Wyoming is known for its rugged mountain wilderness, abundant wildlife, and scenic vistas. As part of the Mountain West states, Wyoming boasts seven national parks, including Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. The quaint small towns throughout the state offer abundant opportunities to explore the native landscape, but they also celebrate the rich legacy of the American frontier. Many of these early settlements began as centers of community and commerce, supporting pioneers intent on building new lives in the untamed West. Today, most local economies rely on tourism dollars, showcasing outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and skiing. Yet, the spirit of the Old West lives in the many museums, galleries, and historic sites waiting to be explored in the welcoming small towns.
The town of Buffalo celebrates a wonderful connection to the Old West when the days of the gunslinger ruled the American frontier. The town sits in the Big Horn National Forest and provided the the perfect haven for many notorious outlaws like Butch Cassidy to evade capture. Visitors should stay at the Occidental Hotel or the "Ox," an 1879 hotel and saloon bursting with turn-of-the-century charm. The grand hotel's lobby has numerous exhibits and an Old West Saloon with bullet holes still present from the wilder days. Plan on continuing your history lesson at the excellent Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum.
Heading out of town, the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway is an excellent route for an afternoon drive or finding a trailhead to hike into the nearby forest. With over 100 miles of trails in the area, plenty of pristine wilderness and wildlife can be seen. The Lake Helen Trail is an 11.5-mile climb that meanders through the forest from Buffalo to Ten Sleep.
Tourists flock to Jackson (aka Jackson Hole) to explore two unique natural treasures nearby, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons. During the warmer summer, outdoor enthusiasts will find abundant wildlife on the region's numerous hiking trails. One of the most popular day hikes for those seeking a mountain trail to conquer is the Paintbrush to Cascade Loop in the Grand Teton National Park. This 19-mile trail rises over 4,000 feet toward the Paintbrush Divide through the heart of the Tetons. (If you have children, try the trails closer to town, including the Nelson Knoll, Hagen Trail, or Snow King. Many families ride the gondola back down to the town as a reward for finishing the 3.6-mile Snow King route.
Jackson has a walkable Western downtown district filled with galleries, shops, and places of interest. Explore the National Museum of Wildlife Art or Gallery Wild, featuring the works of many local artists. During winter, Jackson becomes a prime destination as many ski resorts open. From December to April, the National Elk Refuge is a prime attraction run by the US Forest Service, where visitors can ride sleighs over the snow-covered wilderness to view large herds of elk roaming free (when the weather permits).
Cody is in northwestern Wyoming along the Shoshone River in a basin surrounded by three mountain ranges. The town bears the name of its founder, Buffalo Bill Cody, and displays the heart of the cowboy in ways that few other small towns do. One of the prime attractions is The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, with its five distinct museums. Nearby, summer activities include Old Trail Town, a well-preserved frontier settlement, or the nightly Cody Stampede Rodeo.
Plan on walking the historic downtown district and visiting the Irma Hotel, which was named in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody's daughter. Today, patrons can dine in the turn-of-the-century restaurant and saloon, sampling the house specialties of prime rib or Rocky Mountain rainbow trout. The Cody gunfighters perform a Wild West shootout just outside the hotel's entrance every evening. You will not want to miss it. Hikers will love the nearby Shoshone National Forest as a gateway to many outdoor activities. Raft down the whitewater of the Shoshone River, or take a jeep excursion through the local terrain to get a deep backcountry experience.
This small town rests at the base of the Snowy Range Mountains, just below the Medicine Bow National Forest. The community offers numerous vistas for tourists driving the Snowy Mountain Scenic Byway. (The 29-mile highway is worth the trip alone). During the warmer months, hikers will love exploring the interpretative Miner's Cabin Trail or the Little Laramie Trail for glimpses of wild deer and moose. The strenuous Medicine Bow Peak Trail is 5.3 miles one way, but it leads to several postcard picture moments if you feel like standing on a rugged mountain peak.
In town, the Nici Museum is in the Old Train Depot and has displays highlighting the town's days as a rail stop for early prospectors and pioneers seeking to make this region their home. During the winter, the snow blows, and the temperatures drop in Centennial (which some people love), but be prepared for many local businesses and roads to close.
