Guernsey State Park’s Castle Could Be Most Over-The-Top Picnic Shelter In U.S.

It’s not every day one goes to a state park just for its architecture, but Guernsey State Park is a little bit different. It’s a very large and complex picnic shelter that looks so much like a castle, that’s what everyone calls it.

RJ
Renée Jean

July 07, 20247 min read

The "castle" at Guernsey State Park in Wyoming.
The "castle" at Guernsey State Park in Wyoming. (Enjoyyourparks.com)

It’s not every day one goes to a state park just for its architecture, but Guernsey State Park is a little bit different.

To be clear, it has the stunning outdoor features one would expect in a state park.

But it also has some of the best architecture in the Rocky Mountain Region, and that architecture includes one that is quite popular with road trippers.

It’s a very large and complex picnic shelter that looks so much like a castle, that’s what everyone calls it.

The castle is not a closed-off fortress, however.

It’s open on multiple sides, inviting exploration from many different angles.

It’s fun to explore the castle’s ins and outs, and to imagine living there. You know, in case there ever is an actual zombie apocalypse.

The structure is so massive and so solid, it wouldn’t be hard to finish out and make it unassailable.

There’s even a cool staircase winding around to the top — the better to see trouble coming from afar.

It’s also just a stunning view of the lake and the park in the meantime. Well worth the trip all by itself.

The picnic shelter has two extra-large picnic tables, as well as a huge fireplace. There are plenty of stone benches built into the structure, as well, for plenty of seating.

There’s an arched entrance at the west end of the structure, which opens up to a scenic view of Laramie Peak, about 30 miles to the west.

The architecture has made the castle a quite popular destination for road trips with “don’t miss this” reviews on places like TripAdvisor.

A National Model

There’s a particular reason that the architecture at Guernsey State Park stands out the way it does.

Lake Guernsey, as it was known in 1933, was chosen as a demonstration project for the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Guernsey State Park was established in 1934, and its two CCC camps were the very first state park CCC camps in the United States.

The CCC was a Great Depression-era program that aimed to put thousands of unemployed Americans to work developing resources around the country.

As a prototype, the Lake Guernsey project would be a showcase for the recreational opportunities possible around Western reservoirs. Thus, the work there needed to be spectacular.

Southeast Wyoming didn’t have much to attract tourists at the time. Not that it didn’t have some stunning natural assets. But there were no trails or facilities to really make them accessible to the public.

So the CCC’s projects were all about helping bring tourists into the area, while showing off what the federal program could do for other communities.

As part of their work, CCC camp workers constructed six interlocking trails, as well as roads and park facilities, like the castle.

Park attendance was tracked both before and after the completed projects at the park.

In 1934, park attendance was 50 people. By 1935, that had increased to 800 tourists, traveling an average of 87 miles to reach the park.

The next year, in July 1936, just over 4,200 park visitors visited in a six-week period, coming from almost every state in the union, as well as foreign countries. A water carnival, sponsored by the CCC Camps and the Guernsey Boat Club that year, drew 12,000 visitors, all by itself.

  • Huge logs and massive sandstone blocks were used to construct Guernsey State Park's Castle. The original roof was cedar shakes.
    Huge logs and massive sandstone blocks were used to construct Guernsey State Park's Castle. The original roof was cedar shakes. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Guernsey State Park Museum continues the "recreation rustic" architecture that characterizes the castle and the Million Dollar Biffy.
    The Guernsey State Park Museum continues the "recreation rustic" architecture that characterizes the castle and the Million Dollar Biffy. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Million Dollar Biffy looks much larger outside than inside, thanks to massive sandstone blocks placed at the corners.
    The Million Dollar Biffy looks much larger outside than inside, thanks to massive sandstone blocks placed at the corners. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Three stalls for women, three for men, constructed of rustic wood against sandstone.
    Three stalls for women, three for men, constructed of rustic wood against sandstone. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Guernsey State Park Castle.
    The Guernsey State Park Castle. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The view from the rooftop of Guernsey State Park's reservoir is beautiful
    The view from the rooftop of Guernsey State Park's reservoir is beautiful (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The stone steps wind around the Castle, leading to a rooftop view of Guernsey State Park.
    The stone steps wind around the Castle, leading to a rooftop view of Guernsey State Park. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Huge logs and massive sandstone blocks were used to construct Guernsey State Park's Castle. The original roof was cedar shakes.
    Huge logs and massive sandstone blocks were used to construct Guernsey State Park's Castle. The original roof was cedar shakes. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • This picnic table in Guernsey State Park's Castle has a killer view.
    This picnic table in Guernsey State Park's Castle has a killer view. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The view out of the Castle is amazing.
    The view out of the Castle is amazing. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The West Archway in Guernsey State Park's castle frames Laramie Peak, 30 miles to the west.
    The West Archway in Guernsey State Park's castle frames Laramie Peak, 30 miles to the west. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The fireplace in Guernsey State Park's Castle looks as though it has been used. Lots of seating areas near the fireplace.
    The fireplace in Guernsey State Park's Castle looks as though it has been used. Lots of seating areas near the fireplace. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The castle is is more than roomy enough for two large picnic tables.
    The castle is is more than roomy enough for two large picnic tables. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Stone benches have been built into the inside of Guernsey State Park's castle, creating lots of additional seating. It's great for parties and picnics. A set of stairs lead up to the top of the castle, for a panoramic view that's second to none.
    Stone benches have been built into the inside of Guernsey State Park's castle, creating lots of additional seating. It's great for parties and picnics. A set of stairs lead up to the top of the castle, for a panoramic view that's second to none. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • This picnic shelter in Guernsey State Park is known as the Castle. It may look like a fortress, but its' accessible from multiple sides, inviting explorers to "attack" from a variety of angles.
    This picnic shelter in Guernsey State Park is known as the Castle. It may look like a fortress, but its' accessible from multiple sides, inviting explorers to "attack" from a variety of angles. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

