Much of the West has been carefully preserved in America’s national parks and monuments, enabling visitors to experience the same pristine natural beauty that greeted the first pioneers.
Go camping in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Take an unforgettable journey across the continental divide in Montana’s spectacular Glacier National Park. Marvel at the thermal wonders and abundant wildlife in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park – America’s first national park. Spend a day hiking through Craters of the Moon National Reserve in Idaho. Or visit South Dakota’s legendary Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Wherever your Western holiday takes you, there’s sure to be a national park, memorial or monument just waiting to be explored.
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is America’s first national park. Located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, it is home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world’s most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Since its designation as a national park in 1872, Yellowstone National Park has been a cherished part of the region’s rich tapestry. It’s easy to see why. The very definition of “unspoiled,” Yellowstone has served for generations as a sort of living museum, its natural splendors giving visitors an up-close-and-personal glimpse of what the continent was like in the days before recorded history. With 2.2 Million acres of sprawling wilderness to explore, Yellowstone stands as one of North America’s greatest assets — and it’s open year-round for visitors to enjoy. The park’s vast network of trails will take hikers to hundreds of secluded places where vehicles are prohibited. You’re bound to see wildlife wherever you go. Yellowstone’s legendary wildlife includes grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, buffalo, elk, pronghorn antelope, trumpeter swans, eagles and much more. The iconic spots — Old Faithful, Lower Falls, Yellowstone Lake — will be familiar from paintings and photographs, but seeing them in person is a humbling, enthralling experience. They’re not just as good as you’ve heard — they’re better.
You can access the park from five entrances: two entrances from Wyoming and three from Montana.
The east entrance is on highway 20 (also highways 14 and 16 at this point). Yellowstone Regional Airport is located about 50 miles away in Cody and has service from Salt Lake City and Denver. Vehicles can be rented in Cody as well.
The south entrance is on highway 89 (also 191 and 287 at this point). This entrance is in Grand Teton National Park and is about 60 miles from Jackson. Jackson Hole Airport is located inside Grand Teton National Park and has service from several cities including Salt Lake City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Atlanta and Denver. Vehicles can be rented in Jackson.
The Montana community West Yellowstone serves as the western entrance to the park. Though comparatively quite during the winter, West Yellowstone booms in the spring when summer residents return and tourists come to visit Yellowstone National Park.
Gardiner is located in southwest Montana, at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Founded in 1880, Gardiner is a centre of activity for visitors to the region, serving as the original and only year round entrance to the Park. Year-round activities include hiking, fly-fishing, snowmobiling, whitewater rafting, cross-country skiing, dog sledding and horseback riding. The town was established in 1880 and began thriving as the park’s northern entrance. In 1903, on April 24, Theodore Roosevelt attended the ceremony to mark the placement of the cornerstone of the Roosevelt Arch, which was designed to act as the gate to the park’s northern entrance. Constructed of basalt, it stands 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide and is inscribed “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of All People”, a line from the congressional act that created the park.
Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana sits at the northeast entrance to the park. Cooke City is an alpine village with snow much of the year. It is perhaps most famous for the road that connects Cooke City with Red Lodge. Called “the most scenic drive in America”, the Beartooth Pass on U.S. Highway 212 has dramatic switchbacks traversing the spectacular Beartooth Range of south-central Montana. Silver Gate is located on the Montana/Wyoming border. Since 1932, Silver Gate has served as the gate to the park.
Although the wildlife in Yellowstone National Park may seem tame, important safety rules should be followed at all times while in the park and will not diminish your enjoyment of the animals. Obey rangers and law enforcement officials immediately if they make a request. Remember to stay hydrated and to pace yourself while enjoying your high altitude nature experience.
What to wear
Weather in the region is unpredictable. During both the summer and winter seasons, be sure to bring plenty of layers so you can add and remove clothing as your own comfort dictates. Even at the height of summer, temperatures can drop to below freezing at night. Be sure to bring a warm, waterproof jacket and a hat. Plenty of socks to keep your feet warm and dry are also a good idea.
Most roads into the park are closed in November and open again in late March or April, as conditions allow. Visitors can travel through the park in snow coaches or on snowmobiles with an authorized guide. Visitors may cross country ski or snowshoe in the park on miles of groomed trails, on any unplowed roads and in the backcountry. A backcountry use permit is required for all overnight trips. Contact a park ranger at a visitor center or ranger station before beginning a trip. Warming huts are available throughout the park. As the authorized concessioner in Yellowstone National Park, Xanterra Parks & Resorts will supply much of your food, lodging and entertainment options. Visit their website for more information.
“… Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away.” – Gutzon Borglum, Mount Rushmore sculptor, 1930
In granite, forever emblazoned, a shrine of democracy marches across the skyline of America. Gazing over the Black Hills, the four U.S. presidents of Mount Rushmore National Memorial stand for hope, determination and the spirit of a nation. The majestic 60-foot (18 m) faces are recognized worldwide. This national treasure stands as a symbol of American democracy and represents critical times in American history.
From the Grandview Terrace, visitors get spectacular views of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. For a closer view, visitors can walk the half-mile (0.8 km) Presidential Trail, which loops along the base of the mountain and allows visitors to stand in the shadow of icons, while meandering through the relaxing South Dakota wilderness that reveals unique perspectives of the monument. Click arrows below to begin.
The impressive Lincoln Borglum Museum contains interactive interpretive exhibits. Visitors will discover why the four presidents were selected and how Borglum’s original vision differed from the final, iconic result. See how the mountain was carved, and learn about sculptor Gutzon Borglum and the workers who tempted danger to bring Mount Rushmore to life.
A nightly lighting ceremony enthralls visitors. Each evening, May through September, the ceremony is held in the park’s outdoor Amphitheater. It highlights the making of this national monument with a video, flag-lowering ceremony, a salute to veterans, and lighting of the memorial.
Glacier National Park, together with the Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, form the world’s first International Peace Park. But in this rugged section of the northern Rockies, exhilaration is the universal language. Mountain goats cling to craggy, glacier carved peaks. And drivers watch the scenery unfold beyond their knuckles as they drive along a road that defies words. The park was designated America’s 10th national park on May 11, 1910.
If there’s one defining feature of this place it’s the engineering wonder known as the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This spectacular 50-mile highway clings to the edge of the world as cars—and bikes—cross over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. Along the way, don’t be surprised if resident wildlife shares the road with you. After all, the same remote solitude you’re seeking is what attracted them here in the first place.
Take a guided tour in one of the iconic red buses, take a scenic boat ride on one of the pristine lakes or a horseback ride on a hidden trail. Unwind in a comfortable wooden chair at the Lake McDonald Lodge. As you pass through the gates and leave the park, you may also be a changed person. Inquire ahead of time as to the current status of the Going-to-the-Sun-Road because snow can often last well into June.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt was big on conservation, and 100 years ago his efforts to preserve some of the nation’s natural beauty for all time led to the formation of the National Park Service. See what Roosevelt made all the fuss about by visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park within the North Dakota Badlands consists of the North, South and Elkhorn Ranch units. Make time to visit all three of the park’s unique units as all three are unique.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park offers majestic Badlands scenery, abundant wildlife and all kinds of adventures of your own making. Roosevelt got his first glimpse or the wonders of this area as a young man. It didn’t take long for him to recognize the scenic beauty that surrounded him. He credits the time spent here as that which put him on the path to becoming president.
During his administration, President Theodore Roosevelt founded the United States Forest Service, signed the National Monuments Act and established the first federal game preserve. His conservation efforts led to the founding of the National Park Service, established to preserve and protect unspoiled places like his beloved North Dakota Badlands, now known as Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The South Unit is along I-94 in western North Dakota. Here the Badlands have been shaped by millions of years of wind, rain, erosion, fire and the meandering Little Missouri River. The area was described in 1864 by Gen. Alfred Sully as “hell with the fires out.” The main access to the South Unit is through the historic town of Medora. Within the South Unit, a 36-mile scenic loop provides easy access to the many species of wildlife inhabiting this wilderness area. For a panorama of the Badlands, stop at Painted Canyon Visitors Center along the interstate and Take a long look at the Badlands stretching to the horizon.
The North Unit, accessible from U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City, has deeper gorges and is heavily forested in places. The beauty and allure of the North Unit draws visitors year-round for sweeping vistas of this designated wilderness. A 14-mile scenic byway through the park brings visitors up close to the bison herds wondering through the rugged terrain.
The byway beginning at U.S. Highway 85 proceeds west through the North Unit. As 82 percent of the North Unit is designated wilderness area, you are likely to see buffalo herds and prairie dog towns, and you may catch a glimpse of wild horses, mule deer, elk and maybe even a coyote on your trip through the park.
The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is the location of Roosevelt’s original ranch in the Badlands, located in between the two larger units. The remote location features interpretive plaques on the site to provide details of the ranch.
Hiking trails abound in all three locations, including the renowned Maah Haah Hey Trail.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open year-round.
