10 Terrific Set-in-Wyoming Books Sure to Make Your Road Trip Better

Inside: Wyoming is a vast state and these books are sure to bring its wilderness wonders, culture, and history to life. Perhaps, like me, your road trip plan will be inspired by a great read.

Book Cover Wyoming Tales

There is no better accompaniment to a road trip than an engrossing audiobook. And print books are equally enjoyable when you’re lounging in your van. Just imagine savoring your morning cup of coffee as you watch the sunrise over the expansive Wyoming horizon, marveling that you’re taking in the very same view as the characters in your book. That is heaven on Earth.

I recently got to experience just this, as I explored Wyoming {insert post link}. The books on this list enhanced every aspect of that trip. Some books I read before I reached Wyoming leading me to places and sights I would have missed otherwise. Other Wyoming books I read while on the journey – they gave me a thrill every time I could shout out, “I’ve been there!”

Audio and print books both have a place in my travels. I usually drive while listening to an audiobook. Fortunately, my county library has a fantastic collection I can listen to on the Libby App https://www.overdrive.com/apps/libby/. When I can’t find a library version, I use my Audible subscription.

To speed listen or not — You do you

If you’ve had trouble listening to audiobooks because your attention wanders, try speeding up the narration. I now listen to most books at 2-2.25 times the regular speed. That’s pretty fast, but I got there in increments, starting with 1.25.

Speeding up a book even a little bit can force your brain to pay closer attention – and stop wandering off to the next random thought. And it doesn’t hurt your comprehension. I don’t know why it works, but it does. Just find the perfect speed for you. Read more about speed listening here.

As always, you will find my complete book list at Bookshop.org. Or you can click on the relevant buttons to go to a specific book at either Bookshop.org or Amazon.com.


1. Joe Picket Series by CJ Box

My notes: I read all 21 Joe Picket books as I roamed the country this summer. My listening marathon began while I was in Wyoming, but I just.could.not.stop. CJ Box has created an endearing cast of characters. Throughout the series, he explores just about every inch of Wyoming. Box’s descriptions of Wyoming transport you right to the wilderness and towns of the state. Even more enlightening, the cultural essence and diversity of Wyomingites weave throughout the series.

Reading the Joe Picket series has enriched my understanding of Wyoming more than any other book or series on the list.

Open Season by C.J. Box
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on May 31, 2016
Pages: 352
Goodreads

Joe Pickett is the new game warden in Twelve Sleep, Wyoming, a town where nearly everyone hunts and the game warden--especially one like Joe who won't take bribes or look the other way--is far from popular. When he finds a local hunting outfitter dead, splayed out on the woodpile behind his state-owned home, he takes it personally. There had to be a reason that the outfitter, with whom he's had run-ins before, chose his backyard, his woodpile to die in. Even after the "outfitter murders," as they have been dubbed by the local press after the discovery of the two more bodies, are solved, Joe continues to investigate, uneasy with the easy explanation offered by the local police.As Joe digs deeper into the murders, he soon discovers that the outfitter brought more than death to his backdoor: he brought Joe an endangered species, thought to be extinct, which is now living in his woodpile. But if word of the existence of this endangered species gets out, it will destroy any chance of InterWest, a multi-national natural gas company, building an oil pipeline that would bring the company billions of dollars across Wyoming, through the mountains and forests of Twelve Sleep. The closer Joe comes to the truth behind the outfitter murders, the endangered species and InterWest, the closer he comes to losing everything he holds dear.

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2. Walt Longmire Series by Craig Johnson

My notes: Walt Longmire is quintessential Wyoming. The book’s setting is fictional Durant, but that’s really Buffalo, Wyoming and I had a blast exploring the town – and eating in the Busy Bee restaurant. I did not know Buffalo was the home of this series until I sat down at the counter of the Busy Bee and saw a Longmire poster. Then it clicked and I felt like I had bumped into a celebrity.

The Longmire series keeps mostly to Absaroka County and Durant, so the east of the Bighorn Mountains. It’s complimentary to the Joe Picket series with another exceptional sense of place. The indigenous community takes a more prominent place than in Box’s work, and I appreciated that perspective.

And if you rather not read Longmire, there is a complete television series to watch – six seasons worth. Whenever I had wifi I downloaded more episodes from Netflix. They were a delight to watch in the evenings before bed, and as they were downloadable, I didn’t have to worry about a cell signal or waste data streaming.

