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This content is sponsored by Before you leave, make sure you check health and safety regulations in any area you are traveling to, as well as the weather conditions. Mountain roads in particular are subject to closures due to snow. Prior to setting off on any road trip, make sure your car is ready for the journey. You could save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO. Going-to-the-sun road - Glacier National Park, Montana Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana is almost 50 miles carved into the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It is the only road that traverses the park, providing access to Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. This alpine road is so winding it takes up to ten weeks for snow plows to clear them each year, so the best time to visit is later in the summer and early autumn. We recommend lodging on the Western edge of the park in Kalispell, where there is also an airport. Shenandoah National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Skyline Drive - Shenandoah National Park - Virginia Skyline Drive is a 105-mile mountain road that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, starting in Front Royal, about an hour west of Washington, DC. There are 75 overlooks, providing amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont. It is especially beautiful in the summer and autumn. Drivers should plan to spend a full day doing Skyline Drive, and we highly recommend you make time to watch an evening sunset from a west-facing overlook. King's Canyon National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel King's Canyon Scenic Byway - California State Route 180 This state road has the benefit of going through two National Parks in short order. The first is the General Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias in Sequoia National Park. The road continues for another 50-miles through the Western Sierra to King’s Canyon National Park, an underrated gem in the National Park system. The nearest major city to King’s Canyon is Fresno, California. Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rob Hainer / Shutterstock Cades Cove Loop, Great Smoky Mountain National Park The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop is deep into Great Smoky Mountain National Park and it makes for a perfect leisure drive. Spend 2-3 hours exploring an early 1800s European settlement and appreciate the fresh air and beauty of the mountains. Make sure you plan a picnic and stop at Cable Mill, which also has restrooms. For accommodations, we recommend nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The nearest airport is in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Overseas Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel The Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West The 110-mile Overseas Highway drives, well, overseas – connecting Miami to Key West through all the Keys. Drivers will feel the salt air and sunshine on their face and find plenty of charming nooks to explore along the way. There are beaches with public parking and unique local art gardens. At the end, arrive in beautiful Key West. North Cascades National Park © Checubus / Shutterstock North Cascades Scenic Byway, Washington The North Cascades Scenic Byway in Northern Washington is the most mountainous and hair-raising road traversing that park. You will see turquoise blue glacier water and sprawling mountain peaks. Make sure to stop for a photo at the Washington Pass Overlook. Eat, explore and stay at one of the 1920s towns along the way, and spend some time in the outdoorsy Methow Valley. Like most mountain passes, this is closed in the winter due to snow. North Cascades is relatively far away from society, the nearest airport is Seattle. Beartooth Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Beartooth Highway - Southwest Montana This 68-mile mountain pass crosses from the town of Red Lodge, through Southwest Montana, and into the Northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It crosses through the beautiful Beartooth Mountains, one of the most remote regions of the United States, and one of the most ecologically diverse. The Beartooth Highway offers some incredible vistas as it climbs up the mountains. The nearest major airport is in Billings, Montana. Monument Valley © francesco ricca iacomino / Getty Images US Rt 163 - Monument Valley, Utah US Rt 163 is the 64-mile highway running from Arizona through the Navajo Nation in Southern Utah, showing off the dramatic and beautiful landscapes of Utah in Monument Valley. The red rocks and cliffs are one of the most iconic scenes in America, and the wide-open space makes the drive feel uncrowded. Plan at least two hours to make this drive and take time to stop for photography. Sunsets are particularly spectacular. The nearest major airport to Monument Valley is in Flagstaff, Arizona. The coastline surrounding Acadia National Park © Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock Park Loop Road - Acadia National Park, Maine The 27-mile Park Loop Road is the primary road around Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. It offers scenic ocean vistas where the rocks hit the water, and the forest changes colors with the seasons. Make sure to plan extra time to stop for hiking and photography. For inexpensive accommodations, we recommend staying in nearby Bangor, Maine. Rocky Mountain National Park © Ronda Kimbrow Photography / Getty Images Trail Ridge Road - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado The Trail Ridge Road is a 48-mile long mountain route, nicknamed the ‘Highway to the Sky.’ The highway starts in Estes Park in the East and goes to Grand Lake in the West. It climbs up more than 4,000 feet to above the tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park. Considered the highest elevation paved road in Colorado, it features plenty of hairpin turns. Plan at least half a day to fully appreciate this trip. The nearest major airport is in Denver. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between Budget Travel, GEICO, and Lonely Planet. All parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.Sponsored by GEICO
Outdoor holiday celebrations around the United States
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and many parts of our country are feeling festive despite the pandemic. If you are still cautious, or on the fence, or simply prefer an outdoor experience, this list is for you! Here are a few places around the U.S. where you can get into the holiday spirit outdoors and admire holiday decorations and lights from walking paths. Here’s where to celebrate the holidays this year— remember to check out our private booking platform with discounted rates! Northeast New York City, New York The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be lit daily from from 6am-12am. On Christmas Day, the Tree is lit for 24 hours and on New Year’s Eve it is lit from 6am to 9pm. New Hampshire The 2.5-mile drive-through light show at the New Hampshire Speedway in Loudon features 400 different lighting displays with snow-covered mountains in the background. Woodstock, Vermont Celebrate the holidays Victorian style at Billings Farm & Museum, where you can try your hand at candle dipping, watch traditional holiday cooking demonstrations, create your own gingerbread ornaments—or just head straight to the onsite Dairy Bar for cider donuts. Mid-Atlantic Maryland At Ocean City, Maryland's Winterfest of Lights guests can explore zillions of sparkling holiday lights, animated light displays, and a 50-foot holiday tree on display along a paved path in Northside Park. The Annmarie Sculpture Garden is transformed into an outdoor wonderland until January 1st with many light sculptures of wild animals, winter wonderlands, musical holiday scenes, and magical beings. Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia The White House isn’t the only place in the nation's capital that’s getting in on the holiday spirit. Civilians can enjoy the undeniable festive energy in the District through New Year’s Day by visiting the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The National Menorah will be lit throughout Hanukkah. About 25 minutes away in Vienna, Virginia, celebrate the season at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens’ Winter Walk of Lights. Stroll the one-way half-mile path full of holiday lights and festive decorations, admire the Fountains of Lights and watch as the “sing to me” tree’s lights dance along with all your favorite holiday tunes. Timed tickets must be purchased online ahead of time and are available on a limited basis. Roanoke, Virginia Treat yourselves to a lovely half-mile walk through the woods, toast marshmallows around the fire, shop for presents at the Artisan Christmas Market, donate canned goods to help others, meet Santa and his elves, and feast your eyes on more than 500,000 lights during the Illuminights Winter Walk of Lights at Explore Park. Purchase timed tickets online or by phone to access this event. Virginia Beach, Virginia Head to Virginia Beach for a unique beach-themed holiday lights display. At the Holiday Lights at the Beach, you’ll drive on the Atlantic Ocean boardwalk that has been transformed into a nautical lights display, including a surfing Santa. Southeast Aiken, South Carolina Enjoy more than two miles of beautifully lit paths with over 100,000 lights and holiday decorations at Christmas in Hopelands Gardens. This year, the colorful displays will be lit up all December long to help keep spirits bright. The Christmas Craft show features handmade crafts and goodies made by talented artisans from across the Southeast. There is sure to be something for everyone’s style, taste, and budget. The Christmas Craft Show is also a great place to shop for your holiday gifts and décor. South Walton, Florida If you’re in the Florida panhandle, don’t miss 12 Nights of Lights at The Village of Baytowne Wharf, located about halfway between Pensacola and Panama City Beach in South Walton. Enjoy a festive light show every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday leading up to Christmas! This sparkling event will also be featured during our special holiday edition of the Wednesday Night Concert Series. Watch three dazzling shows each night! Houston, Texas The Space Center in Houston is hosting Galaxy Lights, a technological holiday celebration featuring kinetic light shows, choreographed light and music sequences, an interactive light pad, a large light tunnel and the chance to see a film about astronauts celebrating the holidays in space, among other themed attractions. Galaxy Lights requires its own tickets, which can be purchased online, and takes about 90 minutes to fully enjoy. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee Dolly Parton’s Dollywood features an award-winning spectacle, set in the backdrop of the Smoky Mountains. The festival features over 5 million lights, and even include fireworks this year. Midwest Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin Visit the Tree of Light, a 55-foot silver maple tree decked out in 30,000 lights near the River Walk in Wisconsin Dells. As the holiday season kicks off, Wisconsin Dells will deliver a little extra cheer again this year with one of the biggest and brightest displays of all. In the open-air located off the River Walk in downtown Wisconsin Dells, a towering 55-foot silver maple tree will showcase 30,000 dazzling points of light, making it the only – and we mean only – light display of its kind in the Midwest. Stroll along the River Walk and view additional lighting in the form of 70 holiday trees, all sponsored by area businesses. Indiana The Santa Claus Land of Lights is a 1.2 mile Drive-Through Family Christmas Light Adventure located inside Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort. Enjoy the largest campground holiday light show in North America and the only light show that tells a story in lights and storyboards! Create new family memories and family traditions this Christmas Season at the Santa Claus Land of Lights – Family Christmas Light Adventure! For more themed light displays cruise through The Christmas Lake Village Festival Lights. The gated community of Christmas Lake Village invites you to drive through nine miles of festive light displays! Awards for Judges’ Favorite, Kids’ Favorite, Reason for the Season, and Best Lights will be awarded to four homes. Cheyenne, Wyoming Celebrate the holiday season Western-style this year in Cheyenne, where you can get your letter to Santa stamped by an Elf and see the mail get picked up by a Pony Express rider, visit holiday horses at Santa’s Saloon and Stables, hear Cowboy Carolers sing and meet Mr. Claus by the fire at Kringle Ranch, part of an event by the Little America Hotel & Resort. Check the calendar for more Old West holiday festivities happening through December 31. West Sonoma County, California Cue that legendary piano music and celebrate trees of all shapes and sizes all December long at Windsor’s annual Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Grove. This year, more than 200 trees were decorated by neighborhood families, classes, small businesses and community groups for you to enjoy on a socially distanced stroll through Windsor Town Green. San Luis Obispo, California Don’t miss San Luis Obispo’s annual Light Up Downtown event, the region’s destination for making holiday memories for more than 40 years. This year, they will feature the return of our annual Holiday Parade, Santa's House, and the Classic Carousel. Explore and celebrate local businesses and check out the lights, sights, and family fun in the Holiday Plaza! Nevada The Polar Express in Carson City, Nevada drive-through lights experience is operating until Christmas Eve. The brilliant light show will feature Santa, Mrs. Claus, and dozens of elves busy at work as they prepare for Christmas. Guests are encouraged to wear their favorite holiday pajamas and bring hot chocolate as they travel through the North Pole experience. Hawai’i Get into the Mele Kalikimaka spirit at the 25th anniversary of Kauai’s Festival of Lights. The displays use recycled and reclaimed materials at the Historic County Building park and can be enjoyed until New Year’s Day. Millions of colorful lights illuminate the park’s looming coconut palm trees wrapped in colorful lights as well as upcycled decorations including aluminum can flowers and water bottle butterflies. Arizona Make the best of the holidays at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. The gardens offer a dash of holiday magic with 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags and thousands of white twinkle lights. Las Noches de las Luminarias includes pre-recorded carols to enjoy during the experience. In Lake Havasu City experience London Bridge Resort's Festival of Lights—the Bridgewater Channel is lit up with over 500,000 lights that set the water aglow and spark the holiday spirit.
