This post focuses on Laramie, Wyoming, USA and the surrounding area. If you would like to view a quick summary of my travel and photography recommendations, please scroll down to the end of this post.
Laramie is located in the southeastern corner of Wyoming, only 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Colorado border. It’s about a two-hour drive from Denver, Colorado and a one-hour drive from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Settled in the 1800s, before Wyoming Territory or the state of Wyoming was established, Laramie started out as a tent city next to an important terminal of the Union Pacific Railroad. In the beginning, it was a true “Wild West” town known for its lawlessness. Today, Laramie is known for the University of Wyoming (the only four-year college and the only graduate school in Wyoming) and the plethora of outdoor activities in the surrounding wilderness.
Situated in the Laramie Valley, between the Laramie Range to the east and the Snowy Range to the west, Laramie’s elevation is 7,165 feet (2,184 meters), almost 2,000 feet (610 meters) higher than Denver. Because of its unique location and high elevation, Laramie can have unpredictable weather. Like much of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, Laramie’s weather fluctuates between cold/snowy and warmer/not-very-snowy throughout the winter. Snowstorms can occur as early as September and as late as May. When snow combines with high winds, the two main roads in and out of town (I-80 and US-287) often close. Both I-80 and US-287 have booms that will block the road when this happens. If it doesn’t close, I-80 has digital speed limit signs that adjust for changes in driving conditions. If you travel to Laramie in the winter, you might luck out with warmer/calmer weather, or you might have a difficult time getting in and out of town. In the summer, the roads rarely close, but high winds can make driving a bit stressful, especially if the wind is strong enough to tip over semis. Here is a handy map to check road conditions: Wyoming Road Conditions.
Laramie’s high elevation affects more than just travel conditions. If you are from a lower elevation, it might take your body some time to adjust. Make sure to stay hydrated, and know that alcohol might affect you more than it normally does. You’ll also get worn out more easily when hiking, biking, snowshoeing, skiing, etc. If you make food while in Laramie, remember that anything involving boiling water will take longer to cook and baking recipes (cookies, cakes, etc.) will need to be adjusted.
You will see much different vegetation and wildlife in the Laramie Valley compared to the surrounding mountains (Laramie Range and Snowy Range), which receive more precipitation. The Laramie Valley has mostly grass and shrubs with trees lining the rivers/streams. The most prominent and unique animal you’ll see here is the pronghorn (nicknamed “speedgoat” by the locals). Although it looks like an antelope, its closest living relative is the giraffe. It’s the second-fastest land animal after the cheetah. Scientists think it may have evolved to outrun extinct predators which were considerably faster than the current predators in North America. The surrounding mountains are covered with pine trees and aspen. Recently, the mountain pine beetle in conjunction with blue stain fungi have had a serious impact on mountain pine forests in North America, killing millions of acres of trees. Moose and mountain lions live in both the Laramie Range and the Snowy Range. Some adorable animals you might see in the alpine areas of the Snowy Range are pikas and marmots. Hunters and fishers frequent the Snowy Range for elk and trout.
If you want to stay in Laramie, there are several chain hotels to choose from. If you want to stay in the surrounding wilderness, there are several camping and cabin options in Medicine Bow National Forest. (Remember that winter starts earlier and ends later in the mountains compared to in town.) Vedauwoo Campground is in the Laramie Range and is surrounded by weathered-granite cliffs. It has vault toilets but no water. The campsites have picnic tables and fire pits, and many are tucked in among boulders. Sugarloaf Campground is in the Snowy Range and has an incredible view of the mountain peaks and alpine lakes. It has vault toilets but no water. The campsites have picnic tables. Both Vedauwoo Campground and Sugarloaf Campground are in picturesque locations near popular hiking trails. There are also some Forest Service cabins in the Snowy Range: Little Brooklyn Guard Station, Snow Survey Cabin, and Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout. Another lodging option is Vee Bar Guest Ranch, off of WY-130 between Laramie and Centennial. I haven’t stayed there, but it sounds like it would be a fun experience.
Left: Little Brooklyn Guard Station in March Right: Heating the Little Brooklyn Guard Station and melting snow for water
Because Laramie is a university town, it has plenty of coffee shops. My three favorites are Coal Creek Coffee, Night Heron Books & Coffeehouse, and Turtle Rock Coffee & Cafe. Coal Creek Coffee is located downtown next to Coal Creek Tap and has live music some evenings. Night Heron Books & Coffeehouse is also located downtown and sells used books in addition to coffee, tea, and food. Turtle Rock Coffee & Cafe is located next to the University of Wyoming and has a nice outdoor seating area.
