Pride of the Rockies
The orientation of this journey to the stunning landscapes, scenic byways, and abundant outdoor recreation of the American Rockies is apparent from the moment you touch down in the “Mile High City” of Denver. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and dramatic natural settings, Denver’s outdoor inclination can be seen in the wide and walkable 16th Street Mall, the unique Denver Botanical Gardens, and Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. As you travel through Montana, you’ll take in spectacular mountain vistas as you shadow the historic journey of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. The landscape hasn’t changed much since their pioneering expedition, so you’ll see the breathtaking waterfalls, towering mountain ranges and mighty Missouri River just as they did more than 200 years ago. The magnificent scenery continues through mind-blowing Glacier National Park into Idaho and Wyoming, where the natural spectacles in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are truly breathtaking. You’ll end your trip in Steamboat Springs, as well known for its ancient natural hot springs and surrounding forests as for its ski slopes. Enjoy this expedition through the mountains, forests, canyons, and valleys of this historic region that is indeed the Pride of the Rockies.
- Glacier National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Jackson Hole
The Colorado State Capitol building in Denver has a brass cap positioned at 5,280 feet above sea level, lending the city the title the “Mile High City.” The 16th Street Mall connects the Capitol Building with LoDo (“Lower Downtown”), the cultural district that a century ago was home to Bat Masterson, Calamity Jane and other frontier icons. One of the city’s newest architectural icons is the Hamilton Building of the Denver Museum of Art, which mimics the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the geometric rock crystals found in the Denver foothills. The building’s 9,000 titanium panels reflect the Colorado sunshine. The Colorado State History Museum, which explains the dramatic geology of the region, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Visitor Center, and the Molly Brown House, home of the “unsinkable” local heroine, are all nearby. Try one of the interesting restaurants in LoDo for dinner.
Begun as a gamble when the first flakes of gold were found in Cherry Creek in 1858, Denver was established as the first gold rush camp in the area. It epitomized the legends of the wild, wild, west with gunslingers, gamblers, gold miners, saloons, cattlemen and a sheriff. Very conscious that it was destined to become a major western metropolitan area, the Historical Society began in 1879, little more than 20 years after the city’s founding. Immediately after outlasting several surrounding cities for the title of capitol of the Colorado Territory, Denver began to develop a transportation network, cattle exchange, banking sector, cultural offerings, grand architecture and energy systems, working to make itself the thriving, contemporary, world class city that it is today.
When the West was still the rugged Old West, Casper, Wyoming was a frontier outpost, with a free-wheeling sense of adventure and authentic western ways. Today, the city is Wyoming’s Adventure Capital, a year-round destination where you can enjoy the outdoors, the indoors, history or all of the above. Activities here range all the way from spending the day fishing for trophy-sized rainbow trout to exploring the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, which allows visitors to experience pioneer life as it was for early emigrants traveling the Oregon, California and the Pony Express Trails. Be sure to sit in a wagon and view a simulated crossing of the North Platte River. Fort Casper, located on the Oregon-California-Pony Express Trails was reconstructed to appear as it did in 1865. The fort museum illustrates the social and natural history of Wyoming from prehistoric inhabitation through the present day.
If you want to get way off the beaten path, you can climb Casper Mountain, where the difficult paths of yesteryear have been transformed into hiking and biking trails and ski areas. Casper also has five golf courses and in the summer is a regular on the rodeo circuit.
When you reach Billings, head for the Western Heritage Center, which features over 17,000 objects, photographs, American Indian beadwork and artifacts, western art, including the James Kenneth Ralston Collection, architectural drawings, furniture, clothing, textiles, weapons and oral histories. Outside Billings, Pompey’s Pillar is one of the most famous sandstone buttes in America. It bears the only remaining physical evidence from the Lewis and Clark expedition. Captain William Clark carved his name here on July 25, 1806, during his return to the United States through the beautiful Yellowstone Valley. Just southeast of Billings, Pictograph Cave State Park was home to generations of prehistoric hunters 4,500 years ago. Rock paintings left behind by these ancient peoples are more than 2,000 years old. A short paved trail allows you to view the images that are visible in Pictograph Cave.
