The buildings in Cheyenne rise from the semiarid High Plains like trees pushing through a forest floor. In a country where most major cities are closely hugged by suburbs, the capital of Wyoming is surrounded by endless stretches of dirt, stone, and grass. Just a short drive from the city limits, pronghorn, elk, bears, and open-range cattle meander beside the highway. Perhaps it’s this proximity to nature that makes Cheyenne feel more rural than urban.
Modern-day Cheyenne owes its existence to the Union Pacific Railroad. The tracks reached the area in 1867, opening up opportunities for jobs, industry, and permanent settlement. In the early days, Cheyenne had the most millionaires per capita in the world, and it shows. The city’s historic district brims with stunning architecture, including examples of Renaissance Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Victorian-style buildings. There are no skyscrapers in Cheyenne, which gives the city a grounded, friendly feeling. Everything here feels connected: the people around you, the land you stand on, and the present, future, and past.
Best Time to Visit Cheyenne
Cheyenne is a year-round destination, but the time you choose to visit will greatly impact your experience. Winters in Cheyenne are long. The snow usually starts in October, and in most years, the last snowfall is in May. Popular winter activities include ice fishing in Curt Gowdy State Park or snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on local hiking trails. Around the holidays, twinkling lights make the historic district look like something out of a Hallmark movie, and the Holiday Lights Trolley offers tours of the most festive displays in town.
If you’re visiting in the spring, be sure to check the dates for Cheyenne Restaurant Week, which occurs every year in April, and Depot Days, which celebrates train culture and the historic Cheyenne Depot in May.
Summers are inviting in Cheyenne, with warm and sunny weather and temperatures that rarely exceed the 90s. Every July, approximately 200,000 people converge for Cheyenne Frontier Days, a celebration of Western life with huge parades, free pancake breakfasts, a carnival, and most famously, the largest outdoor rodeo in the world.
In the evenings, Frontier Days become Frontier Nights, with concerts starring some of the biggest names in music. Past performers include headliners like Garth Brooks, Aerosmith, and Sam Hunt. If you can’t make it for Cheyenne Frontier Days, the city also hosts the twice-monthly chuck wagon dinner and rodeo series, Hell On Wheels, in June, July, and August.
Come fall, Cheyenne continues to offer plenty of reasons to celebrate, with Oktoberfest in September and the OctoberWest Harvest Feast in October.
Things to Do in Cheyenne
No trip to Cheyenne is complete without a visit to the Cheyenne Depot Museum. Designed by architect Henry Van Brunt, the magnificent Richardsonian Romanesque building is a wonder to behold, with a tall steepled clock tower and semicircular arches running the length of the structure. Inside, you’ll find marbled floors, elaborate ceilings, and a museum. The museum does an excellent job sharing the history of the train through interactive displays, artifacts, and exhibits, but the real star of the show is upstairs. Here, you’ll see an astonishingly intricate 800-square foot model of the Union Central and Northern railroad as it was toward the close of the 19th century. It took Harry Brunk 30 years to build it, and it’s considered one of the finest model railroads in the world.
Afterward, take a walk around historic downtown Cheyenne, where you’ll stumble upon small yet fascinating museums like the Cowgirls of the West Museum & Emporium. You’ll also come across a unique collection of shops, from establishments like Alexis Drake, where you can see artisans creating luxury handbags, to rows of antique stores. If you find yourself in need of Western apparel while in the historic district, make your way to The Wrangler. Located in a bright red corner building that was home to a hotel in the late 1800s, the shop offers boots, clothes, and more than 500 cowboy hat styles priced from less than $10 to upwards of a $1,000. Following your purchase, be sure to take your hat to one of the shaping stations where an expert uses skill and steam to customize it. Keep your eyes peeled for Cheyenne Big Boots, eight-foot-tall cowboy boots painted by local artists, colorfully depicting the history and culture of Cheyenne.
While in town, be sure to stroll through the nine-acre campus of the lush Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Best of all, admission is free. Other worthwhile attractions include the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley tours, and self-guided tours of the gold-domed Wyoming State Capitol building.
