In the US, the state of Wyoming encompasses the plains and prairies to the east, and famous mountain ranges like the Rocky Mountains, Teton Range, and Big Horn Mountains to the west. Though the 10th largest state in the country by size, Wyoming has the smallest population, a combination that creates open wild spaces. These can be extremely welcome for city folk as well as those who crave fresh air and solitude. The largest city in Wyoming is still only about 60,000 people, so visitors are sure to find that small-town feel wherever they go in the state.
Many of these beautiful small towns and cities offer well-rounded experiences, and something for everyone, from antique homes and Old West history to contemporary art and theme-park rides. Some also have unique attractions found nowhere else in the world or offer something special that sets them apart from other towns in the state.
In the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, the historic town of Buffalo sits on Wyoming State Highway 16, a straight shot between two of America’s most popular attractions, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. The downtown is home to many historical buildings, the most well-known of which is the Occidental Hotel. Originally a log structure built in 1880, the hotel featured in the Owen Wister novel The Virginian. Also preserving the town’s Old West heritage is the Jim Gatchell Museum, with its collection of more than 15,000 artifacts.
Buffalo sits a short drive away from many famous historical sites, like the Hole in the Wall hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It is also one endpoint of the lovely 47-mile drive across the Bighorn National Forest known as the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway. The one-hour drive along this stretch of road highway reaches elevations of 9,666 feet over the Powder River Pass.
Wyoming's capital city, Cheyenne was once named by Livability.com as one of the top places to live in the US. It is home to the world’s largest rodeo, Frontier Days. First held in 1897 with steer roping and races, it is now a full 10 days of concerts, bull rides, parades, and art sales. Dozens of the town’s buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Learn about their history and the stories of the town on a guided trolley tour around the town. Special theme tours run during certain times of the year with haunted tours offered in October.
Must-see attractions for visitors include the award-winning Grand Conservatory at the free-to-all Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Paul Smith Children’s Village for family fun, and Big Boy, the largest steam locomotive in the world on display in Holliday Park.
The town of Cody was named after the American legend "Buffalo" Bill Cody, whose life was pivotal for the development of the whole area. Sometimes also known as Yellowstone Cody, for this larger area and the nearby Yellowstone National Park, Cody is one of the most popular towns for visitors.
Tourism is huge in Cody, and its Old West history takes center stage for many visitors. Trolley tours offer a relaxed way to learn about the town and receive tidbits of its history. The Old Trail Town and Museum of the Old West contain two dozen frontier buildings bringing history to life in a three-dimensional, interactive way. Numerous performances also incorporate the town’s history, such as the humorous street shows by the Cody Gunfighters and Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue, a variety show in the Cody Theatre.
Douglas calls itself the Jackalope City, after the legendary creature that is part jackrabbit, part antelope, created there by two taxidermists in 1934. People love the mythic creature, and the city has embraced it wholeheartedly. Visitors to the Railroad Museum can now get a license to hunt jackalopes and collect jackalope stickers as they explore the town.
Visitors soak in the local history by exploring the Wyoming Pioneer Museum as well as Fort Fetterman, first established in 1867 and an important staging point during the American Frontier War. Today, it is a chance to learn about this critical chapter by imagining what it might have been like to visit it while it was functional. Many tourist time their visit to coincide with the Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo at the end of August, with its live shows, a demolition derby, parades, and food booths.
As it is still a working western town, visitors to Dubois (rhymes with "cowboys") can experience genuine cattle drives, dude ranches, badlands, chuckwagon dinners, square dances, and even more if they make it to the Dubois Rodeo. The area has a long history of settlement, the first signs of which are remnants of the ancient Mountain Shoshone. With help from local guides, visitors can search out Rock carvings (petroglyphs) in the Whiskey Basin Valley, remains of hunters’ blinds and bighorn sheep traps, and stone circles that were teepee rings. New archeological discoveries are still occurring, with Dubois dubbed the "epicenter" of archeology in the area.
Also unique to the area are the geology tours, as it is one of a few places in the world where you can find three kinds of mountains (volcanic, tectonic, and glacial) in one spot. The town's Old West role is still very much alive, and it is working to preserve the history of the railway hacks, who over the years hand hew 10 million railroad ties, exported from Dubois to build railroads across the country.
Sitting at an elevation of 6,600 feet, Green River was originally called Adobe Town. It was eventually renamed after the river with green soapstone on its banks, which also offers excellent opportunities for river rafting, kayaking, and world-class fishing.
Castle Rock, a massive rock formation found near its downtown, dominates the Green River. It is the remnants of an ancient lake that dried up thousands of years ago, eroding much of the area, but leaving these distinctive formations with fish and plant fossils behind. Green River and Sweetwater County draw many interested in geology, topography, and natural phenomena. Other formations in the area include The Palisades, Tollgate Rock, and Pilot Butte. Other unique sights just outside of Green River are the Seedskadee Wildlife Refuge, the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, and the Ashley National Forest immediately to the south, and the wild horses running free on the drive between Green River and Rock Springs.
