Cowboy Attractions: Rodeos, Ranches, Wagons and More
The Cowboy State of Wyoming offers visitors ample excuse to buy a new pair of cowboy boots. From rodeos to ranches, here are some attractions that will ignite your cowboy spirit.
Photo By: Cheyenne Frontier Days
Photo By: MH Ramona Swift, Buffalo, Wyoming Chamber of Commerce
Photo By: Bitterroot Ranch
Photo By: Cathryn Kerns of Kerns Photography
Photo By: Dan Ham / Courtesy of Brush Creek Ranch
Photo By: Mzorin / Shutterstock
Photo By: NPS / Neal Herbert
Photo By: NPS / Sherrie & Ron White
Photo By: NPS / Sherrie & Ron White
Photo By: Wyoming Office of Tourism
Photo By: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock
Wyoming is known for its rodeos, attracting participants and enthusiasts from all over the country. The world's largest outdoor rodeo is Cheyenne Frontier Days, a 10-day festival offering rodeo competitions, shows and exhibitions since 1897. Other big names include the Cody Stampede and Cody Nites Rodeo in Cody and the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. Wyoming is also host to the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper and the High School Finals Rodeo. With hundreds of rodeos occurring each summer in nearly every town in the state, you won't have trouble finding one. Though rodeos are a spectator sport for the nonprofessional, many of the guest ranches around the state offer instruction in rodeo games like barrel racing and pole bending.
Traditional Dude Ranch
The hands down best way to get a sense of life in the Cowboy State is to stay at one of Wyoming's many dude ranches. Cattle ranching here dates back before statehood, to the mid-19th century. Agriculture is still a huge part of Wyoming's economy as its third-largest industry—and a big part of the state itself with the average ranch size the largest in the nation. There is a type of ranch for every guest, from historic working ranches to resort ranches as well as ranches focused on particular areas of interest such as hunting and fishing. Paradise Guest Ranch in Buffalo is a family-friendly ranch in operation since 1907 that features programs specifically for kids.
Themed Guest Ranches
Bitterroot Ranch is a working guest ranch in Dubois that offers the ultimate horseback-riding vacation. The proprietors promise to keep you in the saddle for the duration of your stay, exploring the Wind River Valley on trail rides, venturing out on pack trips into the Shoshone National Forest, practicing cross-country jumping back at the ranch and even helping on a cattle roundup. Participate in riding and horse-training clinics as well.
Double Rafter in Ranchester offers cattle drives minus indoor accommodations almost entirely. After an initial day learning the ins and outs of the horses you're depending on, you spend close to a week working up to (or out of) summer pastures at 9,000 feet in the Bighorn Mountains. This trip involves a minimum of six hours a day on a horse, rain or shine, snow or hail. It offers fun and an unparalleled experience getting dirty, wet and exhausted in pure isolation. (Right, that means no cellphone service.) Ah, just keep reminding your less enthusiastic spouse of the final night in his comfy bed back at the ranch.
For those who want to hang out with the horses but need more amenities than a tent, a creek and the bush over there (ahem), Wyoming has some truly luxurious all-inclusive guest ranches with pampering on the menu. The 30,000-acre Brush Creek Ranch outside Saratoga has all the activities and aventure you desire, along with modernized ranch-cozy digs, farm-to-table meals, a fitness center, saloon and full-service spa on the edge of Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. Did you see that full-service part? Spa treatments include the "Signature Teepee Journey," a three-hour intuitive massage in one of their spa teepees near the Platte River.
Communing with the horses doesn't have to involve running at a breakneck pace or arguing with recalcitrant cattle. Bitterroot Ranch offers annual yoga and horseback riding retreats that focus on the skills involved in both practices—alignment, flexibility and body awareness. The weeklong retreats balance yoga instruction with rides into the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Note: You may want to remove your cowboy hat for downward-facing dog.
Back before paved roads and the influx of cars and buses, if one wanted to thoroughly see Yellowstone, one did so by stagecoach. Xanterra Travel Collection's stagecoaches are locally made replicas of the original popular sightseeing coaches and they transport visitors on a tour of the Yellowstone countryside near Roosevelt Lodge, off Yellowstone's Grand Loop. The horses are friendly, the guides knowledgeable and the rides are a couple hours long. Offered a few times daily.
National Park Exploration
Horseback offers a wonderful way to see the national forests and parkland that make up half of Wyoming. Yellowstone and others have their own licensed outfitters for guided trips, and ranches provide guided excursions of varying difficulty and length. There are also permits available to bring your own horse, and many of the parks, as well as local ranches and inns, have horse accommodation available. Bridger-Teton National Forest has a list of trails and camps for its area.
For longer trips on a less-beaten path, consider a pack trip. Multiday excursions deep into into a national park or forest allow visitors to witness wildlife and survey beauty that is simply inaccessible on a single-day outing. These trips are more than just riding out and back; they involve fishing, swimming, hiking and playing. Yellowstone has a list of pack trip providers like Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters. Family-run Swift Creek Outfitters and Teton Horseback Adventures offer several options around their area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Wild Horse Watching
If you're saddle sore from the pack trip, take a breath and visit one of several wild horse sanctuaries and designated areas to view the noble beasts in their natural state. The current herds are mostly descended from Spanish horses introduced in the 1500s, along with the occasional ranch horse that decided the wild life was preferable. With this beautiful expanse to roam, can you blame them? The Bureau of Land Management manages the population and certifies area landowners like Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lander and Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary in Laramie to provide care for the horses. Visit one of the sanctuaries or take the self-guided 24-mile Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop in Sweetwater County. The Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center near Lovell will school you on the mustangs of their area, which straddles the Montana-Wyoming border. Tours available, but book way in advance.
Don your cowboy hat or bonnet and hop aboard the wagon train. You’d have to travel back in time, not just into Mountain Daylight Time, to get more authentic. Historic Trails West offers the real wagon-train experience of the early pioneers. It's a history lesson and sightseeing excursion rolled into one. Short midday jaunts or dedicated five-day treks out of Casper on the actual Oregon, California, Pony Express and historic Military trails. While hearing about the history of the area you're traversing, you'll also be making camp, tending the horses and genuinely enjoying the novel experience. Don't let anyone tell you that you look silly in that bonnet.