Duration

20 days/21 nights

Distance Traveled

4,336 miles (6,978 kilometers)

Gateway Cities

Denver (DEN)

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  • Thousand Springs State Park, Idaho

  • Makoshika State Park, Montana

  • Little Missouri State Park, North Dakota

  • Palisades State Park, South Dakota

  • Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Overview

Arrival Gateway – Denver (DEN)
Day 1: Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming
Day 2: Bear River State Park, Wyoming
Day 3: Bear Lake State Park, Idaho
Day 4: City of Rocks National Reserve | Castle Rock State Park, Idaho
Day 5: Thousand Springs State Park | Bruneau Dunes State Park, Idaho
Day 6: Harriman State Park, Idaho
Day 7: Bannack State Park, Montana
Day 8: Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park | Missouri Headwaters State Park | Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, Montana
Day 9: Chief Plenty Coups State Park | Pictograph Cave State Park, Montana
Day 10: Makoshika State Park, Montana
Day 11: Little Missouri State Park, North Dakota
Day 12: Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, North Dakota
Day 13: Lake Sakakawea State Park | Fort Stevenson State Park, North Dakota
Day 14: Fort Ransom State Park, North Dakota
Day 15: Palisades State Park, South Dakota
Day 16: Lewis & Clark Recreation Area, South Dakota
Day 17: Custer State Park, South Dakota
Day 18: Custer State Park, South Dakota
Day 19: Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming
Day 20: Guernsey State Park and Quebec 01 Missile Alert Facility, Wyoming
Departure Gateway – Denver (DEN)

State Parks

Day-by-day Itinerary

Catch a connecting flight into Denver International Airport (DEN) for your arrival day into the region. Relax, catch up on sleep, and prepare for your big adventure through the region!

Curt Gowdy State Park; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:

Recently named as an “Epic” trail system by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the foothills of the Laramie Mountains offer a stunning setting for any kind of outdoor enthusiast. Separating Cheyenne and Laramie, Curt Gowdy State Park was named for the native Wyomingite and noted sportscaster. The area features granite towers, rocky soils and timbered slopes. Two small reservoirs form the heart of the park. Granite Reservoir, the larger of the two, is an excellent base for water sports and offers excellent rainbow trout and kokanee salmon fishing. Crystal Reservoir has shoreline fishing for brown trout, rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. Boat fishing (15 horsepower limit) is excellent here. A third reservoir, North Crow, is unimproved and for day use only. You can also take advantage of some paddle boarding opportunities, and even kayaking! Surrounding the reservoirs are hills that invite the hiker, the rock hound and even more opportunities to hike to Hidden Falls.

Overnight: Laramie or Cheyenne

Bear River State Park; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:

Featuring a tourist information center, picnic areas and a small herd of bison and elk (kept for public viewing in cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department), Bear River State Park is a popular stop for travelers on Interstate 80. The park also contains nearly 3 miles of hiking/bicycling trails that connect to the Bear Project, a greenbelt activity sponsored by the City of Evanston. The annual Bear River Rendezvous celebrates the region’s trapping heritage with mountain men and women recreating a typical 1840s gathering. The park has many amenities, including bus parking, drinking water, a dump station, grills, parking, restrooms and tables. Family- and kid-friendly with pets welcome, the park is ADA-compliant and wheelchair accessible. Walking, running, biking, picnicking, fishing, kayaking, sight-seeing or relaxing; you’ll find it all at the Bear River Greenway and Bear River State Park.

Overnight: Evanston

Bear Lake State Park; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:       

Bear Lake State Park is home to its namesake – Bear Lake, known for sparkling turquoise waters. Often referred to as the “Caribbean of the Rockies,” the lake is 20 miles long and stretches across the Idaho and Utah border. Located on the north and east shores of the lake, Bear Lake State Park is the perfect spot for a day on the water with boating, swimming and waterskiing. Watercraft rentals are available at a number of outfitters.

