Western swing

Driving more than 3,000 miles from the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains and back in 10 days doesn’t leave a lot of time for sitting still.

With so much opportunity on a western road trip, you don’t want to stay in one place too long. Our family vacation might not have been real relaxing, but it was full of memory-making destinations and experiences. Here are a few highlights.

Black Hills, South Dakota

The Black Hills of South Dakota is an incredible region. It is dotted with unique little towns and attractions that draw millions of tourists each year.

Mount Rushmore is one of the highlights. If you’ve never seen the monument, you should make plans to.

Starring up at Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln carved in stone, knowing they’ll remain so for millenniums, I don’t know how as an American you can’t be filled with an incredible sense of pride.

The Historic District of Deadwood, South Dakota, takes you back to the end of the Wild West. Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok were just a few legends of the West that spent time in the mining town.

Today, Deadwood offers lodging, dining and entertainment along the same streets those historic figures strolled. You can play poker in the same saloons cowboys did.

Cody, Wyoming

Cody is the gateway to Yellowstone National Park for those traveling from the east.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a complex of five museums and a research library. Visiting this set of museums is an absolute must for anyone who appreciates the Old West and firearms.

The five museums are the Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indians Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Cody Firearms Museum and Draper Natural History Museum.

The collection of firearms in the Cody Firearms Museum numbers more than 7,000 and takes you from the beginning of firearms production to modern times. It’s remarkable. And the artwork in the Whitney Western Art Museum is one of the greatest collections of Western art in the world.

The Cody Nite Rodeo takes place every night on the western edge of town.

It was started in 1938 and is the longest-running rodeo in the world. Taking in the rodeo, watching the barrel racers and bull riders, really hammers home the fact that you’re out west. Dust flies as the sun sets behind the mountains painting the way to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is unlike any other place I have ever been, and I have been to a number of national parks and world-renowned outdoor destinations.

In two days of camping and exploring the park, we saw antelope, bison, bears, elk, deer, coyotes, moose and more. We didn’t see any wolves, and I had hoped to, but maybe next time. Watching the geyser Old Faithful erupt was a highlight of the trip for my daughters who had never seen it before. For me, the highlight of the park came when I caught my first native Yellowstone cutthroat trout from the Lamar River. The trout hit as I stood knee deep in the crystal clear rushing water, with a bison herd sauntering near by. With the trout in hand, I checked a box on my personal bucket list.

Billings, Montana

Venturing into Billings was a coming-home party of sorts. My wife and I lived there for four years. We moved away when our oldest daughter, Bailee, was 10 months old.

This trip was planned to coincide with Bailee’s 10th birthday. It worked out. She turned 10 just a couple of blocks from the hospital she was born in. We showed her our home and visited a few of our favorite restaurants.

Billings is Montana’s largest metropolitan area. The city is home to just more than 100,000 residents. The city is a wonderful starting point for those wishing to fly to Montana, rent a car and start their adventure from there.

With a little bit of planning, you can easily put together a plan to experience an incredible road trip tour of the Rocky Mountain West. There is so much to do and see. With so many rivers to fish and trails to hike, you can’t really go wrong in which ones you choose. But there are sights you should see and places you should visit. The ones named above are a few of my favorites.