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The Bighorn Mountains are one of Wyoming's Best Kept Secrets

This range outside of Sheridan (and the Cloud Peak Wilderness within) hides a bevy incredible backpacking, lakes, and hardly any people.

By: Kyle Frost + Save to a List

The highlight of a recent shoot in Wyoming was a trip to the Bighorn Mountains. I'll be honest, I had never even heard of this mountain range before chatting with the folks at Visit Sheridan. Isolated in northern Wyoming, it's a remote wilderness chock full of adventure...and nearly empty.

Post trip, I tried to count how many lakes we visited in three days/2 nights...I think it was 12 or 13. Geneva, Crystal, Robin, Rainbow, Elsa, Crater, Cliff, Eunice, Sheepherder, Granite, and several more unnamed. And we saw a grand total of ONE other person on our last day.

Our rough plan was to start at Coffeen Park, head over Geneva Pass and set up a base camp at Robin Lake in order to explore Sheepherders Basin. The driving approach definitely isn't easy, requiring true AWD or 4WD. It's about an hour and a half on dirt roads from Sheridan, and you don't want to be walking the extra mileage to the trailhead. Our hiking approach was uneventful, winding through woods and passing Geneva and Crystal lakes before we began the steep (but reasonable) approach to the pass. As hikes go, it wasn't the most brutal I've ever been on, but the payoff was excellent.

Almost as soon as you crest the pass you get a great view of Black Tusk and a few lakes below. We set up our basecamp near Robin Lake, in a small rock outcropping that gave us great views of Black Tusk in the distance. Sunset was a treat.

The next morning, we took it pretty easy. No strict itinerary here, just exploring for the day. Too often, I spend my time in the backcountry moving fast, never stopping for long. It was nice to move a bit slower and not be worried about crack-of-dawn alarms or schedules. We got up with the sun and warmth to get coffee started and then took on the day from there.

Our original goal was to hike the Cliff Lake Loop, which hits many of the main lakes in Sheepherder Basin. After perusing the topo map we decided to diverge from that plan and check out a few lakes off-trail. That turned out to be an excellent idea. After starting for half a mile or so on the loop, we jumped over some small ridges and headed for Rainbow Lake, enjoying views down into the basin from above -- and eventually the wild, aquamarine colors of Rainbow Lake itself. Yes, I jumped in, obviously.

From Rainbow Lake, we picked our way down into the  basin to Lake Elsa, where we ate lunch, and eventually up to Lower Crater Lake. We took what I will call a very direct route here, which resulted in some fun, steep, scrambling.

No visit to a lake this epic is complete without another alpine dip. And a good nap.

After Crater Lake, we meandered back through the basin, eventually meeting up with the Cliff Lake Loop trail and followed that back to our camp at Robin Lake. A dinner of backpacking meals was followed with hot chocolate and sunset conversations until the stars came out.

The next morning, it was (unfortunately) time to head back to town. It's rare that I get to explore a place so close to home that not only have I never explored, but I'd never even heard of. In the age of social media where we're seemingly inundated with photos of the same hikes and lakes and mountain views over and over again, it's refreshing to find places that are still relatively unknown.

So, if you're one of those disillusioned folks tired of crowds, maybe it's time to take a look at the Bighorns -- it's not getting crowded anytime soon.

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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