THE GREAT AMERICAN WEST IS BIG.
It’s beautiful. And it’s often overlooked by travellers. Sure, it doesn’t have as well known attractions as the east or west coasts, but it’s got heart”. It is, after all, known as “America’s Heartland”. If you’re still unsure about whether this region should be on your travel itinerary, we’ve got five reasons why you should saddle up and explore The Great American West.
1. Legends and Cowboys
With legendary characters entrenched in its history and its cowboy culture, the spirit of the Midwest is still there to be experienced.
Named after the famous Great American West figure, William Frederick Cody, whose nickname was Buffalo Bill, the town Cody, Wyoming is the “Rodeo Capital of the World” with a Cody Nite Rodeo every night from June through August, as well as the Cody Stampede in July.
Stay on a ranch for the holiday of a lifetime in Montana with vast open spaces and stunning scenery – it is the place to be. Hands-on ranching experiences allow you find out what it is really like to be a cowboy. Ride the trails or herd cattle across the prairie land on horseback, before enjoying a chuckwagon supper cooked over an open fire.
Go back in time and visit the reconstructed Fort Abraham Lincoln at Bismarck, North Dakota. It was from here that General George Custer and the 7th Cavalry road out on their ill-fated expedition against the Sioux at the Little Bighorn.
Be a player in the gold rush town of Deadwood, South Dakota and take part in a Wild West re-enactment when outlaws, gamblers and gunslingers like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Poker Alice came to town looking for a good time. Some things never change.
2. Immersive heritage of the Native American
It is impossible to visit The Great American West without learning about the culture and history of Native Americans, remembering that many areas on Indian reservations are sacred.
In Wyoming, immerse yourself in the customs and peek into the history of the Shohone and Araphao tribes who share the beautiful wide-open space of Wind River Reservation, where you can visit many trading posts as well as Sacajawea’s burial place.
Experience ancient tribal traditions of the Apsáalooke people at the four day Annual Crow Fair Celebration Powwow and Rodeo at Crow Agency, Montana, which begins each year on the third Thursday in August.
Take a day tour from Cody, Wyoming, travelling to the Medicine Wheel high above the Bighorn Basin to Bighorn Mountains. Soak in the stunning scenery as you ascend mountain roads based on old Indian hunting trails. Learn of the sacred story of the stone Spirit Wheel before walking approx. 2 kms to the site.
Journey through the heart of the Sioux nation along the Native American Scenic Byway in South Dakota where roaming buffalo and bluffs along the river tell the story of their connection with the land. There are excellent interpretive sites as cultural roots unfold along the way.
3. Trailing for craft beer
With hundreds of Midwest craft breweries making their mark on the American beer scene, set your compass on a craft beer map for a unique way to experience each region.
Taste your way from Cheyenne to Cody on the Wyoming Beer Trail. Discover brewing secrets and why glacier water is best, sampling some of the best IPA’s, ales and stouts in the country.
Mix locally grown wheat and barley, add clear glacial water and stir in a little creativity, and appreciate Montana’s award-winning brews. Sit down for a pint or take a flight – a Rider Light or a Moose Drool – or take a tour of craft distilleries.
Micro-breweries and small-scale wineries feature on the small but central North Dakota Wine, Beer and Spirits Trail. In Fargo, check the downtown area for great food options and with four breweries, two distilleries and over 15 wineries, this is the place to be!
On the Wine and Brew Tour in Rapid City, South Dakota sample light ales at “The Firehouse” in the original Rapid City fire station built in 1915, or choose from 40 constantly rotated taps at the Independent Ale House, then food match with a gourmet pizza – you are sure to find a favourite.
4. Preserved parks and creatively carved monuments
Witness creative carvings at Mount Rushmore, geothermal wonders deep in Yellowstone, immersive walking trails in Theodore Roosevelt NP and diverse wildlife in Glacier NP.
Explore Yellowstone NP, Wyoming, the world’s first national park and home to ancient volcanic calderas, geysers and waterfalls. Head to Fountain Paint Pot’s collection of bubbling mud pots; witness Old Faithful Geyser launching steaming jets of water every 90 minutes, and be awestruck by the breathtaking gorges and plunging waterfalls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Native Americans called it the ‘Backbone of the World’; Glacier NP, Montana is better known as ‘The Crown of the Continent’ with over 1 million acres of jaw-dropping beauty. Best crossed by the Going to the Sun Road, one of the most scenic drives in America it has one of the best preserved ecosystems and is perfect for close-up encounters of diverse wildlife including roaming bison, mountain goats, elk, antelope and bighorn sheep.
Camp among golden cottonwood trees in autumn at Cottonwood Campground alongside the Little Missouri River (or stay nearby in the town of Medora) in Theodore Roosevelt NP, North Dakota. Explore over 70 walking trails in the surrounding forest and at night be dazzled by the night sky and the Milky Way.
The national monument of the profiles of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt carved into granite at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota is one of the most recognisable sights in America. To get a closer and less crowded view, walk the loop around the base of the mountain, climb up a few stairs for an Insta-cred shot.
5. Winters are Best in the Midwest
Relish the incredible powder skiing downhill runs, cross country by shoe or mobile, sleigh ride or frolic on ice – there is something for everyone!
Whether staying at the ultimate ski resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming or at the smaller scale Snow King overlooking the town of Jackson, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride at the National Elk Refuge. Home to thousands of elk, the ride lasts an hour and operates daily mid-December through to early April.
With some of the best ski runs in Montana, enjoy an unforgettable dining experience whilst staying at Whitefish Mountain Resort near Glacier National Park. Take a breath-taking chair ride up Big Mountain for dinner at Summit House, then afterwards follow experienced instructors as you ski home by moonlight, or choose to ride the lift down. Either way – it will be a night to remember.
Try your hand and guaranteed luck ice fishing at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, one of the top five fishing lakes in America with a reputation as being the “Perch Capital of the World”. Sit on an upturned bucket and enjoy the serenity, or from inside a portable house, to snare perch, walleye, white bass and perch.
One of the top ten places to snowmobile is Black Hill National Forest, South Dakota with marked, mapped and groomed trails that carry you up through deep canyons and pine forests, opening onto huge, untracked meadows. If snowmobiling isn’t your thing, discover wintry vistas in Spearfish Canyon by strapping on your snow shoes to head out for a day on a trail.