Before diving right into all my recommendations for hikes and cold beer, it’s as important as ever to talk about the hows and whys of traveling safely and responsibly. Like many industries in the world right now, the tourism industry has been deeply affected by the global pandemic. That means everyone from our favorite mom and pop restaurants and stores, to hotels, and many more. For this reason, it’s vital that we support local businesses right now, but we do so in a safe and considerate manner so they can continue to be open. Give people extra space, wash your hands, spend a little more time outdoors than indoors, and stay home if you’re sick. In Wyoming, Casper and Natrona County are open for business. You can visit and soak up this mountain town and do so safely. For up to date restrictions and closures, click here.
Prior to last year, my only experience with Casper was a brief encounter in my youth. I’ll be honest that the memory doesn’t jolt out at me as Casper being a hopping tourist destination. But last year Visit Casper recruited me to come down for a three-day photo shoot and my perception was completely shattered. Maybe it was my age or maybe Casper really has changed that much. Either way, all I know is that what I once perceived to be an industrial town had completely shifted to a hip mountain town with incredible outdoor access, a vibrant coffee scene, a food scene that rivals any out there, and of course the friendly and welcoming folks that Wyoming is known for. So, when Visit Casper called me again to come back, I was eager to accept and return to this town that I had fallen for.
Day 1: Cowboying up and the Indian Relay
My first day in Casper started at one of my favorite breakfast spots, Grant Street Grocery. Not only do they have amazing breakfast burritos, but this historic grocery store is packed with fine cuts of meat, seafood, and all of the cooking additions you could ask for (I picked up a fiery garlic aioli to take home). Full and ready to take on the day we popped just down the street to the Nicolaysen Art Museum, which is currently housing an incredible collection of female artists to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. After the museum, we headed just up the road to a place where no trip to Casper is complete without visiting—the iconic Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters in downtown. This 55,000-square-foot retail space kept us busy for a while as I picked out a few new western shirts and bought a new Stetson hat to add to my collection. Of course, I had to break the new hat in properly with a visit next door at Frontier Brewing.
Properly geared up, we headed to the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds for the Championship of Champions Indian Relay Races. For those who haven’t seen Indian Relay before I can’t encourage you enough to check it out for yourself. This unique style of horse racing features four Warriors, each with three different horses. After each lap, they dismount their horse and jump onto the next (bareback I might add) to ride the next lap. The nature of the sport is fast and intense, and even huge leads can vanish if the transfers are not clean. The event was shifted because of COVID-19, with crowd capacity being reduced to ensure social distancing in the stands and various efforts made to ensure the health of the teams. It was easily a major highlight of my trip.
Businesses have had to pivot to adapt to the ever-changing rules and regulations in 2020, and Backwards Distilling Company opted to turn their tasting room into a reservation-only speakeasy. Backwards was one of my favorite stops of my shoot in 2019, so I made it a point to return and bring my girlfriend. While the atmosphere has changed (I love the speakeasy vibe), the drinks are still incredibly well thought out and feature tasty mixed cocktails. And if you’re not quite ready for in-person dining, they have cocktails to go in various portion sizes. Before retreating to our hotel, we popped around the corner to the Branding Iron for dinner. The whiskey glazed burger was the ultimate nightcap.
Day 2: Casper Mountain and Independence Rock
With a big day ahead, we stopped at Eggington’s for breakfast. The chile relleno was exactly the rib-sticking meal that I needed for the day to come. The crisp fall air was calling our names, so we headed up Casper Mountain to chase a waterfall (against the best advice of TLC). The trails around Casper Mountain seem to provide endless opportunities for recreation.
Our afternoon was spent strolling the streets downtown, which of course required a coffee refuel. With so many unique coffee shops to pick from, we decided on the funky shop of Bourgeois Pig. Honestly, it feels like being in a much larger city with options like Bourgeois Pig, with its plush leather seating and unique décor. Now it was time for a fresh dose of history, and Fort Caspar had it. Inquiring about why there’s an “a” in For Caspar but the town is with an “e,” we learned that the fort was named after 2nd Lieutenant Caspar Collins after he was killed in battle. A spelling mistake meant they named the fort, Fort Casper instead of Fort Caspar. The town later took the namesake after the fort closed down, and eventually the fort reopened as a museum but corrected the spelling mistake.
To round out the night we picked up Racca’s Pizza to go and headed for Independence Rock. Racca’s is, without a doubt, some of the best Italian style pizza that I’ve had outside of Italy (and I’ve been to Italy three times… so I know my pizza). Independence Rock earned its nickname as “The Great Register of the Desert” as over 500,000 people passed by this rock on the Oregon Trail and many stopped to sign their name in stone. We scrambled up the granite landmark to watch the sunset dip below the horizon, imaging what it was like here over a hundred years ago.
Day 3: Fremont Canyon and Mammoths
An early morning departure from the Holiday Inn (where we stayed for the duration of our trip) took us to Fremont Canyon, and we enjoyed a relaxing sunrise with no one else in sight. Having just finished a trip to Glacier National Park, I can’t tell you how nice it was to enjoy nature without thousands of my closest friends. But with all early mornings, my stomach was rumbling so we headed back to Eggington’s (okay, I’m slightly addicted). And of course, after having Racca’s the night before my mind was on Italian fare, so I headed to Scarlow Art and Coffee for some real Italian espresso (illy of course) before taking a final stroll around downtown to look at a number of the incredible murals strewn throughout.
The Tate Geological Museum is another spot I fell in love with on my previous trip and I knew I had to take Chelsea there to see it too. Dee, an 11,600-year-old Columbian Mammoth, is really the star of the show at the Tate. Discovered not too far away in Glenrock, Wyoming, Dee is unique both because of his age at the time of death (believed to be 65 or 70, which is old for a Mammoth), and also because of how complete the find is. Now looking at all of these old bones sure did work up an appetite, so we finished our trip at FireRock Steakhouse for steak and fresh oysters.
Now onto the important stuff… here’s a hit list of my favorite stops in Casper.
Where to eat:
- Breakfast: Eggington’s, Johnny J’s Diner, Grant Street Grocery, Metro Coffee (for light fare)
- Coffee: Bourgeois Pig, Metro Coffee, Scarlow Art and Coffee.
- Lunch/dinner: The Cottage (amazing sandwiches), Racca’s Pizzaria , FireRock Steakhouse (steaks and finer dining), Branding Iron (best burgers around), Silver Fox Steakhouse (good old-fashioned steakhouse), Dsasumo (the sushi here blew my mind) and Gaslight Social (burritos and good drinks)
Where to drink: Backwards Distilling Company (a must-do), Mountain Hops Brewing, Gruner Brothers Brewing, and Frontier Brewing Company.
Where to recreate: Casper Mountain has all the trails and camping you need right in town, while Alcova Reservoir and Fremont Canyon (you can rent boats, kayaks and more and Alcova Resort) and Independence Rock are all nearby.
Shopping and Museums: Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters, WyoMade (for locally made crafts and goods), Ugly Bug Fly Shop (to fish the legendary North Platte River), Tate Geological Museum and the Nicolaysen Art Museum.
A big thank you, as always, goes out to my friends at Visit Casper for having me back. For more information about planning your trip to Casper, please head to their website for up to date information and advice, https://www.visitcasper.com/. Please remember to travel and recreate responsibly and to take care of our mountain towns.
Until next time… happy adventuring,
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