Vast, empty rolling ranchlands and imposing mountains define much of the U.S. state of Wyoming, with the population of this inspiring land clustered into a handful of small cities, towns, and hamlets.
Indeed, with only a half a million calling this beautiful but remote state home, it is the smallest state in the Union with regards to population, much to the glee of outdoor enthusiasts and claustrophobics.
What it lacks in urbanity, it makes up for soaring peaks, wide open spaces, and the legends of the American West. Indeed, it is this abundance of high quality wilderness that led to the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the first park of its kind in the United States (and arguably the world).
Together with Grand Teton National Park and the fact that roughly half the state is public land that anyone can enjoy, Wyoming is a place that any lover of the outdoors can not miss on their explorations of the United States of America.
What To Do – Culture & History
If you find the tales of the Old West endless captivating, then stopping by the Buffalo Bill Center of the West will be well worth your time. Comprised of five museums that cover a variety of topics relating to life in the American West over the past two centuries, it has drawn accolades from publications such as the New York Times, which lauds it as being “among the nation’s most remarkable museums.”
Covering topics such as the traveling wild west show of “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the Natives that called it home before the Americans, the natural history of the region, and even the role of firearms in securing the region for the newly arrived pioneers, this compound will keep you busy all day if you are into this subject matter, so plan accordingly.
During the period of westward expansion in America, Wyoming was crisscrossed by no less than three major trails leading towards the Pacific coast. The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center tells the story of cart paths such as the Oregon Trail, Pony Express, California Trail and the Mormon Pioneer Trail, and the adventurous souls that plied them in search of a better life.
The fauna of Wyoming and the Mountain West has long inspired artists and spellbound tourists alike, which makes the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole a great find. Housed in a building styled after a ruined Scottish castle, this art gallery contains artwork depicting wildlife from artists as famous as Picasso and Andy Warhol, making this place an excellent stop for any fan of this art medium.
Taking and defending the West of yesteryear required strategic locations that armed forces from the east could fortify and provide cover for incoming settlers. Fort Laramie National Historic Site commemorates such a post, as it also served as a trading post in its earlier years before its role shifted primarily to defence.
An audio tour provides the details of daily life as you walk through the buildings of the compound, making a great place to learn more about life in the Wild West.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the history and lore of the American West, switch gears and explore one of the USA’s greatest protected natural areas at Yellowstone National Park. Comprised of dramatic canyons and waterfalls, mountains, and geothermic features such as bubbling calderas and regularly spouting geysers (such as the world famous Old Faithful), it stands alongside national parks such as Yosemite and Smoky Mountains as natural places that are practically mandatory visits for nature lovers.
Fans of spectacular peaks might be a little disappointed at Yellowstone’s modest offerings in that department, but they will be blown away by Grand Teton National Park, which contains peaks that soar up 7,000 feet above the valley floor below, creating a vertical prominence that is hard to match in most other places in the Mountain West.
Composed of hard, ancient rock, these peaks are particularly suited to rock climbers, as well as avid mountaineers and backcountry extreme skiers, which flock to this park in summer and winter respectively.
While you explore Grand Teton National Park, the town of Jackson Hole will serve as an excellent base, and if you are a skier or snowboarder, a perfect place to shred some pow in more controlled settings than the backcountry.
Being notorious for its abundant steeps, it may not be the best place for beginners (only 10% of trails are rated green), but experienced skiers and riders will eat it up, and those of intermediate skills will have their moves put to the test.
If you are passing through the state on your way to other destinations, at least make time to see the odd looking but spectacular Devils Tower. Standing more than 1,200 feet above the surrounding terrain, shooting almost straight up, this massive eroded stump of igneous volcanic rock will stun even the most cynical traveler, and will provide seasoned rock climbers with the challenge of their life.
Finally, those that are into natural history will want to make time for Fossil Butte National Monument. Containing animal and plant fossils from over 56 million years ago, visitors will have a grand old time looking at well-prepared specimens in the museum, or as park of a walk lead by park rangers over the bed from which their counterparts inside were found.