Dip into a cool town of climbers, killer coffee, and cowboys
Ranch meets rock: July Fourth weekend is the 118th Lander Pioneer Days Parade & Rodeo. The following weekend, hundreds of rock climbers pile in for the International Climbers’ Festival. Locals share their cute cafes, mom-and-pop shops, and parks with both crowds.
Wait, where is Lander? Along the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River in central Wyoming, on the most scenic routes to Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Localese: You’ll never pronounce Popo Agie correctly without help. It’s pa-po-zha.
Dress code: Mostly climbers in fleece. Pick up sporty duds for yourself at Wild Iris Mountain Sports (333 Main St.; 307/332-4541).
Where to start the day: Apple Valley Market (228 Main; 307/332-5536) makes fresh eggs and pancakes, and it’s never too early for their cookies and pies.
Anytime treat: With July temps reaching the high 80s, there’s almost always a line for chokecherry shakes at the Scream Shack (126 Main; 307/332-8228).
Hike to your swim: There’s fine fishing, climbing, and biking in Sinks Canyon State Park, 15 minutes southwest of downtown, but you don’t need an ounce of gear for the easy hikes. The 1.5-mile (one-way) trail to Popo Agie Falls parallels the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie and gently climbs through aspens and Indian paintbrush. The deal-sealer? The swimming hole, complete with natural waterslides down giant boulders, waiting at the end. Free; start at Bruce’s Parking Area; 307/332-3077.
City-style coffee break: From the iPad cash register to the welded metal countertops, there’s little doubt Old Town Coffee is the state’s most stylish coffeehouse. The fact that they brew up Handsome Coffee—the only place to do so for hundreds of miles—is simply showing off. The Handsome Scout’s Honor espresso is just right with a fresh-made raspberry croissant. 300 Main St.; 307/438-1960.
Shop on Main: We like Kashmir Funk (closed Sun; 236 Main St., 307/438-4005) for the ironic T-shirts, jewelry, and Urban Outfitters–esque skirts and dresses—for a lot less. Down the street, the Gated Garden (closed Sun; 232 Main; 307/332-2874) has tools, seeds, and fun stuff like Garden Bingo.
The burger lover’s burger: The shaded picnic tables outside are the best place to gobble a Gannett Grill Swiss Piggy Burger with bacon and grilled mushrooms. Never frozen, your grass-fed patty may have been packaged the day before at Wyoming’s only certified organic plant, 10 minutes away. Salad greens come from even closer—Gannett’s own garden. $; 126 Main St.; 307/332-8228.
Make it an overnight: Tent campers can set up beneath the big shady trees at Lander City Park for free. A 15-minute walk from Gannett Grill, the park is a favorite with both families and budget travelers for its sprawling lawn, sand volleyball court, horseshoe pits, playground, basic bathrooms, tennis courts, picnic shelters, and the river that runs through the park. No reservations needed—just show up and pitch your tent. 405 Fremont St.
Feeling adventurous? The real action is in the mountains and desert just outside town
By fishing line: Curious about Sinks Canyon’s name? Just before the visitor center, the river turns into a large cave and disappears in a frothing tumult of whitewater called the Sink. It stays hidden for ¼ mile until it peacefully reappears at The Rise, home to some of the world’s biggest trout. We’re talking up to 10 pounds. Fishing license from $6; 3079 Sinks Canyon Rd.; sinkscanyonstatepark.org
On foot: Climbers from around the world visit Limestone Mountain, 24 miles southwest of Lander off State 28. Not so vertically inclined? There are hiking trails, too, which wind through the aspens and lupine at 9,000 feet. Shoshone National Forest Washakie Ranger District, 333 E. Main; fs.usda.gov/shoshone
By car: The 70-mile Loop Road starts and ends in Lander. You’ll pass high-altitude trout-filled lakes, meadows teeming with fireweed, and the bright sandstone walls of Red Canyon. Mid-loop, a 6-mile (round-trip) detour takes you to South Pass City State Historic Site ($4; southpasscity.com), a former gold boomtown where many of the 29 historic buildings have been restored.