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10 [EPIC] Wyoming National Parks: The Complete Guide 2022 (+ Photos)

Interested in visiting a Wyoming National Park? Epic national parks, fascinating historic sites, amazing national monuments, & so much more.

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Wyoming National Parks

grand teton national park wyoming
We’ll give you ten reasons why you’ll want to make Wyoming your next vacation destination | Wyoming National Parks

Wyoming National Parks! We’ve got ten incredible national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Cowboy state.

Wyoming National Parks has fascinating historic sites, amazing national monuments, incredible historic trails, 2 great national parks and more.

We’re going to give you ten reasons why you’ll want to make Wyoming your next vacation destination.

1. Wyoming’s Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Bighorn National Recreation Area | Wyoming National Parks
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Bighorn Canyon boasts over 120,000 acres of wilderness that straddle the northern Wyoming and southern Montana borders

What this means for you is that there are endless opportunities for adventure flowing all the way down to the end of the Bighorn Mountains. 

Things To Do At Bighorn Canyon

Fishing At Bighorn | Wyoming National Parks
Fishing on the Bighorn Lake | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Like you, I’m someone who is looking for fun things to do when I head off to a national park.

When it comes to Bighorn Canyon, it might take me less time to list the things that you can’t do rather then the things that you can.

Bighorn offers a wide range of recreation activities including:

  1. Bicycling-If you’re looking for a good workout take the South District park road where you parallel the ancient Bad Pass Trail or in the North District pedal the Ok-A-Beh road.
  2. Boating-You will enjoy the waters of the Bighorn Lake.
  3. Camping-There are five camping areas with over 100 spots.
  4. Fishing-At Bighorn, there is a diverse range of fish including trout and walleye.
  5. Hiking-There are over 27 miles of trails (see below). Have no fear, you’ll get those steps in.
  6. Historic Ranches– Visitors can see an amazing collection of ranches that have been kept in their original condition.
  7. Horseback Riding-The park allows horseback riding in the South District. Don’t be afraid to saddle up.
  8. Wildlife-From herds of wild horses to bears in their natural habitat to Bighorn Sheep roaming the high desert there’s a bevy of wildlife for everyone to watch.

Hiking At Bighorn Canyon

Hiking at Bighorn | Wyoming National Parks
If you’re looking for some great places to hike then Bighorn Canyon won’t disappoint you | Wyoming National Parks

The North District of Bighorn Canyon has 3 trails. They include:

  1. Beaver Pond Nature Trail which is a 2.6 mile round trip hike.
  2. Bighorn Head Gate which is .1 mile round trip.
  3. Three Mile Access which is 2 miles round trip.
Hiking at Bighorn | Wyoming National Parks

The South District of Bighorn Canyon has 12 trails. They include:

  1. Visitor Center Pond which is .26 miles round trip.
  2. Sykes Mountain Trail which is 4.6 miles round trip.
  3. Mouth of the Canyon Trail which is 1.8 miles round trip.
  4. State Line Trail which is 1.52 miles round trip.
  5. Ranger Delight which is .66 miles round trip.
  6. Sullivan’s Knob Trail which is .75 miles round trip.
  7. Two Eagles Interpretive Trail which is .25 miles round trip.
  8. Lower Layout Creek Trail which is 3.4 miles round trip.
  9. Upper Layout Creek Trail which is 1.8 miles round trip.
  10. Hillsboro which is 1-3 miles round trip.
  11. Barry’s Island Trail which is 4 miles round trip.
  12. Lockhart Ranch which is 0.5 or 2.1 Miles Round Trip.

Fishing At Bighorn Canyon

Fishing at Bighorn | Wyoming National Parks
Bighorn Canyon has fishing for all ages and skill levels | Wyoming National Parks

There are three areas that are recommended for fishing either from a boat or along the shoreline. They are:

  1. Bighorn Lake-Walleye, brown and rainbow trout, yellow perch, carp, catfish, ling and crappie are among the fish sought by those plying the waters of Bighorn Lake.
  2. Afterbay-This unique section of water is located between the Yellowtail Dam and the Bighorn River. The Afterbay’s main species is rainbow trout.
  3. Bighorn River-Trout are the sought after prize of those fishing the renowned waters of the Bighorn River. Keep in mind though, the river is quite diverse. 38 different species of fish have been caught on its waters. (Source: NPS)

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2. California National Historic Trail

Fort Bridger State Historic Park (Fort Bridger, WY) on the California, Mormon Pioneer, Oregon, and Pony Express National Historic Trails | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

During the 1840s and 1850s, over 200,000 emigrants traveled to the gold fields and rich farmlands of California. It was the greatest mass migration in American history.

