The small town of Buffalo, Wyoming is located nine miles east of the Big Horn National Forest in Johnson County, Wyoming. It is just large enough to provide all the amenities when exploring the area. Buffalo features a historic downtown as well as a slew necessary travel businesses on Hart St which intersects with I-90.
Buffalo’s colorful history includes Indian Wars, Cattle Baron Wars, and outlaw activity. Though it might be best known as Durant in Absaroka County in the Longmire Series written by Craig Johnson, who lives on a ranch in nearby Ucross. A&E and later Netflix aired a combined six seasons of the Longmire mystery series based in Buffalo and Johnson County.
Things to Do in Buffalo
There are many things to do in Buffalo, from visiting outlaw hangouts, to fishing, camping, climbing, horseback riding, and strolling through the quaint Buffalo Historic District. Below are a few things you will find when visiting Buffalo.
Visit the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum
To fully appreciate all of Buffalo’s history, stop in the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum conveniently located on the corner of Hwy 16 and Main St in Buffalo’s historic district. The museum, once Jim Gatchell’s drug store, includes exhibits on the Johnson County Cattle War, the Bloody Bozeman Trail, Bomber Mountain, the Basque in Johnson County, Indian artifacts, dinosaur fossils, and more. Below is a little history about two of the exhibits.
The Johnson County Cattle War Exhibit
The Johnson County Cattle War began in the late 1800s when plunging beef prices and a bad drought and winter created tensions between the cattle barons who ruled most of Wyoming Territory and small operators who were just trying to support their own family.
With Wyoming as a fence out Territory, the cattle barons over grazed much of the land with too many head of cattle. As a result, the small operators and barons competed for range land and water. Ultimately, the barons formed a group called The Invaders consisting of the barons, their employees, and 23 hired guns.
They set out to shoot or hang 70 men, the first being Nate Champion and Nick Ray at the KC Ranch who defended their right to herd their cattle. While it was too late for those two men, the Invaders were eventually stopped by a posse eight times their size. Though no one was ever brought to trial!
The Bomber Mountain Exhibit
Bomber Mountain is aptly named for the B-17 bomber crash in 1943. The bomber was 113 miles off its course to Nebraska when the fatal accident occurred. The wreckage wasn’t discovered for two years. All ten men onboard perished. Some of the wreckage may be seen at the museum.
Step Into History on the Bozeman Trail
After learning some of Buffalo’s history, step into it at Mountain Plains Heritage Park, on the east side of town. Here you will find a short trail which loops around a log cabin where the Bloody Bozeman Trail used to run. The Bozeman Trail was charted by John Bozeman and John Jacobs in 1863 to short cut the route to the gold fields in Montana by 400 miles.
Despite being protected by three forts; Fort Reno, Fort Phil Kearny and Fort CF Smith, emigrants only used the trail for four years due to dangerous conditions. The route traveled through Indian territory which caused numerous battles between the native plains Indians and the white man.
The walk through Mountain Plains Heritage Park, run by Johnson County, is more historical than picturesque, but fear not, there are plenty of beautiful hikes in Buffalo.
Take a Hike
In addition to countless trails such as Sherd Lake Trail and Mirror Lake and Lost Twin Lakes in the Big Horn National Forest which are more difficult to access, Buffalo created the Clear Creek Trail System. The network of trails may be accessed right from town or at a variety of other trailhead locations. I prefer Mosier Gulch which includes picnic tables and a pit toilet, though limited parking.
From Mosier Gulch, you may hike east along William J Mentock Trail in the shade of the pine forest and loop around the ruins of a 1914 Hydro-Electric Power Plant for a five-mile lollipop loop. The power plant was financed by German immigrant HP Rothwell who admired European castles, so the power plant ruins appear medieval.
You may also hike west to Grouse Mountain. This hike begins at the gate at the bottom of the hill from the picnic area. You may follow the shaded Joe’s Trail along Clear Creek or take the road for open views until you reach the Grouse Mountain Trailhead. The Grouse Mountain Trail climbs 1,300 feet over 3.5 miles through intermittent forest and wildflower meadows, with the roundtrip being 7 miles.
It affords rewarding views and wonderful wildlife sightings. Visit my post Grouse Mountain Trail and Ice Caves, for a more detailed description.
Pull Weeds for Money
While you are out hiking, you can also make money while eradicating invasive plant species. The Weed Bounty Program, “Wanted: Dead Not Alive”, runs from May to July. Johnson County Weed & Pest will pay a set fee per pound of select species. They also provide a $50 reward for identifying verified new locations of particular grasses and pay large prizes to the top three pullers! Just be sure to use THEIR clear plastic bags.
Soak in the Wyoming’s Largest Pool
After your hike and weed pulling, cool down in Buffalo’s outdoor pool. The pool, which is fed by Clear Creek and holds 1 million gallons of water, was once the largest free pool in the world. It has since lost both designations but is still the largest pool in Wyoming with a meager $3 charge.
The famous pool with swim lanes, slides, and a diving board, is located in City Park only a block or so from the Buffalo Historic District.
Learn About the Buffalo Railroad
While visiting City Park, follow the Clear Creek Trail to the opposite end from the pool, cross the bridge and check out the old #105 locomotive utilized by the Buffalo Railroad.
