The Great Plains region is often overlooked, but it’s home to some fascinating National Parks and plenty of historic sites that tell some of the sadder stories in American history. Despite the images of rolling fields of grain, you’ll find gorgeous mountains, geysers, geographic formations, waterfalls, and more here. It’s the perfect region to explore by road tripping as you can hit several of these great spots along a reasonable route. From Yellowstone – our first National Park – to a garden celebrating our peaceful relationship with Canada to historic sites from the real Oregon Trail, you’ll find lots of fascination attractions. It’s not all light-hearted Americana though (but you will find plenty of that), as this Great Plains bucket list also includes sites like the Little Bighorn battlefield and an old internment camp where Japanese-Americans were sent during WWII. So grab your car, and start planning a roadtrip through the heartland of America. And (hopefully) you won’t have to caulk your wagon to ford the river and lose your oxen along the way.
- 1 Bucket list things to do in Kansas
- 2 Bucket list things to do in Montana
- 3 Bucket list things to do in Nebraska
- 4 Bucket list things to do in North Dakota
- 5 Bucket list things to do in South Dakota
- 6 Bucket list things to do in Wyoming
Note: This post contains affiliate links, and should you choose to make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
If you’re planning on visiting some of the National Parks and National Monuments in this bucket list, I’d recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass to potentially save some money. It gets you admission for the whole year.
Bucket list things to do in Kansas
Wander through a tallgrass prairie
Strong City, Kansas
When you visit Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, you can see what the first settlers glimpsed when they traveled west, and what the Native Americans in the region considered their home. Located in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Tallgrass is a microcosmic look into the Great Plains of a couple centuries ago. Once American settlers began moving west, the original landscape drastically changed, and the prairies neared extinction. What had previously covered 170,000 million acres was reduced to a few thousand, but they’re making a bit of a comeback. Parks here and there, including Tallgrass, help to preserve this unique ecology.
The importance of this environment stems from the biodiversity that’s supported by prairies. In addition to bison and prairie dogs, two mammals that are vital to the landscape’s survival, there are several endangered species that the grasses support.
There are nature trails for hiking, but do be careful because they have free-roaming bison. You can also explore the historic buildings of the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch, built in 1878. They have cell phone audio tours available, and the entire experience is free.
By Theresa from The Local Tourist
Explore the Great Plains Nature Center
If you find yourself needing an escape from the bustle Kansas’ largest city, Wichita, you won’t even have to leave the city limits to do so. Nestled inside the 48th largest U.S. city is a small nature center that is making huge impacts. 2018 was a record year for Great Plains Nature Center with 181,842 visitors and nearly 400,000 web hits according to their director, Marc Murrell. Throughout the year they conducted over 1,800 programs aimed at helping the public gain more of an understanding and appreciation for wildlife. Over the next year they hope to add even more activities like archery clubs, nature journaling groups, interpretive events, and volunteer naturalist training. Every day, the staff and volunteers at GPNC use their slice of nature in the big city as a classroom for all of their visitors.
The best place to start is in the main building where they have a habitat hall full of educational displays, live animals, and interactive learning tools. After that, head to the Owl’s Nest gift shop for nature themed gifts, Kansas wildlife pocket guides, or purchase a small cup of turtle food. Then head out on the paved trails for a scenic walk around the adjacent Chisholm Creek Park. You’ll find boardwalks weaving through the park that take you across ponds, through woods, and to wide fields of restored prairie. During the summer you can see all kinds of beautiful Kansas wildflowers blooming, deer quietly sneaking through the woods, and tons of turtles at the bridge just waiting for you to feed them! Be sure to check out the Great Plains Nature Center Facebook page before, so you can plan your trip during one of their events!
By Hannah from Outside of Oz
Travel Deep into the Earth at Strataca Salt Mine
Where can you go in the United States that is safe from natural and human disasters, including hurricanes, tornados, floods, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks? The Strataca Salt Mine! Don your hardhat and take an elevator down 650 feet into the earth to discover the salt mine under Hutchinson, Kansas. While underground, you can explore the vast network of tunnels in the mine open to the public. As you explore, you will notice that walls and ceilings around you are made entirely of salt. You may choose to enhance your experience by taking a ride on the Salt Mine Express. This underground train brings passengers to a distant area of the mine where you can select your own salt rock to take home with you.
