A trip in the US is a treat one can enjoy on the long run. The sooner the departure, the more you see magical names dancing in front of your eyes : the Wild West, the Yellowstone Road 66, bikers, Sitting Bull, Bruce Springsteen or Johnny Cash, buffalos and saloons…By the time you’ve snapped out of it, the plane is already landing in Denver. The biggest city of Colorado. Every skyscraper hides the silhouette of a far way peak. You may not realize it but you’re already far up, 5249 feet high! Known for its liberalism Denver is a joyful and proud city, filled with festivals and famous stages like the Red Rock Amphitheatre. Many buildings wear the colours of the local red bricks, giving to the great boulevards a little something of a modern Wild West. You could say that Denver is a bit like the Brooklyn of the Rockies with its local breweries, its trendy shops, its green spaces, and its concerts. Pedestrians are more than welcomed around here. Larimer Square is a famous spot for shopping, as is the entire Low Downtown area (Or LoDo to play it like a local).
But now it is time to get on the road.
First Stop : Mount Rushmore.
There is an almost complete image of the USA in this melodramatic monument. Through those faces of stone, one can see a proud, hard-working people, always ready to achieve new heights, tear down mountains and rule the Wild to turn it into a monument to the nation’s grandeur. 400 workers, their belts full of dynamite, were used to carve the faces of the founding fathers. But this is also a people haunted by its demons, since this monument was built on lands granted to the Lakota nation by ratified treaty. But a trip in the region would not be complete without stopping at this iconic sculpture. By a quiet little lake lays the Horsethief Lake campground. You will fish in peace before hitting the road in the morning.
The beauty of the American West lies in the delicate line drawn by a lonely road on a page of wild grass. But also in the roaring of the engine on hundreds of miles of tarmac. It is also through the window of a car, so little, so ridiculously small for the astonishing landscape passing by slowly. Sometimes a barn or a grain silo will mercifully put a mark on the map. So if you’re not sitting on the driver’s seat, you better bring a good book and a tank full of gas! It’s a 6 hours ride until the next stop.
Second stop: Yellowstone
Several entry points:
Cody Wyoming. There once was a scout for the Calvary, a guard of the Wells Fargo’s coach, a Pony Express rider, a buffalo hunter for the railroad, a businessman who created a circus and led it throughout the World. A man whose mortal remains were carried by six of his heart-broken mistresses. And that man’s name was Buffalo Bill. THE Buffalo Bill! Among many other true or false exploits, he founded this city and it still wears his name. It doesn’t get more Wild West than this: a large main street, cowboys, hats, saddles, Winchesters and harmonicas. Last stop before venturing on the first slopes of the Yellowstone just out of town: be sure to pack up! In the summer, many activities and historical shows are available. Make sure you camp at the Wapiti Campground, just before reaching the official entry of the park. Be careful though, for this is the Wild West: the first that arrives gets the spot, just like in the good old days ! This will also be a good entry point to visit the eastern part of the park.
West Yellowstone. Another mark left by the Wild West. This quiet little town was indeed built as a milestone for the railroad. A protestant church, a school (always a focus point for the entire community) and all the shops you need before venturing into the park. So just make camp at the Rustic-RV campground and go have a drink in this little world you’ve never known. From West Yellowstone you’ll be able to wander around the northern part of the Park where you’ll find hot springs and magnificent waterfalls like at Gardiner. Actually the entire northern part of the Yellowstone is filled with such thermic phenomenon such as the Steamboat Geyser, on the road leaving West Yellowstone, or the Mammoth Hot Springs on the road to Gardiner.
The Grand Teton Park.
You’ll leave it by the West southern edge of the park, so this is actually the easiest road to the rest of the iconic places to visit in the West. Why is it called Great Nipple ? Probably because local settlers who first saw this massive peak roughly shaped as a pear thought about those warm caring ladies they had left back in the brothels of Nebraska… You’ll have to admit though that the trails in the area do require good physical conditions. The weather can also change drastically and those slopes are pretty steep. However the beauty of those trails is truly worth the effort. For example, the Lake Solitude trail is a tough one, but the lake at the top really deserves its name there is no better spot for a picnic. If you dream of a challenge, think about Static Peak Divide. You’ll drive to the end of Death Canyon road, and then climb through it to reach the West Slope of Albright Peak before reach Static Peak itself. Why is it called Static Peak? Because it is regularly struck by lightning, so check the weather forecast with local rangers before going for the last part of this amazing hike.
At the foothills of the Grand Teton Park lies a very popular and trendy Wyoming destination: Jackson Hole. Famous for its ski resorts, Jackson is also an important part of the cowboy culture: local radios, free country dances… Be sure to pass by the local pride: a gigantic arch made entirely out of deer antlers! Get yourself a drink at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar: the decoration is delightfully over the top. The many art galleries, sometimes filled with debatable creations, are a testimony to the success of the town as a luxury destination. This is actually one of the biggest ski destinations in the country! Naturally, you’ll find everything to be a little bit more expensive than in West Yellowstone or Cody. But there is more to do, and it is a good opportunity for some healthy shopping. Jump back into your car to reach the Curtis Canyon Campground just outside of town. You’ll be amazed by the view on the valley stretching to the north. And there also are some trails starting from your spot. What else could you ask for?
