State by State: Wyoming
A Road Trip Guide
I walked into the bar behind my two travel companions. It was a large log fronted BBQ grill with dark windows and a parking lot filled with motorcycles. Inside we wandered in ignorance toward the bar which appeared to be bustling.
It was only after completing our first round of drinks that it was made clear to us by a fellow patron that we’d walked into a rather rowdy wedding reception. We maneuvered ourselves to a table and we were looking over at the dance floor where a group of attractive cowgirls were line dancing like we’d never seen when I felt a solid tap on my right shoulder.
“You lookin at ma wiaf” asked the burly looking man behind me. Quite rightly I froze up in an instant and saw the eyes widen on the faces of my two travel companions.
“Err no no, just love watching the line dancing!” I responded, panicked.
“It’s okay,” came the slurred response, “dance with her!”
“What?!” I looked at my friends who looked away just as fast.
“Dance with my wife!” he shouted this time.
Well, I’m not one to argue with a drunk, probably armed cowboy so I did just that. In fact, after a little amateur footwork and chit chat we became the hit of the party, line dancing with all the guests until closing.
That was my first impression of Cody, and of the state of Wyoming for that matter. That experience; exciting and surprisingly welcoming is how I’ve come to feel about the whole state. It isn’t loud and it doesn’t tout its history or beg for attention, it’s unobtrusive, grounded in tradition with neighborly values and home to one of the most special places on the planet, Yellowstone.
Wyoming is a state I have revisited many times over the years and it remains one of my favorites, so let me try to suggest some of the best ways to get to know it.
I reacquainted myself with Cody in 2015, during the enormous drive from Chicago to Alaska that Steph and I made that summer ( click here for more on that ), we’d looked for a place en route which might have a fun 4th of July experience to offer. The two day visit reminded me of the many reasons for which I love this town.
Aside from the amazing Independence Day parade the town put on, we were blown away by its air of quiet confidence. It’s a very relaxing place, exuding an odd calmness which seems to slow the whole world down. We spent hours strolling the main street, perusing the country stores and absorbing the ambience. We had amazing BBQ and pizza at one of the town’s many wild west feeling establishments and I was also happily surprised to find myself drinking good craft beer from a local brewery. Cody has that near perfect balance between old world country and classy modern hipster that always makes me want to look more closely.
The town has multiple rodeos to check out, including Stampede Park and Cody Night Rodeo. It also has plenty of horse riding locations, a perfect way to see some of the beautiful surrounding countryside. The superb Buffalo Bill Historical Center is one of the town (and state’s) major attractions; five huge museums detailing everything from wild west and native american living as well as the wildlife of the region past and present.
If you are like me and want to grab a good beer or seven, head to the aformentioned Pat O’Hara’s Brew Pub and sample their craft beers. If you want to try and recreate my line dancing experience, then you’ll find the infamous bar on the west edge of town, Cassie’s Supper Club.
Cody makes for a nice starting point on a Wyoming road trip, spirited, old and rugged. It’s also a fun town to hang out in before heading on into the great Wyoming outdoors.
Bighorn, Shoshone and part of Caribou-Targhee fill vast areas of the state and shouldn’t be forgotten just because two of the nation’s most phenomenal National Parks just happen to be here too!
Bighorn is the main draw in my opinion, its location makes it doable on a well planned road trip, particularly if you are coming in from the east. The camping opportunities here are excellent and the area is filled with recreational activities including; fishing, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. In the winter the snowmobiling here is unbelievable, and the Bighorn Scenic Byway (US 14), which connects the cities of Sheridan and Greybull, includes 45 miles of scenic mountain driving making it road tripping heaven.
Grand Teton National Park
Alright, time to get to the first of Wyoming’s two big jewels. Do you need to come here if you’re already planning on seeing Yellowstone? Yes you do.
