Wyoming is a treasure trove of natural wonders and diverse landscapes. The state is most famous for its national parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Wild West history and culture are also integral parts of the state’s identity.
Nearly half of Wyoming is owned by the federal government, which has protected the land for use by the general public. Tourism is a crucial part of the local economy with the spectacular landscapes and abundance of outdoor activities drawing in millions of visitors each year. Hiking, camping, and backpacking are major summertime activities, while skiing and snowboarding are dominant during the winter.
Filled with well-known attractions and hidden gems, “Big Wyoming” is one of the best destinations to discover the American West. Whether staying in the big cities, or small towns or venturing into the vast untouched landscapes, this state will captivate and inspire you with its magnificent scenery.
History of “The Equality State”
Human habitation in Wyoming goes back to about 13,000 years ago when communities of hunter-gatherers lived on the land. Archeologists have found evidence, like the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, of the Clovis, Folsom, and Plano cultures existing all throughout the state.
These prehistoric cultures are the descendants of American Indian tribes including the Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa, Sioux, Shoshone, and Ute.
During the first half of the 19th century, Wyoming belonged to Spain and Mexico. The first person of European descent to set foot in the region was a man named John Colter who was a member of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. Colter arrived in 1807 and he was one of the first to document the geothermal activity in Yellowstone, although most people at the time thought his accounts were fictional.
After its discovery, the state was expanded by immigrants, traders, and explorers who traveled along the Oregon Trail in the 1830s. By 1847, the Morman Trail also cut through Wyoming but ended in Utah instead of continuing on to Oregon.
Although most travelers of the various immigrant trails settled in other states, a few stayed in Wyoming to run cattle ranches. These ranches became known as the “de facto territorial government” and they influenced much of the state’s early days.
In July 1868, the Wyoming Territory was established by the US government. Just one year later, the territory would become famous for granting women the right to vote. This monumental, but controversial decision gave Wyoming its nickname “The Equality State”. In July 1890, it became the 44th US state.
Since statehood, there has always been a low population and as of the 2020 census, there were 576,851 residents. It’s the least populated state in America. With so few locals, most of the economy is driven by the abundance of natural resources and tourism.
Capital City of Cheyenne
Boasting a population of 65,132 as of 2020, Cheyenne is the largest city and also the capital of Wyoming. Located in the southeast corner of the state in the High Plains region, it was named after the Cheyenne Native American people. Most attractions in the capital city are historic or Western-themed.
The Cheyenne Depot Museum, Nelson Museum of the West, Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, and the Wyoming State Museum are all attractions where visitors can learn more about the region’s Wild West history. To explore more of Cheyenne, the best activities are the historic walking tours and the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley.
For those that love architecture, the Wyoming State Capitol and Historic Governor’s Mansion are two places that you won’t want to miss seeing. Finally, there are many outdoor attractions including the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Holliday Park, and the Curt Gowdy State Park where you can hike and picnic.
The city is a busy destination throughout the year, but the most popular time to visit is in July when the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days Festival takes place. Celebrating the Wild West, events during the Frontier Days include the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, competitions, shows, concerts, and more.
Jackson Hole Valley
Aside from the national parks, the Jackson Hole Valley is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Wyoming. Often confused to be a town, Jackson Hole refers to the entire valley which includes multiple communities.
Jackson is the only incorporated town in the valley and as of 2020, it had a population of 10,767. Additionally, there are several other communities in the valley, which include the Teton Village, Hoback, Moose, and Moran Junction.
The valley is most well-known for the Jackson Hole Resort, which is known for its luxurious accommodations, excellent slopes, and multi-million dollar homes. The small-town feel of the resort is further enhanced by the landscape, which is backdropped by the Teton Mountain Range.
Visitors staying at the Jackson Hole Resort will have easy access to the surrounding communities and nearby Grand Teton National Park.
Cody, “Rodeo Capital of the World”
In Northwest Wyoming, Cody is a small city that is well-known for its close proximity to the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. With a population of 10,028 as of 2020, this city is small but packs a punch. Locals refer to Cody as the “Rodeo Capital of the World” because so much of the local identity is related to rodeos.
During the summertime, there is a nightly rodeo from June 1st to August 31st. A family-friendly event, the rodeo highlights the best of Western shows by hosting traditional events like bareback riding, tie-down roping, steer riding, bull riding, and barrel racing.
Although most famous for its rodeo, there are plenty of things to do in Cody. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West has an extensive collection of historic artifacts, artworks, and special exhibitions where visitors can dig deep into Wyoming’s Western roots.
Just outside of the city the Buffalo Bill Dam, Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway, and Old Trail Town are excellent attractions where visitors can spend the day in the great outdoors.
Buffalo, a Historic Western Town
Once known as the “most lawless town in the nation”, Buffalo is a small community that supports 4,415 people as of the 2020 census. Located at the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, much of the town still appears as if it stepped straight out from the Wild West days.