The California National Historic Trail retraces this historic migration. It’s over 5,000 miles long and covers portions of 10 states.

The California Historic Trail In Wyoming

Map of California National Historic Trail | Wyoming National Parks
Map of the California National Historic Trail | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyoming, is a great place to learn about the routes of the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, and the Pony Express and discover the journey settlers took along the way.

The Center brings history to life with multimedia presentation, living history demonstrations, guided hike, and special events. Exhibits are in chronological order, which helps visitors to understand what happened and when.

RELATED: 6 EPIC Maine National Parks For Your Next Visit To The Pine Tree State

3. Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument | Wyoming National Parks
Devils Tower | Wyoming National Parks

Hiking the Devils Tower National Monument is a great way to experience the incredible scenery which surrounds it. There are five different trails which offer different scenic vistas and levels of difficulty. They include:

  1. Red Beds Loop Trail-It’s a 2.8 mile loop around the Tower. Hikers experience Devils Tower from different angles and can also enjoy the beauty of the Belle Fourche River valley. 
  2. Tower Trail Loop-It’s a walk around the base of the Devils Tower which gives hikers the opportunity to truly experience one of the most unique geologic formations in the world.
  3. South Side Trail-It’s an easy trail to walk and a great way to reach the visitor center from the picnic area and campground, which allows you to skip the visitor center parking lot crowds.
  4. Valley View Trail-Hikers walk through the prairie dog town with scenic views of the Belle Fourche River and Devils Tower. Valley View Trail is level and short, which is perfect for children or those who want an easy stroll.
  5. Joyner Ridge Trail-Less crowded than other trails, it’s a 1.5 mile hike allowing visitors to Take in scenic views of Devils Tower or visit at night to stargaze in the secluded northern part of the park. (Source: NPS)

Other Things To Do At Devils Tower

Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture | Wyoming National Parks
While at Devils Tower, check out the Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture honors the American people as a gesture of world peace. It’s designed to help raise visitor awareness of the importance of Devils Tower to over twenty affiliated tribes. 

There’s also rock climbing for those who are qualified. All persons are required to register and check-in when they have completed their climbs.

Don’t Forget To Visit Prairie Dog Town While At Devils Tower

Prairie Dog Town | Wyoming National Parks
Prairie Dogs and other wildlife are on display at Prairie Dog Town | Courtesy of the National Park Service

If you enjoy watching wildlife then you’ll be entertained by the antics of the prairie dogs in Prairie Dog Town. These small rodents live in towns in burrows underneath the surface. 

It’s so much fun to watch them frolic amongst themselves. Watching these fun little critters, you can definitely tell who’s been naughty and who’s been nice

There’s also deer and foxes as well as peregrine or prairie falcons. You may want to bring your binoculars and camera with you. You never know who (or what) might surprise you.

RELATED: 2 (EPIC) New Hampshire National Parks For Your Visit To The Granite State

4. Fort Laramie National Historic Site | Wyoming National Parks

Fort Laramie National Historic Site | Wyoming National Parks
Aerial view of Fort Laramie National Historic Site taken from the south looking north | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Fort Laramie was established as a private fur trading fort in 1834. As Americans migrated west, it evolved into the largest and best known military post on the Northern Plains.

The fort played a significant part in America’s western expansion. It was a base of operations for efforts to make sure that the Native Americans did not jeopardize this westward migration.

RELATED: 7+ (AMAZING) Oklahoma National Parks-Everything To Know

Things To See And Do At Fort Laramie

Fort Laramie National Historic Site | Wyoming National Parks
Fort Laramie National Historic Site | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At the visitors center, you can see an 18-minute film highlighting the history of the fort and the important role it played. You can also see uniforms, weapons, and artifacts relating to the history of the19th century western frontier.

While you’re there you might also want to check out the Fort Laramie Historical Association Bookstore. So many books, so little time!

The Confluence Trail allows you to explore history and nature. It’s a 1.6 mile loop that takes you from the Old Army Bridge to the confluence of the North Platte and Laramie Rivers.

