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Seek out the wonders of the Rocky Mountains
Destinations > Rocky Mountains > Highlights of the Rocky Mountains
9 nights accommodation, 9 days car rental, meals as indicated and sightseeing as specified.
Daily, Jun – mid Sep
From the stunning lakes of Glacier to the erupting geysers and bubbling mudpots of Yellowstone, this road trip encompasses two of the best National Parks in the American West. Keep watch for bear, bison, wolves and moose while soaking up the stunning scenery of the Rocky Mountains.
Back to Rocky Mountains Tours
Explore the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park
Watch geysers erupt and search for wildlife in Yellowstone National Park
Get a taste of western culture at the Cody Rodeo
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Montana’s largest town, Billings is a good base for visits to the Little Bighorn Battlefield and the Crow Indian Reservation. The Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1882, literally putting Billings on the map. In 5 months, the town grew from a single building to 250 buildings and 2,000 citizens.
The Rimrocks, Billings' most striking natural feature, rise 400 feet above the Yellowstone Valley, running the length of the city and beyond. Legend has it that Crow warriors once rode over Sacrifice Cliff to appease their gods and to halt the spread of smallpox among their people. Today Billings continues to be the "Star of the Big Sky Country."
With the Absaroka Range on your left, today’s destination is Helena. The range stretches for about 150 miles across the Montana-Wyoming border, forming the eastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park and the western side of the Bighorn Basin. The range borders the Beartooth Mountains to the north, and the Wind River Range to the south.
Montana's capital, Helena was originally known as Last Chance, for a party of disheartened gold-diggers decided to have one final dig here and struck gold - a seam that produced 20 million dollars’ worth. By 1888, about 50 millionaires lived in Helena, more millionaires per capita than any city in the world!
Travel through Blackfeet Territory, the open plains just east of Glacier National Park. This inspiring land is home to Montana's largest Native American tribe, the Blackfeet Nation. The tribe's unique name is probably a result of moccasins painted or darkened with ashes.
Weather and time permitting, follow the Going-to-the Sun Road through Glacier National Park. This road was completed in 1932 and is a spectacular 52 mile, paved two-lane highway that bisects the park east to west. It spans the width of Glacier, crossing the Continental Divide at 6,646-foot-high Logan Pass. It passes through almost every type of terrain in the park, from large glacial lakes and cedar forests in the lower valleys to windswept alpine tundra atop the pass.
Or travel via Flathead Lake and its scenic beauty. South of Flathead Lake, you will find a herd of about 400 American Buffalo at the National Bison Range, as well as elk, antelope, mule deer, bighorn sheep and whitetail deer. During the Summer, a self-guided tour of the Range is available.
Either way your day ends in Whitefish, one of the most scenic, breathtaking areas in America. Whitefish is surrounded on three sides by picturesque mountain peaks that include the Big Mountain Ski and Summer Resort just outside of town. (B)
Glacier National Park is just a short drive from the Whitefish area. It is perhaps the last vestige of pristine wilderness left among the national parks in the continental U.S. Uncrowded and blessed with some of the world's most beautiful scenery, its 1.4 million acres of rugged landscape was sculpted eons ago by slow moving glaciers, 50 of which are active today. If you didn’t travel via the Going-to-the-Sun Road yesterday, definitely aim for that today.
After exploring Flathead Lake and the town of Missoula, home to the largest smokejumper base in the country, with a visitor center worth checking out, drive south into the Bitterroot Valley, nestled between the Sapphire and Bitterroot Mountain ranges. This is storybook Montana—outdoor opportunities, quaint historic towns, craft breweries and burgers of legendary proportions. It is home to every kind of recreation, including hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, rafting, wildlife and nature viewing. This area is home to some of the largest deposits of sapphires in the world, and you can pan for sapphires at the Sapphire Studio in Hamilton. Choose from one of several breweries or sample locally made wines. Conquer that huge burger or savor a gourmet meal.
Continue to Butte, established in 1864 as a mining camp on the Continental Divide and at one point the largest city between St. Louis and Seattle. The city's Uptown Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States, containing nearly 6,000 contributing properties.
Driving to Yellowstone is a journey in itself. Traveling alongside the Yellowstone River, the valley opens into miles of mountain views and spectacular western ranches. One word describes it best: paradise. Paradise Valley is the incredible place visitors get to experience before even reaching the park. Created by the Absaroka Range to the east and the Gallatin Range to the west, the valley runs north to south between Livingston and Yankee Jim Canyon, which is about 15 miles north of Gardiner.
The highlight of today is of course Yellowstone National Park. The nation's first national park remains primarily a wilderness area with 97% of the park's 3,400 square miles remaining undeveloped. While Old Faithful, the most widely recognized geyser, serves as the park's signature steam, there are more than 10,000 other geothermal features in Yellowstone including geysers, hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles. Today you will explore part of the park, like Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Basin, on your way to West Yellowstone, located just outside the West entrance to the park. (B)
Today there is more of Yellowstone National Park to explore. Traveling along the lower loop you can explore the areas around Old Faithful, Lake Yellowstone, and Hayden Valley. Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. Sixty-seven different mammals live here, including grizzly bears and black bears. Gray wolves were restored in 1995 and more than 100 live in the park now. Wolverine and lynx, which require large expanses of undisturbed habitat, are also found in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Seven native ungulate species - elk, mule deer, bison, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and white-tailed deer live here.
Continue to the small mountain towns of Cooke City and Silver Gate, just outside the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone for the night.
Head up the Beartooth All American Road (weather permitting) – one of the most beautiful drives in America. Reaching heights of nearly 11,000 feet, this 53-mile, 2-hour drive offers sky top views of snowcapped peaks, glaciers, alpine lakes, and vast plateaus filled with wildflowers.
Then experience Cody, a picturesque little western town, another gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Experience "Old Trail Town" or visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, which is widely regarded as America's finest Western Museum.
Tonight’s plan includes tickets for the nightly summer rodeo, as well as reserved seating to watch a "shoot-out" in front of the historic Irma Hotel. (B)
Today the choice is yours.
Perhaps book an early morning guided tour to see the Red Canyon wild mustangs, then spend more time in Cody before heading back to Billings.
Or for even more sightseeing travel across the spectacular Bighorn Mountains. The road passes within a few miles of the Medicine Wheel, built in pre-historic time by unknown people who departed the scene long before the first Plains Indian Tribes arrived.
Plan a little detour for a lunch stop in Sheridan, steeped in western history, and surrounded by dramatic mountains and wide-open spaces.
For a glimpse into the area’s history visit Little Bighorn Battlefield and the Crow Indian Reservation. Pompey’s Pillar, located just outside of Billings, is the only physical evidence of Lewis & Clark’s Expedition. Pictograph Cave State Park, 20 minutes from Billings, was home to generations of prehistoric hunters, and Chief Plenty Coups State Park tells the story of how Crow Indians lived during of time of change in Montana’s history.
After check out return your rental car to the depot where your adventure ends. (B)
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