Wyoming at a Glance
With its dusty brick main streets, fiercely independent nature and more than occasional tumbleweed, Wyoming has long been a Hollywood darling, providing the set, stage and subject for films like “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “Shane.” But there’s so much more to the Cowboy State than the mythical Western suggests.
Its vast lands for adventure encompass some of the most unusual and astonishing terrain in the country, from the “singing” Killpecker Sand Dunes of the Red Desert to the otherworldly Minerva Terraces at Yellowstone National Park, where it just so happens “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was filmed.
Many of Wyoming’s geologic wonders are of great importance to the state’s Indigenous population, like Devil’s Tower in the Black Hills — a sacred site to Northern Plains Indians. Still, other sites carry enormous historical weight, like Heart Mountain outside Cody, the location of a World War II Japanese American internment camp, where 14,000 people were cruelly confined.
With only 581,381 residents, Wyoming is the second least populous state in the country. Wyoming’s rugged landscape and wicked winters are, perhaps, one of the reasons it has such a low population density. But the Wyoming government is banking on tax incentives to lure new industries. The state’s tax policies have certainly been a boon to existing businesses — neither individuals nor corporations pay income taxes in the Cowboy State. But traditional industries still dominate in Wyoming. Mining and agriculture are the economic giants — coal, cattle, and wheat are absolutely still kings, here. But recreation, tourism, and diversified manufacturing are promising areas for growth in the future.
If you are looking for a state with stunning national parks, an unbridled fever for self-sufficiency and plenty of room to roam, Wyoming may be the state for you.
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What It’s Like Living in Wyoming
Wyoming has added only 17,755 new residents in the last 12 years, so if you were concerned the state might soon look like Times Square, you can put those fears to rest.
According to MERIC, Wyoming’s cost of living is lower than the national average in every single category except groceries, where it is nominally higher than U.S. levels. Wyomingites save the most on housing and utilities — both expenses are nearly 20 points below the country’s average. Housing costs are also below the regional levels. The median home value in Wyoming is only $237,900, whereas prices in Utah ($339,700), Idaho ($266,500), and Montana ($263,700) skew $29,000-$100,000-plus higher.
Wyoming’s government is unabashedly pro-business. The state earned the distinction of having the most business-friendly tax climate in the nation from the Tax Foundation, owing to its lack of income taxes — both individual and corporate — and its low state sales tax.
Since 2021, Wyoming has added 14,000 civic jobs, an astonishing feat considering the low level of migration to the state. As of March 2023, the unemployment rate in Wyoming had fallen to 3.7%, only slightly higher than the U.S. average.
Manufacturing and education/health services saw the greatest year-over-year growth since 2022, and the government is actively trying to diversify from the Energy State’s core agricultural and mining industries — coal, natural gas, cattle, sheep, hogs, wheat and sugar beets —particularly since the majority of Wyoming’s arid farmland must be irrigated.
The governor has targeted several areas for expansion and development: data technology/centers, carbon capture, advanced manufacturing and the expansion of new and renewable energy sources, including hydrogen, wind, nuclear and hydroelectric.
Wyoming’s Extreme Weather
If you’re moving to Wyoming, you have four distinct seasons to look forward to, skiing, wildlife-spotting, rodeo and fly fishing. In the springtime, you can easily swap mountain biking for moose-spotting, and autumn is as much for leaf-peeping as it is trout-catching, but it’s kind of hard not to ski, snowshoe or sled in the home of Yellowstone and Jackson Hole.
In general, Wyoming is a state that will leave you high and dry in terms of weather — thanks to the altitude, almost everywhere you go will be rather arid and noticeably windy. Lowland areas in the center and eastern portions of the state will get very hot during summer days but cool right back down by evening. Rainfall in this region will be meager — some residents will only see five inches of rain per year, and the rest will see around 13 inches, on average.
Despite the paltry rainfall, thunderstorms can be a rough ride in the Cowboy State. Tornadoes are not uncommon, but the real terrors are flooding and hail, which can destroy property, infrastructure and crops.
Wyoming is also no stranger to snowstorms, and the 2022-23 season has proved one of the most daunting. Residents in lower-lying, arid regions will see accumulations of five inches or more a few times a year, and it’s rare that a storm will produce more than 10 inches of snow. The mountain regions are a different story. The snow is particularly glorious and deep at Yellowstone, which receives an average of 262 inches per year. Thanks to the recent wild weather, Jackson Hole received an outrageous 595 inches of snow during the 2022-23 season: that’s enough to easily cover 10 average snowmen standing feet to shoulders or a pyramid of acrobatically inclined yetis. (They don’t just lurk around, you know.)