RELATED: 30+ National Parks Books (Great Gifts For Park Lovers)

5. Fossil Butte National Monument

Fossil Butte | Wyoming National Parks
Fossil Butte is capped by limestone deposited by ancient Fossil Lake, part of the famous Green River Formation | Courtesy of the National Park Service

If you enjoy exploring the past then it doesn’t get any better than fossils.

At Fossil Butte National Monument you’ll find a variety of fossil fishes, insects, plants, reptiles, birds and mammals from ancient Fossil Lake are displayed in the visitor center. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the history of creatures which lived eons ago.

But wait, there’s more! Fossil Butte offers 4 miles of hiking trails. Have no fear! You’ll get those 10,000 steps. Of course, that’s only if you want to. No pressure here.

Fossil Butte Hiking Trails

Historic Quarry Trail | Wyoming National Parks
The Historic Quarry Trail at Fossil Butte | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The Historic Quarry Trail is a 2.5 mile loop, 600 feet elevation gain. Visitors pass through parts of the Wasatch and Green River Formations.

A short, side loop leads to a historic fossil quarry. Wayside exhibits provide information about geology, area history, wildlife, and plants of the high desert.

The Nature Trail is a 1.5 mile loop, 300 feet elevation gain. This trail winds through sagebrush and a spring-fed aspen forest. Be sure to watch for wildlife as you hike. This is one nature trail where you don’t want any unexpected surprises.

Wayside exhibits interpret the wildlife, plants, and geology of this high desert oasis. At the top, enjoy the scenic views at the benches overlooking Fossil Butte. (Source: NPS)

RELATED: 3 (EPIC) Vermont National Parks For Your Next Visit To The Green Mountain State

6. Gran Teton National Park | Wyoming National Parks

Grand Teton National Park | Wyoming National Parks
Grand Teton National Park | Wyoming National Parks

Grand Teton National Park is a Pattiz Brothers favorite. The More Than Just Parks Co-Founders first visited Grand Teton National Park back in 2016 with a small film crew. Their mission was to find the most beautiful places in the park. And, they did! Check out the amazing film below.

What an undertaking! Grand Teton is truly one of those places that anywhere you look seems to be postcard worthy. Be sure to bring your camera.

Since that trip, the Pattiz Brothers have returned almost yearly to bask in the pristine beauty which comprises Grand Teton National Park. They prefer Grand Teton to Yellowstone which is located just north of the park because of the overall scenery, wildlife, and crowds.

Earlier this year they ranked all of the national parks and made Grand Teton the #2 spot on the list!

Grand Teton Is A Family Affair

Grand Teton National Park | Wyoming National Parks
In 2016, More Than Just Parks Co-Founders Will & Jim Pattiz were joined by their younger brother, Tom, and their dad, Tony, as Grand Teton National Park became a family affair.

In recent years, the park has seen a massive influx in folks (like the Pattiz Family) who want to get a glimpse of this breathtaking destination. Who can blame us! In 2016, all four of us managed to make the trek. It’s one amazing trip that I will certainly never forget.

However, one question we’ve been getting asked more and more lately is “is it still worth it to visit Grand Teton despite the crowds?”

The answer is, yes. It just requires a bit more due diligence and planning these days to have the best possible time at the park.

About Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park |Wyoming National PArks
You will have the opportunity to see some amazing wildlife at Grand Teton National Park | Wyoming National Parks

Located in the spectacular Jackson Hole Valley and encompassing nearly 500 square miles, Grand Teton National Park boasts an awe-inspiring array of pristine wilderness, glacial lakes, winding rivers, diverse wildlife, and the magnificent Teton Range.

This is a land dominated by towering peaks, apex predators, and majestic mountain beauty.

The park derives it’s name from the mighty Teton Range popularly known as simply the Tetons, or the Grand Tetons.

The park’s creation and eventual scale (in terms of acreage) was largely made possible by John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of the famous oil tycoon.

Things to Know Before You Visit

Entrance Fees: You can expect $20-$30 per vehicle but we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks).

This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.

Sunscreen: For many of us visiting national parks in the summer means lots of sun. Seriously, some of these parks can zap you if you don’t wear sunscreen. We happen to like this one because it works AND it’s not full of a bunch of chemicals.

Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.

