Interstate 70, I’m breaking up with you and heading north for a little fun, minus traffic.
While Colorado has become more and more popular as a place to live and visit in large part because of its natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities, Wyoming has continued to be the country’s least populous state. For those looking to spend a little time outdoors to ski, soak in a hot springs, hit the trail, or any number of other activities, consider what’s offered in the neighboring Cowboy State if the lines are too long or reservations can’t be found in Colorado.
This overview looks at places outside of Jackson, which tends to also have higher prices and bigger crowds than many of the lesser-known options in Wyoming. Also, the highlights here are within about a six-hour drive of Denver or less, compared to Jackson, which is more than an eight-hour drive from the Mile High City.
While the mountains may be smaller, so are the prices for skiing at these spots.
• About a three-hour drive away is an affordable option for beginner to intermediate skiers at the Snowy Range Ski Area outside of Laramie in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. Lift ticket prices range from free (4 and under or over 70 years of age) up to $49 for an adult for the day on weekdays, $59 on weekends. Lodging is off-site back in Laramie, and there are discounts if you select a “partner” hotel. Ski and snowboard lessons and rentals are available.
• Hogadon Ski Area is approximately a four-hour drive from Denver and is closer to Casper. The mountain tops out at 8,000 feet above sea level and the majority of the mountain is designated intermediate to advanced runs. There’s also what they call “gladed skiing” where trails go through the trees. Lift ticket prices range from free (5 and under or over 70 years of age) to $55 per day for an adult. Lessons and rentals are available at the ski area, with lodging about 15 miles away back in Casper.
• The White Pine Ski Resort is among the state’s oldest ski areas. About a six-hour drive from Denver near Pinedale, this resort is open Fridays through Mondays with lift ticket prices from $6 to $60, with a unique $9 single ride ticket too. Fortification Mountain summits out at 9,500 feet in elevation with 27 trails to choose from. There are cabins available for lodging at the ski area here.
• The Meadowlark Ski Hill near Ten Sleep includes a lodge and lift tickets from free (kids under age 5) to $62 for adults. This ski option is about a six-hour drive from Denver and nearby there are rustic cabins and motel lodging for overnight stays.
If you prefer cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to downhill skiing, Wyoming has plenty of trails to explore.
You’ve got to love the names of places in Wyoming: just outside of Laramie you can head to Tie City or Happy Jack trailheads for groomed ski trails in the winter. There are also snowshoe trails and the trails are open year-round for all seasonal trail sports. There is a $5 per vehicle use fee.
Although the Casper Mountain Trails Center was demolished for rebuilding, it’s possible to get passes and enjoy the 26 miles of groomed trails just 8 miles from town. Both cross-country skiers and skate skiers can get in a workout here. Passes cost $10 for the day or $25 to $50 for a season pass and can be bought on the Natrona County website or at Mountain Sports, Gear Up and Get Out There, or 42° North.
Outside of Encampment, between a three- to four-hour drive from Denver, you will find the Bottle Creek Trails in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests. The trails are maintained in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There is no fee.
Just outside of Saratoga are the Brush Creek Trails in the Snowy Range. These trails are also maintained for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter and there is no fee.
Sheridan is a six-hour drive from Denver and has a lot to offer, including Nordic ski and snowshoe trails in the Bighorn Mountains. Sibley Lake and Cutler Hill are the go-to trails in this neck of the woods, each with different appeal such as whether dogs are allowed (Cutler) or not (Sibley).
Not far from Lander, which is around a five-hour drive from Denver, the Beaver Creek Ski Area has 6 miles of looping trails for classic and skate skiing. There is no cost, but donations are appreciated to offset grooming costs.
A good soak after a day of skiing, snowshoeing or other activities is always welcome for sore muscles.
• Saratoga, a 3 1/2-hour drive from Denver, has a couple of options for year-round soaking. The Saratoga Hot Springs Resort is built around a pool and individuals tubs covered by tipis. This family-friendly hotel has a restaurant and brewery on-site as well as game room for those who like a good old-fashioned game of pool or oversized chess. Guests can use the pools during their stay and after checkout, or become members to use the pools when not staying overnight.
• A short walk away are the town hot springs, Hobo Hot Springs with just two pools and possible warm seeps into the nearby North Platte River. The free Hobo Hot Springs can get quite toasty, so check the water temperatures sign first.
• Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis has a pool and natural outdoor soaking options, including along the “Rainbow Terrace,” which is a sort of wall of calcified minerals where the water flows into the soaking pools. This is about a 5 1/2-hour drive from Denver and it’s free to use the bathhouse (there are state park entrance fees). Beyond soaking, there’s a suspension bridge to walk across and see the water from a different angle as well as a bison herd to visit while here.
There are hundreds of miles of groomed and ungroomed snowmobiling trails in Wyoming, along with rentals and guides available for all skill levels. Note that Wyoming state law requires all snowmobilers to register and pay a permit fee.
Around Saratoga, there are three places to ride: the Snowy Range, the Sierra Madres and the Shirley Mountains. The Wyoming Parks Trail System can provide detailed trail maps and conditions.
From Lander, snowmobilers can access the southern end of the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail where there are both groomed and ungroomed trails to explore.
In addition to Nordic and alpine skiing, Casper Mountain offers 32 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
The northern Bighorn Mountains have more than 200 miles of groomed and 22 miles of ungroomed trails for snowmobiles in the Sheridan area. Sled Wyo is based in Sheridan and offers snowmobile rentals and guided backcountry snowmobile tours with prices ranging from $50 to $400.
Need to get inside for the day? Wyoming has some worthwhile museums to explore too.
Make it a point to visit the Brinton Museum in Sheridan where a unique rammed earth wall surrounds one side of the Forrest E. Mars Jr. Building. It’s home to Western and American Indian Art collections, and has a bistro with a view of the prairie outside where you can spend a little time bird-watching, too. The museum is on the grounds of the historic Brinton Ranch, where you can also visit the original ranch house. Note that the museum is closed Dec. 24-Feb. 9, and admission is free.
On the University of Wyoming in Laramie campus, you can’t miss the art museum in the Centennial Complex with its shiny conical design by architect Antoine Predock. Inside are both the University of Wyoming Art Museum and American Heritage Center, with an unexpected variety of art from Haitian and Japanese to Western paintings and Native American artifacts. Admission is free and the museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Kids might love the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper with its hands-on and interactive exhibits. Climb into a covered wagon that simulates a river crossing, “ride” in a stagecoach and more. Admission is free, though donations are appreciated.
Whether planning a visit to a museum or a trail, always check first to verify they are open. During the summer months, most of the trails mentioned are used for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking.
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