If you’re planning to move to Wyoming, scheduling your journey between late August and early October will help you beat the crowds, the heat and the snow.
Most Populated Cities in Wyoming
The capital of the state, Cheyenne, sits deep in the saddle of southeastern Wyoming. Make no mistake, Cheyenne is, first and foremost, a rodeo town. It hosts the state’s biggest during its annual Frontier Days — which has been galloping strong for 126 years — as well as what has to be one of the rowdiest, the Hell on Wheels rodeo. If you’re interested in how Cheyenne grew into these big, roughriding boots, hop on the Street Railway Trolley for a 90-minute introduction on the Wild West History Tour.
Although Cheyenne is the largest city in the state, at 65,051, it’s hardly the big city, and it’s only seen an increase of 5,000 residents over the last 12 years. Businesses here are far more diversified than elsewhere in the state, though, with tech giants like Microsoft maintaining a base in the city, as well as a major earth science research facility, the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center.
Much like it did in its frontier days as a railroad hub, Cheyenne benefits from being located at the intersection of interstates 80 and 25, which makes it an easy destination for tourists to the National Parks and an ideal location for trade. The city is also home to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, a major military installation and one of only three strategic-missile bases in the U.S.
Over the past twelve months, manufacturing, mining, other services and the tourism/leisure industries have seen the biggest growth. But the government is still the biggest source of jobs in the area, followed by trade/transportation/utilities. Housing in Cheyenne is only slightly higher than the state average: the median home value is $241,000 and rent averages $900 per month.
In addition to its rodeos, Cheyenne has some of the best in-city attractions in the state, like the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, the Paul Smith Children’s Village and the Historic Governor’s Mansion, which was the primary residence for state leaders from 1905-1976.
The central Wyoming city of Casper has seen a lot of economic ups and downs over the years. Oil City, as it’s better known, was the heart of President Harding’s Teapot Dome scandal, but it’s the oil booms and busts over the years that have kept this energy town on its toes.
Casper’s economy is heavily dependent on mining, particularly coal, uranium and bentonite, a naturally occurring absorbent clay. The mining/logging industries has expanded by 25% in the last year, but trade/transportation/utilities are still the single largest non-farm sector, followed by education, government, other services and leisure/hospitality.
The best kind of ups and downs in Casper, though, are at Casper Mountain — a snowy wonderland in the winter where even the tiniest skiers can learn to become fearless Casper Mountain Racers.
Much like other cities in the state, Casper’s population of 58,656 has remained fairly stable over the last twelve years, adding only 3,000 new residents in that time. Housing here is more affordable than elsewhere in Wyoming: the average rent is less than $900/ per month and the median home value is $215,400.
Gillette is a coal mining town of 32,844, just northwest of the Thunder Basin National Grassland. The cost of living in this small city — which is actually the state’s third largest — is slightly less than elsewhere in the state. The median home value here is $224,000 and rent average $836 per month. Because it’s located midway between the Black Hills and the Bighorn National Forest, you’ll have easy access to all the region’s natural wonders, including Devil’s Tower.
Those wanting to learn more about the history of the city and the region can visit the Campbell County Rockpile Museum, which has, among its 25,000-object collection, historic farm equipment, Native American Artifacts and lots of cowboy gear.
With a population of 31,659, Laramie is the fourth-largest city in the state. That is, unless a few Gillette residents go on vacation, and then Laramie bumps right up to third-largest. This high-altitude college town outside of Cheyenne has a lot to recommend it: a historic shopping district, a dozen museums, a bustling summer farmer’s market and 17 Division I sports teams, thanks to the University of Wyoming. Just east of the city, hiking in the Medicine Bow National Forest is one of the area’s most popular activities. Mountain bikers love the trails at nearby Curt Gowdy State Park, the only destination in the state to earn the IMBA’s coveted “Epic” designation. The median home value in Laramie is $234,500 and rent averages $850 per month.
Unique Experiences in Wyoming
With two national parks, five national forests, 12 state parks and vast public lands on which to hunt, fish, bike, hike and climb, Wyoming has more than its fair share of natural beauty. During the summer months, towns across the Cowboy State are lively with Western and Native American cultural events like rodeos, fairs and powwows. In the colder months, the crowds calm down, but the real fun kicks in: the state offers great opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing, and even dogsledding, sleigh rides and ice fishing.
Rodeo is the official state sport of Wyoming, and you can look forward to 10 days of spur-kicking action at Cheyenne’s Frontier Days. This annual display of bravery, brawn and sheer brazenness has been held in Cheyenne since 1897, and when you’re not watching some of the greatest bull-riding, steer-wrestling and barrel-racing action, you can be rockin’ out to Tim McGraw or indulging in your favorite fried indulgences at the Carnival Midway.
