Lake Helen, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

In this post, I review the Misty Moon trail starting at the trailhead at West Ten Sleep Lake and continuing to Lake Helen.


Are you looking for a moderate hiking trail that really lets you enjoy the wilderness of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming? Check out the Misty Moon trail from West Ten Sleep Lake to Lake Helen in the Cloud Peak Wilderness!

Where is the Misty Moon trail?

Trail #63, the Misty Moon trail, is one of the most accessible, main trails to access Cloud Peak and Bomber Mountain.  It starts at the trailhead behind West Ten Sleep Lake (this is also where the trail for Mirror Lake/Lost Twin Lakes begins.

To reach the trailhead take Forest Route 27 to where it terminates.  FR 27 is located off of US 16 in the southern Bighorn mountains.  You will turn at the sign for (and location of) the Deerhaven Lodge.  Boulder Campground, Island Park Campground, and West Ten Sleep Campground are also all located off of this road.

Hiking trail crossing a grassy meadow leads to trees with a rocky mountain behind

What is the trail to Lake Helen like?

The first few miles of the trail are LOVELY. You start by meandering on a flat trail through the woods around West Ten Sleep Lake.

We saw a momma moose and baby bedded down in the tall grass near the lake!  Be sure to give these animals PLENTY of space, especially with dogs. Most momma animals can be INCREDIBLY aggressive when they’re protecting babies, and moose have been known to kill dogs–we kept Puppers on a leash and she was too distracted by smells to be aware of our new friends. 

(As viewed from the back.) A woman and dog ascend a hiking trail through a grassy field. Trees and a rocky mountain can be seen in the background
Puppers and I on the Misty Moon Trail

Once past the lake, you start a gradual climb through several grassy meadows and forested areas, with great views of the mountains beckoning you along the way.

The trail undulates the whole way so while there are a few short, steep spots, there are no lengthy, spirit-crushing climbs–I think this contributed to the trail feeling easier than it actually was.

Circular, rough indentation in the rock
We saw a bunch of these indentations on the rocks, not sure if it’s some kind of fossil? Looks like a plant left them…🤔

About halfway to Lake Helen, the trail becomes steeper.  This is where you hit the rocky sections.  There are no large boulder fields to cross and no scree slopes to navigate (on this portion of the trail) but the rocks are big enough that they cause a lot of uneven terrain that you’ll need to manage.  Hiking boots are definitely recommended for this trek!

I think older kids could do this trail. It’s a longer one and they may need some help in the rocky areas, but overall I would say it is moderately difficult.

The hike didn’t actually seem that bad while we were doing it. Both Mr. Trekker and I were pleased at how good we felt throughout.  Especially considering we carried heavier packs than usual (we brought A LOT of water) and we hadn’t hiked much this summer as it’s been so warm.  Also, the trail STARTS at around 9000 feet (you gain around 1000 feet in elevation over its five-mile length.  Lake Helen sits at almost exactly 10,000 feet.)

Mr. Trekker and I were both pleased that we didn’t feel the altitude too much (it probably helped that we camped at 9000 feet the night before).  If you aren’t used to these altitudes though, you’ll definitely want to take it easy.

The Trekkers seem to be doing better with altitude in recent years. It used to be that just driving to Estes Park in Colorado (which sits at around 8000 feet) was enough to make me feel funny.  Now we’ve camped and hiked higher than that on multiple excursions in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana and done quite well.  They claim your body “learns” how to adjust to the altitude better the more you experience it and I think that may be true. (Living at 3000+ feet for the last decade probably hasn’t hurt either. 😉)

Related posts:  A drive through Ten Sleep Canyon!Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming; 4 Don’t Miss Sites in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming; Camping in the Bighorns

We considered going all the way to Misty Moon Lake but that would have added several miles to our already 10-mile hike.  All three of us were feeling good when we arrived at Lake Helen so we figured we’d just spend a relaxing lunch at the lake and head back.

As it turned out it was good we did decide to turn back.  Even though she was raring to keep going when we reached the lake, by the time we got back to camp Puppers was hurting.  This was the first time she’s ever really had issues on the trail.  This is one of the longer trails we’ve ever done with her (though she’s done 10 miles with us before).  This trail is REALLY rocky, in parts, which means it’s probably also one of the toughest trails we’ve ever done with her.  We did LOTS of rock hopping on the way down and she was obviously aching by the time we got back.  She seemed to make a full recovery within a few days though! (In her defense, my hips were sore for several days afterward, as well.) 

Hiking trail crossing a grassy meadow leads to trees with a rocky mountain behind

Obviously, I can’t speak to the trail past Lake Helen (since we didn’t do it. 😉 I do know that Misty Moon Lake is only about 300 feet higher than Lake Helen but it takes two more miles of hiking (each way) to get there.

Also, my understanding is once you get past Misty Moon Lake the trail gets much tougher.  There are some scree slopes and boulder fields (namely on the way to the wreckage site at Bomber Mountain and to reach the actual Cloud Peak).  Also, once you get past Lake Helen you are basically above treeline the entire way.  This means there is NO SHADE at all so make sure you bring sun hats, LOTS of water, and sunscreen if you’re planning to go this route.  There is also NO PROTECTION if you’re caught out in a storm.

I cannot stress this enough:  if storms appear imminent PLEASE get below treeline as safely and quickly as possible.  It is INCREDIBLY dangerous to be above treeline during a lightning storm.  Safety should ALWAYS be your first priority!  

Small lake with a large rock in the middle, ringed by trees. Rocky mountains rise in the background.
Lake Helen! (Bomber Mountain is near the tall peak straight up from the rock in the water. Florence Pass is through the saddle even further to the right.)

Panoramic view of a blue, peaceful lake with rocky mountains and trees in the background

From Lake Helen you can see Bomber Mountain and the high-altitude, Florence Pass to the right.  What you cannot see is Cloud Peak (as often as we have visited the Bighorns we have yet to see that site. It’s VERY isolated. 😝)  From what I have heard from other hikers though, you CAN get views of Cloud Peak from Misty Moon Lake.

Let’s talk about Bomber Mountain and Cloud Peak

Cloud Peak and Bomber Mountain reach altitudes higher than 12,000 feet so altitude sickness starts to be a concern when you spend lengthy amounts of time at these altitudes.  Potential hikers should also be aware the snow can be quite deep on these trails through July!  Also, mosquitoes are said to be HORRIBLE in the summer (we had no problems at all on Labor Day weekend and we didn’t use any bug spray. 😁)

Bomber Mountain:  This used to be an unnamed mountain in the Bighorns.  That is until a World War II-era bomber crashed here while on a training mission in the early 1940s.  If you know where to look you can still view the wreckage. (Don’t ask me how to get there, I don’t know. 😉. For more info on this hike you can click here)

You can check with local forest offices for information on how to get to the site.  From what I’ve heard there are also rock cairns that help direct the way but you need an idea of where to look. 

