Wyoming is best-known for famous national parks and wide-open spaces, however, the Equality State’s charming communities are worth exploring. From a town that’s reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting to a city where history is etched into its architecture, here are three very different communities in Southern Wyoming that will delight visitors.
Surprised by Cheyenne
In the 1800s, Cheyenne was the wealthiest city per capita in the world and the architecture of downtown is a reminder of the city’s historic prosperity. This is why it’s so important to look up while visiting because the old buildings are stunning.
The best way to get to know Cheyenne, from the bottom up, is to take a tour on the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley Tours. They run daily tours May through September and two themed tours each year; ghosts in October and a holiday lights tour in December. We took the 90-minute trolley tour last summer with conductor Brenda Bagley, and it was one of the most entertaining guided history tours we’ve ever experienced.
Bagley recounts interesting tidbits of Wild West history and personal stories about growing up in the city during the 1960s. For instance, she recalls that the first escalator in Wyoming was installed in J.C. Penney, and all the children in town would ride it while their mothers shopped in the department store that was originally located downtown.
For anyone interested in western history, Cheyenne is a dream. The city is filled with museums and the trolley makes stops at several of the downtown museums. Riders are welcome to jump off and on at various stops along the way and we hopped off at The Old West Museum, which has a comprehensive exhibit on Cheyenne Days, the city’s most famous event that’s been running continuously since 1897.
After spending some time getting acquainted with Wyoming’s capital city’s history, it’s time to meet modern-day Cheyenne, and on our weekend trip, it surprised us. There are three breweries here, Freedom’s Edge, Danielmark’s Brewing Co., and Accomplice, where you pour your own beer.
While the ever-popular Boot Barn inside the iconic Wrangler building is a must-stop, there’s also an eclectic vinyl store and fantastic mid-modern boutique downtown called Mid Mod Etc., selling everything from 1950s dining sets to vintage clothing.
If you’re inspired to have a steak for dinner, Rib & Chop House is the place, but for unique pizza that’s a favorite of many locals, try Bella Fuoco Wood Fire Pizza. It’s within walking distance of one of my recommendations for lodging in Cheyenne, the Nagle Warren Mansion.
This beautiful, downtown bed and breakfast is just two blocks from Depot Plaza where festivals take place during the summer. It’s a real-life mansion that was built in the 1800s by a wealthy grocery store owner, Erasmus Nagle, who’d also made wise investments in cattle companies.
The bed and breakfast is a top choice for special occasions and politicians who frequently travel to the state’s capital. I’ve referred to its interiors as “lavishly masculine” because it’s one of the few bed and breakfasts that gained my husband’s full approval.
Perhaps a better fit for families, Cheyenne’s Little America is a delightful option that has amenities such as a big pool and a highly rated onsite restaurant. While Nagle Warren Mansion is in downtown, Little America is just a short drive away.
Another great stop while visiting Wyoming’s capital is the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. The grounds are beautiful but don’t miss the recently finished conservatory; a glorious escape on a cold or windy day in the city. There’s also an acclaimed children’s village on the property that the kids will love.
Laramie, An Unexpected Mélange
As the home of the University of Wyoming, Laramie’s downtown can be a lively place. There are all the familiar accouterments of a college town here, including lots of bars and restaurants, but there are unexpected finds too, like a city block with a bar, two bookstores, a soda shop and a chocolate store.
As a college town, perhaps it’s not surprising that the number one restaurant in Laramie on TripAdvisor.com is a vegetarian spot called Sweet Melissa’s Cafe. Even hardcore meat eaters swear that this is their favorite restaurant in Laramie.
We dined here on our first evening in town and as we entered, our olfactory senses were overcome with exotic aromas. Our dinner was accompanied by a cheery and helpful waitress who pointed us in all the right directions. The cafe’s manicotti will leave the most resolute carnivore wanting for nothing more.
Before leaving downtown, pop into Chalk & Cheese. This adorable store has a kitchen and cheese shop on the first floor and a bar/liquor store on the second level. Order up a cheese plate and wine flight for a rather metropolitan experience in the Gem City of the Plains.
