South Dakota/Wyoming

On the Road: Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons

Explore the iconic monuments and national parks of South Dakota and Wyoming. From Mount Rushmore to Old Faithful, from herds of bison to Mammoth Site — this adventure is big!
Rating (4.95)
Program No. 20297RJ
9 days
Starts at
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9 days
8 nights
17 meals
6 B 5 L 6 D
Check-in, Downtown Rapid City, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Rapid City, South Dakota
Holiday Inn Rapid City-Rushmore Plaza

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down; driving about 5 miles, approximately 1/2 hour. Walking approximately 7-8 blocks; city streets and sidewalks.

Afternoon: Program Registration: After you have your room assignment, join us at 4:30 p.m. in the designated hotel meeting room to register with the program staff and for brief introductions, up-to-date schedules, and any changes and other important information regarding your program. If you arrive late, please ask the front desk for your program itinerary. Remember to bring your name-tag (sent previously). We will board the motorcoach at 5:15 p.m. and ride to downtown Rapid City — "The City of Presidents" — to view and learn about some of the presidential statues located on the main streets. Our Group Leader will provide commentary as we walk. The City of Presidents project began in 2000 to honor the legacy of the American presidency. Each of the bronze, life-size statues was privately funded and the six artists chosen for the project extensively researched the lives of each president so that each statue would give insight into the personality and the presidency of its subject. Before returning to the hotel, we'll stop at the outdoor informational signage and see two sections of the Berlin Wall donated to the city.

Dinner: In our designated private hotel meeting/dining room, we'll have a buffet dinner with main dish, salad, vegetable, dessert, and beverage choices of coffee/decaf, iced tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Orientation. In our private meeting/dining room, the Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. This is a Road Scholar On The Road (OTR) program. OTR journeys take participants to multiple study sites in a region with a number of overnight stays. Lectures, talks, discussions, field trips, and on-board commentary amplify the program theme. Some journeys involve great distances and may take hours, others are much shorter. Long or short, On the Road journeys are learning experiences that make the most of our time together. There will be numerous opportunities for self-directed exploration to see and do what interests each of us most. Periods in the schedule designated as "Free time" and "At leisure" offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night's rest for the day ahead.

Rock Talk, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer Park
Rapid City, South Dakota
Holiday Inn Rapid City-Rushmore Plaza

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down; driving approximately 4 hours. Walking up to 2 miles; sidewalks, mostly even ground, slight inclines, boardwalks, 170+ steps on elective 1/2 mile Presidential Trail at Mount Rushmore.

Breakfast: In the hotel, the self-serve breakfast buffet offers choices such as eggs, breakfast meats, cereals, fruit, toast, pastries, milk, juices, coffee, tea.

Morning: We will be joined at the hotel by a local geologist who will give us a "rock talk" lecture on areas we will explore. Next, we will board a motorcoach for our field trip to iconic sites. At the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the majestic 60-foot faces of four U.S. presidents gaze out over South Dakota's Black Hills. Recognized worldwide, they stand as a symbol of American democracy. This national treasure tells the story of the United States' rich history, rugged determination, and lasting achievement. From the Grandview Terrace, the views of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are spectacular. We'll learn why these four presidents were selected, see how the mountain was carved, and learn about sculptor Gutzon Borglum and the workers who brought Mount Rushmore to life. There will be opportunities to walk the half-mile Presidential Trail that loops along the base of the mountain and to learn more about history and see videos at the Information Center. We'll then ride to the Crazy Horse Memorial, where a fifth granite face has emerged in the Black Hills. In 1939, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear invited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to carve an Indian memorial in the Black Hills. Though Korczak died in 1982, the sculptor's family continues the nonprofit project where the colossal mountain carving is now in progress. Crazy Horse is the largest sculptural undertaking ever, on a scale with the Egyptian pyramids. When completed, it will tower 563 feet high and 641 feet long. A geologist will give us a presentation on its history. We'll also have an expert-led exploration of the complex with some time to have a look around on our own. From there, we'll drive to Hot Springs for lunch.

Lunch: At a popular restaurant in Hot Springs, we'll have a buffet meal with soup, sandwich, dessert, and beverage choices of coffee, iced tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: For our next field trip, we'll ride to the Mammoth Site Museum in Hot Springs and explore with a museum expert. This 36,000 square foot site is a one-of-a-kind "in situ" (in the original place) Ice Age museum containing the largest concentration of Columbian and Woolly Mammoths found in their primary context in the world. We will get a close up view of the 26,000-year-old sinkhole where mammoths, bears, mountain lions, and wolves once walked. The Exhibit Hall features fascinating exhibits including a full-sized Columbian mammoth replica, a walk-in bone shelter, and skeletons of now-extinct carnivores such as a giant short-faced bear. We'll also get a glimpse of scientific work being conducted in the state of the art lab. The Mammoth Site has been featured on the CBS and NBC evening newscasts, the Discovery Channel, the Today Show, BBC Television programs, and in many magazines including National Geographic. The site has co-hosted international symposiums and conferences, as well as published scientific Quaternary research books. En route back to the hotel, we'll take a scenic drive through a portion of Custer State Park that covers 71,000 acres, making it one of the largest state parks in the nation. We'll be on the lookout for some of the wildlife that may be resident here such as bison, pronghorn antelope, mule and whitetail deer, burros, coyotes, wild turkeys, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and golden eagles. Our Group Leader will provide commentary as we ride.