Insect Repellent: You hope not to need it, but you want to have it. We typically bring an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us just in case.

Grand Teton National Park Video

The film was co-produced by Will & Jim Pattiz | More Than Just Parks

GRAND TETON 8K is the culmination of nearly a month spent filming in the spectacular Jackson Hole Valley and the foothills of the Teton Mountain Range.

Encompassing nearly 500 square miles, Grand Teton National Park boasts an awe-inspiring array of pristine wilderness, glacial lakes, winding rivers, diverse wildlife, and the magnificent Teton Range.

To make this film happen, the Pattiz Brothers spent nearly a month in Grand Teton during June & July. Of all the films they’ve shot this one features the most wildlife. They captured bison, elk, moose, bears, foxes, beavers, and more.

RELATED: 14 BREATHTAKING National Park Videos to Inspire Your Next Trip

Things To Do At Grand Teton National Park

Hiking at Grand Teton | Wyoming National Parks
There are some great hiking trails at Grand Teton

Some of the most beautiful hiking trails in America happen to be in Grand Teton. A few of our family favorite hikes include:

  1. Taggart Lake Loop
  2. String Lake Loop
  3. Death Canyon
  4. Cascade Canyon Trail
  5. Jenny Lake Loop
  6. Amphitheater Lake Loop

Raft The Wild & Scenic Snake River

grand teton national park rafting
There are aquatic adventures and so much more at Grand Teton National Park

The Snake River is a congressionally designated Wild & Scenic River meaning it is stunningly beautiful. There’s no better way to soak it in then rafting down it.

Catch A Glimpse Of The World Famous Moulton Barn

grand teton national park wyoming
Sunrise at Moulton Barn at Grand Teton

The Moulton Barn is part of the area known as Mormon Row in the park which features a few beautiful and historic barns. Located off of the aptly named Antelope Flat Road, this barn is surrounded by some great wildlife viewing areas.

Watch An Epic Sunrise Sunrise From Oxbow Bend

grand teton national park wyoming, oxbow bend sunrise
Sunrise at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton

Grand Teton is most beautiful during the sunrise hour of the morning. The best place in Grand Teton to catch a sunrise is from Oxbow Bend where the reflection of Mount Moran dazzles on a clear day.

Where to See Wildlife in Grand Teton National Park

grand teton national park fox | Wyoming National Parks
Wildlife Viewing at Grand Teton

Grand Teton is the best national park to view wildlife within the lower 48 states. So many of our favorite and most iconic animals call Grand Teton home. Seeing them can be a bit tricky – it’s about knowing where and what time to go.

Beaver – The best place to see beavers in Grand Teton is Upper Schwabacher Landing. The dams they’ve created in that area are astounding.

Bison are seen all over the park but especially near the Moran Junction at Elk Ranch Flats Turnout.

Grizzly Bear – Willow Flats Overlook is probably the most reliable place to spot Grizzlies in the park.

black bear grand teton national park bear | Wyoming National Parks

Black Bear – We’ve seen black bears off the Highway 89 at the Christian Pond Loop, stalking the trash bins at the Jackson Lodge, and in the field off Lupine Meadows Road.

Elk – Great places to see elk are Elk Ranch Flats Turnout & Lupine Meadows Road.

Fox – Foxes are found throughout the park. I recommend the Blacktail Ponds Overlook is a great place to start.

Pronghorn – Elk Ranch Flats Turnout, Lupine Meadow Road, & Antelope Flat Road are great places to spot pronghorn antelope.

Moose – Moose-Wilson Road is appropriately named. It’s the top spot to see moose in the park, but Lupine Meadows Road is another good one.

moose grand teton national park winter | Wyoming National PArks

7. Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The Mormon Migration is a fascinating story which begins in 1827. 21-year-old Joseph Smith announced that he had unearthed a set of golden plates, inscribed with the tenants of God’s true church.

Smith said he had been directed to the plates by an angel named Moroni, who also had given him divine tools for translating the ancient inscriptions into English. Smith used the plates to produce the Book of Mormon in 1830.

In New York, Smith organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His followers, who regarded Smith as a prophet, became known as Mormons.

Mormons On The Move

Photo from One Hundred Years Of Mormonism depicting the Mormon migration | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Smith continued to move the Mormon Church. He finally settled along a bend of the Mississippi River in Illinois. There he established a community they called Nauvoo, a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful place.”