Allegiant Airlines adds new budget routes for summer 2020
Allegiant Airlines has announced an expanded list of low-cost flights beginning in summer 2020. We've rounded up all the information you need about these routes! Planning a trip to any of these destinations? Let us know in the comments! Flight days, times and the lowest fares can be found only at Allegiant.com. The new seasonal routes to Las Vegas via McCarran International Airport (LAS) include: San Diego, California via San Diego International Airport (SAN) – beginning June 3, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $43.* Fort Wayne, Indiana via Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA) – beginning June 4, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $69.* Tucson, Arizona via Tucson International Airport (TUS) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $49.* The new seasonal routes to San Diego via San Diego International Airport (SAN) include: Las Vegas, Nevada via McCarran International Airport (LAS) – beginning June 3, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $43.* Tulsa, Oklahoma via Tulsa International Airport (TUL) – beginning June 3, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $69.* Billings, Montana via Billings Logan International Airport (BIL) – beginning June 4, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $59.* Medford, Oregon via Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (MFR) – beginning June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $59.* Sioux Falls, South Dakota via Sioux Falls Regional Airport (FSD) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $69.* Idaho Falls, Idaho via Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IDA) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $59.* The new seasonal route to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) from Central Illinois Regional Airport at Bloomington-Normal (BMI) begins June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $49.* The new seasonal routes to Nashville International Airport (BNA) include: Bozeman, Montana via Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $66.* Sioux Falls, South Dakota via Sioux Falls Regional Airport (FSD) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Norfolk, Virginia via Norfolk International Airport (ORF) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Peoria, Illinois via General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport (PIA) – beginning June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Tulsa, Oklahoma via Tulsa International Airport (TUL) – beginning June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Fargo, North Dakota via Fargo International Airport (FAR) – beginning June 4, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Flint, Michigan via Bishop International Airport (FNT) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Greensboro, North Carolina via Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* The new seasonal routes to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) include: Grand Rapids, Michigan via Gerald R. Ford Airport (GRR) – beginning May 7, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Asheville, North Carolina via Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) – beginning May 8, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning May 8, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Destin / Ft. Walton Beach, Florida via Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) – beginning May 14, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* The new seasonal routes from Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) include: Allentown, Pennsylvania via Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE) – beginning May 14, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Des Moines, Iowa via Des Moines International Airport (DSM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Savannah, Georgia via Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Asheville, North Carolina via Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Destin / Ft. Walton Beach, Florida via Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* The new seasonal routes to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) include: Des Moines, Iowa via Des Moines International Airport (DSM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Asheville, North Carolina via Asheville International Airport (AVL) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Grand Rapids, Michigan via Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) include: Boston, Massachusetts via Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) – beginning May 8, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Houston, Texas via William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Austin, Texas via Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Des Moines International Airport (DSM) include: Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Memphis, Tennessee via Memphis International Airport (MEM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Austin, Texas via Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Gerald R. Ford Airport (GRR) include: Los Angeles, California via Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $66.* Boston, Massachusetts via Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) – beginning May 7, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Austin, Texas via Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) include: Boston, Massachusetts via Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) – beginning May 8, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Houston, Texas via William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Austin, Texas via Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Myrtle Beach, South Carolina via Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) – beginning June 6, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* The new seasonal routes from William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) include: Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Asheville, North Carolina via Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Savannah, Georgia via Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) – beginning May 28, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Destin / Fort Walton Beach, Florida via Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* The new seasonal routes to Savannah International Airport (SAV) include: Belleville, Illinois via MidAmerica St. Louis Airport (BLV) – beginning June 6, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Houston, Texas via William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) – beginning May 28, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Punta Gorda, Florida via Punta Gorda Airport (PGD) – beginning June 6, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Newburgh, New York via New York Stewart International Airport (SWF) – beginning May 20, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes to Norfolk International Airport (ORF) include: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Columbus, Ohio via Rickenbacker International Airport (LCK) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* Nashville, Tennessee Via Nashville International Airport (BNA) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* The new seasonal routes to Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) include: Nashville, Tennessee via Nashville International Airport (BNA) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* Norfolk, Virginia via Norfolk International Airport (ORF) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* Memphis, Tennessee via Memphis International Airport (MEM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) include: Boston, Massachusetts via Logan International Airport (BOS) – beginning May 14, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Dayton, Ohio via Dayton International Airport (DAY) – beginning May 14, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Houston, Texas via William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Newburgh, New York via New York Stewart International Airport (SWF) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Memphis International Airport (MEM) include: Des Moines, Iowa via Des Moines International Airport (DSM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Palm Beach, Florida via Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Cincinnati, Ohio via Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) include: Providence, Rhode Island via T.F. Green Airport (PVD) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning June 6, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Elmira, New York via Elmira Corning Regional Airport (ELM) – beginning June 6, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal route from Louisville International Airport (SDF) to Charleston International Airport (CHS) begins May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal route from Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) to Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) begins June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $66.