Dinner: Hotel buffet.

Evening: At leisure. You might like to use the fitness center, take a dip in the indoor swimming pool, soak in the hot tub, spend time with fellow Road Scholars, or just relax.

Transfer to Wyoming, Bighorn Mountains, Arrive Cody
Cody, WY
Irma Hotel

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down; driving approximately 6-7 hours total including stops. Walking short distances.

Breakfast: Hotel self-serve buffet.

Morning: We'll check out of the hotel early morning, board our motorcoach, and depart Rapid City on our way to Cody, Wyoming, founded in 1901 by Colonel William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. As we ride, we'll have expert commentary on subjects such as state history, economics of the oil and coal industry, animals, and people who live in these wide open lands.

Lunch: At the Sheridan, WY Visitor's Center, we'll have a box lunch picnic style.

Afternoon: Continuing our drive, we'll cross the Big Horn Mountains and wend our way through beautiful countryside before arriving in Cody, Wyoming. The Bighorn Mountains and the Bighorn National Forest in north-central Wyoming have been explored by some of America's most famous pioneers, including Jim Bridger and Buffalo Bill Cody. It is land held sacred by the Cheyenne, Crow, Sioux, Arapaho, and Eastern Cheyenne Indians — a land of much spilled blood where Native Americans fought some of their most desperate battles with the U.S. military. We expect to arrive in Cody in late afternoon and check in to our hotel. Before arrival, we'll hear about elective evening activities.

Dinner: In Cody, we will have vouchers provided to choose from a variety of restaurants and types of cuisine. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure. You might like to watch the free Cody Gunfight performance in front of Buffalo Bill's historic Irma Hotel, attend the Cody Nite Rodeo, or just experience Main Street's sights and sounds that harken back to the Old West.

Buffalo Bill Museum & Dam, Yellowstone National Park
West Yellowstone
Holiday Inn West Yellowstone

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down; driving approximately 4 hours with stops throughout the day. Self-paced walking from 4 blocks to approximately 1 mile; level surfaces, boardwalks, some inclines, up to 30 steps in places.

Breakfast: In the Irma Hotel Dining Room, the "cowboy style" breakfast buffet includes choices of eggs, sausage and ham, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, potatoes, pastries, bread pudding, milk, juice, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: We will board the motorcoach and ride to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West for a self-directed exploration. The museum was founded in 1917 to preserve the legacy and vision of Col. William F. Cody. The BBHC is the oldest and most comprehensive museum of the West with collections containing more than 34,977 artifacts, 20,000 books, and 260,000 photo archives. The Center consists of the Harold McCracken Research Library, dedicated in 1980, and five separate museums: The Whitney Western Art Museum, established in 1958 and dedicated in 1959; the Buffalo Bill Museum, established in 1927, dedicated in 1969; the Plains Indian Museum, 1969; Cody Firearms Museum, dedicated in 1976; the Draper Museum of Natural History, dedicated in 2002. Next, we'll make a short stop at the Buffalo Bill Dam and Visitor Center where a local expert will give us a talk. It was originally called the Shoshone Dam. Drilling to find bedrock for the foundation began in the spring of 1904. More than 82,900 cubic yards of concrete were used to build the dam, and seven men were killed during construction. When completed in 1910, it was the tallest dam in the world with a final cost of $929,658. The dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been documented by the Bureau of Reclamation, and included in the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Survey. Moving on to Yellowstone National Park, we'll enter via the East Entrance, traveling to Fishing Bridge and the Yellowstone Lake area.

Lunch: We will stop at Buffalo Bill Cody's old hunting lodge, now known as Pahaska Tepee, and have sack lunches with a sandwich, chips, cookie, and bottled water.