Yellowstone crowds tend not to be so bothersome here, and your chance of seeing wildlife unobscured are actually much better. The park has epic rocky peaks and sublime alpine lakes, its views are a photographer’s dream and some of the nearby towns, though they play to the visitors a little, are a lot of fun.
Visit Oxbow Bend in the early morning or at dusk and you’ll see one of natures most beautiful landscapes. Reflecting in the water will be the stunning Mt. Moran, and if you want to see elk, moose, cranes, ospreys, trumpeter swans, Canada geese, herons, white pelicans and of course bald eagles, this is your place.
Snake river overlook is another stunning location for a beautiful view and of course Grand Teton (4197m/13,770ft) can be seen from just about anywhere.
Cunningham Cabin is one of the best surviving examples of a homestead cabin you’re likely to see, preserved perfectly from the 1890’s it’s worth a look.
If you do visit Jackson has been my favorite base for exploration, especially in off season when hotel prices fall to practically nothing. In warmer seasons, you’re better camping, and with eight campgrounds dotted around the area, you’ll find one you love.
Yellowstone National Park
Like most of the nation’s best parks, we will be releasing a full Yellowstone article in time. For now, this can serve as a quick overview and most peoples primary reason for a Wyoming road trip.
Widely believed to be the first National Park ever created, its reputation is so immense now that it brings in visitors from all over the globe, and in vast numbers. In 2010 a record was set with just shy of one million visitors arriving at the park in July alone! So you may be thinking twice about going, well don’t, the crowds are avoidable and the park absolutely does live up to its name.
The super volcanic activity (which has shown an increase in recent years) is actually the reason for the park being so remarkable, powering its many geysers, hot springs and other thermal activity. The wildlife survives year round thanks to the warm springs and the biodiversity that results from this, and the parks protection is spectacular.
When driving through Yellowstone it is normal get a sore neck from constantly turning in order to spy deer, bison, bears, elk, exploding geysers or bubbling multicolored hot springs.
As for those pesky crowds, if you hit it early or late in the season, around May or October, you will find it oddly quiet, and if you make a trip in winter it might seem like no one has ever discovered the vast park at all until you arrived! I recently ventured in during January and decided it was at its best when the snow was on the ground, the snowmobiles were out to play and the steam from the hot springs formed what the Rangers call ‘ghost trees.’
The park’s main highlights include (but are certainly not limited to) the following natural wonders;
Old Faithful, the grandest of the park’s many explosive geysers. You can jump out of your car and stroll by the large visitor center before heading to find a nice bench from which to enjoy the moment a 90ft blast of water will shoot from the earth before your very eyes. The event occurs roughly every 90 minutes, which is good enough for me. On my last visit I was perplexed when a herd of large tourists to my right had to wait a couple of extra minutes for the thrill, one blurting loudly “we could find Osama Bin Laden but we can’t get this timing right?” My jaw dropping at his stupidity, I couldn’t help thinking some people should not be allowed into the parks.
Mammoth Hot Springs, made up of the Lower and Upper Terraces are essentially an ever changing landscape built by a process many people equate to a mountain turning itself inside out. Over a ton of travertine (limestone deposits) arise from beneath the ground and end up here every year, creating some of the most surreal landscape you’ll ever see.
Grand Prasmatic Spring is the parks largest and deepest hot spring, and possibly the most beautiful geological feature i’ve ever seen. The thermal spring is both huge and multicolored, with bacteria and algae living in the largely inhospitable waters. In summer you’ll need to road park and walk, it’s gorgeous, but popular.
Of course, Yellowstone for all its touristy highlights is largely wilderness, and you can spend days or weeks here hiking and exploring, completely escaping the crowds if you desire. In winter you can come into the park on snowmobiles and guided tours, even go snowshoeing if thats your thing. Just make sure you plan enough time here, there’s an awful lot to see.
A final note on travel, whilst during the summer you’ll be lucky to hit 40 behind the sea of RV’s, if you head up into the parks in winter, come prepared. Snow here will be plentiful and the roads icy, 4-wheel drives are essential and take extra care.