Please be respectful if you visit this site as several soldiers did lose their lives in the crash.

Pine trees in a grassy valley with a spring running through it and mountains on all sides

There are no actual trails that go to Bomber Mountain or Cloud Peak. (This seems a little odd to me as Cloud Peak is the highest point in the Bighorns and is what the wilderness area is named for, but I digress. 😝)  There are some rock cairns to guide your way to Cloud Peak.  My understanding is for Bomber Mountain, you pretty much just have to know where you are going.

This being said, PLEASE be sure you have a good, topographical map and a compass with you if you are attempting these hikes.  Also, be aware there will likely be some bushwacking involved and you could easily become lost. These routes should only be attempted by EXPERIENCED, backcountry hikers! (Cell phone service is spotty at best in this area. DO NOT rely on it!)

Cloud Peak: “can” be done in one day but it would be a VERY long and VERY hard day (it’s around 24 miles total).  People have done it but most suggest doing a 2 – 3 day backpacking trip. (Lake Helen and Misty Moon Lake are popular places to camp for these.)  The last three miles to the summit are said to be a boulder field with “house-sized” boulders (per the reviews).  The “trail” isn’t super clear either.  Some people suggested this is actually a more difficult hike than the notorious Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park 😮 so PLEASE think hard and use incredible caution if you’re considering this trek.

West Ten Sleep Lake Campground

On other trips, we’ve stayed at the Island Park campground but since we were leaving from the trailhead at the lake we stayed at the West Ten Sleep campground on this trip.

A tent sits in the forest, sunlight streams through the trees and creates beams in the smoky air

It was LOVELY! Some sites had views of the lake, ours had forest views. But the sites were nicely shaded with lots of soft, pine fluff.  The campground was also relatively quiet and quite pretty.  It was also only a couple of hundred yards to the beauty of West Ten Sleep Lake!

Serene lake reflecting the trees and mountains that surround it
West Ten Sleep Lake!

James T. Saban Fire Lookout

The Trekkers have passed this lookout on every trip we’ve made to the Bighorns and we always say, “we should check that out!”…so, we did!

The trailhead for the James T. Saban Fire lookout is found off Route 16 in the Bighorn Mountains, around five miles east of Meadowlark Lake.  The turnoff is on the south side of the road.  I can’t remember if there are signs telling you to turn but you can see the lookout at the top of the hill from the road.  This is also the turnoff for the St. Christopher’s Chapel and there are signs for that site.

A wooden and shuttered fire tower sits on top of rocks. Trees grow out of the rocks.
The James T. Saban Fire Lookout!
Dog stands on a rocky ledge overlooking trees and a dropoff. A grassy field and mountains are in the background.
Puppers enjoying the view from the fire lookout!

This fire lookout is easy to reach and offers some amazing views of the surrounding area.  It requires a short drive on a narrow, dirt road to reach the trailhead.  You’ll want to take it slow and watch where you are driving. In good conditions, I would be comfortable taking almost any higher clearance car, SUV, or truck there.  In poor conditions (mud or snow) the road may be impassable.

Once you reach the trailhead, it is about a 15-minute walk (in each direction) to the tower at the top of the hill.  It isn’t a bad hike. It gets a little steep in spots but the trek is short enough almost anyone in good health should be able to handle it. (Note: you are at an altitude of around 8000 – 9000 feet in this area so take your time as you may feel short of breath.)

Mountain overlook, trees in the foreground, then a grassy field with mountains in the background

Mountain overlook, rock and trees in the foreground, then a lake and mountains in the background
That is Meadowlark Lake in the background

Mountain overlook, trees in the foreground, then a grassy field with a lake and mountains in the background

Though it is a bit long and strenuous, the Misty Moon Trail to Lake Helen is a great hike if you want to really get a taste of the Cloud Peak Wilderness area in the Bighorn Mountains!

Have you hiked to Lake Helen, Bomber Mountain, Cloud Peak, the James T. Saban Lookout Tower, or Misty Moon Lake? If so, tell me about your adventures in the comments!


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3 pictures show a trail with mountains behind it, a lake with forest surrounding it and a lake with rocky mountains in the background. Pin reads, "Wyoming, Lake Helen, Bighorn Mountains"


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San Luis Valley: Aliens, Sand Dunes and Sandhill Cranes!

In this post, I detail a recent trip the Trekkers took to the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado.

One cool event to check out in early March is the Monte Vista Crane Festival in the beautiful, San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado!

The time we visited our trip started with an interesting drive down I-25 in southeast Wyoming near Cheyenne. We got as far as Wheatland, Wyoming on the interstate, and then saw the flashing sign for “I-25 closed to Cheyenne”! (It had snowed the day before, and even though it was bright and sunny strong winds were causing blowing snow and bad enough winter conditions to close I-25 and I-80 for close to 12 hours!)  So, we had to turn around and drive in “a big f-ing circle”–per Mr. Trekker 😂–back to the nearest alternate route through Torrington.

Anyone who’s driven through MANY parts of Wyoming knows, alternate routes (or roads in general) can be hard to come by. 😝 

After navigating some black ice…in the dark…and some sketchy drivers (I’m looking at you reckless semi-truck! 😒) we finally made it safely to Cheyenne.  From there it was an easy trip to the hotel in Lakewood (with a quick stop at Chick-fil-A for dinner!)  This is the price we pay to live in the INCREDIBLE Mountain West and try to travel during the fickle, early spring. 😂

Snowy pastures with snow-covered Rocky Mountains in background

The next day we headed down the GORGEOUS Route 285 southwest of Denver.  I LOVE this drive, it is always SO PRETTY! It sweeps through mountain passes and across alpine valleys.  It was cool because we’ve never been to the Rockies when they had this much snow before! One of my favorite parts of the drive traverses South Park, an incredible valley in central Colorado. Click here for a video!

San Luis Valley, Colorado

Eventually, we arrived in the BEAU-tiful San Luis Valley!

The San Luis Valley, in southern Colorado, is an amazing place! It is the world’s largest high-altitude (alpine) valley that stretches over 100 miles north-to-south and is almost 75 miles in width.  It was once the bottom of a large lake and this is evident as the valley floor is flat as a pancake!  The valley is especially striking as it is lorded over on three sides by the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains that reach higher than 14,000 feet!  The views here are truly incredible! (Click here for a short video of the drive into the valley.)

Looking down the road at the long San Luis Valley. Snow-covered Sangre de Cristo mountains on the left.
Driving into the incredible San Luis Valley!

Where is the San Luis Valley?

You will find this amazing valley hidden…in the middle of nowhere. 😉  The southern tip of the valley is only about 35 miles north of the state’s southern border with New Mexico.  The valley is also situated almost directly in the center of Colorado (going west-to-east).  It sits around 150 miles west of the mountain town of Durango and 120 miles from I-25 (nearest to the small town of Trinidad and the larger city of Pueblo.)