There you go : you have an entry point to wander into the oldest of American parks. Now it is up to you to choose your hiking trails, because one blog would not cover it all up, not even close. Allegedly, there are more grizzlies roaming around Swan Lake Flats or Gardiners Hole. Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point offer so great viewpoints and Happy Islands will let you gaze at beautiful rivers. You get the idea. The hiking is never very hard and the scale of the Yellowstone allows for an astonishing diversity of landscapes anyway. A large detachment of rangers watches over the well-being of the wildlife, the trails, and provides formations to caring visitors. Did you know that this park also provides for the biggest concentration of buffalos roaming freely in the US? To see a bear, a wolf, a puma or a fox requires a good deal of luck, but you’ll hardly miss the massive silhouettes of those big beasts, wandering around without a care in the world.
And if impressive waterfalls are what you’re looking for, head for the Yellowstone Grand Canyon but trust me when I say you want to avoid rush hours to truly appreciate the view. We’re talking about a park that is almost 9000 kilometres wide: have fun!
Third stop: Moab and the Arches national Park.
Apparently, good once gave the order to forty courageous Mormons to found a fort in this place. Unfortunately he did forget to warn the locals Indians about it who attacked the settlers, destroying their crops and forcing the chosen people to abandon their post. Almost 170 years later, Moab has become a vibrant city where (and this is kind of ironic) a majority of Mormons live. This doesn’t stop the town from being a rally point for motocross amateurs and all those who want to drive off roads. It will also be your entry point to enjoy the famous Arches national park. If you want a cosy spot to sleep, settle at Goose Island Campground, by the Colorado River. A well maintained bike trail will lead the brave among you to the entry of the park, but you’re minutes away by car anyway. To see the biggest natural arch of the United States, take two hours to follow the Devils Garden trail.
A piece of advice: come at dawn as the sun paints the stones even redder and dishevelled bushes are filled with birds. Landscape arch, with its gracious line, is definitely worth a few photos. The more you’ll climb the fewer tourists you’ll see! And there is nothing quite as beautiful as a sunrise in the middle of the park: under the shadow of those big arches of stone, one feels like in a temple to the greatness of nature, and you’ll find yourself whispering as you come across new people. Maybe we’re just all scared to make a single grain of rock fall and break the harmony that is so overwhelming in this place… And people actually don’t invade the arches with their selfies so that is truly an unavoidable stop on your journey.
Guess what you’ll find there… The Green River and the famous Colorado River have been carving furrows into the mesas for thousands of years. Back in the seventies you could still come across cowboys leading their cattle to the winter pastures, using the vital water streams along the way. You can reach the center of the park by a panoramic road with numerous viewpoints along the way: Mesa Arch (close to the Willow Flat Campground, settle there for the night without leaving the park). Shafer Canyon, Orange Cliffs Overlooks… So many possibilities! Canyonland is not as popular as the more iconic locations of Utah such as Bryce Canyon, so be sure to include it in your itinerary.
Maybe you’ll find yourself whistling the theme song of Once Upon A Time in The West? Monument Valley is one of those places you’ve seen a thousand times before in movies and pictures, but that still leave you speechless when you see them with your own eyes. Facing those massive stone figures, carved by winds and rains, one dreams of seeing Clint Eastwood as the man with no name suddenly riding along. Of course though, it gets crowdy. So do not linger at the Visitor Center : too big, too noisy, simply stick around for the sunset. Although there are very few hiking trails around, the Valley is still very beautiful from the seat of a car, and there more than enough viewpoints to take all the pictures you want. Since we at Windigo are all big fans of this legendary place, we were all delighted to learn that a campground is now open in the very heart of Monument Valley (which is rare when you remember that it actually part of a reservation, and not a park) : the View Campground. It is located on the slope of a dune, without wires or limits of any kind. Just the gigantic mass of West Mitten Butte : a true western setting, just for you.
From the pines of the Yellowstone to the bushes of Canyonland, from Mormonts to indians, from the majesty of a canyon to the humble look of a gigantic buffalo, the West is a land of a thousand pictures, brought to life by travelers dreams. Just like some 150 years ago, people come here seeking freedom. It is sometimes hard to believe that New-York, Washington and those magnificient regions are all part of a single country. Yet, what is more american than the soft roaring of an engine of those legendary roads ? There are so many ways to draw a unique itinerary, and camping is a good way to sink deeper into the atmosphere and escape that such a trip allows. So feel free to contact us to start creating your own American West !
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