Duration

20 days/21 nights

Distance Traveled

4,945 miles (7,958 kilometers)

Gateway Cities

Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)

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  • Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, North Dakota

  • Nevada City, Montana

  • Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park, Idaho

  • Cody Stampede Rodeo, Wyoming

  • Laura Ingalls Homestead, South Dakota

Overview

Arrival Gateway – Minneapolis-St Paul (MSP)
Day 1: Jamestown, North Dakota
Day 2: Washburn, North Dakota
Day 3: Bismarck-Mandan, North Dakota
Day 4: Medora, North Dakota
Day 5: Little Bighorn Battlefield | Billings, Montana
Day 6: Virginia City & Nevada City, Montana
Day 7: Butte | Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site | Missoula, Montana
Day 8: Garnet Ghost Town | Philipsburg, Montana
Day 9: Wallace, Idaho
Day 10: Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park, Idaho
Day 11: Salmon, Idaho
Day 12: Oregon Trail | Montpelier, Idaho
Day 13: Cheyenne, Wyoming
Day 14: Fort Laramie | Casper, Wyoming
Day 15: Cody, Wyoming
Day 16: Buffalo, Wyoming
Day 17: Custer State Park, South Dakota
Day 18: Deadwood, South Dakota
Day 19: Badlands | Pierre, South Dakota
Day 20: DeSmet | Mitchell | Sioux Falls
Departure Gateway – Minneapolis-St Paul (MSP)

Western Heritage

Day-by-day Itinerary

Catch a connecting flight into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) for your arrival day into the region. Relax, catch up on sleep, and prepare for your big adventure through the region!

World’s Largest Buffalo at Jamestown; Credit North Dakota Tourism.

Activities:

Jamestown has long been known for its buffalo, but there is a lot more to this eastern North Dakota city than the World’s Largest Buffalo, the sacred white buffalo and buffalo herd and the National Buffalo Museum.

Learn of the region’s pioneer and military history at Fort Seward Military Post and interpretive center. 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 and gained inspiration for his novels. A walking trail takes guests to sites frequented by the late writer.

In 2016, Jamestown unveiled its Talking Trail, a self-guided audio tour through the town’s sights and attractions, from the National Buffalo Museum to Fort Seward.

Overnight: Jamestown

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center; Credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Washburn has played a vital role in North Dakota tourism since before North Dakota was a territory. Beginning with some of the first visitors (Lewis and Clark), Washburn area residents (Sakakawea) have extended a friendly hand while sharing with guests the sights and sounds of this Missouri River community.

Lewis and Clark wintered at nearby Fort Mandan on their way to the Pacific Ocean, and you can learn all about the expedition at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and at the reconstructed Fort Mandan along the river. It you prefer to be on the river, there is access for boating, kayaking or fishing. For sports, Painted Woods Golf Course recently expanded to 18 holes along Painted Woods Creek. Tee times are easy to get.

The Sakakawea Scenic Byway begins (or ends) in Washburn and its route west of town takes visitors on bluffs above the sweeping bends in the river as it makes its way north toward Lake Sakakawea. The McLean County Historical Museum tells the history of the area, including that of the Sioux Ferry, which is on display by the river. The Henry Lorentzen Western Art Gallery is open by appointment and features original works by the artist.

Cross Ranch State Park’s 5,000-acrea nature preserve is across the river from the town of Washburn. The annual bluegrass festival and quiet camping – including yurts – are available there.

Overnight: Bismarck, Cross Ranch, or Riverdale

Missouri River; credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

The Bismarck-Mandan area has welcomed visitors since Lewis and Clark paddled up the Missouri River in 1804. As the capital of North Dakota and hub of culture, history and shopping, you won’t want to miss attractions like the Dakota Zoo, the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, Fort Abraham Lincoln, and the Lewis & Clark Riverboat.

The North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum is the largest museum in the state and features temporary and permanent exhibits that explore the story of life on the northern plains from prehistory to the present.

Once an infantry post until it was decommissioned following the US Civil War, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is home to the Custer House – replica of General and Mrs. Custer’s home on the cavalry base – and On-a-Slant Mandan Indian Village with 6 earthlodge replicas of the Mandan village last occupied in the late 1700’s.

