The Wyoming state flag waves in the wind with the juxtaposition of two iconic symbols: the state seal—representing equality and Wyoming’s role as the first state to grant women suffrage—and the clean silhouette of a buffalo roaming the vast expanse. The seal itself bears the resemblance of a livestock brand while each color is steeped in meaning. Blue is the color of the state’s wide open skies and daunting mountains. Red represents the Native Americans whose lifeblood is in the land, along with the pioneers who gave their lives for a frontier dream. White stands for purity and uprightness.
All gloriously beckon the explorer at heart.
There are bucket list items to be checked off when visiting Wyoming, but also a plethora of off-the-beaten-path discoveries to be had…if you know where to look.
The beauty of the state lies in not only what’s widely known, but also what’s widely unknown.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
The most well promoted destinations in Wyoming are located in the northwest portion of the state: everyone’s heard of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Jackson.
Most of Yellowstone National Park’s sprawling wilderness resides in Wyoming with edges extending into Montana and Idaho. A very early childhood memory I have involves watching Yogi Bear and Boo Boo discuss the merits of pic-a-nics in Jellystone Park at a Yogi Bear Cartoon Theater somewhere, and the eruption of Old Faithful with the accompanying oohs and aahs of tourists. (No matter what you try to instill in your kids, these are the kinds of things that will stick in their minds decades later.) My second best piece of advice, no matter how old you are or how many people tag along, is to give Yellowstone National Park more than a day. (My first piece of advice is to avoid, at all costs, driving through the park at night and give proper respect to wildlife—including bears, bison, mountain lions, wolves, moose, elk…basically, if you’re thinking of getting close, just don’t.)
There’s so much that’s exhilarating and engaging to be had in Yellowstone that the list can be overwhelming. The National Park Service created a series of virtual tours that might help you decide how to spend your time if it’s limited, or if you just want to make the most of your trip. Summer months are the busiest, naturally, so you need to factor in delays when entering and exiting the park, especially if you’re driving an RV or pulling a camper.
Here, then, are what I consider must-sees in Yellowstone National Park:
Where to park your RV: https://www.yellowstonepark.com/where-to-stay-camp-eat/rv-tips
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK AND JACKSON
Jackson Hole refers to an entire valley while Jackson is the town proper. (“City” is a term used sparingly in Wyoming where the largest metropolitan area boasts only slightly more than 64,000 people. Wyomingites like it that way.) Much of Jackson Hole is located in Grand Teton National Park; the town of Jackson is not.
The Teton Range rises jaggedly, staggeringly to an elevation of 13,770 feet. Its highest point is the Grand Teton—the pinnacle of splendor, literally and figuratively. If you’re looking for spectacular photography of one of the most recognizable mountain ranges in the world, it’s best to rise early: the Tetons face east and there’s something incredibly magical about the first light welcoming the day. One of the most iconic scenes is found at the historic district of homesteads known as Mormon Row, featuring several rustic wooden barns (arguably the most famous being the John Moulton Barn), flanked by dilapidated rail fences against the backdrop of the Tetons. The truth is, though, virtually all roads lead (or just actually run parallel) to the Teton Range. You can’t miss it.
Meanwhile, outdoor enthusiasts will find over 300,000 acres of stunning peak vistas, pristine alpine lakes and lush, verdant forests in Grand Teton National Park. Seasonal activities include hiking, mountain climbing, biking, fly fishing, kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, whitewater rafting (more on the mighty Snake River later), wildlife tours, aerial tours, helicopter tours and cross-country and alpine skiing…just to name a few. Two renowned ski areas—Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village and Snow King Resort in Jackson—are easily accessible from town. Meanwhile, Grand Targhee Resort, about 40 miles northwest of Jackson, boasts (and I concur) some of the best powder skiing in the world. Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake are also breathtaking mirror lakes that have been developed for more novice entry. Colter Bay, which skirts the shores of Jackson Lake, is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the valley.
With so much abundant natural beauty and wildlife to observe it might be difficult to contemplate anything but outdoor activities, but you’ll do yourself a Grand Teton disfavor if you don’t take advantage of a few unique attractions.
These are a few favorite things in or near Jackson:
Whitewater rafting in the Snake River Canyon is a high-adventure segue further south into Wyoming. And by segue, I mean a dreamy float along the Snake River through the heart of Grand Teton National Forest and an amiable pass through stretches of ranch land—that is, until the waters swiftly funnel into a narrow canyon and rapids worthy of a world champion bronc ride. The Snake River draws over 300,000 visitors a year to fish, kayak, canoe, raft and otherwise revel in nature’s best waterpark. (Not all at the same time and at the same place, of course, which is what makes it tolerable for both the faint of heart and the extreme enthusiast.) If you’re an amateur, it’s best to have a guide on the waters.