* Flight days, times and the lowest fares can be found only at Allegiant.com. *About the introductory one-way fares: Seats and dates are limited and fares are not available on all flights. Flights must be purchased by Feb. 12, 2020 for travel by Aug. 15-17, 2020, depending on route. Price displayed includes taxes, carrier charges & -government fees. Fare rules, routes and schedules are subject to change without notice. Optional baggage charges and additional restrictions may apply. For more details, optional services and baggage fees, please visit Allegiant.com.
6 Perfect Spots to Immerse Yourself in Southeast Montana's History
Interstate 94 and 90 are ideal for cruise control with long stretches of highway straight as an arrow. The prairie landscape goes on forever, dotted with cattle, crops, and badlands as you cruise along Interstate 94 and 90 in Southeast Montana. Break up the drive with stops at national monuments and state parks, not only to stretch the legs but to discover the fascinating stories that shaped the West. This corner of Montana has been home to prehistoric people, dinosaurs, homesteaders, and one epic battle between the U.S. Army and Native Americans fighting to preserve their way of life. The gateway to these parts is the city of Billings. The pace of life is slower in these parts of Big Sky Country – enjoy the ride! 1. Pompeys Pillar National Monument Courtesy Donnie SextonStart your journey in Billings, armed with a picnic lunch, then head east 30 miles on I-94 to Pompeys Pillar, a sizable rock outcropping. You’ll see first-hand the only physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from their epic two-year journey to the Pacific Ocean from St. Louis. Part way up this 200 ft. high sandstone rock, Captain William Clark carved his name and date, July 25, 1806. Clark named the rock “Pompy,”a nickname he had given to the son of Sacagawea, the only woman to take part in the expedition. A boardwalk leads to the top of the rock for sweeping views of the Yellowstone River and valley and a chance to view Clark’s signature. The interpretative center is a must stop to learn about this grueling journey. Picnic under shaded cottonwood trees adjacent to the mighty Yellowstone River, the same waterway Clark and his men would utilize on their return trip via dugout canoes. 2. Makoshika State Park Courtesy Donnie SextonContinuing east on I-94, dinosaur lovers will delight in Makoshika, an 11,538-acre badlands park located within a stone’s throw of the town of Glendive. The word Makoshika comes from a Lakota Indian phrase, meaning ‘bad land’ or ‘bad earth.’ Imagine hiking over the playground of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops. Back in 1889, a researcher scouring the area by horseback documented 500 triceratops skulls. The topography, from cap rocks, hoodoos, wrinkled hillsides, deep ravines, and boulders tossed about, begs to be photographed, especially at sunrise and sunset. With over 12 miles of trails, crowds will not be a problem in Makoshika. If your journey is via a motorhome or more adventurous with a tent and sleeping bag, this is the place to spend the night with both designated camping sites as well as backcountry camping. Add to this birding, an archery site, disc golf course, summer programs for kids, an amphitheater, mountain biking, visitor center, scenic drives – Makoshika has you covered! 3. Medicine Rocks State Park Courtesy Donnie SextonIt’s a bit off the beaten path but worth seeking out this otherworldly gem. To reach Medicine Rocks, exit I-94 at Wibaux, then head south on Hwy 7 for approximately 70 miles, passing through the town of Baker. The entrance is clearly marked. The area is characterized by sandstone rock formations, thousands of years in the making, shaped by wind and water, and peppered with holes and caves. It was a vision quest site for Native Americans, who would camp and scour the landscape for buffalo. Charging Bear, a Sioux Indian, described the site as a place “where the spirits stayed, and the medicine men prayed.” Their stories remain in the petroglyphs carved into the rocks. Cowpunchers and settlers of the old west left their names carved into the rocks as well. Don’t be tempted to carve your name on the rocks, as its both illegal and degrades this historic site. Hike it and camp it, and keep your eyes peeled for mule deer, antelope, and sharp-tailed grouse. 4. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Courtesy Donnie SextonSome say there are days when you can hear the war cry of the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians riding into battle against the U.S. Army back on June 25-26, 1876. Often referred to as Custer’s Last Stand, it was one of the last armed efforts by the Plains Indians to protect their land and culture. By the end of the bloody battle, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, along with over 260 men, would lose their lives. Between 60-100 Native Americans were killed, according to estimates. The Little Bighorn Battlefield memorializes the site of the battle. Interpretive signage along the 4.5-mile drive provides an insight into how the action unfolded. The road ends at the Reno-Benteen Battlefield, where additional troops, under the direction of Major Reno and Captain Benteen fought. A visitor center, museum, and Indian memorial, along with a national cemetery, make up the complex. In addition to the drive, walk the Battlefield on the various pathways scattered around this historic site. The Battlefield is 65 miles southeast of Billings on I-90. 5. Pictograph Caves State Park Courtesy Donnie SextonThink back 2,000 years and imagine prehistoric people painting on the walls of one of three caves at this historic state park. Little did these artists know, working in black and white pigments, they were creating a history book of sorts for future generations to understand life in ancient times. Later images, estimated to be 200-500 years old, were created with red pigment and featured rifles, horses, and other animals. The park is a short 15-minute drive from Billings on Coburn Road. The park is day use only and makes for a sweet spot for picnicking. Check out the visitor center and gift shop. Bring binoculars to get an up-close look at the pictographs. Those keen on birding should be amply rewarded with sightings at the park. 6. Chief Plenty Coups State Park Courtesy Donnie SextonIt’s a 40-minute drive via Hwy 416, then 418 to Chief Plenty Coups State Park, the home and farmstead of one of the great leaders of the Crow Tribe. Chief Plenty Coups started as a Crow Warrior, but through his visions, could see the white man taking over the Crow land. He felt it best to adapt and work with the whites so the Crows and their culture could survive. His wisdom and leadership would result in him being appointed chief of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe by age 28. He became one of the first Crow to own a farm and work the land on the Crow Indian Reservation. His efforts to bring harmony between his culture and that of the white people resulted in Plenty Coups being honored by his people as their last traditional tribal chief upon his death. If your visit coincides with their Annual Day of Honor, this year falling on August 31, you can enjoy a free buffalo feast.
Park-to-Park Adventure: Glacier to Yellowstone
