Cowboys. Covered wagons. Campfires. Welcome to Casper, Wyoming’s sweet little secret, centrally located and ideally suited for autumn travel.

Established as Fort Casper in the 1800s, it became a hot spot for pioneer settlers after the discovery of oil in the area. Today, “Oil City” as it is affectionately called, is the second-largest city in Wyoming with a modest population of 55,000. Casper has found a way to honor its history of the American West by developing into a cultural destination for travelers.

Note: Wyoming has no current state mask mandate in place, however, several of the local restaurants, museums, and businesses mentioned in this article require patrons to protect themselves and fellow guests by wearing a mask. 

Art and culture

As a “cowboy city” with a real Western vibe, it might come as a surprise that Casper is majorly artsy. The Western culture that oozes from Casper is reflected in the artwork around the town’s numerous galleries, museums, and exhibits. 

One such gallery is Scarlow’s Art and Coffee. The Scarlow’s team believes that varying perspectives are of benefit to the Casper community, and so artwork at Scarlow’s is not exclusively created by Wyoming artists. 

Exciting, contemporary artwork from new and established artists is waiting to be admired inside The Nicolaysen Museum of Art. The museum is thoughtfully curated to show off the best of local and regional artists. Exhibits here vary widely from modern portraits of infamous outlaws to paintings of the region’s abundant wildlife and diverse landscapes. 

If galleries aren’t your thing, and you would rather stumble upon Casper’s art, you only need to take a stroll. You’ll quickly discover vibrant murals painted onto many of the downtown side streets and alleyways. These larger-than-life works of art showcase a revival the city seems to be currently undergoing. 

History

Casper exists in the heart of the American West. It saw thousands of pioneers passing through on the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails in the hopes of creating new lives for themselves in the lesser-known (to them) territories of the United States. The wagon trails left behind bits of history from this time that is considered to be the largest non-forced migration in the world. Visit the  National Historic Trails Interpretive Center to learn more about life on the trails in a highly interactive way. The center includes artifacts and exhibits about Indigenous history and how the trails shifted the area’s culture. 

"Casper, Wyoming" by pmsyyz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
“Casper, Wyoming” by Phillip Stewart is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

After your visit to the Interpretive Center, step back in time by booking in a canvas-covered wagon ride with Historic Trails West. The wagon was built by the company’s owner, Morris, who has actually ridden and navigated the entire length of the Oregon Trail in the wagon. As a history buff and modern pioneer himself, a ride with Morris is guaranteed to be accompanied by all sorts of wagon trail facts. Consider booking in for the evening Dutch Oven Supper Ride. This way, you not only get a ride in a wooden wagon, but you get to finish your evening off with a home-cooked meal, prepared in a Dutch Oven using the same cooking methods as the women on the trails perfected.

Outdoors

Wyoming offers ample opportunity for outdoor exploration. One of the hidden gems of Casper is the hike up to Garden Creek Falls at the base of Casper Mountain. The waterfall feels unexpected, a recurring theme in Casper, and is a great spot for a picnic. Make sure you pack out whatever you bring in with you to keep Casper clean for future visitors. 

Freemont Canyon is another happy surprise that offers impressive views. The canyon is considered a geological wonder of the area, and thrill-seekers frequent the area to kayak and rock climb.  

wild-mustangs in wyoming

We suggest blissfully passing the day drifting along the North Platte River fly fishing with experts from Wyoming Fly Fishing. Located outside of the city center, Wyoming Fly Fishing’s red shop is hard to miss. The staff’s love of the outdoors, especially fly fishing, shines through immediately. They are there to help you catch fish, learn about conservation, and have a great time exploring the peace and calm of one of North America’s premier fishing destinations. Don’t forget to bring a tip for your guide — they are providing you expert-level knowledge and know-how, as well as navigating you to the very best spots along the North Platte River!

Small businesses

When Casper was still a fort, it was a hub for prospectors and pioneers. That sense of community is still felt today in Casper, where small businesses are thriving. Made-in-Wyoming products can be found throughout the city’s downtown at any of its many locally-owned shops. Candles and home goods from The Mustard Seed; traditional Western boots and hats found at Lou Taubert’s; personalized jewelry from Floral Rhino; whatever you’re looking for, there will be a store or boutique that suits. 

"Casper, Wyoming" by Dougtone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
“Casper, Wyoming” by Dougtone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Local cuisine and breweries

Casper’s food scene is another unexpected gift to guests of the city. There is, of course, traditional “American” food that can be found all over (think steaks, burgers, potatoes in various forms). However, there are also healthy alternatives and lighter fare that can be found at eateries like Grant Street Grocer and The Cottage Cafe. Microbreweries pouring craft beer, like Gruner Brothers Brewing, and distilleries concocting legendary spiked hot chocolates, like those at Backwards Distilling Company, are just waiting for thirsty customers to walk in their doors. 

Cover: “casper wyoming” by Slideshow Bruce is licensed under CC BY 2.0