Top 10 outdoor experiences in Real America
If you want to explore Real America, one of the best ways to do it is to take part in the wealth of outdoor experiences this stunning region of the world that includes Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming has to offer. From endless stretches of prairie to soaring mountains, glistening lakes, unique rock formations and abundant wildlife, this is an area you won’t soon forget – and, you’ll get to know America, well beyond the confines of the golden, palm-lined beaches in Southern California or the towering skyrises in New York.
Witness the rising and setting sun
This region offers the opportunity to take in some especially glorious sunrises and sunsets, with some of the best opportunities inside popular parks like Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt and perhaps the grandest of all, Grand Teton National Park.
In the Badlands of South Dakota, you’ll discover an otherworldly-like landscape that might make you believe you’ve just stepped onto another planet with the magnificent spires, pinnacles and eroded buttes. Arrive just before dawn and you can watch the sun illuminate these remarkable formations that were sculpted by the elements over millions of years. The rocks turn a fiery orange hue when the rays of the early morning sun hit them. Mount Rushmore, which features the 60-foot faces of four American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, carved into its granite face, is another ideal spot for a glorious sunrise. By arriving so early you’ll also get to view the monument uninterrupted by tourist crowds. Watch from the observation desk, viewing the rocks transform from greyish white to blazing pink.
Visit North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park just before the sun goes down, and don’t forget your camera. Two of the best spots for a sunset shot is along the .2-mile Boicourt Overlook Trail and the Wind Canyon Trail which offers jaw-dropping canyon vistas too.
The Grand Tetons are just that, remarkably grand and majestic with their soaring saw-toothed peaks. On a warm summer evening come and watch the sun dip beyond them at places like the Signal Mountain Summit which can be reached by hiking or driving. Not only will you take in spectacular panoramic views of Jackson Lake and the Tetons as their lit up in all their glory, but in this area you’re likely to see colourful wildflowers that blanket the landscape. Teton Point Turnout offers a roadside view of nature’s dazzling show as it looks directly across the Snake River Valley while perfectly framing the Tetons.
Ride the most rugged biking trails in the USA
With so many mountains and such diverse terrain, it’s no surprise that mountain biking opportunities abound in this region, offering everything from leisurely outings to serious road rides. Montana in particular, is home to more than 100 mountain ranges, offering some of the very best trails in the entire country, including the Mount Helena Ridge Trail. This iconic 7.9-mile route is a single track that features rolling sections as well as a few great technical challenges in limestone rock sections. You can take the shuttle from town to reach it, or pedal five miles first.
The Maah Daah Hey is considered an epic ride, stretching some 96 miles, connecting the northern and southern units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park outside of Medora, North Dakota. It traverses through the rugged badlands and prairie in an area that’s filled with wildlife. Look up and you might just see a golden eagle soaring above, and all around you may be bison, coyote and mule deer. This exceptional ride combines impressive scenery, legendary riding and outstanding wildlife watching making it truly hard to beat.
Embark on a ghost town jaunt
Montana is filled with ghost towns, thanks to the many early pioneers who were on an endless search for its treasures, mainly gold and silver, but this state is also famous for its gems like garnet and sapphire. Visiting these towns provides a fascinating glimpse of what it might have been like to live in a bygone era, places where you’ll hear a few rags-to-riches stories, and many more tales of the tragedies and hardships that occurred along the way. While they were mostly deserted by humans, their buildings, or what’s left of them in some cases, still stand, revealing quite a bit about the residents who once lived there.
Nevada City, situated roughly 80 miles west of Yellowstone National Park is just one. In fact, the entire town is now a living historical museum. A popular tourist attraction, visitors can view many original log buildings and a fabulous collection of items like calliopes, player pianos and old-time music boxes. Entertainment back in the day was a whole lot different than it is now.
Virginia City lies just next door, making it easy to explore both former mining towns. The latter was once the largest town in the inland northwest with a population of around 10,000 in the 1860's, but today only a little over 100 reside here, and about the same number of historic buildings, complete with furnishings and historic artefacts. Several popular tourist attractions are offered here as well, including stage coach rides, excursions aboard the narrow-gauge railroad and an opera house that hosts melodrama and vaudeville.
Enjoy the spectacle of the Rodeo Capital of the World
This region of the U.S. is all about rodeo, with rodeos big and small hosted throughout. It offers the chance to experience an authentic cowboy culture that includes bull riding, barrel racing, bull riding, bareback riding and saddle bronc riding. Cody, Wyoming is often referred to as the Rodeo Capital of the World – you can attend one here just about any time of the year. The Cody Nite Rodeo has been drawing spectators from far and wide for the past 80 years.
The Jackson Hole Rodeo has been part of the town’s cowboy culture since the early pioneering days, when in 1890 Sylvester Wilson led the first group of settlers here. Six generations later, their descendants continue the western heritage. It’s in Wyoming’s largest city and capital that you’ll find the biggest of all rodeos, Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo which is hosted annually in July. It’s been held here for nearly a century and attracts thousands who come to enjoy the “Daddy of ‘em All,” so-called for its quality and its size. It takes place over ten days, with rodeos daily, and also features big-name concerts, parades, a carnival with rides and games, a Western Art Show and much more.
Delve into Native American history
The story of the west isn’t only about the cowboys and the miners. Exploring Real America also brings the opportunity to delve into Native American history and culture through a variety of events. You can get a firsthand look at how Native American tribes still continue to make important cultural and economic contribution in the Rockies region.