“Montana!” Quite honestly, that's the first word out of my mouth when I learn that the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial in 2016. Thinking like a travel editor requires that most news items be filtered through the lens of “Is there a travel angle?” For me, the words “national park” brings to mind Montana’s two: Glacier and Yellowstone. And so my family’s “Park-to-Park Adventure” is born. I resolve to bring my wife and daughters to Glacier in summer 2016, then make our way to Yellowstone, stopping at some of the beautiful towns along the way. The NPS centennial isn’t the only inspiration, of course: Like Paris, Montana is “always a good idea," and perhaps never more so than this record-breakingly hot summer in New York City. Plus, my wife, Michele, lived in Montana in high school and college, and our daughters, now 9 and 13, enjoyed brief visits when they were younger. One more incentive (shh! don't tell): I’ve somehow managed never to visit Wyoming, Montana’s beautiful neighbor to the southeast and home to most of Yellowstone’s 3,500+ square miles. In mid-July, we board a plane in NYC and fly to Glacier International Airport, in Kalispell, Montana. Here, the story of our amazing two-week adventure out west. (If you’re inspired to book your own trip, learn more at VisitMT.com.) KALISPELL Our stay in the Flathead Valley city of Kalispell is short, just an overnight between picking up our rental car at Glacier International Airport and heading up to the park the next morning, but it’s just what we need to get acclimated to life in Big Sky Country. The lobby of the Kalispell Grand Hotel delivers a bit of the Old West without overdoing the kitsch: Beautiful dark wood, a comfy sitting area, great home-baked cookies, and a warm welcome from the staff. Rooms are nicely appointed, allowing guests to enjoy contemporary conveniences while still feeling that they’ve stepped back about a century. Right up Main Street from the hotel, we are overjoyed to discover Norm’s Soda Fountain, an old-timey lunch counter and candy store that serves fantastic burgers (including choices of both beef and bison) and our first taste of… wait for it… huckleberry ice cream! We learn that here in the Rockies, huckleberry season is short (mid-to-late summer) but its sweetness is extended by the blue fruit’s transformation into syrups, candies, ice cream, and more. Next morning, we pack up the car and stop at the Super One so we can stock our kitchen in Glacier and beyond: Pancake mix is at the top of my kids’ list, but we also load up on easy-to-cook staples and picnic favorites to maximize our budget and to be prepared for whatever adventures the park presents us. Pro tip: We pick up a cheap ice chest for the duration of the road trip, eventually leaving it with our friends in Billings just before boarding our plane back home. The drive from Kalispell to Glacier National Park climbs up Highway 2 for less than an hour, and if it were located just about anywhere else in the U.S., that ride alone would be considered a spectacular must-see. In western Montana, it's just par for the course. We love seeing the peaks of Glacier’s mountains looming up ahead. Before we enter the park, we stop in the tiny town of West Glacier (mostly motels and shops) to visit the strategically placed Alberta Visitor Center. Even though Canada is not on our itinerary for this trip, the Alberta displays devoted to the Canadian Mounted Police, western heritage, Native American culture, and wildlife are totally worth a stop. And (I'm burying the lede) the immense T-Rex fossil in the lobby will delight visitors of all ages. (And, note to self: Next time we visit Montana, let’s leave some time to cross the border into beautiful Alberta.) GLACIER NATIONAL PARK As we pass through the entrance to Glacier National Park ($30 per car for up to a week-long stay), we begin to recognize sights from Glacier’s webcams, which we’ve been following all winter and spring in anticipation of this visit. (The bridge! The ice cream shop! The lake!) The webcams inspired us, then helped us plan our trip, but as we finally arrive in the park, the pinch-me feeling is almost too much to bear: We can’t quite believe we’re actually here. Our cabin for the next three nights is in Apgar Village, a small community of lodgings, restaurants, and outfitters at the southern shore of Lake McDonald. The cabin is just roomy enough (bedroom with two big beds, full eat-in kitchen, bathroom) that we enjoy the minimal time we’ll spend there (mornings, evenings), but once we get our luggage loaded in and the kitchen stocked, we’re ready to get back outside. We happily wade in nearby McDonald Creek and skip rocks in Lake McDonald while the peaks of the Continental Divide stand sentinel in the distance. In mid-July, there’s still plenty of snow in the mountains, and the creek and lake water, fed by snow melt, is still incredibly cold (frame of reference for travelers who like to make these comparisons: colder than the ocean in Maine, for real). We also notice that the rocks along Lake McDonald are multi-colored, reflecting the grinding of the glaciers against the mountains for thousands of years. Here, I point out to my older daughter, Clara, is the perfect vacation spot for a rising 8th grader who will be studying earth science in September. One of the things that make national parks such amazing vacation experiences is that the natural wonders are complemented by the presence of knowledgeable, friendly rangers. Our first day in Glacier is made even more special by our chat with a ranger manning a telescope in Apgar Village. We couldn’t help but ask what he was doing pointing a telescope at the sky in the middle of the afternoon. Turns out he was studying sunspots and the sun’s corona, and invited us to join him. My younger daughter, Rosalie, especially enjoyed the experience and it inspired us to pick up a Junior Ranger activity book for her at the Apgar Visitor Center. For the next three days, Rosalie would record our activities in hopes of receiving a Junior Ranger badge. (She succeeded, with a ranger signing her book and presenting her with a badge at the Apgar Nature Center a few days later.) Dinner that first night in Glacier is home-made burgers in our little kitchen, and that suits us just fine. We turn in early, with visions of the Continental Divide (tomorrow morning’s destination) dancing in our heads. The drive from Apgar Village to Logan Pass, at the Continental Divide, is less than an hour, but the Going-to-the-Sun Road offers such an array of views (tree-filled valleys below, granite peaks and the Big Sky above), you can actually spend half a day just getting to the pass. We opt for efficiency this morning, though, because we’ve learned that getting to the Logan Pass parking lot before 10 a.m. during summer’s high season is the only way to guarantee a parking spot. We don’t rush up to the pass (and I take the opportunity to point out to Clara that the sheer rock faces that the road hugs are like geologic time capsules with their varied colors and shapes), but we don’t take our time either. We arrive at the Logan Pass Visitor Center right on time, and, sure enough, we nab one of the last available parking spots. Stepping out of the car, we realize that as we drove the winding highway up to the 6,000+ foot pass, the temperature dropped into the 40s, and we’re grateful for those layers we packed. In sweatshirts and jeans in mid-July, we hit the trail to the appropriately named Hidden Lake Overlook. Up a winding boardwalk, then a dirt trail, then a rock trail, and then another boardwalk, visitors traverse this subalpine environment, where pine trees are twisted and stunted by the winter winds and snow, flowers grow for a heartbreakingly brief instant in midsummer, and it’s perfectly acceptable to pause and catch your breath now and then (possibly from the high altitude, and possibly from the sheer beauty). Long story short: A July snowfall (yes, it happens up here) has left some of the trail covered in slippery snow, and by the time we reach the incredible overlook, we’ve earned the unforgettable view with slips, slides, and one fall that almost resulted in my rolling down a steep hill. (My kids were briefly terrified, then merely embarrassed for me as I got to my feet and brushed the snow from my 501s.) We snap pics of the lake below (if