“I believe we have a profound fundamental need for areas of the earth where we stand without our mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment.”  Howard Zahniser, principal author of the Wilderness Act

From one-street towns to bustling college cities, from soaring peaks to stretching plains, Wyoming and Montana really do epitomize the great West. These two states are as beautiful in their expected as in their unexpected—they’re known, especially, for their national parks, but offer much more. Here, there is everything: mountains, rodeos, glassy lakes, skiing wonderlands, grizzlies, milkshake shacks, salmon, roaring rivers, silent elk, and yes, even craft ice cream.

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” John Steinbeck (Travels with Charley: In Search of America)

Montana’s got a handful of college towns, and there’s one in the southwest corner that’s got some style. Record shops, funky bike stores, Kombucha joints—take a college town, then surround it with mountain spines, and top it off with a palpable outdoor energy. This place prides itself on its “Main Street to the Mountains” trail, which takes you exactly where you’d imagine it would, and the city is scattered with artificial boulders for impromptu climbing.

An image, spotted on Main Street, to sum up the vibes here: a dude nodding his head to his own beat, wearing backwards baseball hat, skateboarding down the sidewalk carrying a microwave. Nonchalant. 

The door jingles, and another local pops in to join the crew assembled for a 6:00 AM coffee. The shop’s owner doesn’t greet him with a “hello,” but with a "Decaf, room for cream?” He waits for a nod, and then smiles. “…yeah, I know that about you.”

A jaunt through northern Wyoming: Glowing along the roadside of a still-sleeping town is Kathy’s Koffee—where every person is very awake, and is clearly also a regular.

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” William Shakespeare

“The Big Sky State.” Montana’s nickname is no misnomer; here, the clouds stretch far and wide, and the blue seems eternal.

There’s something so magical about the contrast of landscape in northern Wyoming. The plains sweep, far and wide, covered in golden grass. Antelope herds wander around, grazing, leaping—it almost feels Savannah-like. Then, out of nowhere: the mountains. Sharp. They’re there, shooting through the middle of the soft plains. Teeth jutting out of a sea of grass, scraping the sky.

The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains.” John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club