Clarks Fork Trail

Clarks Fork Trail—Shoshone National Forest
Location: north of Cody, Wyoming
Length of visit: full day to multiple days
Major draws: Wild and Scenic River, wildlife, backpacking
Strenuosity: 5 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Ticks, high elevation, no view of canyon until Mile 5.5
Description: The Chief Joseph Scenic Highway stays high above the southern rim of the narrow canyon carved by the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, as does this trail until a couple hours in, but then the scenery is unmatched.  We saw a herd of hundreds of elk and no other people on the trail.

Chief Joseph Scenic Highway

Chief Joseph Scenic Highway—Shoshone National Forest
Location: north of Cody, Wyoming
Length of visit: 2 hours
Major draws: Scenic views, canyons, hiking, campgrounds
Strenuosity: 0 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Frequent high winds, switchbacks
Description: Highway 296 in northwest Wyoming offers some of the best mountain scenery in the country. After 46 miles it dead ends into the impressive Beartooth Highway, an All-American Road.

 

Seven Mile Hole Trail

Seven Mile Hole Trail—Yellowstone National Park
Location: northwest Wyoming
Length of visit: 5 hours to overnight
Major draws: Geothermal features, scenic views, backpacking
Strenuosity: 6 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $30 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Hiking inside active volcanic caldera, loose footing, high elevation
Description: This 4.5-mile trail follows the rim of Yellowstone Canyon then drops 1,500-feet to the river and our favorite backpacking camp in the park—4C1—with multiple fumaroles, hot springs, and warm rocks to sit on when the temperature drops.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park
Location: northwest Wyoming
Length of visit: 1 to 100 days
Major draws: Geothermal features, wildlife, scenic views, waterfalls
Strenuosity: 0 to 4 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $30 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass
Additional considerations: Driving inside active volcanic caldera
Description: There’s a reason Yellowstone was dubbed “Wonderland” when it became the world’s first National Park in 1872.  It’s still the best on the planet.  We came back to see bison calves and the falls of the Yellowstone River.

Earthquake Lake Geologic Area

Earthquake Lake Geologic Area—Gallatin National Forest
Location: West Yellowstone, Montana
Length of visit: 1 hour
Major draws: Interpretive auto tour, memorial
Strenuosity: 3 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Makes you think twice about camping in a volcano, visitor center only open in summer
Description: On August 17, 1959 an earthquake hit West Yellowstone causing half a mountain to crumble and block the Madison River forming Earthquake Lake, which is still there today. Seiches (“lake tsunamis”) and landslides claimed 28 lives.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Location: Deer Lodge, Montana
Length of visit: 3 hours
Major draws: Working cattle ranch, living history demonstrations
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Little shade, free guided tour required to enter main house
Description: This site commemorates the late-1800s lifestyle of cattle barons and cowboys at a Montana ranch that once served as the headquarters for an immense herd that grazed across 10-million acres of the Wild West.

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Nez Perce National Historical Park
Location: Lewiston, Idaho
Length of visit: 1 hour to multiple days
Major draws: Updated movie, museum
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: 38 sites spread across four states
Description: This park is unique in that it interprets the story of an indigenous culture that is still going strong. The Nez Perce assisted the Lewis and Clark expedition, later resisted encroachment on their land, and continue to hold onto their heritage today.

Old Mission State Park

Old Mission State Park
Location: east of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Length of visit: 2 hours
Major draws: Oldest building in Idaho, museum
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $5 per vehicle for mission and $5 per person for museum
Additional considerations: Little shade
Description: After four delegations went east to St. Louis recruiting Christian holy men, the Jesuit “black robes” came to the Salish people in 1842.  Together they built a mission that is still standing today due to its unique wooden peg architecture and rehabilitation work in the 1920s.

Palouse Falls State Park

Palouse Falls State Park
Location: Washtucna, Washington
Length of visit: 1 hour
Major draws: Scenic views, waterfall
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: $10 per vehicle or free if park up the hill
Additional considerations: Trail to bottom of falls is “closed”
Description: Amidst the rolling hills of wheat in eastern Washington you wouldn’t expect to find a waterfall that drops 200 feet.

Whitman Mission National Historic Site

Whitman Mission National Historic Site
Location: Walla Walla, Washington
Length of visit: 2 hours
Major draws: Museum, Oregon Trail ruts
Strenuosity: 1 out of 10
Cost/Fees: Free
Additional considerations: Little shade
Description: Narcissa Whitman blazed the path for future female pioneers when she made it to the Columbia River in 1836. The tragic attack on the missionaries on November 29, 1847 led Congress to officially establish the Oregon Territory.