Casper, Wyoming's second largest city, is located along the North Platte River in the central part of the state. Many of the United States' westward migration trails passed through Casper, including the Oregon and California Trails. The captivating history of these trails is the focus of several Casper attractions. The North Platte River, as well as other Central Wyoming rivers and reservoirs, provides opportunities for fishing, boating, rafting, and kayaking.
As the population of the United States migrated west, many of the trails passed through Wyoming. The state's South Pass is one of the only practical transportation routes through the Rocky Mountains. The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center focuses on the way that these historic regional trails impacted US history, through informational displays and artifacts addressing Native American cultures and westward expansion.
During your visit to this BLM-managed facility, you'll learn about the many historic routes through the region, including the Pony Express, California, Oregon, and Mormon Trails. This interpretive center also offers various workshops, special exhibitions, and evening programs throughout the year.
More than a park or a recreation trail, the Platte River Trail System is an 11-mile string of outdoor enjoyment. Portions of the trails run right along the North Platte River, while other sections meader a few blocks away from the water. You can stroll, hike, or bike along the trail while taking in the local scenery. Along the Parkway you'll pass several small parks, the Fort Casper Museum, Tate Pumphouse, White Water Park, and the huge North Platte River Park complex. The Platte River Parkway Trail connects with the Casper Rail Trail and other city recreation trails.
Fort Casper, established in 1859, was a military and trading fort located along the Oregon Trail. A reconstructed fort now sits at the original site along the North Platte River and is preserved as part of the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the Fort Casper Museum and Historic Site you'll learn about the history and people of Central Wyoming. Topics addressed in exhibits and artifacts cover Fort Casper history, Native American culture (both prehistoric and modern), the region's historic trails, and ranching and local industry.
You can explore the fort grounds and buildings and see examples of how the original inhabitants lived and conducted business. Items to check out include a wagon ferry, carriage shed, telegraph office, sutler's store, commissary, and cemetery.
Also known as The NIC, the Nicolaysen Art Museum collects and exhibits contemporary art of the Rocky Mountain Region. Their "Discovery Center" provides hands-on art stations where kids and grownups can experiment with a variety of art media, from watercolor and crayon to clay and puppets. The NIC also offers a variety of special lectures, classes, and workshops.
The Science Zone offers hands-on fun for small children, allowing them to play, explore, and build. At the Thoracic Park exhibit, for example, they can learn about their heart and lungs, and the things that impact their health. The Engineering Zone provides the opportunity to build—and knock down—structures using building blocks and other materials. You can learn about animals in the Zone Zoo and play with bubbles at the Bubble Zone.
In addition to the many fun things to see and do within Casper, there are a number of interesting and scenic attractions located within a 1- or 2-hour drive, including the Fort Laramie National Historic Site, originally established as a private fur trading fort in 1834. Ultimately, Fort Laramie became the largest and best known military post on the Northern Plains protecting settlers as they moved west. The post was in use until 1890. Visitors can tour the fort, learn about Westward Expansion history, and attend special events such as reenactments.
Guernsey State Park is another beautiful area on the Platte River to visit. You can camp at one of five campgrounds that are located right on the lake. For history buffs and lover's of 1930's park architecture, this park provides excellent examples of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) work—the Guernsey Museum (perched high on a cliff), the Castle, and Brimmer Point, all built by the CCC, are available to explore. The Castle, with its giant fireplace and winding steps, leads to an observation area for a spectacular view of the park. CCC-built trails wind throughout the park.
The Oregon Trail Ruts National Historic Landmark, also located in the Guernsey area, has wagon ruts worn into soft sandstone by pioneer wagons traveling the Oregon Trail. The ruts are easy to see as the trail is worn to a depth of five feet., creating some of the most spectacular ruts remaining along the entire length of Practically every wagon that went west crossed the ridge in exactly the same place—the result was these impressive ruts.
There are sparkling lakes and reservoirs where you can enjoy a leisurely paddle or rushing rivers with rapids taking you through canyons. The Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, the Big Horn River near Thermopolis, the North Platte River right in Casper and the Snake River near Grand Teton National Park all offer top-notch kayaking experiences and can be made part of a Casper, Wyoming visit.
Each summer, dozens of colorful hot air balloons float over Casper during the Casper Balloon Roundup. It's a weekend-long festival attracting balloonists from all over the United States. The early morning ascensions are amazing to witness and after the launch at the fairgrounds, it's recommended you head up Casper Mountain to the lookout point or the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center to get a great view of the balloons over the city.