Click the button to read more about my exploration of Longmore country.

The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire, #1) by Craig Johnson
Published by Penguin Books on March 28, 2006
Pages: 354
Goodreads

Walt Longmire, sheriff of Wyoming's Absaroka County, knows he's got trouble when Cody Pritchard is found dead. Two years earlier, Cody and three accomplices had been given suspended sentences for raping a Northern Cheyenne girl. Is someone seeking vengeance? Longmire faces one of the more volatile and challenging cases in his twenty-four years as sheriff and means to see that revenge, a dish that is best served cold, is never served at all.

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3. Ridgeline by Michael Punke

My notes: Ridgeline is historical fiction at its best. Red Cloud’s war and Fetterman’s Fight are brought to life in this impeccably researched novel. Punke’s recounting of this important historical event – one of the few Native victories during the post-Civil War US conquest of the western frontier – pulls you in and keeps you absorbed for the entire recounting. I appreciated the author’s notes detailing the controversial points in the historical record.

I read this Wyoming book before I headed out on my trip, and because it piqued my curiosity, I made sure on my trip to check out The Powder River Valley and the remains of Fort Phil Kearny. Standing in real life near the battlefield I could pull up passages from the book that made history come alive. It was so cool to see and experience the ridgelines so critical to the outcome of this battle.

Ridgeline by Michael Punke
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on June 1, 2021
Pages: 384
Goodreads

The thrilling, long-awaited return of the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Revenant.
In 1866, with the country barely recovered from the Civil War, new war breaks out on the western frontier--a clash of cultures between a young, ambitious nation and the Native tribes who have lived on the land for centuries. Colonel Henry Carrington arrives in Wyoming's Powder River Valley to lead the US Army in defending the opening of a new road for gold miners and settlers. Carrington intends to build a fort in the middle of critical hunting grounds, the home of the Lakota. Red Cloud, one of the Lakota's most respected chiefs, and Crazy Horse, a young but visionary warrior, understand full well the implications of this invasion. For the Lakota, the stakes are their home, their culture, their lives.
As fall bleeds into winter, Crazy Horse leads a small war party that confronts Colonel Carrington's soldiers with near constant attacks. Red Cloud, meanwhile, seeks to build the tribal alliances that he knows will be necessary to defeat the soldiers. Colonel Carrington seeks to hold together a US Army beset with internal discord. Carrington's officers are skeptical of their commander's strategy, none more so than Lieutenant George Washington Grummond, who longs to fight a foe he dismisses as inferior in all ways. The rank-and-file soldiers, meanwhile, are still divided by the residue of civil war, and tempted to desertion by the nearby goldfields.
Throughout this taut saga--based on real people and events--Michael Punke brings the same immersive, vivid storytelling and historical insight that made his breakthrough debut so memorable. As Ridgeline builds to its epic conclusion, it grapples with essential questions of conquest and justice that still echo today.

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4. The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

My notes: One of the best things about road tripping my way around the USA is the opportunity to immerse myself in the landscapes and communities. When I first started exploring there was pretty much a big blank in my knowledge of America’s indigenous peoples. So I set myself a challenge to read and learn about the first peoples of all the areas I travel to.

What an eye-opening reading adventure this is turning out to be.

As I read about Native leaders and nations I am starting to put together a fuller picture of the amazing diversity of cultures that pre-existed European arrival. I am humbled.

My state booklists will always include books by and/or about the indigenous peoples of the region. I encourage you to delve into this aspect of our history. If you are like me, you’ll have a lot to learn.

The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury, Tom Clavin
Published by Simon Schuster on September 2, 2014
Pages: 414
Goodreads