Pastureland backed by snow-covered mountains that are pink as they reflect the setting sun
Sangre de Cristo mountains living up to their name!

Fun Things to do in the San Luis Valley

The San Luis Valley is chock full of fun (and sometimes downright WEIRD) things to do! 

Great Sand Dunes National Park

This is the second time we’ve visited this park.  The first was several years ago in October (another lovely time to visit.)  We were able to hike higher on the dunes this time but we still haven’t made it to the top.  Those things are steep and they’re situated at like 8900 feet of elevation so you’re dealing with thinner air too!  It always seems to be windy at the Dunes (but I suppose that makes sense as wind is what created them. 😉)

Snow-covered pasture and sand dunes with snow-topped Sangre de Cristo mountains in background
Great Sand Dunes under the watchful eye of the Sangres!
Snow-covered sand dunes with a clear, blue sky
Snow-covered sand dunes
Snow-covered sand dunes with mountains in the background and a clear, blue sky.
Panorama of the Sand Dunes!
People seem tiny as they climb a sand dune
A view up one of the mid-sized dunes. (We made it to the top of this!)
Person with back to camera standing with arms-outstretched atop a sand dune.
Tranquil Trekker, Queen of the Sand Dune!

Snow-covered sand dunes with snow-covered mountains and a clear, blue sky in the background

Crestone, Colorado

The small town of Crestone, Colorado is found in the northeast corner of the valley. The town has a population of only a little over 100 people but at least eight different religions offer sites here.  They range from a co-ed Catholic monastery to Buddhist, Hindu, and New Age offerings.  You can see a Ziggurat–a monument commonly found to honor ancient, Mesopotamian gods.  There are also Buddhist and Hindu centers.  This tiny town even hosts the only open-air funeral pyre (used for open-air cremation) in the country!

Aliens in the San Luis Valley?

This valley is known for one very unique characteristic, a large amount of UFO sightings!  This has helped it earn the title of the “Bermuda Triangle of the West”.  There have been recorded UFO sightings in the valley since the Spanish Conquistadors first came here in the 1500s! (Before that time there are stories of “Star People” found in the ancient legends of the American Indian tribes who were here far earlier.)

No one knows exactly why there are so many UFO sightings here:

      • It could be due to the incredibly dark, night sky that is somewhat unique to this area.  This is provided by the towering mountains that surround the majority of the valley blocking out light pollution from larger towns in the local area.
      • This region is also very rural, some of the largest towns in the valley only boast populations of around 10,000 people.
      • Some also suggest these sightings may be related to covert operations occurring at Cheyenne Mountain, a military base located less than 200 miles to the northeast (not too far as the secret government plane flies. 😮 😉)
Alien figure surrounded by and covered in trinkets and figurines
Benevolent Guardian of the UFO Watchtower vortices?

Whatever the reason though, there are more UFO sightings here than at the infamous, Roswell, New Mexico.

UFO Watchtower!

Continuing with the “out-of-this-world” tradition of the San Luis Valley is the UFO Watchower!  We discovered this unique locale the first time we visited the valley.  We literally stumbled on it as we were driving down the road. 😂  We didn’t have time to stop then so Mr. Trekker promised we could return on the next trip!

A small, open tower with an uncovered deck on top
The UFO Watchtower!
Desert landscape with tower railings and trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background
Panorama from the UFO Watchower

It takes a little imagination and a BIG open mind to fully appreciate the quirkiness of the site.  The story goes that two large, energy vortices are found here.  One spins clockwise, the other counterclockwise. (They are said to be connections to other dimensions/universes.  Supposedly, 25 different psychics have visited the site and have confirmed this.)  Several have also claimed that two large “beings” protect the vortices (they’re supposed to be friendly as long as you are respectful. 😇)

I’m not sure I believe any of this, but science has shown the earth has different magnetic fields, so maybe these could influence the area?  Neither of us sensed anything strange but maybe we’re just skeptics? 😝  

Desert landscape with trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background
View from the UFO Watchtower

There is “The Garden” where people leave trinkets (I left a bobby pin, it’s all I had in my pocket. 😇)  Some of the psychics also claim there is a mile-long mothership buried in the ground underneath the watchtower. (Could this help explain all the UFO sightings? 👽🖖)

Desert landscape with trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background
“The Garden”

Old satellite dish covered with stickers and surrounded by trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background

Where is the UFO Watchtower?

The UFO Watchtower sits around three miles north of the tiny community of Hooper, Colorado.  You will find it on Route 17, a little more than halfway down the San Luis Valley.  It is situated around 25 miles north of one of the largest towns in the valley, Alamosa, and about 60 miles south of the town of Salida.

Desert landscape with space-like robots in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background

The friendly proprietor of the site claims that since the destination opened in May of 2000 around 231 “tourists from outer space” have been spied in the night sky over the valley. (The owner claims she’s seen around 28 “things she can’t explain”.)

Sandhill Cranes!

The main reason we chose this weekend to visit the San Luis Valley is that it was the date of the annual, Sandhill Crane Festival (it occurs every year in early March.)  We always enjoy watching (and hearing!) the cranes fly over our area every fall and spring, their unique song echoing across the Hills as they fly high on the thermals.

We actually learned while we were down there that the Cranes that fly over the Black Hills are NOT the ones we were watching in the San Luis Valley. These are the greater Sandhill Cranes that migrate to the Yellowstone area for the summer.  The ones that fly over our house are the lesser Cranes who summer in Canada. 

You can view the cranes, feeding, flying, and “loafing” about all around Monte Vista.  We especially enjoyed visiting the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a bunch of geese too!

Click here for a video of the cranes, their incredible song and their “flight ballet”…

Banner that says, "Monte Vista Crane Festival" in front of pastureland
Monte Vista Sandhill Crane Festival!
Pastureland covered in flocks of Sandhill Cranes in foreground, snow-covered mountain peaks in background
Feeding and “loafing” cranes

Places to Eat in the San Luis Valley

The Trekkers always find great places to eat on our adventures:

The Cow –a yummy place for breakfast (This locale is not actually in the San Luis Valley. It is located in Morrison, Colorado, not far from the Red Rocks Amphitheater.)
San Luis Valley Brewing Company–Alamosa, Colorado.  A good place for dinner and/or drinks
–Campus Cafe–Alamosa, Colorado.  Another great place for breakfast (and probably the best meal we had all weekend!)
Purple Pig Pizzeria–Another fun place for a post-adventure meal!

If you want to explore a lesser-known part of the incredible state of Colorado, check out all the amazing San Luis Valley has to offer!

Have you checked out any of these sites in the San Luis Valley?  Tell me about them in the comments! 


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Want to visit a beautiful and lesser known part of Colorado? Check out the San Luis Valley! Home to UFOs, sand dunes, sandhill cranes and much more!

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Tips for Traveling with a Dog

In this post, I give some simple tips for making traveling with your four-legged family member a breeze!


