The nature, the history, the grandeur – the American frontier is just as captivating to us now as it was to the pioneers moving out west in search of a better living. Between the scenic views and Wild West legacies, there’s something to make everyone don a Stetson and shout “yee-haw!” Saddle up and ride ’em out to experience America’s cowboy country for yourself.
The Natural Wonders
Yellowstone National Park
If you’re searching for stunning views of native wildlife, look no further than Yellowstone. This national park spreads across three states – mostly Wyoming, spreading into Montana and Idaho – covering 3,472 square miles. It’s the world’s first and oldest national park.
Home to more than 200 animal species, many tourists travel westward to gaze at grizzly bears, bald eagles, bison, moose, elk, wolves, horses and more, all roaming freely in their natural habitats. Plan your visit between April and early June to view some cute youngsters learning how to walk. And you won’t want to miss the timely eruptions of trusty Old Faithful geyser, shooting water upward of 100-180 feet in the air approximately every 74 minutes.
Grand Teton National Park
The breathtaking landscapes of Grand Teton in Wyoming continue to draw tourists year after year. The meadows and lakes provide a relaxing and awe-inspiring view, while the granite mountains rising dramatically in the distance complete the scene. This lush landscape is the perfect stop for some much-needed peace and serenity.
Custer State Park
This South Dakota state park’s main attraction is its vast herds of roaming North American bison, one of the greatest endangered species success stories. Nearly 1,500 bison call the park home, and are often seen grazing or thundering through the grasslands. It’s been named one of the world’s top 10 wildlife destinations, so be sure to bring your camera for some stunning photo opportunities.
Badlands National Park
The Badlands stands apart from its other national park brethren. Its 244,000 acres in South Dakota are mixed grass prairie littered with pinnacles, buttes and spires formed by natural erosion. The formations are picturesque in their colorful sedimentary layers, presenting hues of purple, yellow, orange, red and more.
Although the landscape may seem desolate a wide variety of species call the Badlands home, including coyotes, prairie dogs, vultures and the rarely seen black-footed ferret. One of the greatest fossil beds in the world calls this national park home. Skeletons of saber-toothed cats, three-toed horses and other ancient creatures are uncovered often.
The Man-Made Marvels
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
This South Dakota memorial serves as a symbol of American freedom and democracy. Hailing Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, this magnificent view reminds Americans of the trials and tribulation it took to move the country towards the future. Take in an up-close view on the memorial with a walk along the Presidential Trail through the beautiful Black Hills, surrounded by forests and streams.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Rising 6,532 feet above sea level, this mountain memorial in South Dakota pays homage to Crazy Horse, a member of the Lakota tribe who died fighting for his people. The memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving. Begun in 1948, the sculpture will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high when it’s finished. Along with this mountain legacy, the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center feature a variety of historic items and tell the story of this culture.
The Western Towns
You’ll be sure to connect with your inner cowboy in Jackson Hole, Wyo. There’s nothing more “cowboy” than a classic trip to the rodeo. The Jackson Hole Rodeo has been held on summer nights for the past 120 years, and the bucking broncos and bull riding completes the Wild West experience. The town square offers shopping, boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and live entertainment, as well as seasonal festivals and events. Keep an eye out for the stunning elk antler archways at each of the four main entrances; huge archways are built from stored elk antler sheds collected by the National Elk Refuge, periodically torn down and rebuilt when necessary.
Historic Deadwood was spawned during the U.S. gold rush. The South Dakota city began as a gold mining camp after gold was discovered in a nearby creek, near a gulch full of dead trees, hence the town’s name. Many legends of the Wild West are rooted in Deadwood, including Calamity Jane, Al Swearengen and Seth Bullock. Now, the town is known more for its rich history than its lawlessness (thankfully) and there are plenty of museums and landmarks to explore.
Thanks to Buffalo Bill and his unique herding skills, Cody, Wyo., is known as the rodeo capital of the world. Summer nights welcome the Cody Nite Rodeo, along with other annual rodeo events. Trek over to a day ranch to channel your inner cowboy and learn to rope or play a classic game of horseshoes. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West provides an exploration of the history, culture and nature of the American West. And, of course, the outdoor recreation possibilities are limitless.
While this modern South Dakota city doesn’t exactly classify as an old Western town, it certainly has plenty of sights to see and places to explore. Dinosaur Park is a popular attraction for children and adults alike, where life-size replicas of prehistoric reptiles “roam” the land. The Cleghorn Springs Fish Hatchery and Visitors Center provide an educational experience to tourists on how coldwater fish are raised and released for anglers to catch. See life-size bronze statues of past American leaders in the City of Presidents while shopping or dining downtown. Rapid City has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for your next outdoor adventure or want to brush up on your history.
Have you been to any of these historic sites? Tell us in the comments!
Say “Howdy” to the American frontier with the Cowboy Country itinerary from AAA Member Choice Vacations.