Flying into the Casper, Wyoming, airport, the local sitting next to me had revealed the secret to getting around the Cowboy state in the winter: take your time. Up on Casper Mountain, pedaling a fat bike on freshly groomed trails, I’m taking that lesson to heart. Although it’s a brisk early February day, the sun calls for short sleeves and shades. Orderly ranks of aspens flank the trail; underneath lies powder so dry I can cannonball into it, shake off and continue without a flake on me. When I decide to head back to the trails center for a hot drink, I point my wheels into powder and pack down my own path. It might not be the fastest way, but I’ve learned that Wyoming rewards the journey.
It rewards the trailblazers too. One-hundred fifty years ago, Casper, Wyoming was an Oregon Trail waystation for travelers with sights set on the wide-open West. Today, it’s a trailhead for travelers in search of their own piece of the region.
And there’s no better time to experience Casper than winter. Casper averages about 70 inches of snow a year and no shortage of sunny midwinter days. Whether ice fishing, snowshoeing, or sleigh-riding, winter enthusiasts will revel in the slower pace of life here. Downtown, rubbing elbows with both real and rhinestone cowboys, they’ll find new craft breweries and saloons that contemporize Old West charm.
Before hitting the trails, stop at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, a short drive from downtown. In the middle of the 19th century, nearly a half-million pioneers passed through what is now Casper on their westward journeys on the California, Oregon, and Mormon trails. The trails center is a fascinating look at the confluence of pioneers, Pony Express riders, and Native Americans whose stories tell the tale of the West.
Back downtown, gear up at Mountain Sports, which carries fat bike rentals and a good selection of gear. From here, it’s an easy pedal past brick-faced buildings to the Crossroads trail system. Located on the opposite shore of the North Platte River and accessible from the paved Platte River Parkway, Crossroads offers a mostly flat cruise through cottonwoods, with expansive views of Casper and its namesake peak immediately behind it.
Crowning that peak is Hogadon Basin Ski Area. Owned by the city of Casper, this small ski hill just south of town is one of the few “top down” ski areas in the country; the resort building sits at the summit, at almost 8,000 feet elevation, with the runs descending from there. On between-run breathers, skiers and boarders can take in the Big Horn Mountains from the picture windows in the ski area’s day room—one of the best ski-area sack-lunch vistas around.
Just below Hogadon Basin, Casper Mountain Trails Center boasts 25 miles of groomed Nordic trails and several ungroomed routes for snowshoers, fat bikers and backcountry skiers. The trails radiate out in figure-eight fashion from the trails center. On a winter weekend morning, this might be the hottest spot in the Casper area: school ski clubs huddle over hot cocoa at the cafeteria tables while fat bikers filter in and out.
It’s quintessential Casper, where, surrounded by nature and imbued with an inviting vibe, the community makes it easy to blaze your own trail—at your own pace.
Where to Eat in Casper
Casper is at the heart of cattle country, so it’s no surprise its steakhouses shine. In addition to steaks of every cut, Wyoming’s Rib & Chop House boasts the best ribs in the West, but there are plenty of options for the vegetarians in your party too.
The vibe at Backwards Distilling Company is “boozy Barnum & Bailey,” and the high-flying cocktails made from its spirits—Ringleader vodka, Strongman gin, and Sword Swallower rum—ably keep up with their colorful names, such as the Lulu the Tattooed Lady, with rum, citrus juices, spiced honey syrup and cherry jam.