Afternoon: We will continue driving along the Yellowstone River to Hayden Valley: a favorite place to watch for animals such as bison, elk, deer, once-in-a-while bear, and birds such as osprey, eagles, Canada Geese, and pelicans. We'll also look for thermal features such as mud pots and steamy "dragon" springs as well as colors of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with its spectacular Upper and Lower waterfalls. Arriving at Canyon Visitor's Center, we will have time for independent exploration to learn about park geology, history, and culture through many displays, time lines, maps, and educational movies. Yellowstone National Park is known for the most geysers in the world. About 2 million years ago, huge volcanic eruptions occurred here and the park's present central portion collapsed, forming a 30-by-45 mile caldera, or basin. The magmatic heat powering those eruptions still today powers the park's geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots, all of which we will have opportunities to see. Waterfalls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone highlight the boundaries of lava flows and thermal areas. One 19th century visitor, Nathaniel Lanford, wrote: "As I took in the scene, I realized my own littleness, my helplessness, my dread exposure to destruction, my inability to cope with or even comprehend the mighty architecture of nature." We expect to check in to the hotel late afternoon.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. There are numerous dining choices in walking distance of the hotel. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure. Enjoy the rest of your evening strolling West Yellowstone or just relaxing at the hotel. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Yellowstone Park, Fountain Paint Pots, Old Faithful Geyser
Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole Valley Wyoming
Jackson Lake Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach with several steps up/down several times throughout the day; driving approximately 3-4 hours. Walking from approximately 1/4 mile to 1 mile at several sites; sidewalks, boardwalks, and indoors.

Breakfast: In the hotel dining room, the breakfast buffet offers choices such as eggs, breakfast meat, fruit, breads and pastries, milk, juice, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we will board a motorcoach and drive from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful area along the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers to the Fountain Paint pots. With our Group Leader, we will follow the boardwalk to observe several types of thermal features including mud pots, hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, steam vents, and bacteria mat — all within one half-mile. We'll then ride to Old Faithful, the world's best-known geyser. Its eruptions vary at intervals from 40 to 126 minutes. Park Rangers will be available during our self-directed exploration. There are many boardwalks to explore the geyser basin around Old Faithful. During your self-directed exploration, you might like to visit the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and see exhibits on hydrothermal features, life in extreme environments, and the Greater Yellowstone region's volcanic geology. The center has information and maps regarding Ranger programs, Ranger led walks, and talks.

Lunch: On your own to enjoy what you like in the Old Faithful area. Choices within walking distance include the cafeteria dining room, bar and grille, deli, and ice cream shop. Our Group Leader will point out the lay of the land.

Afternoon: Continuing our self-directed exploration, you might like to hear some of the Ranger presentations and/or walk through the Historic Old Faithful Inn on your own and hear from a hotel expert. Built during the winter of 1903-04, the Inn was designed by Robert Reamer and is a designated National Historic Landmark. It is a masterpiece of rustic architecture reflecting the chaos of nature. The building is a rustic log and wood-frame structure with gigantic proportions. The lobby features a 65-foot ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted Lodgepole pine. Mid to late afternoon, we will reboard our motorcoach and ride through the south gate to Grand Teton National Park along the Rockefeller Parkway that connects Yellowstone and Grand Teton at the heart of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The late conservationist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. made significant contributions to several national parks including Grand Teton, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, and Virgin Islands. We expect to check in to the lodge late afternoon.

Dinner: Dining choices at the Historic Jackson Lake Lodge include The Blue Heron Lounge (Small bites), Mural Room (fine dining) or the classic 1950s-style Pioneer Grill, Poolside BBQ (in season).

Evening: At leisure. You might like to take a walk, swim in the outdoor heated pool (June, July and August), watch for wildlife, or just relax in the Grand Lobby of the Lodge. Check the lobby information board for special evening presentations or activities.

Grand Teton National Park, Free Time
Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole Valley Wyoming
Jackson Lake Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving approximately 2 hours. Walking up to 1 mile; sidewalks, paved areas. Extent and duration of free time activities according to personal choice.

Breakfast: On your own to have what you like in the Pioneer Grill, Mural Dining Room, or coffee kiosk in the Grand Lobby.

Morning: We will board a motorcoach and travel along the scenic loop road of the Tetons. As we ride, there will be opportunities to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the mountains at several picture stops and Jenny Lake. We'll then arrive at Craig Thomas Visitor Discovery Center for a self-directed overview of the history, culture and geology of the Tetons. Next, we'll ride to the town of Jackson.

Lunch: On your own to have what you like in the town of Jackson. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Afternoon: We expect to return to the lodge by approximately 1:30 p.m. The remainder of the afternoon is free to go for a walk and watch for animals and birds, take in the majestic view of the Teton Mountains, or just relax. Grand Teton National Park is located in northwestern Wyoming and comprises more than 310,000 acres of unique landscapes rich with breathtaking lakes, majestic mountains, alpine terrain, and extraordinary wildlife. The infamous Jackson Hole sits at the foothills of the Tetons Mountain range and is a popular destination for millions of visitors each year with its Western character and small town charm.

Dinner: On your own to explore dining choices at Jackson Lake Lodge.

Evening: At leisure. Check the lobby information board for special evening presentations or activities. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Bighorn Sheep Center, Shoshone National Forest, Wind River
Casper, WY
Hampton Inn & Suites Casper

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving approximately 4 hours including a stop. Walking up to 1/2 mile; paved sidewalks.

