At first blush, picturesque Sheridan is all archetypal mountain verve and Wyoming vigor, but there is an artistic dynamism and cultural allure here the bellies its cow-town reputation.
Sheridan's ranching roots run centuries deep, but so too does its polo legacy (and connection to the British Crown.) The flagship Sheridan WYO Rodeo draws nearly 30,000 visitors to town every July, while the Sheridan WYO Film Festival, Brinton Museum and the Whitney Center for the Arts have become artistic touchstones with significant regional cache.
The Bighorn National Forest, home to the Cloud Peak Wilderness, is an outdoor playground of the highest caliber. It is rife with hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and climbing opportunities. National attractions also abound – the Historic Sheridan Inn is a siren song to the legend and lore of the Wild West; the Mill Inn is one of Wyoming's most distinctive hotel experiences; the ancient Medicine Wheel, at an altitude of 9,462-feet, lords over the mountains with a mystical presence that defies explanation; and the Indian battle sites like Fort Phil Kerney, the Fetterman Fight, and the Wagon Box Fight, all located along the Bozeman Trail, offer endless educational and historical attractions.
For the history of The West
Sheridan is a city steeped in the history of the west. Founded in 1884, Sheridan had been one of the Plains Indians’ most valued hunting grounds; a lush mountain valley brimming with wildlife. The area lay at the center of the American Indian Wars; it was the site of some of the most impressive Indian victories of the conflict, including the defeat of General Custer and his mounted cavalry (the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is a 1-hr drive from Sheridan), and Capt. William J. Fetterman’s inability to recognize the elegant trap set by Lakota legend Crazy Horse in the Battle of the Hundred in Hand (Sheridan County’s Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site preserves the history of numerous battles).
To experience a unique marriage of frontier functionality, historical appreciation and old-fashioned fun, consider a trip to one of the area’s renowned dude ranches. Eatons’ Ranch is the oldest working dude ranch in the nation. At once a functioning cattle ranch and a high-profile western lifestyle destination, Eatons’ and local ranches like it are the perfect representation of Sheridan’s distinctiveness.
Canyon Ranch in nearby Big Horn hosts an Orvis-endorsed fly fishing lodge; guests fish with veteran guides along mountain-fed crystal streams, enjoy private pheasant, grouse and partridge shoots, Merriam turkey hunting, horseback riding, hiking and wildlife and wildflower viewing.
Sheridan’s cultural core
Historic Downtown Sheridan is the central precinct other small towns dream of, a place where cowboy has become couture, where gastro hounds can have their steak (and eat it too) when they’re not bouncing between craft breweries, century-old bars, restaurants and farmers’ markets, and where galleries, boutiques and shops seem to multiply like libidinous pronghorn. As such, gift shops are rare here. Sheridan prefers shops like Kings Ropes & Saddlery, a massive western tack store renowned the world over for its masterful leatherwork, ropes and saddles. The Surf Wyoming (yes, this is a real thing) outpost on Main has become a destination for locally-crafted upmarket threads and handmade goods, while shops like the tremendously appointed Fly Shop of the Bighorns, the unique Crazy Woman Trading Post, and the eclectic Best Out West Antiques are emporiums of the Wyoming experience.
At the heart of Sheridan’s cultural tourism industry is a western commitment to authenticity. The cowboy ethos is alive and well, and it doesn’t look kindly upon kitsch and posturing. This discerning taste amounts to a kind of collective cultural curation, and has given rise to legacy attractions like the Brinton Museum; the Brinton is located on the historic Quarter Circle A Ranch in Big Horn, and features 19th, 20th and 21st century Western and American Indian Art in a setting that is art unto itself. The Brinton Museum’s 24,000 square-foot, three-story museum space features extensive American Indian and Western Art collections and exhibits in climate controlled galleries on the second floor, and contemporary exhibits in the reception gallery on the third floor. The Forrest E. Mars, Jr. Building was designed to honor the natural landscape allowing for unobstructed, 180-degree views of the Bighorn Mountains.
The Whitney Center for the Arts at Sheridan College has become a performance and visual arts destination, while the The Wyo Theater, built in 1923, is the center of Sheridan’s song and stage community, plays host to international acts as well as those put on by the vibrant community arts scene.
Where craft is king
Kolts Fine Spirits, now the Koltiska Distillery, crafted the first Koltiska Original Liqueur in 2001, kick-starting a nascent regional distilling industry. Then along came Black Tooth Brewing Co., a rebel outfit that ushered in sweeping changes to the craft brewing and distilling industries and changed the craft paradigm forever in a region that had long held fast to archaic notions of what libations were.
Now burgeoning beyond even the wildest expectations, Sheridan’s craft beer, spirits and wine scene is among the most robust in the Mountain West. Weston Wineries crafts wines from West Coast-grown grapes sourced from the finest producers along the Pacific, and pays homage to the legends and outlaws of the State of Wyoming at the Ledoux Saloon and Steakhouse on Main St., while Luminous Brewhouse remains one of the finest brewery secrets in the region, a purveyor of malty gold that has carved out a niche as a bespoke brewer. Smith Alley Brewing Co.’s tap room and the newly repurposed train depot that is the Welcome Market Hall have the fancy bones of a big-city brewhall, but the warmth of a local pub.
There is an undercurrent of the carefree in Sheridan, and the legendary hospitality of its proud residents is worn like a badge of honor. Blessed by mountain topography and evenly placed between Yellowstone National Park (to the west) and Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park (to the east), there’s a sense about town that Sheridan is poised to be the Next Big Thing, though those in the know understand that it always has been.