Hold on to your (cowboy) hat when you visit Wyoming. The 44th state’s rugged Western heritage and untamed wilderness promise a wild ride.
Wyoming is the tenth-largest state by area but the least-populated state in the union. Its name is from the Delaware tribe’s word for “land of vast plains,” a wide-open claim that still holds true.
High-rises? You won’t find many. Hot springs and horses? Wyoming has too many to count. And even cowboys like comfort, so there are enough luxurious lodgings and delicious dining options to satisfy even the most sophisticated city slickers. Throw in spectacular scenery, friendly locals and world-class national parks and it all adds up to a destination sure to delight groups.
Tucked in the southeastern corner of the state, the capital city proclaims that it’s “Where Wyoming Begins.” Staying true to its cowboy credo, Cheyenne is home to Frontier Days, the largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration in the world. Each year, more than 200,000 people descend on Cheyenne during in the last two weekends of July for rodeos, a carnival and performances by some of the biggest names in music.
Beyond Frontier Days, visitors can also experience the best of the Old West at the Hell on Wheels Rodeo and Chuck Wagon Dinner series held throughout the summer. No hardtack served here. Instead, there’s a feast of cowboy-approved delicacies like brisket, beans, coleslaw and cobbler served before a 90-minute rodeo featuring bull riding, steer wrestling and much more. Groups can reserve tables and stadium seating so that everyone can enjoy the event together.
“We offer a truly authentic Western destination that still is in a modern city,” said Jim Walter, vice president of Visit Cheyenne. “With the advent of shows like ‘Yellowstone’ and ‘1893,’ you can experience the romantic notions of today’s Western lifestyle and immerse yourself in the history and the modern culture that is the West.”
Visitors will also want to ride the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley, which offers tours throughout the year that highlight the town’s rich history. After busy days, Little America Hotel and Resort offers spacious and comfortable accommodations as well as shops, a golf course and an impressive collection of Western art.
Sheridan, halfway between Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore in the Big Horn Mountains near the border of Montana, is rich in old West history and culture. It’s also the unlikely home of America’s premier polo facility. The sport of kings has been played here since the late 1800s, when brothers William and Malcolm Moncreiffe, sons of a Scottish lord, brought the noble game to this otherwise rough-and-tumble outpost. Other royalty who came to enjoy the ponies and the spectacular scenery include Ernest Hemingway, Teddy Roosevelt, Cary Grant and Queen Elizabeth II.
“All of our [polo] games are free and open to the public,” said Shawn Parker, executive director of Sheridan Travel and Tourism. “But we have a lot more to offer. Buffalo Bill used to audition acts for his Wild West Show at the historic Sheridan Inn, and our entire downtown is exceptional.”
Sheridan is well worth a leisurely stroll, with 46 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. A stop at King’s Saddlery, one of the best tack shops in the world, offers shopping for handmade leather goods and a visit to the onsite museum with its a collection of Western artifacts. A gourmet sandwich at Sackett’s Market or a brick oven pizza slice at Big Horn Mercantile make a tasty lunch.
Groups will appreciate the accommodations and activities at Eatons’ Ranch, the oldest “dude ranch” in the nation. The ranch is 17 miles from Sheridan and has horseback riding, fly fishing and its own secluded swimming hole, along with dining, dancing and a children’s program.
“Buffalo Bill” was the nickname of William Frederick Cody, and in 1901, the Wild West showman founded the town that bears his name. A year later, he built a hotel and named it after his daughter Irma. Visitors can stay there and visit one of the five museums comprising the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
But there’s much more to Cody than Cody himself.
“We have incredible landscapes, wildlife and history for the experience of a lifetime,” said Ryan Hauck, executive director of Cody Yellowstone (the Park County Travel Council). “Tread ‘n Trails offers on-road and off-road tours that are great for groups. Our free Sippin’ Trail Pass lets you win prizes while checking out some of our great breweries and cocktail bars and our wonderful food scene.”
(Don’t miss the mushroom-laden and truffle oil-drizzled Fungi Pizza at the Trailhead Restaurant.)
Thirty minutes from Cody, the Kirwin Ghost Town has a dozen historic buildings to wander through, and Amelia Earhart’s vacation cabin is a short hike away.
Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful is only the beginning. Yellowstone, America’s first national park, established in 1872, is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Its almost 3,500 square miles of pristine wilderness are a hot-water wonderland of steam vents, mudpots, hot springs and geysers — the site of half of all the known geothermal features on the globe. The park is also a veritable safari of North American wildlife, home to more than 60 species including grizzly bears, bald eagles, bison (almost 6,000 at latest count), wolves and elk.
Groups can explore more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails on foot or on horseback; take in the highlights from an open-air vehicle; enjoy a scenic lake cruise; or join an expert photographer to capture their own images of landscapes and animals. Lodging options include historic hotels and inns, comfortable modern cabins and, just outside the park, multiple glamping options in luxurious tents, Airstreams and more. All the outdoor activities whet appetites for dinner buffets in log cabin ambiance at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room. Don’t miss the Huckleberry Barbecue Chicken and save room for the bread pudding.
Often called Jackson Hole, this scenic mountain town lies in the shadow of the majestic Grand Teton. At almost 14,000 feet, it’s the highest peak in the Teton Range, which extends 40 miles across northwestern Wyoming. The town and its surrounding valley are beloved by celebrities — Harrison Ford and Sandra Bullock are just two who have homes here — and skiers who come for the powdery snow piling up at the area’s three resorts. Great photo opportunities can be had at the town’s rustic square, which is bordered by four arches made from elk antlers. Many of the antlers are collected from the National Elk Refuge, located a mile from downtown. After strolling the chic galleries and shops around the square, tuck into smoked trout dip accompanied by hand-crafted beers at Snake River Brewing, the state’s oldest brewpub.
Jackson is best known as the gateway to Grand Teton National Park.
“This is one of the best parks in the country for hiking.” said C.J. Adams, public affairs specialist at the park. “We had quite a winter, and the wildflowers are incredible. The water levels on Jackson Lake are higher this year, so there are also great opportunities to get out on the water.”
In addition to hiking, visitors can splash in cold lakes, float down the Snake River, test their balance on stand-up paddleboards or explore high Alpine meadows on horseback. And Jackson Hole doesn’t roll up the sidewalks at sunset. Music lovers can listen to live acts seven nights a week at the iconic Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where the bar is lined with saddles instead of stools. When the bars close, groups can gather around campfires in rustic but comfortable cabins or lounge in five-star luxury at exclusive resorts.