Insider’s guide to Wyoming, America’s “Cowboy State” (photos)

Lori Hogan of Wyoming Tourism

Lori Hogan of Wyoming Tourism

For the second installment of “Meet the Local Expert,” we’re heading to the Western United States to uncover the best hangouts, sights and insider tips  from Lori Hogan of Wyoming Tourism.

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When you think of the American West, do cowboys, rodeo queens and country music spring to mind?

Wyoming offers all this and more, including stunning scenery and opportunities to hike, horseback ride, fish and camp in America’s first national park, Yellowstone.

The”Cowboy State” is also home to the ski slopes of Jackson Hole and the steep peaks of the Big Horn Mountains and the Black Hills.

For a New Yorker like me, Wyoming may just be the most exotic destination in the country!

Insider Tips

Last summer I attended the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD) festival as a guest of Wyoming Tourism.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sr. Communications Specialist Lori Hogan, who accompanied me to the CFD parade, introduced me to the local bars and even helped me pick out a cowboy hat!

A native of Colorado, Lori has lived in Cheyenne for five years and enjoys promoting Wyoming tourism. She says the best part of her job is

“Traveling all over the state and escorting journalists. I love sharing this amazing state with people and seeing them marvel in the beauty as they experience it for the first time.  Most people know about our icons but I really enjoy taking people off the beaten path.”

Read on for Lori’s insider tips on visiting Wyoming. If you’ve been to the state, please share your experience by leaving a comment below.

2010 Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Cowboys (and a cowgirl) riding horses in Cheyenne, Wyoming. (photo: L Koch)

Cheyenne

What do you like best about living in Cheyenne, Wyoming’s capital?

I can enjoy outdoor activities like road and mountain biking while experiencing metropolitan events such as the symphony or drinks at a trendy martini bar. It’s like living in a big city that’s also a small town (pop. 56,000) so you get the best of both worlds. The people are extremely friendly and conversational regardless if you’re a local or just visiting.

Trolley driver in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Lori's right-- the locals are very friendly in Cheyenne! This trolley driver filled me in on the city's main attractions. (photo: L Koch)

Can you recommend a local hangout in Cheyenne that tourists don’t know about?

My friends and I like to hang out at Lions Park. Throughout the summer we go to movies in the park, free concerts, play Frisbee with my dog Tia, hang out at the beach on Sloan’s Lake, kayak on the lake, cool off in the pool or participate in community events and 5k races.

Sloan's Lake

Sloan's Lake in Cheyenne, Wyoming (photo: CheyenneWyoming/flickr)

What is the best place to see live music in Cheyenne, and what types of bands are popular?

Friday Nights on the Plaza throughout the summer highlights free, live music by regional bands. The music ranges from Celtic to country and everything in between. The other popular place that is also a local hangout is the Outlaw Saloon featuring country music bands. A large dance floor attracts line dancing and country swing enthusiasts.

2010 Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming

The backyard of the Outlaw Saloon during Cheyenne Frontier Days. (photo: L Koch)

[Editor's note: Lori took me to the Outlaw Saloon during Cheyenne Frontier Days, and it was the place to be! I posed on a mechanical bull and met fun people from across the state. Check out the slideshow below for more photos of my trip to Cheyenne Frontier Days]

The Best of Wyoming

Are there any exciting events coming up this Spring that travelers shouldn’t miss?

The Jackson Hole Mountain Festival March 25-27 featuring Katchafire and the Marmot Coombs Classic at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village. This weekend also boasts the infamous Snowmobile Hill Climb at Snow King Resort in Jackson.

Jackson Hole Ski Resort in Summer

There are plenty of spring and summer activities in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. (photo: L Koch)

What is your favorite destination in the Cowboy State?

Jackson Hole – I am a little biased because I lived there prior to moving to Cheyenne. It’s a great location next to Grand Teton & Yellowstone national parks, has the most incredible skiing and snowboarding at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, kayaking and rafting on the Snake River and a small town atmosphere. I would still live there had it not been for this awesome opportunity to promote all of Wyoming by working for the state.

Welcome sign at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

Lori at Grand Teton National Park, located near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

What activities would you recommend for adventurous travelers?

Oh gosh. You name it – we have it. Snow sports include skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice climbing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Summer activities run the gamut on land, water and air: hiking, biking, kayaking, climbing, rafting, water skiing and jet skiing, fishing and parasailing.  What makes Wyoming different is the incredible scenery, wildlife and friendly people.

