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Snowy Range Loop Trail, WY, August 31, 2008

April 26, 2009

Posted April 26, 2009

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Once or twice (sometimes more) a year I do a hike that turns out to be, ummm, a  little more than what I was planning.  This hike was definitely one of those.

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So, it was end of the summer and I was looking for something just a little different.  I thought to myself, gee, what’s different.  Well, Wyoming is different.  Some people would say VERY different.  OK.  Wyoming it was : )

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Only thing is, I didn’t feel like driving 6 hours to the Wind Rivers.  Or, 11 hours to the Beartooth country along the Montana border.  Which really narrowed it down to …………. the Snowy Range  Yes, just about 30 minutes NW of Laramie, WY , there is the Snowy Range.  I’d been there before, but I’d never really been up into the heart of it.  The high country.  So, one Sunday morning I headed north out of Fort Collins, Co to the Wyoming high country.

As a slight aside, Laramie itself, according to my kids, is rather “different”.  I actually  have a certain fondness for Laramie since it is where I saw my very first concert, the Nitty Gritty Dirt band, with a lead in by Doug Kershaw (who had to play fiddle all by himself on the stage because the rest of his band was somewhere else in Laramie drinking beer in a bar : ).  Of course, you’ve heard of this famous band (not to mention Doug).  No?  Well, it was a while ago.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative. I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. Use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (This link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a topo map of the Snowy Range Loop trail. Per the instructions on the site “…1) Zoom in to your location; 2) click the “MyTopo” button for topo maps…” I’ll try and get a better map of my own after I purchase the Wyoming piece of the TOPO program I own. All links open a new browser window.

In addition to the Google map link above, below is a Microsoft Live map.  The red tack shows the general location from Fort Collins, CO.  You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode.

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Well, when I got to where I wanted to park (which was a story in and of itself) the day was looking like maybe not the best day to hike up to the top of a peak.

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While the sun was trying to break through the clouds, it was difficult to say whether the clouds were going to win, or if the sun was going to be able to beat them back.
Zoom in a little on that.  I’m pretty sure that is Medicine Bow Peak on the right side of the ridge in the distance.

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The closer I got to the mountains, the less it looked like a good day to hike up to the top of a mountain.  So, I decided to just hike up to some of the lakes instead.  As it turned out, a wise decision.
I hiked up the road to my first “lake”.  Pretty sure this is Libby Lake.  Not too many people sitting around on the tables having a picnic.  It was a little cool and breezy.  But you can see this would be a great place for a picnic in nicer weather.  A very “kid friendly” area (as always, keep your small children always in view : )

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I walked past the tables to get an unobstructed view of the high country.  You can see the next lake, Lewis Lake, just through the trees.  As will be seen, there are a LOT of lakes in the Snowy Range.  The hike I intended to take is straight in front of me.  Basically, I was going right through that low area between the mountains.

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I hiked on up the road to get to the actual trailhead.  There were incredibly scenic views just about any direction you cared to turn your head and look at.

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Then I ran into a, to me, very disturbing sight.  Cars, trucks, and many of them.  Normally this could only mean one thing.  Lots of crowded trails.  Hmmm.  Well.  I didn’t want to turn back.  Maybe most of them were just up fishing at the next lake.  Yeah.  Right.  Oh well.  Learn to “share the trail” : )

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Starting to gain a little altitude.  That let me look back down on the lake I just passed.  Pretty sure it is Lewis Lake.

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And this is looking up the trail towards where I’m heading.  Looking pretty interesting.  The trail winds around to the right of this photo and then back up past that patch of snow.

It’s hard sometimes to get the “feel” for the scale of the country you are looking at.  As an example, a family has come down the trail past the distant snow bank.  If you know where to look, you can see them (just) in this photo.

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So, if I go to max zoom, it’s quite a bit easier to see them.

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I think that the trail I decided NOT to hike goes up that slope to the distant ridge.  And then Medicine Bow peak is just a little ways back along the ridge.  That pointed looking mountain on the left is Sugarloaf Mountain (I think).

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Occasionally, but not very often, a bit of blue sky would show up for a few minutes.

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Now this is a bit of an interesting junction of trails.  I took the trail off to the left here.  Up towards the Gap lakes.  But the trail to the right is what I came back on to get to this point on my loop.

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Here is what the “coming back” trail looks like.  I’d pass this way again in approximately 6 hours.  More on that later.

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But, this is the way I decided to go.  Mostly because I wanted to be able to see the “other side”.

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I gained a quick bit of altitude right after leaving the signs.  Looking back the way I’d come.

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It was getting a little late in the season for flowers.  Not that there were none, but it was definitely past the prime.  That said, I did come on this nice bunch of Columbines.

