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Heart Lake Trail, Snowy Range, WY Sept 11, 2010

February 4, 2012

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Finally got to the last real hike I took in 2010 (yes, I know it’s 2012; I still have 6 or so hikes remaining to blog about for 2011 before I start hiking in 2012 : ).  And it was a nice one.  On an early fall weekend I decided to head to the Snowy Range in Wyoming.  It’s one of those areas I like to go to once a year, so I figured it I was gonna make it this year, now was the time.  The Snowy Range is a very high altitude land of “timber line and above”.  So, winter would come early.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard, rather longish, comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in that gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative (plus there are more of them).   A Google Earth map can be found here in case you want to go yourself. You will need to use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom out to help locate the area based on where you live. (If you want to see all my trips, this link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips. Please note that some of the links for the hikes are located somewhere in the hike itself, while other links on the map are the trailhead for the hike located on a road. The issue being, even if the link looks like it’s pointing to a road, that’s actually just the trailhead. Please note that all links open a new browser window.

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The day dawned very clear.  Your standard perfect fall day in the Rockies.  Normally I head for the eastern side of the Snowy Range, but I decided to cruise around to the “back side” on the western part of the range and check it out.  Glad I did as the western side has a totally different “flavor” to it compared to the eastern side. The eastern side of the Snowy range has all the popular campgrounds and trailheads.  For a good reason, as there are a lot of pretty lakes and scenic views of the mountains.  Of course, that means that the eastern side is quite popular.  I found the western side to be a different type of “scenic”,  much less “approachable” (not near as developed) and, thus, much fewer people.

In addition to the Google map link above, please see a live Google map below. Point B from Fort Collins is at the trailhead.  The blue line may, or may not, have been the route I took from my home in Fort Collins, CO. You can “grab” the map to scroll it around and use the “+” and “-“ icons in the upper left hand corner to zoom in or out to get more detail. You can also click on the “View Larger Map” link and it will bring up the map in a larger window (if you right click on the link and select “Open Link in new tab/window” then you can have both my blog and the map open at the same time).

One issue I had at the very beginning was determining just where to turn off the highway to get back to my targeted location for the day’s hiking.  My advice is to get a good topo map from Jax or some other place.  There are a lot of similar looking dirt road turnoffs.  By use of the map I was able to figure out the correct turn off to head towards a trail that led to Heart Lake.

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After going only a mile or less on the graveled road I reached a point that looked like a good place to park.  A little further the road began to enter that phase where only vehicles with very good clearance and/or four wheel drive should venture.  It’s always sorta a guesstimate of where exactly you should pull over and park.  With slow driving, and luck, you can get quite a ways on some of the roads.  Depends how much you want to risk beating your vehicle up.  And, if you don’t get out before dark, such roads get very tricky at the end of the day.  I normally err on the side of caution with my little Hyundai.

Because I parked some ways from the trailhead, that meant a little walking on a dirt road for a while.  Sometimes this can mean eating a little dust from four wheel drive vehicles.  But no worries today.  Except for two ATVs (and a couple of parked vehicles) I saw zero people the ENTIRE day.  If I had been on the other side of the range I would have had a difficult time finding a parking space and the trails would have been crowded with people.  Quite the difference.

The walk on the rough dirt road took me past South Twin Lake.

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If I had been more willing to do some very careful driving, I could have gotten my Hyundai to this parking area.  But, it wasn’t worth the half mile savings to me.  One issue to be aware of is the area had lots of little side roads/trails.  Again, having the map was a big help.  Even then, I wandered around a little on some of the roads in order to make sure I was going in the correct direction.  As an example, at this point I wandered up the road to the right just to be sure that wasn’t the route.

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This little side road ended up at, I think, North Twin Lake.  Looking at the map I figured I needed to go back and take the fork to the left.  But, not a waste of time as I got to see a pretty lake.  Most of the lakes up in this area are all natural.  This one was a man made lake.  Or, possibly a smaller lake that they had made larger by building a long dike.

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Cruising on along the road took me through some nice little valleys.

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After another mile or so I came to a fork in the road that, according to my map, was the place to veer off to the right and arrive at the trailhead to Heart Lake.  This is the Dipper Lake turn off.

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Sure enough, this led me to a secluded trailhead.  I believe this may have been the first weekend of bow hunting season for this area.  I never did see the people who owned the ATVs in the photo.

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Ah, the actual trailhead.  As in, no more vehicles after this point (not that I’d seen any, but still, it’s the thought that matters …..)

