From the Wild West to dinosaur fossils, here are 7 wild museums in Wyoming

Cody, WY, USA - June 2016: Plains Indian Museum Pow-wow. Dancers in colorful traditional dress
See traditional dancers from the Wind River Reservation on your summer visit to The Museum of the American West © Rainer Grosskopf / Getty Images

With urban centers often housing some of the most well-known museums around the world, you might be surprised at what one of the US’s least populated states has to offer. Museums in Wyoming cater to the art, history, geology and folklore of one of the most romanticized – and often misunderstood – areas in the country: the Wild West. From working pioneer villages and Buffalo Bill’s hide coat to bighorn sheep and dinosaur bones, Wyoming offers plenty of opportunities to satiate your curiosity.

Museum of the Mountain Man: best for outdoor enthusiasts

You’re sure to fall in love with Pinedale, the laidback, outdoorsy town where this unique museum is located, and you might even run into a real-life mountain man or woman at the local Pine Coffee Supply. The Museum of the Mountain Man captures the spirit of the town through the story of the Rocky Mountain fur trade. Highlights of the museum’s permanent collection include a Shoshone sheep horn bow, an extensive antique rifle collection and a lifesize diorama of Hugh Glass, a fur trade legend and the real-life inspiration for The Revenant (although the museum curators will tell you exactly which historical facts the film got wrong).


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Two Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep sit in a field
Wyoming is full of iconic wildlife, and the National Museum of Wildlife Art focuses on depictions of animals from around the world © Carol Polich / Lonely Planet

National Museum of Wildlife Art: best for fine art aficionados

The Natural Museum of Wildlife Art is the only art museum in the country dedicated solely to depictions of wildlife and natural landscapes from around the world. This unique museum­ – a stunning piece of architecture in and of itself­ – sits up on a bluff overlooking the National Elk Refuge. If you visit during winter, you might spot herds of elk roaming around in real life in addition to those you see painted on canvas and cast in metal. Aside from a stunning permanent collection of 5000 works in total, the museum hosts conservation-minded events and includes a chic restaurant with sweeping views of the beautiful Jackson Hole valley.

National Bighorn Sheep Center: best for animal lovers

Learn everything there is to know about one of Wyoming’s most interesting and elusive animals, the bighorn sheep. This Dubois museum’s main exhibit recreates the summer and winter migration patterns of the bighorn. You'll also learn plenty of fun facts about other Wyoming wildlife – grizzly bears, marmot, wolves, golden eagle, mule deer, chipmunk, pika, coyote, mountain goat, bushy-tailed woodrat and mountain lion, to name a few. Don’t miss the exhibit highlighting the history of the Shoshone tribe, who inhabited the area for thousands of years and had a strong, sustainable connection with the wild sheep. When you’re driving in or out of town, grab your binoculars and scope for a glimpse of the real thing – the local Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep herd can often be spotted on the hillsides.

National Museum of Military Vehicles: best wildcard

You might not expect to see almost 500 fully restored military vehicles dotting the unassuming plains right outside the tiny town of Dubois, but this museum is full of surprises. Tour the entire awe-inspiring collection of restored military vehicles, artillery pieces, naval vessels and aircraft dating from 1897 to the present with an emphasis on the American experience in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There is so much to see here that you’ll definitely want to take a guided tour. Bonus unique experience: stop at the County Store afterward to fuel up and take a gander at the world’s largest jackalope (the Wyoming version of a unicorn).

Native American performers in costume dance at a pow-wow.
Traditional dancers from the Wind River Reservation put on a performance at the Museum of the American West © Vicki L. Miller / Shutterstock

Museum of the American West: best for history buffs

The ridiculously scenic Wind River mountain range provides the perfect backdrop for this interactive museum, which celebrates the diverse people and history that shaped America’s frontier. History comes to life as you stroll through the Pioneer Village, where cabins date back to 1880 and include a livery stable, saloon and schoolhouse. On Wednesday nights during the summer months, traditional dancers from the nearby Wind River Reservation put on a colorful show and explain how each costume is made. The museum also runs an interactive summer day camp, where kids get to dress in traditional pioneer garb and attend educational programs at the historic schoolhouse. If you leave this museum hungry, be sure to stop at The Middle Fork for the best sandwiches in the town of Lander.

View of Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, Wyoming
After a busy day of digging for dinosaur fossils, take time to relax at the hot springs in Thermopolis © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Wyoming Dinosaur Center & Dig Site: best for the whole family

Kids, parents, and those who aren't afraid to get their hands a little dirty­ won’t soon forget these interactive adventures! The Dinosaur Center is a nonprofit organization famous for providing hands-on geologic and paleontological experiences that will teach you about Wyoming’s ancient natural history. Be sure to schedule ahead for an hour-long guided offsite trip to dig for bones in one of the center’s active dinosaur sites, which contain some of the richest fossil-bearing strata in the western United States. If you’re pressed for time, simply tour the museum itself, where you’ll encounter one of the largest fossil collections in the world. If you have the whole day here, sign the kids up for the Kids Dig program, where they’ll get to search an ancient seabed for marine fossils, dig for dino bones, learn how to mold and cast a fossil, and participate in a scavenger hunt. Be sure to visit the nearby Thermopolis mineral hot springs, too, so you can chill out with a long soak after all of this excitement.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West: best all-encompassing

Cody is home to a world-famous rodeo (an absolute can’t-miss) and is steeped in more Western spirit, history and character than just about anywhere else in the state. The Buffalo Bill Center encapsulates that same energy and has something for everyone. Compromised of five separate museums in total, each offers a slightly different take on a unique aspect of Wyoming. Lovers of old Westerns will enjoy the Buffalo Bill Museum, which features some of Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley’s possessions, and the Cody Firearms Museum, which houses a massive collection of traditional firearms. Art lovers, be sure to check out the Plains Museum, which contrasts Native American artifacts with modern art by Native American artists. You'll also enjoy the Whitney Western Art Museum, which features both timeless classics from Remington, Russell, Moran and Bierstadt along with today’s most sought-after Western artists. Kids will love the Draper Natural History Museum, an interactive, sensory homage to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

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