Laramie, in southeastern Wyoming, is on the opposite side of the state from such big-name tourist draws as Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole. But there’s enough to do (and eat!) in Laramie to make it a destination in its own right. Here’s why you should go there.
This post is sponsored by Visit Laramie.
Laramie, Wyoming, is a small, youthful college town, home to Wyoming’s only university and a diverse range of restaurants that appeal to visiting out-of-towners. It’s a traditional cowboy town, particularly when the rodeo comes through to the local fairgrounds, as it recently did during July’s Jubilee Days festivities. It’s a high-plains, big-sky town (7,165 feet up) with lots of outdoor enthusiasts, where trout-filled rivers abound and a short drive in either direction brings you to dramatic, beautiful mountain ranges or rock formations.
For non-collegiate travelers, Laramie might be a stopover for those driving cross-country, heading to points northwest in the state, or perhaps going down to Denver, a short 2.5 hours away. For us, however, it was a destination, a place to stay and hang out, hike and eat very well for a few days. And it delivered in a big way.
Between all the traditional Wyoming foods and local beers, the free museums and stunning hikes, there is plenty to do, see, and eat in Laramie. Here’s why this part of southern Wyoming should be on your destination radar the next time you’re out West.
Things to Do in Laramie
This is very much an area for lovers of the outdoors—the natural beauty that exists just outside this town is astonishing—and if you’re lucky there will be a lively carnival or rodeo coming through town. But don’t miss the great museums and, beyond what’s detailed here, the many shops of downtown, which provide a perfect buffer between happy hour and dinner.
Go hiking (or climbing).
Our family loves to get up close and personal with nature on hikes, so this was a top priority during our visit to Laramie. Twenty miles (about 25 minutes) southeast of town is the Vedauwoo Climbing Area, where the prairie highway suddenly runs into stunning rocky outcrops. This is a great destination for mountain climbers, and we saw several of them, high up and ant-like, scaling the cliffs. But we came to hike, and the beautiful, wildflower-studded Turtle Rock Trail was perfect for us. It’s a three-mile loop around the giant rock formation it’s named for, but it also gives plenty of low-to-the-ground rock-scrambling opportunities, which our boys loved. Bonus: Look for the faces in the rock formations!
West of Laramie, many more hikes await within Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, tucked around the dramatic Snowy Range. (These national forests actually encompass 2.9 million acres and five major mountain ranges across Colorado and Wyoming; the Snowy Range is just one of them.) Drive 30 minutes west along the very flat Highway 130 until you reach the tiny town of Centennial (pop. 292), which sits at the entrance to the forest. Within minutes you’re winding your way along the gorgeous Snowy Range Scenic Byway, which is open for only a few months each year, generally between about Memorial Day and mid-November. Driving this pass is a must, even if you’re not hiking.
But you’ll want to get closer to this mesmerizing alpine landscape, which is carpeted in the summer with wildflowers, shimmering with lakes, and still snowy in July (despite 80-degree temps). We parked at the Mirror Lake Picnic Area and embarked on the Lakes Trail. Within three miles it will take you up to Medicine Bow peak, the highest in this area (12,018 feet), but we wanted a more leisurely hike, so just followed the trail along the lake’s edge until we were ready to turn back. It’s an absolute stunner, so surprisingly colorful and peaceful, and our kids loved climbing on the boulders and playing in the snowfall in their T-shirts.
Go fly fishing.
Early summer is prime fly fishing around here, particularly on the upper North Platte and Big Laramie Rivers. We ultimately ran out of time before we could get on the rivers, but being inexperienced at the sport, we would have hired a guide, and there are several to choose from. Two Dogs Guide Service, based out of the West Laramie Fly Store right in town, offers lessons locally for $50 per person (per two-to-three-house class), as well as multiple wade or float trips in incredibly scenic locations. Four Seasons Fly Fishing is another outfitter doing traditional guided half- or full-day float trips.
More experienced anglers who’d like to go it alone should definitely swing by the West Laramie Fly Store for gear rentals (or purchases) and fishing reports. Visit Laramie has some good tips about where locals like to fish.
Visit museums, for free.
The University of Wyoming is home to several very good museums that are totally free, providing a terrific way to switch gears for an hour or two (also, in our case, to take refuge in some air-conditioned indoor spaces in the middle of hot afternoons!). We loved the fossil-filled Geological Museum, particularly the dinosaur skeletons and the interactive Augmented Reality Sandbox depicting topography and watersheds. It’s a small, two-story space but it’s filled with interesting exhibits. There is also an Anthropology Museum and a popular Art Museum on campus, the latter of which presents world-class art by regional, national and international artists, as well as art from the American West.
