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Encampment River, August 28, 2011

June 17, 2012


The summer of 2011 was a bit of a dry spell for hiking.  I definitely did do some hikes, some very nice hikes, but between June 26 and August 28 of 2011 I did zero hikes.  That’s pretty much all the summer.  So, when August 28 came up I was ready to do a serious hike.  As plans go, it sorta failed, but then again, it sorta succeeded.

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). In addition, I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A MapQuest (similar to Google map) map can be found here. You will need to use the plus and minus icons at the top left side of the map (or the wheel on your mouse) 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 MapQuest 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.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can(I need to fix this link, sorry) use this link to view a portion of a topo map that shows the trail I took .Please note that all links open a new browser window.


In addition to the MapQuest map link above, please see a live Google map below. Point “A” from Fort Collins leads to point “B” at the trailhead.     The blue line is not quite the route I took from my home in Fort Collins, CO.   Sometimes Google takes a slightly different route : )  From Laramie I actually took Highway 230 towards Walden, CO, and then cut north before getting to Cowdrey, CO due to the cows.   The route in the map below has takes you on Highway 130 out of Laramie, over the Snowy Range to the town of Encampment and along the route I came out of Hog Park.  Either way is fine.  The Snowy Range route is very pretty and you may decide to stop and hike there instead : )

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 “View Larger Map” 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 good thing is, I got off to an early start.  And it was a glorious morning and clear sailing.  All the way to King’s Canyon, that is.  Kings Canyon is exactly where you enter North Park.  Roughly around 20 miles to Walden at that point and all sorts of roads leading to great hiking areas.

Which meant that when I encountered this…….


………I was initially just a little, uh, saddened.  Hmmmmm.  A rural northern Colorado traffic jam.  Well, just how long could it last?  Oh, about an hour : )  Yep, took an hour to go five miles to the first place I could turn off that would take me “around” the cows.  So, for an hour I just watched the cowboys, and one cowgirl, put on a show for us city slickers.

Oooops, a cow got through a fence on the side of the road and headed back up into the mountains.  A cowboy was on it right away.


Luckily, these people actually knew what they were doing.  I mean, they knew all about pushing the cows, making temporary openings in fences, and retrieving said cows……….


If a cow got really ornery, they popped a loop over it’s head and stuck it in the trailer that was following the herd.  Still, the herd moved pretty slow.  After an hour I got to the turn off that headed north to Riverside, which would allow me to get to Hog Park and the Encampment River.  My destination.  I’d planned on going up through Cowdry and then to Pearl, but it looked as if the route to Cowdry was going to also take another hour………


So, I turned a right and headed north about an hour behind schedule.  But, not really too worried.  On the way up the highway, after around ten miles or so, I zoomed past a forest access road that headed back into the mountains.  Vaguely in the direction of Pearl.  I made a mental note, after passing it, that some day I should go explore that road and see if it actually ended up at Pearl.

Then I thought to myself, “Self, you’ve been saying that for years now every time you pass that road.  Just when are you actually going to check it out?”

Well, I don’t take that kind of lip from anyone.  Including myself.  So I said, while turning around,
“Right here, right now.”


Yeah, I’ll just head down this road and, um, well, end up somewhere.  I mean, it did sorta head in the direction that I needed to go.  However, I didn’t have a map.  So, there were three (at least) possible outcomes of following the road:
1.  It went straight to Pearl and I lived happily ever after.
2.  It went to Pearl, but became a “four wheel drive only” road after 50 miles of tortuous switchbacks which meant I might have to turn back after three or more hours of travel.  Or, make the attempt to turn back.  That’s the issue with roads that go off into the mountains, by the time you figure that it’s time to turn around, there is no place that is big enough to let you turn around.  Always interesting.
3.  I die.


So, I figured number one was a fairly good bet.  Number 2 was also a pretty good chance of happening.  I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about number 3.  Not sure why.

Interesting.  The road just goes to the edge of the mountains and then……….disappears.  But, on the bright side, the clouds were pretty : )


So, I headed on down the dirt road.  And, for a good ten or more miles it was just a nice winding dirt road going up into the mountains.  Few small little roads would occasionally take off to either side, but it was easy enough to see what was the main road.  Lots of good camping spots.  And, not too surprising, saw no people.  The road narrowed some after a while, but stayed good enough to be usable by anything short of a Ferrari.

Then the road topped a little rise and I could see down into a valley.  A very nice pretty valley.  Well, okay. It did have a few cows here and there (mostly on the road as there were no fences).  But still, very nice and peaceful.  Again.  No people.  And, no fences.  Probably a pretty popular place in the hunting season, but that was still, uh, hmmm, actually, hunting season was coming up fast.  At least bow hunting.  Kinda surprised I didn’t see some bow hunters out doing some scouting.


Ended up being a lovely little stream at the bottom of the valley.  I later determined that it was the same river that flowed out of Big Creek Lake.
Looking upstream from the bridge.


Looking downstream.


But, the question remained, “where was I?”  I continued on the road as it wound up the other side of the valley.  It gained a fair amount of altitude, got very narrow, and, once or twice, the road approached the “I don’t want to go any further” limit of my little car.  The photo below is before I got to the “bad” section.  In the bad section of the road I did not want to stop to try and take a photo.  So, if you have a pickup truck (even if only a two wheel drive if the road is dry), or a jeep/SUV, then no big deal.  But, if the road is wet and muddy and you have a small sedan full of kids, you might want to really reconsider going over this section of the road.  In addition, very early in the summer I would expect to run into small packs of snow and/or downed trees across the road.  That said, the “bad” section was only a half mile or so in length.  If that.


