You could spend an entire weekend without leaving the grounds of the Wind River Hotel and Casino and have a rich, full holiday. Just beyond the doors of the largest of Wyoming casinos, though, you’ll find even more adventure and heritage in the heart of the state.
The Wind River Hotel and Casino, just outside Riverton, Wyoming, has easy access to the Wind River Indian Reservation so you can immerse yourself in Wyoming’s Native American culture. Fellow dog parents will appreciate that it’s not only a truly special stop en route to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks—it’s also pet friendly!
Day 1: Wind River Culture
I arrived in Wind River Country midmorning and stopped at St. Stephens Indian Mission on my way to the hotel. I had picked up a Wind River Reservation Driving Tour map, which made it really easy to find my way there.
St. Stephens Indian Mission is the site of a Catholic mission founded in the 1880s. The church is a breathtaking intersection of Native American culture and Catholicism. I soaked up the beautiful interior of the church—complete with bright, geometric stained-glass windows in Northern Arapaho style. Then I walked next door to the Heritage Center. This is the only original building remaining of the mission. It now serves as a post office and educational center for travelers like myself. I highly recommend making this one of your first stops when you’re on the Wind River Reservation.
My appetite was piqued for more cultural exposure and a meal, so I headed to the Wind River Casino & Hotel and checked in. I lucked out when I stepped into The Buffalo Restaurant in the Wind River Casino: I was treated to a plethora of meal choices and a melody of insights into Northern Arapaho culture. The walls of The Buffalo are covered with murals of quotes and imagery representative of the tribe that owns this and two other Wyoming casinos. I chose from the four restaurants in the room, then munched on my barbecue while learning as much as I could from the decor.
After lunch, I headed back to the hotel lobby, where I strolled through the cozy and fascinating Northern Arapaho Experience Room. The on-site museum is staffed by a Native American elder, so you can ask questions about the displays, their life, and their heritage. This was an absolutely incredible opportunity.
I had gotten my fill for the day, so it was my dog’s turn. She had eagerly laid claim to her place(s) in the hotel room when we checked in, so I knew she was cozy while I was eating and learning. The hotel even provided her with a food and water dish so that I wasn’t the only one enjoying complementary special touches during our stay.
We headed into Riverton, which is just a couple miles away. We romped around Jaycee Park until her doggo grin was big and tired, then headed back to our home away from home. My dog had claimed the bed closest to the window, which allowed her to gaze at the dramatic, blue Wind River Mountains in the distance over a completely uninterrupted view. She settled back into her bed with some TV, and I set out to see if I could win my supper. After all, if your vacation includes Wyoming casinos, you had better give it a try!
I was a little too shy for the table games, but the groups gathered around the craps, roulette, and poker tables were clearly having a good time. Their grins made it clear the house wasn’t winning every hand. Instead, I found a slot game and settled in with my free player’s club card (it came with $10 pre-loaded). It wasn’t long before I had doubled my money! They really delivered on the promise on their website that they have more winners than other Wyoming casinos!
I decided to quit while I was ahead, especially since I was hungry again and had been hearing about the crab special. The Red Willow is the second of three restaurants in the Wind River Hotel and Casino. This is the fine dining option on site, so my standards were high. I was not disappointed. Even better, the Native American art on the walls and the fact that all the employees were local tribal members made me feel like I was doing good while eating really well.
Day 2: Parks, Scenery and Hot Springs
After a cozy night in my room, Duke and I hit the road. Riverton and the Wind River Hotel & Casino aren’t far from the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway, which leads to the hot springs of Thermopolis, Wyoming.
On our way, we passed through Boysen State Park and drove the full length of Boysen Reservoir. The transition from the arid land surrounding the reservoir to the steep and deep canyon makes the Owl Creek Mountains stand out against the Wyoming sky. The drama and solitude of the canyon views, which is almost entirely on the Wind River Reservation, is a must-see. The canyon itself offers a new view with each turn—as well as countless opportunities to safely pull over and watch the river go by and take photos. We stopped at one of the campgrounds in the canyon so my dog could run a bit, and I’m sure she was appreciating the views as much as I was.
Just an hour from the Wind River Casino, we reached Thermopolis and enjoyed our second state park for the day: Hot Springs State Park. Surrounded by a big park for picnicking and playing fetch, the free pool in mineral waters has another connection to Native American culture: This site was—and still is—very important to the regional tribes. I read some of the interpretive displays, then slipped into the pungent, soothing waters.
Having found a new state of relaxation and treated my tired muscles, I turned back to Riverton for a special show. All summer long, the Wind River Hotel & Casino hosts Native American dance exhibitions. The dancers were so graceful and athletic, and their regalia swept me up in the sounds of the singers and their drums. The emcee educated us about Native culture and history while entertaining us with plenty of humor. To wrap up the evening, the dancers invited us to join in for a song. Once again, I can’t believe how much you can experience right on the Wind River Hotel & Casino property!
Dinner was a dish you can’t miss while you’re in Indian Country: an Indian taco. I picked one up at the third and final restaurant in what is certainly my stomach’s favorite casino in Wyoming: Cee Nokuu. An Indian taco is a delightful, hot pillow of fried dough topped with ground beef, veggies, salsa, cheese, and more. Duke’s only regret was that she didn’t get to taste any.
Day 3: Wildlife
Duke and I slept in after our full day, then sadly said goodbye to the Wind River Hotel & Casino. But our adventure inspired by the best of Wyoming casinos wasn’t over yet. On our way out of town, we took Highway 26 toward the Wild Horse Sanctuary. We took this route so we could see the bison of the Reservation. They were only recently re-introduced into the wild on the Wind River Indian Reservation, so the chance to spot them was significant.
The Reservation is also home to the only wild horse sanctuary on an Indian Reservation. I made a stop there to top off my Wyoming cultural tour. The Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary is a working ranch where un-adoptable mustangs from Wyoming and Nevada get to live out their lives in comfort and with professional care. They also get visitors like myself. The visitor center is a wealth of information about the significance of the horse to Native American history and culture, so start there. Then, take a tour to visit the mustangs in the pasture to put it all into perspective.
Back Home: A Winning Stay to Remember
I certainly won more than my supper during my stay at the Wind River Hotel & Casino. The opportunity to do good and make connections was what I believe travel is all about. The entire itinerary, inspired by the best of Wyoming casinos, was a special exploration of the American West.