With less than 600,000 residents in our eighth largest state, you may misconstrue Wyoming as a big, wide empty.

It isn’t so.

Driving from the little town of Sheridan, Wyoming on Route 90 toward Red Lodge, Montana, hang a left at Route 14 and drive through the Big Horn Mountains with your jaw spending a lot of time dropping in amazement.

The views rival those we would later see on this trip driving through the very popular Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Wyoming’s 1.1 million acres of National Forest offers all manner of outdoor recreation from hiking and camping to fishing and hunting. We barely nipped into this grand area by driving on Route 14 and look forward to going back and getting farther off the driven path.

If you’re in no rush to leave the state, stop at the Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center at the junction of 14A and 310 to pick up literature about the canyon, the 71-mile-long Bighorn Lake, and dramatically gorgeous Yellowtail Dam. This 120,000 acre national park crosses state boundaries and includes the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, a chance to see Bighorn Sheep, and a stunning view from the Devil’s Canyon Overlook.

For adventures waiting to be had in the Custer Gallatin National Forests, at Lovell, take a right and head north into Montana. In Bridger, go a left and scoot down to itsy bitsy Belfry, turn right and wind up in Red Lodge.

Cody dam

Cody dam

Back to Wyoming, another drive takes you out of Red Lodge on Highway 308 to 72 south and onto WY-120E toward Cody. This highway also takes you to Heart Mountain, should you choose to take a left and learn about this site as an Japanese internment camp during WWII.

Cody is the eastern entrance into Yellowstone National Park—a short 50 mile drive. The Buffalo Bill Dam dates back to 1905 and is a stupendous sight. It looms 295 feet above the Shoshone River, which happened to be a raging torrent the day we were there—along with a thick, sideways slanting rain that kept us from walking around. The visitor’s center is free to the public and open May through September. Check it out and watch the vintage films about the building of the dam.

 

In the quintessential western town of Cody, you can find:

Buffalo Bill Center of the West (an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution). Museums within the center include:

  • Draper Natural History Museum
  • Whitney Western Art Museum
  • Plains Indian Museum
  • Cody Firearms Museum
  • McCracken Research Library

On main street, stop in the Irma Hotel, named for Buffalo Bill’s youngest daughter, and treat yourself to a scrumptious old-fashioned dessert.

Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel

Clouds over Cody’s Main Street

Inside the Irma – get the pie

  • There is a Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, put on by the Rocky Mountain Dance Theatre performers.
  • Cody Nite Rodeo every summer night from 6/1-8/31.
  • Trolley Tours run for an hour and cover 22 miles around the city.
  • Old Trail Town including Jeremiah Johnston’s (yes, he was real) grave, Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Cabin and 27 other historic buildings.
  • River rafting is an exciting thing to do around Cody—another way to enjoy the Shoshone River.
  • Microbrews – the west is full of small breweries that put out some tasty products. In the area, check out Millstone Pizza Co. & Brewery and Pat O’Hara Brewing Co.
  • Don’t skip the Cody Center for Performing Arts and try to catch the Cody Monologues—about famous and infamous western women.

Jackson Hole is only four miles south of Grand Teton National Park, which is just south of Yellowstone National Park. For non-river level fun, ride the Big Red aerial tram to climb 4,139 vertical feet for dramatic views.

  • Jackson may be a tourist town, but it’s filled to the cowboy hat brim with a mix of things to do for locals and visitors alike:
  • Grand Teton Music Festival starts the beginning of July and runs for three weeks.
  • Old West Days takes place in May.
  • September is the Jackson Hole Marathon, including a half-marathon and relay race.
  • Fall, gorgeous in golden colors, is a perfect time for the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival.

A detour drive to take from Cody, is the Sunlight Basin and the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.

Chief Joseph was a Nez Perce, famous for saying, “I will fight no more forever.” Drive Dead Indian Pass, at 8,060 feet, and look west to enjoy the view of Sunlight Basin and the Clark’s Fork River. This hour-long trip has abundant beautiful views and connects to the Beartooth Highway (leading to Red Lodge as the northeast entrance to Yellowstone).

If you choose to continue south out of Cody on Route 120 toward the little city of Thermopolis (claim to fame: hot springs for soaking in), and pick up Route 20, you trek through part of the Wind River Canyon—another breath-taking bit of scenery. Follow 26/20 until Casper and pick up Interstate 25 this will take you through Cheyenne—Wyoming’s last big city before Fort Collins (and if you can spend the night there, it is a delightful and inviting place to spend the night).

There’s a great deal to see in Wyoming—so when you plan that road trip through America’s west, don’t forget to include the big, wide empty of a this beautiful state.