NearBillings, the Little Bighorn National Monument tells one of the most interesting stories in American history. Legends call it “Custer’s Last Stand,” placing emphasis on the US Army defeat at the hands of Chief Sitting Bull. The lesser known story is the reason the Lakota andCheyenne warriors were motivated to fight fiercely enough to slay all of Custer’s troops. As the nation made its way from east to west, settlers and army troops encroached on more and more traditional Native American lands. Native Americans at Little Bighorn were fighting for more than territory; they were fighting to preserve their nomadic way of life. Ironically, even though they defeated the US Army, the battle still marked the end of the tribal lifestyle. As more archaeological research has been completed, the location of artifacts continues to support a completely different story from the legends that have traditionally surrounded the Custer story. The Memorial on Last Stand Hill was joined in 2003 by a Memorial to the Native Americans who fought here as well, which promotes “peace through unity".
You’ll enter historic territory today as you travel the Kings Hill Scenic Byway through the Lewis and Clark National Forest to Great Falls, Montana. The Byway traverses the Little Belt Mountains in the Rocky Mountain foothills, where rugged mountain views, pristine lakes and streams, forests of pine and fir, mountain meadows and abundant wildlife are your constant companions. Much of the landscape crossed by Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery more than two hundred years ago remains unchanged, from river canyons to outstretched plains to magnificent waterfalls. Mountains and buttes surround Great Falls on three sides, while vast plains greet her from the north. The area around Great Falls was hugely significant to the expedition, as it was here that the explorers spent nearly a month portaging around the formidable “great falls” of the Missouri River. As you explore Great Falls, you’ll find the history of the Old West come to life, from the early Plains Indians, to the explorers, entrepreneurs, cowboys and homesteaders who made the area their home. Follow the route of Lewis and Clark on a Great Falls Historic Trolley tour
On June 13, 1805, Meriwether Lewis proclaimed the Great Falls “the grandest sight I had ever beheld.” In addition to Great Falls, Black Eagle, Rainbow and Crooked Falls, located around the city, each provide their own extraordinary beauty. You can take in the same view that awed the Corps of Discovery from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center on the bluffs above the river. Through hands-on exhibits, displays, interactive presentations, and hiking trails, the Interpretive Center illustrates the “importance of Central Montana to the Corps’ mission and its place in history along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.” To fully understand the history and significance of the area, visit the Ulm Pishkun State Park, one of the longest and most-used Northern Plains Indian buffalo jump sites in the country, and The History Museum, which highlights the individuals and groups who have contributed to the diversity of the region. Visit Giant Springs Heritage State Park, where one of the world’s largest natural cold water springs flows into the world’s shortest river, and Rivers Edge Trail, where you can walk, run or bike beside the mighty Missouri River. Compare the incredible scenery outdoors with the great works of art inside at the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art and the C.M. Russell Museum Complex. Paris Gibson founded the town of Great Falls in 1883. After drawing up the plans, he recruited James Hill, a man of great importance in the railroad industry for financial backing. Unlike many other western cities, Great Falls was planned by a practical and extremely thoughtful man. While organizing the town, Gibson made sure the streets were laid out in a precise, arrow- straight pattern and he set aside 886 acres for city parks. Gibson believed beauty was important in a city and personally made sure that elm, ash, and fir trees were planted on every street and boulevard. You can still admire the results of his work today. Explore the historic district of Great Falls, now on the National Register of Historic Places, on a self-guided walking tour that features 216 buildings constructed between 1885 and 1945.
Glacier National Park
Get ready for some of the most spectacular scenery on earth today, as you head for Glacier National Park. Known to Native Americans as the "Shining Mountains" and the "Backbone of the World", Glacier National Park encompasses more than a million acres of forests, alpine meadows, lakes, rugged peaks and glacial-carved valleys in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The park is named for its prominent glacier-carved terrain and remnant glaciers descended from the ice ages of 10,000 years ago. The result of millennia of geological action is some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. This diverse landscape is home to more than 70 species of mammals including the grizzly bear, wolverine, gray wolf and lynx, over 260 species of birds, including golden eagles, and an incredible variety of plant life. An absolute must while you’re here is the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, truly the scenic drive of a lifetime.
With two days here, you may choose to spend one day exploring nearby attractions. Just over the Canadian border (remember your passport!) is Glacier’s sister park, Waterton Lakes National Park and the site of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. The first park of its kind in the world, the Peace Park symbolizes the long-standing friendship and cooperation between Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park. To the west of Glacier National Park is the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, home of the Museum of the Plains Indian. Take the 70-mile self-drive tour of Blackfeet Country, following 15 historical “Blackfeet Trail Tour” markers across the prairie, and you’ll understand why the Blackfeet felt so at home under this big sky. The Museum’s permanent exhibition illustrates the diversity of historic, social and ceremonial arts created by the tribal peoples of the Northern Plains.
