Gems of the American West
This slightly longer self drive adventure allows you more time to enjoy the stunning landscapes, scenic byways, and abundant outdoor recreation of the American Rockies. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and dramatic natural settings, Denver’s outdoor inclination can be seen in the wide and walkable 16th Street Mall, the unique Denver Botanical Gardens, and Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. As you travel through Wyoming, South Dakota and Idaho, you’ll take in spectacular mountain vistas, breathtaking waterfalls, towering mountain ranges and of course, the natural spectacles in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks which are truly breathtaking.
The magnificent scenery continues through Utah and finally Colorado, You’ll end your trip in Colorado's West and Grand Junction - home top the mighty Colorado National Monument. Enjoy this 21 night expedition through the mountains, forests, canyons, and valleys of this historic region that is the Gems of the American West.
- Fort Laramie
- The Black Hills
- Mount Rushmore & Crazy Horse
- The Badlands
- Sheridan & Cody
- Yellowstone National Park
- Idaho Falls
- Jackson & The Grand Tetons
- Salt Lake City
- Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
- Grand Junction
- Colorado National Monument
The Colorado State Capitol building in Denver has a brass cap positioned at 5,280 feet above sea level, exactly one mile high, lending the city the title the “Mile High City.” The 16th Street Mall connects the Capitol Building with LoDo, the cultural district that a century ago was home to Bat Masterson, Calamity Jane and other frontier icons. One of the city’s newest architectural icons is the Hamilton Building of the Denver Museum of Art, which mimics the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the geometric rock crystals found in the Denver foothills. The building’s 9,000 titanium panels reflect the Colorado sunshine.
The Colorado State History Museum, which explains the dramatic geology of the region, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Visitor Center, and the Molly Brown House, home of the “unsinkable” local heroine with a really interesting story, are all nearby. Try one of the interesting restaurants in LoDo for dinner.
Begun as a gamble when the first flakes of gold were found in Cherry Creek in 1858, Denver was established as the first gold rush camp in the area. It epitomized the legends of the wild, wild, west, with gunslingers, gamblers, gold miners, saloons, cattlemen and a sheriff. Very conscious that it was destined to become a major western metropolitan area, the Historical Society began in 1879, little more than 20 years after the city’s founding. Immediately after outlasting several surrounding cities for the title of capitol of the Colorado Territory, Denver began to develop a transportation network, cattle exchange, banking sector, cultural offerings, grand architecture and energy systems, working to make itself the thriving, contemporary, world class city that it is today.
Depart Denver early and head north into Wyoming towards Fort Laramie. This “grand old post,” established as a private fur trading fort in 1834, witnessed the entire sweeping saga of America’s western expansion and Indian resistance to encroachment on their territories. Indians, trappers, traders, missionaries, emigrants, gold seekers, soldiers, cowboys and homesteaders would leave their mark on a place that would become famous in the American West.
Spend some time exploring Fort Laramie with their unique audio tour that allows you to tour the fort, in-depth, at your own pace whilst enjoying the descriptive narration, dramatic readings from diaries or journals, & the sounds of the fort.
Continue on to the small town of Lusk where you will stay tonight before continuing on to The Black Hills tomorrow morning.
Rapid City & The Black Hills
This morning, as you head for South Dakota, prepare to be introduced to some of the most unusual scenery in America. Sandstone desert and twisted rocks jutting out of the ground are coupled with the denseBlack HillsNational Forest, which does indeed, look nearly black from a distance. The hot springs dotting the area were the result of water pressure being caught underground when the earth changed position. At Mammoth Hot Springs, the remains of mammoths are still being discovered in the “sink-hole” that turned into a steeply sided pond.
When you’re in the region, plan to leave plenty of time to exploreBadlandsNational Park, a 244,000 acre treasure trove of Oligocene fossils dating back 37 million years juxtaposed with buttes, spires and pinnacles.
