Wyoming is a state made exceptional by its wide-open landscapes and awe-inspiring mountains. Much like Colorado, it is home to both the plains and the spine of the Rockies. And it’s home to some of the United States most famous National Parks – Yellowstone and the Tetons. But besides the places that people think of at the drop of a hat when it comes to Wyoming, the state is full of jaw dropping trails and vistas that feel out of this world.
One great base for exploring a lesser-known side of Wyoming is the town of Casper, which is located in the middle of the state. It sits nestled in along the edge of the hilly and low Casper Mountains. It also looks down on the plains that stretch off into the dusty blue sky. It’s also a great gateway to urban hiking in Wyoming.
Of course, you could spend your time in Casper exploring the cultural side of the city. There is plenty to see. But if you are like me, you are looking for opportunities to see all the sides of nature in the places that you visit. And while there are many hiking options in central Wyoming, there are two great spots for hiking in Casper, WY that I love – Muddy Mountain, and Rotary Park and Garden Creek Park.
Muddy Mountain, although it has a silly name, is a gateway to the wooded backcountry of Casper. It’s nested on a mountainous rim near the Casper Mountains. Meanwhile, Rotary Park, right outside of town, is home to a beautiful waterfall and trails that scale the rocky flanks of the mountains.
Let this guide be your gateway to these trails. Maybe they are for you, or maybe these pictures can just serve as a link to these beautiful places.
Why Casper, WY?
Admittedly, Casper isn’t the most exciting spot in Wyoming. But that’s actually not saying much… because the MOST exciting spots in this state are out-of-this-world, and insanely cool. Meanwhile, Casper is a place to slow down, and take in nature – not as an anomalous beauty, but as it is in many of our backyards.
Of course, there are things to do in this charming town besides hiking in Casper. So, if you have the time and gumption, I think this city makes a great weekend get-away. Some great options for activities in town except for the hiking are:
- National Historic Trails Interpretive Center
- Tate Geological Museum at Casper College
- Nicolaysen Art Museum
- Fort Caspar Museum
There are also loads of breweries in town to try, and I’ve also personally tried a couple of coffee houses that I really enjoyed.
- Bourgeois Pig: This located in downtown Casper, and has a really cool, classic coffee house vibe – mixed with cool rocker vibes.
- Buffalo Bean: Doesn’t have the coolest vibe, because it’s still getting its feet under it, but it has AMAZING drinks that are super creative and SO SO good.
How is the Hiking in Casper?
When it comes to urban hiking in Wyoming, there aren’t a lot of options, but Casper has some of the best trails right near town. The benefit of not being out in the wilds is that you can spend the morning on the trail, and then be back home to your hotel (or otherwise) for an afternoon of rest, art, or whatever you like to do while snuggled up on the couch. Likewise, there are loads of great places to eat for your post-hike refuel.
I also think either of these options would be good for kids and families. Muddy Mountain is better for a relaxed walk through the forest, and a nice picnic on the rim. Rotary Park and Garden Creek Falls is perfect for kids that are a little older and sure on their feet. The trails are challenging but fun for explorers-at-heart. Likewise, if you are looking for a relaxing trail, give Muddy Mountain a try. The Rotary Club Park is very popular (for good reason) and can feel a little crowded.
Down to Earth
That all being said, the hiking in Casper isn’t like the wilds of the Tetons or Yellowstone. They are beautiful, yes. And actually, the drive to Muddy Mountain made me teary eyed because I was literally awe-struck coming over the Casper Mountains. But do expect something a little more tame, and dare-I-say, ordinary. I don’t mean that these trails are ones you should miss, by any means. But just head out with the mindset of appreciating the kind of beauty that can be found all around us. You will see forests, waterfalls, and rolling mountains near Casper.
These are well-loved, near-town trails, and even though both of the options that I will explore here have official maps and they ask people to stay on trail, there are many “spider” trails as well. In other words, there are a lot of ad hoc paths that might make it hard for you to follow your intended route. And these trails might make sense to local folks, especially if they know the area like the back of their hand, but as a visitor, this can be confusing. I’d suggest downloading the map of the exact route you’d like to take onto your phone via AllTrails or any other hiking app that you prefer. I will provide some trail names for the app below so you can follow the routes I did, if you would like.
Rotary Park and Garden Creek Falls
Of the trails that I did while visiting, the Rotary Park and Garden Creek Falls was my top pick from the hiking in Casper. It was, admittedly, a little too busy for my tastes, but there is a lot of beauty contained in this relatively condensed park.