An ethereal mountain landscape where jagged peaks tower more than a mile above the Jackson Hole valley, Grand Teton National Park is located in northwestern Wyoming just south of Yellowstone National Park and just north of the town of Jackson. Visitors can reach the park through U.S. 191.
The park’s mountain range is very popular among climbers, hikers and photographers. The Tetons are a prime example of fault-block mountain formation. When the earth’s crust cracked along a fault millions of years ago, the Tetons rose into the sky. The exposed crystalline rocks give these mountains their dramatic appearance in any season. The Grand Teton rises to 13,770 feet above sea level and 12 other peaks reach above 12,000 feet elevation.
The floor of Jackson Hole tells the story of glacial outwash – sand and boulders carried out of the Teton Mountains and the Yellowstone Plateau by glaciers and deposited on the valley floor. Interesting saucer-like depressions, called potholes, dot the outwash plain. These are thought to be the result of huge chunks of buried glacial ice melting leaving the ground above suddenly without support.
Sixty species of mammals, over 300 species of birds and a half dozen game fish call the Jackson Hole area home. The American elk (wapiti) is the most common member of the deer family in the park. During the summer, the elk range high in the mountains in search of food. When winter comes, they descend to the floor of Jackson Hole. Many migrate to the National Elk Refuge just north of the town of Jackson.
Grand Teton National Park offers hiking, camping, climbing, boating, kayaking and numerous photography opportunities. A road winds through the park, but the best way to experience the park is to take one of its shorter trails.
Located at the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Rockefeller Parkway connects Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The late conservationist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. made significant contributions to several national parks including Grand Teton, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, and Virgin Islands.
In 1972 Congress dedicated a 24,000 acre parcel of land as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway to recognize his generosity and foresight. Congress also named the highway from the south boundary of Grand Teton to West Thumb in Yellowstone in honour of Rockefeller.
The parkway provides a natural link between the two national parks and contains features characteristic of both areas. In the parkway, the Teton Range tapers to a gentle slope at its northern edge, while rocks born of volcanic flows from Yellowstone line the Snake River and form outcroppings scattered atop hills and ridges.
Grand Teton National Park administers John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.
Nature and Beauty
Located in north-western Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park protects stunning mountain scenery and a diverse array of wildlife. Rising more than 7,000 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, the Teton Range dominates the park’s skyline. Natural processes continue to shape the ecosystem against this impressive and iconic backdrop.
The elevation of the park ranges from 6,400 feet on the sagebrush-dominated valley floor to 13,770 feet on the windswept granite summit of the Grand Teton. Between the summit and plain, forests carpet the mountainsides. During summer, wildflowers paint meadows in vivid colours. Crystalline alpine lakes fill glacial cirques, and noisy streams cascade down rocky canyons to larger lakes at the foot of the range. These lakes, impounded by glacial debris, mirror the mountains on calm days. Running north to south, the Snake River winds its way down the valley and across this amazing scene.
Long, snowy, and bitterly cold winters make the climate of Jackson Hole unforgiving. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Grand Teton National Park was –63°F, and snow often blankets the landscape from early November to late April. Brief, relatively warm summers provide a respite from the rigors of winter and a time of renewal and rebirth. In cooperation or competition, the plants and animals adapt to this harsh climate and dramatic elevation change as each finds ways to survive.
An ancient sea floor rises and swallows the rolling plains. Colorful, dramatic and surreal, the sculptured pinnacles and painted gullies preserve the past in layers of colorful sediment.
The striking landscape of Badlands National Park boasts a maze of buttes, canyons, pinnacles and spires. With a number of trails taking you on hikes of varying length, there’s exploration available for everyone. Get up close to the painted landscape on hikes ranging from flat stretches across prairie to uphill climbs through the Badlands formations. Explore trails and monuments that are millions of years in the making. The Wall formation stretches 60 miles, revealing sedimentary rock layers exposed by eons of erosion. A number of overlooks show off panoramic vistas where the surrounding grassland takes hold.
Don’t be surprised if you encounter some park residents during your relaxing drive through the Badlands. Wildlife abounds in the park’s 244,000 acres and can often be seen while hiking, camping and traveling the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway. Take Sage Creek Rim Road into vast grasslands to watch many kinds of prairie animals in their natural habitat beyond National Forests. Bison, prairie dogs, antelope, bighorn sheep, and other beautiful examples of life populate the park, adding to an already beautiful landscape. Pile in for an unforgettable scenic drive through Badlands National Park. Be prepared to break for multiple vacation photos.
