Wyoming: Wild West meets winter wonderland
Dramatic mountain ranges; the world’s highest concentration of geysers; Old West history; and diverse wildlife (like grizzlies, wolves and bison) may be what make Wyoming iconic, but that's merely the start of what you’ll find here. During the winter, this wild western state is blanketed in snow, ushering in a thrilling lineup of activities and events alongside the mild, slow-paced relaxation that’s available along the way.
Read on for tips in exploring a Wyoming winter, complete with Wild West attractions, snow- and ice-filled activities and places to warm up afterward—all with a side of small-town charm (of course)
If you're arriving in Wyoming via Jackson Hole Airport, as many folks do, you may want to explore the state's northwestern corner on arrival. You'll find yourself spoiled for options with the Grand Teton National Park to the north (head to Antelope Flats for excellent winter wildlife viewing of bison, moose, foxes and bald eagles) and Yellowstone National Park beyond it. Immediately to the south of the airport is the lively town of Jackson.
Further afield, dozens of small towns and their saloon-filled, Old West streets offer the best way to experience the heart and soul of the state. Winter in Wyoming can mean buckets of snow, though, so wherever you venture, tread responsibly and go with a guide.
Dubois (northwestern Wyoming)
Dubois (rhymes with "cowboys," fittingly) is located about 85 highway miles west of Jackson. Visitors head here for a true Western getaway, complete with antler art and window shopping set along wooden sidewalks. It's also a great home base for wildlife enthusiasts hoping to spot bighorn sheep. If you're one said enthusiast, start at the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center, where you'll learn about the largest wintering herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in North America before heading off with Whiskey Mountain Tours to see them for yourself. Bonus: this tour also includes the opportunity to see petroglyphs carved by early Native Americans.
The ultra-adventurous can head on an ice climbing excursion at Togwotee Pass. Snowmobiling and dog sledding excursions are available through guides and outfitters (like Togwotee Mountain Lodge and Dog Sled Adventures).
After a frosty day, warm up in the dry sauna at Brooks Lake Lodge & Spa just outside of Dubois. Once called the Best Lake Resort in the World by National Geographic, this all-inclusive spot will equip you with gear for skiing and ice fishing and, perhaps, introduce you to local moose and deer on a wildlife safari.
Cody (northwestern Wyoming)
Near the Montana-Wyoming state line and providing the passage to Yellowstone National Park's only eastern entrance is Cody, named for Colonel "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Learn more about the town's namesake at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
There's plenty of snowy adventure to be found here, too. Depending on your appetite for action, you can glide peacefully around the ice skating rink at Homesteader Park; kick up some powder while downhill skiing at Sleeping Giant or cross-country skiing at Wood River Valley; or strap on crampons and scale a frozen waterfall in South Fork Valley.
Though Yellowstone's eastern entrance is closed to the public during winter, you're able to visit America's first National Park and see Old Faithful or Yellowstone Canyon and Falls on a guided snowmobile tour with Gary Fales Outfitting.
If you're all in on Buffalo Bill, the natural choice for overnight accommodations is the Irma Hotel, which was built in 1902 by Colonel Cody himself (and named for his youngest daughter). Be sure to grab a photo at the original cherrywood bar, a gift from Queen Victoria.
Sheridan (northeastern Wyoming)
In Wyoming's northeastern corner, the town of Sheridan will host its WYO Winter Rodeo Feb. 18-19, complete with fat tire bike races and skijoring competitions. If you're not familiar with skijoring, you're not alone; the Wall Street Journal once proclaimed it the "wildest winter sport you've never heard of," and 'wild' is an apt descriptor. To skijor, a horse and its rider pull a skier along a course with jumps and obstacles, so it's like waterskiing but on snow... and with a horse.
There's more than spectating to do at the winter rodeo, though. Sled, barn dance and attend concerts during the festivities. When you're ready to nab a souvenir (like local pottery or cowboy gear), head to Main Street for the town's largest concentration of shops.
Cheyenne (southeastern Wyoming)
Cheyenne, Wyoming's capital, manages to balance its country roots with its urbane offerings flawlessly. It's a cool—even whimsical—city filled with live music, public art installations and an emerging food and drink scene. Hop aboard the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley for a 90-minute Wild West Tour to orient yourself with the city that traded shootouts and brothels for cattle barons and a pivotal role in the suffragette movement after the 1880s-era discovery of gold in the Black Hills spurred growth in the one-time transitory railroad town.
For a closer look back at that history, visit the Big Boy Steam Engine—the world's largest steam locomotive—and the Cowgirls of the West Museum, which focuses entirely on the women of the Wild West.
Winter adventures like iceboating and ice fishing can be found in nearby Curt Gowdy State Park. If you're looking to snowshoe, sled, downhill or cross-country ski, venture out to the Snowy Range Ski Area in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
After a wintry day in Medicine Bow, set up camp in a cozy cabin at Albany Lodge, which offers guided snowmobile tours and access to cross-country skiing trails. If you’re staying in Cheyenne over the weekend, the family-friendly Little America Hotel & Resort is a good pick (don’t miss the Sunday brunch at Hathaway’s Restaurant.)
Rock Springs (southwestern Wyoming)
Over in the southwest corner of the state is Rock Springs—the town where Robert Leroy Parker earned his nickname while apprenticing with a local butcher. You may know him better as Butch Cassidy, the infamous turn-of-the-century train and bank robber. Take a drive along the Outlaw Trail down Highway 191 toward the Utah border to see one of the Wild Bunch's former hideouts: Minnie's Gap.
This high desert town is known for more than its outlaw origin stories, though; within the past five years, it landed on Smithsonian Magazine's Best Small Towns to Visit list and snagged the Great American Main Street award. You'll also find surprising cultural diversity here; the city's population of 23,000 has residents of 56 nationalities.
For winter activity, pack your sled and glide down the Killpecker Sand Dunes, one of the largest active sand dunes on the planet and located just north of town. While at the dunes, you may spot wild horses or a herd of rare desert elk that can't be found elsewhere in North America.
There are two winter fishing events on the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Jan. 27-29 is the Burbot Bash, and the Labarge Ding-the-Ling Derby is Feb. 10-12. These ice fishing competitions offer prizes to the participants who can catch the most burbot, an invasive freshwater fish that was illegally introduced to the area.
Stay overnight at your choice of budget-friendly options in the area, like the Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express.
Lander (central Wyoming)
Base your stay in central Wyoming's Lander if you're looking for outdoor adventure. Its Wind River Mountain Range is home to grizzlies, black bears, wolves, and elk and has hundreds of miles of trails for hiking during warmer months. During winter, you can explore these same trails on snowshoes or cross-country skis (Gannett Peak Sports is a good option for equipment rental and trail advice).
Allow us to let you rock climbers in on a little secret called Sinks Canyon State Park, where even during winter's coldest months, the south-facing cliff is warmed by the sun most of the day, making for a very pleasant time scaling limestone without pounds of winter gear. If you're looking to get into the climbing game, start with Wind River Climbing Guides.
Visit the Museum of the American West in town to learn about outlaws, heroes, cowboys and the Wild West. Then, visit the (reported) grave of Sacajawea—the Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark as they mapped the West—which is located nearby off South Fork Road on the Wind River Reservation.
If you do venture out to Sinks Canyon State Park for the climbing, stay overnight in a yurt (a single-room cabin with heat and electricity) managed by the state park to close out your perfect vacation with a night under a sky full of stars.