Main Street and activities ranging from main street festivals, farmers markets, cultural centers and museums, to symphonies, theaters, and art galleries. Nearby mountains, rivers and lakes offer a variety of outdoor activities all year.

Overnight: Bozeman

Livingston; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:

Begin this day by heading east on Interstate-90 toward Livingston. This was the “Original Gateway City to Yellowstone National Park.” The town is surrounded by four beautiful, wild mountain ranges that offer an abundance of outdoor activities year-round, as well as the Yellowstone River. You can go river rafting or fishing, or just take it easy at the museums, art galleries and restaurants in its charming western downtown.

Continue east to Billings, Montana’s largest city. Explore the Black Otter Trail to take in inspiring views of Billings and five mountain ranges. In Swords Park, visit the memorial to Luther Sage “Yellowstone Kelly”, a frontiersman, trapper and scout who roamed the northern Plains in the late 1800s. You’ll get more great views of the Rimrocks from Four Dances Recreation Area. Explore the historic sites, restaurants, and great shopping all in Billings.

Overnight: Billings

Enchanted Highway; credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Take a trip down the Enchanted Highway in western North Dakota for a glimpse of classic roadside art. Giant metal sculptures line the highways starting at Exit 72 on I-94 near Gladstone and ending 32 miles down the road in the small town of Regent. Beginning with “Geese in Flight” at Exit 72, large metal sculptures are placed along the county highway, each with a parking area and kiosk. Sculptures include “World’s Largest Tin Family,” “Teddy Rides Again,” “Pheasants on the Prairie,” “Grasshoppers in the Field,” “Deer Crossing” and “Fisherman’s Dream.” The gift shop in Regent has miniatures of each statue and the charming Enchanted Castle motel and restaurant offers hot meals and a soft bed.

The “Enchanted Castle” is the brainchild of Enchanted Highway creator Gary Greff and embodies Gary’s whimsical style. You’ll park under the drawbridge, be guarded by knights in armor and be attended by the royal staff. The castle is located in Regent at the southern terminus of the Enchanted Highway and features large deluxe units with ‘royal’ decor. The Castle even offers in-room Jacuzzis and an exercise room, and you’ll be served a continental breakfast before you venture forth in quest of gigantic fish, pheasants and grasshoppers.

Overnight: Regent

Scandinavian Park; credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Norsk Høstfest is held annually in the fall in the North Dakota State Fair Center on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot, North Dakota. The festival was founded in 1978 by the late Chester Reiten and a group of friends who shared his interest in celebrating their Nordic heritage. The festival has grown into North America’s largest Scandinavian festival with tens of thousands of people attending from all over the world. The festival features world-class entertainment, authentic Scandinavian cuisine, Scandinavian culture on display, handcrafted Norsk merchandise, plus a fine dining establishment lead by guest chefs.

Norsk Høstfest celebrates Scandinavian culture and heritage of the five Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Each nation is represented in one of the halls in which the festival takes place, and each named after their country’s capital city. The individual styles of each country’s entertainment, food, clothes, art, and jewelry can be found throughout Norsk Høstfest and also in the Scandinavian Heritage Park, the only park in the world representing all five Nordic countries.

Other entities in Minot have sprouted from the same interest of preserving heritage and celebrating Nordic culture. Among those organizations are the Scandinavian Heritage AssociationHøstfest-Heritage Foundation and the Telemark Trade Office.

Overnight: Minot

International Peace Garden; credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Since 1932, nestled in the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota and Manitoba, the International Peace Garden is one of the continent’s most symbolic and scenic attractions – a tribute to peace and friendship between the people of the United States of America and Canada.

The garden encompasses 2,300 acres of nature’s beauty, two pristine freshwater lakes, scenic hiking and driving trails, wildflowers, waterfalls, and a large variety of North American birds and animals. Modern and rustic camping facilities are available, as well as facilities for hosting weddings, conventions, and reunions. Last, but not least, is the phenomenal Formal Garden. With more than 80,000 flowering annuals and perennials, the formal garden is home to a variety of installations including a pollinator garden, a kitchen garden growing fresh produce used in the café, and an All-American Selection Garden that serves as just one of three testing sites for new seeds. Terraces, fountains and sculptures delight visitors and make our Formal Gardens a favorite destination. Don’t miss the iconic floral clock, sunken garden and floral flags.

The main building on site houses a restaurant, gift shop, horticulture library and most importantly, The Conservatory. The world-class Conservatory collection contains 5,000+ cacti and succulent species collected from all over the world.

An off-the-wall nearby attraction is Mystical Horizons – the “Stonehenge of the Prairie” on the edge of the Turtle Mountains.

Overnight: Bottineau or Lake Metigoshe State Park

Fort Seward; credit Lacey Kaiser via North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Learn of the region’s pioneer and military history at Fort Seward Military Post and interpretive center in Jamestown. Visit the Stutsman County Memorial Museum to see a collection of memorabilia from the region. Keep in mind that legendary western writer Louis L’Amour walked the streets of Jamestown and gained inspiration for his novel. A walking trail takes guest to sites frequented by the late writer.