Visitors can also learn about the park’s previous residents. Skeletons of three-toed horses and saber-toothed cats are among the many fossilized species you can learn about on the park’s Fossil Exhibit Trail, an easy 0.25-mile boardwalk trail that features fossil replicas and informative exhibits about the now-extinct creatures that once called the area home.
But those looking for a truly unique Badlands experience should watch the sun rise or set in the park. Beautiful colors are slowly exposed with the changing light, offering an unforgettable view that must be seen to be believed. At night, the stars become the only light you see, offering a venue for stargazing that rivals any you’ve ever experienced.
Devils Tower National Monument, which looms more than 1,200 feet above Wyoming’s eastern plains and the Belle Fourche River, is a one-of-a-kind natural wonder. The flat-topped volcanic formation is found amid some of the state’s most beautiful country, leaving you plenty to do after you behold its otherworldly presence.
Check out the Devils Tower Visitor Center to learn more about the tower’s geology as well as the culture and history of the area through historical photos and other displays. The center is open year-round.
Hike along eight miles of nature trails near the monument. The most popular is 1.3-mile paved circuit around the massive rock formation, while others wind in and around the surrounding forest and meadowlands. April, May and June are popular with wildflower lovers — nearly 60 varieties of wildflowers have been spotted in the area.
Take a ranger-led tour of the monument. The easy 1.5-hour walk features topics that include geology, the area’s indigenous people, wildlife and more. Be sure to bring comfortable shoes and a water bottle.
Visit during the summer for the National Park Service’s Summer Cultural Program to hear speakers on a variety of subjects. On select evenings, there’s also a Full Moon Walk that begins at dusk for hikers with flashlights.
Climb it! The tower’s sheer rock faces and hundreds of columns and cracks are a siren song for climbers. All climbers must register with park authorities and check in after their climb. The tower closes to climbers during the month of June due to a voluntary climbing ban out of respect for American Indian traditional cultural activities that occur during that month. Local guides and outfitters can help you with any equipment and instruction you require.
Fish in the Belle Fourche. Look for black bullhead, channel catfish and the area’s famed walleye. Be sure to check with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for information on licensing and regulations.
Go boating on nearby Keyhole Reservoir’s 14,000 wide-open acres and explore a few of its coves. Or, relax on its 50-plus miles of beautiful shoreline in Keyhole State Park. The marina can set you up with snacks, bait and tackle, fishing licenses and a public boat ramp.
Devils Tower Trivia:
In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt named the tower the United States’ first national monument.
It had a starring role in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
Also known as Bears Lodge, the tower is considered a sacred worship site by many Native Americans who leave colourful prayer cloths tied to trees near its base (please don’t disturb them).
According to the park service, “When the proclamation establishing Devils Tower was published, the apostrophe was unintentionally dropped from ‘Devil’s’ — and this clerical error was never officially corrected.”
“The Crossroads of a Nation Moving West.” This unique historic place preserves and interprets one of America’s most important locations in the history of westward expansion and Indian resistance. Fort Laramie, the first garrisoned post in Wyoming, is located adjacent to the town of Fort Laramie near the confluence of the North Platte and Laramie rivers. It was the most important outpost on the major emigrant trails – the Oregon, Mormon and California. The fort was named in honor of Jacques La Ramie, a French fur trapper who worked in the tributaries of the North Platte in the early 1800s.
Fort Union Trading Post
Between 1828 and 1867, Fort Union was the most important fur trade post on the Upper Missouri River. Here, the Assiniboine and six other Northern Plains Indian Tribes exchanged buffalo robes and smaller furs for goods from around the world, including cloth, guns, blankets, and beads. A bastion of peaceful coexistence, the post annually traded over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 in merchandise.
Knife River Indian Villages
Earthlodge people hunted bison and other game, but were in essence farmers living in villages along the Missouri and its tributaries. The site was a major Native American trade center for hundreds of years prior to becoming an important market place for fur traders after 1750.
Wyoming’s newest national monument, Fossil Butte, was established on October 23, 1972. It is administered and protected by the National Park Service. The monument contains 8,198 acres and protects a portion of the largest deposit of freshwater fish fossils in the world.
The richest fossil fish deposits are found in multiple limestone layers, which lie some 100 feet below the top of the butte. The fossils represent several varieties of perch, as well as other freshwater genera and herring similar to those in modern oceans. A large, deep-bodied fish with many curious plates is common. Other fish such as paddlefish, garpike and stingray are also present.
