Saratoga, Sunset, Sept. 2013

Saratoga1Leaf peeping, hungry trout, and steaming hot springs make September prime time in this picturesque cow town.

Big, big trout await
The North Platte River flowing through Saratoga is “the best wild trout fishery in the lower 48, bar none,” says fishing guide Michael Patterson. Its premier stretch contains 3,000 fish per mile—even some 25-inchers—making this an official Blue Ribbon water (a designation awarded to the state’s finest trout streams). Fishing is especially good in fall, when cooling temperatures make the fish more active and eager to munch anglers’ flies. To try for a trophy, haul your waders to Foote, a public access point 6 miles north of Saratoga, off State 130. Or go guided with Patterson’s Hack’s Tackle to fish private stretches of the North Platte. Foote: Hack’s: Tours from $315; 407 N. First St.;

Cowboys reign in fashion
Four-wheelers haven’t replaced horses around Saratoga, where cattle and sheep ranchers still rely on their trusty steeds and on the tack sold at Hat Creek Trading Post. This false-fronted, wooden-planked building has housed a saddlery since 1906 and continues to deal in chaps, spurs, stirrups, and everything else you need up in the saddle. “Cowboys are fairly sensitive about the style they ride,” says co-owner Cris Fournier, which explains the range on display here: Flashy saddles appeal to appeal to rodeo riders, simpler designs to local ranchers. Even if you’re neither, you’ll still appreciate the Western-themed gifts. 107 W. Bridge St.;

There’s a hot spring for every stripe
Named after the spa town in New York, Saratoga is rich in natural hot springs. The most luxurious place to soak is Saratoga Resort and Spa, where private tipis enclose pools. These and the 70-foot-long mineral poolare open only to overnight guests, and bunking here is no hardship: Rooms are nicely decorated with locally made furniture, and the on-site Snowy Mountain Brewery offers burgers with its lineup of microbrews. For more informal relaxation, sink into Hobo Hot Pool. A 2012 renovation added new locker facilities and stonework around the springs, but this city-run facility is still free and open 24 hours a day. The namesake Hobo Pool ranges from 106° to a fiery 119° (in the “lobster pot” nearest the source). “I can’t stand it, but it’s surprising how many people can sit there for hours,” says Saratoga’s treasurer, Joe Elder, who prefers the clement 100° bathwater of the new Not-So-Hot Pool. Saratoga: Rooms from $159; 601 E. Pic Pike Rd.; Hobo: 201 S.E. River St.;

Dining is molto bene
You expect steaks and burgers in cowboy country, but Saratoga’s best restaurant invites you to mangia bene. Bella’s Bistro serves succulent Italian dishes in a converted house dating from 1900. The mix of food and setting “seemed fitting, since Italy’s cuisine is so much about family, the home, and the tradition of cooking together,” says owner Cassie Orduno, who grew up in neighboring Encampment and now runs Bella’s with her husband. The couple cook nearly everything from scratch, including hand-rolled pasta for the chicken manicotti. And yes, you can also sink your teeth into a T-Bone: Bella’s Tuscan version is topped with a caramelized garlic-herb sauce. $$; 218 N. First St.;

Fall colors dazzle
One of Wyoming’s largest aspen stands grows on the Sierra Madre Range south of Saratoga, so this is where you’ll find the Cowboy State’s most impressive fall color. By late September, turning leaves paint the mountains yellow and form a brilliant autumnal tunnel at Aspen Alley, a quarter-mile stretch of asphalt where arching branches surround your car with shimmering gold. From Saratoga, drive south on States 130 and 230 to Encampment, continue to State 70, and turn right at the sign for Forest Service Rd. 801, about 1 mile from Aspen Alley;

The local lowdown:
“Wealthy vacationers come here--ours is the second-busiest private airport in the state after Jackson Hole. But these people have a passion for the outdoors, just like the locals.” --visitor turned resident John D. Farr

Getting here:
Saratoga is 71 miles west of Laramie via State 130 (closed in winter).