It was there that Smith began introducing the Old Testament practice of “plural marriage,” or polygamy, among select church leaders.

Conflicts arose between Smith and those opposed to his practices. Smith was arrested and jailed at Carthage, Illinois.

On June 27, 1844, a mob broke into the jail and murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Other vigilantes attacked Mormon farms around Nauvoo in an attempt to expel them.

A New Leader Emerges

Brigham Young succeeded Joseph Smith as the leader of the Mormon Church | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Brigham Young emerged as Smith’s successor. Realizing that it was much too dangerous to remain where they were, Young organized a Mormon Exodus to Utah.

On March 1, 1846, some 500 Mormon wagons lurched northwesterly across the winter-bare Iowa prairie toward the Missouri River. Their route is the Mormon Trail.

Explore The Route Taking By The Mormon Faithful

Porter’s Rock is a small landmark on the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail in Wyoming | Courtesy of the National Park Service

There are 8 historic sites or interpretive facilities on the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail in Wyoming for you to visit.  They include the following:

  1. South Pass
  2. Redick N. Allred’s Camp
  3. Rocky Ridge & Rock Creek Hollow
  4. Sixth Crossing
  5. Split Rock & Three Crossings
  6. Independence Rock
  7. Greasewood Creek
  8. Red Buttes (Bessemer Bend)

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8. Oregon National Historic Trail

A variety of markers can be found along the Oregon Trail. This one was placed in 1913 by the state of Wyoming. A tour group walks on the trail with black clouds overhead. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Westward Ho! The Oregon Trail was a 2,170-mile emigrant trail which connected the Missouri to valleys in Oregon.

The original trail was established by fur traders and trappers. Shortly thereafter, wagon trains began the westward trek all the way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

From the early to mid-1830s (and particularly through the years 1846–1869) the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots were used by about 400,000 settlers, farmers, miners, ranchers, and business owners and their families.  A lot of folks were on the move!

Experiencing the Trail Today

A gap formed on this rock buttress from running water over many years. Devil’s Gate in Wyoming was an important landmark for emigrants traveling on the Mormon Pioneer, California, and Oregon national historic trails. At this point they were nearly half-way on their journey. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Trail sites to visit in Wyoming include the following:

Lt. Colonel’s Quarters (Burt House, 1884)-Lt. Col. Andrew Burt, a 7th US Infantry officer, and his wife Elizabeth lived in the home 1887-88. They liked relatively plain furnishings rather than the ornate decor in most officers’ houses during the Victorian period.

Visiting the Burt House is a great opportunity to step back in time and imagine life in a different day and age.

Lt. Col. Andrew Burt, a 7th US Infantry officer, and his wife Elizabeth lived in the home 1887-88 | Courtesy of NPS

Post Surgeon’s Quarters (1875)-Post Surgeon Louis Brechemin and his family normally lived in half of this duplex from 1885 to 1889.

His study held his scientific collections, and most patients were treated there before being sent to the hospital to recuperate. When you see the medical instruments, I think you’ll be most grateful for the advancements in medical science since Dr. Brechemin’s time.

Post Surgeon’s Quarters | Courtesy of NPS.

Old Bedlam-Built to house bachelor officers, “Old Bedlam” is Wyoming’s oldest documented building. The right side is restored to bachelor officers’ quarters in the 1850s; the left side to post headquarters in 1863-64, when fort commander Lt. Col. William O. Collins and his wife lived on the second floor.

I’m not sure how “Old Bedlam” got its name, but with so many bachelor officers quartered there, I can certainly imagine.

Old Bedlam shortly after its most recent extensive renovation and restoration | Courtesy of NPS

South Pass Overlook-A short, paved pathway contains several interpretive waysides that tell the story of South Pass’s importance to American Indians, mountain men, the fur trade, and to the Oregon, Mormon, California, and Pony Express trails

South Pass Overlook is a Bureau of Land Management interpretive site with views of several trail landmarks including Pacific Springs, South Pass and the Oregon Buttes. Courtesy of NPS.

North Platte River Crossing was one of numerous crossings used by trappers, traders, American Indians, and emigrants to reach Fort Laramie.

In order to enter the fort, two rivers had to be crossed- the Laramie River and the North Platte River. During floods, this could be a very dangerous proposition.

