Tag Archives: Wyoming

Bridger National Forest

Bridger National Forest

Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

1,744,705 acres (1,736,115 federal/ 8,590 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/btnf

Overview

The peaks of the Wind River Range not only represent the Continental Divide, but also a division between Bridger-Teton National Forest and Shoshone National Forest which happen to be in two different U.S. Forest Service Regions.  These mountains are our favorite place to go backpacking in the entire world with jagged peaks that rival the Teton Range for picturesqueness and a fraction of the visitors (except at overcrowded Titcomb Basin and the Cirque of the Towers).  Read more about our 120-mile trip on the Highline Trail in our newspaper article.

Highlights

Fremont Lake, Kendall Warm Springs, Green River Lakes, Wind River Range, Titcomb Basin, Periodic Spring geyser, Lake Alice, Wyoming Range National Recreation Trail, Highline Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

From Pinedale, Wyoming, a 50-mile partially-paved drive leads to the campground at Green River Lakes, which opens up into a beautiful valley that frames photogenic Squaretop Mountain.  Hiking around the northerly of the two lakes makes a great couple-hour jaunt, but if you are looking for a unique destination add the two-mile spur to fascinating Clear Creek Natural Bridge.  Here the water pours through and continues to widen a four-foot tall gap in the limestone.  Starting from the campground, the Highline Trail is a 72-mile one-way trek popular with backpackers.  The first ten miles are very flat following the river to Beaver Meadows, which offers 360° mountain views. 

Best Trail

Further south in the Wind River Range than stunning Squaretop Mountain, it is only eight miles from Big Sandy Trailhead to the Cirque of the Towers, which is famous among rock climbers and actually in neighboring Shoshone National Forest.  Even though there were a lot of campers back there, we found a secluded spot between Big Sandy Lake and Clear Lake in Bridger National Forest.  When we finally made it over 10,800-foot Jackass Pass to the cirque, it was full of fog and hail was dropping from the sky.  Although we have been back on a sunny day, that was the more memorable experience, which is why we selected a photo from that morning for the cover of our new guidebook Out in the Woods (see bottom of this post).

Watchable Wildlife

On the way to Green River Lakes outside Pinedale, Wyoming, make time for a quick stop at Kendall Warm Springs where the water is a constant 85°F but is protected from human bathing.  The main attraction is a fish less than 2-inches long, the endangered Kendall Warm Springs dace.  During spawning (which occurs frequently throughout the year due to the warm water), the males turn purple and the females light green.  U.S. Forest Service biologists keep careful track of the population and if you’re lucky, you’ll meet them when they are out there conducting a survey.  On the trails and roads, keep an eye out for moose, elk, mule deer, pronghorns, both black and grizzly bears, and badgers (even in the middle of the day).  Trout fishing is also a major attraction to this area’s many lakes and streams.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This incredible view of Squaretop Mountain and Green River Lakes is at the end of a long drive down a washboard dirt road; maybe that is why it is on the Wyoming license plate.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The long dirt roads back to the trailheads at Big Sandy and Green River Lakes are well maintained, and we have never had a problem accessing them in a passenger vehicle.  Limited parking when you get there is the bigger problem.

Camping

The campground at Green River Lakes has an incredible view of Squaretop Mountain (which is on the Wyoming license plate).  There are more dispersed campsites on the road to Big Sandy Trailhead than Green River Lakes.

Wilderness Areas

Bridger Wilderness

Related Sites

Shoshone National Forest (Wyoming)

Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Nearest National Park

Grand Teton (Wyoming)

Conifer Tree Species

Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, limber pine, whitebark pine

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Rocky Mountain maple, bog birch, Booth’s willow, red osier dogwood, sagebrush

Explore More – What is the entire length of the stream that is the only place where the endangered Kendall Warm Springs dace lives (before it pours into the chilly Green River, home to a genetically distinct dace population)?

Learn more about Bridger and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Black Hills National Forest

Black Hills National Forest

South Dakota, Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region

1,534,471 acres (1,253,308 federal/ 281,163 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/blackhills

Overview

Straddling the Wyoming-South Dakota border is a region known as the Black Hills, where a gold rush took place in the mid-1870s.  The area was a traditional hunting ground for American Indians and site of the sacred Bear Butte, which led to numerous conflicts.  The hills may be called black because of the ponderosa pine forests that dominate the rocky landscape that rises above the surrounding prairie.  Explore some of its 353 miles of trails on foot, drive the miles of back roads, and be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife. 

Highlights

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, Black Elk Peak, Pactola Reservoir, Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, Bridal Veil Falls, Centennial Trail, Old Baldy Trail, Flume National Recreation Trail, Buzzards Roost Trail

Must-Do Activity

In Wyoming, scenic Bear Lodge Road cuts through the forest between Sundance and Alva, east of Devils Tower National Monument.  In South Dakota, we love Black Hills National Forest because it offers tranquil dispersed camping not far from the hubbub that surrounds Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Roughlock Falls, and Deadwood.  To escape the crowds, hike a portion of the 111-mile Centennial Trail or 108-mile George S. Mickelson Rail Trail (which is free to hike or bike, but requires a parking fee at its official trailheads). 

Best Trail

Rising in the center of the Black Elk Wilderness is 7,242-foot tall Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak), the highest spot in South Dakota and the highest point in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains.  Trails to the summit start from near Mount Rushmore National Memorial (4.7 miles one-way) and Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park (parking fee, 3.8 miles one-way).

Watchable Wildlife

Elk can be found spread throughout Black Hills National Forest, but these nocturnal ungulates are elusive.  Mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and turkeys are more commonly sighted.  While driving past Mount Rushmore National Memorial keep an eye out for mountain goats that were introduced to this area.  Both Wind Cave National Park (free) and Custer State Park (entrance fee) have herds of bison, but fences keep them out of the National Forest.

Instagram-worthy Photo

West of Rapid City, South Dakota on Highway 44 is the trailhead for the Buzzards Roost trail system.  Loops of different lengths connect to the scenic overlook at Buzzards Roost Lookout, the shortest option being 1.1 miles one-way.

Peak Season

Summer, plus Buffalo Roundup weekend (late September)

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Iron Mountain Road (Highway 16A) is part of the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway where you will discover the meaning of the term “pigtail bridges.”  Although it cuts through Custer State Park, you do not have to pay the entrance fee if you are driving straight through.  We have found the dirt roads in Black Hills National Forest to be well maintained throughout the year.

Camping

The U.S. Forest Service operates 32 campgrounds (no RV hookups) with nominal fees, especially compared to Custer State Park.  There is also a campground at Wind Cave National Park, but we prefer dispersed camping along Forest Service roads although you have to be careful of private property boundaries.

Wilderness Areas

Black Elk Wilderness

Related Sites

Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota)

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

Nearest National Park

Wind Cave (South Dakota)

Conifer Tree Species

ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, limber pine, white spruce, Rocky Mountain juniper

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, paper birch, boxelder, green ash, American elm, eastern cottonwood, red osier dogwood, bur oak, hophornbeam

Explore More – When was the stone fire lookout tower atop Black Elk Peak built by the Civilian Conservation Corps?

Bighorn National Forest

Bighorn National Forest

Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region

1,115,160 acres (1,107,571 federal/ 7,589 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/bighorn

Overview

In northern Wyoming, the Bighorn Mountains are crisscrossed by three scenic byways: Cloud Peak Skyway, Bighorn Scenic Byway, and Medicine Wheel Passage.  Bighorn National Forest has such amazing views you can even enjoy them without stepping foot on the ground.  While you could enjoy the National Forest strictly through your windshield, you should lace up your hiking boots and explore some of the 150 miles of trails within the spectacular 189,039-acre Cloud Peak Wilderness.

Highlights

Shell Falls, Fallen City, Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, Bucking Mule Falls, Coney Lake, Porcupine Falls, Crazy Woman Creek, Ten Sleep Canyon, Mistymoon Trail

Must-Do Activity

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark is an 80-foot-diameter circle of rocks divided into 28 spokes to match the lunar cycle.  This breathtaking archaeological site lies at nearly 10,000 feet in elevation with stunning panoramas in all directions.  It is possible to drive all the way to the site with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but most visitors park in the lot located three miles up the road that climbs steeply from the turnoff on Highway 14A.  From the parking area, it is a 1.5-mile walk down the undulating road, which can be cold and windy even in the middle of the summer.