Laramie has a lot of great restaurants and bars. Sweet Melissa Cafe is arguably the best restaurant in town. They make delicious vegetarian and vegan comfort food (vegetarians/vegans and non-vegetarians/vegans both love this place). Some of my favorite dishes are the Cashew Cheese Queso, Buffalo Cauliflower Wings, Gorgonzola Leek Mac & Cheese, and Sweet Potato Burrito. This is also the place to get dessert in Laramie. Front Street Tavern is the bar connected to Sweet Melissa Cafe, and you can order food from Sweet Melissa Cafe in the bar. Front Street Tavern has a cozy atmosphere and view of the trains going by. I especially like going there for warm drinks (mulled wine, hot toddy, hot buttered rum, etc.) in the winter. Crowbar & Grill mainly serves three types of food (pizza, burgers, and fries) and does them very well. I highly recommend getting an order of Pad Thai Fries. My favorite burgers are the Falcon (caramelized leeks, mushrooms, feta, and horseradish aioli) and the Kingbird (peanut butter, banana, bacon, and cheddar). My favorite pizzas are the Pitchfork (tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, herbed olive oil, and mozzarella) and the Billhook (seasoned ground lamb, onions, tomatoes, tzatziki, herbed olive oil, and feta). You can also build your own pizza with several sauces and topping choices including oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, fried egg, and cheese curds. Check the chalkboard on your way in for the special burger and pizza offered that day. Crowbar & Grill also has a great selection of beer on tap. Coal Creek Tap is my favorite brewery in town. It has a lovely atmosphere with the bar and tabletops made from beetle kill pine. Every beer is served in the proper style of glass. The menu is constantly changing, but my favorite mainstays are the Wyoming Toad rye IPA and the Coal Train coffee stout. It also offers a few food items prepared in the adjoining Coal Creek Coffee. If you’re looking for a souvenir or gift from Laramie, Coal Creek Tap has some awesome stainless steel growlers. Anong’s Thai Cuisine serves authentic Thai food. My favorite dishes are Nam Tok Beef, Masaman Curry, and Sticky Rice with Mango. Speedgoat is the local burrito/taco restaurant. Along with more traditional menu items, it also has the Curry Burrito, Mongolian Burrito, Bahn Mi Taco, and Fruit Taco. I love listening to live music on the outdoor patio at Alibi Pub in the summer. The music stage looks like a log cabin, and the fire pits are lit every evening. Alibi Pub specializes in wood fire pizza and sandwiches. Altitude Chophouse & Brewery is another great brewery in town. Plus, their seasoned pretzels (on every table in the bar area) are great. The Library Sports Grille & Brewery is a sports bar that serves its own beer. If you want to catch a game, this is the place to go. Chalk n’ Cheese is a cheese/cooking store, cafe, and wine bar that also has tasting events. Buckhorn Bar is the oldest bar in Laramie. It’s known for its historical features, like a bullet hole in the mirror behind the bar, and live music.
Left: Hot buttered rum at Front Street Tavern Right: Coal Creek Tap
Left: Live music at Alibi Pub Right: Crowbar & Grill (yes, that’s a huge painting of Bill Murray)
If you don’t want to try to find a parking spot downtown or if you plan to try Laramie’s craft beers, there is a free transportation service called SafeRide. Although it’s funded by the University of Wyoming, rides are offered to all Laramie community members and visitors. It operates within Laramie city limits and runs from 9:00 PM to 2:00 AM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays during the academic year and on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer (the schedule may change during academic holidays). A nice way to take advantage of this service is to walk downtown when it’s still light out and then take SafeRide home at the end of your evening.
There are four museums in Laramie. The University of Wyoming Geological Museum has a 75-foot Apatosaurus skeleton, along with many other fossils and geological specimens. It’s easy to find the museum once you’re on the main part of the University of Wyoming campus; just look for the Tyrannosaurus rex statue. The University of Wyoming Art Museum is near the football stadium. It features art from the American West and from around the world. You can also check its news feed for special events. The Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site houses what used to be a federal then state prison, built in 1872. It is known for being the only place where Butch Cassidy was incarcerated. The Laramie Plains Museum is housed in the historic Ivinson Mansion. It features items from the region during the late-1800s and early-1900s.