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Quick macro shows the true beauty.

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Remember that patch of snow off in the distance?  Well, here it is a little closer.  Looks like it has some red algae growing on it.

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Looking across a few small lakes at Medicine Bow Peak (on the right) and Sugarloaf Mtn (on the near left).

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Here is a portrait from the same location.

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Here is looking back down towards the parking areas.  Quite a ways back.  I think that’s looking close to straight south.  So that could be the Comanche Peak area way off there on the horizon.

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Another view of a small unnamed lake against the mountains.  Again, it’s hard to get the scale, but that’s a lot of country I’m looking at.  There are some hikers down on that trail right in front of me across the lake.

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I’ll zoom in a little.  They have gotten a little further on the trail compared to the photo above. But at least one is visible in the above photo. If you know where to look.  Lot easier to see in the larger photos in my gallery.

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The trail heads right through that little pass up ahead.  This is South Gap Lake on my left.

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When I got to the further end of South Gap lake I stopped to take a photo looking back down the lake.

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And here is looking over into the other side after crossing the pass.  That’s North Gap Lake below me.  The trail cuts around to the right going around the lake and then following the shore on the other side.

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This is looking back towards the pass after following the trail through a bunch of boulders down close to the edge of the lake.

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Here are some fellow hikers “walking” along the boulder trail.

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Zoom in a little.  It was sorta “find your own way” : )

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Looking down North Gap Lake.

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Again, not the prime flower season, but I did find a few.

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So, I climbed up on a slight rise and tried to figure out what to do.  The problem was, I really didn’t know how long it would take to hike a loop.  So, I could either rest up here for a while, or explore a little, and then head back down the way I had just come.  Or, I could just keep on going and do the loop.  The issue is, once I made the decision to do the loop, I couldn’t really turn back.  Hmmmmm.
This is looking towards where I “thought” I was headed (and, as it turned out, it was pretty much the area I ended up going through).

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Zoom in a little.  Yeah.  Doesn’t really tell me much.  I mean, it doesn’t look tooooo far.  Assuming that’s where the trail goes.  I decide to go for it.  As far as I can recollect, I do end up crossing over to the right just before reaching that far “mound” in the distance.  I had been leery that the trail might go around “behind” it : )

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It’s kinda strange, but for all the people I saw on the trail this is the ONLY tent I saw on the entire hike.  Not that the trail was really crowded, but I did see a few hikers.  And, of course, all those cars parked down at the trailhead.  That said, if I look on the map, there are a lot of other close lakes that I hiked past where people could have been camping.

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Cruising through the country.  A large section of this part of the trail was very flat hiking.  Quite pleasant.

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Looking off at a lake in the distance.  No tents in sight.  It’s possible that there is a shorter loop that cuts up behind that lake and over the ridge.  Maybe even cuts over the ridge further off to the right.  That would have chopped off several miles from the hike (although I would have missed some nice scenery).  One map does show a full (and much shorter) loop, but another map I have does not.  If the trail is not often traveled, a person might end up doing a little bit of “cross country” hiking after the trail peters out.  Pretty difficult to get “lost” unless a storm blows in or it gets dark.  I decided to play it safe on this hike.

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Zoom in a little.  Nope.  Not many tents around that lake either.

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Looking off to the West (I think) you can get some nice far away vistas of rural Wyoming.

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I’ll zoom in on that valley in the distance.  I “think” that’s Kennaday Peak  But, I could easily be mistaken.  Now that my son Conor got me a compass for Christmas, I should be able to figure out what I’m looking at on future hikes.

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Typical crossing of trails.  Missing the signs a lot of the times.

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Oh look, the trail is going by “another” lake.  How surprising : )  That “mound” off in the distance is the same one that could be seen way back at North Gap lake.  I end up cutting to the right before reaching it.

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With all the lakes surrounding me, there were, for some reason, relatively few stream crossings.

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Looking down the small creek I just crossed, another unnamed meadow can be seen below through the trees.  Probably just another really nice spot to camp.  I think the only rule is that you have to make sure your camp site is no closer than 50 yards from a stream or lake (it will provide the specific distance on the trailhead signs).  Otherwise, you can camp where ever you wish.  They do like it if you utilize a camp spot that already exists and is close by to where you are thinking about setting up camp.

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The trail took me close to the shore of this lake.

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Got a little bit of blue sky for this photo.  Looking back towards Medicine Bow Mountain (I think).  Close to where I started the hike.

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Got to some “high prairie” meadows.

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Looking back towards my beginning.

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Zoom.

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Saw three groups of people on horseback.  This was one of those.

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My last photo before crossing over to the “other side”.

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Crossing over.

