The West today looks and feels completely different than it did 150 years ago. Now with sprawling cities and connected highways, similar to Denver, the scenery has changed. But there’s one place where the landscape still holds true to its Old West roots in today’s modern world.
Casper, WY captures the spirit of travelers with its rich history, small-town vibe, great food and access to some of the best outdoor adventures — all without the crowds. Just a four-hour drive, or a direct one-hour flight from DIA to Casper Airport, Casper makes for the ideal weekend getaway for any Denverite looking to escape the city and experience the last of the Western Frontier. Find out how you can experience a weekend getaway to Casper, WY with our guide below.
Uncover Relics of the Past
Did you know the first T-Rex was found in Wyoming? In fact, Casper is one of the best places to see some of these old bones. Located on the Casper College Campus, the Tate Geological Museum, often referred to as “The Tate,” brings to life the dinosaur skeletons of the past with its impressive collection of over 6,000 fossil and mineral specimens.
Highlights include Dee the Mammoth — an 11,600-year-old Columbian Mammoth who lived throughout the American West during the Ice Age, Nicole the Torosaurus — a 67 million-year-old dinosaur with a skull measuring nine feet and six feet wide and Stan the Tyrannos — one of the most complete (65%) T-Rex skeletons in the world. But the crown jewel was the up-close viewing of the Lee Rex project. Housed in the nearby Rex-Annex, visitors can see the first T-Rex found in Wyoming, to stay in the state. Be sure to ask the front desk about tours.
Retrace the trails of history
Casper was once the epicenter of where the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer Trail and the Pony Express all crossed. Known as the Great Overland Migrations, pioneers made their way west in hopes of finding a passage through the Rocky Mountains. One of the more infamous trails was the Oregon Trail.
You too can experience what it would have been like to travel along the Oregon Trail in the 1880s with an overland ride via Historic Trails West. Led by Morris Carter, an experienced overlander himself who traveled across the country in his self-built wagon, mini-day trips and overnight overland trips are available, complete with storytelling, views and an authentic Dutch oven meal. Trust us, this will be one of the more unique experiences during your weekend getaway to Casper, WY.
To learn more about these trails and the pioneers who forge them, be sure to stop by and tour the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. Through hands-on and interpretive exhibits, such as the wagon-ride simulator, you can experience what it was like for thousands of pioneers who followed these trails.
The North Platte River presented many problems for pioneers heading west. So much so the Mormon Ferry in 1847 offered rides across the river along with what is called fording — wading in the swift water with everything you owned. Then later came bridges, where travelers paid tolls to cross, eliminating the need for fording and ferries. One of these bridges can be seen at Fort Casper — marking the first permanent residence in 1859. The Fort Casper Museum is another notable stop to learn more about the history of the area.
See a unique piece of history
Settlers and pioneers passing through on their way west would carve their name on Independence Rock. As one of the most noted landmarks in Wyoming, Independence Rock got its name for the July 4 date. If travelers arrived after this date, they were to turn around because they wouldn’t be able to make it over the mountains by winter.
An estimated 500,000 pioneers passed by the rock formation on their way out west. At least 50,000 people carved or painted their names on the rock. See replicas of these carvings at the National Historic Trails Center or go see it for yourself. Travel Tip: See the historic landmark on your way back to Denver from Casper by way of HWY 220.
Fly Fishing in Blue Ribbon Waters
For the pioneers heading West in hopes of crossing the Rocky Mountains, the final crossing of the North Platte River ended here in Casper. These treacherous waters were once a burden for many but today they offer some of the best fly fishing in the country.
In Casper, fly fishing isn’t just a popular sport, it’s a way of life. If you’re a fly fisher, then you know many add the Blue Ribbon waters of the North Platte River in Casper to their bucket list. And for those who are learning for the first time, Casper is the place to start. The most famous stretch of the North Platte River is the Grey Reef. Combined with wildlife management efforts and the artificial fly and lure-only regulations, the Grey Reef is the most productive and consistent stretch for large trout on the North Platte River.
During your weekend getaway to Casper, WY, take a half-day, full-day or multi-day fly fish trip with Crazy Rainbow with Ugly Bug Fly Shop. They navigate the waters with you, teach you how to cast, set your bait and all but catch the fish for you. Reeling fish in isn’t hard with more than 8,000 fish per mile swimming the waters.
