In a world where entire generations of people have never seen the Milky Way and less than 20 percent of Americans and Europeans can even see the stars in the sky at night, Wyoming’s Wind River Country is delighted to be the dark spot on the map.
Tucked up against Yellowstone National Park and part of the largest contiguous Wilderness area in the lower 48, Wind River Country provides a path of clear, dark night skies across Wyoming and into the celebrated light-pollution refuge. With few brightly lit places in our communities, we shine as a stargazing destination. Paired with high altitude of 5,000–13,000 feet, reliably clear skies (we only have 36 days of precipitation annually), and wide-open spaces, your first taste of the Milky Way will forever stay with you.
The most jaded city dweller can be unexpectedly moved upon encountering a clear night sky studded with thousands of twinkling stars. When it happens to me after all these years it still takes my breath away.” Carl Sagan
Where to go
Located in town with easy access, the town overlook is a favorite stargazing location among locals. From Main Street, look for the large Scenic Overlook sign and the gravel roadway leading up to the high ridge at the north. You can drive or hike to the top, where you’ll find the overlook and hiking and mountain biking trails. Look for the informational signs beside the circular roadway at the top.
Or see the night sky as it was meant to be seen at Torrey Rim, Ring Lake, and Trail Lake. You’ll be surrounded by the Fitzpatrick Wilderness, the Shoshone National Forest and Whiskey Mountain, home to the largest wintering herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in North America. You’ll be in the presence of the distinctive petroglyphs (rock art) of the early Sheep Eater Indians (Mountain Shoshone) and the rugged mountains that sustained them for hundreds of years.
Loop Road, Lander
Drive south of Lander to and through Sinks Canyon. Continue driving up the paved road and find a lookout on one of the higher switchbacks or park at the very top of the switchbacks (it’s paved all the way to the top and beyond) in the parking lot or next to Frye Lake.
Castle Gardens, east of Riverton
Enjoy some historical perspective with your galactic perspective—Castle Gardens is home to stellar petroglyphs (ancient rock art), including some of the best-preserved shield art in the American West. This site has picnic facilities and interpretive signs, but it is remote and you may not have cell phone reception. Be prepared with maps, a spare tire, food and water. From Riverton, head south on Highway 789 to Highway 136, also called Gas Hills Road. Turn left and drive 35 miles. Turn left on a dirt road toward Castle Gardens and continue six miles. Turn right at the Castle Gardens sign and drive another five miles to the site. This site is best visited when roads are dry.
This tiny town doesn’t put out much light, and it’s surrounded by open lands perfect for a picnic blanket (or a pile of them), hot cocoa, and a constellation app on your phone. Nearby Boysen State Park and Reservoir have excellent viewing points and picnic areas.
Wind River Country’s backcountry
Any place you can camp in the mountains or desert and get away from the trees will give you an unrivaled view of the stars. Settle in on your back on a boulder by a lake or a meadow and take in a sight most Americans can’t.
Be prepared when you venture into the night: scout the location in daylight first, tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return, pack more warm clothes than you think you’ll need, bring a flashlight, bring some snacks and water, pack bear spray (depending on the time of year).