Green River enjoys notoriety for a semi-arid climate, producing warm summers and bitterly cold winters. The town was formed as a center for the emerging railroad, but it found distinction as the base camp for John Wesley Powell's courageous expeditions to the Colorado River. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the many activities, including numerous sandstone formations to climb, excellent mountain biking trails worth exploring, and swift whitewater for rafting or kayaking adventures. Walk along the 3.5-mile trail at the Green River Greenbelt Pathway as it follows the river, or scramble up the side of Castle Rock for an unforgettable view.
If you prefer a more leisurely experience, Island Park is great for a family picnic as the cold river water rushes nearby. Be sure to explore the free Sweetwater Historical Museum, and if you need a bite, the Hitching Post Restaurant and Saloon is the best place for a burger or a country breakfast.
Visitors flock to this wilderness locale to experience the region's many fly-fishing, horseback, and hunting activities. Located about 90 minutes from the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Dubois is considered one of the best places for hunting large game like deer, moose, big horn sheep, or black bear. The Shoshone National Forest also surrounds the small town, offering exquisite hiking trails and places to camp.
Union Pass is an excellent place for RV owners to spend the night with a nice view of the surrounding mountains. The Dubois/Wind River KOA offers a less primitive location to spend the night if you have children or need a cabin. The National Bighorn Sheep Interpretative Center is an excellent facility that helps educate visitors on the biology and habitat of local wildlife. Be sure to eat at Cowboy Cafe in its rustic log setting or the Lone Buffalo Steakhouse for an upscale meal and cocktail. The Rustic Pine Tavern is a great place for a beer in an old-time saloon that has served patrons since 1917.
Gillette is a town that many people discover on their way to the Devil's Tower National Monument. Throughout history, the town has been blessed with abundant natural resources. So much so that Gillette is known as the "energy capital of the nation." The region is home to some of the largest coal mines in the country and, at one point, supplied almost 40% of the nation's coal production. The Eagle Butte Coal Mine is an example of a working coal mine that offers daily tours.
Despite the declining demand for fossil fuels, Gillette still has a vibrant downtown district with various unique shops, museums, and galleries. The Campbell County Rockpile Museum has exhibits that showcase the local area and detail the stories of the many mining operations. The Durham Bison Ranch is another popular attraction, home to over 3,000 buffalo grazing freely on the prairie. The Frontier Auto Museum is a must-see if you enjoy classic cars and auto-related memorabilia. The museum houses several rooms filled with classic cars, an indoor drive-in movie theater, and an old-time soda fountain. Enjoy a banana split or handmade milkshake before you leave because they are the best. For a delicious meal, head to Pizza Carrello, a popular local pizza place that serves wood-fired delicacies.
Lander offers a tranquil outdoor experience near the foothills of the Wind River Mountains in central Wyoming. The town began as a frontier Army post, built to protect arriving immigrants pushing toward Oregon and California. The town grew to become the county seat of Fremont County, and today, it enjoys the distinction of being internationally recognized for its many rock-climbing venues. Visitors will want to venture to the Sinks Canyon State Park or attempt an ascent of the Bighorn Dolomite, one of the most challenging climbs in the world. For hikers, the Popo Agie Falls offers a moderate climb through the Shoshone National Forest, ending with a lovely view of the falls.
The Lander historic district has 16 buildings, many from the early 1900s, that are worth exploring. History buffs will enjoy the Fremont Pioneer Museum or the Museum of the American West for the many exhibits celebrating the stories of the early settlers. If you need a bite to eat, try The Middle Fork Cafe and The Oxbow, which are excellent and located on Main Street.
The legacy of the American cowboy is alive and well in the small town of Sheridan, Wyoming. With a strong rodeo and ranching culture, the town hosts one of the premier PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) events every summer, attracting professional bronc and bull riders nationwide. The Sheridan WYO Rodeo is a family-friendly event the town hosts every summer. Whether you are laughing at the antics of a rodeo clown or admiring the strength of a cowboy riding a Brahma bull for eight seconds, there is something for everyone at this event
The downtown district features 46 historic buildings, including the iconic Sheridan Inn. This quaint cowboy community is also close to the Big Horn Mountains, with numerous outdoor adventures. Visitors can hike, bike, fish, and view wildlife near the town. Be sure to venture through Tongue River Canyon (about 40 minutes away) as the trail leads through narrow granite canyons, leading to spectacular scenic views. During winter, Sheridan becomes a tranquil wonderland filled with 218 miles of snowmobile trails like the Bear Lodge Swirl and Sawmill Pass, rated as some of the best in the country.