What’s better than going on vacation with the family?  Going on vacation with the four-legged members of your family, of course!  Read on for the Tranquil Trekker’s tips to make traveling with a dog a relaxing and enjoyable experience!

Frequent Stops when Traveling with a Dog

We find it’s best to stop every couple of hours–and to be clear this means a stop where Doggo can get out and walk around some whenever possible (rest stops are preferable to gas stations, and parks or short hikes are most preferable of all!)  This isn’t as easy if you’re traveling through more urban environments.  But any time you can stop where there is at least a little grass where the pup can get out and run helps (it’s good for us to get out and stretch our legs too!)

Don’t forget the pups need stops to potty and for snacks and water too, just like us!

Dog running mid-stride in the grass, tennis ball and rope in mouth, earth flopping.
Puppers encourages you to search for green spaces to play!

We especially enjoy stopping at parks or other green areas to get all of us some exercise.  This also helps you experience the areas you are visiting (or just driving through) better.  This is a great part of road tripping, getting to actually experience the country rather than just flying over it on the way to your final destination.

We’ve had lots of fun stopping at little parks in small towns.  Sometimes they have memorials that help you learn about the local area, occasionally they may even have a small museum on-site.  We also strive to find waterfalls/dams/historical sites to hike out to whenever possible.  Many times this may be a simple walk of less than a mile to see a cool place.

Related post: Rest Areas: A Road Trip Necessity

It’s not only good exercise and relaxation for us, we always need to remember a good puppy is a tired puppy, and exercise is a great way to tucker our furry friends out (this is especially important if they tend to sleep in the car.  You don’t want to get some place and be tired and all your four-legged friend wants to do is run and play because they’ve been sleeping in the car the last several hours.).

When You Travel Pack Treats and Toys for the Dog

Bring chew toys or something the pup can play with on their own (in the back seat, their crate, the hatch, etc.)  Also, bring multiple toys to keep them entertained (a stick to chew on, a ball to chase, a rope.) Bring extra toys in case you lose one in a creek 😮 or you meet a friend who needs one!

Dog asleep on floor of room, tennis ball sits in open mouth.
Puppers recommends you bring SEVERAL balls on the trip!

Have an in-car bag with treats, water, toys for rest stops, poop bags, and an easy-to-pack bowl.  Don’t forget food too, if it’s going to be a long travel day.

Pack Luggage for the Dog When You Travel

Pack luggage for your friend, as well.  This keeps their food, treats, bedding, harnesses, water, jackets, toys, etc. all in one place that is easy to pack and easy to find.

Dog sitting in back seat of vehicle, suspicious look on face.
I’ve been locked in this back seat a long time Human, don’t you think it’s about time for a break?!

Practice PATIENCE when Traveling with a Dog

Have patience!!!  Remember your four-legged friend gets bored, antsy, hungry, cranky, carsick, needs to pee, etc, just like we do!  This can especially be true for younger dogs. (Our former dog got horribly car sick until she was around five years old.  The vet couldn’t even believe it.  He kept asking, “she’s STILL getting sick?!”)

Give Fido His Space in the Car!

Make sure your friend has their own space in the vehicle.  This could be a chunk of the back seat or hatch or their own crate in the back of the car.  It should be big enough that they can lie down.  Treat your furry friend as a passenger that you have to make room for.  Don’t pack the car to the gills and then expect the dog to just “fit” into a spot.  They are part of the family right?  We need to treat them as such in the car. 😀

Dog laying in back seat of vehicle, strapped in by seatbelt.
Puppers says, “I need my space!”

We enjoy traveling with Puppers!  Use these tips the next time you travel with a dog to help make your trip as memorable and free from difficulty as possible!  Now get out there and enjoy an adventure with both human and canine members of the family!

Dog looks out at mountain vista from a viewpoint

Do you travel with your dog?  Have you learned any additional tips or tricks?  Tell me about them in the comments!

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Want to travel with your dog without feeling like you need to rip your hair out? Read on for tips on how to do just that!


Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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Wyoming’s Bear Lodge Mountains

In this post, I review a weekend we spent in the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming.


A dog lays on the gravel, in front of a tent, in a wooded campsite.There is a less-frequently visited portion of the Black Hills in far-eastern Wyoming called the Bear Lodge Mountains.  When the Trekkers visited we stayed at the Reuter Campground.  It is easy to reach, as it is less than two hours from Rapid City.  It is also just a short drive north of Sundance, WY (and I-90).

This was a typical, rustic, National Forest campground.  Potable water is available in-season, there are campfire rings and picnic tables at each campsite, and the campground offers vault toilets.

The campsites were decent, this was one of the first times we had an “inner” site so it was closer to other campers.  Usually, we go for “outer” sites but there were none available by the time we made reservations.  This meant we had to deal with more noise from other campers which is something we are usually able to avoid.

View from a lookout point over pine trees and a grassy meadow with green grass and tree-covered hills rising in the background, all under a blue sky and puffy clouds.

This campground wasn’t my favorite.  It was fine, the were plenty of large and shaded sites, but the host wasn’t as available or on top of things as we usually experience. (As an example, the trash DEARLY needed to be changed when we arrived.  It’s usually not a good idea to have full trash cans at a campground, at the START of the weekend, in the height of summer. 😝  She also seemed to have a hard time remembering who she had and hadn’t checked in already. 🙄)

We noted another campground in this local area was actually closed and was looking for a host.  It seems that campgrounds may be experiencing the same lack of available employees that so many other businesses around the country are right now.

Hiking in the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming

We enjoyed several different hiking trails in the area.  Though many were overgrown, they were very well marked with signs and markers.  Just watch out for ticks, snakes, and thistles in the tall grass. 😯

Carson Draw Trail including the Carson Draw Spur #1, the Carson Cut Across, and the Reuter Springs Trails

We made a loop out of a portion of the Carson Draw Trail, which we then took to the Carson Draw Spur #1, then went on to the Carson Cut Across, and then the Reuter Springs Trail…

The Carson Draw Trail offers a lengthy and groomed cross-country ski trail in the winter months that is around five miles long.  I think this would be a lovely area for skiing.  We may also return for a day trip in the fall to check out the leaf colors.  We saw several aspen groves that would likely be lovely.

View down a trail that traverses a grassy, pine tree-filled canyon.
Looking down Reuter Canyon on the Reuter Springs Trail

Unfortunately, going in this direction means that the Carson Draw Spur #1 trail is almost completely an uphill hike.  It isn’t overly steep, it’s just a long hill.  It was a former forest road so it is plenty wide and graded though it was rather overgrown.

The Carson Cut Across was much nicer.  It was short (less than a mile) with only a small amount of elevation gain.  It was also nicely shaded and more like a typical, single-track, hiking trail.

View down a grassy hill covered in pine trees. Green, pine-covered hills rise in the background.