One of the best ways to do that is to see all the brilliant colours, hear the songs and feel the beat of the drum through a genuine Native American Pow Wow. The precise movements and skilled footwork are sure to impress. They can be found throughout North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, including the annual Crow Fair Celebration Powwow & Rodeo. The largest Native American event in the state includes a rodeo, horse races and a four-day powwow.
The United Tribes Pow Wow in Bismarck, North Dakota is truly not-to-be-missed. Held in September, it’s a dazzling sight to see as one of the state’s premier cultural events, drawing 1,500 dancers and drummers that represent over 70 tribes, along with more than 20,000 spectators. It also features international music, a parade, contents, the Miss Indian Nations pageant, golf, softball, arts and crafts, and more.
Have yourself a dark sky experience
A dark sky experience means that the night skies are free from light pollution, which creates better opportunities to view the wonder of a clear night with billions of twinkling stars creates. If you live in the UK, chances are, you’ve never seen a truly dark sky as it’s hard to get far enough away from all of those city lights, but in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park and other places through America where the population is so sparse, you’ll be astounded when you see the night sky in such an unpolluted state. Night sky viewing is available through the summer here, a ranger-led program that comes complete with telescopes. The ranger will point out just what your seeing, from the stars and constellations to the planets.
Bathe in Wyoming's hot springs
One of the reasons Yellowstone National Park is so famous is because of its unique geologic wonders, including hot springs, but they don’t stop at its borders. In fact, you’ll find hot springs to enjoy throughout Real America, far more than you’d probably have time to experience. Fairmont Hot Springs in Anaconda, Montana is just one. It includes four hot springs pools, two soaking tubs and a massive water slide. If you’re looking to take relaxation up a notch, you can take advantage of the decadent treatments at its spa.
Thermopolis is the hot spring town in Wyoming. This is where you’ll find the world’s largest mineral hot spring, and it’s all free, due to a treaty signed with Native American tribes. Hot Springs State Park hosts the waters that remain a constant 40 degrees celsius. There is a lot to do nearby as well, albeit for a fee. The adjacent water parks feature indoor and outdoor pools with water slides, hot tubs, gift shops and more. If you want to take a stroll, hit the interpretive trail in the park and you’re likely to see bison along the way.
Take a whitewater rafting trip
Scenic and pristine rivers, along with some of the most thrilling whitewater rapids in America, flow through magnificent canyons and lush valleys in the Real America states. At the edge of Glacier National Park is some of Montana’s best whitewater rafting, along the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River for an exciting way to experience the scenery. If a gentle float strip is more your speed, there are mellow rides in this area as well. The Gallatin, Madison and Yellowstone rivers near Yellowstone National Park don’t disappoint either with various stretches of river for a variety of experiences, all through breathtaking scenery.
The Snake River near Jackson, Wyoming is another top pick with famous whitewater for as relaxing or as thrilling as you’d like. Trips can be paired with cocktails, enjoyed on a pleasant evening while watching the sunset, all while taking in the stunning Teton Mountains, the Snake River Canyon’s limestone cliffs and wildlife along the way, from moose and beavers to bald eagles, pelicans and osprey.
Ranch stay in Wyoming or Montana
Of course, many travellers visit Real America for the chance to enjoy an authentic ranch stay, stepping into the shoes of the cowboys and cowgirls who’ve made their living off the land. You’ll find everything from real working ranches where you jump into to help out, to more luxurious offerings that include over-the-top amenities like massage after a long day out in the saddle and zip-line rides.
Brush Creek Ranch lies in the Platte River Valley of Wyoming, set across 30,000 acres of open prairie. One of the best place to make memories while experience the true Wild West on unspoiled ranch lands, a variety of activities are available to allow you to customise your own idea of the Western dream. Take part in trail adventures on horseback, fly-fish more than 20 miles of private waters, try your hand at shooting sports, and indulge in spa treatments or a yoga session to help soothe those sore muscles afterward.
An enchanting home to a diversity of wildlife
One of the many highlights that travelling through Real America brings is the wildlife. This is your opportunity to view sights you’d probably never get a chance to back home, from wild mustang herds flying across the prairie to bison, wolves, bears and prairie dogs. Near the Badlands, visit the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, to take one of the guided tours where you’ll be able to view miles and miles of open space, making it easy to picture American as it was 300 years ago, a place where wild horses roamed free, and in some spots, like this, still do, like the Pryor Mountain herd which can be viewed along the border of Wyoming and Montana in the Pryor Mountains.
In South Dakota’s Custer State Park, you can see bison in big numbers, bald eagles, pronghorn antelope, elk, coyote, deer, prairie dogs and even wild burros. The burros arrived with their human companions who used them for trips to Harney Peak Summit years ago – and today, their descendants are many.
Of course, when it comes to wildlife, Yellowstone National Park is the most legendary of all. Known as the very best destination for viewing animals in the continental U.S., the park is home to over 60 mammal species, including bison, elk, grizzly bears and grey wolf. It’s common to see bison right in the middle of the roads, blocking traffic, and elk are frequently sighted do, but if you’re hoping to get a close-up look at some of its more elusive creatures, join one of the expert-led biology, photography or animal tracking excursions. If you only have time to drive, take the detour that travels down the unpaved Blacktail Plateau Drive, a popular spot with the bison, elk, pronghorn antelope and deer.
Have the time of your life with these recommended Rockies and prairie tours & stays
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Brush Creek Ranch, Platte River Valley, Wyoming
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