Wyoming: the least populous state in the country (only 578,759 people live within its borders, less than the 31 most populous cities in the country), home to the first national park and national monument, a known haven for outlaws and finally, the first state to allow women to vote. Honestly, Wyoming is a hodge-podge of so many different things that it is somewhat hard to pin it down, and in the end, you never really know what you are going to get from the “Cowboy State.”
This is even more true when it comes to adventures. While the state is home to the first national park, Yellowstone, as well as the first national monument, Devil’s Tower, there are so many other, less known places to explore. Below you will find seven off-the-beaten-path places, spread out across the state (the 10th largest in terms of area), from the rolling plains of the east to the high peaks of the west.
The Red Desert
While some may think of Wyoming as one big empty wasteland as a whole (which is completely untrue) it does in fact have an actual desert (with the largest living dune system in the United States to boot). Located in the southern part of the state, near the town of Rock Springs, the Red Desert is a high-altitude desert and sagebrush steppe. Even though there is not much water to speak of, it somehow supports the largest migratory herd of pronghorns in the lower 48 and even a rare desert elk herd (possibly the world's largest).
One of the coolest things to see in the Red Desert is the Killpecker Dunes, the aforementioned largest living dune system that stretches 55 miles across the Continental Divide and encompasses approximately 109,000 acres.
Sinks Canyon State Park
Located six miles southwest of the town of Lander, along Highway 131, Sinks Canyon State Park is home to a unique geologic phenomenon where the Popo Agie River vanishes into a large cavern, known as The Sinks, before reappearing into a trout-filled pool, known as The Rise, about half a mile down canyon.
Besides checking out the Sinks, you can also go hiking, camping, rock climbing, and fishing. Or keep heading up the road to explore some mountain lakes, including picturesque Louis Lake.
One of the toughest places to get to on this list, but 100% worth the adventure, Island Lake sits high up in the Wind River Range near the town of Pinedale. While you can do the whole hike in one day (it is 12.1 miles one-way) many people instead choose to make it a backpacking trip and spend a day or two getting to the lake, and then a couple of days exploring the backcountry that surrounds it.
While this spot might be one of the more rugged places on the list, it is also somewhat popular. If you are looking for other hikes that might be less busy maybe consider checking out the Cirque of the Towers Loop or the Hailey Pass-Washakie Loop.
A fun little mountain town at the base of the Bridger-Teton Mountains, Dubois was originally supposed to be called “Never Sweat” but because the postal service didn’t like it, they instead changed it to Dubois after an Idaho Senator (the townspeople protested by changing the pronunciation, that’ll show them).
While the town is rather small (population: 971), it has had its fair share of celebrities, including being the home of train robber and outlaw Butch Cassidy. Today, many people spend summers in its nearby mountains and historic dude ranches. You can also visit the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center, which focuses on educating the public about the biology and habitat of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and specifically on the largest herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep that winter in the area.
High up in the northeastern corner of the state and nestled in the Black Hills, is a town that is today famous for giving a kid a name: the infamous outlaw, the Sundance Kid*. History states that the said outlaw, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, took his nickname from the town of Sundance, Wyoming, where he was jailed at the age of 15 for stealing a horse (the first of many run-ins with the law while part of the Wild Bunch Gang led by none other than Butch Cassidy).
*Robert Redford, who played the Sundance Kid in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, named the film festival he started, The Sundance Film Festival, after the famous outlaw.
One of the biggest draws of the town is its proximity to Devils Tower, the first national monument and a sacred place to 20 Native American Tribes. But the town of Sundance itself offers adventures for all four seasons, a lively downtown, and many restaurants and bars.
Sometimes referred to as Wyoming’s “Emerald City” the town of Sheridan is what many hope to experience when they vacation out West. With a history dotted with famous cowboys and outlaws, new railroads bringing in business and coal mining, the town is quintessential Wyoming. BUT, many places in the Equality State cannot boast that they have hosted royalty.
In 1984, Queen Elizabeth II visited Sheridan and stayed at Canyon Ranch as a guest of Wyoming U.S. Senator Malcolm Wallop, the brother of the Queen’s lifetime friend Lady Porchester. The whole affair was kept quite secret until photos emerged of her highness shopping along the main street. While many people couldn’t understand what she was doing, staying out on some ranch in the middle of the “Old West”, today Sheridan is often rated as one of the best towns to visit and has been called “the real deal” by the CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg.
Another truly off-the-beaten-path site in the state, this one once again harks back to Wyoming’s rich history of being a haven for outlaws. Hole-in-the-Wall a remote pass in the Big Horn Mountains of Johnson County (north of the town of Casper). The area was quite remote and very secluded, making it easy to defend. Similarly, because of its narrow passes, it was impossible for lawmen to approach without first alerting the outlaws. From the late 1860s to around 1910, the pass was used frequently by numerous outlaw gangs, including the Wild Bunch Gang led by our buddy Butch Cassidy and his desperado friend, the Sundance Kid.
Today the area is a part of the Willow Creek Ranch, a working ranch with hundreds of head of cattle, and still quite tough to get to. To access it, you have to go along a series of dusty two-track roads through the sagebrush valleys and canyons to a small foot trail pockmarked with mule deer tracks, that eventually lead up to the pass.
Wyoming is empty - very empty. But that does not mean it has nothing to offer, especially in terms of adventure and exploration. While many people know about Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons, and Devil’s Tower, you might not have heard of these 7 places that are just as unique, exciting, and worth checking out. So next time you are looking to head out on an adventure and want to go somewhere a bit more off-the-beaten-path, maybe consider these awesome places located around the Cowboy State.
Learn more about Wyoming and its slightly crazy history here.