Lander, Wyoming is one such town.
It is the headquarters of the National Outdoor Leadership School—commonly shortened to NOLS—which educates people on backpacking and outdoor recreation through long-term expeditions. Because of the constant influx of new students, and the 8,000 or so full-time residents, there’s a vibrant energy in this community with funky shops and art galleries, locally owned restaurants and old school watering holes. Lander is accessible via a small airport in Riverton, but the regional airports in Casper and Jackson are more reliable if you’re willing to drive.
Lander, Wyoming: A Quintessential Adventure Town
Lander, Wyoming, is a fun destination for hardcore outdoors enthusiasts as well as those, like myself, who crave the creature comforts like a good cup of coffee. No matter which type of traveler you are, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in this mountain town.
What to See
Most visitors come to Lander, Wyoming to experience the great outdoors, specifically the Wind River Range, a section of the Rocky Mountains that has a peak of over 13,000 feet. It has more than 600 miles of trails for hiking and is the longest range in the state. Some trails are even accessible to horseback riding. The surrounding landscapes are home to countless creatures, including grizzly bears, mountain lions and moose. The granite peaks of the Cirque of the Towers in the Popo Agie Wilderness are popular with rock climbers.
Located a 10-minute drive from downtown Lander, Sinks Canyon State Park also has trails better suited for beginners, including the Canyon Trail and the North Slope Trail. The park gets its name from the “sinks” created when the Popo Agie River runs underground and resurfaces a mile away. It also has stunning waterfalls, fly fishing and rock climbing as well as picnic areas.
The history of Lander, Wyoming, and its surrounding communities is an important part of any visit and includes stories about when Wild West legend Butch Cassidy was first arrested in this town. The Museum of the American West educates visitors on the area with indoor and outdoor exhibits. Reconstructed buildings on the campus include a cabin and a livery stable.
Lander is located near the Wind River Reservation where the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Native American tribes live. Fort Washakie is only 20 minutes’ drive away and is reportedly the location of the grave of Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark through the west, though another site in South Dakota is also rumored to be her burial site. A statue of her receives flowers and other gifts from visitors. The site is labeled with the sign “Sacajawea Cemetery,” so you can’t miss it.
The Shoshone National Forest, around 40 minutes away, also has hiking, camping and horseback riding. On the southern end of the forest are the ghost towns of South Pass City and Atlantic City. South Pass is now a state-run historic site with reconstructed buildings from the 1800s. The park also operates tours of the former Carissa gold mine that brought in residents.
Where to Eat
When it comes to the restaurant scene in Lander, I was surprised to find how many local options there were. Chains are uncommon, and there’s an impressive diversity of types of cuisines offered.
Start your day with a breakfast burrito and iced coffee from Crux Coffee or take it to go on your way to the trailhead. In addition, they have loose leaf tea, fresh-baked pastries and smoothies. If you have time to stay, the shop hosts live music and community events. Similarly, Lander Bake Shop has coffee roasted in Jackson Hole, along with bagel sandwiches and homemade coffee cake.
Treat yourself to brunch at The Middle Fork, which includes favorites like eggs benedict and stuffed French toast. The restaurant is also open for weekday breakfast and lunch. The menu has sandwiches, soups and vegetarian-friendly dishes like the miso quinoa salad that will fuel you up to explore the parks.
After you’ve had your fill of hiking, grab dinner at The Cowfish, which is one of the nicest places in town but still casual. Nosh on delicious, globally-inspired dishes like pork shank mole rojo and ahi tuna sashimi. They also operate a craft brewery, Lander Brewing, that has pale ales and hefeweizens.
There’s no nightlife scene to speak of, but Lander Bar & Grill is the town’s main watering hole. Established in 1908, it formerly operated as a brothel and boarding house. Today, it’s the place to go for burgers, beers and whiskeys made in the region.
Gear Shops and Tour Outfitters
If you’re driving to Lander, it’s easy enough to bring your own gear. But when it comes to flying to your destination, you’ll need to check a bag with items like trekking poles, camping fuel, knives and aerosol mosquito repellent. Check out our guide on what to pack for your camping destination if you’re flying.
If you want to rent gear, you’re in luck. There are a number of outfitters in Lander to supply what you need. Gannett Peak Sports rents bikes, snowshoes and cross-country skis. They also recommend nearby trails.
Wind River Outdoor Company sells fishing and hunting licenses and also guides fly fishing trips. They sell outdoor clothing and gear as well as camping equipment. Lander Fly Shop sells fly fishing gear like rods and flies. They also guide trips to the Wind River Range for various types of trout.
Rock climbers will love Wild Iris Climbing, a climbing and outdoors store named for a crag on former mining lands. The store sells guidebooks, maps and other essentials. They also operate the International Climbers’ Festival. Wind River Climbing has guided climbing trips as well as courses.
The National Outdoor Leadership School operates longer guided trips through the Wind River Range and beyond, teaching skills like rock climbing and backpacking. They provide their students with the gear they need for the trips, the shortest of which is 14 days. The courses run up to 90 days.
Where to Camp
Visitors to Lander, Wyoming, have plenty of options for camping, but keep in mind that many are closed during the winter months due to inaccessible roads.
The Sinks Canyon area, less than 15 minutes south of Lander, Wyoming, has three campgrounds within its boundaries. The Popo Agie Campground has 24 primitive sites that are first come, first served. Sawmill Campground has a few sites but is mostly a picnic area. Fees vary based on the type of site and whether the campground is managed by the Sinks Canyon State Park, or Forest Service.
The Sinks Canyon Campground has campsites right along the Popo Agie River, with access to grills, vault toilets, drinking water and picnic tables. There are also yurts, which have bunk beds and futons along with heaters. They have code entry, so a key isn’t required. These can be reserved in advance.
Stay in the middle of town with free camping at Lander City Park. The space can accommodate tents and RVs, and the facility has bathrooms and drinking water. Camping is limited to a maximum of three days. There are no reservations, so have a backup site just in case.
There’s no bathhouse next to these campsites, but guests can use the facilities at the NOLS Noble Hotel, where people stay before their backpacking trips. There is a small fee and you need to bring your own towel and toiletries. The Lander community pool also has paid facilities but is only open seasonally.
Big Sandy Campground is a favorite of travelers to Wyoming, located in the nearby Popo Agie Wilderness Area. The primitive site has space for RVs and tents, but you’ll be required to bring your own water and pack out your trash.
You also might have luck nearby Lander, Wyoming, by camping on Bureau of Land Management lands if you don’t need all the facilities. The Mexican Creek Wildlife Management Area is a basic site in the grasslands inhabited by deer, moose and bears. It’s open seasonally and has designated parking. The Shoshone National Forest also has free campsites, including at Frye Lake, but there are restrictions on length of stay and campfire use in certain areas.