Cheyenne is a city with a big backyard that’s begging to be explored. Approximately a half-hour drive outside the city, surrounded by a prairie as wide as a clear blue sky, you’ll see one a curious attraction: Ames Monument. Completed in 1882, Ames Monument is a 60-foot granite pyramid built to honor Oakes and Oliver Ames, brothers whose dedication and financial backing was crucial to the railroad’s early success. Today, the pyramid appears to have been built in the middle of nowhere, but it was constructed on what was the highest point on the first transcontinental railroad and was visible to passengers who rolled across the frontier.
A short drive from Ames Monument, the Vedauwoo Campground and Recreation Area is an otherworldly park in which towering bluffs and granite rock formations seem to have been stacked by a giant hand across the landscape. Located within the Medicine Bow National Forest, this is a hot spot for rock climbing. The park’s trail system is popular among hikers in the warmer months and cross-country skiers and snowshoers when the ground becomes blanketed with snow. Wildlife here includes elk, moose, prairie dogs, and wild turkeys. It also isn’t unusual to find groups of free-range cattle wandering nearby.
Wyoming is a top travel destination, in part because of its stunning state parks, including Curt Gowdy State Park. Just 24 miles from Cheyenne, the nearly 4,000-acre park is home to abundant wildlife and three beautiful reservoirs where people fish, boat, kayak, and picnic in warm weather and go ice fishing when the water freezes come winter. In addition to tent and RV camping, lodging is available at rental cabins and a historic lodge.
There is perhaps no creature as synonymous with Wyoming than the bison, and you can see these animals up close at Terry Bison Ranch. In addition to offering guided trail rides on horseback, the ranch is home to a year-round bison train. The custom-built train winds around the property, crossing into the state of Colorado before reaching the bison herd. Bison are wild animals and visitors aren’t permitted to get out of the train, but they can feed them when the creatures approach. The ranch is also home to restaurants, a live music venue, campsites, and rental cabins.
Where to Eat and Drink in Cheyenne
Cheyenne is famous for beef and bison, and you’ll find both in abundance in area restaurants. The Metropolitan is located in what was once a 1930s drug store, and the renovations managed to preserve the floors, ceiling tiles, and brick walls. The atmosphere is upscale, but the menu is all about Wyoming classics and comfort food, including dishes like chicken wings and bison short ribs with mashed potatoes. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you’re hankering for a taste of the Old West, try The Bunkhouse. If you traveled by horse, you’re in luck because there’s a hitching post outside for equestrian guests and a large, inviting porch to rest if there happens to be a wait. The eatery is famous for its large portions and generous pours. Standout menu items include prime rib, chicken fried steak, and fruit pie. Every Friday and Saturday, you’ll also catch live music and dancing.
For a quick morning bite, The Crooked Cup is an excellent choice for hearty, made-from-scratch breakfast burritos with green chiles.
For drinks, the Paramount Ballroom offers creative craft cocktails and delicious light bites in a historic building that was formerly a theater, hotel, and millenary. This is a great spot for conversation, with seating options at the bar, tables, or sofas.
Perhaps the most famous watering hole in town is The Outlaw Saloon, a huge bar with pool tables, slot machines, live music, and just about any type of liquor. For a cold pint, be sure to stop by Freedom’s Edge Brewing Co., which pioneered the growing craft brewery movement in Cheyenne.
Where to Stay in Cheyenne
There are plenty of lodging options in Cheyenne. Little America Hotel is ideal for families, thanks to its quiet location at the edge of town. Plus, the property includes kid-friendly amenities such as a swimming pool and playground. It’s also home to a golf course, fitness center, and on-site dining options. The rooms are generously sized with in-room coffee makers, and many have decks and patios.
For a more intimate setting, the luxurious, adults-only Nagle Warren Mansion offers sumptuous accommodations in the historic district. Set in an exquisite, 1900s Victorian-style mansion, the bed-and-breakfast offers modern amenities like Wi-Fi and Roku streaming in antique-filled rooms with vintage-themed bathrooms. Lovely surroundings aside, many people stay here just for the culinary experiences, which include elaborate multicourse breakfasts, afternoon manor hour with appetizers and drinks, and two six-course dinners (reservations required) a month with wine or spirits pairings.