At the heart of it all is the Garden Creek waterfall. From the parking lot (which does have bathrooms), there are wide, well-maintained trails that follow either side of a stream, up into the arms of the Casper mountains. It’s a short walk from the car to the waterfall on these tracks, but the last vestiges of the city fall away as the stream and the canyon envelope you. I thought I was in for a dried waterfall when I visited, because I was there just at the cusp of fall, but much to my surprise it was flowing strongly. And the trail spills you out at the base, where you can tip toe over the stream (when the water is low), to get closer to the curtain of falling water and its halo of moss.
It was a pretty surprising sight for exceptional option among the short, easy hikes in Wyoming, or anywhere for that matter. But the ease of access comes with some downsides too. In the 5 minutes that I took to snap a few pictures of the waterfall, I ran into two separate, large groups of people. Unless you go at an odd hour, this won’t be a place for solitude.
If you are looking for a bit more of a challenge, and maybe a little less crowds, the fun doesn’t stop with the waterfall. There are several loops that you can do inside Rotary Park – one longer and one shorter.
For my part, I had already hiked in the morning at Muddy Mountain, so I opted for the shorter loop, but I accessed it via the very steep trail that leads from the falls to some observation decks. This trail goes straight up the canyon wall via a series of rough steps (sometimes rimed by cable hand-holds) and connects with the inner loop route. It was a bit challenging to climb up, but I also really enjoyed the unique quality of it. I think this little route is great for adults and experienced kids who like an interesting trail. And while I wouldn’t say it was easy by any means, and you want to be wary of falling – it’s doable with some care and will-power.
The inner loop is equally fun and the environment is shockingly variable. To the west, you will hike back over the upper part of the stream that feeds the waterfall. This includes hopping from rock to rock with a cable to cling onto in order to cross the Garden Creek. This part of the trail has the verdant feel of a place alive with water – with the stream creating its own, vibrant riparian corridor. Garden Creek is an apt name.
To the east, you will track up into the more typical, drier conifer forest of the Casper Mountains. The trail passes through the shade of the trees, through warm meadows, and it experiences a variation in challenge as it follows the contours of the mountains.
Due to all the variety, and exceptional views, I think this place tops out as some of the best hiking in Casper, even despite the crowds.
Need to Know Information
Trail Names: Lower Cutoff Loop via East Bridle Trail
Trail Length: 2-3 miles
Entrance Fee: None
Difficulty: Varied; Garden Creek Falls – Easy; Lower Cutoff – Moderate
Bathrooms at the Trailhead? Yes
4WD to Needed to Access? No
Muddy Mountain is a BLM park that is on the other side of the Casper Mountains from the city. It is a multi-use area on top of a rim in the wooded mountains. There are OHV trails, hunting, and camping in this area, but if you go early in the morning, you can still find solitude here. And additionally, the trail that I would suggest for this route is for non-motorized use only.
The main attraction of this trail is the beautiful woods. Essentially, you will be circling the forest, and climbing up a fairly level ridge. There is a portion of the trail that will be along the dirt road. So, be sure to be extra careful while walking there. People can drive quickly down this road.
It isn’t the most exceptional hiking in Casper, but combined with a picnic on the rim, it is the perfect place for a peaceful morning. There are really beautiful views from Muddy Mountain. And compared to the Rotary Park, this is a nice, quiet place to walk, especially in the in the earlier parts of the day.
In terms of short, easy hikes in Wyoming, Muddy Mountain also involves a spectacular drive into the mountains. For that reason alone, it really isn’t to be missed.
Need to Know Information
Trail Names: Muddy Mountain Loop Trail (AllTrails)
Trail Length: 3.5 miles
Entrance Fee: None
Bathrooms at the Trailhead? No
4WD to Needed to Access? No; but it is a dirt road to access
Although this guide is about urban hiking in Wyoming, safety is still a priority. In Phoenix, for example, people die on urban trails every year. I know that sounds scary, but you have to take care of yourself. Remember, this guide is not a guarantee of your safety, and the tips above are NOT comprehensive.
For both of these options, spider trails are very common. I’d suggest downloading a map from AllTrails so you can stay on the official trails. I got a bit lost here myself when I visited.
For Muddy Mountain, it might make sense to wear a high visibility vest to help the hunters and drivers see you and know to stay clear.
More Adventures in Wyoming
If hiking in Casper is just one of several stops for you, consider checking out my short Visitor’s Guide to Wyoming. There is so much to do in this state, particularly if you love hitting the trails.
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