Annual events in Bismarck-Mandan include the Mandan Rodeo Days and United Tribes International Powwow. The Mandan Rodeo is legendary, beginning as a Fourth of July event in 1879 with a baseball game and pony races. The United Tribes International Powwow celebrates the and often have religious significance, but are also a time for people to gather, sing, dance, feast, pray, renew old friendships and make new ones.

Overnight: Bismarck

Medora; credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

The small town of Medora is an Old West cowtown home to horseback rides, modern museums, state-of-the-art Burning Hills Amphitheatre and North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, and more notably known as the gateway to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the most beautiful places in North Dakota with herds of buffalo, majestic wild horses and a rugged landscape that will take your breath away. In the South Unit of the park you’ll find a paved 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive with pullouts and interpretive signs that explain some of the park’s historical and natural features, and at the entrance of the park find former president Theodore Roosevelt’s late 1800’s Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin.

Play 18 holes of golf on the scenic Bully Pulpit Golf Course, then head over to Tjaden Terrace for a pitchfork steak dinner and views of bluffs overlooking Medora. Finally, settle in for the nightly Medora Musical.

Southwest of Medora visit the site that memorializes the life of Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores, who arrived in 1883. Among his enterprises were a beef packing plant, a stagecoach line, a freighting company, refrigerated railway cars, cattle and sheep raising, land ownership, and a new town which he called Medora, in honor of his wife. Today, find Chateau de Mores – a 26-room, two-story frame building built in 1883 as the summer residence of the Marquis’s family – now a historic house museum containing many of the original furnishings and personal effects of the de Mores family.

Overnight: Medora

Little Bighorn Battlefield; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:

Today’s drive takes you an hour outside of Billings to the Crow Reservation and the site of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  The monument memorializes the site of the battle which took place on June 25-26, 1876 between the United States Seventh Cavalry Regiment led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, and the Sioux and Cheyenne under the political and spiritual leadership of Sitting Bull.  The Museum features exhibits of the history of the battle, Custer, weapons, archaeology, Plains Indian life, and a walking tour with interpretive markers. A 4.5-mile self-guiding tour road connects two separate battlefields, the Custer Battlefield and the Reno-Benteen Battlefield. Ranger programs are scheduled throughout the summer, and bus tours of the battlefield operate from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

Continue to Billings.  Billings is the largest city in Montana and is settled on the banks of the Yellowstone River and boasts a bustling historic downtown with several delicious eateries and microbreweries all within walking distance.

Overnight: Billings

Nevada City; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Begin the morning by continuing your exploration of Billings. Grab an early breakfast and head west on Interstate-90 toward Livingston. This spectacular interstate drive offers scenic views of the Yellowstone River and several mountain ranges including the beautiful Crazy Mountains. Continue to the mountain town of Bozeman, which has popular sites including the Museum of the Rockies, known for its T-Rex dinosaur collection, and enjoy a stroll along its western Main Street and the many interesting shops and galleries.

Next stop is Virginia City and Nevada City.  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.

 Overnight: Virginia City, Ennis or Butte

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Enjoy some time in Butte.  This copper mecca was once one of the most thriving cities in the west. Explore historical downtown which includes the Copper King Mansion, the former residence of copper tycoon William Andrews Clark.  Walk through a faithful re-creation of an 1890s mining town at the World Museum of Mining and do an underground tour at the Orphan Girl Mine.

Take the short drive to Deer Lodge and take in the story of the hard-working cowboy.  Once the headquarters of a 10-million-acre cattle empire, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site preserves these symbols and commemorates the role of cattlemen in American history. Today the main house and its original furnishings are preserved intact, along with the bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, horse barns, cattle sheds, and other outbuildings dating as far back as the 1860s. Cattle also continue to graze on the lush grasses of the ranch, much as they have since the 1860s.

Guided tours of the main ranch house are offered year round. Other ranger-led activities such as chuckwagon programs, cowboy talks, blacksmith demonstrations, hands-on ranger choice programs, and wagon tours are offered seasonally.