North Platte River Crossing | Courtesy of NPS

Fort Laramie Historic Site-Fort Laramie once stood sentinel over the Oregon, California, and Mormon emigration trails; was a stop on the Pony Express route; and served as a staging ground for both peaceful and hostile dealings with Plains Indians.

If only those fort walls could talk!

Fort Laramie | Courtesy of NPS

Bedlam Ruts-The Bedlam Ruts are a fine stretch of Oregon Trail ruts and swales that visitors can walk. Be careful when you’re out there.

Bedlam Ruts | Courtesy of NPS

Register Cliff Historic Site-Following a day’s journey from Fort Laramie, emigrants spent the night at Register Cliff , which rises one hundred feet above the North Platte River valley.

The soft, chalky limestone rock made it easy for emigrants to inscribe their names into the cliff before continuing on their journey. It was Mother nature’s own version of the etch a sketch.

The earliest signatures date to the late 1820s when trappers and fur traders passed through the area. (Source: NPS)

Register Cliff Historic Site | Courtesy of NPS

9. Pony Express National Historic Trail | Wyoming National Parks

Remains of the old hotel and Pony rider station at Pacific Springs in southwestern Wyoming | Courtesy of the National Park Service

The United States Postal Service has announced that we will be paying more money for slower mail. Ugh! Perhaps it’s time to dust off an old idea.

From April 3, 1860 until October 26, 1861, the Pony Express delivered messages, newspapers, and mail using relays of horse-mounted riders. While it was only in operation for 18 months, it reduced the time for messages to travel between the east and west coasts to about 10 days

Ten days may sound like a lot, but I suppose that depends on how good the postal service is where you live. No comment.

“I, ___, do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God.”

— Oath sworn by Pony Express Riders

The Pony Express Founders

With the advent of the telegraph, demand for the Pony Express plummeted. It would last only eighteen months. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The three founders of the Pony Express were William Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell.

These three entrepreneurs used a shorted route with riders at relay stations. These stations were about ten miles apart.

The rider coming in could expect a fresh mount [horse] waiting for him and his mail pouch. It was like a relay race only with four legged runners.

Pony Express Peak Operations

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At the peak of their operations, Russell, Majors and Waddell employed 6,000 men, owned 75,000 oxen, thousands of wagons, and warehouses, plus a sawmill, a meatpacking plant, a bank, and an insurance company.

Of course, technology waits for no one. The Pony Express could not compete with the faster telegraph. It went bankrupt after 18 months. From T-mails to emails. Isn’t progress wonderful!

Jim DeFelice has written a wonderfully entertaining account of the history of the Pony Express. It’s titled West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express. I love stories about the Old American West. This is one book I simply could not put down.

RELATED: 30+ Best National Parks Books (Great Gifts For Park Lovers) 2021

Retracing The Pony Express

You can retrace the historic trail of the Pony Express using interactive technologies | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One hundred and fifty years later, you can visit trail traces, visitor centers, museums, hiking trails, historic structures and forts related to the Pony Express National Historic Trail.

The trail crosses eight states following the journey taken by dozens of young riders and hundreds of horses between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California.

The best news of all, however, is that you won’t have to change horses every ten miles. There are auto tour routes, GIS interactive maps and a Back-Country Byway.

Or, you can simply use your cellphone (there’s an app for every thing these days!) to chart a course across the Pony Express National Historic Trail. Isn’t progress wonderful! [Did I say that already?]

10. Yellowstone National Park

yellowstone river, waterfall, wyoming-258591.jpg
Yellowstone National Park | Wyoming National Parks

Have I saved the best for last? I suppose that depends on your perspective. I’ve certainly saved one of the best national parks for last.

In 2020, Yellowstone National Park attracted 3.8 million visitors. This park features more than two million acres of a high mountain-ringed plateau which have been set aside for permanent protection as a natural preserve.

No One Believed It Was Real Until The Washburn Party

yellowstone national park, wyoming, usa-1760527.jpg
Wildlife at Yellowstone National Park | Wyoming National Parks

I have to warn you [early and often my wife tells me] that I am retired history teacher. I’m also fascinated by the history of places I encounter. I hope that you are too, but I’ll try to make this a short history lesson just to be on the safe side. And, no homework, I promise!

Before it became America’s first national park, people explored this fantastic place. They told tales of its magnificent beauty and amazing natural wonders. Few believed them however.