Much to my joy, when I topped out I was looking down into the Pearl valley.


Once I got down onto the main road (and backtracked a little to the “other” main road that I needed to be on), I headed towards Hog Park, Wy.  But, I was happy I’d taken the scenic route.  Turned out to be pretty darn nice.

By the time I arrived at the Hog Park region, the day’s weather had changed.  The rest of the day would alternate between cloudy and rain showers, to occasional streaks of sunshine.


But as always, neat place.  And, as normal, no people on the trails.  I do see, normally, some people on the roads and an occasional camper along the road (lots of places to pull off and camp). But, only very rarely, as in on one hike with Will, have I ever encountered anyone on the trail in the wilderness area.  Not a high traffic area.


Zoom.  I’ve been up the valley to the right in the photo (you can’t really see it as I’ve cut it off), but I’ve never been up the main Encampment River trail that goes through the valley seen straight on in the photo below.  So, today I decided it was time to head up that way and see what it was like.


First I had to do my normal “find a bridge” routine to get across the West Fork of the Encampment.  Always interesting.


Then I needed to make sure that I got on the correct trail that led up the Encampment and not the West Fork.  I took a couple of wrong turns on what turned out to be some cow trails.  The problem was, I couldn’t remember if there was a sign at the split in the trail.  As an example, this “trail” taking off to the left looking promising.  Spent a half hour or more following it before I was able to determine that it wasn’t the “real” trail.  No big deal as I wasn’t in a hurry and it was all fun.  Plus the sun came out for a few minutes.


As it turned out, after hiking a little further I found that the split in the trail was well marked.


I went to the left.  Notice the difference in the two trails?  The one to the right gets a lot more travel.  I suppose it’s because it’s quite a bit more scenic.  Also, it may be a little bit shorter of a route to hike to the West Fork Lakes if you go to the right.  Both trails lead to the same place.  I’ve considered hiking it as a loop in one day.  A good 20 or so miles.  Would also be a great 2-3 day hike.


After following a lazy flat trail for about a half mile, I discovered that the trail would, at least for a short time, be on the other side of the Encampment River.  Hmmm.  No log to cross over.


Now I had a bit of a problem.  It wasn’t deep, but I’d definitely get my boots full of water.  And I couldn’t walk across in bare feet as the water is pretty nippy and there is always a risk of cutting or bruising your foot.  If I’d been thinking, I would have brought my kayak booties and walked across in them, but I forgot to bring them along.

So, I headed up the river following faint trails made by others that had had the same problem (or, fishermen).


I figured I’d go until I found a log across.  Or, met up with the trail after it had crossed back over on to “my” side.  What I did not know at that time (didn’t have a good topo map with me), was that the trail stays on the far side of the river almost all the way to the West Fork Lakes area. But, as I said, it was fun exploring. Although a little slow.

I met up with the river again after a quarter mile or more.


It gave me a view of the area.  Nice meadows for fly fishermen.  Not sure if it was due to the cool/wet weather, but I don’t remember having any problems with mosquitoes.


Zoom.  Off in the distance I could see the trail on the other side.  Looked like much easier hiking : )


I continued following this side of the river.  There were multiple small game trails everywhere.  Some were easy to follow.


But others were a little more troublesome.  I could have cut up into the woods and gone around this marshy spot, but I kept expecting to come on a nice log that would let me cross.  You have to watch your step in these types of marshy areas.  The long grass (up to my waist here) hides holes full of water.  As long as you take it slow, it’s not too bad.  Again, don’t know why, but no mosquitoes in an area that looks like they would be happy to inhabit.


Clouds, water, and flowers.


Did find some nice scenery along the way.


Continued to follow the vague people/animal trails that threaded the area.


And they were being used by people at some point in time.  These saplings were cut by a person.


Civilization : )


Don’t know what the cabin was used for.  Maybe an old cow camp.  Maybe an old fishing/hunting cabin.  Hard to say.  Pretty good axe work and corner notching.


Of course, right as I decided to turn back, the sun came out for a while and I saw a possible “bridge” in the distance.


But, good enough hike for today.  Time to head back.  On the way back I found an old trail/road that led from the cabin ruins back to the main trail.  So, the going back was much faster.


By the time I crossed the river and got back to the park where the trailhead was located, the clouds had moved back and the sun had gone.


I took the road back from Hog Park to Encampment, Wy and from there back to Colorado (and to Laramie, etc.).  The rain finally quit threatening and actually rained for a bit.  For a day hike, this is a little bit of a drive, but the scenery is always nice (assuming you don’t get stuck behind a horse trailer going 10 miles per hour and eat it’s dust for an hour : )


So, I’ll be back. Next time with the proper “river crossing gear” : )  Because no matter what happens, it’s a great location to visit.

– Geoff Weatherford

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2013 2:06 pm

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  2. Ben Siebert permalink
    May 18, 2017 1:41 pm

    Plan on the main/west fork loop this summer for some fishing and backpacking…did you ever get back? River looks beautiful, did you do any fishing?

    • Phillip permalink
      June 17, 2018 8:00 am

      Ben, did you do the loop? Did you have to deal with lots of dead fall trees? I’m planning a trip to the West Fork Meadow this summer (July ’18) and am hoping the forest service gets in there and cuts up the downed trees. Any info would be appreciated.

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