Salt is not all you will find in the Strataca Salt Mines. Because of their safe-from-everything nature, the Underground Vaults & Storage company uses the mines to protect files and materials from all 50 states and many countries. The original film reels of many classic movies and television shows, including the entire “Friends” series, are preserved underground here. Original props like the Dorothy machine from the movie “Twister” and a Bat Suit are also housed in the Strataca mine. The Underground Vaults & Storage company maintains a museum open to the public in the mine with a rotation of these films and
props on display.
If you find yourself in Kansas, do not miss the Strataca Salt Mine Experience.
By Kelly from Fit Fashion Traveler
Bucket list things to do in Montana
Bask in the beauty of Glacier National Park
West Glacier, Montana
If you enjoy natural beauty, Glacier National Park is the place to go! The amazing Going-to-the-Sun Road is the main route through Glacier National Park. From the West, it first leads you to sparkling Lake McDonald. The area behind Lake McDonald Lodge provides a spectacular view of the lake and surrounding mountains, creeks and waterfalls. As you proceed east, the Logan Pass Visitor center is a great place to stop. It’s the highest point in the park reachable by car. Behind the center is the Hidden Lake hiking trail, an easy walk that ends in none other than Hidden Lake. On the way, there are more waterfalls, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see some mountain goats chilling on glacial remnants. At the east end of the Going-to-the-Sun road, you’ll find Saint Mary Lake where you can set out on a relaxing 2-hour boat trip to Baring Falls. Once outside the park, you can drive north to the Many Glacier entrance which takes you to the Many Glacier Hotel where you can board another boat across Swiftcurrent Lake. At the opposite side of the lake, disembark, hike for about a half a mile, and then board another boat across Lake Josephine. There, a hiking trail will take you through the woods and to magnificent Grinnell Lake which glitters like a gem nestled in the mountains. It will leave you wanting to go back again and again!
By my mom!
Ski Big Sky
Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky Mountain Resort in Montana is a winter playground for skiers and snowboarders. As the second largest ski resort in the United States, Big Sky has 5,850 acres of skiable terrain, 7 terrain parks, and 36 lifts. The resort is so big, in fact, you can ski at Big Sky for days without skiing the same run twice.
Although the mountain has a reputation for being extremely challenging, I find it to be one of the best ski resorts for novice skiers or boarders. Located approximately 90 minutes outside of Bozeman, Montana, Big Sky is somewhat isolated so it is rarely crowded, which gives beginners plenty of room on the slopes to practice and improve their skills.
Although, those looking for something more advanced at Big Sky will definitely find it. Big Sky offers a variety of ski runs for all levels. From gentle, groomed runs for beginners to steep expert-only chutes off the top of the iconic Lone Peak, the mountain offers something for every type of skier or snowboarder.
The base area, while not as developed as some resorts, has enough shops, restaurants, and activities to stay busy once the mountain closes. With so much to do in and around Big Sky, it makes for the perfect winter vacation spot for those looking to play in the snow.
By Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
Go Wildlife Spotting at the National Bison Range
One of the oldest wildlife refuges in the United States can be found in Montana. Established in the early 1900s, the National Bison Range has been providing sanctuary for the American bison for over 100 years. The NBR has a herd of between 300 and 500 individuals who roam freely across the 29 square mile range. It is also a central point for research into the animals. As well as bison, the NBR is also home to other animals such as elk, pronghorn, coyote, black bears, bighorn sheep and even cougars.
There are two driving routes within the NBR both leaving from the visitor’s center. The Prairie Drive route is generally open all-year round and is an easier, gentler route along the Flathead River. The Red Sleep Mountain Drive is the longer route which takes you into the hills, closer to the hiking trails that are located within the NBR. It will often be closed during winter due to weather conditions. However, be warned, even in summer the drive is on a rocky road with some nasty twists and turns on the descent down the back of the hill. We drove it in a 4×4 and it was quite a bouncy ride even for us. But the views across the Jocko River and the plains of Montana beyond were worth it.
As for spotting animals, the bison are usually easy to spot if they are on the hills or in the plains beside the driving routes, although they are known to roam further away from these. Other animals can be more elusive and harder to spot. Keep an eye out for pronghorn on the hill along the Flathead River, as well as elk along the river banks. And bring some binoculars as you’ll need them.
