National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, WY
One of the most unexpected stops on our journey to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park was the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyoming. We thought we would just stop in and ended up staying until the museum closed. This is where we first started to wrap our heads around the hardships of the Oregon Trail.
The museum is run by the Department of the Interior and is free to visit. There are 7 galleries all with interactive exhibits that are sure to keep your kids attention. (Ways of the People, The U.S. Looks West, The Oregon Trail, The Mormon Trail, The California Trail, The Pony Express, and Epilogue: The Trail Today.) There are also several buildings and overlooks that are worth exploring. They can be found surrounding the parking lot.
Start your visit by stopping by the desk for NPS stamps and a Jr. Ranger packet. Then go into the main gallery for a 20 min video and diorama presentation.
You won’t want to miss the simulated wagon ride. With the help of one of the interpretive center staff, you load into this covered wagon and attempt to ford a river. It’s a bumpy ride, but a great way to get a feel for what it might have been like. Similarly, there is a Mormon Trail handcart that you can pull to see how hard it would have been to pull all your belongings behind you across the country.
The back of the interpretive center is a large play area, almost like a train table, full of wooden wagons, cattle, and other trail props that kids can use to explore the Oregon trail through play.
The interactive stagecoach ride was another huge hit. The Littles enjoyed this several times while Jeff and I continued to read the display boards
When we left the museum we headed just down the hill to Grunner Brothers Brewing Company. (You could walk here from the Interpretive Center, but we drove.) The taproom has a menu with American favorites (burgers, flatbreads, and salads). They had table games to borrow, which entertained the kids while we enjoyed some local brews.
The next morning we were up and out early. Casper, WY has some museums and plenty of good-looking playgrounds if you’re looking to burn some more daylight. Check out Visit Casper for more ideas of what to do in town.
I highly recommend this stop, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the many trails that crossed the country. The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center did a great job of putting the plight of crossing the country on foot into a new perspective and informed much of our future travel to see the wagon ruts and forts scattered across Wyoming and beyond.