Last fall I took a five day tour of Wyoming with a group of travel writers, sampling local food, exploring museums, learning about a dramatic renovation of the State’s Capitol Building and staying overnight at a working ranch.
Topaz Skies and Rocky Trails
That 5-day trip through Wyoming reminded me there are many reasons to head west. Picture herds of antelope running across the sheer expanse of wide open flat plains, the Rocky Mountains rising up to cut through topaz skies and cascading lakes flanked by rocky hiking trails. From fly fishing to skiing, hiking and horseback riding too, there are endless reasons to be outside in Wyoming.
Wyoming Facts and History
Cowboy and cowgirl culture run deep throughout the architecture, public spaces, hotels, and museums in Wyoming. The frontier history in this state stretches from corner to corner and is a huge part of the evolution story of the state itself.
Imagine a state roughly the size of Colorado, but with one tenth the number of residents. In fact Colorado has 5.7 million people whereas Wyoming has about 570,000. Wyoming is the least populous state in the US, but the tenth largest in physical size.
In the northwest United States, Wyoming features a harsh, dry, rocky landscape that made settlement dramatic. Much of the history, culture and art in Wyoming reflects that story.
In its early days, Wyoming struggled to attract enough settlers in order to apply for statehood. But in many ways this rugged landscape attracted a certain type of person with a specific spirit and mentality. It was not for the faint of heart.
Tourism and Travel in Wyoming
Many tourists are lured to Wyoming by outdoor sports such as skiing at Jackson Hole, camping at Yosemite and fly fishing throughout the state, but people should also know there are dozens of cultural experiences and family friendly Wyoming activities worth experiencing. There’s so much more to Wyoming than skiing and camping alone.
Wondering What to Do in Wyoming?
When I was visiting we toured numerous museums and learned a lot about Wyoming culture and history. Here are some of my recommendations of what to do in Wyoming.
First of all let me clarify that when you arrive from Canada as I did, it often makes the most sense to fly in and out of Denver International Airport. From here, it’s a short two hour drive to Cheyenne, which is the capital of Wyoming. While staying here in Cheyenne we didn’t have to look far for things to do. From family friendly tours, shops, museums and restaurants to history and cultural experiences you can find a lot to see and do in Wyoming.
What to do in Cheyenne, Wyoming?
Wyoming Capitol Square Project
The Capitol Square Building is a national historic landmark currently closed to the public and undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation. The restoration process may be complete later this year. Look for more information about that soon and when it reopens you must take a tour of this incredible building. Go see the exhibit about the history of the Capitol Square Building currently on inside the Wyoming State Museum.
Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley Tour
One afternoon in Cheyenne we hopped on the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley Tour and took a tour of the city. Tours depart from the Historic Depot in downtown Cheyenne daily and are 90 minutes with hop on hop off stops at several museums and historic spots. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children. The Trolley Tour also offers charters.
The day we did this tour the narrator kept us captivated with history of the area. For instance, in 1885 Cheyenne was the wealthiest city in the country per capita as a result of gold and cattle. A horse drawn carriage does a tour of Cheyenne in the summer. In the 1980s, a devastating drought killed a lot of the cattle in Cheyenne and people left the area.
Every single July this city fills up with country music fans and rodeo lovers. Cheyenne Frontier Days takes place on the last ten days of July and is the longest running outdoor rodeo. This year, Frontier Days takes place July 19 to 28. After the daily rodeo and bull riding shows, the barrel racing and cow pony girls, world renowned musical acts take the stage for Frontier Nights. Again this year some of the biggest musical acts in the world will come to Cheyenne.
Frontier Days Lineup 2019
The 2019 Cheyenne Frontier Days lineup includes: Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum with Kelsea Ballerini, and Midland. Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts and Clint Black, as well as Tim McGraw with Devin Dawson will light up Cheyenne.
Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum
The Cheyenne Frontier Days Museum is a charming museum celebrating all things Frontier Days. There is a colourful kid’s play area inside the museum. Frontier Days Museum is is also one of the stops on the trolley tour. It ticks the affordable and family friendly boxes on my list of fun things to do in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Wyoming State Museum
Explore Native American history in Wyoming and learn about the national park service too. The temporary exhibit, the Governor’s Capitol Building Art project is educational and helps explain the restoration and the origin of the Capitol Building.
