RFI: Eastern Wyoming

“Well I’ve been all over this crowded planet… etc. etc.” (with apologies to Paul Williams).

One part of the world that isn’t crowded is eastern Wyoming — you know, the part that isn’t full of Hollywood trendies of the Jackson Hole variety.  Or at least, as far as I know.

My knowledge of that corner of the U.S. is limited to a brief sojourn — and I suspect I’m not alone in this — to Rapid City SD en route to Mt. Rushmore (where I got into a fight with the Parks Dept. asshole who was manager of the gift store, another story).

I have to say that I thought the area was very pretty, if on the rugged side, but I have always wondered what it’s like to live there, be it the climate, people, whatever.

I know that South Dakota is famous for its windiness, but surely the Black Hills act as some kind of a windbreak?  Is Sundance WY as windy or unpleasant as Spearfish SD, for instance?

As I said, I know little to nothing about the area, and when I was at Mt. Rushmore in early April it was wonderful:  cool breezes, morning mist and so on.  As I recall, I stayed in a motel in Keystone and while the town is something of a dump — or was when I was there — the surrounding country looked magical.

Here’s the general area:

…and the scenery which I found so appealing:

The reason that I ask all this is because I want to take New Wife on a little trip to parts of the U.S. she hasn’t seen before, but I’d also like to go where I haven’t been, either — or at least, only driven through, like this part of the world.

All personal anecdotes, experiences and recommendations are welcome.


  1. There’s a saying in Wyoming that if the wind stops blowing all the houses will fall over….

    i’m sure there are areas of terrain where there are natural windbreaks and such. I honestly never really noticed the wind when I visited Devil’s Tower, but that’s really about the extent of my “exploring” that part of the world. My family has a cabin in Island Park, ID, about 20 miles from the Yellowstone west entrance, plus I have extended family all across eastern Idaho, so that’s more my stomping grounds.

    Island Park itself is quite lovely and it’s quite close to the ice caves and sand dunes that are in that area, plus Yellowstone and Teton parks are really quite nice — just don’t do anything more than a quick drive-thru of Jackson and you should be fine 😉

    West Yellowstone has some hotels and there are hotels in the parks themselves. There’s also camping, and I know a lot of the “cabins” (they’re houses, people just call them cabins since they’re “in the woods”) are available on Airbnb or whatever non-woke rental app you might find. Mack’s Inn in Island Park has camping or else rents out small individual buildings that include a small kitchen and I’ve heard they’re quite reasonalby priced.

    But again… this is east Idaho, not WY, so… take that for what you will.

  2. I drove on I-90 from Buffalo NY to Seattle WA a long time ago. Saw Rushmore (didn’t get into any fist fights there) and had a flat tire 60 miles east of Rapid City. Snapped 4 of the 5 lug nuts off – the next 6 hours were lots of fun.

    My hope is to live the rest of my life in that area and then die there. I spend a fair amount of time everyday thinking about this and so does my wife of 40 years. It’s my entire bucket list.

  3. As I inevitably grow older and physically decline, one of the most enduring of my memories is of a two-week motorcycle holiday my wife and I, together with b-i-l and s-i-l did through the Pacific North-west. I still struggle to take in all that we saw and how, in just a handful of miles, the terrain could change so drastically. In Australia, we can ride for two days and still be in a bloody desert.

    Devil’s Tower left a huge impression … I could physically feel it, sitting there, watching me, even after we had gone past I had to keep looking over my shoulder. The people were, without fail, just wonderful. I’d tell you about the gentleman I met in the servo (gas station), but I fear that would bore you.

    I would live there in a heartbeat but, sadly, the USA doesn’t want to know me. (OK, I know me and even I’m not all that impressed!) 😀

  4. Don’t know about eastern Wyoming but spent a few long weekends float fishing the North Platte in western Wyoming. Flat bottom boats, Lazy float down stream, fly fishing for trout. Better than the Adirondacks or Canada. Highly recommended but maybe a little spendy.

  5. I grew to hate Wyoming in general when I was doing cross country LTL (“Less Than Truckload”), and the I-80 corridor in particular. If it wasn’t shut down for snow, I was always catching a 30-40 MPH crosswind. Imagine driving the whole length of a state that is as desolate as the Odessa-Midland oil patch. Ugh.

    That said, much of the rest of the state is beautiful. The northeastern quarter is an excellent place with which to fall in love. And you’re right to stay out of the western part. The Buffalo Bill Reservoir near Cody is also lovely, but there’s a lot of sulfur in the water and the whole area smells like a fart.

    1. I can get an idea of the weather ahead on I-80 around Arlington by the number of semis on their sides

  6. The Flathead – Kootenay – Columbia river valleys in Montana, Idaho and up into British Columbia Canada are fabulous.

    Good roads, nice towns, great scenery, great summer weather, mild winters.

  7. All of your photos are within a few miles of our house! We lucked out 14 years ago and bought 10 acres and a house built in the 1880’s on the edge of Custer State Park and Wind Cave Natl. Park. Unfortunately the area has been discovered and we have noticed an influx of folks moving in to western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. Thank goodness we are insulated from subdivisions in our location. If you do come up our neighbors have a B&B and we have a small bunkhouse!

  8. Beautiful pictures!! haven’t spent really anytime west of the Mississippi other than a couple of trips to Las Vegas.

  9. Kim:

    My wife and I moved to NW Wyoming about 5 years ago and absolutely love it. The people are wonderful, with a strong attitude of liberty combined with personal responsibility. With regard to travel, I don’t enjoy the eastern part of the state nearly as much as the northwestern simply because of the massive summer influx of faux-bikers (the ones who trailer their bikes and then ride tiny portions) and other tourists. Traffic can be truly terrible in the summer.

