They don’t call it Big Wyoming for nothing. Whether you’re referring to vast expanses of wilderness, dramatic peaks or—let’s be honest—the sometimes unforgiving weather, Wyoming is larger-than-life. While there’s much to discover in this expansive state, we suggest starting with Laramie, located just a couple hours north of the Front Range and well-situated for a number of outdoor opportunities. We suggest you take time to visit in the fall, when Laramie’s weather averages a high of 71 degrees and the aspens begin their lovely changes. Read on for our top adventure picks in the area.
Laramie has a big dose of cowboy spirit alongside a sizeable university and quaint downtown that makes for an excellent base to explore the surrounding hills. Day hikers can get a taste of nearby Vedauwoo and its otherworldly granite formations on the paved Box Canyon Trail, a short, family-friendly route that ends with rewarding panoramic views atop Glen Dome. The rocks surrounding the trail offer all sorts of interesting detours if you want to make things more interesting. “Once you get to the top, you can just boulder around, and there are all kinds of cool pockets in the rocks, some as big as rooms,” says Laramie native Kaylee Porter. “And there are also lots of funny-shaped boulders, like one that looks just like a giant fish … it’s like cloud watching. You could crawl around up there every day and find new crazy places every time.”
Peak baggers ready for more altitude will want to tick off Sugarloaf Mountain (11,398 feet) and Medicine Bow Peak (12,014 feet), which are typically accessible into November. The nearby Sugarloaf Recreation area boasts more than 80 mountain lakes, rewarding hikers with scenic eye-candy along the way.
If it’s trout you seek, the Laramie area is a bona fide fly-fishing mecca with cutthroat, rainbow, golden, brown and brook trout thriving in local waters. The real dilemma is deciding where to start. “This is a great destination for fishing because of its diversity. We have everything from large rivers to small creeks to alpine lakes,” says John Blyth, co-owner of the Laramie-based Four Seasons Anglers. Just 10 to 30 minutes out of town, you can access several spots on the Laramie River or drive a bit further to Douglas or French Creek for even more casting. For a rewarding day of hiking and fishing in the Medicine Bow Mountains, start at the Lewis Lake trailhead and hike to South Gap Lake and North Gap Lake, taking time to fish the glistening water and soak in the high alpine surroundings along the way. “Between the lack of people, lack of pressure and the great fishing, it’s a pretty good combination here,” says Blyth.
For nearly a century, the Hahn’s Peak and Pacific Railroad, which ran between Laramie and Coalmont, Colorado, hauled cars upon cars of gold, cattle, timber and coal. But in the late 1990s, the line shut down and converted into a Rails to Trails bike route stretching 21 miles from Centennial (located less than 30 minutes from Laramie) to Fox Park. Its crushed gravel surface and gentle inclines make it an ideal cruise on a cyclocross or mountain bike.
The area boasts plenty of singletrack, too. A multitude of loops will entertain rides of all levels at Curt Gowdy State Park, a popular recreation area located 30 minutes outside of Laramie. The trails feature fun, challenging detours along the way that bring riders through narrow gaps, across bridges and over boulders and other natural obstacles. Weather can be unpredictable in southern Wyoming, so if your fall trip happens to coincide with some early winter moisture, check out Happy Jack Recreation Area, which sports a large network of trails just off Interstate 80. The plain tends to dry out faster than surrounding areas.
Beginning in late September, the mountainous areas surrounding Laramie blaze a vibrant gold as the aspens change color.
One way to chase the fall foliage (and see some of the area’s wildlife) is to drive the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. The route begins in rustic Centennial, which boasts several unique restaurants, historic buildings and a train depot. Continue on Highway 130, passing streams, meadows, glacial lakes and aspens as you climb into the Snowies. Optional detours along the way include an overlook for Silver Lake and a fishing pier at French Creek. This is also a great spot to spot moose, elk, birds and other wildlife. The route ends in Saratoga, located next to the North Platte River and home to a free natural hot springs.
“Once you’re in Saratoga, don’t miss Aspen Alley, a dirt road just west of town with some gorgeous golden leaves,” says Mike Gray, assistant director of the Laramie Area Visitor Center. “It’s definitely a don’t-miss destination.”