Cowgirls of the West Museum
Fully volunteer run, the Cowgirls of the West Museum chronicles the stories of famous women in the rodeo world. It also celebrates cowgirl culture. Summer is the busiest time to visit this small, packed, slightly quirky museum. By the way, did you know that the first paid female athlete was actually a Cowgirl of the West? In fact, it was a cow pony girl named Anna McPhee. Female firsts are not hard to find in Wyoming, the Equality State.
Don’t Miss Esther’s
Finally, before you leave Cheyenne check out Esther’s, a brand new restaurant by established restaurateurs in the area. Esther’s is inside Esther Morris Historic House, which was the home of the Esther Hobart Morris, the United States’ first ever female justice of the peace. Esther Hobart Morris would live in South Pass City. FYI Wyoming was also first to grant women the right to vote and first to allow females to serve on juries. But Esther Hobart Morris was a pioneer and her position was held up as a test of women’s ability in general to hold office and positions of power.
Read more about Esther Hobart Morris in this New York Times obituary series dubbed OVERLOOKED.
Things to Do in and Near Laramie, Wyoming
Vee Bar Guest Ranch
The moment we arrived, the golden late afternoon sun lit upon the trees and rustic ranch buildings at Vee Bar and the group of us bolted from the vehicles we arrived in to capture the surroundings. Sun drenched trees surrounded us as the skies turned to multiple shades of blue and shadows crept across the dry dirt paths.
The ranch dogs will greet you with their laid back assessment of guests. They may follow you around lazily, but are more likely to return to their perch on the porch. It’s a brazen goat you really need to look out for. A single goat followed me down the winding path that doubles as a driveway, and continued on scoping me out even after I stopped to see a black horse grazing in his paddocks. Eventually that goat gave up when I found the rest of my group nearby. Strength in numbers, I suppose.
A creek meandering through the property right outside our rooms, and Adirondack chairs lined up outside the windows completed the scene, which felt ripped from a movie set.
The buffet food at Vee Bar was fresh and tasty featuring fresh fish, barbecue of course, and an abundance of leafy salads made from homegrown ingredients too. This dude ranch near Laramie is family owned and with all the warm wood furnishings, pillows and thick blankets, plus spacious showers and pleasing creek views, it felt more comfortable than rustic actually. Highly recommend visiting Vee Bar Guest Ranch on your own or with a group to get the entire dude ranch experience.
Laramie Plains Museum
The Laramie Plains Museum at the Historic Ivinson Mansion tells the story of John Ivinson and his wife who some of the earliest settlers to Laramie. There’s also a great deal of history here regarding the women’s suffrage movement in Wyoming.
Shop in Downtown Laramie
DO NOT MISS The Bent and Rusty. This female owned cooperative store features unique arts and crafts, furnishings and decor for your home. I bought a gorgeous scarf and a couple of tiny things for souvenirs. They also run occasional classes like chalk painting out of their room on the lower level.
The Wyoming House for Historic Women
The Wyoming House for Historic Women celebrates the achievements of 13 women who were from the state of Wyoming. It’s a compact museum located in downtown Laramie.
Dine in Downtown Laramie
Laramie is a university town. The University of Wyoming is located here and just like a lot of university towns, Laramie has a creative and thriving foodie scene. I recommend lunch at Sweet Melissa’s. The mac and cheese was the best I have ever had.
Lewis Lake Gap Lake Trail
Where do I start with this hike? Hike Like a Woman’s Rebecca Walsh led us on an epic hike, the longest I have ever done, just after the first snow of the year in Wyoming. Finding our footing on the jagged uneven rocks which were just the slightest bit slick with snow was slightly challenging at times. Spying tiny pica that were playing in the crevices and two mountain bikers determinedly making hairpin turns first up and then down the climb, we clambered on and finally back, embracing the clear view of Lewis Lake and the crisp fresh air.