    With regard to wind, where we live is quite probably the windiest portion of the lower 48. That being said, you either get used to it, go crazy, or leave. It doesn’t blow even a majority of the time, but often enough to be noticeable. When it’s blowing at 40-50 MPH sustained with gusts up to 75 it’s not “hurricane force winds”, it’s just Thursday. Shortly after we bought our house I was sitting on the back deck in a gentle breeze (the deck’s got a wall on the west side to block the wind since it mostly comes from there) and watched a neighbor’s patio umbrella go past about 200 feet up at around 40 MPH gaining altitude as it went. Probably came down in the gully to the east, but it might have made it to South Dakota. The local saying about winter is, “Snow never melts in Wyoming. It just blows around until it wears out”.

    If I were to recommend a driving trip it would be to take the lower route through the Bighorn Mountains from Buffalo to Ten Sleep (I’m going to assume you want to stay off the interstates as much as possible) and then up through Hyattville towards Shell, and then over to Cody. Cody’s a small tourist town in the summer (Pop. 10,000) loaded with (relatively) cheap motels. There are a whole bunch of things to do there including the incredible Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

    If you use Cody as a sort of “base camp” there are things to do in every direction, including the most scenic approach to Yellowstone up the North Fork Highway to the East Entrance. I never to the Park in the summer crush due to the number of RV’s (aka, “Road Vermin”) driven by cotton-tops, but if you get here early (May) or late (September) in the season it’s not bad. Another spectacular mountain drive is to take the Chief Joseph Highway up over Dead Indian pass (Wy 296) until it tee-bones US 212, aka the Beartooth Highway. From there you can take 212 up and over the Beartooth Pass and then drop down into Red Lodge, MT. They’ve got a wide selection of very good restaurants there to serve the upper-crust but it’s too pricey for us…we usually just pack a lunch. From there you can circle back through Belfry, MT and then down the Belfry Highway (Wy 120) back down to Cody through Badger Basin, looking at the flat sagebrush over to the Beartooth Plateau that you were just on.

    You can leave by going back over the Bighorns the way you came (Ten Sleep canyon is beautiful) and it looks completely different, or head out on US Alt 14 to Burgess Junction and then down to Sheridan. Or just head south and go back down to TX through Colorado and New Mexico.

    If you decide to pass through NW Wyoming drop me a line (you should have my e-mail through my comment log-in) and we’d be happy to be your local guide to some of the lesser-known sights here, like the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone river valley, one of the prettiest and least known hikes around here.

    P.S. for Dave Olson: The BBR itself doesn’t have any smell; it’s all coming from the Shoshone River downstream of the dam. There’s an active geological area called “Colter’s Hell” that has some sulphur hot springs and it only smells downwind of that. I’ve only smelled it once in the town of Cody. Heck, there’s a world-famous trout hole right in the city limits, and I’ve never smelled it there, either.

  10. Shot a buffalo/bison at the IPY Ranch that holds the range on the south around west to the north side of the Devils Tower. The area is beautiful. People are great. Traveling Robert on youtube has an episode where he does the Tower area parked right next to the entrance of the Tower park. He might have some interest points if you decide to go there. Going west from Sundance (yes that is where the Kid got his name) there is some great territory in the Black Hills National Forest.

  11. Stay in Rapid City and then do day trips to all the sites around it. So much to see and experience, caves, monuments, Deadwood for lunch and pay you respects to Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, gold mines and pan for some gold, spectacular scenery, lots of tourist trap stuff along the way (Wall Drug, Reptile garden). A farther journey would be Devils Tower, from Close Encounters of the 3rd kind.

    I saw it all as a kid and was so happy to show it to my kids. When I was a kid the Jeweled Cave had lanterns every one carried. Now disappointingly, its all electric and an elevator. Special tours are available to do it the old way though if you plan ahead.

  12. Spent some time in the Riverton-Dubois area awhile back. It’s not called the Wind River for nothing. High desert, hot (by my Alaskan standards) & dusty, but the folks there were pleasant enough. Plan a couple extra weeks and keep coming north. It’s only a couple thousand miles extra…ya gotta deal with Canaderp for a few days up & back, but that’s not too big a deal…Love to have ya & you’re welcome here anytime.

  13. I’ve been to the Black Hills a handful of times over the years. It is a worthy destination for an extended vacation. You probably want to avoid the busiest part of the motorcycle season as Sturges attracts a lot of traffic in early August. There is lots of stunning scenery, lots of history, and plenty of tourist services. It is not as fancy as some of the places you have posted pictures of, but there is a lot of rustic charm. There are large herds of buffalo (Bison) that can be seen by car, as well as other North American Wildlife. There is the historic Gold rush district around Deadwood. There are hot springs that were developed as health spas in the 19th century. Also museums, Paleontology sites, and of course the large sculptures at Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

  14. Rode my motorcycle through Medicine Bow National Forest to absolutely stunning views. Took a photo of a still frozen over lake (in July!). It’s a lovely place to visit (in summer).

  15. I have family and friends in the Gillette – Wright area. I liked it but my wife thought it was horrible.
    BTW it snows every month of the year in Wyoming and the wind howls in the eastern part of the state. If you don’t like winter, stay away!

  16. For those so inclined, much of the Bitter Creek Division of the old Overland Stage route is still driveable (4×4 preferred). Several ruins of the stage stations are accessible (some aren’t – on private land). Not a good route to break down along though.

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