That’s how the Gem City of the Plains has positioned itself for visitors, and I like it. It’s also how I pitch a potential Laramie road trip to my partner, Megan, and Megan is all-in. We have been looking for the perfect summer road trip destination — a place where we can safely socially distance, experience the outdoors, and see a side of Wyoming often unseen. As an added bonus, my illustrious partner books reservations at the highly sought-after Durango Cabins for a weekend of luxurious backcountry cabin accommodations in Centennial.
Ever-the-planner, Megan also finds exciting roadside adventures and attractions to visit on our trek north. With our home city of Denver only being about two hours away, we feel there’s time to take a long way ‘round and explore a bit of southeastern Wyoming.
We cruise into Albany County via Happy Jack Road from Cheyenne. This cheerily named section of Highway 210 skirts many of the attractions of the Medicine Bow National Forest, though we currently have our sights set on the cultural charms of southeastern Wyoming’s only university town. On our first stop of the trip, we see the towering Abraham Lincoln Memorial Monument, a giant granite goliath carved by Robert Russin to commemorate Lincoln’s 150th birthday. It is a breathtaking sight, a sign that this quick stop at Sherman Summit portends well for the journey ahead.
As we arrive in Laramie, we can’t help but admire the public art on display. We are blown away by the scope and scale of the murals that pepper downtown. The Laramie Mural Project, founded in 2011, has local artists create one-off murals that feature colorful and eclectic depictions of surrounding natural wonders and wildlife. This is not the public art we expected from the Cowboy State, and we are simultaneously dazzled and thrilled.
Arriving in Laramie midday, we make our way to our cabin in Centennial to check-in and drop our bags off. We marvel at the rugged, grandeur of our Wyoming digs. Excited to dive in and really start exploring the Laramie area, we begin brainstorming things to do. I want to visit the University of Wyoming Anthropology Museum to see the Native American relics, while Megan wants to check out the notorious Wyoming Territorial Prison. With so many things to see and do in the Laramie area, and with only one weekend to play, we decide on the latter (saving the Anthropology Museum for future expeditions).
Serving as a federal clink since 1872, the prison — made entirely of sandstone — is menacing, emitting an ominous sense, sending goosebumps up my back. For a time, this was home to the legendary Butch Cassidy himself. If I were a gunslinger in the Old West, I would have wanted to steer clear of landing myself in this joint.
On day two of our trip, we decide to flip the script and head out in search of a rugged adventure. After a quick Google search, we quickly realize that we are once again, spoiled for choice and in over our heads. We decide to visit Laramie Basecamp before heading out to ensure we’re both properly outfitted, and to gather insights on which trails and climbs to take. With only the day to play, the outfitters at Laramie Basecamp give a thorough walkthrough of all our options.
“First, and most importantly, we’re big proponents of recreating responsibly around here,” said Amber, an employee of Laramie Basecamp. “It’s important to plan ahead for your trips and leave no trace behind. Once you have those two things figured out, there’s really no limit to the backcountry fun you can have.”
She goes on to walk us through potential trails. Knowing that we want to both climb and hike today, Amber recommends myriad options.
“You could start at Curt Gowdy State Park and check out the Granite Reservoir, which is only 24-miles to the east,” said Amber. “Or you could fly a little further afield so that we can explore WyColo, a historic basecamp for Snowy Range adventures. Another great option is Libby Flats Trail if you’re interested in taking a night hike to Libby Flats Observatory. The stargazing is really spectacular up there. And for climbing, there’s no question, you have to check out Vedauwoo.”
After some deliberation, Megan and I decided to explore Curt Gowdy for a hike first and hit Vedauwoo afterward for a climb. We settle on saving the other options for our return trip.
The expedition into the Wyoming backcountry from the Crow Creek Trailhead in Curt Gowdy, rewards us with a quiet, relaxing day at the state park that would — in nearly any other state — be packed with holidaymakers. As we hike along the lightly trafficked trail, we can’t help but revel in the stunning views. Connecting to the Hidden Falls Trail leads us to a small waterfall, where we rest and snack on our packed lunches.
Following our hike, we continue our excursion 20 minutes west to climb the rocks of Vedauwoo. While neither of us are particularly good rock climbers, we are always up for the adventure.
It just so happens that Vedauwoo has a reputation for being a place where anyone can learn to climb, so we hook up with a local guide and set out in search of some prime spots. Our guide has me start off on an entry-level climb called Rip Chords, which by name alone, I assume to be the most difficult in the history of mankind. Megan, meanwhile, chalks up and conquers Lucille, which does not sound nearly as intimidating. Upon completion, she boasts that she’s just handled a 5.13 while I spent nearly an hour grumbling about a 5.6 — in climbing parlance, this apparently means that I’m really not very good.
Once done with our climbs, we bid our guide adieu and pack up for the night. We’re both tired and hungry, but still have one last stop to make before heading back into town for dinner.
As we exit the park, we come across another rock behemoth near the exit.
“I think you’ll really like this one,” said Megan.
Standing tall amongst the rock is the Ames Monument, which is as curious an attraction as there is in Wyoming. This towering granite pyramid built in 1882, stands as a monument commemorating the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. And since we’re out here searching for unique attractions, we decide to check out the Tree in the Rock just eight minutes down the road. This Limber Pine that seems to grow straight from a set of boulders, was considered so unusual in 1867 that the railroad was actually built around it.
As we leave, Megan chuckles to herself: “You needed serious ‘barkbone’ to stand up to the railroad tycoons of yesteryear… get it? It’s a play on words,” she says to me with a twinkle in her eye.
After a day of adventuring and exploring, we’re both famished. Laramie’s culinary chops are outsized for a city this small. They have everything from classic steakhouses and world-class vegetarian diners to scratch bakeries, and trendy gastropubs. For beer lovers like us, we find solace in destination brewpubs like Bond’s Brewing. I find it nigh impossible to properly pronounce Citra Hop-a-Dopolis, but where my words come out garbled, the piney pale ale goes down smooth. For dinner, we grab some Bahn-Mi tacos for takeout from the local favorite restaurant Speedgoat, and retire for the evening in our cabin in Centennial.
In the morning, we pop over to the Trading Post Restaurant to savor a downhome delicious breakfast, fit with freshly brewed coffee, huevos rancheros nachos, and an order of french bread french toast. We sip on our coffee and muse on what should have been (as in we should have planned to visit for more than just a few days).
We resolve to return to Laramie as soon as possible, and our next trip will kick off with the four-mile trek up to Medicine Bow Peak to get acquainted with all 12,013-ft of the mountain before we dive into something truly wild.
We end our trip marveling at how Laramie is so much more than a place you visit to get away from it all. Sure, there are plenty of naturally distanced activities, but what we will take from Laramie, in the end, is a sense that this is a place where you can find many adventures.