There are several, incredible caves in Wyoming, and one that’s so large it crosses state lines. Home to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming is a bit of a mystery to those who don’t live there. It’s not the most well-known state, despite its immense natural beauty.
The wide prairie land features a horizon of shale, limestone, and Paleozoic sandstone, otherwise known as the Rocky Mountains. The dreamlike juxtaposition of a sea of yellow against cold slate gray, capped in white, is hard to look away from and is difficult to fathom, even when you see it on TV. However, not all of Wyoming’s majestic beauty resides on the surface.
The system of caverns beneath the cowboy state is intricate and oftentimes massive. It’s an ethereal, alien world beneath the rolling, amber plains. If you’ve never been to Wyoming, you owe it to yourself to experience both the outside and the deep. Both are fantastic wonders that have to be seen to be truly appreciated.
Incredible Caves In Wyoming
While Tennessee is still king when it comes to the number of known cave systems throughout the state, Wyoming features hundreds of square miles of cavernous spelunking glory. One of the biggest things that separates Wyoming from other states is the wild nature of the exploration available.
You can’t just wander off to whatever cave you choose and go exploring. While there are certainly plenty of guided tour recreation types in the state, many of the best caves require a permit from the Bureau of Land Management. Once you acquire a permit, you’re completely on your own and at the mercy of the cave.
1. Horsethief Cave
Horsethief Cave is one of the more interesting caves in Wyoming, not just because of its size (it features miles of twisting passages) but also because of its history. It didn’t get its name from a drawing hat, after all.
Back in the second half of the 19th century and even into the 1900s, horse thieves would use the cave as a hiding place and a spot to camp out on the run from the law. The thieves recognized the strategic value of the approach to the cave and how easy it is to spot anyone approaching.
In a day and age where horse thievery risked a death sentence, such a good hiding spot was a valuable commodity. The cave is so large that it stretches well into Montana. Another highlight is the cave’s plethora of speleothems, a gypsum wall, and “mind-bender” pools.
2. Spirit Mountain Cave
Spirit Mountain Cave lies west of Cody and requires a permit to explore. If you’re the adventurous sort, you’ll need to approach The Bureau of Land Management to get permission and prepare yourself for a hike. It’s not easy to reach the cave, despite the level of popularity it holds throughout the region.
Once known as Frost Cave before it was known as Shoshone Caverns, Spirit Mountain is accessible after an extensive hike. One of the best rewards for finishing the hike to the cave’s opening is the spectacular view. From the mouth of the cave, there is an unobstructed view of Yellowstone National Park, along with the Shoshone River.
Spirit Mountain is one of the deepest caverns in the state, at 4,000′. Once you display your permit at the entrance, you’ll get to experience a tight, winding journey that requires a bit of climbing, crawling, sliding, and squatting. So get your leg muscles ready if you’re planning a trip.
3. Vapor Cave
The Vapor Cave is aptly named and one of the most family-friendly caves in Wyoming. It’s highly popular for its recreational offerings as well, including warm swimming pools and water slides outside. The cave is a natural sauna, with steam coming from the thermal springs bubbling up into the cave.
The Vapor Cave is not a natural cave, though the geothermal reactions are very much so. When the park was created, the steam rooms were carved out of the rock, forming caves that take advantage of the natural mineral sauna.
The cave is located in Thermopolis, and it’s a full-fledged water park with everything you expect to find in such a place. If you’re not up for hiking the Wyoming wilderness, to reach a far-flung cave entrance, the Vapor Cave might be for you. This is especially true if you have little ones that just can’t make those hikes.
4. Sinks Canyon Cave
If you want to experience the wonder of nature along with some ancient native history, Sinks Canyon is one of the most incredible caves in Wyoming. Exploring the canyon reveals ancient native writings or art along the rock walls. Archeological research and digs in the area reveal evidence of thousands of years of occupation.
The Popo Agie River flows directly into the caves, re-emerging at Rise. Unfortunately, you can’t go too deeply into the cave since the egress points are too small for humans and there’s a danger of drowning. Thousands of visitors flock to the cave each year and it’s an amazing view.
The entire canyon is a thing of beauty and a lot of fun to explore. The entire region was carved out by glacier movements from eons ago and, what was left behind is a natural masterpiece. The oldest sign of human habitation is dated to 9,000 years ago, so you’ll walk in the passage of millennia of people that came before you. There’s always something both haunting and exhilarating about that.
5. Natural Trap Cave
Natural Trap is one of the few “pit” caves in Wyoming, and it’s a wonderful experience for the well-prepared. There’s a drop of about 27 yards (24.69 m) from the 5-yard wide opening, so if you’re not prepared and have the tools for such an entry, you’re out of luck.
You can climb down using either a rope or climbing along the inner cave wall. However, it’s not a job for the inexperienced, and you should only go if you know what you’re doing. The cave has a long history of accidental falls, and archeologists discovered the bones of many an accident over the centuries.
If you can obtain a permit from the Bureau of Land Management, there is plenty to explore within, including crawlspaces, small adjacent rooms, and a nice, cold welcome of roughly 45 °F (7.22 °C).
Summary of Five Incredible Caves in Wyoming
|Horsethief Cave||Bighorn Mountains|
|Spirit Mountain Cave||West of Cody, Wyoming|
|Sinks Canyon Cave||Lander/Sinks Canyon State Park|
|Natural Trap Cave||Lovell|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © rozdemir01/iStock via Getty Images
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