43.0760° N, 107.2903° W
HOME TO GRANDIOSE MOUNTAINS, WIDE OPEN PLAINS AND A RICH OLD WEST HISTORY, WYOMING IS A SERIOUSLY UNDERRATED STATE. THESE 7 SITES SHOULD BE ON EVERY ADVENTURERS WYOMING ROAD TRIP ITINERARY.
Wyoming: the least populous state in the whole USA (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 National Park (established in 1872), as well as the first national monument, Devils Tower (established in 1906), there are so many other, lesser known places to explore within Wyoming's borders.
Below you will find seven stunning off-the-beaten-path places spread out across the state, from the rolling plains of the east to the high peaks of the west.
OUR WYOMING ADVENTURE MAP
1 | The Red Desert
While some may think of Wyoming as one big empty wasteland (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 in the desert, it somehow supports the largest migratory herd of pronghorns in the lower 48 states 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.
2 | 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.
3 | Island 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 up to the lake in one veeerry long 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 this list, it is also somewhat popular. If you are looking for other hikes that might be less busy, then consider checking out the Cirque of the Towers Loop or the Hailey Pass-Washakie Loop.
4 | Dubois
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 of Dubois is rather small (population: 971), it has had its fair share of celebrities, including being the one-time 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.
💬 INSIDER TIP: Dubois is a great basecamp option if you are looking to explore the surrounding mountains - including Grand Teton National Park (located about an hour away) and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
5 | Sundance
High up in the northeastern corner of the state and nestled into the Black Hills is a town that is today famous for giving one kid a name: the infamous outlaw, the Sundance Kid.
History states that the aforementioned outlaw (real name Harry Alonzo Longabaugh) took his nickname from the small town of Sundance after being jailed there at the age of 15 for stealing a horse (the first of many run-ins with the law while a part of the Wild Bunch Gang led by none other than Butch Cassidy).
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: Robert Redford, who played the Sundance Kid in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, named the film festival he created (The Sundance Film Festival) also 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 also offers adventures for all four seasons, a lively downtown, and many restaurants and bars.
6 | Sheridan
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 and new railroads bringing in business and coal mining, the town is quintessential Wyoming. But, unlike really any other town in the state, the town of Sheridan can also 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.
7 | Hole-in-the-Wall
Another truly off-the-beaten-path site in the state is a rugged destination that once again harks back to Wyoming’s rich history of being a haven for outlaws. Hole-in-the-Wall is a remote pass in the Big Horn Mountains of Johnson County (just north of the town of Casper). The area was (and is) 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 hiding 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 drive out along a series of dusty two-track roads through sagebrush valleys and canyons until you get to a small foot trail that is often pockmarked with mule deer tracks. This trail eventually leads up to the top of 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 all about Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Devils Tower, it is highly likely that these 7 places have been able to stay under the radar (even though they are just as unique, exciting, and 100% worth checking out).
So next time you are looking to head out on an adventurous road trip and want to go somewhere a bit more off-the-beaten-path, maybe consider these 7 awesome places in the beautiful Cowboy State.