Surrounded by the Lolo National Forest, Missoula, Montana is known as the “Garden City” for its lush forests and abundant fresh water. Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness, less than five miles from the city, offers endless mountain trails and bike paths on 61,000 acres of glaciated topography. Whether you want a walk in the woods or an intense mountain bike ride, you’ll find high mountain lakes, crystal clear waterfalls, hanging valleys, and slopes of sub-alpine fir, pine and spruce leading to open parklands. Be on the lookout for deer, elk, coyotes, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, grizzly bears (rare!), moose, and mountain lions, as well as eagles, hawks, ospreys, and a variety of songbirds. In the park’s northern region, the Flathead Indian Reservation protects sacred lands that were once vision-quest sites for the Salish Indians, so be sure not to trespass.
Before the arrival of European settlers, Western Montana was home to the Salish, Pend d'Oreille, and Kootenai tribes. Lewis and Clark passed through the Missoula Valley in 1805, but Europeans did not settle here until 1860 when entrepreneurs C.P. Higgins and Francis Worden opened a trading market called the Hellgate Village (now Wordens Market on Higgins Street). The name hellgate originated with French trappers who found carnage from warfare between the Blackfeet and Flathead tribes in the canyon on the east edge of town. Following on the success of Hellgate Village, a flour mill, sawmill, the gold rush and better roads brought people to Missoula, named for the Salish Indian name for the area, Nemissoolatakoo, or “near the cold, chilling waters.” By 1866 it was the county seat, in 1871 the first newspaper was published, and in 1883 the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Missoula. Learn about all these developments and more on an historic walking tour and at the city’s excellent heritage museums.
En route to Salmon, Idaho today, you’ll travel the beautiful and historic Bitterroot Valley Scenic Drive along the Bitterroot River, flanked by the Bitterroot Mountains to the west, and the Sapphire Mountains to the east. The valley opens up into large plains dotted with historic towns and working ranches near Stevensville, where you can observe nesting osprey and other wildlife at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. Stevensville is famous for being the first permanent European settlement in Montana, a Jesuit mission established at the request of the local Salish Indians. St. Mary's Mission and the Fort Owen State Monument are open for touring on the site. As you approach the Idaho border, you’ll come upon Lost Trail Pass and Chief Joseph Pass, both of which are deeply historic, having been used by Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery and later by Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Nation as they fled from the US Calvary.
Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark’s Shoshoni translator, companion and guide, was born in what today is the town of Salmon, Idaho. The Sacajawea Center honors her Agai Dika Lemhi Shoshoni heritage and her role in the Corps of Discovery. Perched on the edge of the Salmon-Challis National Forest, Salmon, Idaho provides the opportunity for a wide array of outdoor activities, from hiking, fishing and big game hunting to exhilarating whitewater rafting and relaxing hot spring soaking. The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area affords beautiful views of the varied landscapes along the Salmon River—originally called the River of No Return for the difficulty of getting back up the river’s famous rapids.
Yellowstone National Park
Established in 1872 as America’s first national park, Yellowstone is located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and contains natural wonders that must be seen to be believed. In addition to Old Faithful, many of the world’s most incredible geysers and hot springs are located within Yellowstone National Park. Each area of the park has its own unique features. The bubbling, boiling surface of Mammoth Hot Springs appears to be covered with white chalk. Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest and most dynamic of Yellowstone’s thermal areas, with few of its features under the boiling point. The hottest recorded temperature here was 459F, just a little over 1,000 feet below the surface. See the world’s tallest geyser at Steamboat Geyser.
In the Madison Natural Area, thermal action bubbles up in many colors. A one-mile trail takes you through the colorful hot springs and the two large mud pots of the Artist Paint Pots just south of Norris Junction. The Old Faithful Area is actually made up of four different geyser basins surrounding the famous geyser, where 60% of the world’s geysers share a small space. There are nearly 150 of these thermal wonders within one square mile of Old Faithful. The Grant Village Area and the Lake Area are both adjacent to Yellowstone Lake, the largest high elevation lake in North America. The bottom of Yellowstone Lake has the same terrain as Yellowstone Park, namely geysers, hot springs. A hot spot at Mary Bay got high as 252F. Formed by erosion rather than glaciation, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River features as an awe-inspiring attraction in Native American lore, pioneer travel accounts, and in early tourist descriptions. Three main falls can be viewed from locations along the Canyon such as Lookout Point, Uncle Tom’s Area, Red Rock Point, Artists Point, and Brink of the Lower Trails Falls. Some falls along the river are 300 feet high. The park’s visitor centers provide excellent information and exhibits to put your experiences into perspective.