Left: Wyoming Territorial Prison Right: Broom-making exhibit at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site
In addition to restaurants/cafes/bars, downtown also has many local shops to peruse. If you need some last-minute items for outdoor adventures, check out Atmosphere Mountainworks, Cross Country Connection, Pedal House, and NU2U Sports.
If you love murals, make sure to wander around downtown. You can find them on the sides of businesses and in the alleyways. The Laramie Mural Project started in 2011. It’s a collaboration between the University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie artists, downtown Laramie businesses, and the Laramie Main Street Alliance. So far, there are over 30 murals. This brochure includes information about the murals and their locations.
Left: Laramie Mural Project Right: Dino Discovery by Kristina Wiltse
Left: Tierra y Libertad by Talal Cockar Right: Gill Street by various artists (my favorite is Cosmic Trout by Chelsea Lowry)
Although Laramie has transformed since its days as a major railroad terminal, the rail yard next to downtown is still a prominent feature. You can get a good view of the rail yard and trains going by from the Pedestrian Bridge, located at the corner of 1st Street and Garfield Street in downtown. I recommend going up there at sunset for a view of downtown and the surrounding mountains. Next to the Pedestrian Bridge, the Laramie Railroad Depot is the only building left from Union Pacific’s significant influence on Laramie. Today, it is used for concerts, art exhibits, and other events. You can schedule a tour by contacting its events coordinator.
Left: Pedestrian Bridge Right: View of the rail yard and downtown from the Pedestrian Bridge
Snow Train at the Laramie Railroad Depot
It’s difficult to narrow them down, but here are my favorite hiking trails in the wilderness areas surrounding Laramie. Remember to bring plenty of water, rain gear, and layers. During the summer, it’s best to hike these trails in the morning to avoid afternoon thunderstorms (a common occurrence in the mountains). The Snowy Range section of Medicine Bow National Forest includes aspen and pine tree forests at lower elevations and alpine lakes surrounding mountain peaks at higher elevations. The mountain peaks are composed of quartzite, and you can see glistening boulders of quartzite (colors ranging from white to pink to green) scattered around the Snowy Range. I recommend Gap Lakes Trail and Lost Lake Trail, both originating at Lewis Lake Picnic Area in the Sugarloaf Recreation Area. Hike north from Lewis Lake Picnic Area until you reach a fork in the trail. Veer left to follow Gap Lakes Trail or veer right to follow Lost Lake Trail. After hiking in the Snowy Range, I usually stop in Centennial for pizza at Beartree Tavern & Cafe and/or ice cream at Country Junction. The Vedauwoo area of Medicine Bow National Forest is known for its unique granite formations and is a popular rock climbing destination. I recommend Turtle Rock Trail, which is 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) roundtrip. Curt Gowdy State Park encompasses a variety of landscapes in the Laramie Range. I recommend Cliff Hanger Trail on the northwest corner of Crystal Reservoir, which is 0.7 miles (1.1 kilometers) one way. This trail can be combined with Canyons Trail, which is 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) one way. Red Mountain Open Space has red rock formations and sprawling grasslands. It’s set up so that you can combine different trails depending on the length of hike and type of scenery you’d like to experience. I recommend Bent Rock Trail, which is 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) roundtrip.
Gap Lakes Trail in the Snowy Range (part of Medicine Bow National Forest)
Lost Lake Trail in the Snowy Range (part of Medicine Bow National Forest)
Turtle Rock Trail in Vedauwoo (part of Medicine Bow National Forest)
Cliff Hanger Trail in Curt Gowdy State Park
Bent Rock Trail in Red Mountain Open Space
In addition to hiking, there are many other outdoor activities surrounding Laramie. The Happy Jack area of Medicine Bow National Forest, Curt Gowdy State Park, and Red Mountain Open Space all have mountain biking trails through a variety of landscapes at various difficulty levels. In the winter, I like to snowshoe along Libby Creek Trail and Barber Lake Trail in the Snowy Range section of Medicine Bow National Forest. These trails originate at Green Rock Picnic Site. The Happy Jack area of Medicine Bow National Forest is the best place to go cross country skiing. Lastly, you can ski or snowboard at Snowy Range Ski Area.
