WYOMING IS WHERE THE HIGH PLAINS meet the Rocky Mountains to form some of the most staggeringly beautiful scenery in the entire country. The state is probably best known for Yellowstone National Park, but that’s just a small part of what Wyoming has to offer. You’ve got the Grand Tetons, the Bighorns, the Sierra Madre, Jackson Hole, the Winds…there are just a ton of places to go skiing, fishing, hiking, rock climbing, and paddling throughout the state.
On top of recreation, Wyoming is home to the true Old West. The Oregon Trail passed through its territory, and many famous outdoorsmen (like Buffalo Bill Cody) and outlaws (like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) made names for themselves here. This heritage is still reflected in Wyoming’s culture — its festivals and its rodeos — as well as a large number of museums.
Wyoming’s low population density (it’s the country’s tenth-largest state but has the smallest population) results in a lot of lovely small towns and incredible natural scenery — a combination that supports some truly epic road trips. Most of the itineraries below are meant for late spring to early fall, when the roads are (relatively) snow free. Unless you’re traveling with skis / board in tow…but that’s another article.
1. The northern line
Start and end: Starts in the Black Hills / South Dakota border, ends in Yellowstone National Park
Key spots: Sundance, Devils Tower, Bighorn Mountains, Red Gulch/Alkali Scenic Backway, Cody, Beartooth Highway, Yellowstone National Park
Trip length: 450 miles, about 8.5 hours of driving
Duration: 5-10 days
Features: Iconic landmarks, historic towns, incredible canyons, hiking and rock climbing, and national parks
Starting on the South Dakota border in the Black Hills, kick off your drive with a stop at Devils Tower and a hike around this distinctive national monument. The formation itself is also one of North America’s premier crack climbing sites.
Stay a night in the town of Sundance, from where you can make excursions into the Bear Lodge Mountains before heading east, past the Keyhole Reservoir, and on to the Bighorn Mountains and national forest of the same name — one of the oldest federally protected forest areas in the country.
Exit the northwest corner of the forest on the Red Gulch/Alkali Scenic Backway, a 34-mile unpaved route through beautiful badland-style terrain with stop-offs to see dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs. Stay in Lovell, the “Rose Town of Wyoming,” or continue on to Cody (as in Buffalo Bill) for a visit to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
To get from Cody to Yellowstone, hop over the border to Red Lodge, MT and get on the Beartooth Highway (212) going south into the park via the northeast entrance. This All-American Road is the highest in Wyoming and features some out-of-this-world views.
2. The old Park-to-Park Highway
Start and end: Starts in Cheyenne, ends in Yellowstone National Park
Key spots: Cheyenne, Fort Laramie, Oregon Trail Ruts, Boysen State Park, Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway, Thermopolis hot springs, Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, Yellowstone National Park
Trip length: 550 miles, about 10 hours of driving
Duration: 7-10 days
Features: World-class parks, sites and museums from the historic Old West, fishing, hot springs
The Park-to-Park Highway was a massive auto circuit through the major national parks of the American West. This trip takes you along much of Wyoming’s section of the route, starting in the state capital, Cheyenne. The city hosts a number of great festivals throughout the year, including an Oktoberfest. Heading northwest, check out the Fort Laramie National Historic Site — which you’ll probably remember from the Oregon Trail computer game. There are actual wagon ruts from the Oregon Trail just to the north in Guernsey.
Catch a rodeo in Casper, and then make your way to Boysen State Park for some fishing (walleye and trout) or water skiing. Next, it’s on through the beautiful Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway to Thermopolis for a day of unwinding in the area’s natural hot springs. From there, head to Cody, Wyoming — founded by Buffalo Bill Cody — and drive the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. You could theoretically do this drive in a few days, but it deserves at least a week.
3. The mountain-to-mountain route
Start and end: Starts in Cheyenne, ends in Jackson
Key spots: Cheyenne Old West Museum, Curt Gowdy State Park, Snowy Range Scenic Byway, Wyoming Frontier Prison Museum, Sinks Canyon State Park, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson
Trip length: 500 miles, about 8 hours of driving
Duration: At least a week
Features: Incredible sightseeing, haunted museums, hiking, awesome photography
This trip will take you from the Rocky Mountains in the southeast of the state to the Grand Tetons in the northwest. It’s a slightly more southern route than the old Park-to-Park Highway, so while there’s a bit of overlap in the beginning, it splits off before too long.