More Things to See

The stone castle isn’t the only “recreation rustic” architecture at Guernsey State Park.

Near the castle, there’s the “Million Dollar Biffy,” so named by the workmen because it took so long to complete. The latrine has three seats each for men and for women, but looks much larger than that, thanks to the extra masses of stone at each corner.

Not too far away from the castle and the Biffy, is a small gem of a museum that looks like a small hobbit home. It’s been built into the earth on one side and features massive logs and stonework, similar to the castle’s.

Built in 1939, it was designed by the same architects, Roland G. Pray and E.S. Mosher, for the grand cost of $3,200.

Flagstones for the museum’s floor were cut from rock in Thermopolis in an irregular but beautiful pattern, while the indoor paneling was constructed of Florida “pecky” cypress.

Here, too, the architects built a west archway that would perfectly frame Laramie Peak. The museum offers a telescope to look at the peak, as well as at other locations.

The exhibits planned for the museum were an early example of a shift at many museums of the time. Instead of large collections of dusty artifacts, museums were focusing more on storytelling instead. Items would still be displayed, but there were fewer, and they were more closely tied to the narrative.

The theme for the Guernsey State Park Museum is the story of how humanity has adapted itself to the region over time, from prehistoric to more modern times.

There are stories about the 1927 dam construction, mining in Sunrise, archaeology at the Spanish Diggings, as well as the nearby Oregon Trail and Register Cliff. The cliff is where many pioneers heading West carved their names in weathered stone.

A Place Of Learning

There are also tidbits about the CCC and its work at Lake Guernsey at the museum. The history is not just a slice of Wyoming, but also American history.

At the height of the CCC, more than half a million men worked in 2,652 camps scattered throughout the nation. Wyoming’s CCC camps employed 15,000 men who built $20,000 worth of roads, trails and structures.

They also worked on vital infrastructure like dams.

Just looking at dams, more than 60 million square yards of canal and drainage ditches were cleared by these men. They also lined 1.8 million square yards of canal with impervious materials and riprapped 2.8 million square yards of canals, protecting them from erosion.

They built 3,000 miles of operating roads, cleared brush and trees on 29,000 acres of reservoir sites, and built 15,800 water control structures.

They weren’t just developing natural resources.

“(These men) reclaimed and developed themselves,” Historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote in his book, “The Coming of the New Deal.” “They came from large cities and from small towns, from slum street corners and from hobo jungles, from the roads and the rails and from nowhere.

“One out of every 10 or 11 was a Negro. Some had never seen mountains before, had never waded in running brooks or slept in the open air.”

Young men from the east side of New York mingled with people from the west side of Texas, who mingled with people from Wyoming, New Jersey, Oregon, and other states.

“Their muscles hardened, their bodies filled out, their self-respect returned,” Schlesinger wrote. “They learned trades; more important, they learned about other Americans.”

Their work, much of which still stands today in places like Guernsey was not just a benefit to themselves or to others in their generation.

It is work that continues to inspire and resonate.

The CCC camps would end with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II. But they remain a concrete example of what Americans are capable of, even when the chips are down, by working together for the common good.

Contact Rene Jean at renee@cowboystatedaily.com

  • The "castle" at Guernsey State Park in Wyoming.
    The "castle" at Guernsey State Park in Wyoming. (Photo by Jasperdo via Flickr)
  • Inside the Guernsey State Park Museum.
    Inside the Guernsey State Park Museum. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Exhibits in the Guernsey State Park Museum tell the story of humanity's efforts to adapt in the region, from prehistoric to modern times.
    Exhibits in the Guernsey State Park Museum tell the story of humanity's efforts to adapt in the region, from prehistoric to modern times. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A photo of Civilian Conservation Corps camp workers. Guernsey State Park had the nation's first state park CCC camp.
    A photo of Civilian Conservation Corps camp workers. Guernsey State Park had the nation's first state park CCC camp. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Photo of construction in progress at the museum.
    Photo of construction in progress at the museum. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • More construction progress at Guernsey State Park.
    More construction progress at Guernsey State Park. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Guernsey State Park Museum also has a fireplace in the library. It's seldom used to try to preserve it.
    Guernsey State Park Museum also has a fireplace in the library. It's seldom used to try to preserve it. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The entry to the museum is a little hidden. It's located on the west side of the museum, and the archway frames Laramie Peak.
    The entry to the museum is a little hidden. It's located on the west side of the museum, and the archway frames Laramie Peak. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter