Wyoming Small Town Roadtrip: Camping and Exploring from Jackson to Laramie
May 11, 2021
Originally posted October 2020 ; Revised and migrated April 2021
Travel date August 2020
After leaving Grand Teton in northern Wyoming, we were leisurely making our way south towards Colorado. We enjoyed slowing down and exploring several small towns with no specific plans. On our Jackson to Laramie roadtrip, we stopped and camped in three towns we’d never heard of before visiting Wyoming. Lander, Rawlins, and Saratoga are each worthy of an overnight stop. In our guide, we share free and cheap campsites and the best things to do on your next Wyoming roadtrip from Jackson to Laramie.
Each small town we visited on our Wyoming roadtrip between Jackson and Laramie was very RV-friendly with affordable camping options near town. We also found several free RV dump stations while in Wyoming. Unfortunately, the region was experiencing a usually hot and dry summer which was beginning to exacerbate nearby Colorado wildfires.
Collect Stickers from Jackson to Laramie on Your Wyoming Roadtrip
During your Wyoming roadtrip, whether in Jackson, Laramie or somewhere in between, stop at the visitor centers for a free souvenir. Wyoming Office of Tourism has a fun sticker campaign for tourists.
They have over 30 free collectible stickers with various WY themes including several city-specific designs. They are available at local visitor centers around the state. I didn’t learn about this campaign until we were partially through WY but I was still able to collect a few during our travels.
Roadtrip Stop #1: Lander Wyoming
Lander is a town in central Wyoming named for explorer Frederick W Lander. It is the county seat of Fremont County. It lies along the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River and is known as the gateway to the Wind River Mountains. The Shoshone and Arapaho tribes share the nearby Wind River Indian Reservation.
What is Lander Wyoming known for?
Along the way, we spent a few days in Lander, WY. Lander earned a few interesting superlatives including top 10 most beautiful towns in Wyoming by Culturetrip and top 10 outdoor towns for adventure in America by USA Today.
Free Camping in Lander Wyoming
Lander City Park is a riverside city park that allows free RV parking and tent camping for up to three nights. There are restrooms, picnic tables, trash cans, and water spigots available in the park.
The AT&T cellular service in Lander wasn’t great and was only sufficient for basic tasks. We went to the local library to complete our more demanding tasks. The weather was very warm while we were in Lander, so we spent a lot of daytime hours away from Pippi, our motorhome.
Lander City Services
Lander is a small town with less than 8K residents. All of the people we met were very friendly and welcoming. The town has some great amenities for their residents and visitors are welcome to use the Lander City Services.
As stated previously, Lander City Park allows free camping for three days. Additionally, the Lander Public Works department offers a free RV dump station.
We really enjoyed swimming laps at the local Bruce Gresly Aquatics Center and visited twice in our three days. Upon arrival to the pool, our temperatures were checked and masks were required to enter the facility. The large indoor pool was fairly empty and we felt very safe.
During our time in Lander, Kevin was also able to reserve a conference room at the local library for an important work meeting. I also enjoyed the library’s air conditioning and free wifi to update a few blog posts.
Things to do in Lander Wyoming
Lander offers several free attractions to keep you entertained on your next Wyoming roadtrip from Jackson to Laramie. A few of the top things to do in Lander are:
The Fremont County Pioneer Museum in Lander was an impressive free museum. The Historical Society of Fremont County has been in existence since the 1950s and has received many generous donations of historic household items, tools, clothing, and even buildings.
They moved more than a dozen historic cabins and shops from around the county and created a small village that is open for tours. They offer docent-led or self-guided tours.
Each building was staged differently including a general store with shelves full of goods, a saloon, a pole barn including farm equipment, several fully furnished homes, a church, and many others. A local park ranger had even donated his fire fighting gear which was very interesting. Unfortunately, I only took a photo of one of the teepees.
Museum of the American West
Another top attraction in Lander is the Museum of the American West but we didn’t visit. It is presented for free in collaboration with the Fremont County Pioneer Museum Village. They are located next door to each other.