Top Tip: the gift shop outside the gates of the NBR rents binoculars to guests. We rented some and they were good quality and helped us spot some of the more elusive elk and pronghorn along the hills.
By Cath from Passports and Adventures
Visit the site of the bloody Little Bighorn Battle
Crow Agency, Montana
A visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield is a sobering look at one of the defining moments in U.S. history. In 1876, the 7th Regiment of the U.S. Cavalry, led by Lt. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, clashed with warriors of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. This battle became known as Custer’s Last Stand. He and 267 other members of the Cavalry died that day, while the tribes lost between 40 and 100. It was one of the final salvos in the war between the native peoples and the expanding United States.
Make your first stop to this memorial the visitor center. Inside, you can watch a 25-minute orientation video that details the history of the battle itself as well as the context that surrounded the conflict. The center also houses a museum, and the exhibits expand on the video and provide more information and education.
Outside, drive the 4.5 mile road that’s complete with a cell phone audio tour. You can also walk the short Deep Ravine trail. Throughout the tour, you’ll see many gravestones. The white markers denote where U.S. Cavalry members are buried, and the red indicate graves of Native Americans. There’s also an Indian Memorial, dedicated to the warriors who perished. As you walk, be wary of rattlesnakes!
Entrance to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is $25, or free with the National Parks Interagency Annual Pass.
By Theresa from The Local Tourist
Visit the 1000 Buddhas
A massive Buddhist shrine is probably one of the last things you’d expect to find in Montana. And yet, located on the stunningly beautiful Flathead Indian Reservation and not far from the hip city of Missoula is the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. It’s a 750-foot-wide circular monument representing the wheel of dharma. Each spoke is lined with over a hundred concrete Buddha statues, and the surrounding ring is populated with hundreds of similar stupas. While these Buddhas might seem out of place in cowboy country, its location on Native American land is actually quite fitting, as Buddhist thought has some parallels to the beliefs of Montana’s original inhabitants.
The shrine was originally built as a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists living in the West, who might not be able to travel to better-known holy sites. It also stands as a symbol of coexistence, creating an opportunity to educate those who might not know much about Eastern thought. The Garden is open to the public, and events like yoga retreats, musical performances, and dharma talks regularly take place there.
Most visitors to the Garden will circle the wheel in a counterclockwise direction while contemplating the cyclical nature of life. The shrine’s gift shop is also loaded with books by Buddhist teachers if you’re interested in learning more. As of yet, not all of the concrete Buddhas have been completed, but the Dalai Lama is expected to make a visit to Montana after they are.
By Ryan from Passions and Places
Bucket list things to do in Nebraska
Explore scenic Smith Falls
Despite their motto of “Honestly: it’s not for everyone,” Nebraska actually has quite a lot to offer. The state’s more diverse than most expect, and one of the most surprising destinations is Smith Falls. At 70 feet, it’s the tallest waterfall in Nebraska. Fed by a creek, it flows through a canyon into the Niobrara River. The canyon itself is deep enough and cool enough that it creates its own micro-environment, so plants that normally can’t survive in this part of the state can be found here.
One of the best ways to experience the falls is to camp at Smith Falls State Park. Sites are located along the banks of a stretch of the Niobrara that’s been designated as a Wild and Scenic River. Only a quarter of one percent of U.S. rivers have this designation.
Smith Falls is easily accessed by crossing a foot bridge over the river and then following a short trail. The trail is a boardwalk, designed to protect the fragile environment of this unique area. Back at camp, you’ll see people floating by on the peaceful waters, and the soundtrack is a symphony of birds.
Smith Falls is located about 4 1/2 hours west of Sioux City, Iowa, along a scenic byway called the Outlaw Trail. Entrance is $6 for Nebraska residents and $8 for non-residents.
By Theresa from The Local Tourist
See the famous landmark Chimney Rock
This tall cone rising up from the plains of western Nebraska looks entirely out of place in the surrounding area. That fact is what made it such an important landmark for pioneers heading west on the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails. Chimney Rock is unmistakable as it stands nearly 500 feet above the fields, so it’s easy to spot from a long way off. It was even iconic enough to be featured on the Nebraska edition of the state quarters that were released celebrating each of the 50 states. The visitor center there offers information about Chimney Rock itself as well as the various trails heading west.