Even though it meant a long uphill slog on the Carson Cut Across, I would recommend taking this loop counterclockwise as we did.  It means prettier views of the Wyoming prairie and grasslands opening up before you, on your way down the hill, as you exit Reuter canyon on the Reuter Springs Trail.  Also, portions of the Carson Draw Spur #1 trail were VERY STEEP as you went downhill shortly before it reached the Carson Cut Across.  I was happy we didn’t have to hike UP that!

Warren Peak Fire Lookout Tower

View from a dirt road, looking up to a fire tower, sitting atop a grassy, tree-covered hill all under a clear, blue sky.
Warren Peak Fire Lookout

The Warren Peak Fire Lookout Tower works in conjunction with the Cement Ridge Tower, which sits to the southeast, on the border of South Dakota and Wyoming. (I discuss that lookout here).  It offers 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and prairie.  On a clear day, you can see portions of Montana, Wyoming, the mountain Crow Peak in South Dakota, Devils Tower just a scant 20 miles away, all the way to the Bighorn Mountains much farther to the west!

Devils Tower as seen from the Bear Lodge Mountains:

View down a dirt road that crosses a meadow. A rock obelisk (Devils Tower) materializes through the haze in the distance, behind tree-covered hills.

Cliff Swallow Trail

So, I am NOT trying to be a Negative Nellie here but we did NOT see ANY swallows OR their nests on this trail (and I’ve talked to other people who said the same thing!😝)  The only place we could have possibly seen them was one overlook fairly early into the hike where we saw some cliffs across the canyon.  They were probably a good half-mile away though and we couldn’t see any birds using the binoculars.  We’ve definitely seen more of these cool featherlings on other trails that don’t even advertise themselves as “Cliff Swallow” trails. 😝  So I’m gonna have to give this trail a rating of…FAKE NEWS! 😂

This trail can also be done in a loop.  I would again recommend taking it counterclockwise.  Going this route you start at the bottom of the canyon and travel along the bubbling, Beaver Creek.  The trail went through some very lush greenery, with lots of deciduous trees and ferns (this also meant it was VERY green…and humid. 🥵)  There was also little breeze down in the canyon and there were TONS of cobwebs strung amongst the greenery that spanned the trail (thanks to Mr. Trekker for taking one for the team on this one and going first, to knock them all out of the way.  See guys, THIS is how you woo a lady. 😉)

View down a tree-covered hill to a long, blue lake, surrounded by more trees, in the distance.
Cook Lake as seen from the Cliff Swallow Trail

As you continue down the trail you ascend some mild switchbacks that take you up the hill.  Here you will notice a transition to a drier, ponderosa-pine-forest-environment that is more typical of the Black Hills.  There was also a blessed breeze at the top and it was less humid (though there could be more sun depending on the time of day as you’re traversing the canyon rim at this point).  Our experience was the entire trail was a mix of sun and shade and we were there around the middle of the day.

Again, I strongly suggest you take this loop counterclockwise.  The ascent of the hill is more gradual and you’ll have nice views of the lake as you emerge from the canyon.  If you go clockwise the trail goes straight up the hill! 

This isn’t a bad trail at all, older kids could certainly handle it. It was definitely shorter and easier than the Carson Draw/Carson Draw Spur/Carson Cut Across/Reuter Springs loop (thankfully because it was also HOTTER that day! 🥵)  That trail wasn’t bad either, though.  I would probably give both a rating of “moderate”, just on opposing ends of the spectrum.

Green cattails lead to a small lake, surrounded by tree-covered hills.
Cook Lake

To finish the second day of hiking, we took a back road out to Devils Tower, just because it was close and we could. 😉  Also, the Devils Tower General Store sells ICE CREAM! 🍦😀😀  

A brown-grass meadow leads to a rocky monolith (Devils Tower) in the distance.
That monolith points to ice cream! 😁
A dog sleeps on a mat on the grass
Sleepy puppy after hiking!

In general, these Hills seem to be more lush and overgrown than is typical in the South Dakota Black Hills.  They reminded us more of the lusher ecosystem you find in the northern portions of our Hills.

Not sure if this may indicate they are wetter and may mean they have fewer wildfires here on average (as you don’t hear about them much.)  This could also explain why we found there were fewer good lookout/viewpoints here, many of our open spaces in the Black Hills come from burn scars. 😝

I found I didn’t like the Bear Lodge Mountains quite as much as the Black Hills we know and love.  They were more rustic and less developed.  They actually reminded me a bit of State Forest State Park in Colorado (you can read about that little-known location here and here!)  It seemed less organized, you were kind of left more on your own to figure things out.

It wasn’t nearly as busy and touristy as the South Dakota Black Hills though this also meant it was far less crowded. (Admittedly we only experienced a small corner of this area.)  It made me think of a green island rising from the sea of brown that is the dry grassland of eastern Wyoming. 😇

Have you ever been to the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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View down a tree-covered hill to a long, blue lake, surrounded by more trees, in the distance. Pin reads, "Wyoming's Bear Lodge Mountains Hiking the Carson Draw and Cliff Swallow Trails"


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4 Don’t Miss Sites in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming

In this post, I outline some great day hikes in the northern portion of the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming!


The Bighorn Mountains in northeastern Wyoming are a great place to hike and camp.  There you can find great campgrounds, historical sites, picturesque waterfalls, and even dinosaur footprints! 

Porcupine Campground, Bighorn Mountains

The Porcupine Campground is located off of Route 14A, in the northern portion of the national forest. (It is not far from the ancient Medicine Wheel that we visited several years ago.)  We drove in from the east, from the Sheridan and the Ranchester area.

This is a MUCH easier drive than coming in from the west, near Lovell.  That way is far steeper with much sharper turns.  When we drove the road from that direction several years ago we both agreed we wouldn’t want to have to do it pulling a 5th wheel.  We talked to someone in the campground who had accomplished this feat, and he confirmed it was quite difficult. 

Climbing the mountains from the west you do get some nice views of the Bighorn Basin, but it was a lovely drive through a canyon coming in from the east, as well.

Porcupine Campground is very nice for a national forest campground. (Far nicer than one we visited in South Dakota in the Black Hills National Forest.)  The sites were large and flat, and also well-spaced apart, some even appeared to be wheelchair-accessible.  They also gave you lantern hooks! (I’m easily impressed, what can I say? 😉) 

There was a goodly amount of shade at the campground and some of the sites offered fantastic views from the hillside.  The mosquitoes weren’t quite as bad as what we’ve experienced elsewhere, though they still gave us a few good bites.   

A stone fire pit in the foreground with pine trees and a colorful sunset in the background
Sunset from the campsite!

Waterfalls in the Bighorns!

Read on for two AMAZING waterfalls that are easy to reach in the Bighorns!

Porcupine Falls in the Bighorn Mountains

For our first hike, we visited Porcupine Falls.  It isn’t on all of the maps but it is easy to find.  It’s located off of Route 14, the same road as Bucking Mule Falls (which IS on most maps) and there is a sign at the turnoff.  The road to the trailhead is short but it does get rather rough. (We saw people in RVs and regular sedans who made it through though.)  In good conditions, most vehicles shouldn’t have too much trouble as long as you are watchful and take it slow.