When the need to get into the great outdoors arises, visit the Jamestown Reservoir. With seven boat launches, seven picnic shelters, two swimming beaches, three miles of hard-surfaced walking and biking trails, a world-class disc golf course, and 2,492 acres of water surface area, the reservoir is Jamestown’s premier recreation area.

Original buildings from the frontier villages of North Dakota have been moved to The Frontier Village and filled with antiques and artifacts that bring the world of the prairie pioneers to life. Also at Frontier Village is the National Buffalo Museum. This museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the bison, as well as, promoting the bison industry of today. The museum is home to numerous art works, artifacts, and related Native American items.

A trip to Jamestown in not complete without a stop at the World’s Largest Buffalo. This 26-foot-tall, 60-ton concrete giant has been standing watch over Jamestown from the Frontier Village since 1959 and has proven to be one of the Midwest’s most popular roadside attractions for over 50 years.

Overnight: Jamestown

Redlin Art Center; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Start your journey in South Dakota with a stop at Wylie Park in Aberdeen. The beautiful 210-acre park features go-karts, bumper boats, miniature golf, bicycle and surrey rentals, playgrounds, miles of trail, picnic shelters, sand volleyball, a small lake with swimming beach and fishing for youth.

As you head south stop in at the Redlin Art Center in Watertown and enjoy more than 160 original oil paintings of natural settings by South Dakota artist Terry Redlin.

End your day with some great attractions in Brookings, SD. First stop, the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to preserving the history of agriculture and the rural way of life. Inside the museum special exhibits illustrate South Dakota’s heritage, like the enormous 1915, 65 horsepower steam traction engine, a replica 1915 farmhouse and an 1882 homestead shack. Next, pop into the McCorey Gardens Education & Visitor Center. One of the top 10 small botanical gardens in the United States, McCrory Gardens includes a 25-acre botanical garden and a 45-acre arboretum on the South Dakota State University campus in Brookings.

Overnight: Brookings

Ingalls Homestead; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Experience the life of a pioneer through the eyes of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family at the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet.  While exploring the area where Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family homesteaded, visitors experience South Dakota pioneer heritage through hands-on activities such as riding the covered wagon and making a corncob doll.

The World’s Largest Pheasant is located on Highway 14 in Huron. This 28-foot, 22-ton pheasant made of fiberglass and steel has affirmed Huron as a premier pheasant hunting location since 1959.      Grab your camera and snap a photo with this larger-than-life statue!

Make your way to South Dakota’s state capital city of Pierre and visit the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center. This is the official museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society and tells the story of the state’s history, from pre-statehood to present day. Another must-see is the South Dakota State Capitol Building. Take a self-guided tour through the architecturally beautiful building, and a walk around capital lake.

Located just six miles north of Pierre, the Oahe Dam & Visitor Center stands as one of the largest earth-rolled dams in the world. The Oahe Dam Visitor Center provides a complete history of Lake Oahe and the surrounding area. Exhibits feature the history of the construction of the dam and power plant and the natural history of Lake Oahe and the Missouri River.

Overnight: Pierre

Sunflowers; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Keep an eye out for beautiful yellow fields of sunflowers along your drive – South Dakota is one of the largest producers of sunflowers in the United States. You will see the breathtaking fields in full bloom in August!

As you head toward Sturgis, you can’t miss Bear Butte State Park. Bear Butte, a 1,200-foot tall geological formation, offers an expansive view of its surroundings. An easy hike takes you around Bear Butte Lake. A more challenging hike takes you to the summit on a 1.8 mile-long trail. Today, the ancient ceremonies of the past still take place at the mountain. The mountain is a sacred place to the Lakota, Cheyenne and all the indigenous tribes of the Northern Plains, which still use Bear Butte as a place of worship.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum is home to an ever-growing variety of motorcycles dating back to 1905. On display are a huge selection of American and metric bikes that are on loan from private individuals, along with a wide variety of exhibits, photographs, memorabilia and Sturgis Motorcycle Rally history.

Since 1938, Sturgis has welcomed motorcycle enthusiasts from across the United States and around the world to the annual World’s Largest Motorcycle Rally. Enjoy walking the shops and restaurants in downtown Sturgis – many are motorcycle themed.

Overnight: Sturgis

1880 Train; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Begin your day in the Black Hills at the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center. Explore information about the Sanford Underground Research Facility, the city of Lead, and the history of Homestake. Exhibits include historic photographs, videos, science and mining artifacts, and a 3-D model of the underground! From the deck, view the 1,250-foot-deep Open Cut, and see the many varieties of rock that created this unique landscape.

Also located in Lead is the Black Hills Mining Museum. For more than a century, gold mining was the #1 industry in Lead and in the Northern Black Hills. Today that mining heritage is cleverly depicted as a family friendly attraction, complete with guided tours, an insightful museum, and gold panning.

Down the road in Hill City is the Museum at Black Hills Institute. Black Hills Institute of Geological Research Inc. has long been recognized as one of the world’s finest paleontological and earth science supply house. The Institute’s primary business is supplying professionally prepared fossils, fossil casts, and mineral specimens for research, teaching, and exhibit.

