America's Last Best Places
Remote, intriguing, serene, appealing. Unspoiled, unbridled and unfettered. You'll find the places you'll be visiting on this trip all fit this description and more. Get ready to get off the beaten track and explore the real American West. Starting in Denver, you'll be traveling through the best parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and South Dakota. This is likely the most unspoiled part of America. Even though Yellowstone National Park is the oldest National Park in the US, it is still one of the most thrilling. Next door, the majestic Grand Teton Mountains preside over a pristine landscape. Make sure to take a wildlife expedition into the back country, where automobiles and masses of travelers are not allowed. In addition to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the Rapid City area is home to Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills National Forest, Mammoth Hot Springs, Deadwood and more.
Leave yourself time to explore each of the towns you'll be visiting, for they are as much a part of the story as the mountains and monuments. The culture you'll find out here lends itself to a timeless way of life and fits seamlessly into the landscape. Enjoy your whole journey. Not many travelers have had the opportunity to explore America's Last Best Places.
This is an example Yellowstone fly-drive itinerary - please call (01892) 779900 or email us with your plans and we will be happy to help!
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Tetons
- The Black Hills
- Mount Rushmore & Crazy Horse Memorial
- Buffalo & Cheyenne
- Rock Springs
- Little Bighorn National Monument
- Denver 'The Mile High' City
When the first flakes of gold were found in Cherry Creek, Denver sprouted up as a mining camp filled with gunslingers, gamblers, gold miners, saloons, cattlemen and a sheriff. Goodness, how things have changed. Today's Mile High City is the center of a very sophisticated state, one of the most educated, prosperous and ecologically minded places in the world. Downtown, the 16th Street Mall connects the Capitol Building with LoDo (Lower Downtown) the cultural district that a century ago was home to Bat Masterson, Calamity Jane and other frontier icons. The Colorado State History Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Visitor Center, and the Molly Brown House, home of the "unsinkable" local heroine, are all nearby. Try one of the interesting restaurants in LoDo for dinner.
A walking tour of downtown introduces you to distinctive architecture that was, almost from the beginning, built for permanence. Good clay for bricks was plentiful, local wood was soft. As a result, much of the massive masonry architecture constructed around the turn of the century is still in use. The Santa Fe Arts District has Denver's largest collection of art galleries.
Cherry Creek has the best shopping and dining. Quaint Old South Pearl Street has a Farmer's Market every Sunday. The Highlands neighborhood was recently featured in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure Magazine as a great place to visit.
Born of the railroad, Cheyenne is a young town, founded on Independence Day in 1867. By 1869 Cheyenne was home to a variety of residents, including railroad gangs, soldiers and Indian frontier supply officers. Cheyenne grew fast with eastern culture directly available via the railroad. By 1875, the population of 5,000 enjoyed a social life on a par with many cities of a similar size in the East. The Historic Plains Hotel is the perfect home base from which to explore the entire historic district, anchored on one end by the gold-domed Wyoming capitol building and on the other by the restored Union Pacific Depot.
You can take the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley for a 90-minute overview tour and get off at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, the Nelson Museum of the West, Wyoming State Museum, Historic Governors' Mansion, Wyoming Capitol or the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Just re-board any trolly when you are ready. Try the Terry Bison Ranch for a horseback ride or a train ride into the middle of the herd that calls the ranch home. The University of Wyoming Archeological Dig Site has produced extensive Native American artifacts. In the evening, catch a live theatre performance right out of the old West.
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 dense Black Hills National 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 explore Badlands National 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, Wind Cave National Park was 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. Jewel Cave National Monument is 135 miles long, making it the second longest cave in the world. Air currents indicate there are still vast areas left to discover. Back in Rapid City you can visit the Journey Museum, which illustrates the 2.5 million year geologic history of the region. It was voted the best museum in the Black Hills.
The 71,000 acres of Custer State Park are truly one of the last wild places in America. 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 the way between the Badlands and Buffalo, Devil's Tower, also known as "Bear's Lodge" to Native Americans, was considered sacred by more than 20 tribes. It was a place of prayer, introspection and renewal long before Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed it the country's first national monument in 1906.
Upon reaching Buffalo, you'll feel transported to the Old West – if you didn't already! Your accommodations at the Occidental hotel give you a perfect vantage point from which to explore the whole historic town. Buffalo is nestled in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, a sister range to the Rockies and surrounded by the Bighorn National Forest, rich with lush greenscapes and glacier-carved valleys. For the best view of the Forest, the Bighorn Mountains, and Cloud Peak Wilderness, drive the Cloud Peak Skyway National Scenic Byway. The Skyway is the only way to view Cloud Peak, the highest peak in the Bighorn Mountains.
From Buffalo, it's a short drive to Fort Kearney, site of the famous Wagon Box Fight and "Hole in the Wall," the hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
When you reach Billings, head for the Western Heritage Center, which features over 17,000 objects, photographs, American Indian beadwork and artifacts, western art, including the James Kenneth Ralston Collection, architectural drawings, furniture, clothing, textiles, weapons and oral histories. Outside Billings, Pompey's Pillar is one of the most famous sandstone buttes in America. It bears the only remaining physical evidence from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Captain William Clark carved his name here on July 25, 1806, during his return to the United States through the beautiful Yellowstone Valley. Just southeast of Billings, Pictograph Cave State Park was home to generations of prehistoric hunters 4,500 years ago. Rock paintings left behind by these ancient peoples are more than 2,000 years old. A short paved trail allows you to view the images that are visible in Pictograph Cave.