Continue to the beautiful river community of Missoula.  Nestled in the Northern Rockies of Montana, surrounded by seven wilderness areas and at the confluence of three rivers, Missoula is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. In addition to the boundless opportunities for outdoor recreation, popular sites in Missoula include the Smokejumper Visitor Center, the Montana Natural History Center, Fort Missoula and a stroll through its lively downtown. 

Overnight: Missoula

Garnet Ghost Town; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:       

After a leisurely breakfast in Missoula, find your way to Garnet.  Garnet is a historic mining ghost town located in the mountains less than an hour from Missoula. It sits at an elevation of about 6,000 feet at the head of First Chance Creek. It was named after the brown garnet rock which was used as an abrasive and a semi-precious stone found in the area. The town dates to 1895 and more than 30 buildings have been preserved, most of which visitors can wander through. Visitors to the ghost town will find a Visitor Center, interpretive signs and self-guided trails, as well as books, cards and other memorabilia.

Explore more of the area and take the Pintler Scenic Highway (Highway 1) to visit the silver mining town of Philipsburg. It is one is the prettiest towns in Montana, lovingly restored from its 1890s mining days. Here you can mine for sapphires, try a local beer or barbeque, or indulge in a milkshake at the old soda fountain.

Overnight: Missoula

Route of the Hiawatha; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:       

Founded in 1884 after the discovery of silver lodes, Wallace and the surrounding area is the richest silver mining district in the world, earning it the nickname of “Silver Capital of the World.” The area blends wild west mining history with modern-day techniques as it continues to produce silver and other metals.

A town with a long history, bold personality and charm to spare, there’s plenty of quirky fun to be found during a stop in Wallace. 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.

Visit the ghost town at Burke Canyon, just north of Wallace in the Silver Valley Historical Area. The historical mine site is filled with the relics and remains of the area’s peak silver mining days. Take a mountain bike ride on the Route of the Hiawatha, a Hall of Fame trail honored by the Rail-to-Trail Conservancy which spans 15 miles of 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.

Overnight: Wallace

Cataldo Mission; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:

For your second day in Wallace, 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 and enjoy a pint of local beer at Wallace Brewing. See how you would fare as a miner and try your hand at gold panning at the Crystal Gold Mine in nearby Kellogg.

Continue the historical tour by heading West on I-90 less than 25 miles to the Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park in Cataldo. The park preserves a rich history of the Jesuit missionaries who settled in the area and their interactions with the local Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

Home to the oldest standing building in Idaho, The Mission of the Sacred Heart has been preserved since its construction between 1850 and 1853 using only mud, dowels and straw. Tour the Sacred Heart Mission church and Parish House, stroll the grounds to learn about how the missionaries and natives lived on the land and check out the visitor center to see the Sacred Encounters exhibit, which showcases the histories of the land and people.

Head to Coeur d’Alene to wrap your day. If you’re visiting at the end of August, be sure to catch the Gem State Stampede PRCA Rodeo for bull riding, steer wrestling and more western stylings.

Overnight: Coeur d’Alene

Salmon; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:

Discover and honor the story of Sacajawea, the historic and infamous Agaidika Lemhi Shoshone women who helped guide the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center in Salmon is dedicated to her memory and information about the Lewis & Clark Expedition and Agaidika Shoshone-Bannock. The lush 71-acre park features an interpretive center, artifacts, scenic walking trails and special summer programming.

Take the Salmon River Scenic Byway to the Land of the Yankee Fork State Park for highlights of Idaho’s frontier mining history. The interpretive center near Challis is a great resource for learning about the area’s mining history through museum exhibits where you can test your gold panning skills. Historical sites and ghost towns throughout the park tell the story of the land’s early inhabitants and gold seekers.

Overnight: Fort Hall or Pocatello

The National Oregon/California Trail Center; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:

Continue your journey southeast along the Oregon Trail-Bear Lake Scenic Byway to the Oregon National Historic Trail. The national monument and historical site in Montpelier showcase the westward migration of American settlers. Miles of trail ruts are still visible today to envision the parade of wagons and stagecoaches. Find your own connection to the trail via auto-touring, hiking, biking or horseback riding.

