Say “breathtaking Western regions” in Wyoming, and Jackson Hole may come to mind.
But apparently not all the time.
When Good Housekeeping put together its 2024 family travel vacation guide, it highlighted five “breathtaking” Western regions, and instead of Jackson Hole, Casper was touted as Wyoming’s contribution.
Casper made the magazine’s short list, along with Frisco and Grand Junction in Colorado, Branson in Missouri, and Greater Palm Springs in California, where it was described as an “authentic Western experience minus the crowds of Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.”
It also offers hiking, kayaking and fly-fishing in a stunning mountain landscape.
The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center with hands-on exhibits (including a kids’ corner and a Pony Express Cabin) and the Tate Geological Museum with its T. rex skeleton found in Wyoming also were highlighted. As was the College National Finals Rodeo in June and the Dutch Oven Wagon Trail Trek, where families take a 90-minute journey into history, experiencing the life of a pioneer of old.
Not Trying To Be Jackson
VisitCasper’s Wayne Stewart stressed that Casper isn’t trying to be another Jackson Hole, nor does it bill itself as an alternative destination to it.
“That’s kind of not how we want to portray ourselves,” he said. “I think Casper is just very different than Jackson. We have a different downtown. We have different recreational opportunities.”
That said, he thinks Casper has a lot to offer tourists to Wyoming, particularly families seeking affordable alternatives in the Cowboy State.
“We have a little bit of Western history. We have a great arts and cultural theme with the Nicolaysen Art Museum,” he said. “We have our 321 murals across town. We have incredible outdoor recreation, which is incredibly convenient, sitting just, you know, a 10-minute drive from downtown.”
Those outdoor opportunities include fishing on the North Platte River, which offers 150 miles of trout water that many anglers have described as the best North America has to offer. Not only is there an abundance of large trout, it’s a beautiful setting as well, making it an iconic, world-class destination.
Casper isn’t sitting on its laurels, either. It’s working to bring new and different tourism opportunities to the city. Among these is the Wyo Sports Ranch, a new sports training and tournament facility that can have 10 basketball courts and 20 volleyball courts going all at one time.
“They’ll have a permanent indoor multi-use turf field, so basically it provides local athletes and athletes across the Rocky Mountain West the ability to train and pursue their passion sports year-round,” Stewart said. “Casper itself doesn’t have a facility like this, so it’s really exciting.”
Construction on the facility has begun, Stewart said, and it’s expected to be finished in 2025. It’s located on the northeast corner of the existing Ford Wyoming Center, which is on Casper’s northern edge.
Nabbing National Attention Becoming A Habit
Good Housekeeping’s recent selection of Casper for its 2024 family vacation guide was just the latest in a string of media articles and programs that have cast a bit of national spotlight on The Oil City.
Earlier this summer, the Casper made USA Today’s list of 30 most beautiful destination half-marathons around the globe, for a trip that combines training for a marathon with sightseeing and adventure.
In that article, Casper was in the company of stunning places like Mt. Rwenzori in Uganda, Jasper in the Canadian Rockies, Queenstown New Zealand’s La Roche Posey by Lake Wakatipu and nearby neighbor, the Maah Daah Hey Trail Run in North Dakota’s Badlands.
Casper was also featured earlier this year in National Geographic’s “Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge.”
During the episode, which was filmed in November 2022 and aired in July, Grylls teaches celebrity guest star Bradley Cooper how to use a grappling hook to traverse a series of ravines in the Alcova Basin.
The two then spent the night hanging off the side of a cliff before waking to wrestle with a winter snowstorm the next day.
Not Just Summer
Fodor’s Travel Guide highlighted Casper’s Garden Creek Falls in February as one of 14 stunning waterfalls worth a winter look across North America.
Garden Creek Falls is a five-minute hike from Rotary Park, which offers parking spots, making it one of the easiest, cool things to do in Casper at any time of year.
More recently, AARP highlighted Casper as one of five North American ski towns that are affordable without sacrificing terrain.
“Jackson and Jackson Hole might be millionaire and billionaire territory these days,” the article reads. “But you can still have an affordable ski vacation in the Cowboy State. Head to Wyoming’s second-largest city (after Cheyenne) and one very cool mountain town.”
That’s an assessment Casper resident James Stengel, who runs a video production company in Casper, agrees with.
“When Hogadon gets some good snow, there’s some pretty epic powder days up there,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “And I’m probably a 15-minute drive from my house to get up there and snowboard, and it’s amazing. I also taught my kids to ski up there.”
More About Hogadon
Hogadon Basin Ski Area offers 25 runs to ski, many with intermediate terrain, and a vertical rise of up to 600 feet for some trails, according to online visitor information about the ski resort.
“We do have a great ski lodge up on Casper Mountain for the winter,” Stewart said. “And we are really pushing that this winter, because, you know, your family ski trip is almost becoming unattainable with how expensive ski lift tickets can be.”
Visitors to popular ski towns might also spend most of their day waiting in line for the ski lift, rather than actually skiing down the mountain, Stewart said.
“Hogadon is a great solution to that,” he said. “It’s family friendly, and there’s a variety of different trail options for any level of skier or snowboarder there, with ticket prices that tend to be cheaper than your more iconic ski destinations. But you still get those beautiful scenic views of the mountain and even of Casper.”
Casper is working to improve its winter mountain scene as well, Stewart added, with the new Casper Mountain Nordic Ski Lodge.
“I think in the past it’s been called the Casper Mountain Trail Center,” Stewart said. “But they tore down the previous building that stood up there, I think this past summer, and they are working on plans to rebuild a new lodge.”
It will be about 4,000 square feet, close to double the old space, with additional bathrooms. The facility offers a place to store stuff and warm up a little while out on the cross-country, snowshoeing trails.
Renée Jean can be reached at [email protected].