The trail is short, less than a mile in each direction, but it is STEEP!  We were prepared for this but I strongly recommend GOOD walking shoes with strong tread if you’re attempting this hike.  In dry conditions, it was a little slippy heading down.  If it was muddy or snowy/icy this trail could be downright treacherous!  It’s a downhill hike the whole way to the falls, so you know what that means for your return trip! 😮  Another thing that makes the trek back so difficult is the altitude as you’ll find yourself above 5000 feet in elevation when attempting this hike.

It becomes extra fun when you meet an unleashed, less-than-friendly dog along the trail with no owner in sight, who insists on getting in your pup’s face and growling.  PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:  Please be responsible for your pets and respectful of everyone else on the trail.  No one else knows your dog, or if the growls he emits are casual, or a prelude to something more aggressive–this is especially concerning when you have a pup who thinks EVERYBODY just wants to play with her! 🙄

Narrow waterfall amongst rock walls
Porcupine Falls!
Narrow waterfall between rock walls falling into a green, pool of water
Doesn’t that pool look inviting?
A rocky creek travels between a rock wall and a tree-covered mountain
A view down the canyon, past the waterfall and pool!

The view is definitely worth the challenge of getting to the site.  The roaring cascade plummets into a pool at your feet from over 200 feet above you. On hot days, this makes for a perfect place to take a cool dip, but be warned, the water is COLD!

Bucking Mule Falls in the Bighorns

After that adventure, we continued down the road to Bucking Mule Falls.  There were numerous horses and campers at this location and before you ask, yes, there was also a mule!  Poor Puppers didn’t know what to make of the ungodly noise that emanated from him in response to some nickers from other horses. 😂

You get extra points if you know what a mule actually is (hint, it’s a hybrid).  You get EXTRA, extra points if you know a unique characteristic that this hybridization causes…🤔 **(answers at the end)

I was in absolute heaven!  I LOVE the smell of horse (yes, really 😝).  I blame my childhood, growing up on a hobby farm, with horses, in Indiana.  But seriously, there is something cool about those animals.  They’re REALLY intelligent, for one thing, and their smell is divine!  It isn’t anything like other barnyard animals, it’s sweeter. (The only time I’ve ever known a horse to stink is when they’re super sweaty after a hard ride.)  Even their manure smells better than other animals.  That’s right, you heard me!  I like the smell of horse poop! 🤣

Related posts: Lake Helen, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming; West Tensleep Trail, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming; Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming; Camping in the Bighorns

This was a great trail!  It was about four miles round-trip, but there wasn’t much elevation gain.  The route mostly rolled over the lower-lying hills in the local area.  It traversed a beautiful, wooded forest with the pine needles cushioning your footfalls, as well as some more craggy outcrops.  The trek was fairly well-shaded, on a graded path, without a lot of roots or boulders to trip you up.

At the end, you come to a lookout point over Devil Canyon, where you look DOWN on the falls from high above (it emerges from the opposite canyon wall).  It was really cool!  The canyon was HUGE and beautiful, not what I was expecting at all.  It reminded me of the canyon that Green River formed at Dinosaur National Monument, in Colorado.  It leads to the west and opens onto the expansive, hazy plains of Bighorn Basin.

Tree-covered and rocky canyon walls. Taller mountains loom through the haze in the distance
Devil Canyon, isn’t it GORGEOUS?!
Viewed from above, a large, thin waterfall cascades down a rock wall
Bucking Mule Falls!
Shadows of two people on the rocky ground with a waterfall cascading down a rock wall in the background
Shadow Trekkers at the falls!

There is also a Paradise Falls in this area.  I didn’t see it on the map and we didn’t know it existed until someone told us about it.  Apparently it’s a bit of a secret. 🤫  It does show up on Google Maps though and looks rather easy to reach if you want to research this location on your own… 

Later, we drove a loop from 14A to Route 15, to Burgess Overlook.  Then we returned back to our campsite via 14A. This allowed us to FINALLY see a moose (she ended up being the only one we saw the entire trip! 😕)

It’s highly unusual that we see so few moose in the Bighorns.  Usually, we are there in early September so I’m not sure if our lack of moose sightings was a result of the hotter weather over the summer, keeping them at higher elevations, or the crowds encouraging them to stay more isolated.  The babies would still be smaller and younger at that time of year which may explain why the mommas may want to keep them further from people. 

Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite

On the third day of the trip, we took Shell Canyon to the west on Route 14.  We’ve traveled this road before but never in this direction, so we got a different perspective on it.  Later we got to view the rain shafts hammering the canyon as we looked up at it from the west.  It was a very cool sight! 

Dry, dusty prairie with dark rain clouds hovering over the landscape in the background

Then we took Red Gulch Road to the Dinosaur Tracksite.  This was very cool and something I had just happened to stumble upon on the map.  They think this location was a beach on the edge of an inland sea during dinosaur times.  The “terrible lizards” would walk in the mud next to the water and leave tracks.  These eventually hardened and were fossilized!

Narrow holes left in rock
Fossilized shrimp holes at the Dinosaur Tracksite!
Three-toed, fossilized footprint left in rock
Dino footprint!

This attraction is small and free.  It was a nice place to visit for lunch and to let the pup run a bit.  I can imagine it being quite hot on a warmer, sunnier day.  They had nice picnic facilities, though.

We then finished this backcountry byway that we had completed the other leg of on another trip.  Ya’ll know how I LOVE finishing things that I start! 😁  This portion of the road was quite rutted and rough too, so it’s not really fit for a typical sedan (though a higher clearance SUV could handle it in dry conditions–we saw some CRV’s do it!)

If you’re looking for some great day hikes in the northern Bighorn mountains, check out some of these cool options! 

Have you visited any of these sites?  Tell me about your experiences in the comments!


**Mules are a hybrid of a male donkey and a female horse.  You can usually spot them because they’re the size of a horse, but with GIGANTIC ears.  And the other characteristic that makes them unique?  Because they are a hybrid, rarely can they reproduce…The More You Know 🌈 😉 !


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Three pictures: two waterfalls and a stormy, landscape scene. Pin reads Hiking in The Bighorns


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Camping near Deerfield, South Dakota

In this post, I review the Castle Peak campground and some old fire towers found nearby in the Black Hills.

After almost a decade living in the Black Hills….and after camping ALL OVER the rest of the US…the Trekkers have finally camped…IN THE BLACK HILLS! 😁 (Mr. Trekker did camp near Pactola Lake on a trip with another friend in 2005, he enjoyed it then too!)

Originally we would have taken a lengthy road trip over the summer.  Unfortunately, COVID-19 altered those plans. 😡  So, we decided to stick closer to home and check some items off our Black Hills Bucket List instead!

