Here, the alpine region of Medicine Bow National Forest and the Snowy Range segue gracefully into the high plains. This is where you’ll find four unique areas filled with history and outdoor adventure—what the west is all about. Spend a weekend unearthing timeless stories, immersing yourself in a truly western landscape, and road tripping along scenic byways in Carbon County, Wyoming.
This story was created in partnership with Carbon County Visitors Council.
The community of Medicine Bow is a great place to get acquainted with Carbon County. Home to the famous Virginian Hotel, this quaint stopover on the Lincoln Highway is a must-see for fans of western history.
Fill Your Belly at the Virginian Hotel
Start out with a bite to eat at the Virginian Hotel, where you’ll have the chance to learn about the past on the back of the menu. (This author tried the Davewich; a finger-licking-good grilled cheese with jalapeños.) Built in 1909 in tribute to author Owen Wister’s nation-wide best-selling Western, The Virginian, the hotel retains its historic charm and personality; each afternoon, it comes alive with hungry locals and road trippers looking for a bite to eat.
Travel Through Time at the Medicine Bow Museum
After lunch, saunter across the street to the Medicine Bow Museum. Take the afternoon to meander through the details; you’ll discover dinosaur fossils, artifacts from early pioneer life, and even hear harrowing accounts of early aviation out west. Then, creak open the front door of Owen Wister’s historic cabin, which has been lovingly restored in this new location. And of course, Medicine Bow originally served as a Union Pacific Railroad hub. Climb aboard the caboose located out back and imagine what it would have been like to have been held up by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on the plains nearby.
After stopping for a sweet treat at the Medicine Bow Ice Cream Shop (try a huckleberry cone—with sprinkles!), it’s time to head for the community of Elk Mountain.
Enjoy a Carbon County Scenic Drive
Next, hit the open road. Carbon County Road 3 is a well-maintained, scenic drive that takes you 23 miles through classic cowboy country and by the 11,162-foot tall Elk Mountain. Keep your eyes peeled for pronghorn antelope–one of the most iconic creatures out west–as well as hawks and turkey vultures hunting for unsuspecting prairie dogs. Go slow and always remember to watch out for livestock!
Historic Elk Mountain Hotel and Museum
Roll into Elk Mountain in a cloud of dust, looking less like a city slicker than when your trip began. Find respite from the afternoon sun beneath the cottonwoods in town. If time allows, visit the Elk Mountain Museum. Then, check in to the Historic Elk Mountain Hotel—a beautiful property built in 1905 with a rock-and-roll past. They serve a juicy bison burger that pairs well with a Gin and Jam cocktail; a gin and tonic muddled with locally sourced preserves, like strawberry rhubarb. Scotch aficionados will enjoy the informational menu that includes 20 unique single malt whiskies, straight from Scotland. (Author’s note: the Garden Spot omelet with freshly baked bread was possibly the best breakfast I’ve ever had!)
The following morning, head north to the community of Hanna. This is one of the only places in the United States where an original “company town” on the Union Pacific Railroad is still thriving.
Carbon County: America’s Coal Epicenter
Cross over the bridge in town and wind down to the base of the hill, where you’ll find the immaculate Hanna Basin Museum. There, one of their curators will regale you with stories of Hanna’s mining history, including the tragedies of 1903 and 1908 in which more than 200 miners died. (At one point, Hanna produced the vast majority of the nation’s coal.) You’ll get to see a restored company house and learn about the characters of this place whose stories live on today.
Game of Badminton, Anyone?
After your morning history lessons, get out any road trip wiggles at the Hanna Parks and Recreation Center. Complete with two full-size basketball courts, volleyball and tennis courts, rock climbing walls, indoor archery, an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool, and much more, this is truly one of Carbon County’s most unexpected gems!
Seminoe State Park
On your third day, travel to Seminoe State Park via another scenic drive on Hanna Draw Road. This byway takes you through some of the largest cattle ranches in the nation; a nod to the living legacy of the American West. Watch for bald eagles as you get closer to Seminoe State Park! They are often found around the Miracle Mile; an award-winning stretch of river between Seminoe Reservoir and Pathfinder Reservoir to the north.
A Day on the Lake
Suddenly, you’ll climb out of the sagebrush into an alpine setting. Aspens, cottonwoods, and pine trees offer beautiful shades of green to contrast against Carbon County’s classic blue sky. As you crest the summit you’ll catch a glimpse of Seminoe Reservoir below with its red striations around the shore and sand dunes in the distance. Descend to Sunshine Beach, where you can take out a boat, inflate your stand-up paddleboard, or cast a line. You can even take a swim in this reservoir, or simply kick back on the lakeshore and have a picnic at your campsite (complete with a sun canopy!). No matter how you choose to spend your time at Seminoe, being on the water is a huge treat in the arid west!
Continue Your Carbon County Travels
There is so much more to experience in Carbon County, Wyoming. We highly recommend driving from Seminoe State Park onwards to the towns of Rawlins and Sinclair, where you can continue your journey at a number of museums. One example is Fort Steele; a monument established in1868 as a barrier between railroad work crews and Native American tribes. Just off I-80, it offers a great place to stretch your legs on a self-guided walking tour of the many buildings and remains. After that, perhaps you’ll carry on to Saratoga or Encampment. You could spend a lifetime exploring Carbon County. We think after a few days, you’ll see why!
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