Bill Sniffin: Wyoming Is Full Of Wonderful Loop Drives – And I Love Them All

Bill Sniffin writes: In so many ways, this was a typical Wyoming trip for people in the Cowboy State. If you can figure out how to take a long trip and make it interesting, then the whole journey becomes a joy rather than a chore.

Bill Sniffin

July 16, 20226 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus

Here is a way to get “looped” this summer by enjoying Wyoming’s highways and byways.

My definition of a “loop drive” is where you set out for a destination and after you get there, you return home by a different route, forming a loop.

The state of Wyoming tourism division along with all the various county lodging boards have set up interesting loop drives. They are everywhere.

One of my favorite loop drives involves heading out of Cody to Yellowstone through Sunlight Basin and Cooke City, MT. It is currently closed but is a wonderful trip. You go through the national park and then end up coming back to Cody through Wapiti Valley.

Another one that includes Lander is going to Dubois and Moran Junction, down to Jackson and on to Pinedale. Then you go south from there to Farson and turn east back to Lander. Lots of sights like the Wind River Indian Reservation, Dubois Military Museum, Togwotee Pass, the Tetons, Square Top Mountain, Historic South Pass, the Red Desert, and Red Canyon are all on this loop.

There are several loop drives around the Wheatland-Torrington-Douglas area that are fantastic.  Fort Laramie and the Sunrise mine come to mind as sights to see.

Up by Devils Tower, you have loop drives involving Moorcroft, Sundance, Hulett, and Gillette. So much to see up there including the Vore Buffalo Jump, Keyhole Reservoir, giant coal mines, and the historic Aladdin Store.

Carbon and Sweetwater Counties have interesting loop drives. Carbon has the one east out of Saratoga past Lake Marie to Laramie while Sweetwater features one that circles Flaming Gorge. I also love that trip over Battle Mountain from Encampment to Baggs.

The far western part of the state offers wonderful loop drives from Afton to Kemmerer and over to Evanston and then back to Star Valley.

Using Thermopolis as a base you can head straight north to Cody and then visit Powell, Lovell, Greybull, Basin, and Worland. Then head back down to the home of the world’s biggest hot springs on a different route.  

The Big Horn Basin also features three wonderful drives over the mountains that can loop around featuring the Medicine Wheel and historical sites of Indian War forts and trails. The Pryor Mountains and the Big Horn Reservoir are special treats as is the sky-high roadway known as US 14A.

Jim Hicks brags about a great one-day loop drive over the Bighorns by US 14 and 16. “You can start in Sheridan, Buffalo, Tensleep, Worland, Basin, Greybull, Dayton, or Ranchester. It’s about 300 miles, so there is time to stop at many of the special scenic and historical spots.

He also recommends: “For a little longer route the alternate is US 14A from Burgess Junction to Lovell rather than US 14 from Burgess Junction to Greybull. I know locals who make this drive at least once every year because it is so darn scenic.”

Most recently, we journeyed to Casper through Shoshoni and then returned through Muddy Gap and Jeffrey City. It was a long day but the Cowboy State offers up so much to see and do along the way during trips like this.

For example, the Fast Lane convenience store in Shoshoni might be the best store of its type in the state. They already have everything but their construction project makes it look like it is going to be about four times as big. It is already a must-stop place but this new site promises even more.

Also in Shoshoni is the oddest park in the state. It commemorates the 2017 eclipse. It cost quite a bit of money to build and it is full of signs and panels featuring written languages you cannot understand. An obscure international group builds these where ever a solar eclipse occurs.

We buzzed right by the road to Lost Cabin, which is a trip in its own right, as is a trip over to the Castle Garden Petroglyphs. Been there, done that. Not on this day as our primary objective was delivering our daughter and granddaughter to the Casper airport for their trip home to Texas.

As much as I love Casper, we barely visited. We drove the west outer loop for seven miles from Highway 26 to the Muddy Gap highway. This is a very nice road with wonderful views. This was a non-windy day, which was news all by itself.

My goal was to visit Independence Rock, which was such a famous landmark for Oregon Trail travelers. It was a toasty 90 degrees when we stopped and no wind. It felt more like the Midwest than a typical windy Wyoming afternoon.

The signage at the Rock is superb with lots of history to absorb. Perhaps as many as 500,000 people traveled this roadway by wagon train from 1850 to 1865. In 1852, more than 50,000 people came through this trail. It must have seemed like a super highway. I’ll bet you could see the dust clouds from miles away. We enjoyed walking around the rock, which is full of scratched in signatures of those early pioneers.

It is called Independence Rock because travelers wanted to get this far by the fourth of July.

Further down the road are famous sites like Devils Gate and Split Rock. These small rocky mountain outcrops overlook the wonderful and aptly-named Sweetwater River, which flows all the way to South Pass.

We encountered vanloads of LDS tourists who were visiting sites along the Mormon Trail, which are sacred in their church. Places like Martins Cove, Sweetwater Canyon, and Rocky Ridge come to mind.

Only downside of this loop trip was a 20-minute wait for construction in the twin creek area. That new blacktop highway is going to be beautiful when completed. I predict delays will not be enjoyable.

We left Lander at 10am and got home at 6pm, having traveled 302 miles. In so many ways, this was a typical Wyoming trip for people in the Cowboy State. If you can figure out how to take a long trip and make it interesting, then the whole journey becomes a joy rather than a chore.

And isn’t that what it is supposed to be all about, after all?

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.