Wyoming, America’s least populated state, has been a draw for nature-lovers and those who want to experience the Wild West lifestyle in person. Cowboys, ranches and rodeos mix freely with ski resorts and idyllic landscapes. The state’s main draw, Yellowstone National Park, brings in millions of visitors every year. While Wyoming has lots of city attractions, most visitors come to the Cowboy State for its first-class outdoors adventures, majestic scenery, and to glimpse a traditional way of life that’s not often seen in modern America. From snow-capped peaks to crystalline lakes to towering geysers along with warm, hospitable people, Wyoming is truly a unique and unforgettable off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Wyoming’s first inhabitants were Native American tribes such as the Blackfeet, Sioux and Cheyenne. Prehistoric Native American stone structures such as the mysterious Medicine Wheel attest to a presence dating back thousands of years. Sacajawea, the native guide for the Lewish & Clark Expedition, is buried near the town of Fort Washakie.
One of the first Europeans to set foot in Wyoming was the explorer John Colter, who in 1807 discovered the area that would later be known as Yellowstone National Park.
Wyoming’s settlements grew in the early 1800’s as the popularity of fur hats in Europe drove the beaver-trapper industry to new lands. Wyoming continued to grow in the late 1800’s as the California Gold Rush led many pioneer wagons to cross through this fledgling territory. These gold-seeking convoys were frequently robbed, leading the federal government to send in troops and build forts to protect them. One of the biggest of these forts was Ft. Laramie, which served both as a stagecoach station and a military base during the wars with the Plains Indians.
It was in Wyoming that the last of the battles between the U.S. Cavalry and Native Americans took place. One of the most noteworthy of these was in 1866 when 81 U.S. soldiers were ambushed and killed by a coalition of tribes led by Crazy Horse. By 1890, the Native Americans were defeated and driven into reservations, and the wild frontier became closed.
Wyoming’s cowboy legacy was further cemented by one of its most famous citizens, Buffalo Bill Cody. Cody not only helped settle Wyoming, but also took his cowboy show on the road across America and Europe and was mostly responsible for making the Old West a key part of American pop culture.
Wyoming is also famous as the first state to give women the right to vote (1869) and to elect the country’s first female governor (1924). The Wyoming Territory was carved out of parts of Dakota, Utah and Colorado in 1869, and Wyoming officially became the 44th state in 1889. Wyoming today still clings proudly to its cowboy traditions and has remained almost as beautiful and unspoiled as when it was first settled.
Cheyenne: Wyoming’s capital and largest city, Cheyenne was founded as a railroad town and has since become home to some of America’s best-known rodeos and Old West attractions.
Start your trip off at the no-cost Wyoming State Museum. For a few hours, you can learn all about Wyoming’s rich and wild history including everything from Native Americans, cowboys, art, natural history and the coal industry. If you want a more abbreviated learning experience, head to the Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center.
Fans of cowboy movies will appreciate the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. Its exhibits cover the history of Cheyenne’s renowned Frontier Days rodeo, the history of the city itself, old fashioned horse-drawn carriages, early cars and more. You can also check out the Nelson Museum of the West, which features an impressive collection of military uniforms, Native American art, vintage weapons and other Old West artifacts.
Modeled after its counterpart in Washington, D.C., the Wyoming State Capitol building is the center of Wyoming’s politics. In front of this beautiful Corinthian building stands a monument to Esther Hobart Morris, the first modern woman to hold judicial office. Tours are free. Keep in mind that the Capitol will be temporarily closed to visitors at the end of August due to renovations. Also be sure to visit the nearby Historic Governor’s Mansion. Built in the Colonial Revival style, it served Wyoming’s governors from 1905 to 1976. Like the Capitol, the Mansion can be toured for free.
For a look at Cheyenne’s train history, the Depot Museum tells the story of how Union Pacific’s railroads helped make Cheyenne a key Western trading hub. It has a neat model train exhibit, and you can purchase tickets for the narrated trolley ride through historic Cheyenne. Be sure not to miss the Big Boy Steam Engine a.k.a. Old Number 4004, currently the world’s largest steam locomotive. Though you can’t actually hop aboard the train, its massive size gives it more than enough reason to stop by and snap a few photos.
For a quick day trip from Cheyenne, consider going to the Terry Bison Ranch. As its name suggests, this massive ranch stretching across Wyoming and Colorado is home to Wyoming’s most iconic symbol: the buffalo. A train ride takes you through the animals prairie. You can also interact with the ranch’s other creatures such as camels, ostriches and alpacas or even go horseback riding.