Then, in 1869, C.W. Cook saw some of Yellowstone’s incredible geysers with two traveling companions. Cook was so moved by his experience that he submitted an article to Lippincott’s magazine.

He received a curt reply from them which read as follows: “Thank-you, but we do not print fiction.” Aren’t publishers wonderful.

When the writer passed into the field of vents in the surface of the earth which suddenly shot tons of water two hundred feet into the air;

one such monster that obligingly erupted every hour on the hour; fountains of boiling water that played continuously;

explosions of multicolored muds that plastered the landscape; hills made of solid brimstone; ice-cold streams with hot stones on the bottom;

a valley of smokes, or a hillside that looked like a New England factory town with its belching chimneys–

well, it was said what Artemus Ward would have called “2 mutch.”

-Freeman Tilden, The National Parks

Old Faithful | Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It was left to the Washburn Party, led by Henry Washburn and Nathaniel Pitt Langford, to convince a skeptical public that this place was as magnificent as people were describing it.

Members of the party made detailed maps and observations of the region, explored numerous lakes, climbed mountains, and observed an incredible array of wildlife.

The Washburn Party traveled to the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins. They were so fascinated by the regular eruptions of one geyser in particular that they decided to name it Old Faithful. And, needless to stay, the name stuck.

The Official Report Of The Washburn Party

The Washburn Expedition to the Yellowstone and Firehole Rivers in the year 1870 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The official report of the Washburn Party was written by Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane. He described, day by day, what the party saw in Yellowstone.

As Freeman Tilden writes, “He [Doane] climbed the peak now known as Mount Washburn on a day when the pure air of the country revealed everything with crystal clarity.

He saw the snowy summits above the Gallatin Valley, and from them traced almost an unbroken circle of mountains, of which he thought the Tetons were a part.” (Source: The National Parks, Freeman Tilden)

Doane’s report authenticated earlier descriptions of Yellowstone. A skeptical public finally began to believe these fantastic tales of this wilderness wonderland.

Wouldn’t it have been incredible to have been there? Of course, you can travel there now and the amenities are much better.

RELATED: 10+ (FASCINATING) Yellowstone National Park Facts You Probably Didn’t Realize

Things To Do At Yellowstone National Park

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There are so many wonderful things to see and do at Yellowstone National Park | Wyoming National Parks

There are so many wonderful things to see and do at Yellowstone National Park. With apologies to David Letterman in advance, I will give my Top Ten List though yours may differ:

10. Go Camping-There are many campsites inside the park though you should check availability before you arrive.

9. Go Fishing-Try the trout waters north, south and west of Cody. They’re filled with native brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout.

8. Check Out The Local Culture-See the Plains Indian Museum or visit one of five museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

7. Explore The Rocks & Fossils-Inside Yellowstone you will find basalt columns formed by lava and a petrified forest.

6. Go Rafting-Raft down one of the nearby rivers or check out the information on rafting trips which is available at the park entrances.

Are You Ready For The Top 5?

5. Take A Hike-There’s a 1,300 mile trail system. Some of the most popular hikes are Bunsen Peak, Fairy Falls and Uncle Tom’s Trail.

4. Visit The Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone-This incredible place includes three glorious waterfalls. The overlook of the lower falls offers a breathtaking view.

3. See The Incredible Wildlife-Yellowstone is home to more wild animals than anyone else in America. There are are Bears, Wolves, Moose, Elk, Bison, Badgers, Otters, Fox and so much more to see inside the park.

2. See The Geysers Erupt– What would a visit to Yellowstone be without a trip to the Old Faithful Geyser. You don’t have to stop there, however, as Yellowstone is home to the most active geyser field in the world.

1. (Can I Get A Drum Roll Please) Sit Back, Relax & Soak It All In-After all, you’re on vacation. You can do as little or as much as you want. I tend to lean towards the as little side, but we’re all different.

Map Of Wyoming National Park Sites

List Of Wyoming National Parks

  1. Wyoming’s Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
  2. California National Historic Trail
  3. Devils Tower National Monument
  4. Fort Laramie National Historic Site
  5. Fossil Butte National Monument
  6. Grand Teton National Park
  7. Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
  8. Oregon National Historic Trail
  9. Pony Express National Historic Trail
  10. Yellowstone National Park
Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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