Big Horn Mountains, Back-packing, Return Summer 2019
Wyoming is my happy place
That's a bumper sticker on my car. Speechless....this is my favorite place so far in all our travels.
This year's trip to the Big Horn Mountains was a return trip. We loved it so much the first time we decided to go back. Plainly described, by me, this area in Wyoming is incredibly diverse. Coming from the east, you come in through Buffalo, Wyoming. A nice town with a sweet downtown area full of shops. There is also an incredible, huge, FREE pool in the center of town.
After leaving the town you head into Big Horn National Forest via Rt 15. It just gets more and more beautiful with long, wide meadows, canyons, and the high peaks of Cloud Peak Wilderness Area. If you continue driving, you end up in Ten Sleep, WY. It is a very small town with some unique qualities, namely an influx of rock climbers who climb the walls within the forest boundaries and around the Ten Sleep area. There is a campground just east of Ten Sleep, Ten Sleep Rock Ranch.
Total hippy, rock climbing community. Really interesting place. Also check out these articles. When we were there some controversy was taking place about rock climbing routes in the canyon. We are not knowledgeable about climbing but learned a little about what was going on. Very interesting.
The trip. Our first destination upon arriving was a base camp to get situated. We stayed in a cabin at Ten Sleep Rock Ranch for 2 nights to transition from our bikepacking trip and into our backpacking trip. We took the time to reorganize and pack for backpacking. There is a link below for other options for your readying location. As far as backpacking, read the rules for camping in the backcountry also called dispersed camping, but no reservations are needed for that.
We chose to do the Mistymoon Lake Trail in the Cloud Peak Wilderness area of Bighorn National Forest. This trail starts at the West Tensleep Trailhead at the end of FR 27. West Tensleep Campground is there as well and is also a great place to get acclimated to the elevation, if needed, and to do regrouping/organizing/packing. The previous trip we did this. Make reservations in advance if you choose to camp there.
The trail is moderate, the temperatures can be quite cool at night with the best times to go being Mid-July to early September. We were there at the end of June and it was bordering on cold at night. We had our 30 degree bags with us and warm clothes for layering. This is by far my favorite place, if I had to pick one, of all we have been to. It has a mix of forest, meadows, creeks, lakes, and my absolute heart's desire, alpine meadows and granite peaks, still snow covered in late June, all with a forecast seemingly their own.
The trail covers 4.9 miles from the start to the first lake, Lake Helen. From there it is ~1 mile more to Lake Marion, then another ~1.2 miles to the foot of Mistymoon Lake and the Junction to Florence Pass. There are several options. You choose what works best for you:
Option 1. This is the extent of your hike/backpack.
Option 2. If you have a base camp set up, you can day hike from this point, east, to Florence Pass and Bomber Mountain. Then return to camp. Check out the link to Bomber Mountain. Super cool and interesting place. We attempted to climb it but we got shut down by a hail storm. LOL!! IN JUNE!
Option 3. With that base camp in place, you can hike west to Lake Solitude, then return to base camp.
Option 4. You can do a more extended backpacking trip. Go east from the Mistymoon Lake Juncture, over Florence Pass, following the trail to the Hunter Trailhead. Approximately a total of 14.5 miles.
Option 5. Another more extended trek, going west from Mistymoon Lake Juncture towards Lake Solitude, Middle Paint Rock Creek, Lily Lake, ending at Battle Park camping area.
Option 6. Check the guide book and map, which I highly recommend, and see about doing either option 4 or 5 starting at the Hunter Trailhead or Battle Park Trailhead, respectively. There are many combinations depending on how much time and backpacking you want to do.
Beginners may want to backpack in a shorter distance, set up a base camp, then day hike to and from some of these places. This way you are starting out early, travelling light with snacks and water, and then returning to base camp for dinner and sleep. Others may want to cover distance and not return the same way they came. In this case you are deciding how many nights you want to set up and break down camp. So so many options.