Every July, Cheyenne hosts Frontier Days, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo—but there’s much more to the town than the 10-day festival that’s made it famous. From its rich pioneer history to a vibrant art scene and unexpected culinary surprises, Cheyenne should be on your radar if you’re looking to experience the American West.
In 1865, General Greenvile M. Dodge, a Major in the U.S. Army, was tasked with finding a railroad route over Wyoming’s rugged Laramie Mountains. Dodge and his troops set up camp in what is present-day Cheyenne as a base to conduct their research. Two years later, when Dodge left the Army and became chief engineer for Union Pacific Railroad, he established a terminal stop at his former campsite and named the new town after the local Native American tribe—one of the most prominent, well-known, formidable and respected tribes of the American west.
Railroad construction brought scores of workers to the city, and naturally, other businesses sprung up to support these laborers. Trappers, hunter, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs and artists flocked to the city sell their wares and services. Saloons and brothels encouraged a rowdy atmosphere filled with cowboys and gunslingers and indeed, Cheyenne was not altogether different than the image often depicted in American westerns.
A mining boom hit the town in the mid-1870s, and sheep and cattle farming increased during the turn of the century. Still today, Cheyenne enjoys a diversified economy, and even though the city is the Wyoming’s largest (about 65,000 people), it’s managed to keep its small town feel.
Downtown Cheyenne is a bustling city environment with plenty of shops, restaurants, offices, museums and parks. But don’t limit your self to the city limits. Here, we’ve featured some of the best diversions and activities the area has to offer.
Cheyenne is perhaps best know for Frontier Days—the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, attracting more than a quarter million people over the 10-day celebration. By day, rodeo’s most successful riders and ropers thrill judges and fans, competing for more than a million dollars in cash and prizes. At night, the arena is transformed into a Technicolor stage where country music’s brightest stars perform to sold out crowds. Outside the arena, visitors can enjoy a midway with carnival rides, games, and plenty of fair food. Tickets start at $15
To beat the biggest crowds, go mid-week. One of the most popular attractions is the Grand Parade. Head to the starting point—the Capitol (East 24th and Capitol Aveue)—Tuesday or Thursday to experience Western flamboyance at it best. You’ll see rodeo queens, antique cars, marching bands and every kind of horse imaginable. On Wednesday, the Kiwanis Club serves up a free pancake breakfast at Cheyenne Depot Plaza downtown from 7–9 a.m., which attracts thousands of visitors. Elders man the grill while Boy Scouts scramble to catch the flapjacks on silver platters.
To get a good overview of the city, hop on a trolley tour at the historic Cheyenne Depot Museum (121 West 15th Street). Cheyenne has a rich train history, as it was an important stop on the Union Pacific Railroad. Knowledgeable guides will point out sites such as the State Capitol, museums and notable architecture. If you’re lucky, you might even hear a ghost story or two.
If you’re into retail therapy, Cheyenne does not disappoint. You can wander in and out of the many downtown shops for hours, but be sure to make time for The Wrangler (518 Capitol Ave). Here, you’ll find thousands of styles of cowboy boots and fashionable western wear. You can even get your Stetson hat steamed and shaped while you wait.
Plant enthusiasts should make a beeline for Cheyenne Botanic Gardens (710 South Lions Park Drive). Roses are in their prime here during July, but the venue’s main attraction is an elaborate stone labyrinth. Look for several varieties of Wyoming’s state flower, the Indian Paintbrush. Admission is free.
Cheyenne is home to a thriving, steadily-growing arts community. On the second Thursday of the month from April through December, check out Art Design & Dine (various venues). Artists display their wares in local galleries, live music wafts onto the streets, and downtown restaurants offer plenty of specials to entice pedestrians. And the event isn’t limited to visual arts—a recent Art Design & Dine event featured a local ballet group.
Once used as a popular hiding spot for outlaws, Vedauwoo is now a popular hiking, camping and recreation area in Medicine Bow–Routt National Forest. About 30 miles west of Cheyenne, the topography here varies widely; you’ll find everything from dense forests to small ponds to open plains. Keep your eyes peeled for eagles, deer, mountain lions, moose, antelope and other native animals. Vedauwoo’s gigantic granite slabs are also a popular destination for rock climbers. If you get a chance, consider camping here at least one night—the secluded locale has virtually no light pollution, so it’s perfect for stargazing.
Cheyenne is cowboy country, but the town is surprisingly bike-friendly, too. The city has a greenway system with more than 37 miles of concrete trails—much of it bordering riparian habitats teeming with wildlife—that connect the city’s neighborhoods and school districts. It’s a great way to see the city.
For those that prefer a rougher ride, Curt Gowdy State Park (Mile Post 23.5 Hwy 210/Happy Jack Rd.) doesn’t disappoint in the mountain biking department. The park boasts an Epic designation from the International Mountain Biking Association, and topography on the park’s 35 miles of trails ranges from high plains to granite outcrops. $4/vehicle for residents, $6 for non-residents
Don’t want to haul the bikes? Rent them at Rock on Wheels (900 E. Lincolnway), which has both road and mountain versions for about $50 per 24-hour period.
Notable Eats and Drinks
For the best cocktails in town, head to The Suite Bistro (1901 Central Venue) for happy hour. Their extensive martini menu is sure to impress even the most discerning spirits connoisseur. They even serve “moonshine martinis” made with genuine Appalachian White Lighting.
In a sea of steakhouse menus, Morris House Bistro (2114 Warren Avenue) adds an unexpected Southern twist to the Cheyenne dining scene. The restaurant serves up low-country classics like shrimp and grits, deviled eggs and green tomato cheese balls, and visiting Southerners with be happy to find sweet tea.
You won’t find a ton of ethnic food in Cheyenne (this is cowboy country after all) but one notable exception is Korean House Restaurant (3219 Snyder Ave). Everything from the kimchee to the mondoo soup is authentic and expertly spiced.
Paramount Cafe (1607 Capitol Avenue) offers free wifi and first-rate people watching in addition to homemade macaroons, bubble tea and locally-roasted brew. Snag a window seat, check your email and watch the happenings on busy Capitol Avenue.
Where To Stay
Nagle Warren Mansion (222 East 17th Street) oozes with charm, from its authentic Victorian West décor to its lovely outdoor garden area. Don’t miss tea service on Friday and Saturday afternoons: the staff dresses in period garb while you nosh on finely-steeped tea, pastries and finger sandwiches. Or, for truly wild west experience, book your visit during one of the mansion’s murder mystery dinners.
Another downtown option is the Historic Plains Hotel (1600 Central Avenue), which gives a glimpse into Cheyenne’s rich cowboy and Native American history. Everyone from Indian chiefs to presidents (Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan) to rich cattle barons have stayed here. The Plains also has a great restaurant and a full service spa if you’re looking to pamper yourself.
If you need more amenities (or are traveling with little ones), try Little America (2800 West Lincolnway), which offers golf, a pool, fitness center, restaurant, kids playground and a gift shop.
Cheyenne makes a great vacation spot for active travelers who enjoy good food, culture and plenty of sunshine. If you’re thinking of visiting the American West, be sure to put it on your list.