Castle Peak Campground

We camped at the Castle Peak campground, which is a National Forest Service camp in the western Black Hills of South Dakota.  It is located on Castle Peak Road about 10 miles northwest of Deerfield Lake.  You can access the campground from both Rochford Road and Mystic Road (if you go in from Rochford Road you won’t have to be on the rutted, dirt road as long).

I’ve waxed lyrical before about our love of National Forest campgrounds.  As always though, I try to warn people that while these types of camps are usually in BEAUTIFUL locations, and you’ll often see more wildlife, they also tend to be more remote, so they can be difficult to reach.  Also, they usually only offer sparse accommodations.  In this case, the campground didn’t even have potable water available.  It provided only a vault toilet, along with fire rings and picnic tables at the campsites.

The campsites here were lovely, sun-dappled spots amongst the tall pine trees.  These reminded both of us of our time spent in the Redwoods in the northwest.  They were large, most were shaded and they sat right along Castle Creek, which meant we got to fall asleep with the sound of flowing water nearby.  This was similar to the campsite we had in Marble, Colorado on our road trip in 2018.  The area was green and lush, which unfortunately meant the mosquitoes were far worse than they’ve been in the rest of the Black Hills this summer.  You all know how much I love mosquitoes. 😝

While sitting next to the flowing creek, I couldn’t hep but wax poetic a bit, as well 😉:

The creek keeps flowing
never-ending, always constant.
It ignores us entirely.
It is humbling, the little concern that Nature gives us.
It doesn’t actively seek to harm us but it doesn’t help us either.
It just IS, and we exist within It…

The creek!

Campsites at Castle Peak Campground

The campground was in a canyon, so it didn’t offer the greatest of views.  There were also only around 10 sites that were first-come-first-serve, so a spot is not guaranteed.  This camp also requires a lengthy trip down a rutted, dirt road to access.  This weekend that wouldn’t have been a problem as the weather was dry.  We had the 4×4 truck, but we could have made the trip in my Outback easily enough.  A typical passenger car could manage this road in good conditions (we saw several over the weekend) but you should definitely take it easy.  In snowy or muddy conditions, a 4WD with high clearance may definitely be required.  The biggest issue with this is you may drive to your campsite on a dry road and have to drive out on mud after a night of rain.

As I’ve mentioned previously, this area is in the higher altitudes of the Black Hills, so its a great place to go when the weather is supposed to be hot in the lower elevations.  That and sunny-weather days are part of the reason we chose to camp on this particular weekend.

The campsite (the creek was between us and the rock wall behind us).

I’ve also mentioned that this area is a great place to find Christmas trees in the Black Hills.  Other than that and canoeing on the lake, however, we haven’t spent much time up here.  It was fun getting a chance to toodle around some of the roads that we usually only see when snow-covered.

Castle Peak and Flag Mountain Fire Lookouts

We were able to visit the remains of two fire towers, one on Castle Peak, the other on Flag Mountain.  We hadn’t realized either were there.  You can drive to the top of both, though the last half-mile or so to Castle Peak requires a jaunt up a STEEP and ROCKY road.  We took the advice of our campground neighbors and parked the truck in the grassy area at the base of the steep portion of the road and hiked the remainder of the way (Puppers approved of this option!)  Flag Mountain was an easier drive on a dirt, forest road, almost to the base of the tower and only required us to ascend some rock steps to reach it.

Sleepy Puppers!

At Castle Peak, there are only a few remains of the fire tower’s foundation.  On Flag Mountain, much of the rock base remains.  Beautiful, 360-degree views were offered from both, though we found Flag Mountain to be most striking.  It was a clear day and you could see all the way from Terry Peak, in the northern Hills, to Black Elk Peak, which is situated in Custer State Park.  That granite bank of rock was especially striking and majestic.  The green of the Hills and high prairie that stretches to the horizon contrasted perfectly with the blue of the sky (and the puffy white clouds it contained).

From the summit of Castle Peak

This little mini-trip was a good reset for me.  Life has been pretty depressing lately, with all the virus stuff going on, having to cancel planned vacations this summer, and lack of work causing stress (though I’ve gotten some good news on that front in the last week!)

A few more pictures from our weekend:

From the top of Flag Mountain:

Some steps at the old, fire lookout

Deerfield Lake

If you’re looking for a quiet place to camp in the Black Hills, near Deerfield Lake, check out the Castle Peak campground!

Have you ever been to this campground, Castle Peak itself, or the Flag Mountain fire tower?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Looking for a quieter place to camp not far from Deerfield Lake? Check out the Castle Peak campground and some local fire tower remains for additional fun!


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Camping in the Bighorns

We try to camp in the Bighorns, in northeastern Wyoming, at least once a year!


The Trekkers have a tradition of camping in the Bighorns each Labor Day Weekend!  Puppers has been a trooper on our camping trips.  She enjoys riding in the truck (she doesn’t even mind the BUMPY, jarring journeys we’ve taken her down a few 4×4 roads…too much! 😉)  She can keep up with us on the hiking trails and she even handles the tents like a champ (though she needs a little assistance getting in and out of the rooftop tent).

You do have to wonder about people who drive 3+ hours to the wilderness, where they proceed to pee in a bucket and not shower for three days…and call that fun! 🤔😉😎

A rooftop tent is open on top of a trailer, a separate small tent and truck are behind. All in a woodland scene.
One of our camp setups

We finally caved and bought a privacy shelter for this trip, and we were SO glad we did.  It made life SO MUCH easier.  In the past we’ve used the vestibule that came with the rooftop tent, this worked ok, but even I couldn’t stand up straight in it (not to mention Mr. Trekker’s 6’4 frame).  This could be because we have the tent on the trailer rather than on top of the truck, the vestibule likely works better in that situation.  But the shelter worked great for changing, for a bathroom along with our Luggable Loo†, and for a shower using the solar shower.  It was so cool to look up at night and see the Milky Way shining over you while you were changing or “taking care of business”. 😇

The Bighorn Mountains

I know I’ve said this before, and I hate to sound like a broken record, 😇 but I LOVE the Bighorns.  I always forget we aren’t in the depths of the Colorado High Country when we visit there.  I love their stony summits, some still sporting spots of white leftovers from last winter’s snowpack, just above the treeline far below.

I always think of them as their own tiny island of mountains that rises out of the high prairie of northeastern Wyoming, but according to Wikipedia, they’re actually a spur of the Rockies separated from the main mountain chain by the Bighorn Basin.

A creek runs through a wetland area with trees and stony mountains towering in the background.Though this area is just as beautiful as the Rockies, it is FAR less crowded, which makes it so much more pleasant to visit. 😋  There are no lines of people hiking in the Bighorns like we’ve experienced in various places around Colorado.  Also, oftentimes, the lower-elevation plains may be baking in 90-degree weather, while it’s in the 60s-70s, and breezy, in the mountains!