Life in Jackson revolves around the Historic Town Square, with wooden boardwalks leading between shops, eateries, and other businesses. What is now the Square has been a park since 1934. As elk had sporadically migrated through town in the early years, the corners of the Square each feature an arch made from shed elk antlers. Most are collected from the National Elk Refuge.
The Square frequently hosts events throughout the year, like Old West Days, arts festivals, and the Farmer’s Market during the summer, and turns into an ice rink in the winter. Jackson is also home to the astounding Grand Teton Music Festival where almost 100 orchestras gather from around the US. Originally settled in the 1890s, Jackson sits in the Jackson Hole mountain valley within the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges. The pristine 484-square mile Grand Teton National Park is a short drive away.
Lander was named after Frederick Lander, who was responsible for creating its wagon road named the Lander Trail. By 1906 the railway line west ended at Lander, earning it the nickname "where the rails end and the trails begin." Many in the town still prefer to power their own transportation and so the town is pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Top indoor attractions include the Fremont County Pioneer Museum and the Museum of the American West. Annual events include the International Climbers’ Festival, Lander Brewfest, and the Pioneer Days Rodeo.
Lander is one of the best towns in the nation for outdoor living, as it also serves as the gateway to the Wind River Mountains. This range has dozens of peaks that are around 13,000 feet high, and climbers come from all over the world to attempt Wyoming’s highest mountain, Gannett Peak, which reaches a height of 13,804 feet. Many visitors also seek out Sinks Canyon Park, as it is home to the disappearing Popo Agie River, which enters an underground cavern before making its way back to the surface.
In 1887, two men brought the first cattle to a valley just east of Yellowstone National Park. The tiny town on the bank of the Bighorn River was so small it didn't even have its own post office. One of the cattlemen, Henry Clay Lovell, pulled some strings and got them one, so the community took the name Lovell in gratitude.
A second man was pivotal to the growth of the town now known as "The Rose town of Wyoming." The longtime town doctor, William Horsley loved growing roses and contributed to the development of the Peace Rose. Now the town has a variety of different gardens, and a massively popular local business Queen Bee Gardens. It is a candy business run by the Zeller family, who have raised bees for years and developed recipes for Honey Pecan Pralines, Honeymoons, toffee, and more.
Between the Sierra Madres and Snowy mountains is a town with a name derived from the Iroquois term sarachtoue, meaning "place of miraculous water in the rock." Anglicized to Saratoga, the springs here have long been a place for healing. Though the town is not as famous as some other hot springs in Wyoming, visitors have long traveled here from great distances, especially since a bathhouse was set up in 1877, and the historical brick Wolf Hotel was built in 1893. The charmingly-named Hobo Hot Springs is the most accessible for many, as it is open 24 hours a day, while the Saratoga Hot Springs Resort also offers a day spa and microbrewery.
Also famous as "Where The Trout Leap In Main Street," the North Platte River passes right through town, making it a top destination for good fishing. Local events that draw visitors include the ice fishing derby on Saratoga Lake, the unique Woodchopper’s Jamboree and Rodeo, The Steinley Cup Microbrew Festival, and a new event called the Saratoga Skijoring Races, in which a horse pulls a skier around a course.
Between Devil's Tower, the nation’s first national monument, and the world-famous Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, sits the town of Sundance. The town and the mountain it sits at the foot of take their name from the ancient Sun Dance ceremony long performed there.
The town of Sundance saw more outlaw activity than other Wild West Wyoming towns. It was after serving 18 months in jail here (for stealing a horse) that 15-year-old Harry Longabaugh took the nickname, the Sundance Kid. He is now also famous for joining Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. The Hole in the Wall hideout nearby is a popular place to visit. A life-size bronze statue of the Kid still resides outside the Crook County Museum in the historic "Old Stoney" building downtown. Old Stoney began its life as a local school and is now home to over 7,000 artifacts as well as the original courtroom from the Kid’s days. In warmer weather, the museum hosts a Sip N Walk tour of the town, where historical figures come alive while visitors explore the town and sip their favorite beverage.
Thermopolis, Wyoming is home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs. Even better, due to a treaty signed in 1896, access to the state bathhouses is free to all. The Hot Springs State Park features both indoor and outdoor pools, steam caves, and activities like slides. Founded in 1897, the town now has a population of approximately 3,000 but is a temporary home to many more with scores of visitors in town at any point of the year. In addition to the springs, visitors can partake in sports and activities like golf, tennis, basketball, soccer, and fairs.
Outside of town, wild bison are easy to spot on the way to the nearby Legend Rock Petroglyph site, with hundreds of drawings dating back 10,000 years. Going back even further, the Wyoming Dinosaur Center offers hands-on activities and tours of actual dig sites during the summer season.
Many who crave open spaces and wild animals gravitate to Wyoming to get back to a more natural way of living, to travel under their own power or by horseback, and to set aside plenty of time to contemplate spectacular views and vistas. This pace of life allows more time for enjoying rest, relaxation, good food, and local beverages. With settlements that go back into prehistory, the story of people in Wyoming is incredibly long. Now, though often underrated, these delightful towns offer everything from mountain climbing to relaxing in a hot spring, making them a welcome respite from the busyness of life and work in big cities.