Written By: Katie Clayton
Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming
I’ve been on the road for two weeks and have already explored two National Parks, three National forests, and have hit over 20 miles of trail. Through all of that there is one stop that I haven’t been able to get off my mind, Medicine Bow National Forest located right outside of Laramie,Wyoming.
We found our campsite Friday night, at about 9,000ft in elevation; we thought it’d be a good idea to camp where we’d be hiking the next couple of days. Free camping is a luxury that a traveler on a budget quite literally lives off of. Luckily most National Forests have an assortment of these options that give you up close and personal views of the flora,fauna,and wildlife in the area.
On our first day we took an easy six mile out and back trail walk that was less than a five mile drive from our campsite. Along the way we were able to identify an assortment of different mushrooms ranging from the parasol,lactarius deterrimus, and the fly amanita more commonly referred to as the fairy mushroom. We were also amazed by the variety of rock that were scattered across the trail. Medicine Bow is known for its slabs of Amazonite ranging in color from dark gray to an almost iridescent blue/green. You can also see an abundance of rhodochrosite,mica,and rose quartz. Ultimately whether you’re able to identify the things you see out on the trail you’re sure to stop more than a couple times to take a closer look.
Coming back to camp that first night we were greeted by our neighbors who informed us there had been a moose roaming through the campsite throughout the day. Just as we were done looking through the pictures they had caught for us, I started down to our campsite only to be greeted by a beautiful young male moose only a couple hundred feet away. Having spent quite a bit of time in Maine, which is known for being home to moose, I’d never had an encounter with one prior to that moment. We were able to watch him graze for a few minutes before he slowly made his way over the other side of the mountain.
Waking up early the next day we wanted to hit the trail before 10am. This was also the day of the much anticipated eclipse and Medicine Bow was within the path of 97% totality. What better way to view this rare event than by climbing the tallest peak in southern Wyoming. Peaking at 12,014ft the hike itself is only 5.4 miles out and back with beautiful views of lakes,wildlife,and a range of peaks to your left, with miles and miles of nothing but forest to your right. “Mirror Lake” could be seen in the distance getting its name from its clear glacial water that mirrors the landscape above.The last half mile of the hike is more of a rock scramble but totally doable, with many points to pull off and take a break if need be. The sky started to grow darker as we entered our final stretch. It was a surreal experience watching the forest grow quiet as the birds and prairie dogs ceased their morning banter. The only sound you could hear was the distant cheers and screams from hikers that had already made it to the top.
Once you’re at the peak you can head back down the same way you came or continue along over forty miles of trail spanning the rest of the peaks. The thing about Medicine Bow is that it’s prone to storms by mid afternoon so it’s best to be off the mountain by 3pm. While the forest is open to the public year round most trails are only accessible between late June into early September. Even in late August we were still greeted at the top by an inch of snow in some areas.
Wyoming was such a wildcard in our trip, but so far has been one of the most beautiful places we’ve spent time in. With such a diverse landscape you can be driving through nothing but barren dry prairie one moment and then consumed by lush green forest the next. It is a place that is sure to leave you wanting to know more about its mysterious energy and all the lives it’s touched throughout the years. It definitely left its impact on me and will surely stay in my mind for quite some time.