Named for the crystals that line its walls, Jewel Cave National Monument is the third-longest cave in the world. With more than 195 miles of surveyed passages, explorers are still discovering and mapping one of the last frontiers in the world. Wrapped in permanent midnight and creased by prehistoric veins, the cave is home to calcite crystals and formations of boxwork, cave popcorn and a long ribbon drapery known as “cave bacon.”
Go beneath the Black Hills and take a ranger-guided tour through a maze of chambers adorned in calcite crystals. Different levels of adventure are available for all ages and abilities, and unique experiences await those looking for something different. The cave’s Lantern Tour offers a classic summer experience where a park ranger dressed in a 1940s-style uniform leads a group through a historic entrance via lantern. Those wanting to go deeper should make their reservations. Upon arrival, explorers will grab a hardhat and a headlamp before experiencing the cave in its natural state. This underground expedition is not for the faint of heart, but it’s an experience that offers an amazing look at geology and natural history.
Continue your exploration above ground on the nature trails of a 1,279-acre park. Nearly 100 species of birds have been spotted in the area as well as white-tailed deer, mule deer, eastern cottontail rabbits and red squirrels. Bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain elk also call the area home.
Pompeys Pillar is a rock outcropping that rises 200 feet above the Yellowstone River 30 miles east of Billings. Pompeys Pillar is like a sandstone history book that reads like a who’s who of western frontier history.
Look on the rockface for the remains of animal drawings created by people who used the area for rendezvous, campsites, and hunting. In 1806 Captain William Clark carved his signature and the date in this rock. It is the only site on the trail where visible evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition may be viewed by the public.
The first cave to be designated a national park, Wind Cave National Park has 148 miles of mapped and surveyed passages…and they’re still counting. The cave features the world’s largest concentration of rare boxwork formations along with 28,295 acres of South Dakota wildlife sanctuary on the surface.
Hidden under swaying grasses and sacred hillside forests, a centuries-old maze whistles to curious passersby. A sanctuary for two worlds, above and below, rich grounds hold rare finds running deep through the past. Descend into the cave on a ranger-guided tour and feel the barometric breath of one of the world’s longest caves. See the uncommon structure of honeycomb-patterned projecting calcite from cave walls, the finest example of boxwork in the world.
A variety of exploration options await you. Take a candlelight tour of the cave for a fascinating and historical adventure. When you’re done exploring the cave, check out the surface. The 33,851-acre attraction is as impressive above ground as it is below. Its unique ecosystem is home to elk, buffalo, antelope, deer, prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets.
For some American Indians, the cave is also sacred place. The oral tradition of the Lakota people tells the story that the cave is where humans first emerged from within the earth to live on the surface.
Not much is known about the early years of the Lakota warrior who earned his father’s name of Tasunka Witco (“Crazy Horse”) by proving himself in battle. But he will be forever remembered and honored thanks to the work of Korczak Ziolkowski and his family. Ziolkowski, a noted New England sculptor, came to the Black Hills of South Dakota to help Gutzon Borglum with the creation of Mount Rushmore. But time passed, and he ended up accepting the invitation of Chief Henry Standing Bear to create a monument designed to both honor Crazy Horse as well as help mend relations between Native Americans and non-Natives.
“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes also,” Standing Bear wrote to Ziolkowski. Korczak agreed.
On June 3, 1948, the inaugural blast took place, initiating an effort to create the world’s largest mountain carving that’s never utilized a single penny of government funding.
Today the giant face of Crazy Horse can be seen looking out over the Black Hills. Even though both Korczak and his wife, Ruth, have passed away, work has never ceased on the monument. The site attracts more than one million visitors a year. It also offers American Indian students the chance to complete a summer of college education and internships. The campus is also home to several on-site museums featuring American Indian art and artifacts from tribes across North America as well as a restaurant.
City of Rocks National Reserve is a 14,407-acre paradise for rock climbing and backcountry adventure defined by its towering granite sculptures. The pioneers passing through on the California Trail during the Gold Rush named it “The Silent City.”
The mix of rock formations, aspen groves and sage meadows create terrain and scenery ideal for a variety of activities, including climbing, hiking, camping, birding, horseback riding, mountain biking and photography.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Traverse a landscape unlike any other at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Reserve. Spend a day hiking amongst the expanse of lava flows and exposed caves. Navigate through the volcanic remains via a loop drive or by taking the network of trails by foot.
Come nightfall, cast your eyes to the sky for another astronomical wonder. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is a designated International Dark Sky Park, where limited light pollution preserves the night sky for pristine stargazing.
Only a few hours from Yellowstone National Park, Craters of the Moon is a perfect fit to round out a trip of natural wonders.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.