WYOMING HAS one of the smallest populations in the country and yet huge open ranges and parkland. Wyoming’s state parks are on another level from what you’ve seen elsewhere.
1. Hot Springs State Park, Thermopolis
A 135-degree thermal bath might sound overwhelming in the summer, but Native Americans have long considered the Hot Springs to be a place of healing. The boiling waters cascade off the Big Horn River, then flow at a cooler temp (104 degrees) into the park’s bathhouse. Entry is free, but wear an old swimsuit, as the water’s minerals can stink (and stain).
2. Buffalo Bill State Park, Cody
Buffalo Bill Cody toured the world with his famous Wild West Show, yet he never forgot the true wilds of his favorite state. Much of the current park land once belonged to Cody, and remains so rugged that half the park closes between October and May. Even if you don’t spot a resident grizzly, you can drive down the highway through the park toward Yellowstone, and witness what Teddy Roosevelt called America’s “50 most beautiful miles.”
3. Boysen State Park, Shoshoni
A 76-mile-shoreline and 2,500-foot-high mountains help Boysen’s title as the largest park in the state. Fishermen know it for record-breaking catches of trout and walleye, but there’s a whole other world on the Wind River Indian Reservation, which borders part of the reservoir. In warm months, join a powow held by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe tribes.
4. Seminoe State Park, Sinclair
Off-roaders want to claim the sand dunes around Seminoe. You can body board on your own device (cardboard, sled, cookie sheet), or explore the landscape on a mountain bike or all-terrain vehicle. If you want to make a weekend of it, arrive early because sites at the park’s three campgrounds are non-reservable.
5. Bear River, Evanston
Recently founded in 1991, Bear River is not as well-known as some of the other parks, and only opens for day use. Out-of-staters and natives both love its family-friendly nature: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing access and wildlife viewing areas for herds of elk and bison.
6. Medicine Lodge Archeology Site, Hyattville
The rock paintings here are 4,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs that tell the story of Western America’s earliest inhabitants. You can also stop by the park in winter for snowmobiling on groomed trails (permit required).
7. Curt Gowdy State Park, Laramie
If you only have a few days to experience Wyoming’s landscape, this is the park to see it all, from the Laramie Mountains to Great Plains grassland. The International Mountain Biking Association recognizes it as an ‘epic’ trail destination – but it’s also a top choice for mountain climbing, fishing, canoeing, hiking, and bow hunting.
8. Guernsey State Park, Guernsey
The Oregon Trail migration was one of the biggest human movements in America’s history, sending thousands of pioneers West in search of new beginnings. The trail passed by Guernsey, and its still-visible ruts show just how traveled the road became. You can find or leave your own bit of history at one of the park’s many geocache sites.
9. Keyhole State Park, Moorecroft
Nature feels a bit more mysterious at Keyhole, where sudden prairie storms roll dramatically in and out. The Devil’s Tower (Bear Lodge for the local Native Americans) columnar basalt formation (scene of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind) dominates the skyline.