Two visitor centers offer interpretive exhibits on the cultural and ecological heritage of the Park. The Badlands Loop National Scenic Byway, which passes through the Park has 14 designated overlooks on the 31.5 miles that let you enjoy the dramatic landforms sprouting out of the mixed grassy prairie.
Nearby,WindCaveNational Parkwas named for the constant movement of air within. It is filled with delicate boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs.
Above ground, the fragile mixed-grass prairie is home to diverse wildlife. JewelCaveNational Monumentis 135 miles long, making it the second longest cave in the world. Air currents indicate there are still vast areas left to discover. Back inRapid Cityyou can visit theJourneyMuseum, which illustrates the 2.5 million year geologic history of the region. It was voted the best museum in theBlack Hills.
The 71,000 acres ofCusterState Parkare truly one of the last wild places inAmerica. Nearly 1,500 bison, commonly called buffalo, roam the prairies and hills which they share with swift pronghorn, shy elk, sure-footed mountain goats and curious burros. You can enjoy and up-close and personal encounter with these permanent residents along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that winds around the southern edge of the park.
Be sure to allow time for the other scenic drive that takes you past slender granite formations called "Needles" that dominate the skyline. These unique rock outcroppings are an excellent place for rock climbers to push themselves to the limit. With its winding roads and small granite tunnels, Needles Highway (SD Highway 87 between Sylvan Lake and Legion Lake) is not only stunning, but fun to drive.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is connected to the other Black Hills attractions by another scenic road, the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, named after the South Dakota Governor who began the movement to preserve the natural treasures of the state. On the Byway, the Crazy Horse Memorial is the largest sculptural project in the world. The best time to visit Mount Rushmore is in the evening when the monument is illuminated. During the 45-minute Evening Program in the park’s outdoor amphitheater, you’ll enjoy a ranger talk, the film “Freedom: America’s Lasting Legacy” about the presidents carved into the mountain, and the lighting of the sculpture.
On your way to Sheridan today, stop in Buffalo, which offers fascinating frontier heritage along with spectacular scenery. The entire downtown district is listed on the National Register of Historic Districts, more than a dozen historic buildings line its main street, and The Occidental Hotel (where Owen Wister’s “Virginian got his man”) and the Johnson County Court House are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nestled in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, a sister range to the Rockies, Buffalo is half way between Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park, with plenty of attractions of its own. Bighorn National Forest provides a diverse landscape that includes lush greenlands and glacier-carved valleys.
Not far from Buffalo is the area known as Hole in the Wall, the famous hideout of outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and other members of the notorious “Wild Bunch.” Tours from the Hole in the Wall Ranch allow you to relax and cool your heels in the same meadows and streams that those men found so inviting after days on the run.
Picturesque, historic and vibrant” - that’s what the locals call Sheridan, Wyoming. The Old West meets the modern era in a town that offers world-class culture along with hometown hospitality and authentic Western charm. Like Buffalo, Sheridan’s Main Street is lined with historic buildings, including the Landmark Historic Sheridan Inn, where Buffalo Bill Cody auditioned acts for his famous Wild West Show. More than 30 downtown buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, delightfully coexisting with unique shops, boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Tour the town by trolley or walking tour, explore a mansion and museums, or relax in Kendrick Park where the buffalo and elk roam. Enjoy lively entertainment with weekly rodeos and polo, theater performances or a stop at the legendary Mint Bar.
The journey today is as significant as the destination. Traveling the Medicine Wheel Passage east towards Cody, you'll experience rich Native American history and culture. Visit Connor Battlefield State Historic Site, where the Arapahoe pushed back against General Patrick Connor’s troops from Fort Laramie in 1865. Pass through the spectacular Bighorn National Forest watching for its abundant wildlife. Then enjoy a moment of stillness at Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, located within the Forest on Medicine Mountain. This sacred stone circle is revered by Native Americans for its strong spiritual ambiance, which can be felt by anyone visiting this prayerful place.
