Vast, unspoiled and wild, Montana represents the very best of the American West. With over 147,000 square miles of jagged mountain peaks, sparkling waters, charming small towns and rich history, there is adventure around every corner.

Visitors that decide to travel east will have an unexpected and wholly different kind of Montana experience. Rugged badlands, winding rivers, quiet mountain ranges and vast prairies make up the tapestry of eastern Montana. Medicine Rocks State Park, filled with otherworldly rock formations, has been drawing visitors in for thousands of years. The park earned its name because it was a place of “big medicine” where Indian hunting parties conjured up magical spirits.

Or discover Montana’s largest state park, Makoshika State Park, named from the Lakota phrase meaning “bad land” or “bad spirits.” Today, the pine- and juniper-studded badlands formations are home to the fossil remains of such dinosaurs as tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops.

Whether you’re looking for wide-open roads, Old West cattle-trading towns, Native American battlefields or ethereal landscapes where dinosaurs once roamed, eastern Montana is the place to explore.

Makoshika State Park, named from the Lakota phrase meaning “bad land” or “bad spirits,” is home to the fossil remains of such dinosaurs as tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops. Photo courtesy of the Montana Office of Tourism

For more information on Montana, visit VISITMT.COM.

There are some things everyone knows about the Great American West region – awe-inspiring geysers in Yellowstone National Park, free-roaming bison in North Dakota and the stunning colors of the South Dakota Badlands.

But the communities and states in the region also have their own unique quirks, and while they’re just part of everyday life for locals, visitors will delight in these peculiarities. From “finger steaks” in Idaho to mermaids in Montana, these include tasty regional foods, spooky stops and just plain unexpected opportunities. Read on to learn more about the quirks of the Great American West:

Idaho: Finger steaks, flow waves and fire lookout stays keep Idaho quirky

Montana: From ghosts to mermaids, Montana has surprises in store

North Dakota: Experience the larger-than-life roadside art

South Dakota: Gravity is unbalanced and vinegar is tasty in South Dakota

Wyoming: Everyone in Wyoming knows Steamboat, and he’s everywhere

Denver: Denver’s Mile High magic is on display everywhere


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One local quirk of Yellowstone National Park is the infusion of wild-grown huckleberries into everything from milkshakes to bath salts. These tart, thick-skinned berries are a favorite of grizzly bears and tourists alike, and you’ll find huckleberry treats like jelly, gummy bears and more in gift shops around the park.

Writer Jayne Clark says: “Visitors sip huckleberry margaritas at the historic Old Faithful Inn. They pour huckleberry syrup over their pancakes at the M66 Grill at the park’s new Canyon Lodge. They snap up huckleberry lip balm at the Lake Hotel’s gift shop. They line up for huckleberry ice cream cones at Mammoth Hot Springs. Consider it the ultimate eco-friendly ingredient. But what exactly is a huckleberry?”

Get the answer and learn more about huckleberries here.

In Yellowstone National Park, wild-grown huckleberries are infused into everything from milkshakes to bath salts. Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

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Hanging around the Cowboy State, you might notice the silhouette of a bucking horse and rider on our shirts, cars, license plates, Wyoming memorabilia and much more. We lovingly refer to this symbol as Steamboat. The horse on this iconic Wyoming emblem is designed after a famous bucking rodeo horse named Steamboat. Born in 1896, he was deemed the “horse that couldn’t be ridden.”  Steamboat is said to have been stubborn, contrary and energetic, further endearing him as a mascot of the state whose residents pride themselves on their grit and tenacity. Steamboat’s rodeo roots are cause for even more admiration in Wyoming, where rodeo is the official state sport.

The rider was designed after famous Lander cowboy Albert “Stub” Farlow. Together, Steamboat and Stub became the symbol on Wyoming’s license plate and would go on to further represent the University of Wyoming and the state’s cowboy way of life.

Today, Steamboat is found across Wyoming in all aspects of life. His silhouette is instantly known among state residents and provides a silent bond. If you have a chance to visit Wyoming, it won’t take you long to find a souvenir featuring Steamboat to bring home with you.

The silhouette of a bucking horse and rider known as Steamboat is found across Wyoming in all aspects of life. Photo courtesy of Travel Wyoming

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Cosmos Mystery Area

Gravity seems completely out of balance in a unique wooded spot where balls roll uphill, volunteers sit on walls and people change heights on level ground. Located 17 miles south of Rapid City on Highway 16, Cosmos is open April through October.

International Vinegar Museum & Festival

Hidden in the tiny town of Roslyn is the International Vinegar Museum, the headquarters for the annual International Vinegar Festival. Vinegar tasting might sound weird, but it’s actually delicious, fascinating and very available at this festival.

World’s Largest Pheasant

This 28-foot, 22-ton pheasant made of fiberglass and steel has affirmed Huron as home of the World’s Largest Pheasant. From its beak to the tip of its feathered tail, this giant bird spans more than 40 feet!


South Dakota’s official state “nosh” or appetizer. These bite-sized cubes of seasoned meat (usually beef or mutton) are either fried or grilled on wooden skewers and can be found on pub and restaurant menus across the state. Popular chislic variations are served at Urban Chislic in Sioux Falls and Meridian Corner in Freeman. Those visiting South Dakota at the end of July can join thousands of chislic enthusiasts at the annual South Dakota Chislic Festival in Freeman.

Chislic, bite-sized cubes of seasoned beef or mutton, is South Dakota’s official state “nosh.” Photo courtesy of Travel South Dakota

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The unofficial, and frankly delicious, state entrée of South Dakota is deep-fried, cubed pieces of beef or lamb. This mouthwatering appetizer is found in multiple Rapid City restaurants, but favorites include Minervas Restaurant & Bar and Dakotah Steakhouse. If you’d rather incorporate it into your main meal, try the Beef Bone Ramen from Bokujo Ramen, Rapid City’s new authentic ramen restaurant.

Buffalo burgers, steaks and more

South Dakota produces the largest number of bison for farming in the United States due to the animal’s nativity to the Great Plains. Chances are if your Rapid City dining location has burgers, they’ll also have a bison burger option like at Firehouse Brewing Co. Beyond burgers, head to Tally’s Silver Spoon for breakfast and enjoy buffalo hanger steak and eggs. For lunch or dinner, try Murphey’s Pub & Grill for savory buffalo meatloaf.

Pickle beer

Simply add a pickle spear to your favorite light draft beer to enjoy an iconic South Dakota drink – an odd combination (unless you’re from the state) that you can find at any sports bar. Or, if you’d rather try small-batch local brews, Rapid City is home to the largest collection of craft breweries on the western side of the state.

If your Rapid City dining option has burgers, chances are they’ll also offer a bison burger option (like here at Firehouse Brewing). Photo courtesy of Visit Rapid City

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Have you ever seen a 38-foot-tall cow? How about a 26-foot-tall-buffalo? Or even a highway adorned with metal sculptures so large they seem to diminish within the sunset? If not, you more than likely have never visited North Dakota.

Larger-than-life sculptures can be seen across the state in almost every corner you visit. Whether the sculpture depicts the unique culture of the local community or the state as a whole, each and every one illustrates what it means to Be Legendary in North Dakota. Ranging from animals of mythic proportions to everyday objects and scenic monuments, the massive attractions are guaranteed to leave an engrained memory for anyone whose eyes behold this uniquely North Dakota art.

Some of the sculptures across North Dakota include the world’s largest buffalo; Salem Sue, the world’s largest Holstein cow; Wee’l Turtle, a giant turtle made from more than 2,000 wheels painted green; Tommy Turtle, the largest snowmobile-riding turtle; The Enchanted Highway, a 32-mile drive that features the world’s largest metal sculptures; and much more.

This is only a glimpse of what North Dakota has to offer. Make plans to visit and give your eyes a new perspective on what it means to be larger-than-life!

North Dakota’s Enchanted Highway boasts 32 miles of the world’s largest metal sculptures. Credit North Dakota Tourism

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Spend an overnight behind bars at the Old Montana Prison in Deer Lodge, or play it safer with a daytime guided tour of haunted hot spots to get a glimpse as far back as 1871. Ghost tours offered May through October.

Drive along the eerie shore of Quake Lake, formed by a 1959 earthquake that caused a devastating mountain landslide and blocked the Madison River to form this lake. The Visitor Center tells the story through video and photographs, and the mountainside scar still can be seen today. Located along a scenic drive just a half-hour from West Yellowstone.

Located in downtown Butte, Pekin Noodle Parlor is the oldest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the United States. Founded in 1911, its roots come from the large Chinese population in Butte’s early mining days.

Nicknamed “Big John,” this two-story outhouse is located in Nevada City behind the historic Nevada City Hotel, where you can overnight in historic (and haunted) hotel rooms or in authentic log cabins adjacent to this ghost town.

At the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge in Great Falls, you can sip your drink and watch mermaids (and mermen) swim behind the tiki bar. It offers a surprising taste of the tropics in an unexpected location!

See mermaids (and mermen) while you sip your drink at the Sip ’n Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Montana. Photo courtesy of Sip ‘n Dip Lounge

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