Bid boring goodbye on Interstate 25 in Wyoming, one of the nation’s most beautiful interstates. Nature gave the buttes crew cut hairdos. The gap between the Laramie Mountains and the Big Horn Mountains was the pioneers’ path to the west. Between Kaycee and Sheridan, the Bighorn National Forest stretches beside the highway.
Allow at least a day in Cheyenne, then two more days to explore the rest of I-25’s stops. Drive time without stops is 4.5 hours.
I-25 roughly follows the Bozeman Trail, the only trail that indigenous peoples ever shut down permanently. Range wars pitted homesteaders and large ranchers against each other.
With a mean elevation of 6,700 feet above sea level, high-altitude Wyoming offers a respite from summer’s heat. While summer days can be warm, temperatures drop quickly as the sun goes down. In the fall, glittering golden aspen groves quiver on the slopes. Their golden leaves and white trunks act as a counterpoint to the region’s evergreens. Wyoming winters can be brutal. But if you’re up to winter’s challenges, the snow on the Big Horns is spectacular.
Wyoming is the least populated of the contiguous 48 states. Fewer people means more wildlife. In the spring, look for cinnamon-colored baby bison and bears emerging from hibernation. Elk, bison, and bighorn sheep migrate down from their winter ranges.
1. Cheyenne: The Cowboy State’s Capital City
Cheyenne, Wyoming’s capital, is the state’s largest city with 64,000 people. It stands at the junction of Interstates 80 and 25 in southeastern Wyoming, near Nebraska and Colorado.
If You Want To Be A Cowgirl, Head To The Wrangler First
If you haven’t come to Wyoming with a cowboy hat and boots, visit The Wrangler immediately. Look for the pinkish downtown building wearing “The Wrangler” in gigantic letters on the roof. In the shop’s 13,000 square feet, you’re sure to find the perfect Western wear.
Thus properly outfitted, continue your tour of Cheyenne.
The Wyoming State Capitol, Where Wyoming Became The Equality State
After a four-year renovation, the Wyoming State Capitol reopened in 2019. Wyoming held its Constitutional Convention in the Historic Supreme Court Chamber in 1889. Representatives enshrined women’s suffrage into the state’s constitution, and Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote. The Wyoming Territory’s Legislature had written women’s suffrage into law in 1869. In the Capitol Extension, look for Justice of the Peace Esther Hobart Morris’s statue. She was the first woman to hold public office.
Rodeos, Bison, And Big Boots
Every summer, Cheyenne holds the world’s biggest outdoor rodeo, part of Cheyenne Frontier Days’ giant party. Reserve lodging well in advance.
Ride a train to see bison at Terry Bison Ranch. The ranch offers lodging and dining options as well. Also eat at Wyoming’s Rib and Chop House and the Cheyenne Outlaws Saloon. Stay at the Little America Hotel.
Pro Tip: Hunt for all of Cheyenne’s Big Boots. The 8-foot-tall cowboy boots explain the city’s and the state’s histories.
2. Chugwater: Home Of Chugwater Chili And Falling Bison
Chugwater is 45 minutes north of Cheyenne. Legend says its name comes from the chugging sound bison make when they fall into Chugwater Creek.
Chugwater Chili started as a Wyoming State Championship Chili recipe. Try a free sample at the company’s store and buy a jar of red pepper jelly. Eat the next championship chili at the annual Chugwater Chili Cook-Off in June.
After checking out the chili store, take a two-minute walk to Chugwater Soda Fountain, Wyoming’s oldest soda fountain. Eat more Chugwater Chili or the soda fountain’s green chili while sipping a hand-dipped malt.
3. Home Of The Wyoming State Fair (And Where Douglas Knows Jack)
Douglas is just over an hour northwest of Chugwater. The fanciful jackalope is everywhere in Douglas. Real jackalope sightings are rare, but Douglas is full of sculptural renditions of the fabled hybrid between a rabbit and a deer. Download a jackalope hunting license. Celebrate the jackalope each June.
Each August, Douglas hosts the Wyoming State Fair. During the fair, cowboys and cowgirls compete in the Wyoming Ranch Rodeo Championships for Wyoming’s Best Ranch Hands title. Rodeo fans will enjoy several other Converse County championship rodeos, too.
4. Casper: Home Of Trails And Not-So-Friendly Ghosts
Casper, 45 minutes west of Douglas, was not named for the Friendly Ghost. Instead, the city gets its name from the ruined ghost fort nearby, Fort Caspar. And Casper’s spooks are not as friendly as the cartoon ghost. Today’s visitors may tour the reconstructed fort.
The Oregon, Mormon, California, and Pony Express Trails all passed through Casper. Learn more at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. Join pioneers on the Platte River Trails system under old-growth trees. The course offers both paved and gravel trails.
Stretch your legs at Rotary Park on Casper Mountain, 15 minutes away from Casper. Bring a picnic lunch and walk from the parking lot to the waterfall. After you eat, hike the scenic 4.5-mile Bridle Trail through Split Rock.
5. The Airport That Became A Town
6. The Scandalous Teapot Dome
7. The Notorious Johnson County War
Kaycee, 45 minutes north of Teapot Dome, owes its name to the Nolan Ranch’s KC brand, but the post office insisted on Kaycee. Perhaps the post office wanted to quell the area’s notorious reputation after the ranch’s role in the Johnson County War. The events inspired The Virginian, Shane, and Johnson County War.
8. Buffalo, A Downtown Straight From A Western Movie
Forty minutes north in Buffalo, every downtown building has a story. Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Butch Cassidy were Occidental Hotel guests. Enjoy a steak in the onsite restaurant, The Virginian, or coffee in the Busy Bee Coffee Shop. Learn more about the Johnson County War at the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum. Art galleries include Margo’s Pottery and Fine Crafts and Wyoming in Color. Backpackers should explore the Cloud Peak Wilderness.
9. Red Cloud’s Target, Fort Phil Kearny
We visited Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site, 20 minutes north of Buffalo, on an overcast October day. We marveled at the fort’s spectacular surroundings; the heavy, foreboding clouds set an appropriate mood. The Army built Fort Phil to protect the Bozeman Trail, but it didn’t work. Eighty-one soldiers died in the Fetterman Fight. The soldiers won the later Wagon Box Fight, but Red Cloud and his warriors had outlasted the government’s will to win. A treaty closed the trail.
Pro Tip: The stone Fetterman Monument is about three miles from Fort Phil and 10 miles south of Story. Visit the monument at sunset and watch the peaceful lights come on in Story and Banner. Or return to Fort Phil for a session at their observatory, Skylab.
10. Big Horn: Wyoming’s Polo Headquarters
In the 1890s, two Scottish brothers started playing polo in Big Horn, half an hour north of Fort Phil. Players and spectators enjoy the Sport of Kings all summer long at two polo clubs, the Big Horn Polo Club and the Flying H Polo Club.
Pro Tips: Learn polo’s rules before you go. While in Big Horn, discover Western art, history, and hiking trails at the Brinton Museum. Eat chicken Alfredo pizza at Big Horn Mercantile, and enjoy a drink at The Last Chance Bar.
11. Cowboy Up In Sheridan
What is a cowboy without a horse? And what is a horse without a saddle? Engage cowboy lore at the Don King Museum in King’s Saddlery. The Plains tribes were the greatest light cavalry of all time. Emulate them at Rocky Mountain Discount Sports’ archery range.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is an hour from Sheridan in southern Montana. Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn replaced the Fetterman Fight as the Army’s worst defeat on the Great Plains. We also recommend this Western road trip that begins in Wyoming.