Continue on to Cody, a true western town founded by Buffalo Bill Cody in 1896 and a great place to soak up the spirit of the Old West. Cody became the home place for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which toured the country for over 30 years. The Irma Hotel, established by Buffalo Bill in 1902, has western style entertainment on hand nearly every night.
The Cody Nite Rodeo, in operation for 60 years, is the longest running rodeo in the United States, and starts every night at 8PM from June 1 to August 31.
While in Cody, you must visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, which was originally founded as the Buffalo Bill Memorial Center in 1912, and comprises five separate museums: Buffalo Bill Museum, Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Plains Indian Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, Draper Museum of Natural History, and Harold McCracken Research Library. Visit the site of Old Cody City at Old Trail Town and the Museum of the Old West, and take in the views from Buffalo Bill Dam.
This evening, take in the rodeo or enjoy a night of good old-fashioned Western entertainment at the Cody Cattle Company. Western movies, gun fights, and Native American dancers are just warm-ups for the Chuckwagon Dinner and Cowboy Music Show! Bring your appetite and sense of fun.
Yellowstone National Park
En route to Yellowstone today, you’ll travel the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway past Buffalo Bill Reservoir and Buffalo Bill State Park, and through the Shoshone National Forest. Keep watch for the abundant wildlife that inhabit the forest, and stop at the Wapiti Valley visitor center for information about the area. The Shoshone was incorporated into the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve in 1891, and the Forest Ranger station here is one of the oldest in the country.
Established in 1872 as America’s first national park, Yellowstone is located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and contains natural wonders that must be seen to be believed. In addition to Old Faithful, many of the world’s most incredible geysers and hot springs are located within Yellowstone National Park. Each area of the park has its own unique features.
The bubbling, boiling surface of Mammoth Hot Springs appears to be covered with white chalk. Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest and most dynamic of Yellowstone’s thermal areas, with few of its features under the boiling point. The hottest recorded temperature here was 459F, just a little over 1,000 feet below the surface. See the world’s tallest geyser at Steamboat Geyser.
In the Madison Natural Area, thermal action bubbles up in many colors. A one-mile trail takes you through the colorful hot springs and the two large mud pots of the Artist Paint Pots just south of Norris Junction.
The Old Faithful Area is actually made up of four different geyser basins surrounding the famous geyser, where 60% of the world’s geysers share a small space. There are nearly 150 of these thermal wonders within one square mile of Old Faithful. The Grant Village Area and the Lake Area are both adjacent to Yellowstone Lake, the largest high elevation lake in North America. The bottom of Yellowstone Lake has the same terrain as Yellowstone Park, namely geysers, hot springs. A hot spot at Mary Bay got high as 252F.
Formed by erosion rather than glaciation, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River features as an awe-inspiring attraction in Native American lore, pioneer travel accounts, and in early tourist descriptions.
Three main falls can be viewed from locations along the Canyon such as Lookout Point, Uncle Tom’s Area, Red Rock Point, Artists Point, and Brink of the Lower Trails Falls. Some falls along the river are 300 feet high. The park’s visitor centers provide excellent information and exhibits to put your experiences into perspective.
In order to get the most from your visit, we highly recommend you spend one night in the Mammoth Hot Springs area and 2 nights in the Southern half of the Park near Old Faithful or The Lake.
Jackson & The Grand Teton National Park
The John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway connects Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park. As you drive along Teton Park Road at the base of the mountain, it becomes immediately obvious why this is a National Park.
Plant your gaze on the 40-mile long mountain range, rising nearly 14,000 feet straight out of the plain. Even around Jenny Lake, one of the most pristine lakes in North America, they loom overhead. The Tetons are a 40-mile long mountain range that rises straight out of the plain. Twelve of the mountain peaks are over 12,000 feet above sea level and Grand Teton rises to 13,770 feet. Even around Jenny Lake, one of the most pristine lakes in North America, they loom overhead.
A wonderful way to see the Park is by traveling its three Scenic Drives: the Teton Park Road that follows the base of the Teton Range from Moose to Jackson Lake Junction, dramatic Jenny Lake Scenic Drive, and Signal Mountain Summit Road, from which you’ll have panoramic views of the Teton Range, Jackson Lake and the Jackson Hole valley.
