When it comes to national parks, forests and monuments, Wyoming boasts a number of firsts, including America's first national monument, Devil's Tower, the nation's first national forest, Shoshone National Forest, and Yellowstone, the world's first national park. With two national parks, five national forests and 14 scenic roads, Wyoming is a state with plenty of wild terrain, allowing visitors to explore majestic mountain views, rushing trout streams and forests of sky-scraping aspen, spruce and fir.
Yellowstone National Park, which became the world's first national park in 1872, is also America's second largest with over 3,400 square miles comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. While Old Faithful geyser is the park's most widely recognized attraction, there are more than 10,000 other geothermal features in Yellowstone, including hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles. The park is also home to hundreds of species of birds, game fish and mammals, but perhaps Yellowstone's most famous inhabitants are its black and grizzly bears, though they typically remain out of sight. Visitors can explore the park with guided tours or hike the more than 1,000 miles of trails leading to remote sections of the park.
Just south of Yellowstone is the ethereal mountain landscape of Grand Teton National Park, whose towering peaks offer a prime example of fault-block mountain formation and are a popular attraction for climbers, hikers and photographers. In contrast to the Teton's blue-gray spires is Jackson Hole, one of the Rocky Mountains' largest valleys. Its craggy, porous terrain is believed to have been formed by glacial outwash and now provides sanctuary to sixty species of mammals, over 300 species of birds and a half dozen game fish. A road winds through the park, allowing visitors to drive along the scenic route, but the best way to experience the park is to take one of its shorter trails.
Bordering both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is Bridger-Teton National Forest. Originally two separate forests, Bridger and Teton became one in 1973, merging into a colossal 3.5 million acre natural wonder. The Teton Division, which borders the famous Jackson Hole, attracts wildlife enthusiasts every season of the year, particularly those hoping to catch a glimpse of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. The Bridger Division boasts more lakes than any forest in the Intermountain Region and contains 804 miles of trout streams rippling with Rainbow, Native Cutthroat, Golden, Brook, German Brown and Mackinaw trout.
Bighorn National Forest, in north-central Wyoming, boasts vast stretches of forest—ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, lodgepole pine subalpine fir and Engleman spruce—as well as a pristine terrain of lush grasslands, crystalline lakes, rolling hills, and mountain meadows and valleys carved by massive ancient glaciers. The forest is home to many species of wildlife, most notably bighorn sheep, but also moose and mule deer. Three scenic byways take visitors through the Bighorn Forest and two recreational lakes.
From Yellowtail Dam across the Bighorn River in Montana to the 47 river-miles of Bighorn Lake, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is a geological delight with spectacular scenery and examples of the earth's changing face in its immense half-mile cliffs. A paved highway, with frequent turn-outs, takes the visitor through the wild horse range and to Bighorn Canyon.
The dark timbered ponderosa pine slopes of the Black Hills National Forest have inspired awe and admiration in visitors for hundreds of years, beginning with the area's original inhabitants, the Sioux Indians. Today, the forest is a favorite recreational area with picnicking, camping and hunting being popular pastimes in the summer months, while in the winter Black Hills country comes alive with snowmobiles traversing the wooded scenery.
The nation's first national monument, Devils Tower, looms prominently over the Belle Fourche River at the edge of the Black Hills. The stone cluster rises 1,280 feet above the valley to a height of 5,117 feet above sea level. The Tower played an important role in the legend and folklore of Native Americans and became a landmark to stalwart explorers and travelers pushing their way west. Today, it is a popular hiking destination.
The Flaming Gorge Recreation Area in southwestern Wyoming and eastern Utah comprises some 201,000 acres of scenic land surrounding Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir has become nationally known as the "fishing hot spot" of America and offers quality trout fishing year 'round. A fishing license from either Wyoming or Utah is required, and a special-use stamp is available for fishing in both states.
Fossil Butte became Wyoming's newest national monument in 1972. Situated about 10 miles west of Kemmerer, it is a ruggedly impressive topographic feature, rising sharply some 1,000 feet above Twin Creek Valley. The monument protects a portion of the largest deposit of freshwater fish fossils in the world, representing several varieties of perch, as well as other freshwater genera and herring similar to those in modern oceans. Visitors can explore the area on two hiking trails or learn more about Fossil Butte at the Visitors Center, where more than 75 fossils are on display, including a 13-foot crocodile, the oldest known bat and a mass mortality of 356 fish.
At the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, visitors can view full-size dinosaur skeletons or participate in their very own "dig." Excavations are conducted on the Morrison Formation, a huge rock layer that is the source of the country's most significant dinosaur discoveries. In some cases, visitors can keep their finds, as long as they're not rare. Dig programs are most often offered in the summer, and some sites offer kids' digs.
Originally known as the Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve, Shoshone became the nation's first national forest in 1891. Named for the Shoshone Indians who used the area as a hunting ground, it contains approximately two and a half million acres and is one of the largest of the 13 national forests in the Rocky Mountain region. The forest's Wapiti Ranger Station, located along the highway leading from Cody to Yellowstone Park, is the oldest and the first ranger station built in the United States. Shoshone is known for its abundance and variety of wildlife. It is one of the only national forests in Wyoming where big game animals such as elk, moose, mule deer, whitetail deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, antelope, black bear and grizzly bear can be found. Other wildlife species include bald eagles, golden eagles, coyotes, waterfowl and songbirds.
The Fitzpatrick Wilderness (198,525 acres) is Wyoming's true "high country." Along the backbone of the Continental Divide, clustered near Gannett Peak (the highest point in Wyoming at 13,804 feet), are the seven largest glaciers in the United States outside of Alaska. These moving bodies of ice grind the rock into dust and erode away the great cirques, which are locked in perpetual snow.