Visit a historic postal arrow that guided planes in the early days of air mail
When I was on a quest to visit every state in the United States it was fun to see what I could do in each state that was unique. Not many people spoke highly of Nebraska or the whole Great Plains region, but there are still great sights to see like an old postal arrow. This arrow, along with 125 others, still exists, but they can be hard to find or access. These concrete arrows marked west-east and south-north transcontinental air mail routes. The concrete houses were beacon stations to help guide the pilots in the 1920s and 30s when they couldn’t depend on GPS to guide them, and especially in stormy conditions these lights and arrows were life savers.
A small percentage of the arrows still host their towers, although most are no longer painted yellow or have had their numerical identification removed. Despite that they are still really fun to find; it’s like standing on history. There’s a whole map you could use to drive around the US and find these arrow treasures. Just be mindful that some are not as accessible as others. We had a hard time in Utah, eventually finding out the arrow was up a steep cliff that we had no way to access. In Nebraska, however, the arrow is just a short distance from the road in a field looking out over the Great Plains.
By Melissa from Roux Roamer
Bucket list things to do in North Dakota
Explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Northwestern, North Dakota
I am not exaggerating when I say a trip to North Dakota would not be complete without a stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Hopefully, you’ll make it a long stop! There’s a ton to do in these beautifully rugged badlands, which happen to be rich in history and hiking trails alike.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only park named after a person. Pretty cool, right? When you’re hiking the trails here, you are walking on the very land which inspired Theodore Roosevelt to become the great conservationist he was. You can explore the actual ranching cabin Roosevelt lived in, now located at the park’s South Unit Visitor Center, and see many items he owned in the 1800s. History buffs and nature lovers will both absolutely love this park.
The park has a South Unit and a North Unit, both hugging the banks of the Little Missouri River. The South Unit is in Medora, a charming Old West-style town with hotels, restaurants, and fun attractions like the Cowboy Hall of Fame museum. The South Unit itself has a 36-mile scenic loop through the badlands, full of wildlife like bison, prairie dogs, wild horses, and elk. I recommend stopping at all of the panoramic overlooks, and doing at least one hike!
Want to get even more off the beaten path? The park’s North Unit is about an hour away. The North Unit sees fewer visitors each summer than the South Unit and has some spectacular hiking trails. If you’ll just do one hike in the park, I recommend the North Unit’s Caprock Coulee Trail! The North Unit is home to a herd of Texas Longhorns, Bighorn sheep, and the odd moose! And plenty of bison and prairie dogs, of course.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park grows more popular by the summer, so there’s no better time to go! A visit here will help you reconnect with nature, feel inspired, and remember Roosevelt’s incredible conservationist legacy.
By Kaisa from Glam Granola Travel
Visit the International Peace Garden
US-Canada Border north of Dunseith, North Dakota
The International Peace Garden was founded along the US-Canada border in the 1930s to commemorate the peaceful relationship between the two neighboring countries. Spanning from North Dakota into Manitoba, the 3.65 square mile park features over 150,000 flowers, including a 12-foot tall floral clock, fountains, and a 14-bell chime that was donated by a church in Manitoba and installed in a tower provided by a veterans group in North Dakota. The garden is also home to some remnants of the World Trade Center to honor victims of the 9/11 attacks. In addition, there are picnic areas, a campground, and hiking trails. Visitors can enter the park freely from either country and explore as they please, including crossing the border between the two nations as often as they please, however upon exiting the park, they are required to go through the customs and border control procedures for whichever country they enter. That makes this the only entry in my USA bucket list series that requires you to bring a passport, or at least an enhanced driver’s license.
Tour giant roadside animal statues
Throughout North Dakota
Every state has their own roadside quirk to be on the lookout for while driving through. North Dakota is no exception with larger than life animal statues. Many of them qualify to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest of its kind.
If you are passing through North Dakota via I-94, you’ll be able to see a handful of the monuments from the interstate. Heading west from Fargo, the first one you’ll see is a large buffalo in Jamestown known to the locals as Dakota Thunder. Dakota Thunder is the oldest of the bunch and solidified Jamestown’s nickname as the Buffalo City.