Lake at Grand Teton National Park

There are many places to hike in Wyoming, including Grand Teton National Park. (photo: L Koch)

Is there a typical food that all visitors to Wyoming should try at least once?

I would recommend bison; the meat is lean, tender and delicious.

Biison at Grand Teton National Park

Bison (buffalo) are a common sight in Wyoming. (photo: L Koch)

Blending in with the locals

What do Wyoming residents think about New Yorkers? Are we considered “city slickers”?

New Yorkers always seem sincerely interested in our Western culture and we welcome the opportunity to share. I would not use the term “city slicker” but I do feel that people from large cities have a tendency to feel rushed and tense. That is usually cured with a few days in the outdoors.

The Cody Night Rodeo in Wyoming

Cowboy fashion on display at the Cody Night Rodeo. (photo: L Koch)

How should travelers dress to fit in with the local crowd?

For the most part people in Cheyenne dress like everyone else in America with the exception of the last two weeks in July during Cheyenne Frontier Days. This is when the real cowgirls and cowboys come out. You can tell a true cowboy based on 5 things:
1) Jeans. Most cowboys wear Wranglers or Cinch jeans.
2) Boots. Typically scuffed up from working on the ranch the most popular boots are Ariat and Justin.
3) Cowboy hat. Stetson, Resistol or Atwood are the real deal.
4) Shirt. Long sleeved, button down and heavily starched.
5) Belt buckle. If you are in the rodeo circuit and you’re good – you might have a gold buckle from Cheyenne Frontier Days or even better, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Almost all cowboys have a large belt buckle of some type.

Country singer Kenny Chesney in a cowboy hat

Country singer Kenny Chesney in a cowboy hat. A "Kenny Chesney hat" refers to a fancy, decorative hat that real cowboys wouldn't wear. (photo: sneakerparter.wordpress.com)

I almost made the mistake of picking out a dreaded “Kenny Chesney hat” at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Do you have any tips for picking out an authentic cowboy hat?

Pick a brand like Stetson, Resistol or Atwood to start. You can ask the store clerk to measure your head so it fits just right. Once you pick a style you like, you can have the hat steamed and shaped to fit the frame of your face. The type of hat you choose is really a personal preference. The nice thing about those dreaded “Kenny Chesney” hats is that they are cheap and can be bought right off the shelf without shaping & fitting – perfect for those one-time concert and rodeo goers. We know you will be back so it’s a good thing you bought the real deal!

Cheyenne, Wyoming during the 2010 Cheyenne Frontier Days Festival

The totally hardcore cowboy hat that Lori helped me pick out at Cheyenne Frontier Days. (photo: L Koch)

Nature calling

What types of wildlife have you come across in Wyoming?

You can see bison roam freely in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks along with grizzly bears, moose, wolves, elk, deer, bighorn sheep as well as smaller species such as foxes, beavers, and all types of birds.

Grizzly bear

You might spot a grizzly bear in Wyoming! (photo: ilashdesigns/flickr)

Have you ever had an encounter with a bear in the wild?

I have only seen a grizzly and three of her cubs from the safety of my vehicle while I was driving through Grand Teton National Park. I always carried bear spray with me on hikes and made sure my food was properly stored when camping. Bear attacks are not common but you should heed warnings and recommendations from the forest service when heading into the backcountry.

Finally… the iPhone has arrived!

AT&T phone service is spotty in Wyoming, but now locals can use the Verizon iPhone! (screenshot: M. Rivera)

I was surprised there is no AT&T service in Wyoming (outside of Jackson Hole). Are you psyched that Wyoming residents can now get iPhones with Verizon service?

YES! That is big news for us. We are working on a variety of iPhone applications that visitors can use throughout their travels. There are still some remote areas in the state that you cannot receive any type of service but that is a good thing. Once in a while you need to disconnect with people and reconnect with nature.

[Editor's note: I totally agree. When I left Cheyenne after Frontier Days and began my road trip to Yellowstone, I wasn't able to text, tweet or email on my iPhone. After a day or two of withdrawal, I started to enjoy my break from technology. It was so relaxing!]

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For more information

To plan your Wyoming vacation, visit the official tourism website, www.wyomingtourism.org. Follow
@wyomingtourism on Twitter and YouTube for the latest travel news, upcoming events, special deals and photos of local attractions.

Wyoming is located in the heart of the American West. Click on this Google Map for satellite images of the “Cowboy State.”


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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded DowntownTraveler.com after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.