Laramie is a lively college town located in Southeast Wyoming. It is home to the University of Wyoming, which gives the town a youthful energy. However, it also boasts a rich railroad legacy as one of the primary stops for the Union Pacific. The town was established as a railroad hub, providing goods and services to support the westward expansion of American settlers. The Ivinson mansion, now home to the Laramie Plains Museum, is a splendid example of 19th-century architecture filled with a unique collection of Victorian furniture and antiques.
The Wyoming Territorial Prison stands as one of the oldest buildings in Wyoming, and in the late 1800s, the facility housed some of the most violent men in the territory. Today, the buildings and surrounding 197 acres offer exhibits, a picnic area, and a hiking trail that follows the Big Laramie River. While in town, you can also enjoy some of the best craft beers at one of the four microbreweries, such as Bond's Brewing Company and Coal Creek Tap. If you are in town during a fall weekend, you can catch a Wyoming Cowboy home game at War Memorial Stadium.
Pinedale has a rustic charm that complements its rich history as an early haven for fur trappers and rugged mountain men. Nestled in a high Wyoming valley at over 7,000 feet, this small town is one of the best-kept secrets in the wilderness. Three mountain ranges surround the town: the Wind River Range, the Wyoming Range, and the Gros Ventre Mountains.
The underrated Museum of the Mountain Man has excellent exhibits. The museum tells the story of early mountain men like Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and William Sublette. Read the journals of these first explorers as they braved the untamed wild, paving the way for pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail. (The Museum has limited winter hours, so the best time to visit is in the summer). Drive the Skyline Scenic Drive for many memorable overlooks, and if you have an opportunity to dine, enjoy a great burger and beer at the Wind River Brewing Company.
The small town of Thermopolis is aptly named for its location in Hot Springs County, Wyoming. The town enjoys numerous thermal springs, including the ornate bathhouse at Hot Springs State Park. Soak in the warm mineral waters as you relax from the grind of everyday city life. Spend an afternoon fishing or hiking on any of the six miles of trails, or watch the park's bison herd being fed daily.
The Legend Rock Petroglyph Site towers over 1,000 feet and contains hundreds of ancient drawings, etchings, and carvings left by previous Native American generations. For a family-friendly activity, the Wyoming Dinosaur Center has numerous displays for the future paleontologist in your midst. For a cute restaurant, try the One-Eyed Buffalo or the Black Bear Cafe for an early morning breakfast to begin your day.
Located just south of Sheridan, this ultra-small town is a well-kept secret among the locals. There are dozens of walking trails filled with a pristine wilderness that takes your breath away. The South Piney Creek Trail is a quiet walk in the woods through an old grove forest in the Big Horn National Forest that is beautiful in the summer and fall. The Story Penrose Trail is longer (6.9 miles) and just as breathtaking if you want to spend more time with nature or looking for glimpses of wildlife.
If you like to fish, guides can direct you to the right spot in any of the lakes, rivers, and creeks flowing through the forest. The Brinton Museum offers plenty of artwork and exhibits, and for those exploring the downtown area, be sure to stop at the Big Horn Smokehouse and Saloon for an excellent mountain bar-b-que.
Exploring the quaint towns of Wyoming can be a rewarding and exhilarating adventure. Visitors cannot help but fall in love with the beauty of the American wilderness as they get outdoors. Whether breathing in the crisp mountain air, catching a glimpse of a regal moose or elk, or taking in the vista from a high peak, the appeal of these small towns continues to attract countless visitors. Yet, the natural wonder of these regions is only half the story. Combined with a rich history of the American frontier, these quaint towns offer a reminder of the sacrifice and spirit many previous generations endured. Their legacies are our greatest treasure, matching Wyoming's pristine, incomparable beauty.