With nearly half of Wyoming designated as public land, the Cowboy State is the ideal destination for anyone who wants to explore the dramatic natural beauty of the American West. The most sparsely populated state in the Union, the best places to visit in Wyoming are filled with spectacular landscapes, ranging from the thermal geysers of Yellowstone to the jagged mountain peaks of Grand Teton. The mountainous state is rightfully proud of its Wild West heritage too. Whether watching a bronco-busting rodeo, chowing down on a chuckwagon dinner or rollicking the night away at a country-music dance hall, it’s clear that cowboy culture is alive and well in Wyoming.
Millions of years ago, three great lakes covered much of what is now a high desert in the southwest corner of Wyoming. The smallest body of water known today as Fossil Lake has proved to be a treasure trove of fossilized fish, animals and plants. Located around 15 miles (24 km) west of the City of Kemmerer, the Fossil Butte National Monument features a butte that rises 1,000 feet (300 meters) above the ancient lake bed. Fossils are found all over the butte, and during the summer, visitors can join paleontologists to dig for prehistoric remains. The Monument’s visitor center displays more than 300 fossils found in the region.
The largest hot springs in North America is the main attraction in Hot Springs State Park. Located near the aptly named town of Thermopolis, the steaming hot water from the Big Spring is used to supply several spa resorts and water parks. Run by the state, the State Bath House is open to the public. Visitors can soak in an indoor or outdoor pool free of charge for 20 minutes. With its open and enclosed twisting water slides, indoor and outdoor pools and bubbling hot tubs, the Star Plunge water park is a family favorite. The park is also home to a herd of around 25 bison.
Located in the southeast corner of Wyoming, Cheyenne is the Cowboy State’s capital and largest city. Founded in 1867, Cheyenne’s many historic buildings and museums are its main attractions. Built in 1887, the Renaissance rival-style Capitol Building features a gold leaf dome that’s visible from almost anywhere in the city, and the building’s stained glass interior, grand staircase and checkerboard marble floors make it worth a visit. The Nelson Museum of the West features Native American art and artifacts from the United States Cavalry. In July Cheyenne hosts the Cheyenne Frontier Days, the largest outdoor rodeo in the US. Established in 1897 it includes numerous rodeo events, free pancake breakfasts, night-time concerts, and parades.
The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area owes its existence to the Yellowtail Dam built on the Bighorn River in Montana during the 1960s. Much of the dam’s reservoir, which extends 71 miles (114 km) upstream into Wyoming, lies within the Crow Indian Reservation. Steep canyon walls rise above Bighorn Lake, making the reservoir a scenic place to enjoy boating and water sports. The Wyoming side of the park lies adjacent to the Pryor Mountain National Wild Horse Range, offering visitors the chance to see herds of wild horses riding along the canyon’s summit.
Rising 1,267 feet (386 meters) above the surrounding terrain, Devils Tower is the core of an ancient volcano exposed from erosion. It is located in the Black Hills in Crook County, northeastern Wyoming and was declared a United States National Monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The mountain became world famous in 1977 when it was chosen as the location of the alien-human rendezvous point in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar winning science fiction film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Nowadays it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Wyoming.
Formed by a dam built on the Green River in 1958, the Flaming Gorge reservoir is the primary attraction of this National Recreation Area straddling the border between Utah and Wyoming. Equipped with five full-service marinas, the manmade lake is the perfect vacation destination for water sports, boating and fishing. With more than 100 miles (160 km) of trails, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding are popular activities as well. Named after the flame-colored cliffs that rise up from the Green River, Flaming Gorge is most scenic at sunrise or sunset when the canyon glows with brilliant colors.
No visit to Wyoming is complete without exploring the state’s cowboy heritage, and the City of Cody is a great place to peer into the Cowboy State’s past. Located near Yellowstone, the city was founded in 1887 by the legendary Buffalo Bill Cody. The Buffalo Bill Center in the center of Cody has five Western themed museums filled with engaging exhibits, including artifacts that chronicle William F. Cody’s colorful life. The Old Trail Town, which features more than 25 restored Western buildings, is a must-see attraction too. Known as the Rodeo Capital of the World, Cody holds rodeos almost every night during the summer.
Located near Wyoming’s border with Idaho, the upscale Jackson Hole resort area began life as outpost for trappers attracted by the region’s many fur-bearing animals. A river basin at the base of the Teton Range, Jackson Hole attracts visitors in every season. Rafting in Snake River is a popular pastime in summer, and with more than 500 inches of snow each winter, the region is a favorite skiing destination too. The City of Jackson is the only incorporated town in the valley, but there are resorts, homes and communities scattered all over the valley. Dining in Jackson ranges from campfire barbeque cookouts to cuisine like wild salmon, buffalo burgers and elk chops.
Established in 1929, the Grand Teton National Park is well known for its stunning mountain vistas, its shimmering alpine lakes and its abundant wildlife.
Stretching from Yellowstone National Park to the City of Jackson, the rugged spine of the Teton Mountains towers more than a mile above the Snake River valley. Sparkling lakes nestle against the foot of the mountains, and moose, bison and elk are among the many animals that make the park their home. With more than 250 miles (400 km) of hiking trails and hundreds of campgrounds, motels and lodges, visitors have their pick of activities and accommodations.
Formed by volcanic fire and glacial ice, the nation’s first national park is arguably its most spectacular too. Underground thermal waters bubble up to the surface and explode into geysers. Water draining from Yellowstone’s high plateau forms into rivers and tumbles down waterfalls. The largest herd of bison in America roams freely through Yellowstone, and elk, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears and wolves range the park as well. Yellowstone National Park is so popular that visitors must make plans well in advance to secure lodging or campsites. Attracting more than three million visitors each year, Yellowstone is more than a national park. It’s a national treasure.
Read more: Top Yellowstone Attractions