Stop at the Ugly Bug Fly Shop in downtown Casper to get your fishing license ($14 for a non-resident adult), stock up on gear and admire the rows and rows of thousands of fishing lures — each their own piece of artwork.
Kayaking into Freemont Canyon
It might surprise you that just 30 minutes from Casper, at Alcova Reservoir, there are deep rugged canyons waiting to be explored. Fremont Canyon, definitely one of Wyoming’s best-kept secrets, rests about four miles from Pathfinder Dam and boasts towering red rock walls rising above the waters of the North Platte River.
Explore the inner edges of the canyon by way of kayak. Rentals are available at the Alcova Resort and Marina. The calm waters aren’t intimidating at all, in fact quite relaxing. A pontoon boat of sorts puts you in with your kayak at the end of the canyon and then you are left to paddle back. You can choose to make the paddle as long or as short as you’d like — depending on where you put in.
Explore Casper Mountain
Casper Mountain anchors the western skyline outside of town and offers a wide variety of trails and scenic viewpoints. Almost any day of the year you can hike, bike, snowshoe and ski on Casper Mountain. Perfect for the family or a short hike with lunch is the hike to Garden Creek Falls. At around one mile, the short hike offers big rewards with an 80-foot waterfall at the end.
Where to eat and drink in Casper
Casper serves up a food scene that’s completely unexpected. With more breakfast places you can count, a Thai restaurant that will satisfy any Pad Thai craving, fish so fresh you’d think Wyoming had waterfront property and savory steakhouses that remind you, you are in cattle country.
Breakfast comes easy at the Bluebird, an off-the-beaten-path diner reminiscent of Grandma’s house. The quaint restaurant offers a helping of classics like eggs benedict and fried green tomatoes, plus brunch favorites like bloody marys and mimosas. Or prepare to wait in line, and for good reason, for breakfast at the classic diner Eggington’s. Not expensive, great food and good service.
Venture outside of downtown to visit Grant Street General Store in the Big Tree Neighborhood of Casper. In operation since 1918, this historic general store sells all the fixings you need for breakfast, lunch and almost any snack craving you might have. Find new favorites and old favorites like Denver’s own The Real Dill bloody mary mix, fresh pasta, unique snacks and an assortment of gift items.
And because you can’t visit Wyoming without having a good steak, get your fix of buttered bread, mashed potatoes and your choice of more than eight cuts of beef at the FireRock Steakhouse. If beef steaks or fresh fish aren’t your thing, stop in for pizza at Racca’s, a burger at the Branding Iron or Pad Thai at Thai Kitchen.
End the day with a good whiskey, crafty cocktails and live music with a stop at The Drinkery. Or check out the tasting room of Backwards Distilling Company. Since opening in 2014, the Pollock family have made a name for themselves pouring vodka, gin, rum, whiskey and moonshine, all while serving up a quirky and unusual circus-themed atmosphere. Their crafty cocktails are a fun introduction to their spirits along with some of their smaller bottles for purchase.
Spend a day downtown
Casper also offers a downtown that will charm the boots off of anyone. During your weekend getaway to Casper, WY, don’t miss out on a shopping spree for all your Western wear at Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters — nine floors filled with over 10,000 boots, clothing, hats and all the fixings for any cowboy or cowgirl. If you’re looking for less Western wear and more fashion wear, stop in at the Floral Rhino. Get your afternoon coffee and art fix at the Scarlow’s Gallery or the decked-out-in-pink hip-hop coffee shop — the Bourgeois Pig.
The downtown area also boasts a big arts and culture scene with the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra and the Nicolaysen Art Museum. The contemporary museum consists of eight galleries, with a rotating exhibit every 90 days. Within its impressive permanent collection of over 6,300 pieces, find works from local artists alongside contemporary and Western art from established artists.
Getting to Casper, WY from Denver
Driving from Denver to Casper couldn’t be easier. This roughly four-hour drive is all I-25, the entire length of the trip. If you’re sick of sitting on I-25, DIA offers direct one-hour flights to the Casper-Natrona County International Airport. To find out more about planning a weekend getaway to Casper, WY be sure to visit them at visitcasper.com.