You’ll start in Cheyenne, where you can visit the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. If you go in late July, you can attend the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo and festival, the largest outdoor rodeo in the world. From Cheyenne, drive the back road (210) to Curt Gowdy State Park for some under-the-radar yet epic mountain biking.
Laramie makes for a convenient overnight, and then it’s on to the Snowy Range Scenic Byway — a 28-mile stretch of highway through Medicine Bow National Forest — and Rawlins, where you can visit the Wyoming Frontier Prison, the supposedly haunted museum and former state penitentiary built as an attempt to bring some law and order to the Old West.
From Rawlins head up to Lander, and then it’s parks all the way. There’s Sinks Canyon State Park, which has great opportunities to see wildlife, as well as excellent hiking, camping, and rock climbing. You’re back in the mountains now, and nothing will drive that home better than rolling up to Grand Teton National Park, a dream come true for backpackers, climbers, and photographers. Jackson is your destination, one of America’s best-appointed gateways to adventure.
4. Salt Lake to Yellowstone
Start and end: Starts in Salt Lake City / Utah border, ends in Yellowstone National Park
Key spots: Evanston, Fort Bridger, Flaming Gorge, Fossil Butte, Snake River Canyon, Jackson, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park
Trip length: 350 miles, about 7 hours of driving
Duration: 5-10 days
Features: Phenomenal photography opps, tons of wildlife, excellent water sports
This trip takes you from Wyoming’s southwest corner up to Yellowstone. You’ll begin in Evanston, an old railroad town that’s now known for its outdoor recreation, including easy access to Bear River State Park, where you can see bison and elk. Historic Fort Bridger, a supply stop on the Oregon Trail and later a military outpost, is a short drive east on I-80.
Continue along the interstate until exit 99, where you can catch the road south to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. The reservoir is a particularly popular water sports destination, whether you’re a boater, angler, windsurfer, or kayaker. From there, backtrack west to Kemmerer and Fossil Butte National Monument to hike around what’s pretty much the largest deposit of marine fossils in the world.
Next, head north along the very edge of the state to Afton, Alpine, and on to Snake River Canyon — worth a visit no matter where you’re going if you’re into whitewater rafting / paddling. Follow the Snake River upstream to Jackson, Grand Teton National Park, and ultimately Yellowstone.
5. The Wild West
Start and end: Starts in Cheyenne, ends in Sundance
Key spots: Cheyenne, Laramie, Douglas, Casper, Buffalo, Gillette, Sundance
Trip length: 425 miles, about 6 hours of driving
Duration: 5 days
Features: Rodeos, historic museums, ghost towns, outlaw hideouts
Understandably, most of the attention in Wyoming goes to the insane outdoor activities and natural scenery across the state. But the local history, particularly as it pertains to the Old West, is worth a trip all on its own. Wyoming made up an important leg of the Oregon Trail, and later became a home for ranchers, miners, and outlaws.
This itinerary starts in the state capital of Cheyenne, where you’ll spend your first couple days. Catch a rodeo if you can — the largest outdoor rodeo in the world, if you come for Frontier Days in July — and day trip over to Fort Laramie and the Grand Encampment, a ghost town built around an old copper mine.
Back in Cheyenne, drive north to Douglas, the Wyoming Pioneer Memorial Museum, and Fort Fetterman. From Douglas, it’s only a 45-minute drive to Casper, where you can visit the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center and learn about the many trails that passed through Wyoming: the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, and the Pony Express.
Next, get into outlaw country in Buffalo, with its Occidental Hotel — Butch Cassidy used to drop in — and the nearby hideout of the Hole in the Wall Gang. Tour the old mine in Gillette before continuing to Sundance, the town that bestowed its name on Cassidy’s right-hand man after we broke out of the local jail. Now that’s the Wild West.