Overnight: Lava Hot Springs or Soda Springs

City of Rocks National Reserve; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:       

City of Rocks National Reserve is a 14,407-acre paradise of pure Idaho wilderness perfect for world-class rock climbing and backcountry adventure. Views of sage meadows and aspen groves amidst the reserve’s defining granite sculptures grant non-stop exploration and scenery for hiking, biking, climbing, bird watching and photography. A variety of trails for hikers of all skill levels intersect through the central area of the granite formations known as the Inner City. The reserve is also home to historical trails, replica wagons and markings from pioneers traveling the California Trail during the Gold Rush. Just next door to City of Rocks is Castle Rocks State Park. The challenging, rocky landscape dates back 2.5 million years and makes for superb hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. While exploring the rock formations, see if you can spot pictographs from original Native American inhabitants.

Overnight: Castle Rocks State Park or Burley or Twin Falls

Thousand Springs State Park; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:       

The expansive Thousand Springs State Park includes multiple pockets of nature to explore, including Malad Gorge, Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve, Ritter Island, Blue Heart Springs and Niagara Springs. The abundance of water throughout the park – thanks to thousands of gallons of water flowing from belowground and rushing down the volcanic cliff faces – makes for scenic hiking views and ideal kayaking, paddleboarding and fishing conditions. The dunes at Bruneau Dunes State Park – rising 470 feet at the peak – are unique in the Western Hemisphere, where they form at the center rather than the edge of a natural basin. Sandboards to sled down the dunes are available for rent, or you can hike or go horseback riding around the park to investigate the Idaho desert. The park is also an excellent vantage point for bird watching. When night hits, visit the Bruneau Dunes Observatory to scope out the stars and moon. The park also offers the longest camping season in the Idaho Parks system, allowing for year-round camping opportunities.

Overnight: Twin Falls

Harriman State Park; credit Idaho Tourism

Activities:       

Harriman State Park is a former cattle ranch and private retreat turned wildness sanctuary. The park is now part of the 16,000-acre wildlife refuge in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Eastern Idaho is known for some of the best fishing waters in the country, and Harriman is ideal for an authentic fly-fishing experience. Bring your camera if you want to capture common sightings of moose, elk, trout and trumpeter swans. Bird watching is also in abundance within the park. Take a trail ride on horseback, tour the historic Railroad Ranch or rent a mountain bike to see all the tranquil scenery and abundant wilderness the park has to offer.

Overnight: Harriman State Park, Ashton or Rexburg

Bannack State Park; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Find yourself in Montana’s first territorial capital, Bannack, now a state park in southwest Montana. This is the site of Montana’s first major gold discovery on July 28, 1862. As the value of gold steadily dwindled, Bannack’s bustling population was slowly lost. More than 50 buildings line Main Street; their historic log and frame structures tell the story of Montana’s formative years. Tours are conducted from the visitor center, which is open late May to early September. Events include Bannack Days, held annually during the third weekend in July with historic displays, re-enactors and activities, and Living History Weekend, held the third weekend in September.

Overnight: Dillon

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park; Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Start your day off right with a guided tour at Montana’s first state park, the Lewis and Clark Caverns. Take the classic cave tour (including ducking, waddling, bending and sliding) to experience these spectacular caverns lined with stalactites, stalagmites, columns and helictites. Next is a stop at Missouri Headwaters State Park. Within the boundaries of this scenic park and national historic landmark, the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin rivers merge to form the 2,300-mile Missouri River. Another park in the area that is not as well-known is Madison Buffalo Jump State Park. Situated on the edge of a broad valley carved by the Madison River, this high limestone cliff was used by Native Americans for 2,000 years – until as recently as 200 years ago. Native people stampeded vast herds of bison off this massive semicircular cliff, using them for food, clothing, shelter and provisions. Continue to Bozeman, where you can enjoy this thriving arts and culture community with a historic Western Main Street and activities ranging from street festivals, farmers markets, cultural centers and museums to symphonies, theaters and art galleries. Nearby mountains, rivers and lakes offer a variety of outdoor activities all year.