Farther down the interstate in Steele is Sandy, the world’s largest sandhill crane. You do have to be on the lookout for this one. I think Sandy blends in too well and can be easily missed.
Salem Sue, the world’s largest Holstein cow is located in New Salem. Salem Sue sits on a hill overlooking the prairie and can be seen for miles in almost every direction. It would be hard to drive past and not notice.
Other large animal statues can be found throughout North Dakota. Wahpeton has a giant catfish called Whapper, Turtle Lake has a two-ton rust colored turtle, Garrison (the Walleye capital of the world) has Wally the Walleye, the Enchanted Highway has a variety of larger than life sculptures, and just north of Bismarck you can see a statue of Seaman, the Newfoundland dog Lewis and Clark took with them on their expedition.
See more about visiting North Dakota from Niki at Chasing Departures
Bucket list things to do in South Dakota
Explore Badlands National Park
Interior, South Dakota
Badlands National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota. The name Badlands comes from the region’s rugged landscape that is full of spires and pinnacles. On the surface, Badlands looks like a very inhospitable place. That is true in many respects. The region was never really settled by humans but it full of wildlife such as Bighorn Sheep, Bison, Prairie Dogs, and the highly endangered Black-Footed Ferret.
Badlands is best known for its fossils. The region is the rich in mammal fossils. Fossils have been found of the hornless rhinoceros, three-toed horse, deerlike creatures, and saber-tooth cats. Unlike many other National Parks, Badlands National Park encourages hiking off trail. It isn’t uncommon for visitors to discover fossils. There is even a form should you discover a fossil. The key is that you shouldn’t move the fossil and you don’t get to keep it. Be sure to visit the Paleontology Lab at Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn about the Badlands fossils and how they study them.
Besides fossil hunting, Badlands has a 31-mile scenic byway. The byway winds through the spires and pinnacles. There are many scenic overlooks to explore and take in the landscape. The park has many hiking trails. My favorites included Notch Trail, Window and Door Trail, and Saddle Pass. Notch Trail is a 1.5-mile trail with a ladder to climb. This trail provides an epic view of White River Valley. Window and Door Trails are two sperate trails but they are 1 mile combined and they start at opposite ends of a parking lot. Window leads to a natural hole in the Badlands Wall. Door Trail heads out into the Badlands. Be careful if you head past the maintained trail. Saddle Pass is a short 0.125-mile hike up to Saddle Pass where it connects with the Castle Trail.
Badlands National Park is a must-visit stop on any South Dakota Road Trip.
By Jennifer Melroy from National Park Obsessed
If you don’t have a vehicle of your own, you can visit the Badlands as part of a day tour from Rapid City!
Visit Mt. Rushmore
Keystone, South Dakota
Last year, I visited South Dakota as I finished my quest to visit all 50 United States. One of several places we visited was Mount Rushmore, an attraction in the Black Hills of South Dakota I’ve dreamed of seeing for so long. The logistics alone are just amazing to think about!
Mount Rushmore, created from 1927 to 1941 by Gutzon Borglum, consists of the heads of four United States presidents carved into the black granite. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are the presidents represented and each of their head carvings is 60 feet tall!
Since there is no entrance fee to the memorial, we walked in and began straight down the Avenue of Flags. You can already see the memorial and it dawns on you just how big it really is. Once we reached the end of the flags, we then walked to the end of the gigantic lookout point and looked up at the carvings. You don’t realize how large the memorial is until you see it in person. It is truly stunning!
After we finished our staring session and took photos (and wondered where all the people were) we moseyed on down to the Visitor’s Center to get stamps for our National Park Passport Book and of course, browsed through the gift shop to get a Christmas ornament.
TIP: You do have to pay to park in the adjacent parking deck. April is a great month to go as you can see there’s no one in my photos and it was a beautiful day, although we did go earlier in the morning to help with crowding.
By Heather from Trimm Travels
You can also visit Mount Rushmore as part of a tour of the area that includes the nearby Crazy Horse memorial and a cowboy-style chuckwagon dinner!
Tour Custer State Park
Custer, South Dakota
Anywhere else in the US and I think Custer State Park would be a National Park! It is one of the best parks we have been to in in the world and has something for everyone!