The 28.6 mile Buffalo Railway route operated for nearly 30 years. The railway company, managed by Charles Duffy, was established in 1912 after the railroad companies bypassed the town. By the time the route from Buffalo to Clearmont was surveyed and the necessary right-of-ways were purchased, World War I began.
As a result, the BC&BM Railroad “Buffalo, Clearmont, and Back (Maybe)” took six years to complete. Leery of a completion date, residents called the railroad, Duffy’s Bluff.
In addition to the locomotive, railroad enthusiasts may visit Potter’s Depot and the Roundhouse. Pick up a Railroad Walking Tour pamphlet from the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum or the Chamber of Commerce.
Grab Some Stickers
While visiting Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, be sure to get your free stickers. The State of Wyoming is running a #thatsWY campaign, and you can pick up free stickers from various locations throughout the state! They are perfect for the back of your van, your refrigerator, or even a water bottle.
Savor the Summer Events
Also, be sure to check out all the other summer events while at the Chamber of Commerce. For a small town, Buffalo features something almost nightly. A free movie shows at the theatre every Tuesday. Wednesday evening is market day. A Thursday night jam session takes place at the Occidental Saloon. There is also Saturday in the Square Concert Series on the third Saturday of the month, June through August. And a week of Bluegrass music begins in late July.
Amble at the Art Walk
The first Friday of every month features the art walk. Participating stores place a yellow flag on their building façade indicating an artist is on site.
Watch the Rodeo
If art isn’t your thing, then check out the rodeo at Johnson County Fairgrounds, just north of Buffalo. The Longmire Rodeo Series is held most Thursday nights and the Johnson County Fair & Rodeo begins the last week of July and goes through the first week of August.
Find a Festival
Probably the biggest event of the summer is Longmire Days. Members of the public get to interact with the actors of the show, Longmire, which is based in Buffalo. Ticketed events include tea with Ruby at the TA Guest Ranch and riding horses with Sheriff Longmire and Travis Murphy. There are also free events for visitors to enjoy the festival.
While Longmire Days may be the biggest, its not the only festival in town. The Model A & Pioneer Car Club holds a hot rod show in early July. The public gets to vote on the winner. They also hold Weiner dog and corgi races and give out free ice cream made from a heck of a contraption!
Go Off Road Crazy Woman Canyon
While the hot rods probably don’t drive the narrow dirt road through Crazy Woman Canyon, you can! FSR 33 is a 13-mile, one lane, narrow dirt road the runs the length of the high-walled canyon to Kaycee. It is best to have a small, high clearance vehicle. Campers and trailers are not recommended. Many locals ride their ATVs along the road.
In the western days, the Indians used the canyon as a passageway to the Big Horn Mountains and a staging area for the Indian Plains Wars. Additionally, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used Crazy Woman Canyon as a hideout.
There are two stories about how Crazy Woman Canyon got its name. One claims an Indian woman was left to live alone in a teepee here, where she went insane. The other tells a tragic tale of a woman settler who watched her husband and children be scalped by Indians, which caused her insanity.
The canyon is located west of Buffalo off Highway 16.
Tour Mountain Meadow Wool
On the opposite side of town from the canyon is Mountain Meadow Wool Mill. Mountain Meadow Wool Mill opened in 2007 with the mission to highlight the quality of Wyoming wool, which is a silky mountain merino.
With the sheep population dwindling across the country, Mountain Meadow Wool hopes to help the ranches make a better profit. It has created a system to trace each product back to the origin where it is grown.
After purchasing its wool from the growers, the mill is a full-service production. It washes, dries, combs, spins, and dies the yarn. While it sells its yarn to yarn shops and manufacturers of knitted goods, it also has knitters on site to make products.
Visitors may watch a film about the industry and see the entire production process. Don’t miss their pet sheep, Yarnold, around the side of the building.
FUN FACT: One sheep fleece can make 48,000 yards of yarn which is just over 27 miles long!
Where to Stay in Buffalo
While you could just pass through Buffalo for a quick lunch or a hike. It is best to stay a while. The historic Occidental Hotel is on the National Geographic Traveler Magazine “Stay List” as one of the most enjoyable places to stay in North America.
It has hosted the likes of Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, Tom Horn, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and Calamity Jane. In the midst of all that, Owen Wister, who was traveling west for his health later wrote the famous Western novel, “The Virginian”. It is said that the shootout in the novel took place in front of the Occidental Hotel.
The 1908 hotel recently underwent a $1.6 million historic renovation so you may stay in comfort while admiring antique furniture, copper embossed ceilings, and old black and white photos. Stop in the lobby, browse its store, enjoy a jam session in its saloon, or have a fancy meal at its restaurant, The Virginian, which is only open for dinner on the weekend.
Where to Eat in Buffalo
When you stay a while don’t miss breakfast at the Busy Bee Cafe, lunch at Sagewood, a beer at Bonds Brewing Company, or dessert at Lickity Splits. These are just a few of the tasty restaurants in Buffalo.
While Buffalo is a little far from the closest commercial airport, it is worth the road trip along the scenic byways to get there. And if you have a camper there are plenty of places to camp from RV parks to countless spots on free BLM land and in the Big Horn National Forest. Join the #thatsWY campaign and explore Buffalo. ETB