by Dani and Brian Harrington, photos courtesy of Brian Harrington
How to Spend a Weekend in the Snowy Range
The Snowy Range Mountains, located 35 miles west of Laramie, offer a wide range of alpine recreation experiences. How should you explore this beautiful mountain range? The options are plentiful, though they are of course impacted by the time of year. The following is an itinerary my husband and I drew up for an August weekend (Friday – Sunday) in the locally-named and loved “Snowies.”
Keep in mind that, while you’ll likely be warm during the day, this trip itinerary takes place at 10,000 plus feet in elevation, meaning evenings and nights will bring cold mountain air. Pack accordingly!
Overnight at Sugarloaf Campground
To get a jump start on our weekend in the Snowies, we packed everything on Thursday night so that by the time Friday arrived, we were ready to roll out of town immediately after work. A stop at the Laramie Farmers Market, held Fridays from July to September, was a no-brainer for us. Here, we picked up some exceptionally fresh fruits and veggies as well as some delicious dinner to enjoy during the car ride.
To access the Snowy Range from Laramie, take exit 311 for Snowy Range Road / Highway 130. This highway, which includes the Snowy Range Scenic Byway, will take you all the way to Sugarloaf Campground. The highest and closest campground to the range’s peaks, Sugarloaf is only about a mile off Highway 130 and typically doesn’t open until after mid-July. It sits just above Libby and Lewis Lakes and is reached via Forest Service Road 346. Besides views of the peaks, the campground is excellent for its location. With several trailheads nearby, you can get on your way in no time.
Evening trout fishing at Lewis and Libby Lakes
After arriving at Sugarloaf, we set up the tent, assembled our fly rods, and eagerly set off to Lewis and Libby Lakes, conveniently located just a short walk from our site. As the sun set above Medicine Bow Peak, we fished for cutthroat and brook trout, reflecting on the busy week, and felt gratitude for the place we live. After a while, we walked back to camp and climbed into our sleeping bags knowing we had a busy day ahead.
Hike Medicine Bow Peak
On Saturday we woke with a purpose: to climb the highest point in Southern Wyoming, otherwise known as Medicine Bow Peak. The Peak looms just above 12,000 feet and gifts those who reach its top with stunning, unobstructed views of the entire range and surrounding valleys.
Varying in distances from a little over a mile and a half to over seven miles, there are four trailheads that will lead you to Medicine Bow Peak: Lake Marie Trailhead, Mirror Lake Trailhead, Lewis Lake Trailhead, and Dipper Lake Trailhead. Click here for a detailed map of these trails.
The spectacular Lake Marie loop (via the Lakes Trail) is the longest and most gradual route. You can take it either clockwise or counterclockwise, though we recommend clockwise as this direction allows you to view the peaks with the lakes in the foreground as you hike back to the trailhead. The Lewis Lake Trailhead, on the other hand, is the most direct route to the peak at 1.6 miles. No matter the route you choose, you will hike through some steep sections, you will do some bouldering as you near the summit, and you will be rewarded.
Given that our campsite was just a short walk away from the Lewis Lake Trailhead, we decided to hike from there, also figuring that a shorter hike would allow us to fit in more adventures for the day. Following a hearty camp breakfast, we set off for the trailhead. It’s a good idea to start any hike to Medicine Bow Peak earlier in the day as afternoons have a greater potential for thunderstorms (don’t forget to check out our hiking and backpacking tips here). After the tiring but exhilarating trek to the peak, we sat down to enjoy our packed lunches with a 360º view of unencumbered mountain beauty.
Hiking and brook trout fishing along the Gap Lakes Trail
We then descended the peak and headed back to camp where we relished a well-deserved break. But hungry for more scenery and hopeful for an evening hatch, we settled on another short hike along the Gap Lakes Trail. While Medicine Bow Peak is the most popular hiking destination in the area and is well worth your while, the Gap Lakes and Shelf Lakes trails are my personal favorites. Especially convenient for campers at Sugarloaf, these trails are accessed via the Lewis Lake Trailhead just a few minutes’ walk away.
The Gap Lakes Trail is 2.8 miles long and is simply breathtaking. After Lewis Lake, South Gap Lake is the first lake that comes into view, followed by North Gap Lake. If you have a full day, you may choose to hike into the Shelf Lakes as well. The exit onto the Shelf Lakes Trail is located along the shore of North Gap Lake and is clearly marked. The lakes in these areas are pristine, with crystal clear water that displays blue and turquoise hues on a sunny day. I love that you can fish for brook trout as you wander through this magical alpine land.
After fishing South Gap Lake, we turned back to settle into camp for the evening. I’d suggest winding down with a fire, a beer, and some stargazing.
Rent UTVs from Albany Lodge
For many, thinking about how you enjoy the outdoors quickly finds you in one of two categories: motorized and non-motorized. We’re typically in the non-motorized camp (no judgment if you’re typically in the other!) But on Sunday, we decided to do something new and go motorized.
We packed up camp and headed down the mountain to the small town of Albany, home to Albany Lodge. To get there, pass through Centennial and turn south onto Road 11. Albany Lodge is tucked into a canyon at the base of the Snowy Range and rents UTVs, kayaks, and snowmobiles and also offers guided tours of the area. You can rent UTVs (also known as side-by-sides) by half or full days. We opted for a half-day, and from our UTVs, we saw parts of the Snowy Range that we have never seen before, faster than we had ever seen before. We aren’t motorized converts, but we had a blast!
Our last stop before heading back into Laramie was, as it usually is, for pizza at the Bear Bottom Bar & Grill (formerly The Bear Tree).
So whether you happen to be a motorized or non-motorized user, or perhaps you’re just looking for a way to get outside and enjoy the Snowy Range mountains outside of Laramie, these are the highlights that we would recommend to get the most out of your weekend adventure in Laramie.