This acclaimed New York Times bestselling biography of the legendary Sioux warrior Red Cloud, is a page-turner with remarkable immediacy…and the narrative sweep of a great Western” (The Boston Globe).
Red Cloud was the only American Indian in history to defeat the United States Army in a war, forcing the government to sue for peace on his terms. At the peak of Red Cloud’s powers the Sioux could claim control of one-fifth of the contiguous United States and the loyalty of thousands of fierce fighters. But the fog of history has left Red Cloud strangely obscured. Now, thanks to the rediscovery of a lost autobiography, and painstaking research by two award-winning authors, the story of the nineteenth century’s most powerful and successful Indian warrior can finally be told.
In this astonishing untold story of the American West, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin restore Red Cloud to his rightful place in American history in a sweeping and dramatic narrative based on years of primary research. As they trace the events leading to Red Cloud’s War, they provide intimate portraits of the many lives Red Cloud touched—mountain men such as Jim Bridger; US generals like William Tecumseh Sherman, who were charged with annihilating the Sioux; fearless explorers, such as the dashing John Bozeman; and the memorable warriors whom Red Cloud groomed, like the legendary Crazy Horse. And at the center of the story is Red Cloud, fighting for the very existence of the Indian way of life.
“Unabashed, unbiased, and disturbingly honest, leaving no razor-sharp arrowhead unturned, no rifle trigger unpulled....a compelling and fiery narrative” (USA TODAY), this is the definitive chronicle of the conflict between an expanding white civilization and the Plains Indians who stood in its way.

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5. The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph Mashall

My notes: Marshall’s biography of the legendary Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse is exceptional for several reasons, but especially because, as a member of the Lakota Nation he writes from a perspective we rarely see published. I loved this book.

Crazy Horse’s universe spanned the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana as our political boundaries are a modern construct. I’m including this book here because Crazy Horse was a pivotal leader of Fetterman’s Fight.

It is interesting that there are no photographs of Crazy Horse. He refused to have his image captured; he did not want or seek recognition in keeping with the experiences and visions that brought him to a leadership role.

Yet just over the state border in South Dakota, a supersized Crazy Horse Memorial is being dynamited out of a sacred Lakota mountain. While the monument was commissioned by an individual Oglala Lakota Chief to a Polish American sculptor, but there is plenty of controversy within the Lakota Nationabout about the project. After reading more about Crazy Horse I opted not to visit the monument.

The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III
Published by Penguin Books Limited on September 27, 2005
Pages: 310
Goodreads

A captivating biography of the man who became a legend at the Battle of the Little Bighorn
As a brilliant leader of a desperate cause and one of the most perennially fascinating figures of the American West, Crazy Horse crushed Custer's 7th Cavalry and brought the United States Army to its knees. Now, with the help of celebrated historian Joseph Marshall, we finally have the opportunity to know Crazy Horse as his fellow Lakota Indians knew him.
Drawing on extensive research and a rich oral tradition that it rarely shared outside Native American circles, Marshall - himself a descendent of the Lakota community that raised Crazy Horse - creates a vibrant portrait of the man, his times, and his legacy. From the powerful vision that spurred him into battle to the woman he loved but lost to duty and circumstance, this is a compelling celebration of a culture, an enduring way of life, and the unforgettable hero who remains a legend among legends.
Marshall's gloriously poetic and sweeping chronicle ushers in a new genre of American history...A tour de force. - Peter Nabakov, author of Native American Testimony
A remarkable portrait of a remarkable man. - Colin G. Calloway, professor of history and Samson Occom Professor of Native American Studies, Dartmouth College

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6. The Virginian by Owen Wister

My notes: A classic Wild West tale exploring the conflict between large and small ranchers. This book was written in 1902, barely 20 years from the 1890’s setting it depicts. For that reason alone it’s worthy of a read. It’s like going back in time to experience a contemporary accounting of the era.

If you enjoy classic TV, you can stream and/or download The Virginian television show from Amazon (through STARZ) or Hulu. More entertainment for nighttime or raining days on the road.

The Virginian by Owen Wister, John Seelye
Published by Penguin Classics on August 1, 1988
Pages: 369
Goodreads

The epic novel of the American West and the heroic cowboy
Owen Wister's powerful story of the tall, silent stranger who rides into the uncivilized West and defeats the forces of evil has become an enduring part of American mythology. Set in Wyoming Terriotry, The Virginian depics the loneliness and challenge of an unknown land where the whistle of a freight train sounds across great miles of silence, where easy camaraderie—and sudden violence—are found around the campfire, and where the rough honesty of "frontier justice" is just beginning to impose a sense of society on an unruly populace. For Wister, the West represented a territory of adventure that tested the worth of a man. His hero, as John Seelye writes in his Introduction, has his roots in the historical romances of Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper; he is a man who lives by the classic code of chivalry, ruled by quiet courage and deeply felt honor.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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7. The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde

My notes: If you enjoy contemporary fiction, and especially “Up-Lit,” then look no further for an accompaniment for your Wyoming adventure. No one writes uplifting, heartwarming fiction better than Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Published by Lake Union Publishing on December 5, 2017
Pages: 324
Goodreads