Overnight: Bozeman

Chief Plenty Coups State Park; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Enjoy the beautiful drive along the Yellowstone River as you head east toward Billings. As part of your itinerary, visit Chief Plenty Coups State Park, which honors the bravery, leadership and vision of the Crow Tribe leader who helped bridge the gap between two cultures. Situated within the Crow Indian Reservation in south-central Montana, 40 miles south of Billings, this day-use state park preserves the log home, sacred spring and farmstead of Chief Plenty Coups. Plan at least an hour to walk the grounds and browse through the visitor center that commemorates the life of this remarkable man and his efforts to lead his people in transition from tipis and bison to a settled reservation lifestyle. In the afternoon, make your way to Pictograph Cave State Park and contemplate the origins of human habitation in Montana. The Pictograph Cave site was designated as national historic landmark in 1964, and today’s visitors can enjoy a unique opportunity to explore the mystery of this extraordinary site and tour the visitor center. Prehistoric hunters who camped in Pictograph Cave left behind artifacts and more than 100 pictographs, or rock paintings. The oldest rock art in the cave is more than 2,000 years old. The park has a pleasant quarter-mile loop trail to the caves, with interpretive displays along the route identifying and explaining the natural features, prehistoric paintings and vegetation found in the area.

Overnight: Billings

Makoshika State Park; credit Montana Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Continue your drive east along the Yellowstone River to visit Montana’s largest state park, Makoshika. In addition to the pine- and juniper-studded Badland formations, the park also houses the fossil remains of such dinosaurs as tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops. A visitor center at the park entrance houses a triceratops skull and other Badland interpretive displays. The park offers special events through the year, including Montana Shakespeare in the Park; Friday night campfire programs and youth programs in summer; and the famous Buzzard Day festival, held on the second Saturday in June with a fun run, Native American singers and drummers, food, a disc golf tournament and more.

Overnight: Glendive

Little Missouri State Park; credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Located in Western North Dakota, Little Missouri State Park is a quiet oasis. This park is home to more than 45 miles of trails that run through the picturesque North Dakota Badlands. Visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the waterways rolling through the rugged landscape of the Badlands. This quiet park is a perfect place to explore the North Dakota backcountry and experience what it truly means to unplug. Campers can enjoy both modern and primitive campsites.

Overnight: Little Missouri State Park, Killdeer or Watford City

On-A-Slant Village; Credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

The Bismarck-Mandan area has welcomed visitors since Lewis and Clark paddled up the Missouri River in 1804. The capital of North Dakota, Bismarck is a hub of culture, history and shopping. Don’t miss attractions like the Dakota Zoo, the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. From the observation deck on the 18th floor of the North Dakota State Capitol, visitors get a bird’s-eye view of just what makes Bismarck a true destination. History stares back from the Fort Abraham Lincoln blockhouses on the bluffs to the southwest and boats ply the Missouri River, which separates Bismarck and Mandan. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is home to the Custer House, a replica of General and Mrs. George Armstrong Custer’s home on the cavalry base, and On-a-Slant Mandan Indian Village, with six earth lodge replicas of the Mandan village last occupied in the late 1700s. Learn more with interpretation as well as great hiking trails, a campground with cabins and a tipi for overnight options. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park’s non-motorized trail system covers approximately 6.75 miles in a series of loops and several connecting segment trails that are open for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

Overnight: Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park or Bismarck/Mandan

