Wyoming National Parks

A national park in Wyoming

By Zack Frank / Shutterstock

If you have a lot to accomplish on your vacation, check out Wyoming's national parks. Need some wilderness? Check. History? No problem. Culture? You got it. Everyone from nature photographers to history buffs to budding biologists can find something to contemplate. An example: Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring, the park’s largest hot spring. Keep clicking for more of what the state has to offer.

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Devils Tower

mikenorton / CITIZEN IMAGE.

Rising 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, Devils Tower is a rock climber's dream and a sacred site for many American Indians. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed it the first national monument in 1906. While geologists agree that Devils Tower was formed by the intrusion (the forcible entry of magma into or between other rock formations) of igneous material, how that process took place and whether the magma reached the land surface is unclear.

Check the National Park Service's Web site for information on climbing Devils Tower.

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Bighorn Canyon

NDomer73/Flickr.

True to its name, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is home to bighorn sheep, but you can also find wild horses, forest, mountains, upland prairie, deep canyons, broad valleys, lake and wetlands. Already part of an extensive thoroughfare for the Native Americans dating back as many as 10,000 years, the canyon's Bad Pass trail became the passageway for mountaineers, settlers, ranchers and past and present visitors.

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Grand Teton

Jupiterimages.

The jagged Teton Range and its surrounding sage-covered valley and glacial lakes attract nearly 4 million visitors each year to Grand Teton National Park. Its designation as a national park was the result of a decades-long struggle fueled by animosity toward expanding governmental control and a perceived loss of individual freedoms in nearby Jackson Hole. Nature has her own contribution to the drama as well, as every few thousand years earthquakes up to a magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter Scale signal movement on the Teton fault, lifting the mountains skyward and hinging the valley floor downward.

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Fossil Butte

Arvid Aase/National Park Service.

Some of the world's best preserved fossils are found in the flat-topped ridges of southwestern Wyoming's cold sagebrush desert in Fossil Butte National Monument. Fossilized fish, insects, plants, reptiles, birds and mammals are exceptional for their abundance, variety and detail of preservation. To wit: this Procambarus primaevus crayfish, which lived in the shallow, near-shore water of Fossil Lake. Its closest living relative, Austrocambarus, is found in Mexico.

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Fort Laramie

Matt Joyce/Associated Press.

Fort Laramie National Historic Site was established as a private fur trading fort in 1834. Indians, trappers, traders, missionaries, emigrants, gold seekers, soldiers, cowboys and homesteaders would leave their mark on a place that would become famous in the American West. In more recent times, a wooden cross marks the grave of an unidentified U.S. Army soldier at Fort Laramie. The hilltop was used as a cemetery before the Army in 1873 built a hospital, pictured in the background, on the same ground.

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Oregon National Historic Trail

Pete Zarria/Flickr.

At first glance, the Guernsey Ruts might appear to be just a sunken path in a dirt road. Closer examination reveals a track of sandstone worn by wagons to a depth of five feet. The geography of the area dictated that practically every wagon that went west crossed the ridge in exactly the same place. Visitors can retrace much of the pioneers' route on the Oregon National Historic Trail, which is over 2,000 miles in length stretching from Missouri to Oregon and Washington.

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Pony Express trail

Chuck Milliken/National Park Service.

Delivering the mail in the old West was no easy task — check out the Pony Express employees' job description. Across 1,800 miles of wilderness, riders changed horses about every 12 to 15 miles. At each station, they would quickly take the mochila with mail pouches from the saddle and throw it onto the saddle of the fresh horse and hit the trail again. The Pony Express operated for only 18 months between April 1860 and October 1861, and most of the original trail has been obliterated either by time or human activities. However, approximately 120 historic sites eventually may be available to the public on the Pony Express National Historic Trail, including 50 existing stations or station ruins. An example: remains of the old hotel and Pony rider station at Pacific Springs in southwestern Wyoming.

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Mormon trail

Lee Kreutzer/National Park Service.

Led by Brigham Young, roughly 70,000 Mormons traveled along what is now called the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail from 1846 to 1869 to escape religious persecution. The Pioneer Company of 1846-1847 established a route from Nauvoo, Ill., to Salt Lake City, Utah, covering about 1,300 miles that would include construction of new ferries and bridges, and the placement of markers for others to follow. One of those markers is Devil's Gate, a narrow rock cleft of about 370 feet deep carved by the Sweetwater River, which still flows through.

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California trail

Chuck Milliken/National Park Service.

During the 1840s and 1850s, way before Google maps and GPS devices, the road to California carried over 250,000 gold-seekers and farmers to the gold fields and rich farmlands of California. It's considered the greatest mass migration in American history. A landmark sought by travelers on the California National Historic Trail is Register Cliff, a mile-long cliff of soft sandstone which was used as a name register by emigrants beginning in 1847.

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Yellowstone

jekrubFlickr.

Possibly the country's best-known national park (and definitely the country's first), Yellowstone was established in 1872. Located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, it is home to an impressive variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk. Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world's most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.