Jump on board the 1880 Train and see the Black Hills by vintage steam train. Relax and enjoy the ride between Hill City and Keystone and experience the narrated and fun journey. For even more fun sight-seeing, check out Trail Rides & ATV Rentals, available at High Country Guest Ranch or Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch.

Overnight: Hill City

Hot Springs State Park; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:

Thermopolis is a great little town in central Wyoming offering hot springs, wildlife and dinosaurs all within a few miles! Hot Springs State Park features water that flows from natural hot springs at a temperature of 56 degrees Celsius. Enjoy the colorful mineral water that pours from these hot springs and its beautiful effect on the landscape. Stroll along the walkway or enjoy the view from the Swinging Bridge suspension bridge. Take a dip in the free Wyoming State Bath House or take the family to Star Plunge featuring water slides and a steam cave.

Drive through Hot Springs State Park to see the state bison herd in their natural habitat. Located approximately 30 miles northwest of Hot Springs State Park, Legend Rock enables visitors to view over 300 petroglyphs spanning a time-period of thousands of years. These petroglyphs introduce you to multiple cultures and eras long past.

Some of the first dinosaur remains were found around Thermopolis, and many are still being dug up in this region today. Located less than two miles from Hot Springs State Park, the Wyoming Dinosaur Center features a museum filled with educational information about the rise of dinosaurs, including hundreds of displays and over 30 mounted skeletons.

Wyoming Whiskey is located just north of town in Kirby. Here is where locals and tourists alike flock to get quality whiskey and tour the establishment to see how and where this liquid gold is created.

Overnight: Thermopolis

Rock Springs; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:

Rock Springs sprung from the growth and development of the area’s coal mining industry, but today, Rock Springs thrives with trona mines and a booming oil and gas industry, keeping the city vibrant and making it a local hub for dining, shopping and attractions.

You can play in one of nature’s largest sandboxes in the country just a few miles north of Rock Springs at the Killpecker Sand Dunes. There’s an off-road vehicle “play area” for desert toys and lots of space to walk around in the sand. Boar’s Tusk, the core of an ancient volcano, rises straight out of the ground and guards the sand dunes. The dormant volcanic structure is used as a landmark for hikers, mountain bikers, and railroad travelers.

Western Wyoming Community College is home to five life-sized dinosaur displays. They are the largest easily accessible collection of dinosaurs along I-80 from Chicago to San Francisco. It is also home to fossils, an art gallery, and so much more! Drop by the College on your way to Yellowstone National Park and learn about the dinosaurs and fossils that roamed this area thousands of years ago. If you have youngsters, Western has hid six orange mustangs on campus. So while you’re on your tour, you can have some fun at finding all six! Prizes are awarded at the end of the tour.

Overnight: Rock Springs

Flaming Gorge; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:

Both the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River in southwestern Wyoming are a fishing paradise. The reservoir is filled with 30+ pound lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, kokanee salmon and smallmouth bass. In addition to fishing on the reservoir, the Green River is famous for its abundantly clear water and endless trout supply. On any given day you will see a fleet of drift boats and rubber rafts floating down the Green River.

The epic scenery and landscape of Flaming Gorge makes it the perfect place to take a hike. Trails consist of both deserts to forests and range from short jaunts to longer excursions. Visitors can also tour the Flaming Gorge Dam. Located just south of the Wyoming border in our neighboring state of Utah, the dam separates the reservoir from the river and is one of the largest in the West. It rises more than 500 feet above the Green River and provides water storage in addition to hydroelectric power. There is a visitor center located on top of the dam, which provides daily tours down into the dam to view the hydroelectric power plant.

Overnight: Camping in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area or Green River

Fossil; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:

Located in beautiful southwest Wyoming, Fossil Butte National Monument is one of the largest deposits of freshwater fish fossils in the world. The area’s calm water, lack of scavengers and fine sediment all worked together to create the perfect conditions for preserving fossils. This area is rich with fossils of fish, alligators, bats, turtles, small horses, insects, and many other species of plants and animals.

At the base of Fossil Butte are the bright red, purple, yellow and gray beds of the Wasatch Formation. Eroded portions of these horizontal beds slope gradually upward from the valley floor and steepen abruptly. Overlying them and extending to the top of the butte are the much steeper buff-to-white beds of the Green River Formation.

Fossil Butte offers several maintained trails and additional hiking along two-track dirt roads that spur off the Scenic Drive. All hikes are less than three miles and allow visitors to take in the site’s unique landscape and geological features.

Fossil Butte’s visitor center acts as a museum for this ancient site, featuring a number of exhibits that display over 300 fossils. Video programs, a fossil preparation lab and a fossil rubbing table all create a unique ways to discover this history of this site. In addition visitors can take a ride along the site’s Scenic Drive, stop for lunch at a designated picnic area or attend a ranger program.

Overnight: Kemmerer

Drop off your rental car and make your way to Salt Lake International Airport (SLC) to head back home with a new set of memories to take with you!