For motoring enthusiasts you can drive through the spectacular Needles Highway – one of the world’s most scenic drives. However pleased be warned – this is not a drive for bad drivers who may scrape the sides of the car as they go through the tight tunnels! And be sure to arrive at the park as early as possible as much of the drive is only wide enough for one car so it can get congested, especially on public holidays and peak season weekends.
On top of that, we recommend the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and the park’s Wildlife Loop! Two absolutely stunning drives that offer many opportunities to view the park’s amazing wildlife, in particular bison, deer and my daughter’s favorite – the curious and obviously often well fed Burros/donkeys!
Again, it is better to view wildlife early in the day so why not consider booking at the on-site lodge! Kids will enjoy staying on site and taking part in safari jeep tours and cookouts. Whether you have a day, a weekend or longer Custer state park is perfect for any bucket list
By Leona from Wandermust Family
Explore underground in Wind Cave National Park
Southeastern South Dakota
Wind Cave is one of two National Parks in South Dakota and it gets overshadowed by the Badlands a lot. However, Wind Cave National Park is just as much worth visiting. While the main focus of the park is the cave, there are still plenty of hiking options with over 30 miles through prairies and ponderosa pine forests, for before or after the cave tour.
Keep an eye out for bison on the drive through the park. We saw a ton at the park entrance before the visitor center and at the other end closer to Custer State Park. The draw of the park though is the cave, so make sure you do a cave tour. There are three basic tours of easy, moderate, and strenuous difficulties. The Natural Entrance Tour (moderate) is the most popular, but the strenuous offers the most variety.
You can also do two special tours: a strenuous candlelight tour and a very strenuous wild cave tour. The wild cave tour has a minimum age of 16 and requires crawling. Both of these take reservations, but the others are walk-in. To avoid a long wait, try for an early tour. While it may not be the most popular park out there, it’s a great addition to a Black Hills road trip.
See more about visiting South Dakota from Megan at Red Around the World
Get free water at Wall Drug
Wall, South Dakota
When you’re planning out your travels to the Black Hills of South Dakota, be sure to schedule a stop at Wall Drug. Now, don’t be fooled by the name. It’s much more than a drug store, though you can find things you normally find at a pharmacy here as well.
Our full time RVing family made a stop on our way to see Mount Rushmore and spent almost an entire afternoon at Wall Drug. We easily found large vehicle parking for our motorhome and set out to explore. From restaurants and gold mining to several gift shops and souvenir shopping, our family kept busy all afternoon.
If you are bringing the kids, then be sure walk to the back of Wall Drug across to their backyard area. It’s there that you’ll find some kid’s activities including a water splash pad area for hot days, a large mechanical dinosaur that makes some noise, and a chance to sit on top of a giant Jackalope.
By Jill from Let’s Travel Family
Visit the one and only Corn Palace
During our USA trip we also passed through South Dakota, the fifth least densely populated state of the States. While driving over seemingly endless roads with prairies and grasslands on each side we came across Mitchell, a small village in the southeast corner of SD.
We had been on the road the whole day and decided this would be a good place to stop for dinner. And we were in luck! We had accidentally stumbled across the only Corn Palace in the world! You might wonder what a Corn Palace is? Well, it’s a building decorated with murals made entirely from corn! The murals are amazing and are newly designed each year. We spent quite a bit of time walking around the entire building to see all the murals.
Of course we went inside as well to read more about the history of this unique place and to check out cool pictures of previous versions of the Corn Palace many decades ago.
Pro-tip: if possible, visit at the end of August during the yearly Corn Palace Festival!
By Lotte from Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog
Bucket list things to do in Wyoming
See geothermal wonders at Yellowstone National Park
Northwestern Wyoming and parts of Montana and Idaho
Yellowstone, the first American National Park sits atop a volcanic hotspot. Sure, someday it’s probably going to blow and kill us all, but for now you might as well enjoy its natural wonders. It’s also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its important geologic features. Home to geysers, hot springs, mud pots, wildlife, waterfalls, and more, you could spend weeks here and not see everything. Highlights include Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring, though both features have been damaged by human activity over the years. Steamboat Geyser is the tallest actively erupting geyser and while it doesn’t erupt regularly, its eruptions have been happening fairly frequently in recent months. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is – you guessed it – a large canyon that features a gorgeous waterfall visible from a scenic overlook or hiking trails.