Sinks Canyon State Park
While in Lander, we visited Sinks Canyon State Park. The park is located only a few miles outside of town and is a can’t miss thing to do in Lander Wyoming. Sinks Canyon State Park is free to visit. There is no cellular service in the park so download offline maps before your visit.
Why is it called Sinks Canyon?
We enjoyed walking around the park and seeing “the sink” and “the rise” where a natural stream sinks/disappears into a cave-like hole in the rock and rises back above ground a quarter of a mile away. The water would take a couple of minutes to flow directly above the ground. However, a scientist used dye in the water to prove the underground path takes about two hours to cover the same distance. You can read more about the testing here.
What is there to do at Sink Canyon?
A few of the most popular activities in Sink Canyon State Park are fishing, rock climbing, hiking and the scenic loop drive. You can learn more about the area by stopping at the Visitor Center.
The rise has a viewing platform above it but the area was protected from fishing. As such, the stream contained the largest trout I have ever seen. We enjoyed feeding them from the observation platform. Fishing is allowed in other areas of the park but the massive fish at the rise were contained in this area.
Additionally, Sinks Canyon is known for rock climbing.
The Sinks Canyon Visitor Center had some impressive taxidermy on display including moose and several bear cubs.
Hiking is a popular attraction at Sinks Canyon. The sink and rise interpretative trail from the visitor center is an easy walk on a paved path. The Popo Agie Waterfall is a great longer hike in Sinks Canyon.
The parks 70 mile scenic loop drive starts and ends in Lander Wyoming. It contains a 19 mile rough gravel portion so we only drove as far as the Popo Agie Waterfall trailhead.
Hike to Popo Agie Waterfall
We spent a very hot afternoon hiking to the Popo Agie Waterfall. Popo Agie is a Crow Indian word meaning gurgling river and is pronounced ‘Puh – Po Shuh’.
Before the hike, we enjoyed watching free-range cows wandering around the trailhead parking lot. A calf licking car door handles gave us a good laugh.
The day we visited the temperatures were in the high 90s. We were not the only ones trying to find a swimming hole to cool down. Along the trail, we met a bus full of high school kids.
The views of the waterfall were beautiful but the majority of the trail was unprotected from the summer sun. We hiked a total of 4.6 miles including an additional mile to get to a local sliding rock past the waterfall. The sliding rock and swimming hole were worth the extra mile.
Kevin didn’t get in the water but enjoyed the shade around the swimming hole. We both enjoyed the people watching as people slid down the natural waterslide. I swam a little in the cold water but was too scared to slide on the rock. My previous rescue experience from a mountainside left me with a healthy respect for risky behavior in the wilderness.
Where to Eat: Lander Wyoming
While in Lander, we enjoyed the beers at Cowfish Brewing, dinner at the Gannette Grill next door, and to-go breakfast sandwiches from the Lander Bake Shop. None of these were particularly noteworthy but Lander does offer a few options for dining out. Keep in mind, this is a small town that closes fairly early. We found most restaurants close by 8pm.
The highlight of our dining out in Lander occurred on a particularly hot afternoon when we were grocery shopping. The local grocery store, Mr D’s, has a small liquor store. Mr D’s liquor sold to-go boozy slushies in a variety of flavors. They were a pleasant surprise in the heat.
Roadtrip Stop #2: Rawlins Wyoming
Our next stop near Sinclair and Rawlins was 130 miles from Lander. Rawlins is a small town with less than 10k residents. We drove into town once but didn’t explore at all. Instead, we enjoyed relaxing at our free riverside campsite nearby.
Free Camping near Sinclair and Rawlins Wyoming
After leaving Lander, we headed to Dugway BLM Campground for the weekend. It is located at the crossroads called Sinclair near the town of Rawlins and five-star Campendium reviews listed it as a free campground. We were expecting dirt parking areas along a roadside with no amenities.
The Dugway Campground is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management and there are no fees. We arrived Friday mid-day and every campsite was open. We set up at a site along the river and enjoyed the serenity so much that we stayed a few days longer than planned.