Where to park your RV: https://www.jacksonholechamber.com/lodging/rv-parks/
NORTHERN BRIDGER-TETON NATIONAL FOREST AND SHOSHONE NATIONAL FOREST
As its name suggests, Bridger-Teton National Forest, adjoins the Grand Teton area—it spans four counties and 3.4 million acres of wilderness. To put that in context, you can actually wind through six states between New York Penn Station and Washington, D.C.’s Union Station (with multiple stops on Amtrak) in less time than it takes to wind north to south solely through Lincoln County.
Meanwhile, Shoshone National Forest has an acclaimed 2.4 million wilderness acres of varied terrain and bragging rights as the first designated national forest in the United States. It sprawls from the Montana border to more centrally located Lander, Wyoming.
Some of the lesser known districts within Bridger-Teton and Shoshone have tremendous appeal…precisely because they’re lesser known and hold wonderful nuggets of history. Travelers looking for truly undefiled wilderness and greater solitude will find it in places like Hoback Canyon, Snake River Canyon, Greys River, Smiths Fork, Hams Fork and the many trails, dirt roads and waterways that reach all the way to the tri-state region in southwest Wyoming.
While often considered the gateways to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, these wildness areas, interspersed with rural American towns and their friendly townspeople, are destinations all their own.
Here’s a look at some of the more scenic areas, starting in the northwest—and the best ways to access them:
Green River Lakes Trailhead
Elkhart Park Trailhead
Big Sandy Trailhead
These are a few (more) favorite things that take in the rural paths of north Bridger-Teton National Park and Shoshone National Forest:
Where to park your RV: https://windriver.org/experience/camping/
CARIBOU-TARGHEE NATIONAL FOREST
I’ll zigzag somewhat, in terms of geography, with good reason: I would be remiss to transition to west-central Wyoming without extolling the virtues of Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
While I’ve touched on (as lightly as the fallen snow) the thrill that’s powder skiing at Grand Targhee Ski Resort, the exquisite territory that surrounds it is worthy of a breakout—and a break-off at either Jackson or Alpine Junction.
The Caribou-Targhee National Forest spreads across 3 million square miles and three states to include Wyoming, Montana and southeastern Idaho. Like Jackson Hole, it offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation and scenic passes, accessible on highways, byways and backcountry trails. Among its many draws are the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls in eastern Ashton, Idaho.
Taking into account routes from both of the major entry points at Jackson and Alpine, Caribou-Targhee National Forest is notable for the epic conquests available to mountain bikers who wish to push the limits of Jackson Hole. Featuring sub-alpine and alpine terrain, an exhaustive number of trails and roads seamlessly traverse both Wyoming and Idaho. Some of the more popular rides lay along the 32-mile stretch between Jackson and Driggs, Idaho—with the small town of Victor offering a splendid variety of singletrack trails. If you choose to travel north from Alpine you’ll venture to the Upper and Lower Palisades en route to Swan Valley, Idaho—host to not only a plethora of technical mountain biking trails, but also serene hikes and fly fishing along ridge-lined creeks. The Upper Palisades Lake Trail features a scenic trifecta of forested and valley terrain, met by a charming lake along an intermediate, 13-mile ride. To the west, and deeper into Idaho, are the Big Hole Mountains, touted for more trail riding as well as exceptional fishing—sometimes known as one of the favorite fishing destinations of Wyoming native Dick Cheney.
If you’re looking for the ultimate long-distance ride just after Labor Day, the LoToJa Classic is a one-day amateur bicycle road race from Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming. Featuring several alternate routes, riders can race north through all of the aforementioned towns in Idaho, or cycle some of the West’s most photographed scenes—starting with the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, trailing into Bear Lake, Idaho, and then skirting the mountainous Wyoming border from Salt River Pass to Jackson.
Another epic riding event that should be on your bucket list is the Wydaho 100. Named after the sublime valley that unites Wyoming and Idaho, the Wydaho 100 features 100-mile and 100K routes, consisting of (mostly) gravel trails and an unprecedented 360-degree grand tour of the Teton Valley. What better way for a bike junkie to get an adrenaline rush than hardtail mountain biking through the foothills of Grand Teton Mountain Range, the Jedediah Smith Wilderness and the Big Hole Mountains?
SOUTHERN BRIDGER-TETON NATIONAL FOREST
Taking roads both more or less traveled through the central and southwestern part of Bridger-Teton National Forest provides a gratifying mix of solidarity and solitude—off the beaten paths, combined with rural family life in smaller communities dotting the main thoroughfares of Highways 89, 30 and 189. Agriculture is still a mainstay in southwest Wyoming and it shows in long stretches of sun-kissed fields of irrigated alfalfa and swathed hay. Both ranches and farms are abundant to the area, though you might not see as many cattle or sheep in the late summertime lowlands as presumed. Many ranchers drive cattle to higher elevation summer ranges for grazing and utilize the valleys for crops June through August.
Deep breaths come naturally here—born of the purest of air in hillsides, blanketed by quaking aspens and towering pines and laced with natural springs rushing through the meadows. Visitors are rewarded with open skies that have a soul: startlingly bright and clear in the daytime, breathtakingly starlit at night, and beautifully brooding during the occasional rain shower.