Explore the stunning Grand Tetons
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Gorgeous Grand Teton National Park pairs perfectly with a trip to the previously mentioned Yellowstone. The craggy mountains – whose name comes from the French for big breasts – rise up and reflect beautifully in Jenny Lake. All manner of outdoor activities are offered in the park and visitors of all fitness and skill levels will be enthralled with its beauty. One of my favorite activities when we visited was taking a scenic boat ride on the lake to take in the views and spot some wildlife. A scenic drive that loops through the park also provides a relaxing opportunity to take in the natural beauty. For more adventurous activities, try one of the many hiking trails ranging from mild to strenuous, go horseback riding, or take a scenic raft ride on the Snake River. Boats can also be rented for unguided exploration, and fishing is a popular activity in the park.
Visit unique Devils Tower
Devils Tower, Wyoming
There’s no way you can miss Devils Tower National Monument as you drive through northern Wyoming – in some instances quite literally, as the rock formation rises up higher than anything else for miles. It looks a bit strange and out of place; don’t be surprised if you think to yourself “But where did it come from?” more than once.
Devils Tower was formed by cooling magma and then millennia of erosion, but also has several “creation” stories attributed to it by local Native American tribes. Possibly because of its uniqueness and ability to draw people from miles away, Devils Tower was designated as the very first National Monument in the United Stated by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.
Today, visitors to Devils Tower can learn more about the tower’s formation (both geologically speaking, and from the stories and legends of the native Northern Plains tribes), as well as take a hike around it. The easiest trail is the 1.3-mile Tower Trail that loops around the base of Devils Tower, though there are also some longer trails that offer views of both the tower and the Belle Fourche River valley.
Devils Tower is a cool spot to spend a couple of hours, and is a must-visit on any Great Plains road trip!
By Amanda from A Dangerous Business
You can also visit Devils Tower on a day tour from Rapid City, South Dakota if you’re visiting other parts of the region!
Learn about the sad history of Japanese internment camps from WWII
If you’re a fan of American History you will most certainly want to tour Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. Located about 14 miles outside of Cody, Wyoming is a part of the country’s history we must not forget. Cody is a frequent stop for folks taking that all-American road trip to Yellowstone National Park. While there is no denying the beauty and wonder of nature in the parks of Wyoming and Montana, stopping at places like Heart Mountain forces us to face history head on.
The Heart Mountain center was a relocation facility for over 14,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. The center now houses a large and meticulously curated collection of photographs, videos, and artifacts that provide insights into the day-to-day lives of these incarcerated Americans.
You will be surprised at the respectful nature and tenacity of these people, who were taken from their homes and business on very short notice. They formed a community that grew vegetables, ran its own newspaper, and even provided medical and dental services to nearby residents outside the facility.
Traveling in the United States is bound to uncover the vast history that is around every turn. Knowing that some of that history may cause you to stop and reflect on the past should be one of the main reasons that you travel.
You are immediately drawn into these people’s lives through the interactive exhibits and videos. Learn first-hand what it was like to live in an internment camp. It is impossible not to be affected by a visit to this important place.
See more about the Cody, Wyoming area from Sue at Food Travelist
See ruts still remaining from the Oregon Trail
Every Millennial grew up playing Oregon Trail on the computer, but did you know that all these years later, you can still see ruts left behind by wagons heading west on the Trail? Though there are a few places where you can view Oregon Trail ruts, this historic spot near Guernsey features some of the best preserved ones due to the fact that the narrow passage forced nearly every wagon to pass through the same small span. So many wagons came through this area that the ruts are worn as much as five feet deep. It’s fascinating to imagine what life would’ve been like heading west all those years ago. This makes a great stop on a road trip through Wyoming, as you can hop out for a few minutes to see the Oregon Trail ruts and then head on your way to other attractions in the state.
Heading to other parts of the United States? Check out these other regional bucket lists for inspiration!
- The Ultimate New England Bucket List
- See the Best of the Midwest with this Ultimate Bucket List
- 45 Bucket List-Worthy Things to Do in the Southwestern United States
- Fifty Bucket List-Worthy Things to Do in the Southeastern United States
- The Ultimate Mid-Atlantic Bucket List
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