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:
- Missoula (Glacier Country), Montana: Delight in the many quirky-named beers
North Dakota: Experience the larger-than-life roadside art
- Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota: Get your fill with a smorgasbord feast
- Rapid City, South Dakota: Eat your way around Rapid City and its many local delicacies
- Cheyenne, Wyoming: Beyond the beef: Can you guess Cheyenne’s real favorite fare?
- Cody, Wyoming: Where everybody is a friend
- Yellowstone National Park: Huckleberries are everywhere in Yellowstone National Park
For more information on the Great American West, visit GreatAmericanWest.co.
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.
For more information on Yellowstone National Park Lodges, visit YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com.
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.
For more information on Wyoming, visit TravelWyoming.com.
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.
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.
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.
For more information on South Dakota, visit TravelSouthDakota.com.
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.
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.
For more information on Rapid City, visit VisitRapidCity.com.
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!
For more information on North Dakota, visit NDTourism.com.
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!
For more information on Montana, visit VisitMT.com.
Idaho is no stranger to quirkiness. From creating the ultimate comfort food combo and reimagining recreation on the river to sleeping above the tree line, Idaho is proud of its peculiarities.
Finger steaks are a uniquely Idaho delicacy. You’ll find these battered, deep-fried strips of beef on menus across the Gem State. Various establishments have claimed to be the first to create these savory treats; but wherever they originated, it’s safe to say it was definitely in Idaho. For the full experience, dip your finger steaks in fry sauce – a perfect, punchy blend of ketchup, mayo, pickle brine and spices.
Idaho may be a landlocked state, but inland surfers near and far flock to its rivers to catch a wave. Multiple communities have made impressive surfing waves out of the state’s abundance of river waters, including Boise Whitewater Park, Kelly’s Whitewater Park in Cascade and Lochsa Pipeline near Lowell. If you’re not ready to brave the flow wave yourself, river surfing is a great spectator sport.
Idaho has nearly a dozen fire lookouts – towers in remote areas formerly used to spot wildfires – that now function as the ultimate secluded and cozy overnight stay. Book most lookouts online at recreation.gov, or check Airbnb.
For more information on Idaho, visit VisitIdaho.org.
Montana has some quirks locals have become accustomed to, like casinos attached to gas stations on city corners or highway signs that say “next rest stop 97 miles” (um, I need to rest now!), but one thing we take particular pride in here in Western Montana’s Glacier Country is our micro-breweries (Montana is second in the U.S. for craft breweries per capita and was named the best state for beer lovers) and their quirky-named brews.
Missoula is Montana’s mecca when it comes to craft breweries, including Montana’s largest brewery, Big Sky Brewing, with brews like Moose Drool, Space Goat and Trout Slayer. KettleHouse Brewing features Cold Smoke, Double Haul, Eddy Out and Fresh Bongwater. Clothing Optional Hazy Pale Ale and Space Hippy can be found at Draught Works. In Lakeside on the shores of Flathead Lake, find Bear Bottom Blonde and Sip N’ Go Naked at Tamarack Brewing. Kalispell Brewing features Two Ski Brewski, and Whitefish is home to Basket Case and Cranky Sheriff 21 at Bonsai Brewing. Rounding out our quirky named beers is Cut Bank Brewery with Penguin Piss and Rail Spike. When visiting Western Montana, put at least one of these breweries on your itinerary for sure.
For more information on Western Montana’s Glacier Country, visit GlacierMT.com.