Lake Sakakawea; Credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Lake Sakakawea is a wonderland for anglers, boaters, campers, hikers and swimmers who want to take advantage of its immense size (it’s 180 miles long and has more shoreline than the California Pacific coast) year-round. On the south shore of the third-largest man-made reservoir in the nation lies Lake Sakakawea State Park, boasting several multi-use trails perfect for hiking and biking. Fort Stevenson State Park is nestled in the bluffs along the north shore of Lake Sakakawea. With miles of trails, a wide variety of rental equipment, breathtaking views and year-round special events, there is always something fun to do. Known as the “Walleye Capital” of North Dakota, Fort Stevenson is a preferred spot for sportsmen to experience a great day on the lake. Nearby, Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium produces a variety of fish species to improve recreational fishing opportunities and facilitate recovery of threatened and endangered fishes. The hatchery’s visitor center houses five 300-gallon aquariums displaying many of North Dakota’s fish species. Wildlife abounds at the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, with than 246 bird, 34 mammal, five reptile, four amphibian and 37 fish species in the refuge’s gently rolling prairie grasslands and wetlands adjacent to Lake Audubon and Lake Sakakawea.

Overnight: Garrison, Fort Stevenson State Park, Lake Sakakawea State Park or Riverdale

Fort Ransom; Credit North Dakota Tourism

Activities:

Taking its name from an 1860s military fort, Fort Ransom State Park is located in the midst of the scenic and heavily wooded Sheyenne River Valley. The river provides abundant opportunities for canoeing, fishing and birdwatching, while within the park can be found a short segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail. During the summer, horseback riding and camping are favorite activities. A farmstead within the park is the setting for the annual Sodbuster Days celebration, with demonstrations and exhibits of homesteading life. Forty-one award-winning interpretive panels are spread over the 63-mile drive through the beautiful Sheyenne River Valley. Starting north of Valley City and heading south to Kathryn, Fort Ransom and Lisbon, you will learn about the history, culture, wildlife, archaeology and geology of the region. And don’t forget to pick up a souvenir at one of the many “mom and pop” shops along the way. Fort Ransom State Park’s non-motorized trail system covers over 20 miles in a series of loops, trails and connecting segment trails, most which are multi-use and are open for hiking, horseback riding and biking.

Overnight: Fort Ransom State Park or Valley City

Palisades State Park; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Located 15 miles northwest of Sisseton in the northeastern corner of South Dakota, Sica Hollow State Park is filled with rugged beauty and ancient mysteries. The park, part of the Prairie Coteau Hills, offers a wide variety of year-round activities and is the source of many eerie Native American legends. Hiking, camping and horseback riding are all enjoyed in this scenic park. Palisades State Park is one of the most unique areas in South Dakota. Split Rock Creek, which flows through the park, is lined with Sioux quartzite formations varying from shelves several feet above the water to 50-foot vertical cliffs. Scenic overlooks and rushing water make Palisades a popular getaway. The park is popular among campers, photographers, sightseers, picnickers, rock climbers and hikers.

Overnight: Palisades State Park or Sioux Falls Area

Lewis and Clark Lake; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

The National Music Museum is one of the most renowned institutions of its kind in the world. With more than 15,000 musical instruments in the overall holdings, the NMM’s collections are among the best anywhere. The center of activity for the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area is the 25-mile Lewis and Clark Lake. The lake is one of four large reservoirs on the Missouri River in South Dakota, this one created by Gavins Point Dam. Water recreation is the top attraction, but there are also opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, disc golf, horseshoes and bird watching.

Overnight: Lewis and Clark Recreation Area or Yankton

Badlands National Park; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

Enjoy many stops along the five-hour drive from Yankton to Custer. The Mitchell Corn Palace is redecorated annually with native corn, grain and grass and is a delightful bucket-list item day or night. Dignity, a 50-foot-tall stainless-steel sculpture of a Native American woman with a star quilt, was designed to honor the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people. With more than 300 vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles, the Pioneer Auto Show & Prairie Town along Interstate 90 in Murdo is one of the largest privately owned auto collections open to the public. Badlands National Park was a major film site for the movies “Thunderheart,” “Starship Troopers” and “Armageddon.” Take the Badlands Loop (Highway 240) for awesome views of this 244,000-acre national park.