Treat yourselves to a Wildlife Expedition with the Teton Science School. One of their all-day adventures, daybreak trips or evening tours will take you into the otherwise inaccessible back country of Grand Teton National Park, where you can expect to see (and photograph) wildlife that you would not normally encounter.
Salt Lake City
With its gorgeous setting between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake City is also a relaxed and interesting city that serves as a prime destination for travellers interested in outdoor sports and also wanting a convenient gateway to Idaho and Wyoming.
As Salt Lake City is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many major tourist attractions focus on LDS history such as Temple Square, dominated by a magnificent six-spired temple, the square is the symbolic heart of the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. However, there is much more to this pleasant and unhurried city such as The Museum of Fine Arts, The Gilal Gardens, The Tracy Aviary and much more. Alternatively take a drive into the nearby mountain winter resort areas that are very close to town, or visit Antelope Island State Park on the Great Salt Lake.
It’s hard to imagine what forces of nature worked for millennia to sculpt the greatest density of natural arches in the world at Arches National Park. Over 2,000 structures range in size from a three-foot opening (the minimum considered to be an arch), to Landscape Arch, which measures 306 feet from base to base. Towering spires, fins and balanced rocks complement the arches, creating a remarkable assortment of landforms in a relatively small area. You can explore the many areas of Arches National Park by car or on foot. Two drives through the park take you to a number of exceptional viewpoints, including Delicate Arch Viewpoint from which you can see the park’s most famous arch at a distance. Take a moment to get out of the car and walk under the two largest arches, North Window and Double Arch, for a truly up close and personal experience. If you prefer to hike, there are trails to the park’s highlights that take from 1-1/2 hours to a half a day. We suggest that you do the longer hikes early or late in the day to avoid the mid-day heat.
Approaching Grand Junction, you’ll see the Colorado National Monument rising more than 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River. Magnificent views from Rim Rock Drive, stretch from the colorful sheer-walled canyons and fascinating rock sculptures to the distant Colorado River Valley, the purple-gray Book Cliffs, and the huge flat-topped mountain called Grand Mesa. Many animals including mule deer, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, and desert big horn sheep, live, nest, and hunt within its boundaries, Time permitting, follow the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway along the rim of the world's largest flat-top mountain for 360-degrees views of singular alpine skyline or take Highway 141 to the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. In Grand Junction, stretch your legs at the Dinosaur Journey, which is part of the Museum of Western Colorado and the Museum of Western Colorado.
Touted by Outside Magazine and USA Today as one of the top 10 best places for solitude in the US, the spectacular nearby Colorado National Monument features 11 canyons, 20,000 acres of arched windows, rock spires and natural monoliths - all thrown by the hands of wind and rain over millions of years.
Due to it’s sunny climate, the area is also well known for growing fruits of all kinds – including peaches, cherries and apples. At the turn of the century, many local orchards also began growing grapes, which they eventually used to make wine. Today the heart of the Colorado wine industry is right here in Grand Junction, with The Grand Valley region producing wonderful, high-quality wines in a spectacular setting. With several intimate, accessible and altogether charming vineyards, a tour through the heart of Colorado wine country is a must do any level of enthusiast.
Travel to the nearby Summit School Ranch Equestrian Center at Whitewater for a horseback adventure. Summit Canyon School is one of Gateway Canyons adventure ranches located 15 miles northeast of the resort. This is a 500 acre ranch with trails of varying terrain.
As you leave for Denver later today and depart for home, know that you’ve taken a truly unique journey through the American West.
- Return flights from London (please ask about other departure airports)
- 21 nights hotel accommodation and room tax
- Fully insured compact car hire
- A travel pack containing detailed driving instructions and maps
Daily Departures 18 May to 30 September.
We can also offer this itinerary in a wide range of other accommodation types, including superior hotels, character properties and small inns.