Montana, Wyoming, And Idaho Are A Regional, Natural Wonderland
The continental United States contains within its geographical boundaries no shortage of natural wonders, some of which elicit disbelief, some quiet contemplation, some a visceral, stomach-hollowing awe. Nearly all of them produce that feeling of smallness next to something so grand it’s almost too much to fully consider.
Perhaps it’s the raging Mississippi, the heaven-high Rocky Mountains, the crashing roar of the Pacific, or the warm rolling stillness of the Smokies. The diversity of topography and the vastness from sea to shining sea make the lower 48 as unique and bountiful a place to see and enjoy the great outdoors as anywhere on Earth.
Thankfully, for all nature lovers, these wondrous places are protected by one of the most hallowed and respected American Institutions, the National Park Service. Established by the United States Congress on August 25, 1916, through the National Park Service Organic Act, the NPS preserves and protects America’s natural treasures for now and future generations to enjoy and experience.
Some of the most jaw-dropping and well-known (and hidden gems) of these national landmarks and ecological wonders can be found stretching from the very heart of the map up into the top left corner of the lower 48. Listed below are some of the most singular highlights:
Perhaps America’s most famous national park, the sound of the word Yellowstone likely brings to mind the rolling hills set against majestic mountains, clear rivers teeming with all manner of wild fish, and yes, perhaps even a big bear or two. Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first preserve for all to enjoy in the U.S. Fish, boat, hike, ride horses, stargaze or just drive in to experience the geological wonders that Yellowstone has to offer. Geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots make up the nearly 10,000 estimated different hydrothermal features inside the park. Incredibly, over half of the world’s active geysers are found right here!
One of Montana’s most visited national parks is widely known as a “hiker’s paradise”. World-renowned Glacier National Park contains over 700 miles of hiking trails and is a haven for those looking for the wilder side of the great outdoors. Its stunning mountains, pristine rivers, and lakes, and beautiful, dense forests make for a picturesque setting that is as inviting as it is breathtaking.
The vast landscape of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area offers journeyers unrivaled opportunities to experience all the wonders of the natural world, all within its nearly 120,000 acres. Within its boundaries, one can find gobsmacking diversity in ecosystems, wildlife, and more than 10,000 years of human history to explore. Hike, boat, camp or simply sit back, relax and soak in the breathtaking vistas at every turn. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is a must-see.
Montana’s neighbor and its world-famous mountain range The Grand Tetons stand as a natural wonder and national treasure all at the same time. Called the “mountains of the imagination” this skyscraping range rises above alpine forests and crystal lakes, and is home to extraordinary mountain wildlife. Hike the 200 miles of trails, camp beneath an endless bowl of stars, float the Snake River and sink into the serenity of this truly magical place.
This national monument, home to its most widely known and stunning geological feature, Devil’s Tower must be seen to be believed. Rising out of the surrounding prairies of Wyoming’s Black Hills, this natural curiosity is considered sacred by the Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people. With its hundreds of parallel cracks, Devil’s Tower also is one of the finest crack climbing areas in North America for the adventure seekers who visit.
History lovers will not want to miss this national historic site. Originally established as a fur trading fort in 1834, Fort Laramie evolved into the best-known military post on the Northern Plains. This fort and the people living, working, trading, and fighting there, witnessed the complete decades-long saga of America’s western expansion and Native American resistance to this encroachment on their territories.
This spectacular oddity can be found in one of the often overlooked but nonetheless incredibly diverse and beautiful states in the Union, Idaho. Pioneers of the California Trail describe the rocks here in vivid detail as “a city of tall spires,” “steeple rocks,” and “the silent city.” Today, this backcountry gem attracts rock climbers, campers, hikers, hunters, and all other stripes of the wild at heart. One can find incredible scenery, exceptional opportunities for geologic study, and remnants of the Old West awaiting your discovery to fill your knowledge tank and your wanderlust all at once!
Speaking of oddities, step into another world at this national park. “Visit The Moon” this park declares, and visitors will feel as if they have just stepped off a space rover, jumping down onto this remarkably alien-looking landscape. Craters of the Moon National Monument is a vast sea of lava flows with disparate islands of cinder cones and sagebrush. Explore this “weird and scenic landscape” where the volcanic events of yesteryear are likely to continue tomorrow and beyond.
Another geological oddity and wellspring of historical inspiration, this national park preserves the lineage of millennia ago. At the end of the last Ice Age, about 18,000 to 15,000 years ago, an ice dam in northern Idaho created Glacial Lake Missoula in Montana. The ice dam burst and released floodwaters across Washington and down the Columbia River before eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean. Happening perhaps 100 times, this ecological event forever changed the landscape of the Pacific Northwest and stands today as a testament to the past, a harbinger of the future, and is preserved for all to behold the evolutional might of this great and mysterious planet.