that July snow ever melts, the trail to Hidden Lake will open to visitors, but we won’t be in Glacier long enough on this trip and we simply enjoy the amazing overlook). The big stars up here, though, aren’t water or rock: They’re goats. Actually, mountain goats are more closely related to antelope than the tin-can eating farm denizens they’re named for. Adults and kids are awed by the white, bearded mountain goats that clip-clop their way over the rocks, across the boardwalk overlook, and up the sides of the mountains. Fair warning: Once you’ve looked one in the eye, you’re forever hooked on this unique subalpine environment, and start counting the days till you can return. Sure, Logan Pass may be the high point, both literally and figuratively, of Glacier National Park, but we are by no means done with all the park has to offer. We picnic by St. Mary’s Lake, on the east side of the park, noting evidence of the relatively recent forest fire that turned some of the area around the lake into charred stumps. Rangers are eager to point out that fire is an essential element of forest ecology, not a catastrophe but a means to clear out underbrush and for certain trees, including lodgepole pine, to spread their seeds via pine cones that open up only when exposed to extreme heat. And with the beautiful lake spread out before us, I wouldn’t trade our humble picnic (bologna on sourdough bread, carrot sticks, and apples) for any Michelin-starred menu in the world. We briefly exit the park on our way to the Two Medicine area, where two lakes (Upper and Lower Two Medicine) await, and one of our favorite waterfalls enthralls us: Running Eagle Falls is impressive both from the creek bed at its base and also from an easy overlook above, and as temperatures climb in the afternoon sun, we happily splash one another with the icy water. Tonight, we’re splurging (a little) on dinner at the East Glacier Lodge. Built in the glory days of the Great Northern Railroad, the lodge dazzles visitors with a cavernous lobby whose pillars are actual tree trunks. After a comfort-food meal (I tried the fish-and-chips, washed down with a huckleberry margarita, which is actually a thing and it’s pretty great), Michele notices that the lobby boasts a grand piano that welcomes “accomplished musicians” to play. I gladly sit down and entertain my family and the lodge’s staff and guests with some jazz piano. Rather than return to our cabin at Apgar Village via Going-to-the-Sun Road, we opt for the perimeter of the park, which takes about the same amount of time minus the switchbacks and vertigo. We sleep like stones. Next morning, after another of my pancake breakfasts, we are determined to conquer Lake McDonald in canoes. Joined by Michele’s friend Tami and her daughter Alex, who are visiting Glacier from Spokane, we rent two canoes from the vendors at the river bank, do a little practicing close to shore, then head out to explore the lake on a perfectly cloudless day with a slight breeze. We’re impressed by how our girls take to the discipline of padding and steering, and later in the day they insist that Alex teach them how to do some standup paddle boarding. I’m worried, of course, but tell myself that with life vests and swimming lessons my daughters will survive. They do more than survive: They thrive on the thrill of SUP, and watching them take to it reminds me to savor these days when both girls navigate that border between needing me and, um, not so much. One of their rewards for trying something new and tricky? BBQ ribs in our cabin kitchen, of course. After dinner, we go back to the lake to watch the shadows fall on the water. We’re surprised to find a gentleman playing an alpine horn, a very long tube with a brass mouthpiece. He plays simple folk melodies, sending low, resonant notes out over the lake to bounce off the surrounding mountains. The melancholy echoes are the perfect soundtrack for our last evening in the park. Next morning, we resolve to enjoy our final hours in Glacier at the iconic Trail of the Cedars. An easy hike along a boardwalk, the trail takes us past ancient cedar trees, including downed stumps with roots in the air, hollow trees perfect for photo ops, and the beautiful Avalanche Falls. (Don’t worry, the avalanche happened a long time ago, and you can safely traverse Avalanche Creek on a footbridge that’s perfect for snapping photos.) It’s hard to say goodbye to Glacier, and we can only do it by promising one another that we’ll be back sooner rather than later. But out next national park is Yellowstone, several hundred miles to the southeast, and we’ve got some pretty cool destinations to visit between here and there. Once we’ve driven out of Glacier, we can’t help but look forward to our next stop: the Flathead Valley town of Bigfork, whose gigantic Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and the perfect place for the family to test its newfound paddling skills. BIGFORK Our next two night are at the gorgeous Bridge Street Cottages in Bigfork. With lots of room, a full kitchen, a front porch (!), and an easy walk to the Swan River, Electric Avenue (the town’s evocatively named main street), and a playground for shaking our sillies out. One of the nice things about visiting Bigfork after Glacier is that the town can pack your dance card to such as extent that you don’t spend much time looking back: Live theater, great food, and views of the lake and the surrounding mountain ranges. We decide that, having conquered Lake McDonald in canoes and on paddle boards, it’s time to get serious: Two tandem kayaks to explore Flathead Lake. We turn to the professional, reliable, and affordable Base Camp Bigfork, which delivers two kayaks, life vests, and a “dry bag” right to the dock on Bigfork Bay, provides a little coaching. I share a kayak with Clara, Michele shares a kayak with Rosalie, and we’re off. We get used to the tandem paddling and steering on the bay, then head out into the lake for a three-hour paddle that is, for me, the high point of our entire trip. We paddle past pine forests, beach our kayaks for a picnic, collect the incredible colored rocks on shore, and Michele even creates an impromptu mosaic out of rocks on shore. It’s only when we’re back in Bigfork (Basecamp meets us back at the dock to collect our equipment and settle up) that we realize that none of us has ever kayaked more than 10 minutes in our lives. It is an exhilarating day. PHILIPSBURG Anyone traveling from Glacier to Yellowstone will be grateful for the town of Philipsburg, a little mining town in Granite County, a short drive south of Interstate 90. Especially if you’re driving with kids, Philipsburg may be the town of your dreams: Stop here to learn how to pan for gems and chow down at "The World’s Greatest Candy Store." Any questions? The Sapphire Gallery will teach you how to turn a pile of dirt and rubble into a smaller pile of beautiful raw sapphires: You purchase a bag of gravel mined from the nearby mountains, then swirl it around in a pan to align the gravel so that the raw sapphires (much denser than the surrounding debris) sink to the bottom center. Then you turn your sieve upside down and pick out the raw sapphires. Staff is on hand to help, and you can then take your favorite sapphires to be analyzed to determine which ones are good candidates for heat-treating, which gives sapphires their shine and their color. We ended up with three good candidates, paid to have them heat treated, and they arrived in the mail a few weeks later, even more beautiful than we’d hoped. Even if we weren’t a little peckish after our sapphire activity, it’d be difficult to say “no” to The Sweet Palace, billed as “The World’s Greatest Candy Store” and located right next door to the Sapphire Gallery. As you walk in the door, you’re greeted by the unmistakable aroma of taffy, fudge, and other other delights all blending together in way that takes you back to your childhood, or the childhood of your dreams. Rows and rows of candy jars, ranging from well-known favorites to unusual regional treats, invite you to overindulge. We do. I hand each of my daughters a candy bag and instruct them to pick out no more than one pound each. It occurs to me only later, as they spread their bounty on their hotel beds, that one pound of candy is a little much; oh well, we’re on vacation, right? For dinner, we enjoy Tommyknockers, across the street from our hotel. The burgers and lemonade are just what we need after a day on the road, and I especially enjoy a refreshingly light craft beer, brewed just down the street at Philipsburg Brewing Company. We bed down in style at The Broadway Hotel, where each room is decorated in the style of a particular travel destination. Appropriately enough, we get a U.K.