Talk about spectacular! As you drive along Teton Park Road, it becomes immediately obvious why Grand Teton is a National Park. The Tetons are a 40-mile long mountain range that rises straight out of the plain. Twelve of the mountain peaks are over 12,000 feet above sea level and Grand Teton rises to 13,770 feet. Even around Jenny Lake, one of the most pristine lakes in North America, they loom overhead.
A wonderful way to see the Park is by traveling its three Scenic Drives: the Teton Park Road that follows the base of the Teton Range from Moose to Jackson Lake Junction, dramatic Jenny Lake Scenic Drive, and Signal Mountain Summit Road, from which you’ll have panoramic views of the Teton Range, Jackson Lake and the Jackson Hole valley. Treat yourselves to a Wildlife Expedition with the Teton Science School. One of their all-day adventures, daybreak trips or evening tours will take you into the otherwise inaccessible back country of Grand Teton National Park, where you can expect to see (and photograph) wildlife that you would not normally encounter.
Rock Springs is a sleepy Western town and a great base for enjoying outdoor recreation in the 201,000 scenic acres that make up the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, featuring the 91-mile long Flaming Gorge Reservoir is flanked by nearly 375 miles of dramatic shoreline of varying elevations in a kaleidoscope of colours. Perched atop a cliff, the Red Canyon Vista and Visitor Centre is great for viewing the Gorge and surrounding desert landscape. Be sure to visit Firehole Canyon, just south of Rock Springs, for the spectacular sight of chimneys and pinnacles reflecting in the river.
Experience Colorado’s natural history in Steamboat Springs, located in the ancient summer hunting grounds of the Ute Indians in the idyllic Yampa Valley. Take in stunning views of the surrounding rugged peaks and deep forest as you relax in the natural mineral hot springs (hence “Steamboat Springs”) that the Ute Indians visited as “medicine springs” for centuries. The hot springs have been the town’s greatest attractions since its founding in the mid-1880s, drawing gold miners from Hahn’s Peak by stage coach and later train travelers from around the country. Old Town Hot Springs, in the middle of town, is now a modern facility that includes lap and relaxation pools and water slides. The rock-lined pools of Strawberry Park Hot Springs, just outside town on the edge of the Routt National Forest are perhaps the most beautiful natural springs in the state.
This authentic small western town that began as a self-sufficient wilderness frontier village evolved into a farming-ranching-mining community that eventually became the cultural center of northwest Colorado. The Perry Mansfield Camp, now in its 86th year, is the oldest performing arts center in the country. In 1914, Carl Howelsen, the “flying Norseman” of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame, arrived and introduced the town’s residents to ski jumping, spawning a new recreational industry and adding a resort element to the town’s cultural and historic character. Take a self-guided tour of historic downtown Steamboat Springs, beginning at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, to learn the stories of the town’s early settlers and the significance of its historic buildings. Steamboat Springs today is an ideal year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The Routt National Forest provides an incredible backdrop for biking, hiking and fishing. Also nearby are the 283-foot Fish Creek Falls, the rugged Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, and the gorgeous Steamboat and Pearl lakes. The Champagne Powder that blankets Steamboat Springs in winter turns hiking trails into bustling ski slopes and snowshoe passages. What a perfect place to end your journey through the glorious landscapes of the American Rockies.
Denver & Home
Enjoy one more gorgeous drive today as you head back to Denver for your flight home. Traveling through the Arapaho and Routt National Forests, take in the stunning views of rugged mountains, canyons and sparkling lakes. If you get an early start this morning, you may have time to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the most beautiful National Park roads in the country. The Peak to Peak Scenic Byway runs from the Park in Estes Park to Golden, just west of Denver. As you leave for home, know that you’ve taken a truly unique journey through the American Rockies.
- Return flights from London (please ask about other departure airports)
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Daily departures from June to September.