Overnight: Custer State Park

Custer State Park Needles; credit South Dakota Tourism

Activities:       

There are few truly wild places left in this country, and Custer State Park is one of them. Nearly 1,300 magnificent bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres, which they share with the swift pronghorn, shy elk, sure-footed mountain goats and a band of curious burros. Visitors often enjoy close encounters with these permanent residents along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that winds around the southern edge of the park. Or you can trek through Custer State Park in an open-air Jeep in search of pronghorns, elk and the noble bison on a Buffalo Jeep Safari Tour. Slender granite formations nicknamed “the needles” dominate the skyline and grassy meadows fill the valleys of the Needles Highway. Blue Bell Lodge is a Western-themed main lodge surrounded by 29 modernized, secluded cabins with kitchenettes, and many with stone fireplaces. There is a general store, plus hay rides and chuckwagon cookouts in the valley. Horse trail rides and hiking trails originate from this lodge. Experience hearty ranch house dining in the dining room and lounge with cattle-drive classics featuring bison, beef, chicken and fish, and even some rattlesnake sausage. Rich in natural beauty, Sylvan Lake Lodge is the crown jewel of Custer State Park. In a spot suggested by Frank Lloyd Wright, the hotel and cabins sit in a hillside forest of pine and spruce, in harmony with the rugged landscape. Enjoy hiking around the lake, or rent a canoe or kayak and explore the water.

Overnight: Custer State Park or the town of Custer

Hot Springs State Park; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Over colorful terraces along the Big Horn River at Thermopolis flows water from mineral hot springs. More than 8,000 gallons flow over the terrace every 24 hours at a constant temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The park has a free bathhouse where the water is maintained at 104 degrees for therapeutic bathing. Hot Springs State Park has 6.2 miles of universally accessible trails and hiking trails and is a full-service park with comfort stations, a Volksmarch trail, fishing and a couple of boat docks. The Hot Springs State Park bison herd is the central herd for the Wyoming State Parks. During the late fall and winter months, the park bison are fed a daily supplement to ensure good health. This feeding usually occurs at 8:30 a.m., giving off-season visitors the unique opportunity to view the “Monarch of the Plains” up close. The suspension foot bridge across the Bighorn River is commonly called “The Swinging Bridge,” and offers a unique vantage point from which to view the Bighorn River and mineral terrace. Hot Springs State Park has long been known for its beautiful summer flower gardens. Make a point of bringing your camera with you and capture the exciting splash of color all summer long.

Overnight: Thermopolis

Cheyenne State Capitol; credit Wyoming Office of Tourism

Activities:       

Guernsey, deriving its name from area rancher, author and Wyoming legislator Charles A. Guernsey, was incorporated in 1902 and served as an important highway and railway shipping point. Located a few miles west of historic Fort Laramie, Guernsey is the center of renewed military activity each summer as hundreds of National Guard troops come to the area for their annual summer training sessions. Located nearby is Guernsey State Park, home of Guernsey Reservoir, one of Wyoming’s most attractive reservoirs and known for its excellent boating opportunities. Guernsey State Park is known for its fine collection of historic 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps buildings and recreational facilities. The park also offers camping, fishing, hiking, bird watching and picnicking. The Quebec 01 Missile Alert Facility State Historic Site near Cheyenne offers visitors the opportunity to see a military installation that was “hidden in plain sight” and controlled one of the most destructive nuclear weapons ever built by the United States. The facility is significant as the only accessible Peacekeeper Missile Alert Facility left in the world. Delve into the daily lives of missileers, topside personnel, missile technology, the Cold War and the deactivation of this missile system. Families will get to tour the museum, and every half-hour there is a guided tour to descend the impressive 60 feet underground to explore the command center of the facility! Any remaining time can be spent exploring the rest that Cheyenne has to offer.

Overnight: Cheyenne

Drop off your rental car and make your way to Denver International Airport (DEN) to head back home with a new set of memories to take with you!