Historic storefronts have been preserved and there are murals throughout the streets that depict themes of cowboys, ranching, and the old frontier.
The Jim Gatchell Museum has thousands of artifacts on exhibit that date back to the town’s earliest days, while the Occidental Hotel is particularly beautiful with its old storefront and preserved parlor. Visitors will find plenty of Western-themed restaurants and may even recognize some building exteriors from A&E’s show, Longmire, which was shot on location in Buffalo.
Yellowstone National Park
The first national park created by the US, and often considered to be the first in the world, is Yellowstone. Most of the park is situated in Northwest Wyoming, but there are parts that extend into Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone National Park is widely acclaimed for its diverse landscapes and wildlife.
Established in 1872 and covering more than 2.2 million acres, the national park has been a crucial habitat for many endangered and threatened species. Animals that live in Yellowstone include grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and bison. The Yellowstone Park bison herd is the oldest and largest herd in the United States with public access.
In addition to the local wildlife, many people visit to see the dramatic landscapes.
Sitting underneath Yellowstone is a supervolcano. Considered to be dormant, the volcano created the park’s famous thermal features including the geyser fields and hydrothermal lakes. Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in Yellowstone, but the Steamboat Geyser is the largest. At the Grand Prismatic Spring, there are geothermal pools that are striking with their vivid colors.
Adding to the diversity of the national park, Yellowstone has plenty of other attractions too. The best wildlife watching is in the Lamar Valley or you can hike Uncle Tom’s Trail through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There is so much to do that visitors are encouraged to pre-plan their trip.
For those that feel overwhelmed, there are many companies that offer single or multi-day trips through the park. However, tour guides are not required and many people choose to visit independently too.
Grand Teton National Park
Just 10 miles to the south of Yellowstone is Wyoming’s second national park called Grand Teton. Encompassing 310,000 acres, Grand Teton National Park is most famous for the jagged peaks of the Teton Range, which stretches for 40 miles. The unique appearance of the mountains has made it one of the ten most visited national parks in the United States.
The landscape at Grand Teton varies from mountains to valleys, lakes, and rivers. Hiking is the most popular activity for visitors and by using your own two feet you can venture to some of the park’s most remote areas. Camping, boating, biking, fishing, and climbing are also permitted within many of the wildlife areas.
Although Grand Teton is much smaller than Yellowstone, most visitors will still spend days enjoying the park and its features. For those that are on a limited-time schedule, scenic drives are a great way to see more of the area and its wildlife.
Wyoming is one of the 8 mountain states in the Western United States, but it actually has a very diverse geography. Among these distinct landscapes are the mountains in the west and the High Plains in the east.
Beyond the two national parks, federal-owned land also includes two recreation areas, two monuments, forests, historic sites, fish hatcheries, and wildlife refuges. Altogether, there are about 18 million acres of land with public access.
Some of the most beautiful landscapes in Wyoming can be found at the Devils Tower National Monument, National Elk Refuge, and Hot Springs State Park.
The Devil’s Tower National Monument is a sacred site for more than 20 Native American tribes. Also called Grizzly Bear Lodge, Devil’s Tower was the first national monument to be designated by the United States. A geologic wonder, the tower is the main attraction in the area where visitors can hike and climb.
Home to a large population of elk, the National Elk Refuge was established in 1912 to protect the animal’s vital habitat. Covering 24,700 acres, up to 7,500 elk enter the park each winter before migrating back to the high mountains for the hot summers. Other animals living in the area include pronghorn, mule deer, Bighorn sheep, bison, coyotes, and red foxes.
On the Bighorn River, the Hot Springs State Park has a few bathing pools and a herd of bison. For safety, the pools are man-made. However, visitors can view some of the natural pools by walking along boardwalks and designated trails. Along the way, you might spot some of the bison that live in the park.
The US government owns a lot of the state’s land, but there are also plenty of large, private ranches that have opened to the public. Ranching is an important part of the local economy and it has a long history in the state. The Q Creek Ranch is the largest in Wyoming, as well as the Rockies’ biggest contiguous ranch. It offers overnight lodging, as well as hunting and fishing trips to guests.
Tourism to ranches is popular. Dude ranches, or guest ranches, that are open to the public range from luxurious resorts to working establishments where visitors can get their hands dirty learning about ranch operations. The Bitterroot Ranch, Triangle X Ranch, Paradise Guest Ranch, Lost Creek Ranch & Spa, and the Brush Creek Luxury Ranch Collection are all establishments that welcome guests.
For adventures both big and small, you will be inspired to go further and discover more. Whether you’re looking to experience the authentic Wild West or want to disappear into the unknown, this state will amaze you with its destinations and activities. Pack a bag, grab your boots, and be prepared to be enthralled by Wyoming and its wonders.
While discovering “The Cowboy State” be sure to bathe in a few of Wyoming’s hot springs that are safe for soaking.