Vee Bar Guest Ranch is located about 25 minutes outside of the city and it is a place to indulge in a true Wyoming experience. From June 1 through September 1, this family-owned, full-service dude ranch offers three- or six-night stays, but during off-season the ranch becomes a bed and breakfast. Also during the off-season, dinner by reservation are available to guests and the public.
For guests booking a full dude-ranch experience, Vee Bar provides an opportunity to embrace your inner cowboy or cowgirl. Whether a guest grew up on horseback or is a first-timer, Vee Bar’s wranglers will find the perfect horse for every rider, and a guest rides the same horse for their entire stay.
Vee Bar’s rides go way beyond the typical follow-the-leader type of trail rides. During my outing, Brent Kilmer, who co-owns the ranch with his wife, Kari, gave me some of the best riding tips that I’ve ever received, so if you are looking to enhance your riding skills, this is the place to do it.
In addition to spending time on horseback, dude-ranch guests can fish, camp, trap shoot, river raft and more. There are endless activities available for adults and children.
During our spring bed and breakfast stay, all the meals we ate at Vee Bar were scrumptious. We also enjoyed the John Wayne Saloon, the ranch’s onsite guest bar. Another amenity is the riverside hot tub where you can soak all of life’s cares away.
While visiting this area west of Laramie, a tour at Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary is a must. Six miles from Vee Bar, Deerwood Ranch is one of just three wild horse eco-sanctuaries in the United States. About six years ago, the Wilson’s family ranch became home to 350 wild horses, all geldings.
Wyoming has the second-highest population of wild horses in the country, behind Nevada. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates 16 wild horse herd management areas on public properties in Wyoming. The nearly 5,000-acre Deerwood Ranch has been certified by the BLM to care for these horses because grazing space in the wild is becoming scarce and a wild herd can double in size every four years.
On our tour, we were transported along with some German tourists via pickup truck bed into the pasture with the wild horses. Jana Wilson, who was the tour guide on the outing, told fascinating stories as the truck bounced along. Being surrounded by these gorgeous creatures, their manes blowing in the Wyoming wind, is a truly enchanting experience and it was an unforgettable afternoon. Tours at Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary must be booked in advance and details can be found at www.DeerwoodRanchWildHorseEcoSanctuary.com.
Saratoga, A True Escape
Of the three southern Wyoming destinations in this article, I’ve visited Saratoga the most often. It’s our go-to spot when we need to destress in a place with no stoplights. That’s right, there isn’t a stoplight in Saratoga and the town’s population of around 1,600 likes it that way.
It seems that there are more kids on bikes on Saratoga’s roads than people in cars and this gives the town a sort of Norman Rockwell sort of ambiance, and yet it’s an entirely authentic place as well.
We always stay at Saratoga Hot Springs Resort & Spa because they have hot springs and a brewery on the property. Plus, there’s a big fireplace on the veranda where I once spent a long afternoon reading a book in front of a crackling fire.
This tiny town is not without activities, including retail shops to browse such as Laura M. Gallery, a place that’s been repeatedly voted the number one gallery and number one boutique in Carbon County. The store, which features high-end clothing and fur, is a fortuitous find in the wilds of Wyoming’s Rocky Mountains.
Saratoga is the most mountainous of the three destinations in this article and the most panoramic route from Northern Colorado to Saratoga is to drive to Laramie and then take State Highway 130 through the Snowy Mountain Range. This scenic road is closed during the winter but is usually open by late May or early June.
The region around the town offers many recreational opportunities including golf, birding, hiking, biking and world-class fishing. Guests of Saratoga Resort & Spa can set up excursions through the resort and offerings include everything from horseback riding to rafting.
For what I consider the best eggs Benedict in the world, go to Lollipops for breakfast and for what is widely considered the best Italian food in Wyoming, reserve a table at Bella’s Bistro. The quality and service here rivals most Italian joints you’ll find in communities ten times the size of this Wyoming town.
Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer covers festivals and travels across the west. She’s the founder of HeidiTown.com and author of The Heidi Guide for Mountain Living. To comment on this article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.