Over in Centennial, following our hike in the Snowy Range, we enjoyed looking around the summers-only Nici Self Historical Museum, likewise free (and open to donations). On the grounds of this museum—which is named for Berniece “Nici” Self, one of the founding members of the Centennial Valley Historical Association—you can explore the 1907-built Centennial Railway Depot, a Union Pacific caboose dating to 1944, a one-room schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and other historic buildings filled with interesting artifacts and photographs. It’s a fascinating look at the Western lifestyle in the early- to mid-20th century. (Centennial also makes a worthwhile lunch stop; see below.)
Favorite Restaurants and Breweries Near Laramie
We are about to scratch the surface of the dining (and drinking) opportunities in this town, which are pretty varied and rather impressive for its small size. As visitors to the state, we were naturally drawn to the most local, traditional Wyoming foods we could find, and we found quite a few. But we also found incredible pastries and great local beers, a popular vegetarian restaurant and even a chocolatier downtown. Here’s where to eat and drink in Laramie.
This place is a three-for-one gem: artisan bakery in the morning, the place to treat yourself to an incredible croissant or cardamom bun; a rustic sourdough bread specialist after 12pm; and a wild-fermented wood-fired pizza joint in the afternoon and evening, with a menu augmented by stacked sandwiches, charcuterie boards, and craft cocktails.
We visited Alibi both morning and night, and were blown away by the offerings. No commercial yeast is used in anything produced here—not even the perfectly flaky pastries. As the owner casually told us, in a dry climate at 7,000 feet, this was no easy task for the bakers to figure out.
On the pizza front, we loved the sweet and meaty, Wyoming-esque Cowboy Beef Brisket Pizza (with slices of hickory-smoked brisket, red onion, cheddar and mozzarella, drizzled with horseradish cream and honey), as well as the Best Ever, a pepperoni pie with garlic, ricotta, caramelized onions and fresh mozzarella. The sourdough crust on both was chewy and flavorful—pretty ideal in our book.
Bonus: While the booths inside are inviting, the outdoor seating area is even better, and the fire pits get lit on chilly nights. 404 S. 4th St., map
If this place doesn’t scream Wyoming, I don’t know what does. It’s located a short drive south of downtown, and it’s the kind of place that university students will bring their parents when they come to visit. Surrounded by cattle-specked fields, it’s more than just another steakhouse. Here, a whole page of the menu is dedicated to “Wyoming traditions,” and meals start with complimentary Wyoming soda bread, a quick-rising bread (once made with a natural soda found in wood ashes) invented by Native Americans and passed along to pioneers, served in a mini cast-iron pan with salted butter on the side.
Among the other state traditions we enjoyed here are the cattlemen’s turf and turf, pairing infamous Rocky Mountain oysters with 10 ounces of blackened prime rib, and karro kampos pie, a peppery lamb and veggie shepherd’s pie of sorts named for a traditional wagon used by Basque sheepherders in Wyoming in the early 1900s. About those “oysters”? They’re actually fried bull testicles, meaty and served with cocktail sauce on the side (which helps make them more than palatable). We also enjoyed the bison meatballs as an appetizer, and various cocktails made with Wyoming Whiskey, distilled 300 miles north in Kirby, WY.
Bonus: The kids’ meals are hefty and equally pay heed to the steakhouse tradition, including a 4 oz prime rib (with fries or mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies) and steak kebabs among the offerings. 4425 S. 3rd St., map
Here is your classic small-town diner: long counter seating, chatty waitresses who are quick to refill your coffee mug, generous all-day breakfast platters, a roster of homemade pies. Established 17 years ago, J’s Prairie Rose feels essential to the Laramie community, and we loved it for both that homey atmosphere and the food itself.
This is where I had my first steak for breakfast—hand-breaded chicken-fried steak, to be precise, smothered in peppery, paprika-flecked country gravy and served alongside two eggs, crispy hash browns, and toast. Every bite was delicious. It was a lot of food for $9.99, but I also had to try a side of (buttermilk) biscuits and gravy. The J’s 7220 burrito, stuffed with eggs, shredded pork, black beans, hash browns and more, covered in green chili and cheese, was a hit at our table, too, and our kids loved their half-orders of French toast, with eggs and sausage on the side. Expect a wait for your food to arrive, but it will be worth it. And you’ll be full for hours! 410 S. 2nd St., map
Also known as the Trading Post, this is a great little pit stop in tiny Centennial for lunch (or breakfast or dinner) after exploring Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and the Snowy Range. I was drawn to this restaurant above the others in town because it exclusively carries local beef from Centennial Valley Grass-Fed Cattle, a supplier that’s certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW (A Greener World). When I asked our waitress just how local the cattle was, she pointed out the window. It’s across-the-street-local beef.