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I started losing some altitude.  Not sure what lake that is in the distance.  I thought the trail would go past it, but I don’t think it did.

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Pretty nice chunk of snow left over from last winter.  Had a little rain storm hit me here.  Drop of rain got on the lens of the camera.

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Nice view.

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So, I skipped taking any photos for the next couple of miles or more.  It was getting on late in the afternoon and I knew that I had several more miles of trail to get through.  So, I just settled down to a steady hike and let the time flow past me.

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This included going past Brooklyn Lake and campground where I actually saw a fair number of hikers, campers, and cars in the distance.
After a few miles the sun came out for a while and I went past some very pretty country.  I believe somewhere around Telephone Lake area I caught this lovely rainbow.

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Then, a short ways down the trail I went through a boulder field composed of many interesting jade green crystalline rocks.  Hard to capture the colors in this photo, but I tried.

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Then, I finally saw a familiar site.  Sugarloaf and, to one side, Medicine Bow peak.  I knew I was close to hitting the trail junction where I had been earlier in the morning.  This first photo has “color” (although not much).  It wasn’t really as dark as the photo makes it appear.  I was trying to expose for the clouds which didn’t leave much light for the ground.

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This is just B and W.

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Yep, it all looks familiar now.  Notice how in this photo I set the exposure for the ground (so, you get all the correct color, etc.) which made the sky and clouds end up over exposed.  To some degree a limitation of the camera in that I am not able to “fix” it later.

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As I walked down the road to my car, I happened to spot a moose out in a meadow.  It’s antlers were still bloody from scrapping off the velvet.  A sure sign that Fall (and Winter) was on it’s way.

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Zoom.  The photo above shows the actual light level.  I’ve brightened this one below a fair amount so as to get all the detail possible.  It was getting close to dusk, so not much light.  And my camera is struggling : )

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Got back to the car around 6:30 ish (pm : ).  Great hike.  Just a little bit longer than what I was originally expecting.  But I got a great look at all the country and want to go back someday for an overnight trip.  Really nice place and quite close to home.

– Geoff Weatherford

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2009 6:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing your trip photos – you were spot on with your landmark recognitions. Backcountry camping isn’t really common in the Snowies, so that’s why you didn’t find many tents. Most people just dayhike the area.

  2. June 22, 2009 11:19 pm

    Smith,

    Appreciate your visit to my web site. Thanks for telling me about the campers. I guess that must be it, they just come up for the day (like myself). One of these years I’ll get my back packing gear fixed up and when I do, I’m going to do some camping in the Snowys. Really nice place. Looks like it could be a bit stormy due to the high altitude.

    Anyway, thanks.

    GeoffW

  3. Misqua permalink
    July 7, 2009 8:37 pm

    I’ve backpacked all over that area, on many different trips and it’s just beautiful. I’ve gone a couple of days of not seeing anyone during the week. The lakes are nice to fish also.

    This weekend, I’m heading up the Douglas creek trail in the Platte Wilderness.

  4. July 8, 2009 2:36 am

    Misqua,

    Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, the Snowys are pretty nice. Pretty sure I’ll be back this summer (definitely have to give some time for the snow to melt : )

    Douglas Creek trail would be nice. I only went a short ways on it, but looked good for what I saw. Like the area a lot.

    I need to figure out a loop. I think there is one, but my maps are a little vague about it.
    Have a good hike!

    GeoffW

  5. Marcus permalink
    July 25, 2012 7:37 am

    Many thanks for your website. I live in Thornton, CO and I have been going through your trips one by one to get more hiking ideas. This place in particular looks amazing. I hope you keep this website going.

    • July 29, 2012 5:14 pm

      Marcus,

      Yep, I’m still working on it. It’s hard to get time during the summer (when I do all the hikes and take the photos : ) But, I should get some up before the end of summer. Then a bunch up this winter. I “almost” got up all the hikes from last summer (2011) before I started doing this summer’s hikes.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      GeoffW

  6. Karen permalink
    August 24, 2012 7:45 pm

    Thank you so much for documenting your hikes and sharing them. I love the photos, which are gorgeous, as well as the descriptive text. We’re coming from PA to camp and hike WY, and you’ve been very helpful in choosing trails and getting us excited about our trip!

    • August 27, 2012 8:08 am

      Karen, Thanks for visiting my site. The site exists just to provide the type of guidance you state. If it helps you determine where to go hiking/site seeing on your trip, then mission accomplished : ) Hope you have a great visit. Bit a rough start to the summer with a number of fires, but I think all my hikes posted are in areas not impacted by the fires. The weather has been great. And, fall colors are just starting in the high country. Saw some aspens turning color near the continental divide this weekend. Only a few, but Fall is coming. Thanks, GeoffW

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