National Parks & Lodges of the Old West
Trace the legends and natural splendors of the American West—an awe-inspiring expanse filled with beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, hiking, storytelling, and incredible historic lodges you will write home about.
Shared departure: this departure is shared with other universities.
Arrive in Rapid City, SD
Welcome to Rapid City—nicknamed The City of Presidents. Transfer to the hotel to meet fellow travel companions and your Expedition Leader for a welcome dinner and expedition briefing. Rapid City’s location at the eastern slope of the Black Hills Mountain Range gives visitors easy access to all the surrounding attractions—from the beautiful state and national parks, to the manmade wonders like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. Take a stroll around beautiful downtown to spot just some of the 43 life-sized U.S. presidential bronze statues that reside on nearly every street corner.
Overnight: Hotel Alex Johnson (D)
Badlands National Park / Custer State Park
Following breakfast, head to Badlands National Park, with more than 244,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie featuring some of the most spectacular scenery and diverse wildlife in the region. Gaze in awe at the layered rock cliffs, towering spires, and narrow canyons that create this amazing landscape. An afternoon safari drive through the Custer State Park reserve takes you to magnificent vistas where herds of bison, elk, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife can be observed along the scenic roads. Beware of the “begging burros” who approach visitors looking for a handout! Later, experience a traditional chuck wagon cookout.
Tonight, stay in Custer State Game Lodge, which offers guests a relaxing, nature-filled experience, combined with stunning views and outstanding service. Built in 1920, this impressive stone and wood lodge surrounded by stately trees is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The lodge served as the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927, who saw it as a quiet retreat from the heat, bugs, and crowds of Washington D.C. President Dwight D. Eisenhower also visited the lodge in 1953, while on a visit to the Black Hills area.
Overnight: Custer State Game Lodge (B,D)
Custer State Park / Hot Springs
This morning, travel to Hot Springs to visit the world’s largest mammoth dig site. Founded in 1974 after the first remains were unearthed, it’s now a fully-developed paleontological site and museum, with the remains of more than 61 mammoths.
After a short tour, stroll the boardwalk over the dig area and see the paleontology laboratory.
Continue to Crazy Horse Memorial—still a work in progress—located in the heart of the Black Hills. Under construction since 1948, when completed it may become the world’s largest sculpture. Experience an audio-visual program featuring sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski’s life and work, the Crazy Horse project, and the culture, tradition, and living heritage of Native Americans. Visit the base of Crazy Horse Memorial and enjoy free time to explore on your own.
Retreat to your accommodations for the next two evenings, deep in the heart of one of the most breathtakingly beautiful canyons in the world.
Overnight: Spearfish Canyon Lodge (B,D)
Today visit one of the world’s largest iconic stone monuments—Mount Rushmore. Begun in 1927, this remarkable granite sculpture was originally designed to portray the four Presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, from the waist up, but construction ended in 1941 due to budgetary constraints. The stone visages that remain, however, are awe-inspiring in both their beauty and the dedication it took to create them.
During free time, perhaps explore the Visitor’s Center or Sculptor’s Studio, or take the 422-stair Presidential Hike Trail, allowing you an up-close perspective of the sculpture and a chance to spot local wildlife.
Afterward, stop at the legendary gold rush town, Deadwood, for a brief visit to stroll around this National Historic Landmark.
This evening, enjoy leisure time at the lodge for a walk or hike before rejoining the group for dinner.
Overnight: Spearfish Canyon Lodge (B,D)
Ranch at Ucross / Cody, WY
Journey through impressive Spearfish Canyon and across the grassy plains of Wyoming. Delight in leisure time and lunch at an authentic Western ranch amid the brilliant landscape. Afterward, board the motor coach, sit back, relax, and embrace the spectacular scenery of Bighorn Mountains and Shell Creek Canyon as you travel to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West town of Cody, Wyoming. Originally founded in the 1890’s by the famous man himself, the town now boasts a population of more than 10,000 residents who live and work in the surrounding area.
Overnight: Holiday Inn Cody (B,L)
Cody / Yellowstone National Park
Visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West for a step into the region’s rich past, including Western and Native American history, the life of W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Yellowstone, and old firearms.
Continuing on, pass through Shoshone National Forest to Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872 as the world’s first national park. See the Park’s Upper and Lower Falls, and take time to spot for wildlife in Hayden Valley. Watch in awe as Old Faithful Geyser erupts to heights between 106 and 185 feet.
Overnight: Yellowstone Lodging (B,D)
Yellowstone National Park
Enjoy a full day exploring Yellowstone, including its active caldera, and watch as Old Faithful Geyser erupts.
A stop at the Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail is an opportunity to witness all four types of geothermal features found throughout the world, including bubbling mud pots.
At Mammoth Hot Springs admire how the steamy limestone terraces and hot springs overlook the visitor facilities. Perhaps visit the Albright Visitor Center and Museum, with its interactive displays, orientation area, and educational ranger talks.
Overnight: Yellowstone Lodging (B,D)
Grand Teton National Park / Jackson
Head south this morning through vast unspoiled wilderness to Grand Teton National Park—its jagged mountain peaks form a perfect backdrop behind Jenny and Jackson Lakes. The Tetons—the highest at more than 13,700 feet—are the youngest of the Rocky Mountains, but still inspire visitors from all over the world with their majestic beauty.
Continue on to the Western town of Jackson, Wyoming, and relish in an afternoon and evening at your leisure.
Overnight: The Rustic Inn (B)
Today is yours to explore on your own. You may choose to wander into Jackson’s lively town square with its famous antler arch, stop into the many local art galleries, visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art or browse in one of the numerous local boutiques featuring western-style arts and crafts. Those who prefer outdoor activities can embark on a hike to look for wildlife or take part in an optional float trip down the Snake River.
This evening, join a farewell dinner hosted by your Expedition Leader to celebrate the grand adventures from your trip.
Overnight: The Rustic Inn (B,D)
After breakfast, guests departing during the suggested times take a complimentary transfer to the airport for flights home. (B)
B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
Meet Your Trip Host
Mark Moldwin is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan. Professor Moldwin has won numerous awards for the integration of his research with his teaching and is the 2019-2020 US-Norway Fulbright Arctic Chair. He is the author of a textbook for non-science majors on the solar-terrestrial relationship and can help with appreciating the geology and astronomy of the Old West.
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