From New York Times bestselling author Catherine Ryan Hyde comes a hauntingly emotional novel of how one man’s life changes forever when he rediscovers his ability to feel the pain of others.
Something has been asleep in forty-year-old cattle rancher Aiden Delacorte for a long time. It all comes back in a rush during a hunting trip, when he’s suddenly attuned to the animals around him, feeling their pain and fear as if it were his own. But the newfound sensitivity of Aiden’s “wake up” has its price. He can no longer sleepwalk through life, holding everyone at arm’s length. As he struggles to cope with a trait he’s buried since childhood, Aiden falls in love with Gwen, a single mother whose young son bears a burden of his own.
Sullen and broken from his experiences with an abusive father, Milo has turned to acting out in violent and rebellious ways. Aiden can feel the boy’s pain, as well as that of his victims. Now he and Milo must sift through their pasts to find empathy with the innocent as well as the guilty, to come to terms with their deepest fears, and to finally discover the compassionate heart of a family.

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8. Days Without End by Sebastian Berry

My notes: This literary fiction masterpiece is partly set in pre-and post-Civil War Wyoming but expands its scope across the US to Tennessee. It’s a uniquely lyrical novel that encompasses what it means to make a family. I’ve never read a book like it.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
Published by Penguin Books on September 12, 2017
Pages: 259
Goodreads


COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNER

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2017 MAN BOOKER PRIZE
"A true leftfield wonder: Days Without End is a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making."--Kazuo Ishiguro, Booker Prize winning author of The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant
"A haunting archeology of youth . . . Barry introduces a narrator who speaks with an intoxicating blend of wit and wide-eyed awe, his unsettlingly lovely prose unspooling with an immigrant's peculiar lilt and a proud boy's humor."--The New York Times Book Review
From the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist Sebastian Barry, "a master storyteller" (Wall Street Journal), comes a powerful new novel of duty and family set against the American Indian and Civil Wars
Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars--against the Sioux and the Yurok--and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.
Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry's latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

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9. Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx

My notes: If a full-length novel is more than you want, check out these stories by Wyomingite Annie Proulx. Brokeback Mountain (the story the movie is based on) is included in this collection.

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
Published by Scribner on February 10, 2000
Pages: 289
Goodreads

Short-story collection from the Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling author of The Shipping News and Accordion Crimes.
Annie Proulx's masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in these tales of loneliness, quick violence, and the wrong kinds of love. Each of the portraits in Close Range reveals characters fiercely wrought with precision and grace.
These are stories of desperation and unlikely elation, set in a landscape both stark and magnificent.
The half-skinned steer --The mud below --55 miles to the gas pump --The bunchgrass edge of the world --A lonely coast --Job history --Pair a spurs --People in Hell just want a drink of water --The governors of Wyoming --The blood bay --Brokeback Mountain

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10. The Legend of Colton H Bryant by Alexader Fuller

My notes: This is the only book on the list I haven’t read – but it’s on hold from my library so I’ll get to it soon and report back.

Update October 25, 2021: I just finished this biography and loved it. It read like a novel for one, and second, Fuller gives the reader a glimpse into what it’s like to grow up in a community and family of roughneckers.

The Legend of Colton H. Bryant by Alexandra Fuller
Published by Penguin Group on April 28, 2009
Pages: 202
Goodreads

A heartrending story of the human spirit from the author of the bestselling Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
Alexandra Fuller returns with the unforgettable true story of Colton H. Bryant, a soulful boy with a mustang-taming heart who comes of age in the oil fields and open plains of Wyoming. After surviving a sometimes cruel adolescence with his own brand of optimistic goofiness, Colton goes to work on an oil rig-and there the biggest heart in the world can't save him from the new, unkind greed that has possessed his beloved Wyoming during the latest boom.
Colton's story could not be told without telling of the land that grew him, where the great high plains meet the Rocky Mountains to create a vista of lonely beauty. It is here that the existence of one boy is a true story as deeply moving as the life that inspired it.

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Beyond the books

I hope this book list inspires you. Even more, I hope it encourages you to head to Wyoming. If you are planning or dreaming of a trip to this magnificent state, head over and read more about my latest trip there – there’s a LOT more to Wyoming than Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks – I promise.

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