Overnight: Montpelier or Lava Hot Springs

Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:       

From the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration to world-class mountain biking, climbing, and camping, a visit to Wyoming’s capital offers great opportunities. Some annual events to enjoy in Cheyenne are Cheyenne Frontier Days, Depot Days, Kids Cowboy Festival, Wyoming Brewers Festival, Celtic Festival, Farmers Market, Oktoberfest, Happy Jack Music Festival, Cheyenne Wine Festival, Cowboy Symposium, Greek Festival, and the Christmas Parade.

Experience Wyoming’s culture at the Wyoming State Museum, founded in 1895, this is the only museum dedicated to the entire history of Wyoming. Permanent exhibits include artifacts that tell Wyoming’s history, regional wildlife, coal mining, dinosaurs, Native Americans in Wyoming, pioneers, and the USS Wyoming.

From the historic depot that is the cornerstone of the plaza downtown to the Big Boy Steam Engine on display in Holiday Park, modern-day Cheyenne is still a thriving railroad community.  For fun with the whole family, hop aboard the Cheyenne Steamers Miniature Train Ride or tour the Terry Bison Ranch by train.

Located in Lions Park, the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens is an oasis on the high plains. Senior, youth and handicapped volunteers maintain the nine acres of specialty gardens and additionally, plant and maintain flowerbeds in Cheyenne’s park system and many street right of ways. The sub-tropical conservatory is 100% solar heated and 50% solar powered and is open almost every day.

Overnight: Cheyenne

Fort Laramie National Historical Site; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:       

In Casper, you’ll revel in all the picturesque Western scenery, spectacular recreation, and cozy amenities of a traditional mountain town without having to worry about long lines. Bike across Casper Mountain’s limitless trails or float down the North Platte River and spend lunch-hour fly fishing for blue ribbon trout in the heart of downtown.

Visit Ayres Natural Bridge, one of three natural bridges in the world, or join field expeditions at the Tate Geological Museum led by experienced paleontologists to dig for dinosaurs.

As the main point of convergence between the Oregon, Mormon, California and Pony Express trails, history comes alive at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center telling of pioneer history and westward expansion. After that, check out a tour of a reconstructed 1865 military post located at a major river crossing on the Oregon, Mormon Pioneer, California, Pony Express, and transcontinental telegraph trail corridor; The Fort Caspar Museum & Historic Site.

Don’t forget to stop downtown at David Street Station, a central gathering place for a wide variety of events and activities including concerts, festivals, movies, markets, rallies, art walks, sporting events, and more. Seasonal events in Casper include the College National Finals Rodeo in June, the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo in July and Beartrap Summer Festival in August.

Overnight: Casper

Cody Nite Rodeo; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Located just 50 miles from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park and 80 miles from the northeast entrance, Cody was founded in 1896 by the living legend, Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who at the age of 41 was one of the most famous men in the world. Experience the west with attractions that include world-class museums, nightly rodeos, gun fight re-enactments, and cowboy music.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West houses five world-class museums and a research library all under one roof, all dedicated to the American West; its history, art, Native American heritage, the natural science of the Yellowstone region, and the development and importance of firearms to the West.

Outdoor adventure includes rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, fly-fishing, horseback riding or river rafting. Three scenic byways offer opportunities to view wildlife and see some of the most beautiful landscapes anywhere. Cody’s downtown includes fine restaurants, art galleries, unique shopping and the historic hotels.

Visitors can’t miss the Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tours and the opportunity to see golden eagles, pronghorn antelope, black tailed prairie dogs, and coyotes! It’s a true American safari with each tour being completely unique.

Since 1938, the Cody Nite Rodeo has been an annual town staple to catch real wild, western, family-friendly action nightly, June – August. Visitors can also enjoy a Western music experience at Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue which can be seen at the Buffalo Bill’s Music Hall.

Overnight: Cody

Bighorn Mountains; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:       

The historic town of Buffalo is tucked away between the rolling plains of the Old West and the towering peaks of the Bighorn Mountains. Whether it’s beautiful scenery, wide open spaces, outdoor recreation, or getting a sense of history through great museums, Buffalo and its surrounding communities are places you’ll love to visit.