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This sign has been here awhile.  So, Heart Lake was another couple of miles down the trail.  Perfect.  I considered hiking up to the top of Medicine Bow Peak.  But it looked like a fairly dull hike.  I was more interested in seeing a pretty lake.  The distance had nothing to do with it.  Really.

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As I started on the trail I took some time to look around (I do that a lot.  It torments the hell out of anyone with me : ).  The view back over Dipper Lake was nice.  All the “brown” color is not from lack of water, but from the foliage being hit by low temps and turning “fallish” in color.  But the weather today was extremely pleasant (particularly for the Snowy range).  No wind to speak of (amazing) and warm to cool (depending if you were in the shade or in the sun).

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Lots of wide open spaces to enjoy.

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Small pond I passed by.

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I’d been hiking for a while and decided to take a break.  This would make for a very nice view to sit and contemplate while drinking some G2.

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Ran into some strange character.  I’d forgotten about him until now.  He asked me if this was the trail to Druid Arch.  I think he was confused about his location.

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After a short break, I headed off up the trail.  I soon arrived at the turn off that led to Medicine Bow peak.

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This area, not being as popular as the east side, has trails that are old and established, but aren’t exactly heavily used.  I could see that if someone wanted to go up the trail to Medicine Bow Peak that it would be necessary to keep a sharp eye out for the “trail.”

There goes the trail.  See it?

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Hmmmm.  Well, it’s there.  It’s using the ever popular “follow the pile of rocks” feature.
Zoom.

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Pretty sure that’s Elk Mountain off to the NW.

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Another nice little lake I passed by.  Note that (in general) you can camp anywhere in this back country area.  So, if you see a place you like, say, the other side of that lake in the photo below, you can just walk (this particular section is NO motorized vehicles) over there and camp.  I think there are some rules about how far away you need to be from a lake or stream to set up your tent (I believe it’s 100 feet, but check to be sure).  And there are rules about open fires so check with the local ranger station for current regulations for open fires.  But, in general, as an example you could walk down to that lake, go back into the trees a short distance and set up your tent.  Pretty nice easy hiking for families.  Be advised that even in the summer you can have heavy morning frosts.  Storms can roll in very quickly with heavy wind and rain.  So, be prepared for cold and/or bad weather.  Just in case.

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Zoom.

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Looks like they had a bit of a snow storm a day or two earlier.

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I really like this type of hiking.  Lots of variety and cool little nooks and crannies.

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Zoom.  Another little lake.

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Still some fairly large snow fields left over from the prior winter.  These are, I believe, considered “permanent snowfields”.  So, they never totally disappear and will grow or shrink depending on the climate variations.  That said, I guess it’s possible that they may eventually disappear during the summer months if the climate continues to slowly warm up over the next few decades.

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First glimpse of Heart Lake.

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Another view of Heart Lake.  The photo of the lake at the beginning of this post was of Heart Lake also.  Nice lake.  It was……..serene……..

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I wandered around a little.  Mostly trying to see if the trail kept going to the next lake.  I didn’t find any trail, but it’d probably be pretty  easy to go cross country to the next lake.  You’d definitely want to be a little cautious in doing such, but within the realm of doable.  That said,  it was very pleasant at Heart Lake with a good number of very nice camping spots.  None of which looked like they had been used very much.

The little stream draining the lake pulled at me to follow it.  I only went a short distance.  But it was tempting to just keep on walking.

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As I said, some fall colors were evident.

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But, there were also a few, a very few, remaining flowers.

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The shadows were beginning to lengthen, so I headed back.  On the way back I went through the little valley again.  The late sun provided for a slightly different view.

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South Twin Lake was looking a little “cooler” than earlier.  This time of day, and early morning, generally has the best light for photos.  Still no people.  It was the perfect time of day.

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And, yes, my ride was waiting for me.

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Very different side of the Snowy Range.  I liked it.  I think I’ll meander through some more of it’s back roads, and trails, next summer (2012 : )

– Geoff Weatherford

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill B. permalink
    February 12, 2012 3:03 pm

    I enjoyed the photos.

    I thought I had seen the best of the outdoor west until a few weeks after your trip in 2010 when I visited Laramie and was lucky to be able to take a day off to hike in the same area. By then it had turned cold and snowy, although not enough snow to impede travel on the trail. Maybe it was the snow, but somehow it was exquisitely beautiful, more so than almost anything I’ve seen elsewhere.

    • February 12, 2012 4:46 pm

      Bill,

      Thanks for commenting. Great place, but winter can come early.

      However, I’ll bet it was very pretty looking. It’s very majestic no matter what the weather.

      Thanks,

      Geoff Weatherford

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