Upon arrival, we were surprised to find a small developed campground with amenities. Dugway has five well-spaced sites along a river with picnic tables, fire rings, communal freshwater (manual pump), trash cans, and a pit toilet. While staying at Dugway, we identified only two downsides, bugs and connectivity.
In August, the biting bugs were so terrible at night that we closed our windows and stayed inside. On the first night, we left our windows open at night and tiny black bugs came in through our screens. Luckily, it was cool enough to sleep with the windows closed.
Also, cell service was non-existent during the day and was barely usable at night. I am not sure why the time of day affected the strength of the signal as I can’t imagine network traffic having much impact on this rural location.
What to do at Dugway Campground?
We saw people fishing in the river at Dugway. There was also a canoe and kayak launch at the campground.
One evening, a male white tailed deer crossed the river nearby.
Since we didn’t have connectivity, we decided to relax while at Dugway. Kevin smoked BBQ ribs during this downtime. I chose to spend several hours each day with my Kindle and beach chair sitting in the river. The minnows nibbling on my feet were a source of entertainment. Dugway BLM Campground was a great location to slow down.
Roadtrip Stop #3: Saratoga Wyoming
While at Dugway, another camper recommended visiting nearby Saratoga. Since we had no solid plan, we altered our route a bit and drove 40 miles to the Saratoga Lake Campground. This city park offers electric hookups for $15/night or tent sites for $10/night. They only accept cash payments so bring exact change.
There are pit toilets but no water fill or sewer dump available at the campground. Pippi has large holding tanks so this was not an issue for us. We enjoyed the lake views from our campsite and unlimited cold AC during the unusually hot days (high 90s).
Things to do in Saratoga Wyoming
Saratoga offers several free things to do for visitors. On your Wyoming roadtrip from Jackson to Laramie I recommend taking the minor detour to Saratoga for the history and hot springs.
We visited the Saratoga Museum which was a small, free museum with a fairly large collection of antiques including kitchen and laundry tools that we were encouraged to “try-out”. The museum had a section about local geology, railroads, trout fishing, and women’s suffrage.
Wyoming Women’s Rights
In 1870 (50 years before the 19th amendment) Wyoming was the first place in the world that allowed all women (regardless of race) the right to vote and hold office. In 1890, the federal government told Wyoming they would have to take away women’s right to vote before they could enter the union. Wyoming called their bluff. Wyoming women kept the right to vote in state elections as part of their state constitution when they joined the United States. This was 30 years before women would get the right to vote in Federal elections.
Snowy Mountain Brewery
After visiting the museum, we enjoyed a few beers at Snowy Mountain Brewery. The brewery is part of the Saratoga Hot Springs resort and has a minimal online presence. We didn’t have high hopes and were pleasantly surprised. Snowy Mountain had a wide variety of delicious beers including a white chocolate porter. We enjoyed the beers and would definitely recommend stopping by for a pint or two. Sadly, their growler fills were prohibitively expensive and they didn’t offer any cans to-go.
Saratoga Hobo Hot Springs
Saratoga is home to the Saratoga Hobo Hot Springs, a natural hot spring that was donated to the city upon the condition that it always remained free and accessible to the public. We were told the springs were closed for the first time ever during COVID restrictions. The adjoining swimming pool was still closed due to COVID during our visit.
The two pools were approximately 20′ x 10′ each and constructed with concrete and rock walls with sandy bottoms. Both were over 100 degrees with one slightly cooler than the other. We both enjoyed a relaxing soak but had to scrub off the sulfur smell once we got home.
Overall, we enjoyed the free hot springs, solid local beers and cheap lake camping in Saratoga Wyoming.
Summary: Wyoming Roadtrip from Jackson to Laramie
Wyoming is a great state for summer camping. We spent a week in Jackson Wyoming exploring Grand Tetons then headed south on a weeklong roadtrip towards Laramie. With stops in Lander, Rawlins and Saratoga we found several free campsites and free attractions.