If you’re going to eat red meat, nothing is better than sourcing it from such hyperlocal, grass-finished, unstressed cows. And I can attest the burgers served daily at the Post are delicious: 1/3-pound locally raised and processed patties, crispy around the edges and juicy on the inside. I topped mine with cheddar and got a side of green chile with pork, which was the homemade soup of the day. (Steak dishes are also served here, as occasional nightly specials.)
We also enjoyed the hummus plate and locally baked Golden Prairie bread, and from the pub side of this establishment, the Bloody Marys were fantastic! 2753 WY-130, Centennial, map
Coal Creek, like Alibi above, is another triple-threat kind of business that Laramie apparently excel in. First (and since 1993) there was a Coal Creek Coffee, then there were two, and then Coal Creek Tap, specializing in handcrafted beer, joined the party. There’s also a roastery, and there’s food!
We stopped at Coal Creek Tap, which is located downtown adjacent to one of the coffee shops, for an early evening beer at a sidewalk table one night. It’s a beautiful space with an impressive range of beers. We loved the Bath Farmhouse Belgian amber and the Molly Belgian-style spiced blond ale—so much so that we went home with a sixer of the latter.
Our kids snacked on a from-scratch pretzel, and if time permitted we would have returned to the coffee shop for a breakfast sandwich or sourdough French toast. Next time, Laramie! 108 Grand Ave., map
We popped into Bond’s one night while browsing the shops downtown, and I wish we’d had more time there. The brewery is cavernous, with a wraparound central bar and plenty of tables scattered around. It’s a space conducive to being, as its Instagram page states, “where friends come to meet and strangers become friends” … as well as the kind of place where a friendly local will serendipitously offer up VIP tickets to that night’s rodeo, which is what happened to us.
Bond’s prides itself on its classic styles, but we were interested in the seasonal offerings, which can include a spicy Hatch chili ale and a Jack o’Lantern (pumpkin) ale. And on this very hot day, we were drawn to the most refreshing options: a hard honey dew seltzer and the tart rhuberry, brewed with fresh rhubarb and strawberry. 411 S. 2nd St., map
What’s a small town without a homemade ice cream shop? Big Dipper fills the void, and has for nearly a decade. The ice cream in this inviting, year-round shop is rich and almost fluffy, thanks to high-speed churning and 14% butterfat milk. You’ll also find denser gelato, refreshing sorbetto, frozen yogurt, and vegan ice creams here, plus milkshakes, malts, floats, and more.
The flavors are fun—think Fruity Pebbles ice cream, peppermint crunch, Oreo cookie cotton candy swirl, occasionally a seasonal local huckleberry—but we loved a classic chocolate Oreo topped with Andes mint. 111 E. Ivinson Ave., map
A Few More Laramie Restaurants
During our time in Laramie, we also made it to Turtle Rock Coffee + Cafe for one of their delicious summer-special drinks—an iced hibiscus berry tea latte with coconut milk—and to the 40-year-old Chocolate Cellar to try some of its decadent handmade truffles and pick up edible souvenirs to bring home. But we needed more days! With more time we would have also hit up the following:
Sweet Melissa: This beloved vegetarian comfort-food restaurant would be the perfect respite from the traditional meat-heavy Wyoming diet, with lots of burgers, banh mi, enchiladas, burritos, and more. I had my eye on the jerk ravioli!
Lovejoy’s: A local favorite bar and grill for more than 25 years, Lovejoy’s seems to have something for everyone. I’d go for the avalanche nachos, the wide variety of burgers, the pork green chili, and the chicken fried steak sandwich.
Altitude Chophouse + Brewery: More local (award-winning) beer and steak! Plus chicken and fish, tacos and burgers, of course, but I had my sights set on the lamb and green chili meatloaf.
Corona Village: We kept passing this handsome, imposing Mexican restaurant near our Airbnb, but unfortunately ran out of time before we could try the highly recommended carne asada, shrimp fajitas, enchiladas, burritos, and wide range of margaritas.
Until next time, Laramie! We will surely return to experience more of your small-town, big-delivering pleasures.