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Few places embody the essence of the American West like Cheyenne, Wyoming. The railhead-turned-ranching town on the edge of the High Plains has long been a crossroads for daring travelers—from nomadic Native Americans, to hell on wheels opportunists who followed railroad expansion, to cowboys who dodged outlaws, flooded rivers, and stampedes of cattle to reach the livestock market there. The city’s unbridled energy and spirit of adventure endure to this day, as does its friendly hospitality, which is especially evident during the quieter winter months. Historical treasures, breweries, steakhouses, chic Western-wear shops, and uncrowded outdoor experiences are just a few of the many (quick) draws this legendary city has on offer.
The Odometer: 100 miles from Denver, one-way
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History & Art
After Cheyenne’s founding, the city’s first settlers were quickly joined by merchants, miners, cowboys, saloon and brothel owners, and many other pioneers, who erected a town so quickly that it became known as the “Magic City of the Plains.” These heady days are preserved in the city’s seven historic districts and more than 50 nationally listed sites.
A great place to start exploring is the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, which celebrates the history of the world’s largest outdoor rodeo. (The event will celebrate its 125th anniversary this summer.) The museum also houses one of the country’s largest collections of horse-drawn carriages and other quintessentially Western artifacts.
Just a short stroll away are three more glimpses of the city’s rich history: the Wyoming State Museum, the opulent Governor’s Mansion (pictured above), and the Wyoming State Capitol. The Capitol, which recently reopened following an extensive four-year renovation, is one of only 10 in the country that boasts a glistening gilded dome (Colorado is another). During the most recent restoration, seven ounces of pure, 24-karat gold were added to the roof’s copper tiles.
Downtown Cheyenne is home to numerous art galleries, which sponsor self-guided art walks every second Thursday evening. The state’s oldest nonprofit artist guild also hosts monthly themed shows. The city center even features more than two dozen eight-foot-high, hand-painted boots designed by local artists.
Cheyenne’s history is intertwined with the story of the transcontinental railroad, which opened the American West to large numbers of pioneers. During the summer of 1865, Major General Grenville Dodge, the Union Pacific’s chief engineer, and his troops camped in the area while surveying the future city’s site on the western edge of the Great Plains. By the time the railroad reached this spot in November 1867, 4,000 hardy settlers had already moved in.
Cheyenne offers great winter outdoor adventures far from the crowds on Colorado’s Front Range. Rent snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore some of the quiet groomed or backcountry trails in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest’s Pole Mountain Area. In winter, these trails are most easily accessed from near the Summit Visitor Center on I-80.
Just 24 miles west of Cheyenne, Curt Gowdy State Park boasts adventurous outdoor activities all year long. During the winter, you can snowshoe, cross-country ski, or fat bike on 35 miles of trails that connect two of the park’s three reservoirs. If you don’t get cold feet, you can ice fish for trout or perch on Granite or Crystal reservoir. When the wind is whipping, you may be able to watch (or join) some fun-loving locals ice boating across the park’s North Crow Reservoir.
Eat & Drink
Warm up after your outing with a piping-hot cocoa or cup of locally roasted coffee at the Paramount Café, housed in a vintage, turn-of-the century downtown building. If you’re ready for something stronger, stop by one of the city’s half dozen distilleries and breweries to get a locally crafted beverage with a playful name, such as Black Tooth Brewing Company‘s Bomber Mountain Amber, Accomplice Beer Company‘s Slumber Car Porter, or Old Regret from Danielmark’s Brewing Company.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, sashay over to Wyoming’s Rib & Chop House for its award-winning baby back ribs or charbroiled chicken washed down with a Steakhouse Sour. North of the city, the Little Bear Inn, a former saloon and casino and occasional stage-route stop, is now a popular steakhouse featuring delicacies, such as frog legs, Rocky Mountain oysters (which don’t come from the ocean), fancy-fried lobster, and, of course, every imaginable type of steak.
For a quick bite, stop by 2 Doors Down for juicy burgers and bottomless fries. If you’re craving something with more carbs, Bella Fuoco’s wood-fired pizzas are made with fresh toppings and homemade dough (including gluten-free). Anong’s Thai Cuisine is a good bet for veggie and vegan options.
Before you leave, be sure to dare your sweet tooth with a warm, gooey Oatmeal Scotchie from Eileen’s Colossal Cookies or a gourmet Fudge Fantasy from Mary’s Mountain Cookies.
In addition to plenty of tried-and-true hotel and motel chains, Cheyenne offers a notable historic option. In the heart of the downtown, The Historic Plains Hotel has long been a high-society hangout that’s hosted cattle barons, movie stars, and some purported ghostly guests.
The city also has one luxury option: Little America Hotel & Resort, which is located near the junction of I-25 and I-80. The amenities include a nine-hole golf course, a fitness center, and a heated outdoor pool.
If You Do One Thing…
Visit The Wrangler, a three-story redbrick building on the corner of Capitol Avenue and Lincoln Way. Since the long-standing structure has housed various forms of retail therapy since its construction in 1892, it’s a great place to soak up Cheyenne’s historical vibes while searching for the perfect souvenir. Its 13,000 square feet are filled with stylish Western wear, from jeans and jackets to an unbeatable selection of boots. If you revel in making decisions, be sure to find the hat room, which features nearly 500 choices, including a must-have $1,200 diamond-studded Stetson.
Because local health regulations are subject to change during the pandemic, be sure to check the latest rules before you steer north.