Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota - 2005



A trip to Montana was looming large in our imaginations fueled by our recent mountain hiking expeditions. A previous foray into the state was a mere 10 feet across the Wyoming border in Yellowstone. We wanted to visit the state properly this time. Additionally, the momentous Kilimanjaro climb was coming up in September and we needed an appetizer/trainer that was closer to home. When, by sheer coincidence, we learnt that a group of friends were planning a 3 day hiking trip to Glacier National Park, we jumped at the opportunity and pooled our thoughts and resources. We chose coverage over penetration and decided to do 3 long day trips instead of a backpacking trip. We chose three highly rated day trips in the park and managed to get reservations at a couple of campgrounds within the park itself.

The two of us then decided to take this opportunity to explore the neighboring states which had plenty to offer in terms of natural beauty and historic interest. The opportunity to check off North Dakota in our states collection was too tempting to resist. We had visited South Dakota's tri-state junction with Iowa and Nebraska in '96 and had heard about the Black Hills and Crazy Horse during that trip. Wyoming's Devils Tower was conveniently close by and this closed yet another old link with our childhood fascination with the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And finally, the Dakotas and Montana are forever linked together by the Missouri River and the historic Lewis & Clark expedition. So, off we went.

Read a detailed account of our hikes at Glacier National Park

From Glacier, we headed to Great Falls, a town that takes its name from the series of waterfalls that the Lewis and Clark Expedition had to portage around during their historic 1805-06 exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. For anyone with a long running fascination for the story of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery and their trip up the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast, Great Falls is an interesting place to visit. Five waterfalls within 10 miles stretch of the Missouri river - Black Eagle Falls, Colter Falls, Rainbow Falls, Crooked Falls and the Great Falls, presented one of the greatest obstacles they faced. Lewis and Clark had believed the portage would take a week at most but it eventually took them a month to to carry their large dugout canoes, equipment, and supplies around.

Located a few miles east of the city of Great Falls, on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, we visited the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center that gave an excellent overview of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
We made a very brief visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876), better known as Custer's Last Stand.


From Billings, MT, we took interstate 90 and crossed into Wyoming and headed to Devils Tower National Monument. Devils Tower is a monolithic igneous intrusion (or volcanic neck) located in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming, above the Belle Fourche River. It was the first declared United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt. The Monument's boundary encloses an area of over 1000 acres. In popular culture, the Tower gained fame by the Oscar-winning Spielberg movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1978), where it served as a focal point for the arrival of aliens on our planet.

South Dakota

From Devils Tower, we continued east across the border to Black Hills, South Dakota The Black Hills are a small, isolated mountain range in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming. Set off from the main body of the Rocky Mountains, the region is something of a geological anomaly accurately described as an "island of trees in a sea of grass". The Black Hills encompass the Black Hills National Forest and are home to the tallest peaks of continental North America east of the Rockies.

The mountains and forests of the Black Hills include national parks, monuments and miles of National Scenic Byways. In the next couple of days we traversed the Needles highway, visited the jagged, lunar-like landscape at Badlands National Park,explored the underground wonders at Jewel Cave National Monument, gazed at the the colossal faces that symbolize this country’s freedom at Mt Rushmore, explored an old cave system at Wind Cave National Park and visited the Crazy Horse Monument, a memorial to the respected Lakota tribe leader that is intended to rival and surpass Mt. Rushmore when it is eventually completed. We also visited the Capitol building at the state capital, Pierre.

North Dakota

North Dakota is much more than just that cold frozen state up north. The Lewis and Clark expedition spent an entire winter at Fort Mandan whose exact location is probably under water today. Near Fort Mandan, we visited the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, a large park that preserves the historic and archeological remnants of the culture and agricultural lifestyle of the Northern Plains Indians.

While the state is mostly flat, it does contain buttes and badlands towards the west. Some of this interesting landscape is protected as part of Theodore Rosevelt National Park. The Garrison Dam on the Missouri river created Lake Sakakawea (a uniquely North Dakotan variant of Sacagawea) which is the third largest man-made lake in the country.

Click here for the photo album covering the entire trip. Or you can use the links in the itinerary below to go directly to a specific album

Itinerary (Jul. 22 - Jul. 31 2005)

Jul. 22 Garden Wall Hike (Glacier National Park)
Jul. 23 Grinnell Glacier Hike (Glacier National Park)
Jul. 24 Iceberg - Ptarmigan Hike (Glacier National Park)
Jul. 25 Two Medicine (Glacier National Park),   Freezeout Lake,   Charlie Russell Country
Jul. 26 Great Falls(Montana),   Little Bighorn Battlefield (Montana),   Montana Highways
Jul. 27 Devils Tower (Wyoming),   Crazy Horse National Monument,   Mount Rushmore
Jul. 28 Custer State Park,   Jewel Cave National Monument ,   Wind Cave National Park ,   Wall Drug ,   South Dakota Highways
Jul. 29 Badlands National Park,   Pierre,   Bismark
Jul. 30 Cross Ranch State Park ,   Lewis and Clark ,   Roosevelt National Park ,   North Dakota Highways

Google Maps

Click here for the GPS track of the trip overlaid on Google Maps.
Malini Kaushik & R. Venkatesh