At the end of this female only hiking trip I had a surge of pride. Finding your footing at fifty in new spaces is my favourite current pursuit. I found it and didn’t give up despite the 8 kilometres at high altitude I am not used to. Hike Like a Woman also works with travel groups. Can’t say enough about Rebecca and her team.
The area of the hike was closer to Centennial than it was to Laramie.
South Pass Historic City
The Wyoming women’s suffrage pathway leads to the old mining town of South Pass City where Esther Hobart Morris became the first woman to hold public office as a Justice of the Peace. South Pass City is a state historic site and Western boom town that dates back to 1867. This area helped establish mining as a foundation of Wyoming’s economy.
South Pass City is one of the best preserved towns in the West.
What is there to do in Lander, Wyoming?
Lander is a quirky city in Central Wyoming’s Fremont County that is extremely supportive of female entrepreneurs. Visit any of the shops or restaurants in Lander and odds are good that a woman runs it.
The Mill House
We spent an evening at Lander’s The Mill House. Owner Jill Hunter, a single Mom, and owner of newly renovated and stunning The Mill House as well as the Lander Mills Feed Store, truly knocked my socks off. The Mill House is open for guests and each one of the rooms at the renovated boutique hotel is decorated with authentic rustic and historical elements.
Shosone Rose Casino and Hotel
If you are a casino loving kind of tourist then you will enjoy your stay here.
One of the main reasons tourists come to the area is the outdoor activity. Lander is filled with adventures and close to Wind River County as well. Hiking, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding and fly fishing are all offered nearby.
Before we drove to Casper we made two stops. The first was at South Pass City and the second would be at the Shosone Tribal Cultural Centre.
What is there to do in Casper, Wyoming?
Definitely one of the coolest US museums I have ever been to. There is so much hands on activity here that the kids will LOVE it. Hop into a coach and pretend to make the journey across the US through Wyoming to Oregon, Utah or California. The ride is entertaining and educational. Learn about the Pony Express and put yourself right into that time and place emigrating to settle the west. The are many pretend reenactments that kids of all ages will find amusing and fun while also learning about the hardships pioneers endured on the trail to a new life.
There are four national trails that pass through Wyoming: California Trail, Oregon Trail, Mormon Pioneer Trail and the Pony Express.
Nicolaysen Art Museum
This art museum knocked my socks off. From the exhibits to the accessible programming it’s a must see no matter your age or your reason for visiting. Look for a women’s exhibit coming in 2020, the year of the woman.
And in case you didn’t not know the Nic has a discovery centre featuring classes and clubs for kids, plus date night museum workshops where you can drop the kids and get a few hours of adult time. You can host a birthday party there too. Additionally, there are art programs offered for people with dementia.
Oh of course there’s skiing in Wyoming. Everybody knows that. But there’s also a lesser known hill outside of Casper called Hogadon Basin Lodge.
We didn’t have time to go fly fishing but we did a hilarious fly tying class couples with Wyoming wine tasting at the Ugly Bug Fly Shop.
Where We Stayed in Wyoming
Little America Hotel – Cheyenne
There’s a lot to do in Cheyenne, but you might consider hanging your hat here for a night or two. Little America Hotel on Lincolnway in Cheyenne is comfortable and cute with an expansive property on a golf course.
Stay at Vee Bar Guest Dude Ranch
Of each of the accommodations we stayed in, this was my favourite because I genuinely felt immersed in nature and a part of Wyoming. I’d return to do the dude ranch experience here in a heartbeat.
Shosone Rose Casino and Hotel
If you are a casino kind of guy or gal then this is a good spot to stay. I wouldn’t recommend for families though. Also the air, as at a casino, was smoky.
The Ramkota in Casper was adorable from the start. At check in they give you a cookie and a ticket for a drink at happy hour. Also it was clean and spacious and very family friendly. If you visit Casper or fly in or out of Casper then this is your spot.
My Dream State
For years now I have wanted to visit Wyoming for the skiing. But after getting to know a few more of the cities in this wild state, I’d love to return for Frontier Days, or to build an itinerary around an entire dude ranch experience in Wyoming.
I was a guest of Wyoming Tourism while visiting on a media fam trip. My opinion is all my own.