Wyoming’s southwest corridor is teeming with wildlife, both in their element and cozying up to a varied patchwork of pastures. It’s common to be graced with the appearances of elk, mule deer and antelope. You’re also likely to hear the hallowed calls of sandhill cranes pervading the wetlands at twilight. Moreover, the sights and sounds of the lower Teton-Bridger National Forest feature generous scatterings of wildflowers with names like Indian paintbrush—chosen as the state flower and created, according to Indian legend, so that a young brave might paint the sunset.
The southern portion of Bridger-Teton National Forest is divided into three distinct ranger districts: Greys River, Kemmerer and Big Piney. The terrain consists of virtually undiscovered backcountry playgrounds with a multitude of seasonal virtues. The Western side of Wyoming is dominated by the Salt River Range and Wyoming ranges, with several summits standing at 10,000 feet in elevation. These two giants meet at the Commissary Ridge, which extends all the way south toward Kemmerer.
If you’re looking for exceptional RV accommodations outside the throngs of Jackson, you’ll be delighted with your options along Highway 89. For starters, there’s a luxurious new village dedicated to wanderlust called the Kodiak Mountain Resort. Found at the base of the Salt River Mountains, just south of Afton, it offers 65-foot RV pull-throughs, quaint log cabins and every amenity under the Wyoming sun, including BBQ delivery. You can also spend the night at one of several highly rated RV parks near Alpine, or the Star Valley Ranch Resort in Thayne. RV pull-throughs in the area have full hook-ups in idyllic locations with grand mountain views, onsite stores, laundromats, showers, grassy picnic spots and more. Star Valley Ranch Resort specializes in reservations for longer stays. Within the valley are also a multitude of campsites and other parking spots for RVs—ranging from the Allred Flat and Cottonwood Lake to Swift Creek Campgrounds. Most are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and have ample space, though not all have RV hook-ups. Moose Flat and Murphy Creek along the Greys River are popular sites…in addition to many other more rustic experiences at campgrounds scattered throughout the valley.
These are a few favorite things in Star Valley (traveling north to south):
Moving further south into western Wyoming leads you from the core of the Greys River Ranger District to the Kemmerer and Big Piney Ranger Districts. The boundaries are seamless in many respects when you’re exploring, but there are many natural lures to the area.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge my bias, having been raised on the western side of Wyoming. Cokeville was my hometown (back when the population could actually sustain three grocery stores, three restaurants and three gas stations). It’s still the site of a family ranch that’s spanned five generations. Situated along Highway 30—exactly halfway between Park City, Utah and Jackson—a town of 500 might be a blink-and-you-miss-it proposition…unless you’re privy to the hidden gems. For one thing, if you want to see what real working cattle ranches look like and how all that fancy roping practically plays out during calving or branding season, this is your spot. Cokeville was also once the sheep capital of the world.
You’ll notice a series of foothills and mountain ranges driving along Highway 30, some of which actually block your view of the oasis that lies east of Cokeville along Highway 232 (more commonly referred to as Smiths Fork Road). At the edge of town is a distinctive, upended geological anomaly known simply as Rocky Peak and a dome shaped hill known simply as Big Hill. (Wyomingites call it as they see it.) These are your landmarks—between those peaks, the Smiths Fork Road will take you to some of the best kept secrets in the Rocky Mountains.
These are a few (more) favorite things to do in the area, anchored by the smaller communities of Cokeville, Kemmerer, LaBarge and Big Piney:
Where to park your RV in Lincoln County: https://www.rvparkstore.com/rv-park-directory/wyoming/lincoln-county. In Sublette County, Big Piney also offers the Sacajawea RV Park and the Middle Piney Lake RV Park.
UINTA AND SWEETWATER COUNTIES
The Uinta and Sweetwater Counties border the jigsaw cut of Utah with Green River and Rock Springs adjacencies to Colorado. You might not be familiar with their proper county names, but you’ve surely heard of the Bear River and Flaming Gorge.
Within these areas lie several confluences for travelers—for one thing, crossroads like Evanston, point northward to Jackson or eastward to Interstate-80. The towns of Green River and Rock Springs are the milestones that mark longer journeys toward the short-grassed prairies of Wyoming.
Off the major thoroughfares are several enjoyable recreational areas and historic sites, graced by wildlife and that thing that Wyoming does best: inspiring nature.
These are a few favorite things to do in the area:
Where to park your RV in Uinta County: https://www.roverpass.com/f/wyoming/evanston-campgrounds
These are a few (more) favorite things in the Green River and Rock Springs area:
Where to park your RV in Sweetwater County: https://www.tourwyoming.com/eat-and-sleep/rv-parks
I really can’t think of a better way to close this blog on all things western Wyoming than touting the virtues of singing sand dunes and colossal ice cream. Nor can I wish for you a more hospitable place to lay your head for a night or two…or more. That may contradict the old saying that “in Wyoming, the beauty of our mountains is matched only by the grit of our people.”
In our state, grit and hospitality really do co-exist quite nicely.
As we do also like to say in Wyoming, happy trails…