Four Unique Things to Do in Wyoming
January 14, 2021
I first visited Wyoming when I was eight on a family road trip out west. It's a familiar story for those from the Midwest, especially in the late 90s and early 2000s. Where I was from, it was considered the trip. Pack your bags, drive westward for two weeks, and attempt to keep all siblings from killing each other in the backseat for 40+ hours in the car. It was the great American adventure.
However, finding the "wild west" isn't necessarily an easy feat in 2021. It's no secret what's out there. In Colorado, trailhead parking lots fill by 7am in the high-season. The west can sometimes feel like an amusement park. That is, except for Wyoming.
Taking the plunge to live in the west was a deep-rooted goal. In the Spring of 2020, we packed everything we owned into two cars and chased the sunset to the rolling foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We traded freeways, fast-food, and traffic for crisp mountain air, hot springs, and wide-open spaces. There's no questioning where the wild west is. It's right here.
1. Beartooth Pass & Highway
The Beartooth Mountain Range and Beartooth Scenic Highway straddle the Wyoming and Montana border north of Yellowstone. While driving the route, you'll pass "mini-Matterhorn," Wyoming's version of the famed peak, and eventually curve your way thousands of vertical feet to Beartooth Pass, one of the highest roads in North America at 10,297ft.
Although easily accessible from Yellowstone's north entrance, this section of Wyoming is often overlooked by visitors. The small western-themed town of Cooke City has some of the best (and biggest) ice cream cones I've seen west of the Mississippi. For ambitious skiers, Beartooth Basin is a small summer ski area only open in June and July.
If you plan to take a visit to the Beartooth Mountains, plan accordingly. Because of the elevation, the pass is typically closed until sometime in the beginning of June and often closes again by early-mid October. Check for closure information here.
2. Wind River Mountains
Grand Teton might be grand, but the Wind River Mountains hide Wyoming's tallest mountain, as well as an abundance of other dramatic peaks, hikes, and awe-inspiring landscapes.
If you're not a fan of hiking or gritty adventures, this stop might not be for you. The Wind River Range includes 2.25 million acres of wilderness in west-central Wyoming. However, most of the wilderness is entirely unreachable by car.
An "easy" hike in this section of Wyoming might be considered 16 miles round trip, which will get you into the valley of Square Top Mountain. From there, the challenges only get more difficult. A hike to see Gannett Peak, the tallest mountain in Wyoming, is a casual 50-mile round-trip trek. The backcountry (and most parking lots) are entirely void of cell service as well. However, if you're a fan of backpacking and are ready to take in some of the Rocky Mountains' most spectacular sites, Wind River Range is the answer.
(travel tip: pack bug spray)
3. Thermopolis Hot Springs
Wyoming is home to over half of the world's geysers and hot springs. Thermopolis, located about two hours from Yellowstone, is a tiny town in central Wyoming that has harnessed natural hot springs to create localized spa-like pools for locals and tourists at Hot Springs State Park. The naturally heated pools, saunas, and hot tubs are the perfect relaxation stop while on the road.
The city harnesses the spring water, filled with rich natural minerals, and filters them into a series of baths, the same way Budapest creates their luxurious hot springs in Hungary. However, these pools aren't upscale, making them incredibly affordable (adult day passes are $11).
After you've taken a dip, drive further into the park to see some buffalo away from the crowds of Yellowstone.
4. Cody, Wyoming
Heading toward Yellowstone from Thermopolis, Cody is an old west town often used as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Most tourists stop by the town for a night before heading into the park. What they don't realize is that Cody is home to some of the country's most impressive valleys, rock climbing, and ice climbing.
The nearby Southfork is praised to hold some of the most extreme (and impressive) ice climbing routes in the world. There are also numerous opportunities for visitors to experience the real west, whether via horseback with one of the many ranches, camping under the Milkyway a secluded Northfork campground, or visiting the Firearms museum with over 7,000 historic guns.
More Wyoming Travel Resources
Travel Wyoming: https://travelwyoming.com/
Hot Springs State Park: http://thermopolis.com/attractions/hot-springs-state-park/
Beartooth Highway Closure Information: https://www.mdt.mt.gov/travinfo/beartooth/
Cody- Yellowstone Information: https://www.codyyellowstone.org/
State Highway and Road Closures: https://www.wyoroad.info/
At any given moment, Shalee is either lost, hunting for ice cream, or obsessively planning her next adventure.
Born and raised in rural Michigan, she began exploring the shores of Great Lakes as a teen, often sleeping in her car to save money. Eventually, her urge to explore pushed beyond her Midwest borders. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure and outdoor tourism. Her pack now includes two spunky hiking cats and her partner, Josh. Learn more about her here.
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Shalee Wanders, LLC 2019