Best Trail

Mistymoon Trail is one of the most famous backpacking areas in the state of Wyoming, a six-mile jaunt into scenic Cloud Peak Wilderness with only about 1,000 feet elevation gain to Mistymoon Lake.  Leaving from the same trailhead at West Tensleep Lake, another trail leads to Mirror Lake and Lost Twin Lakes after multiple stream crossings.

Watchable Wildlife

As you might guess from its name, the National Forest is home to bighorn sheep, although they had to be reintroduced after being eradicated by diseases and hunting.  Given its location at the edge of the Great Plains, both white-tailed deer and mule deer overlap here, usually to the detriment of less-aggressive mule deer.  The North Tongue River is one of several clear waterways that attract trout fishermen, and elk hunters crowd this area in the fall.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You will definitely want to get out of the car to see 120-foot tall Shell Falls, which is located right off Highway 14. 

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Snow can close Cloud Peak Skyway (Highway 16) and Bighorn Scenic Byway (Highway 14) temporarily in the winter, and Medicine Wheel Passage (Highway 14A) until late spring.  Forest Road 27 is a wide gravel road that leads seven miles north from Highway 16 to West Tensleep Lake Campground and trailhead.  Accessing the short trail to 600-foot tall Bucking Mule Falls involves driving about ten miles of dirt roads.

Camping

There are many campgrounds, including popular ones at Meadowlark Lake and West Tensleep Lake.  For a more-developed experience, try Medicine Lake Lodge or Meadowlark Lake Resort.  We have driven through this area multiple times and found a couple good dispersed campsites on dirt roads.

Wilderness Areas

Cloud Peak Wilderness

Related Sites

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (Montana-Wyoming)

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana)

Black Hills National Forest (South Dakota-Wyoming)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Conifer Tree Species

Douglas-fir, Rocky Mountain juniper, subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, white spruce, limber pine, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Rocky Mountain maple, curlleaf mountain-mahogany, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Cloud Peak, namesake for the 189,039-acre Cloud Peak Wilderness?

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Wyoming, Utah

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Ashley National Forest

207,363 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/attmain/ashley/specialplaces

Overview

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area surrounds the Flaming Gorge Reservoir that straddles the Wyoming-Utah border in the northern portion of Ashley National Forest.  The partially-submerged canyon was named by John Wesley Powell who in 1869 started his expedition down the Colorado River near the headwaters of the Green River.  The reservoir has 360 miles of shoreline, five full-service marinas, and numerous boat launches and campgrounds.

Highlights

Sheep Creek National Geological Area, Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway, Cart Creek Bridge, Flaming Gorge Dam, Red Canyon Recreation Complex, Green River, Firehole Canyon

Must-Do Activity

The top activities in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area are boating and fishing, as the reservoir is known for its large population lake trout, as well as kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and burbot.  Ice fishing is available in the winter, as are trails for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.  Southwest of the reservoir, Sheep Creek National Geological Area offers a scenic drive through nine rock formations with interpretive signs.  Downstream from the dam, the Green River is a rafting destination.

Best Trail

Little Hole National Recreation Trail runs 7.2 miles along the Green River from the Flaming Gorge Spillway to the Little Hole boat ramp.  Canyon Rim Trail starts at the Red Canyon Overlook and follows the canyon rim for 1.5 miles before cutting three miles towards the Greendale Overlook.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Flaming Gorge Dam stands 502 feet high and is crossed by Highway 191 on the Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway, as is beautiful Cart Creek Bridge.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

Every boat launch and day-use area requires a recreation pass ($5 per day, $15 per week, or America the Beautiful pass), but there is no fee to drive the Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway or across the dam.

