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A weekend well spent in Medicine Bow National Forest

Backpacking in a place that is often not backpacked: My trip to Medicine Bow National Forest.

By: Grant Whitty + Save to a List

Medicine Bow National Forest and the Snowy Range Mountains are a secluded mountain range and forest in southern Wyoming, near the Colorado border. The most popular hike in the range is summiting the highest peak, Medicine Bow Peak (12,014 feet), which only takes a half-day to the summit. There are several trails to get there, but one of the most popular is a seven-mile loop with high-alpine lakes, wildflowers, and panoramic views from the upper ridge.

I initially found out about Medicine Bow from a co-worker. She suggested going there for a day trip on my day off. After doing some research, I found that this was a popular place for a day hike for those who live in Laramie, Wyoming, as it is the nearest city. The snapshots alone were incredible. I knew I wanted to take some time to photograph this place, but I wanted to experience it in a different way than the day hikers. 

Day one

It was 4:00 pm on a Friday. I picked up my buddy Seth from his house. We began to drive north, about an hour from Fort Collins, Colorado, towards Laramie, Wyoming. After about a minute on I-70, we exited onto the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. We followed that road for about forty-five minutes west into Medicine Bow National Forest. 

We arrived at Lake Marie Trailhead just before 6:00 pm. The sun was already behind the mountains. We only had an hour of daylight left. We took a minute to make sure we had all of our gear and hit the trail. 

A black jeep is parked in a parking lot at the base of a mountain with evergreen trees on the side of a grassy slope.
Gear Check, Lake Marie Trail Head, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

We began to ascend closer to our proposed campsite for the night. We passed by massive piles of boulders as white as snow. To think, those giant boulders were pushed around by ancient glaciers like peas on a dinner plate. This Earth we call home fascinates me every day. We winded up mellow switchbacks and soon came to our place of rest, three or four unnamed lakes. The light was almost gone, and the temperature was dropping fast. 

We quickly scoped out a somewhat flat piece of land for us to set up camp. The plan was to cook up some of our Annie's Farm Animal Shape macaroni and cheese for dinner. We both decided that we wanted something quicker to eat so we could get to bed earlier. We quickly ate some trail mix, granola bars, and peanut butter. Seth hopped in his sleeping bag, and I stayed up for a few more minutes to shoot some night photographs of camp. After I was content with my shots, I hopped in my sleeping bag and was out in minutes.

Day two

A white and orange tent sits on a hillside next to a tall mountain. The sky is blueish with some stars.
Clear Night at Camp, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

We woke up at 6:00 am to catch the sunrise and alpenglow on the Snowy Range. We really didn't wake up at 6:00, that is just when we set our alarms. Unfortunately, our night was one of those nights where you count the hours until sunrise. Shortly after going to bed the night before, the wind began gusting violently until sunrise and kept us up for most of the night. It was long, to say the least. 

After a few minutes of refusing to unzip our warm sleeping bags, I finally got out and threw on a few layers as the temperatures were in the low thirties. I unzipped the vestibule on my side of the tent and poked my head out. My jaw dropped.

A person in a hat, red jacket, and black pants is standing on a rock overlooking a lake. A tall, rock mountain is glowing in the sun in the distance.
Seth taking in the view from the lake nearest to our camp, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

The sun was hitting the ridge above us with an incredible orange light. There was not a cloud in the sky. I took a moment to take it all in. I took a deep breath. The air was crisp as I inhaled. Everything was silent. There was not even a bird chirping. 

Seth and I walked down toward the lake for a better view. The earth below our feet was soft, with a thin layer of frost. The edges of the lake were frozen from the night's freezing temperatures. I drank from the lake (with my Lifestraw, of course). It had to have been the best drink of water I had ever had. It was so cold and refreshing. I took a few photos and headed back to camp for breakfast. 

What our breakfast lacked in size, it made up in calories. We had a few high-calorie snacks and heated hot water for coffee. After sipping some hot brew, we took down camp and hit the trail toward the summit. At this point, we still had yet to see another person on the path. 

We ascended out of the valley and into the first saddle. By now, the sun was fully up and warming our chilled bodies. The saddle was only a gradual hike from camp. From the saddle, we switch-backed up about one-thousand feet to the ridge. This section was the most difficult part of the hike. The entire set of switch-backs winded through a vertical talus field. 

Rocks of all sizes cover the ground leading off to a mountain in the distance.
Climbing the Switchbacks to the ridge of the Snowy Range, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

After cresting the ridge, the summit was just steps away. Soon we summited around 10:30 am. We took a few minutes to celebrate before the pain of the wind was too much on our faces. We began to descend the trail towards the car. 

The rest of the loop trail went down the north face of the ridge, which was quite a bit different than the south face we ascended earlier that morning. We soon came back below the tree line and returned to the trailhead.

During the last few minutes of the hike, I was waiting for the moment every backpacker waits for. I sat down, untied my hiking boots, and pulled my foot out. Ah, yes. The relief of taking the hiking boots off and the smell of sweaty wool socks after days on the trail. After enjoying that simple moment, we loaded up the car and headed back to Colorado. A weekend well spent, back to our textbooks for now.

A person in a red jacket and pants is carrying a backpack down a trail with evergreens to the side. There's a tall, rocky mountain in the distance.
Descending the final switchbacks towards the trailhead, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

Interested in trying this out? Take a look at the Medicine Bow Peak Trail adventure I created for this trip for specifics on our camping spot, what to bring, and insider tips.

Download the Outbound app for offline access to trail maps and adventures. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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