Vedauwoo is known as “the land of the earth-born spirit.” This is a fitting name for an area dominated by amazing rock formations and stunning views. Driving on Interstate 80 between Laramie and Cheyenne, the gigantic rock “piles” of Vedauwoo rise up unexpectedly on the north side of the interstate. The one-of-a-kind topography of Vedauwoo Recreation Area draws visitors of all sorts. From geology to history and rock climbing to camping, there is something for everyone to enjoy at Vedauwoo. (Header photo credit Wyoming Mountain Guides.)
Geology of VedauwooThe amazing rock formations of Vedauwoo. (photo credit Brittany Thompson)
The striking rock formations of the Vedauwoo area are famous among geologists. According to the Wyoming State Geological Survey, the Vedauwoo rock consists mainly of Sherman granite. It was formed during the Precambrian period. It was first formed as a batholith (intrusive igneous rock formation) and was brought to the surface about 70 million years ago by the same uplift that created the Laramie Range. The granite was transformed into the unique formations of today through weathering. The area is a fantastic place for geology enthusiasts to visit.
History of Vedauwoo
What's In A Name?
Vedauwoo first came to be called “the land of the earth-born spirit,” after Maybelle Land DeKay, a professor of English and drama at the University of Wyoming coined the name for the natural amphitheater, Vedauwoo Glen between 1924 and 1928. Professor DeKay used this amphitheater as the setting for her original play on the history of Wyoming. The word “vedauwoo” is derived from the Arapaho, “bi-ito’o’wu.” While “land of the earth-born spirit” is not an exact translation, the phrase continues to be associated with Vedauwoo.
The actual history of Vedauwoo is much older, of course. Archaeological evidence indicates that humans first inhabited the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest area (including Vedauwoo) roughly 8,000 years ago. Several archaeological sites with stone knives and arrowheads suggest the earliest inhabitants of the region were nomadic hunters.
In response to increased European colonization in the east, many Native American tribes began to migrate west. Eastern tribes often displaced other tribes who, in-turn, migrated further west. By the end of the 1700’s the major tribes in the Medicine Bow region were the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Sioux, Shoshone, and Ute. The area was particularly associated with the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The Vedauwoo area may have been a sacred place for rituals and “vision quests.”
The Ames Monument (photo credit Angela Jones)
There is some evidence to suggest that the Spanish may have explored the area first, but the French were trapping in the region by the mid-1700’s. Exploration and settlement of the area increased in the 1800’s, especially after the establishment of The Overland Trail (modern day Hwy 287) to the west of Vedauwoo. The Transcontinental Railroad came right through the Vedauwoo area in the 1860’s and completely deforested the area for railroad ties. Trees were eventually re-planted in the 1930’s by the conservation corps. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. In 1882 the Ames Monument (located about 4 miles southwest of Vedauwoo) was built to commemorate the highest point on the line.
The Lincoln Highway
In 1919 the first journey across the newly created Lincoln Highway was completed. The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway in the country. Its point is marked by the Lincoln Monument and Visitor Center on Interstate 80, near Vedauwoo. Although Interstate 80 only follows part of the original highway, the Old Lincoln Highway Route can still be traced. A tour brochure of the Old Lincoln Highway is available here.
Since the mid-20th century, Vedauwoo has become a popular spot for hiking, mountain-biking, camping, and, especially, rock climbing. The University of Wyoming has continued to take advantage of the natural amphitheater and stunning “stage” created by the rocks for “vertical dance” performances. Vertical dance is an astounding combination of dance, climbing, and acrobatics. For more information on the history and other aspects of Vedauwoo, visit Vedauwoo.org.
Things to Do in Vedauwoo
Vedauwoo Recreation Area is just under 20 miles west of Laramie on I-80. There is no shortage of ways to enjoy this stunningly beautiful land. Vedauwoo is known for its rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking.
Rock ClimbingA rock climbing course led by Wyoming Mountain Guides takes place in Vedauwoo. (photo credit Wyoming Moutain Guides)
Vedauwoo is an amazing place for rock climbing. The huge Turtle Rock is one of the most popular formations, but the possibilities are almost limitless. For those less comfortable with heights, Vedauwoo is the perfect spot to go “bouldering.” Climbing up and down the boulder piles is a sure way to enjoy a day.
Not an experienced rock-climber? No problem! Wyoming Mountain Guides offers a full range of rock climbing courses and custom trips for a variety of experiences and skill levels. They are located in Thermopolis, but they provide classes and services in Vedauwoo, as well as other locations across the state of Wyoming. Schedule your rock climbing adventure today!
Enjoying a hike in Vedauwoo. (photo credit Brittany Thompson)
Vedauwoo is a local favorite for hikers. There are over 20 miles of trails to choose from. Trails vary in difficulty, but most are doable for families and even young children. Turtle Rock Loop is one of the best trails to take, consisting of a moderate 2.3 mile circuit of the amazing Turtle Rock formation.
While hiking, there are stunning rock formations to explore, beautiful views, and shady forested areas. After a hike, Vedauwoo’s picnic areas are a perfect spot to enjoy a snack or picnic lunch. There is also a gazebo that can be reserved by contacting the Laramie Ranger District.
Laramie’s Basecamp is a great spot to pick up on hiking gear and apparel. Laramie's Basecamp sells a variety of gear and apparel for all your outdoor adventure needs. They also offer a variety of outfitting services. They are conveniently located in downtown Laramie.
Unique Terrain and Sunset Views (photo credit Brittany Thompson)
The trails in Vedauwoo are also favorites among mountain bikers. The Turtle Rock Loop is a popular option again. The network of trails include single track, double track, and fire roads that also link up with the Happy Jack trail system. The trails are a good mix of terrain and provide hours of excitement and fun.
Trying out some "bouldering" next to the campsite. (photo credit Leah Veinbergs)
Vedauwoo is a wonderful place to camp as well. There is a well-maintained campground with 28 developed sites complete with fire rings and picnic tables. Water and vault toilets are available. These sites are first-come, first-served, and tend to fill fast.
In addition to the developed campground, there are also many superb sites for dispersed camping. The dispersed sites do not have the amenities of the campground, but they provide privacy and absolutely breathtaking views. Kids, in particular, will enjoy scampering up the boulders that dot the landscape.
Vedauwoo is, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable and memorable places to visit near Laramie. Vedauwoo can be enjoyed in as little as a few hours, or it can be explored over the course of several days. Make Vedauwoo one of your must-see summer destinations!