Breakfast: In the Mural Dining Room, the breakfast buffet offers choices such as eggs, breakfast meats, potatoes, waffles, cereals, oatmeal, fresh fruit, yogurt, pastries, toast, milk, juice, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we'll board a motorcoach and set out on a field trip to the Bighorn Sheep Center. Led by an expert, we'll learn about the area's Bighorn Sheep population and the conservation of wildlife and wild lands. We'll then ride through the Shoshone National Forest and on through the Wind River Range that stretches more than 100 miles in western Wyoming. Our Group Leader will point out some of the 35 named peaks above 13,000 feet in elevation including Gannett Peak, Wyoming's highest. Seven of the largest glaciers in the Rocky Mountains are located in the Wind River Range. Continuing our ride, we will pass through the Wind River Indian Reservation that spans 2.2 million acres and is home to 2,500 Eastern Shoshone and more than 5,000 Northern Arapaho Indians. Although the two tribes own and govern the reservation jointly, most of the Shoshone live in the western half around Fort Washakie, while the Arapaho are centered on the East.

Lunch: In the town of Riverton, we'll have a soup and salad lunch at a family-owned restaurant.

Afternoon: Aboard the motorcoach, we'll see videos to learn about the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails while continuing our ride to Casper, Wyoming. Arriving at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, we'll have an introduction from an expert followed by time for independent exploration. We'll have opportunities to learn about the importance of the emigrants crossing the prairies and see what their journey entailed. We'll see exhibits related to names that are legendary in Western history on the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails. We'll be able to imagine the real-life drama that the half-million pioneers experienced as they followed these trails between 1841 and 1868. We expect to arrive at the hotel for check-in late afternoon.

Dinner: At the hotel, we'll have a buffet meal with beverage choices of soda, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. You might like to take a dip in the indoor pool, soak in the hot tub, work out in the exercise room, take a walk, join fellow Road Scholars for a game of cards, or just relax. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Casper to Gillette, Devils Tower, Arrive Rapid City
Rapid City, South Dakota
Holiday Inn Rapid City-Rushmore Plaza

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving approximately 4-5 hours including stops. Walking approximately 2 miles; paved path, one steep incline at Devils Tower followed by several gentle inclines.

Breakfast: In the hotel hospitality room, the self-serve breakfast buffet offers choices such as eggs, breakfast meat, oatmeal, cereals, make-your-own waffles, toast, pastries, milk, juice, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: We'll check out of the hotel and begin our journey back to Rapid City. As we ride from Casper, we'll pass through oil and gas fields, coal mines, and ranch country with commentary by our Group Leader. The coal industry of Wyoming recently reached production of more than 496 million tons, providing 400+ coal-related jobs. The Salt Creek Oil Field north of Casper was at one time the largest light crude oil field in the world and historically one of the most important petroleum deposits in Wyoming. We'll learn how present-day operations have extended the life of the field. We'll also hear about the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s that involved the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, government lands, oil men, bribery, and corruption. Continuing our ride, we'll reach Devils Tower National Monument. The National Park Service website states: "The Tower is an astounding geologic feature that protrudes out of the prairie surrounding the Black Hills. It is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people." About 60 million years ago, molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground. As it cooled, it contracted and fractured into columns. President Theodore Roosevelt designated Devils Tower as America's first national monument in 1906. It was a key feature in the 1977 movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." We'll take a walk around the base of Devils Tower on a paved path with medium to steep incline the first 1/8 of a mile, followed by a combination of flat and gentle inclines the rest of the 1.3-mile paved trail. Those who prefer to watch and wait are welcome to do so at the small Badlands Visitor Center. There are also Ranger talks most days.

Lunch: At a picnic spot, we'll have salad, fruit, rolls, dessert, and water.

Afternoon: The final leg of our ride back to Rapid City will take approximately two hours. Watch for various kinds of animals while traveling across wide-open spaces. How many jackrabbits, deer, pronghorn, and coyotes can you spot among the miles of Artemisia Tridentata (more commonly called Wyoming Big Sagebrush)? The song "Lonesome Cowboy" expresses what it means to cowboy ranchers who tend their sheep and cattle in this part of the state where the nearest neighbor might be 20 miles away. We expect to arrive at the hotel late afternoon for check-in. Be sure to make arrangements with the hotel front desk staff for the shuttle to the airport in the morning.

Dinner: At the hotel, the buffet dinner includes a main dish, salad, vegetable, and dessert with beverage choices of coffee/decaf, iced tea, and water; other beverages available for purchase. Share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and departure tomorrow.

Program Concludes
Rapid City, South Dakota

Activity note: Hotel check-out 12:00 Noon.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don't forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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