The northern gateway to the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Rawlins stands at the junction of U.S. 287 and I-80. Started as one of the Union Pacific's hell-on-wheels towns, this was an important transportation center as early as 1868, when miners heading for the goldfields at South Pass to the north rode the rails to Rawlins or points nearby, then went overland to the gold diggings. The town became a large sheep-raising
center at the turn of the 20th century. Kingpins in the sheep industry, such as George Ferris and Robert Deal, also backed the development of the Grand Encampment Copper Mining District in the Sierra Madres after miner Ed Haggarty discovered copper there in 1897.
Declines in sheep raising, long Rawlins's mainstay industry, have hurt the community economically, as have downturns in regional mineral production. But the city of 10,000 is still home to many railroad workers and employees of the Wyoming State Penitentiary outside of town. In summer there are weekly free concerts in the park.