Notched in a big bend of the Wind River is Riverton, a settlement that was carved out when the federal government opened the northern portion of the reservation to non-Indian people a century ago. Riverton has established itself as a retail commercial center for west-central Wyoming. Contact the Riverton Area Chamber of Commerce, 213 W. Main St., Riverton, WY 82501 (tel. 307/856-4801; www.rivertonchamber.org), for information, including useful suggestions for day trips in the area and a list of events. That calendar includes a summer Riverton Rendezvous and Balloon Rally, held during the second and third week in July, when colorful balloons from all over the Rockies rise against the majestic backdrop of the Wind River Range, and the town puts on arts and crafts fairs, a demolition derby, a family dinner with live entertainment, and even a treasure hunt. Also in July, there is the nostalgic 1838 Rendezvous staged at the junction of the Wind River and the Little Wind River, with black-powder shooting, Indian dancing, tomahawk throws, and bead trading. A cowboy poetry gathering is held here in September, and there is the February Wild West Winter Carnival with drag races, ice sculpting, and fishing derbies on the frozen surface of Boysen Reservoir.
If you head 24 miles farther west of Riverton on Wyo. 789, you hit Lander, tucked snugly into the foothills of the Wind River Range where the three fingers of the Popo Agie River draw together. When railroads were the nation's primary mode of travel, Lander was "where the rails end and the trails begin": the takeoff point for backcountry trips to hunt, fish, or explore the lake-dotted wilderness that climbs to the Continental Divide. The trains are gone, but this is still where you put on your hiking or riding boots. For more information, contact the Lander Area Chamber of Commerce, 160 N. 1st St., Lander, WY 82520 (tel. 800/433-0662 or 307/332-3892; www.landerchamber.org).
Just west of town on Wyo. 131 is Sinks Canyon State Park (tel. 307/332-3077 or 332-6333; wyoparks.state.wy.us), where the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie disappears into a limestone cave and reappears farther down the canyon at a pool with an overlook where you can feed kibble to giant trout (no hooks allowed!). Day use is $6. The park has a nature trail, a visitor center with naturalist displays, a campground ($17 a night, includes day-use fee), and tumbling waterfalls for those willing to hike some switchbacks. For a different kind of experience, drive south 37 miles on U.S. 287 to the South Pass City Historical Site (tel. 307/332-3684; wyoparks.state.wy.us), which re-creates a gold-mining town from the 1860s and where Esther Hobart Morris became the nation's first female justice of the peace. There is a $4 day-use fee.
Lander has a justly famous Fourth of July parade and Pioneer Days Rodeo (tel. 800/433-0662), and later in July it hosts the International Climber's Festival (tel. 307/349-1561; www.climbersfestival.org). Slide shows by climbing greats, clinics, an equipment show, and climbers testing their mettle on the walls of Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris draw hundreds of serious climbers to the event. Some of the climbers are resident here, partly thanks to the National Outdoor Leadership School, which has been teaching outdoor types responsible ways of enjoying the wilds since 1965, and now has branches all over the world. For course offerings from India to the Rocky Mountains, write the school's Lander headquarters at 284 Lincoln St., Lander, WY 82520 (tel. 800/710-6657 or 307/332-5300; www.nols.edu).
If you want an exotic element to your trail adventure, try the Lander Llama Company, 2024 Mortimore Lane, Lander, WY 82520 (tel. 307/332-5624; www.landerllama.com). Their naturalist-led Red Desert trip is as enlightening as it is enjoyable, incorporating ancient American-Indian history and fossil viewing with stunning Wyoming scenery. Three-day trips start at $675 per adult and $630 per child 12 and under. If you'd prefer to horse around, check out Allen's Diamond Four Ranch, P.O. Box 243, Lander, WY 82520 (tel. 307/332-2995 or 330-8625; www.diamond4ranch.com), for guided horseback tours in the Popo Agie Wilderness and Wind River Range. The ranch's overnight accommodations are barebones -- woodstoves, propane lights, bring your own bedding -- but the emphasis is on riding, fishing, and seeing the high country. Trips are about $300 per person per day on the trail. There are special programs for kids.
Winter transforms this country into a snowmobiler's playground, with 250 miles of the Continental Divide Trail from Lander to Yellowstone. Call the Wind River Visitors Council (tel. 800/645-6233; www.wind-river.org) or the Lander Area Chamber of Commerce for information on this and other trails.