-themed room that suits my family's literary taste (Dickens, Austen, Rowling) perfectly. In the morning, we join other hotel guests in a hearty breakfast of home-baked quiches, pastry, and more. Even though we weren't traveling with a dog, we appreciated the hotel's pet-friendly policies, and we loved chatting with the staff about the town's mining history and cool comeback in recent years. BIG SKY From Philipsburg, we could power right on into Yellowstone in about four hours, but instead we opt for a pitstop in Belgrade for the truly exceptional sandwiches, ribs, and variety of sauces at Bar 3 Bar-B-Q, then one more stop, a night at Huntley Lodge at Big Sky Resort. Over the years, we’ve noticed that ski resorts in summer can be affordable and beautiful. The drive down from Interstate 90 via MT-85/191 is one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S., flanking the Gallatin River for much of the way. As we pull into Big Sky, we note that the terrain is already changing from the dramatic granite peaks of western Montana, and we know we’re getting closer to Yellowstone country. The girls put their newfound panning skills to the test at the resort’s kid-friendly sluice (no sapphires here, but cool treasures nonetheless). We enjoy a roomy lodging that includes a loft, and we rest up for the adventure that awaits us tomorrow. YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, just outside the park, combines what we love about national parks with what we love about the best zoos: Here, grizzlies and gray wolves rescued from the wild (some have been injured or abandoned by parents, others have become dangerously acclimated to human food) are kept in spacious exhibit areas where they can live out their days with ample food and water and the loving attention of a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving wildlife and educating the public. We especially enjoy the exhibits because these two species are native to Yellowstone National Park but are difficult to actually see on a three-day visit like ours. Entering Yellowstone knowing that we’ve already had our up-close-and-personal experiences with grizzlies and wolves is a great feeling. Yellowstone National Park ($30 per car for up to a week-long stay), the first national park, was founded in 1872 and remains one of the most popular in the U.S. More than 3,500 square miles that include portions of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, the park boasts more than 10,000 “hydrothermal” spots like geysers and hot springs, more than the rest of the world combined, thanks to the "supervolcano" under the park, which heats rainwater and melted snow into steam that rises back up to the earth's surface. As we enter Yellowstone, I’m psyched to be visiting this park for the first time. A few earlier plans to visit the park always managed to fall through and I’ve been an avid fan of the place from afar, following the reintroduction of wolves here in the 1990s, the new findings about the “supervolcano” under the park, and, of course, hearing from Budget Travel readers over the years about how much they love this place. There’s a lot to love: In many respects, Yellowstone combines the majesty of Glacier with the eye-candy of Yosemite, with sudden changes in terrain and wildlife seemingly around every bend of the road. All that awesomeness comes at a price, though: As we pay our entry fee, I ask the ranger on duty if there are any attractions in Yellowstone that require an early arrival time, such as Logan Pass did at Glacier. She replies, “Yes, pretty much all of them.” Our home for the next three nights is Hayden Lodge, at the Canyon Lodge complex in Canyon Village, and we’re thrilled to find that the room is not only brand-new and extremely design-forward and green, but also includes a patio. Our patio faces east, so on our first evening we are treated to a rising full moon, which recalls folk singer Bill Stains’s classic song “My Sweet Wyoming Home” and its lyric, “Watch the moon smilin’ in the sky…” We set out the next day to explore the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, fully aware that the name raises expectations for anyone who’s been to the better-known canyon in Arizona. We’re pleased to find that none of the photographs of Yellowstone’s canyon do it justice: Standing on the overlooks of the upper and lower falls is one of those experiences that can’t really be brought home except in memory. The scale is tremendous, the distances difficult to appreciate until you’re standing there. The lower falls are the ones farther down the Yellowstone River and they are much taller than the upper falls, raising a confusing point of nomenclature that we notice visitors discussing in various languages all day. Along with travelers from all over the globe, we happily snap pics even as we know that they won’t fully convey the feeling of standing by the canyon. After our day at the canyon, a little awed by the sights and a little sluggish from the altitude (in Glacier, our highest point was around 6,000 feet at Logan Pass; here in Yellowstone we’re at about 8,000 all the time), we grab an early dinner at Canyon Village’s cafeteria, an affordable option with no-frills comfort food like burritos, shepherd’s pie, hot dogs, and chicken fingers. We devote the next day to the natural loop of Yellowstone’s main road, which allows visitors to hit nearly all the park’s major attractions in one big circle. We head toward the Old Faithful Visitor Center with a slightly jaded attitude: Sure, we’ve got to see the iconic geyser, but we’re not looking forward to the throngs. But the visitor center offers such a great array of exhibits devoted to the supervolcano that is Yellowstone, we soon perk up and really dive into the informative displays; there’s also a great short film about the park, and a “Young Scientists” section with hands-on activities. And, of course, the geyser itself does not disappoint. Once as reliable as its name, Old Faithful now tends to erupt roughly every 90 minutes, and rangers keep visitors informed as they monitor the next impending display. We loved it. Other stops along the loop include the Grand Prismatic, an otherworldly pool of bubbling mud and steam; Lake Yellowstone, much bigger than Glacier’s Lake McDonald and much wilder in just about every way; and numerous pullouts where steam happens to be rising out of the ground. We spot bison in several places, including one or two that are surprisingly close to the road, something you get used to quickly in Yellowstone. We stop to see Yellowstone Lodge, the first hotel in the park, and marvel at the way terrain and trees change within just a few miles of one another here: From the moonscape of the Grand Prismatic, we’re quickly back in lush pine forests, then just as quickly we’re surrounded by giant boulders that look as if they were dropped from the sky by playful aliens. We’re just as sorry to leave Yellowstone as we were Glacier, but on our last day here we have two cool things to look forward to: The drive to the park’s northeast exit will take us through the fabled Lamar Valley, and we’ll be meeting friends in nearby Cooke City for dinner. Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is perhaps best known as the place where gray wolves were reintroduced to the park in the mid-1990s. These days, it’s the place you’re most likely to spot a wolf, but your chances are still pretty slim. The valley has a gentle beauty that’s different from the more rugged spots elsewhere in the park. Gone are the hydrothermal displays and in their place, pine forests, immense meadows, and wildlife encounters that we’ll never forget. On our way out of the park, we don’t see any wolves, but we don’t really fret about it: We are treated to an absolutely unreal bison extravaganza. Rutting bulls are everywhere in the valley, butting heads in their ritual attempts to impress a mate, rolling around in the dust like gigantic puppies, and liberally crossing the highway as if cars were a minor irritation. Of course I shoot endless stills and video, capturing one bison in particular as he gets especially close to our car and crosses the highway right in front of us. COOKE CITY We arrive in Cooke City tired but happy to meet up with our friends Keith and Molly, longtime Billings residents who have been visiting a family cabin in Cooke City on weekends and vacations for years. Cooke City, named one of Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns in America in 2012, is a tiny Wild West outpost, with the iconic Cooke City Store (often referred to as "the red store"), souvenir shops, and the best burgers I’ve had in years: You must stop by Beds N Buns for a Cheddar Bomb, a burger served on an onion kaiser roll and smothered in onions, pickles, and melted cheddar (406-838-2030). And we explore a nearby park that boasts a waterfall as dramatic as any in Glacier or Yellowstone. (I have promised not to reveal its location lest it become overrun with visitors: Some insider secrets, after all, must actually remain insider secrets.) We sleep soundly amid the utter silence of the mountains here in Cooke City before experiencing one more staggeringly beautiful highway in the morning. BEARTOOTH HIGHWAY At the risk of sounding like a movie trailer: In a world full of dramatic highways, the Beartooth Highway stands above them all. Literally. We hit the highway on our way from Cooke City to Billings, and the road takes us into the clouds. Above the treeline, we’re covering ground that’s inaccessible from mid-October well into the spring due to the feet of snow that pile up here. The views are endless, the switchbacks challenging, and the pullouts are some of our most vivid memories. At one point near the highway’s highest point (around 13,000 feet), we get out of the car to drink in the view of a massive valley before us and Clara and Rosalie begin to spontaneously dance. When we get back home to New York, we’ll ask them what their favorite place in Montana was and they’ll both answer “Beartooth Highway!” BILLINGS As our park-to-park adventure, which kicked off in Kalispell two weeks earlier, draws to a close, we pull into Billings, “Montana’s Trailhead,” for a relaxing weekend with friends and our flight back home. Montana’s biggest city, Billings is a destination unto itself, decidedly urban compared with our days on the road, our paddling expeditions, hikes on snowy trails, and dips in ice-cold mountain lakes. We love the Yellowstone Art Center, the Western Heritage Center, and the Downtown Brewery District, among many other spots. Boarding that plane back to NYC wasn’t easy, but Michele, Clara, Rosalie, and I continue to relive our extraordinary two weeks in Big Sky Country and hope our trip will inspire you to follow in our footsteps.
The Best National Parks For Fall Colors
Depending on the park, the temperature and elevation, there's still time to catch some great fall foliage at the country's national parks, where bright red, orange, and yellow leaves are often on display until the end of October (and even into November in some cases). In an ode to autumn, the National Park Foundation has put out a list of great national parks, and corresponding timelines, for colorful foliage displays. "Many factors impact the timing of peak fall colors viewing, therefore foliage seekers are encouraged to contact specific parks for the inside scoop on their unique foliage timing," the National Park Foundation advised. California Whiskeytown National Recreation Area Peak colors are expected sometime between the middle and end of October. Colorado Curecanti National Recreational Area The colors start to come out in late September and run through the end of October. Mississippi Natchez Trace Parkway In mid- to late October, the leaves of the maple, hickory, oak and other hardwood trees begin to change colors. Montana Glacier National Park The bright yellow and gold colors on the aspen and larch trees in the park run through mid-October covering the trails around the park, particularly along Summit Trail. For more information on the best trails for fall colors or for photos of them, visit Glacier's Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/glaciernationalpark. Pennsylvania Flight 93 National Memorial The trees around the Flight 93 National Memorial site begin to turn around mid-October. Go to honorflight93.org/webcam to take a virtual fall foliage tour. Tennessee Great Smokey Mountains National Park This park is home to more than 130 different tree species, many of which produce impressive autumnal hues. Peak foliage viewing depends on the various levels of elevation found within the park, but generally the foliage show runs from late September through October. Utah Zion National Park Peak foliage colors appear at the end of October and into the first few days of November. Vermont Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park Rich with sugar maples and 400-year-old hemlocks, this park has outstanding fall foliage each year, according to the National Park Foundation. This year's prime viewing is expected from mid-October through early November. Virginia Shenandoah National Park The colors start to come out at the upper elevations beginning in early to mid-October, and the lower elevations peak at the end of October into November. Wisconsin Apostles Islands National Lakeshore The most photogenic foliage varies depending on whether you're inland or closer to the coast, however the colors come out between late September and October. More from Budget Travel: 5 Fall Foliage Drives 50 Stunning Fall-Foliage Photos 6 Outdoor Fall Products You Never Knew You Needed
More Places to go
Montana ( (listen)) is a state in the Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. It is bordered by Idaho to the west; North Dakota and South Dakota to the east; Wyoming to the south; and by the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan to the north. It is the fourth-largest state by area, the seventh-least populous state, and the third-least densely populated state. The western half of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges, while the eastern half is characterized by western prairie terrain and badlands, with smaller mountain ranges found throughout the state. In all, 77 named ranges are part of the Rocky Mountains. Montana has no official nickname but several unofficial ones, most notably "Big Sky Country", "The Treasure State", "Land of the Shining Mountains", and "The Last Best Place". The economy is primarily based on agriculture, including ranching and cereal grain farming. Other significant economic resources include oil, gas, coal, mining, and lumber. The health care, service, and government sectors also are significant to the state's economy. Montana's fastest-growing sector is tourism; nearly 13 million annual tourists visit Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Beartooth Highway, Flathead Lake, Big Sky Resort, and other attractions.
West Yellowstone is a town in Gallatin County, Montana, United States, adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. The population was 1,271 at the 2010 census. West Yellowstone is served by Yellowstone Airport. It is part of the Bozeman, MT Micropolitan Statistical Area. West Yellowstone offers lodging, gift shops, and other services to travelers visiting nearby Yellowstone National Park.
Red Lodge, Montana - Gateway to Yellowstone Park via the beautiful Beartooth Highway. Come and experience true western hospitality in this quaint, historic, mountain town.
Cooke City is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) in Park County, Montana, United States. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 75. Prior to 2010, it was part of the Cooke City-Silver Gate CDP. The community sits northeast of Yellowstone National Park on the Beartooth Highway, which leads east to Red Lodge, Montana, on a scenic route climbing to 10,947 feet (3,337 m) in elevation through the Beartooth Mountains and across the Beartooth Plateau. The town's chief industry is tourism, which during the winter includes skiing and snowmobiling. It is named for Jay Cooke, financier of the Northern Pacific Railroad.