Why Would You Want to Visit Wyoming?
‘Where you off on holiday this time?’ my 85-year-old neighbour asked me as we were getting ready to leave. ‘Wyoming!’, I expressed giddily as I hauled my 50 lb suitcase to the curb. I had been planning this trip for over a year and couldn’t wait to get on the plane.
‘Why in the world do you want to go to Wyoming?’ He testily replied.
Well now, where do I start? For many people, Wyoming seems like some far-flung place where a long time ago cowboys and Indians fought. And indeed, it is. In the days of the Wild West, Wyoming was full of buffalo herds and cowboys. Wyoming was originally inhabited by the Crow, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute Indians, and the "Cowboys and Indians" theme of Wyoming was popularised across America by Buffalo Bill and his Wild West troupe.
But we weren’t headed to Wyoming to see cowboys or Indians. We were off to experience all these other wonderful things that Wyoming could offer us.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is a nearly 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot. Yup, that’s right, we wanted to see a super-volcano….up close!
With active magna between 5 km and 7 km below the surface, you can experience 4 types of geothermal features when you visit: geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and fumaroles, the most famous of course being Old Faithful Geyser. Yellowstone is the perfect spot for satisfying your inner scientist, geologist or astronaut as the out-of-this-world landscapes can make you believe you are on another planet.
You can read more about our time in Yellowstone here.
After, witnessing stunning natural beauty, my favourite thing to do on vacation is see wild animals. And while I haven’t made it to the Serengeti yet, I know seeing the animals in Wyoming was no less breath taking. Home to more than 100 mammal species and 400 species of birds, Wyoming's wild residents include bison, mountain lions, wolverines, coyotes, grizzly bears, black bears, elk, moose, deer and pronghorn antelope, as well as bald eagles.
In order to ensure we had the best chance of spotting these animals, we booked a sunrise wildlife safari with BrushBuck Tours in Jackson. As I shivered in the 6am darkness waiting for our guide to collect us, I had my doubts, but no sooner were we on the road and spotted an osprey sitting on her nest, then I was hooked. Due to the morning chill (30 degrees), we were in their enclosed van, instead of open-sided safari vehicle. With hot coffee in hand and a perfect view out the window with the binoculars they provided, I was happy.
The morning trip continued for the next three hours as our guide Steve, took us around the favourite animal haunts around the Grand Tetons, where we spotted moose, coyote and elk. But even without a knowledgeable guide and binoculars, our wildlife sightings were almost daily over the two weeks.
And while we never spotted a bear (bad thing? good thing?), we were fortunate to have magical close encounters with bald eagles, bison, bull moose and elk.
We spent five days in Yellowstone National Park and six days in Jackson exploring the Grand Tetons National Park, each with plenty of opportunity for getting outside for exercise. From gentle rambles to challenging treks, Wyoming provides a background of outstanding natural beauty for any hiker.
But going solo or without bear spray isn’t an option, you must be ‘bear-aware’. With over 1,000 black and grizzly bears making their home in Wyoming, bear attacks while not frequent (average 3 fatalities a year), you do need to stay alert and prepared when out walking. In both areas of Wyoming, there are slews of popular, well-marked trails that allow you to see the most well-known views and features along with the option to get off the tourist trail into the ‘back country’.
Averaging 15,000 steps-a-day, we explored Yellowstone’s board-walked trails of Norris Geyser Basin (3 mile loop), Grand Canyon of Yellowstone North Rim (6 mile trail), and Old Faithful Geyser Basin (4.5 mile loop). In the Grand Tetons, we stepped it up a bit more and hiked both Jenny Lake (9 miles including Inspiration Point) and Phelps Lake (7.2 miles), before the boys decided to tackle a 4,500 foot hike up to Amphitheater Lake (10.5 miles) while I took a well-deserved day off.
To see the mountains from a different view, we took the Teton Village Aerial Tram to the top of the southern Tetons. Ascending 4,139 feet in just 12 minutes, the tram left us at 10,450 feet, with unparalleled views in every direction. With routes along the summit and into the Teton Village Valley, we explored 4 miles of mainly descending trails to get to the Bridger Gondola which took us gently back down to the valley floor.
Other Weird & Wonderful Things about Wyoming
A trip to Wyoming is more than about nature and wildlife and no visitor could leave without getting to know more about its wild west past and present. While from first impressions Jackson looks like a quaint, touristy frontier town, complete with Cowboy Bar (saddles instead of bar stools), giant antler arches marking the town square and its own rodeo, according to the locals, the millionaires are being pushed out to make room for the billionaires. A thriving art and restaurant scene, coupled with expert skiing in the winter and hiking, fishing and mountain biking in the summer, had made Jackson a prime vacation and second home destination.
Wandering through the town, stop into one of the many art galleries selling contemporary Western Artists paintings of cowboys, Indians and wildlife for anything from $2,000 to $60,000.
And don’t miss checking out the home furnishing stores offering deer antler chandeliers ($5,000) or mounted moose heads ($9,999). Certainly not everyone’s style or taste, but fascinating to explore a completely different style of decorating.
We rounded off our trip with a visit to the Jackson Hole Rodeo. It was the last show of the season, dedicated to the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I’ll admit none of us really knew what to expect. With atmosphere of a run-down carnival fair, we armed ourselves with popcorn and cans of beer to politely watch the show, knowing we could discreetly slip away to the bar down the road if it was truly terrible.
So, imagine my surprise when an hour and a half later, the show was over and we hadn’t blinked once. To see the raw power of a grown bull or bucking bronco from 50 foot away as he viciously detached the poor man brave enough to climb onto him, well I tell you, that is some sport!
We walked up to the Snow King Lodge for a final nightcap before heading home the next day. Sipping a glass of small batch Wyoming Whisky, alongside men in cowboy boots, we all agreed that with its amazing scenery, wildlife and great hiking, it was well worth visiting Wyoming.
If You Go Visiting Wyoming:
Flights: From the UK, we flew British Airways into Denver and then took a flight up to Bozeman, Montana. We flew home out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and back via Denver again.
Where to stay:
Yellowstone Hotels: We booked into the national park hotels, staying first in Mammoth Springs , then the Lake Lodge Cabins at Lake Yellowstone and finally the Old Faithful Inn. Be aware national park hotels book up crazy quick - so be ready to book your room at least 12 months in advance or you will be staying outside the park ....or camping!
Jackson: we rented a 2 bedroom apartment just outside the town centre at Snow King Mountain through VRBO.