US National Parks, Western US

Pioneers on the Plains – Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Wyoming

Ask anyone who has ever gone on a road trip with me, and they’ll tell you that I planned far more things than we could possibly fit into the time we had. They wouldn’t be lying. I’m not exactly what you’d call a relaxed vacationer. But every once in a while – usually accidentally – I under-plan. Such was the case for our three-day weekend in Cheyenne, Wyoming. By the end of day one, it became clear that the things on my to-do list weren’t going to take three full days.

So we came up with a new plan: half of day two would be spent at Fort Laramie National Historic Site, located about 90 minutes north of Cheyenne. It was a long drive through the deserted plains of Wyoming to get there. But it turned out to be a good addition to our trip.

The original Fort Laramie was built in 1834 on a hill above a bend in the Laramie River. A larger version of the fort was built in 1840. Fort Laramie initially served as a trading post for Native Americans and white settlers before becoming an important stopping point for emigrants on the Oregon Trail.

In 1849, the fort was purchased by the US Army and used as a military post to “protect” the growing number of emigrants and settlers. Over the next twenty years, it was also the site of several treaty negotiations with Native Americans – each of which ultimately resulted in the US stealing their homeland. But by 1890, with Natives forced onto reservations, the fort’s importance diminished and it was eventually sold.

Some of the houses were purchased by homesteaders and remained more or less intact. Settlers stripped many of the abandoned fort’s buildings for supplies, often leaving behind only the frames and foundations. After the fort was purchased by the National Park Service, eleven of the structures were renovated and refurbished. Today, the entire fort – including both the renovated and unrenovated buildings – is open to the public.

We arrived around noon and began our visit with lunch at the picnic area. The tables are set beneath towering cottonwood trees along the bank of the Laramie River, and we enjoyed some food in the sunshine before making our way up to the fort.

Laramie River
Buildings at Fort Laramie, as seen from the picnic area

We began our tour at the old commissary storehouse, which is now the visitor center. There’s a 20 minute film about the history of the fort, as well as some exhibits. The two were largely redundant, and after watching the film we ended up not needing to read most of the exhibits.

From here, we set off around the fort. I’m guessing we walked at least a mile (1.6 km) as we made our way from one building to the next, guided by the map. The map includes a short blurb about each building. The signs outside each one are much more informative, though.

Foundation of the infantry barracks, with restored living quarters in the distance
New guardhouse
Old guardhouse
Ruins of the administrative building
Captain’s Quarters
Ruins of the officers’ quarters
Old Bedlam – the oldest documented building in Wyoming
Inside Old Bedlam
Surgeon’s quarters
Foundation of the old infantry barracks
Lieutenant Colonel’s quarters
Inside the house
Store (left) and living quarters (right)
Cavalry barracks
Inside the barracks
Hospital ruins

About a mile up the road from the fort is the Fort Laramie Bridge across the North Platte River. It was built in the 1870s to facilitate a supply route from Cheyenne to newly-established reservations up north. The previous river crossing was by ferry, which resulted in numerous accidents and deaths each year in the attempts to navigate the fast-flowing water.

North Platte River
Fort Laramie Bridge

While we were in the area, we decided to also make two quick stops at Register Cliff State Historic Site – a cliff along the Oregon Trail into which many settlers carved their names – and the Guernsey Oregon Trail Ruts. Register Cliff was largely a disappointment. Yes, there were many carvings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. But there were also many more modern carvings, which made it feel less like a historic site and more like a pile of graffiti. Not to mention the fact that the cliff used to be the site of carvings created by local Native Americans, which are no longer visible beneath the hundreds of names and dates.

Register Cliff
Carvings on Register Cliff

The Oregon Trail Ruts, on the other hand, were fairly neat. I’d seen ruts before, in nearby Scotts Bluff, but those looked more like a grass-covered ditch. These ruts were much more obvious, having been carved into the rock over many years by thousands of wagon wheels. In places, the ruts were nearly 4 feet (1.3 m) deep.

View of Guernsey, Wyoming from the trail up to the ruts
Guernsey Oregon Trail Ruts

These were both quick stops, each involving maybe 5 minutes of walking and a couple minutes of viewing and sign-reading. Would I go well out of my way to visit either location? No. Were they worth a quick stop since we were already in the area? Yes.

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Fort Laramie is located about 20 minutes east of Guernsey, Wyoming off Highway 26; it is well signed and there is enough phone service for navigation
  • Fees and passes: none
  • When to visit: the fort is open year-round but some of the buildings are closed in the off-season so I recommend visiting in spring, summer, or fall when everything is open. Check the website for open hours.
  • Where to stay: Guernsey is a small town but there are a couple hotels. There are no campgrounds at Fort Laramie but there are campgrounds nearby, including in Guernsey and Guernsey State Park
  • Other: the fort is exposed to the elements. There’s very little shade and no protection from wind, rain, or snow. Come prepared for the weather of the day, and expect afternoon thunderstorms in the summer and wind year-round. The fort has water and a bathroom, but no other services.

28 thoughts on “Pioneers on the Plains – Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Wyoming”

  1. Looks like a lovely desolate place to wander around and imagine all the people that came and went through the fort back in the day. The interiors are quite interesting to explore, and the wagon ruts are almost unbelievable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an interesting place to stop off and see, the barracks don’t look like somewhere I’d want to sleep every night! I’m like you and over plan every trip and we end up having to drop things as we’re too exhausted or don’t have time!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. Doesn’t look like the most comfortable place to live, and certainly there’s no privacy. One of these days you guys will have to do a US road trip and you can see some wagon ruts!


  3. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever under-planned, but I’ve had things fall through leaving a hole in the day and resulted in the same need to figure something out quickly. The barracks look remarkably like a characterless hotel from the outside. Inside it kinda looks like a gymnasium with cots. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I have found wagon ruts a couple while hiking around Texas. At the Round Rock are some ruts
    in the stone along Brushy Creek from people travelling on the Chisholm Trail which passed through the city. The Round Rock in the creek was an important waypoint on the cattle drives north as it designated a reliable creek crossing. ( see my post “There Really is One”). I also found wagon marks at Bull creek as the wide valley was once used as a pass through the Hill Country Northwest of Austin. Pretty interesting stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! I think I may have learned about the Chisholm Trail at one point. I remember also learning about the Goodnight Loving Trail which travels (I think) through west Texas.


  5. Wow, what a fascinating place to explore. I loved seeing the cavalry barracks in one of your photos. My sister just joined the Latvian army and it’s amazing to see the difference between the barracks in different countries and even how they look now compared to back then. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we really enjoyed seeing the beautiful furniture and other items inside the restored buildings. Isn’t it amazing that so many wagons took the same path that the rock got worn away? It’s hard to envision.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m the exact same way in which I packed a TON of activities/sites to see in an allotted time, just in case I complete/see them earlier than expected. And from experience, I usually end up adding more activities/sites in the end, haha! Fort Laramie is definitely a lovely addition to your stay in the Cheyenne area, and your posts on Wyoming are making me itch to return (and possible head up north to Montana)!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.