You’re in the middle of nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. You crossed the Colorado border a while ago. Cars pass less and less frequently the farther you drive into Wyoming. The valley you’re following is beautiful, though. The North Platte River curves around large boulders and over still-rushing rapids. Snow-covered mountains—the Sierra Madres and the aptly named Snowy Range—tower overhead. While a little town, with a surprisingly bustling downtown, looks like the perfect place to stop for a much-needed break.
Saratoga turns out to be an unexpected gem. The Southeast Wyoming town, where the fishing season never ends, calls itself the place “Where the Trout Leap in Main Street.” An extensive network of trails, used by cross-country skiers and snowmobilers this time of year, have been carved into nearby Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. Plus clear, odorless hot springs are touted for their medicinal value.
It’s the hot springs that have been drawing people to Saratoga for centuries. Native Americans considered the bathing area neutral territory. The town was named Warm Springs when its first post office was established in 1878. A few years later, it was renamed Saratoga after Saratoga Springs, New York, an East Coast town already famous for its natural pools. The Hobo Pool, which consistently hovers around 100 degrees, is a free public pool in the center of town. After soaking in the hot water, many people jump into the ice-cold North Platte River next to it. It’s hard not to feel refreshed with the dramatic change in temperature.
The Hobo Pool isn’t the only place to enjoy the hot springs in Saratoga, though. The Saratoga Hot Springs Resort offers two additional bathing options. Their large, spring-fed pool feels warm between 96-98 degrees. Smaller tubs, covered with tepees, rise up to 112 degrees. Add spa treatments, a gourmet restaurant, and an in-house brewery, and it seems like you’ve found the ideal place to set up camp for the night.
You usually don’t pick hotels like the Saratoga Hot Springs Resort. The building was a log store, a hotel, the State Hot Springs Reserve, and an inn before it was turned into a resort. There’s nothing minimal about the historic resort. It has a rustic vibe with wood paneling and stone fireplaces. Western decor—printed rugs and way too much taxidermy—overdecorate the common areas. But leather chairs, lodgepole beds, and feather mattresses give it a cozy feel, as well. The combination is an authentic American experience that’s becoming harder and harder to find.
So, after your second soak of the day, you make your way to the Snowy Mountain Brewery. The craft brewery is the third-oldest brewery in Wyoming. The best way to judge a brewery is by tasting its beers, so you start with a tasting paddle that includes four three-ounce samples. The Indian Rye IPA is lightly hopped with citrus and flowery hops. The High Altitude Helles is a spicy pilsner lager. The Chocolate Meltdown Porter tastes like breakfast in a glass. While the seasonal St. Nick’s Nut does indeed have a nutty flavor.
You order a pint of the porter—the 9.5 percent beer seems fitting now that snow is falling outside—and pork belly popcorn (white corn popped in bacon fat served with bits of pork belly and smoked sea salt). The hearty snack should hold you over until dinner is served in the more elegant Silver Saddle Restaurant. It turns out that the middle of nowhere isn’t a bad place to hide out for the winter.