The Bighorn Mountains provide a number of activities year-round and be sure to enjoy the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway on your way to fishing, hiking and camping. You’ll find a free public pool in the city park in the summer and a four-star golf course in the heart of town.

Find over 15,000 artifacts from the Old West at the extraordinary Johnson County Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum or just a short drive from Buffalo visit the historical site of Fort Phil Kearney.

Enjoy the Western hospitality of restaurants from family fare to fine dining, in addition to shops and art galleries, plus a selection of hotels, motels, campgrounds, guest ranches and mountain lodges.

Overnight: Buffalo

Custer State Park; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Founded in 1988 by Dayton O. Hyde, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is one of America’s greatest private wilderness areas. Located near Hot Springs in southwestern South Dakota, it is owned and operated by the Institute of Range and the American Mustang and is dedicated to giving America’s unwanted wild horses a life of freedom. See hundreds of wild mustangs roaming free across 11,000 acres of wind-swept prairie. The Sanctuary is open year-round and offers several different tours.

Among the few truly wild places left in this country is Custer State Park. Nearly 1,300 magnificent bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres, which they share with the swift pronghorn, shy elk, sure-footed mountain goats and a band of curious burros. Visitors often enjoy close encounters with these permanent residents along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that winds around the southern edge of the park. Slender granite formations nicknamed the needles dominate the skyline, and grassy meadows fill the valleys. Amidst pure nature, you’re free to explore via trail rides, scenic drives, mountain bikes, paddleboats, hayrides and safari tours. Five lodges in the park provide beautiful accommodations for a great night’s sleep.

The Black Hills showcase many outfits that offer horseback excursions. You can choose from trail rides that last one-half-hour, one hour, two hours, half-day or full day.

Overnight: Custer or Custer State Park

Deadwood; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Once complete, Crazy Horse Memorial – a memorial to Lakota leader Crazy Horse and to all North American Indians –  will be the largest mountain carving in the world. In addition to the sculpture itself, Crazy Horse memorial seeks to provide educational and cultural programming to visitors about Native American people through the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center.

Known as America’s Shrine of Democracy, Mount Rushmore National Memorial features the 60-foot faces of four great American presidents who represent the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country.

Enjoy daily shoot out reenactments in the streets of Deadwood, stagecoach rides, and the Trail of Jack McCall play.

Home to an amazing collection of Native American and Old West artifacts, the Days of ‘76 Museum includes over 50 authentic horse-drawn vehicles including the original “Deadwood Stage.” It features many items from early days in Deadwood as well as the area’s proud rodeo history.

Take an underground tour of an authentic gold mine at Broken Boot Gold Mine where miners once pursued gold ore veins with black powder and candlelight. Visitors can also pan for real gold!

Walk the sawdust-covered floor of Saloon #10, a “living museum” that doubles as a bar and casino, and take a seat for the re-enactment of Wild Bill’s assassination held multiple times daily. See that chair above the door? That’s the one that Wild Bill was shot in.

Overnight: Deadwood

Badlands National Park; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Visit the 244,000 acres of Badlands National Park, a striking landscape boasting a maze of buttes, canyons, pinnacles and spires. Make sure to travel the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway and stop into the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.  

The Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center pays tribute to the top rodeo star who had worldwide acclaim. Most of his memorabilia is on display at the center located atop a hill in Fort Pierre, with one of the best views in town.

Discover the rich heritage and complex history of South Dakota at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. Award-winning rotating exhibits capture the spirit of The Mount Rushmore State and hands-on activities offer new experiences and learning opportunities at every turn.

Overnight: Pierre

Laura Ingalls Homestead; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:      

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

The Mitchell Corn Palace in Mitchell is an American icon that gets redecorated annually with native corn, grain and grass. The corn palace is a delightful bucket-list item day or night.

As the namesake of South Dakota’s largest city, Falls Park is a popular location for both locals and incoming visitors. In addition to the falls themselves, visitors can see some of the first buildings built in the city, enjoy a beautiful view from an observation tower, and enjoy lunch at the Overlook Café that’s located in the old Light and Power company building.

Overnight: Sioux Falls

Drop off your rental car and make your way to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) to head back home with a new set of memories to take with you!