A breathtaking vision of the Mountain West, Sheridan is Wyoming’s emerald city. Historic downtown doors swing wide open to extend warm hospitality as legendary as the icons and outlaws that once roamed these parts, while fabled history and dramatic mountain vistas meet Western graces and the serenity of wide open spaces. This is a place where cowboys convene over craft beer and coffee, where pronghorn spring over canvasses colored with Indian Paintbrush and where the majestic peaks of northern Wyoming stand forever proud. Fabled cowboys once kicked up their boots at the Sheridan Inn, while modern mavericks revel in Old West charm at Sheridan’s bistros, cafes and brewpubs. And while Sheridan boasts outdoor attractions and Western allure to spare, some of the region’s grandest secrets are often kept close to the vest. That’s what I love most about Wyoming’s cultural capital—on Monday I can hold court with rabble-rousers at the Black Tooth Brewing Co., where head brewer Travis Zeilstra slings perfect pints of Bomber Mountain Amber; on Wednesday I can make the short drive up Highway 14 to Bear Lodge, and sneak in an hour of ATV-ing before I have to be at work; on Friday I can lose myself in Neltje Doubleday Kings’ abstract masterpieces at the Sagebrush Community Art Center; and come Saturday I can conquer epic peaks in the high country, while hidden lakes, vast wilderness and uncharted territory spread out before me.
It is that mountainous, rugged terrain I turn to when I need an escape from the everyday. The Bighorns have become a part of my character, a line in my own personal dictionary definition. The mountains are only ever as far away from the city as I need them to be; my escape can take me 30 miles into the Cloud Peak Wilderness on a three-day backpacking tour, or 10 minutes from the nearest trailhead when I need a quick breath of mountain air and a sunset vista after a long day of work. The gateway to this experience is a dirt track that winds a serpentine path up the mountain, clinging precariously to cliffs while offering incredible views of the rolling foothills below. I’ve climbed this dirt track hundreds of times since my first visit to Sheridan five years ago, often en route to my wife’s family cabin, sometimes so I can zip down the mountain on my bicycle, others so I can track nigh-impossible lines on my sled. One of my favorite destinations is the Coffeen Park Trailhead, a grand entrance to the Cloud Peak Wilderness.
My most memorable Wyoming adventure began on a perfect summer day, under a canopy of green at Coffeen; we met my wife’s parents, and her sister and brother-in-law for a pack trip for the ages.
My wife’s family has been exploring the Bighorn Mountains for generations; they have one of the oldest cabins in the area, which they’ve used as a base camp for pack trips, adventures on horseback, winter excursions and more. Ahead of our four-day, three-night odyssey, I must have stuffed and re-stuffed my backpack a dozen times, ensuring each sack of trail mix, every camera battery and all the biodegradable toilet paper I could scrounge up were in their proper place. We were set to trace one of my wife’s grandmother’s favorite routes from Coffeen Park: Following the East Fork of Big Goose Creek, we would run alongside stunning Lake Geneva, climb to mountain-backed Crystal Lake, skirt the high-country plateau at picturesque Robin Lake, then chart our own adventure at Paint Rock Creek. And from the moment we crossed the threshold of the Bighorn National Forest into the Cloud Peak Wilderness, I knew that we were exploring a special place.
There’s an aura about the Bighorns that can be difficult to express in words: there’s a quiet that’s not quite quiet, with elk bugling in the distance, streams babbling below the trail and trout plip-plopping in the alpine lakes. And there’s a sense of grandeur in the vastness; during our four days in the wild—at the height of Wyoming’s travel season—we came across one Boy Scout troop, a runner training for a mountain marathon and a hardy wildlife photographer bent on capturing moose in their natural habitat. If a place this perfect were anywhere else in the country, I have no doubt we would have been lined up single-file just for the opportunity to glimpse at the same experience.
We picnicked in open fields while white-tailed deer dashed into the woods around us, told stories under stars that sparkled off of beautiful Crystal Lake and dipped our toes into the chilly waters of streams without names. We had a June snowball fight while wildflowers blossomed on hillsides and made remarkable memories by saying yes to every fork in the road we encountered.
On that first Bighorn adventure I learned that Sheridan’s outdoor opportunities are near limitless, whether you’re roaming the open range on horseback, backpacking unchartered territory or fishing pristine mountain lakes. Since that day I’ve strapped on my skis in some of the country’s most remote backcountry, climbed to unfathomable heights in the Cloud Peak Wilderness and nearby Tongue River Canyon, and biked miles of country trails with the mountains at my side. I’ve learned that a great escape is never more than a good idea away, that Sheridan is the trailhead to Wyoming’s boldest outdoor experiences, and that this tiny mountain town is the American West the world dreams of.
Explore more of Sheridan’s beautiful, rugged outdoors and plan your getaway.