Founded as a thoroughfare for West-bound pioneer wagons, the town of Casper, Wyoming, has set its sights on a new frontier. A quaint downtown district offers hours of entertainment with shops, art galleries, restaurants and the new David Street Station, featuring an ice skating rink and outdoor amphitheater. The surrounding geography includes a city-owned ski resort and world-renowned trout streams, enticing visitors with a penchant for adventure. And thanks to some seriously smart and innovative locals (and perhaps a result of the influx of eclipse-chasing crowds when Casper found itself in the path of totality in 2017), a slew of hip new restaurants and breweries are popping up among the retro diners and meat-and-potato mainstays. Formerly viewed by tourists as a simple pit-stop en route to the state’s crown jewels of Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park, Casper is quietly growing into a charming stand-alone destination for families, weekenders, and outdoor enthusiasts.
The Odometer: 279 miles, one-way (about a four-hour drive)
Eat & Drink
For a town that is home to fewer than 60,000 residents, Casper has an impressive selection of bars and restaurants. For a taste of classic Casper, head to Johnny J’s Diner for a scratch-made, country-style breakfast or a hearty slice of homemade pie available in every flavor you’ve ever heard of, from banana cream to mincemeat. Also, tucked away in a residential neighborhood, the Grant Street Grocery & Market is one of Casper’s best foodie finds. The recently renovated historic storefront is full of gourmet goodies from local and regional producers (in fact, the owner makes regular trips to Denver to stock up on her favorite Mile High products), as well an array of high-quality butchered meats and fine cheeses. A small menu of creative sandwiches, hot breakfast items and a few dinner specials are available from the in-house coffee bar, too, making this an ideal stop for grab-and-go necessities.
Thirsty guests have an array of options to whet their whistle from honky-tonk dive bars, like Frosty’s Bar & Grill, to sophisticated craft concepts like Backwards Distilling, which is the place to satiate a serious cocktail craving (try the Feats of Strength, a combo of house-made gin, pineapple juice, and fresh-cracked black pepper). For a brew with a view, head to Gruner Brothers Brewing, a spacious spot located on a mesa overlooking town with table games, an Oktoberfest on tap year-round, and a scenic patio. In town, check out Frontier Brewing’s unique self-serve taproom.
For evening entertainment, head to the Beacon Club, a Western-style dance hall with cheap beer, live music, and lots of boot-clad locals eager to give you a twirling lesson.
Burn off all that deliciousness with an adrenaline-pumping activity—or several—of your choice: cast a fly on the Miracle Mile, a fertile stretch of the North Platte River tailwaters (the more remote, cleaner, cousin to Denver’s South Platte), famous for its robust trophy trout population; hike or snowshoe the 50-plus miles of groomed and backcountry trails on Casper Mountain; take a few laps on ski or mountain bike at Hogadon Basin, the city-owned ski area just a 25-minute drive south of town.
Staying true to its rodeo roots, Casper draws crowds every summer for some major rodeo events, like the College National Finals Rodeo, known as the “Rose Bowl of Rodeo,” in June, and the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo in July. In the winter, Casper hosts the annual Casper Mountain Sled Dog Races, presented by Canines for Charity, in January, and Wyoming locals arrive by the thousands to experience one of the state’s most cherished traditions, the bi-annual Cowboy State Games, held in February and July.
Need gear, maps, or advice? Casper Mountain Sports has you covered for skiing, snowshoeing, biking, and apparel, with locations downtown and at Hogadon Basin. For guided trips, fly-tying classes and fishing reports, head to Ugly Bug Fly Shop in town.
Get a Taste of Wyoming’s Art & History
If your taste is more cultural than recreational (or if infamous Wyoming winds are acting up, prohibiting outdoor activities) rest assured you won’t be bored in Casper. The Nicolaysen Art Museum, also known as the Nic, is a 25,000-square-foot home to classic and contemporary artworks as well as a performance space for Opera Wyoming, a popular Friday night diversion. Located in a trendy Old Yellowstone industrial district, Art 321 is home to the Casper Artist’s Guild and features exhibits from a wide variety of local artists and artisans, as well as a full calendar of creative workshops for all ages. The gallery also hosts art walks on the first Thursday of each month from May through September featuring food specials, live music, and shopping throughout downtown Casper.
All visitors should plan to spend some time at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center to experience the hardships of pioneer life first-hand with an interactive wagon ride—a modern day version of the old favorite Oregon Trail computer game—and Fort Caspar, the town’s namesake, albeit misspelled, historic landmark.
Where to Stay
You’ll find plenty of standard inns and hotels around town (think Hampton, Hilton, and Holiday), but if you venture out of town a bit you’ll find a variety of lodge-style accommodations boasting scenic views, dark skies, and easy access to adventure. Located 16 miles from town and one-quarter mile from the river, serious anglers will love the Grey Reef Lodge, which has private access to the North Platte’s famous Miracle Mile and Grey Reef sections, all-inclusive meal and guide packages, and an airport shuttle.
Planning to spend most of your time on the mountain instead? Book a room at Sunburst Lodge—a rustic bed and breakfast located 10 miles from town, featuring a spacious deck overlooking Casper Mountain, private trail access, and an outdoor fire pit.
If You Do One Thing
While strolling downtown, don’t miss Casper’s iconic Western department store, Lou Taubert’s Ranch Outfitters, which celebrates its 100th year in 2019. This third-generation, family-owned-and-operated shop features four floors of hats, home goods, equine products, and cowboy boots galore. Be sure to check out the glass-encased cowboy hat donning the signatures of the store’s famous patrons like John Wayne, Garth Brooks, and Loretta Lynn.