Near Billings, the Little Bighorn National Monument tells one of the most interesting stories in American history. Legends call it "Custer's Last Stand," placing emphasis on the US Army defeat at the hands of Chief Sitting Bull. The lesser known story is the reason the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were motivated to fight fiercely enough to slay all of Custer's troops. As the nation made its way from east to west, settlers and army troops encroached on more and more traditional Native American lands. Native Americans at Little Bighorn were fighting for more than territory; they were fighting to preserve their nomadic way of life. Ironically, even though they defeated the US Army, the battle still marked the end of the tribal lifestyle. As more archaeological research has been completed, the location of artifacts continues to support a completely different story from the legends that have traditionally surrounded the Custer story. The Memorial on Last Stand Hill was joined in 2003 by a Memorial to the Native Americans who fought here as well, which promotes "peace through unity".
As large as Rhode Island, Yellowstone National Park features an incredible array of natural phenomenon. The Park contains over 10,000 hydrothermal features, including 300 geysers that account for approximately one-half of the world's total. The geography of Yellowstone is made up of eight distinct areas. At Mammoth Hot Springs, the bubbling, boiling springs appear to be covered with white chalk. Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest and most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas. A temperature of 459F was recorded just a little over 1,000 feet below the surface.
In the Madison Natural Area, thermal action bubbles up in many colors. Trails take you through colorful hot springs and Artist Paint Pots just south of Norris Junction. The Old Faithful Area is actually made up of four different geyser basins where 60% of the world's geysers share a very small space. The Grant Village Area and the Lake Area are both adjacent to Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake at a high elevation in North America. The deepest portion in the West Thumb area has the same terrain of geysers and hot springs at the bottom. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is roughly 20 miles long and varies between 800 and 1,200 feet deep. The falls along the river range from 300 feet to Tower Falls, which drops 132-foot. Tower Creek is framed by eroded volcanic pinnacles that were documented by the earliest explorers in the region. Should you wish to learn more about the cultural heritage of the Yellowstone area, there are numerous museums nearby. From the Buffalo Bill Historical Center to the International Fly Fishing Museum, these excellent centers will round out your visit and put your experiences into perspective.
In order to get the most from your visit, we recommend you spend one night in the Mammoth Hot Springs and 2 nights in the Southern half of the Park near Old Faithful or The Lake.
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. All three Scenic Drives in the Park are a must do: The Teton Park Road, 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. We highly recommend taking a Wildlife Expedition, whether an all-day adventure, a daybreak trip or an evening tour. Any of these will take you into the back country of Grand Teton National Park, which is otherwise inaccessible to auto traffic.
The scenery remains stunning for much of your drive today, as you travel through the Bridger-Teton National Forest to Pinedale. In Pinedale, stop at The Museum of the Mountain Man, which presents an overview of the Western fur trade's historical significance through the lens of the romantic era of the Mountain Man. Exhibits include a 10-foot-tall Trapper statue, Native American clothing and tools, Jim Bridger's Rifle, and a Shoshone sheepskin bow.
From Rock Springs, you can enjoy some serious outdoor recreation in the 201,000 scenic acres in southern Montana that make up the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, featuring the 91-mile long Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Flanked by nearly 375 miles of dramatic shoreline of varying elevations in a kaleidoscope of colors, the reservoir is well known for fantastic trout fishing.
Perched atop a cliff, the Red Canyon Vista and Visitor Center has huge windows and outdoor fenced platforms for viewing the Gorge and surrounding desert landscape. A scenic loop road off Interstate 80 connects WY 530, US 191 and Utah 44. Be sure to visit Firehole Canyon, just south of Rock Springs, for the spectacular sight of chimneys and pinnacles reflecting in the river.
Talk about Western heritage – what a perfect ending to your expedition through the American West. Like so many towns in southern Wyoming, Laramie began as an "end of the tracks" railroad town. As the railroad progressed westward to the Golden Spike, towns sprung up for workers extending the tracks. By the time the first train arrived in 1868, carrying the Ivinson family, who came to build the town, a fair number of cabins, tents, and houses had already been constructed. You can tour the 1892 Victorian Queen-Anne style family mansion, which is considered to be one of the finest historic homes in the region. Among the 14 museums and historic sites in Laramie is the The Wyoming House for Historical Women, dedicated to Louisa Swain, an elderly Quaker woman who became the first woman in the world to cast a ballot, giving women the right to vote with full civil equality to men. Also of interest is the Wyoming Territorial Prison, constructed in 1872, which held none other than Butch Cassidy himself. Visit the Prison Museum for an insider's view of the 190-acre facility, the restored Warden's House, and exhibits in the Horse Barn Exhibit Hall. If you want to get out of town, head to the top of Vedauwoo; the fantastic rock formations and views from this 8,000 foot "rocky oasis" are stunning.
As you depart Laramie and head back home from Denver, rest assured that you have seen and savoured some of the Last Best Places in America.
- Direct return flights from London (Please ask about other departure airports)
- 14 nights hotel accommodation and room tax
- Fully insured compact car hire (Larger vehicles available at a small supplement)
- A detailed and comprehensive travel pack with driving instructions and maps
- Hot Air Ballooning in Jackson
- Bar T5 Cookout & Wild West SHow
- River trips in Jackson
- Evening lighting ceremony of Mt Rushmore
- Teton Science School
- Wolf Watching Trips
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.