Road Conditions

The 82-mile long Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway is paved the whole way, but there are many unpaved roads including popular Red Canyon and Sheep Creek National Geological Area.  Access roads to boat ramps at Lucerne Valley, Antelope Flat, Cedar Springs, Mustang Ridge, Buckboard Crossing, and Firehole Canyon are paved.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds on and off the lake, mostly open May to September, although Dripping Springs is open year round.

Related Sites

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona-Utah)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Arches (Utah)

Explore More – When was the Flaming Gorge Dam completed?

Ashley National Forest

Ashley National Forest

Utah, Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

1,402,656 acres (1,382,346 federal/ 20,310 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/ashley

Overview

Ashley National Forest is located on the Utah-Wyoming border and includes the High Uintas Wilderness and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (which we will discuss in our next blog post).  The Uinta Mountains are a popular destination for campers, hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and anybody who is into magnificent mountain peaks and picturesque lakes.  It is one of the few east-west running ranges in North America and includes the highest point in Utah: 13,528-foot tall Kings Peak.  In 2019, Congress set aside 173,475 acres of the National Forest as the Ashley Karst National Recreation and Geologic Area, the first such designation in the U.S.

Highlights

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Red Cloud Loop Scenic Backway, Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway, Indian Canyon Scenic Byway, Outlaw ATV Trail, Moon Lake, Strawberry Peak, Swett Ranch, Kings Peak, Highline Trail

Must-Do Activity

The High Uintas Wilderness is a premier backpacking destination with numerous lakes and 545 miles of trails.  The Wilderness is actually found in both the Wasatch and Ashley National Forests, but not Uinta National Forest.  Even if that makes sense to you, you will probably still need a good map to navigate your way to the highest point in Utah.  Summiting Kings Peak is a minimum 30 miles roundtrip from the Henrys Fork Trailhead in Wasatch National Forest to the north, and even further from the southern trailheads.

Best Trail

We backpacked into the High Uintas Wilderness on a 41-mile lollipop loop leaving from the Uinta Canyon Trailhead.  The first portion along the Uinta River Trail was flat, then started climbing when we split off on the Chain Lakes-Atwood Trail to cross Roberts Pass and Trail Rider Pass into Painter Basin, a beautiful area that sits below Kings Peak.  At more than 90 miles in length, the Highline Trail runs east-west through the area and is accessible from many side-trails, including the ones we were on.

Watchable Wildlife

Flaming Gorge Reservoir is known for its large population lake trout, as well as kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and burbot.  The reservoir also hosts a large nesting colony of ospreys, as well as many other raptors.  In the mountains, watch for moose, elk, mule deer, mountain goats, and black bears.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Leaving from the Uinta Canyon Trailhead, after about an hour of walking the Uinta River Trail reaches a bridge across its namesake.  The river is popular with fisherman and we spotted a moose grazing near the water.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

Every boat launch and day-use area in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area requires a recreation pass ($5 per day, $15 per week) or America the Beautiful pass, but there is no charge to drive the Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway or cross the dam.  We did not encounter any fees in the rest of Ashley National Forest, except in campgrounds.

Road Conditions

The 82-mile Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway is paved the whole way, but there are many unpaved roads off it including access to popular Red Canyon and Sheep Creek National Geological Area.  Many roads are closed seasonally, like Red Cloud Loop and Spirit Lake Scenic Backways.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds on and off the lake in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, mostly open May to September, although Dripping Springs is open year round.  There are also campgrounds near most of the trailheads that access the High Uintas Wilderness.  We found dirt roads off Highway 191 to be packed with dispersed campers and RVs in mid-July 2020.

Wilderness Areas

High Uintas Wilderness (also in Wasatch National Forest)

Related Sites

Dinosaur National Monument (Utah-Colorado)

Timpanogos Cave National Monument (Utah)

Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming)

Nearest National Park

Arches (Utah)

Conifer Tree Species

lodgepole pine, limber pine, ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, Douglas-fir, subalpine fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce, Rocky Mountain juniper

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, blue elderberry, Gambel oak, bigtooth maple, boxelder, western birch, red osier dogwood, narrowleaf cottonwood, sagebrush

Explore More –Ashley National Forest is named after whom?