Backpack to Willow Lake in the Cloud Peak Wilderness

Circle Park Trail

This adventure can be an overnight backpacking trip or you can crush it out in one day if you're feeling it. You'll get amazing views practically every step of the trail so prep yourself for tons of photos!

This was my first ever backpacking adventure and I couldn't recommend a better first timer trip. It's only a little over 8 miles so can easily be done as a full day hike, or backpacking for beginners!

To get to the trailhead, you'll take Hwy 16 west from Buffalo, WY to Forest Service Road 20. You'll turn right onto Circle Park Rd. (FSR 20), continue for 2 miles, turn left at the fork and you should reach the trailhead in about a half mile. 

The trail itself is pretty visible and there is usually a sign at any fork to help you determine which way to go. You'll start on South Fork Trail 182 which will take you through fairly dense forest. You'll start on a steep ridgeline and get to Trail 46 where the grade becomes more gradual.

You'll pass a few lakes on this hike, the first being Sherd Lake. Stay on trail 46 (middle fork) to continue on this loop. This will take you to Rainy Lake where you'll get some great views of the Bighorn Mountains in the distance. 

Keep right on trail 87 and follow the lake's northern shore. You'll have a fairly steep incline and you'll reach the top of a ridge (the highest point), there you can get some initial views of Willow Lake. You'll then drop down to the shoreline of Willow Lake where camping is permitted. We hiked a bit further from the lake since it's pretty rocky in this area. At this point you can return to the trailhead via the route you hiked in on.

After completing the hike, head back into Buffalo and stop at the Occidental Saloon for a bite to eat! 

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Water
  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Layers
  • Food
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • First aid, just in case
  • H2O purifying system
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera/phone
  • Trail map
  • Backcountry permit, obtained @ trailhead
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RT Distance 8.4 Miles
Elevation Gain 8100 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Summer
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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