Winter in the Snowy Range
Another way to enjoy the surrounding wilderness is to pack a picnic and head to one of the many picnic sites in Medicine Bow National Forest. Vedauwoo Picnic Site in the Laramie Range and Lewis Lake Picnic Site, Libby Lake Picnic Site, and Mirror Lake Picnic Site in the Snowy Range have lovely views and can be combined with a hike on nearby trails. Also, you can usually spot pikas and marmots among the piles of boulders next to Mirror Lake Picnic Site.
View from Mirror Lake Picnic Site in the Snowy Range
Laramie is a great destination for photographing fall colors. The aspen trees in both the Laramie Range and the Snowy Range burst with color in late September (usually somewhere around September 20th). My favorite spots to view and photograph fall colors in the Laramie Range are Turtle Rock Trail in Vedauwoo and the various trails in Happy Jack. In the Snowy Range, I recommend doing a loop through the lower elevations. Drive up WY-130 from Centennial to Sand Lake Road (on the right). Drive a bit up Sand Lake Road, which curves through some aspen stands before turning into a dirt road. Then, return to WY-130 and continue up into the Snowy Range until you reach Barber Lake Road (on the left). Drive down Barber Lake Road back toward Centennial, enjoying the scenery along the way. Before returning to WY-130, park at Barber Lake Picnic Site and walk along Forest Road 351 F (the dirt road next to the parking area). It’s best to photograph fall colors when the sun is at an angle (avoid midday) or on stormy/overcast days. These conditions help bring out the color of the leaves and allow for more dynamic photos. Make sure to experiment with backlighting. It makes the leaves glow and can result in beautifully vibrant photos. Also, don’t forget to photograph details like leaves scattered on the ground, a water droplet clinging to a leaf, or reflections in a pool of water.
Happy Jack Trailhead
Left: Sand Lake Road in the Snowy Range Right: Barber Lake Road in the Snowy Range
Forest Road 351 F in the Snowy Range on a sunny day
Forest Road 351 F in the Snowy Range on an overcast day
Edge of a stream in the Snowy Range
- America the Beautiful Pass (if you plan on visiting other national parks, national monuments, national forests/grasslands, national wildlife refuges, and/or lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management)
- Wyoming State Parks Annual Permit (if you plan on visiting other state parks in Wyoming)
- Safe Ride
- Hotels in Laramie
- Vedauwoo Campground in the Laramie Range
- Sugarloaf Campground in the Snowy Range
- Little Brooklyn Guard Station in the Snowy Range
- Snow Survey Cabin in the Snowy Range
- Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout in the Snowy Range
- Vee Bar Guest Ranch between Laramie and Centennial
COFFEE SHOPS & CAFES
RESTAURANTS & BARS
- Sweet Melissa Cafe and Front Street Tavern
- Crowbar & Grill
- Coal Creek Tap
- Anong’s Thai Cuisine
- Alibi Pub
- Altitude Chophouse & Brewery
- The Library Sports Grille & Brewery
- Chalk n’ Cheese
- Buckhorn Bar
- University of Wyoming Geological Museum
- University of Wyoming Art Museum
- Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site
- Laramie Plains Museum
- Listen to live music on the patio at Alibi Pub
- Go to a tasting event at Chalk n’ Cheese
- Wander around the Laramie Farmer’s Market
- Look for murals
- Watch the trains and/or sunset from the Pedestrian Bridge
- Check out the Snow Train outside the Laramie Railroad Depot
- Hike Gap Lakes Trail in the Sugarloaf Recreation Area of Medicine Bow National Forest (trailhead at Lewis Lake Picnic Site)
- Hike Lost Lake Trail in the Sugarloaf Recreation Area of Medicine Bow National Forest (trailhead at Lewis Lake Picnic Site)
- Hike Turtle Rock Trail in the Vedauwoo area of Medicine Bow National Forest
- Hike Cliff Hanger Trail in Curt Gowdy State Park
- Hike Bent Rock Trail in Red Mountain Open Space
- Picnic at Vedauwoo Picnic Site, Lewis Lake Picnic Site, Libby Lake Picnic Site, and/or Mirror Lake Picnic Site in Medicine Bow National Forest
- Mountain bike in the Happy Jack area of Medicine Bow National Forest, Curt Gowdy State Park, and/or Red Mountain Open Space
- Snowshoe Libby Creek Trail and/or Barber Lake Trail in the Snowy Range section of Medicine Bow National Forest (trailhead at Green Rock Picnic Site)
- Cross country ski in the Happy Jack area of Medicine Bow National Forest
- Ski or snowboard at Snowy Range Ski Area