But cowboys certainly weren’t the first riders to arrive in this territory. Learn about the 12,000 year history of the Indigenous Plains Indians tribes as well as contemporary Native American culture at archaeological sites like Vore Buffalo Jump and Legend Rock, where you can see ancient artifacts and petroglyphs, and at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, where the Plains Indian Museum is located. The Wind River Indian Reservation hosts several powwows during the year that are open to the public.
It’s certainly no secret that Wyoming’s biggest single draw is Yellowstone National Park. Millions of visitors make the trek each year to see the park’s literal hotspots, like Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs, but there are plenty of cooler quarters to explore away from the hydrothermal highlights, too. The Bechler Region is one of the least-visited areas in the park, in part because it is accessible only by dirt road and offers only backcountry camping. But the rushing Bechler River is a gorgeous sight, and it’s a perfect retreat from the crowds at better-known destinations. Similarly, Yellowstone Lake is an astonishment. Encompassing 132 square miles, this enormous alpine basin averages a chilly 41 F, which makes for perilous swimming, unless you are a cutthroat trout. Another great way to enjoy the park with fewer visitors: come in the winter. The snow makes the park’s favorite sites even more magical, and guided tours are available.
If you see them from a distance, glowing an otherworldly pink and orange in the Wyoming sunset, you might believe you’ve found the Big Rock Candy Mountains, but those sublime outcroppings are part of Grand Teton National Park. And while you won’t find a lake of stew or whiskey here (sorry!), Jenny Lake certainly does not disappoint, especially because you can hike to Hidden Falls from here or see the nearby blooms of Lupine Meadows. Leigh Lake is a less crowded but no less extraordinary spot with killer views of the mountain’s jagged, irregular silhouette. Fishing is one of the most popular activities in the park, and all the lakes are fair game. One of the coolest ways to see the Grand Tetons is on a float trip down the aptly named Snake River — be sure to use a guide to avoid getting lost on this extra-twisty route.
If you’re moving to Wyoming from a warmer state, you will probably need some new gear to get the most out of all the Cowboy State has to offer residents in the winter. Many prime cold-weather spots, like Jackson Hole Mountain Resort — a favorite place for families to ski, snowboard and ice skate — do offer activities year-round. In the summer, extreme sports enthusiasts can test their nerves on a paragliding adventure or on the jump tracks at the bike park. In the winter, there’s heli-skiing for the adrenaline junkies in your crew, but there’s also a low-octane sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge, for those who enjoy confronting mortality more obliquely…preferably with a mug of cocoa in hand and one of the park’s famed sugar-coated waffles.
But the wildest thing that may ever happen in a Wyoming winter is skijoring. This insane activity that combines the instability of waterskiing with the unpredictability of large animals is called a brodeo on ice. As ill-advised as its urban descendent, skitching — skateboarding while holding onto a car — skijorers strap into skis and hold onto a tug line attached to a horse, trusting both animal and rider to navigate them through the course at a speed that enables them to clear the high jumps without leaving them faceplanted and dragging in the snowpack below. If you prefer to keep all your bones whole and un-casted, you can watch competitors duke it out at the Sheridan Winter Rodeo.
Wyoming Local Eats
When it comes to food, Wyoming leans hard into what it knows best, beef, bison, wild game and fish. What the state lacks in Michelin stars it makes up for in the simple goodness of its local riches. If you move here, you’re likely to befriend a hunter or two. Chances are, they make their own sausages and jerky from deer, elk and antelope. Those who don’t go for game may seek instead the treasures of the forest floor — porcini mushrooms, chanterelles and even the elusive morel mushrooms. Make sure to stay in their good graces.
As a resort town, Jackson Hole has the highest density of high-caliber restaurants, from trendy breakfast spots like the Persephone Bakery to fine dining at the Snake River Grill, where the Rabbit Saddle Roulade is served with morels, nettle and an inspired fava bean sabayon.
If you are looking for traditional with a capital T, it doesn’t get any better than the Cavalryman Steakhouse in Laramie. This Western special grills grass-fed, Wyoming-raised beef steaks, juicy bison meatballs and burgers and other local fare.
You can’t be a real Wyomingite, though, until you’ve eaten at The Luxury Diner in Cheyenne. This unassuming mom-and-pop has been in operation since 1964, touting its menu as “food you will remember.” We will certainly attest to that. This place is no fake-butter pancake chain — grandma’s kitchen table, if you will — where the grits are slow-cooked, the eggs lovingly scrambled, and the biscuits and gravy made from scratch. The best, only-in-Wyoming breakfast you can get here is the Water Tank, a pan-fried, cornmeal-dusted trout filet. Get one of its giant cinnamon rolls for the table and another to go.
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