Cody: Founded by legendary cowboy William Cody (aka Buffalo Bill), the town of Cody is proof that the spirit of the Old West is very much alive and well. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, is America’s Old West museum par excellence. The museum is split into several sections, each of which focuses on a different part of Old West culture and folklore. For example, there’s the Buffalo Bill section which focuses on the life and times of the man himself. Then there’s the Plains Indian Museum, which contains important artifacts such as pottery, quilts and headdresses. The Cody Firearms Museum contains a breathtaking array of weapons from almost every gun manufacturer in the world including a special section dedicated to antique Winchester rifles. And for those who are interested in Wyoming’s natural history, the Draper Museum has interactive exhibits covering geology, wildlife, the human impact on Wyoming and more.
Yellowstone National Park: By far Wyoming’s most popular site, the massive Yellowstone is one of America’s most captivating and diverse outdoors destinations. Every 94 minutes, the Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone’s star attraction, erupts sending thousands of gallons of water over 100 feet into the air. But Old Faithful is only one of 300 geysers found within the park; they constitute a whopping two-thirds of all geysers in the world. In particular, the Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest active geyser, though its eruptions are not quite as predictable as Old Faithful.
Another noteworthy geothermal feature in the park is the dazzling and bizarre Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. This rainbow-colored, steaming lake is famous not only for its color but also for hosting some of Earth’s hardiest organisms – the cyanobacteria, which live at temperatures few other living things can survive. There’s also Sulphur Cauldron, a hot spring whose extreme acidity and otherworldly appearance belie its abundance of bacteria thriving within.
Yellowstone has no shortage of amazing hiking trails including the serene South Rim Trail, considered the easiest way to see the incredible Yellowstone Grand Canyon. At the end of the trail, you’ll arrive at the aptly named Artist Point, which provides an unparalleled view of the mighty Yellowstone Falls.
One of Yellowstone’s most unique attractions is Mammoth Hot Springs. Its steaming calcium carbonate terraces have many odd shapes and colors not usually found in a natural setting. If you’re interested in the park’s history, check out the nearby Albright Visitor Center, which has exhibits covering the park’s natural history, culture and wildlife.
For top-notch fishing and boating, visit the enchanting Yellowstone Lake. Visitors can see bald eagles, grizzly bears and bison roaming the forested lakeside.
Beyond all that, there are opportunities for horseback riding, camping, swimming, skiing and more. A minimum of 3 days is recommended to get a good overview of what the park has to offer.
Grand Teton National Park: Located in the Rocky Mountains south of Yellowstone, Grand Teton is a quieter, less touristed alternative to its northern brother. While Grand Teton lacks the exotic volcanic landscapes of Yellowstone, it still packs a huge punch with eye-catching glaciers, virtually limitless amount of outdoors activities and unspoiled vistas.
If you’re planning a trip to Grand Teton, the best place to start is in the nearby ski town of Jackson. There are several great ski resorts in the area such as Snow King and Grand Targhee, and, like in Aspen, many celebrities buy vacation homes here.
Once you enter Grand Teton, you’ll be met with the incredible mountain scenery that has made this park a hit with skiers, climbers and hikers alike. With vast meadows, cozy chalets and towering alpine peaks, you’d be forgiven for thinking you accidentally went to Switzerland instead of Wyoming.
If you’re planning to take things easy, rent a boat and spend some time on the Jenny Lake, whose crystal clear waters and surrounding glacial mountains give it a postcard-perfect quality. For hiking, there’s really no way to do it wrong in Grand Teton, but some of the best trails include the secluded Dunanda Falls and the somewhat more risky (but very rewarding) Static Peak climb.
For a bit more of an adrenaline rush, consider a river rafting trip on the Snake River or climbing one of the Grand Teton mountains with the help of a professional guide.
And if you’re wondering where to stay, the Moulton Ranch Cabins offer an authentically Western experience. The Moulton Ranch is arguably the most photographed barn in America – not surprising given its remote, picturesque location and its rustic beauty.
Devil’s Tower National Monument: Best known for its role in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the visually jarring monolithic stone tower known as Devil’s Tower extends over 800 feet in the air with nothing but prairie surrounding it. Climbing to the summit takes 4-6 hours. (Note that climbing is not allowed in June in consideration of Native American religious rituals.) There are also surrounding hiking trails. Come at night for an incredible view of the stars.
Daven and Eat
The only Orthodox shul in Wyoming is Chabad Lubavitch of Jackson. They can be reached at 307-462-0847 or at jewishwyoming.com
Kosher food can be ordered from jewishwyoming.com except for Aug. 10 – Sep. 10 this year. Otherwise, the local supermarkets should have a limited selection of kosher products.
Most visitors enter and exit Wyoming by car. Driving from L.A. to Jackson takes about 14 hours while driving to Cheyenne takes over 15 hours. Flights to Jackson Hole Airport start at just over $600 per person roundtrip while flights to Casper and Cheyenne are $330 and $460 respectively. Another option worth considering is to fly to Denver and then drive a rental car into Wyoming.