It doesn’t hurt that, depending on which area you are heading to, the Bighorns are a shorter, 3 – 4-hour drive from the Black Hills, rather than the 6 – 8+ hours required to reach the mountains in Colorado ( and that’s just the Front Range, in the east-central portion of the state).  You will still have to drive through rural Wyoming whether you’re going to Colorado or the Bighorns.  However, to reach the mountains in Wyoming, you drive on I-90 the whole way.  It’s a little easier if weather is bad, and you don’t have as much trouble with the Wyoming drivers who like to pass on two-lane roads leaving little room for oncoming cars…(ahem!🤬🤯) ( Of course, all that being said, no one should visit here, ever, it’s just a terrible place to be. 😮😇🙃)

The Bighorns aren’t to be trifled with though.  These mountains are rugged, with little accommodations by way of gas, food, and supplies.  Small towns, such as Buffalo, Ten Sleep, Greybull, and Sheridan dot the area.  But these are few and far between (not to mention pretty tiny, by the standards of “normal” people who aren’t used to the small settlements that are common in the West). 😉  This is a national forest area, not a national park, so even camping accommodations are rustic, rarely offering more than potable water and a pit toilet (and those are the fancy ones)! 😮  So, if you’re looking to visit this area, be prepared to be self-sufficient.  The views will make it worth the trial, though!

The night sky in the Bighorns

There isn’t a lot of light pollution in the Bighorns, so on clear nights, you are treated to an INCREDIBLE light show!  Once the sun sets, the stars and planets come out in abundance.  My whole life, I’ve never seen a night sky that is comparable to what you find in the crisp coolness of the high mountains.  The sky actually looks like it has the measles, as there is almost a rash of stars that covers it.  The cloudy ribbon of the Milky Way is often clearly visible as it stretches across the expanse of darkness.  You can almost sense it glowing from within.  It is truly an incredible sight.

Silent Night in the high mountains

An instrument shows an altitude reading of 7500 feetOur campsite was at about 7500 feet on this visit (oftentimes we stay much higher, closer to 9000-10,000 feet).  We’ve noticed something odd at these high altitudes that we have also experienced in Colorado’s High Country.  There is a distinct lack of “night sounds”.  You don’t hear the chirping of crickets or croaking of frogs in that thinner air, even on warmer nights, and I don’t know why.  Nights tend to be pretty cool in those places, so it may be due to this, or just that there is a very short season where the night air would even be warm enough for the creatures to survive.  But whatever the reason, when we’re up so high I do miss the “chirping” sounds of a summer night.

Dispersed camping in the Bighorn National Forest

Morning on a meadow ringed by trees. The sun is just coming up and is shinning on the mountains in the background.Sometimes when we head out we Disperse Camp.  This is also known as “dry camping”, where you just set up your camp somewhere in the national forest, outside of an established campground.  We tried this for the first time in Colorado, at both State Forest State Park and near Crested Butte.  On both occasions, we did stay at an actual, numbered campsite, it was just away from any campground and we weren’t able to see our neighbors.

On this trip, there were no numbered sites, but they did request that you stay at an already established campsite (designated by fire rings).  I have never experienced such a busy weekend in the Bighorns!  We stayed near Circle Park (there are a lot of “parks” in this region, they are basically just large, meadowy areas amongst the forests).  It was a lovely site with views of the surrounding mountains, but we could see three other campsites from ours (one had a large group in it).  We could hear even more campers, just on the other side of the copse of trees we were camped near.  Next time, we’ll have to try going even farther out if we hope to have more privacy! 😉

Moose in the Bighorns!

Morning in the meadow. A bull moose can be seen at a distance in the grass. The background is forest with the red, morning sun shining on the mountains in the far background.
Ladies and gentlemen, Martin the Moose!

I wasn’t sure if we’d see any moose on this trip since we were sticking mainly to the southern portion of the Bighorns and I wasn’t aware of any waterways running near our campsite (which moose favor).  We lucked out though.  It only happened one time, but at about 6:30 one morning, as the Pup and I were enjoying her “morning constitutional”, I spotted Martin the Bull Moose sauntering through the “park”, down the hill from our campsite!  SUCCESS!!!  Puppers wasn’t sure what to make of that LARGE, funny-looking thing!

Hiking Trails

Circle Park Trail:
A small lake, surrounded by forest
Sherd Lake

We did this same trail on our first trip to the Bighorns, several years ago, in October.  It’s a nice hike, fairly wide and graded, and not terribly steep (though it is quite rocky in several places).  We walked to Sherd Lake, which is absolutely GORGEOUS!  There are views of several nearby mountains, such as Bighorn and Darton Peaks, from here.  This trail is around four miles total, so it’s perfect for a day hike (especially with a not-quite-full-stamina, juvenile, canine friend). 🐶

The trail continues on to several other lakes from there.  It also connects with an 8-mile loop that snakes around the nearby mountain peaks, if you’re looking for a lengthy hike (or a good backpacking trip). 

Maybelle Lake Trail (off Forest Road 430):

A grassy meadow with large rocks sprinkled about, bordered by forestThis hike was deceptively tough.  It’s only about three miles in total length, but it’s overgrown in many spots, very rocky and there are lots of downed trees.  We actually lost the trail several times and had to root around to locate it again.  Other parts of it are PERFECT though.  They feature a flat, graded path through a moist, pine forest, that is surrounded on both sides by a green carpet of ferns, moss, and soft undergrowth.  It almost felt like hiking in the cool rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.  It was such an idyllic sight!

The other difficulty is in reaching this trail.  You have to drive about 45 minutes (one way) on a rugged, 4×4 road to get to the trailhead.  We had done this route several years ago, so we knew what to expect, but this would NOT be appropriate for a normal car, or even just a high clearance vehicle.  If you don’t have a 4×4, with gear intended for off-road purposes, you should NOT attempt this road. (As an example, after trying this route a few years ago, we decided skid plates would be an important addition to the truck.)  After completing the road on this adventure, there is some paint hanging from the skid plates in a few spots (we sure were glad they were there!) 😋

Small lake with rocky, tree-covered mountain peaks in the background
Maybelle Lake

Tensleep Canyon

I’ve mentioned this canyon before, but this is one of the most beautiful places in the Bighorns.  If you are anywhere near this national forest and you have the chance to drive the canyon, you absolutely MUST put it on your list.  It is NOT to be missed.  This is one of our favorite areas in this national forest, and we try to enjoy it whenever we’re nearby.

The canyon is surrounded by arid, rocky cliffs on both sides, and is located on the southwest side of the Bighorn mountains.  One great thing about it is that EVERYONE can experience it.  US 16 is the main road that runs through the middle of the canyon.  It’s an easy-to-drive, paved byway.

For the best views, I would travel down the canyon, from east to west, on Route 435.  This is actually a dirt road that runs parallel to US 16 on the canyon’s southern side.  It’s a very well-graded route though, so as long as you don’t mind your car getting a little dusty, any 2WD vehicle can handle it in good weather (beware, the road may be impassable during snowy or muddy conditions. The road is also closed to vehicles November – June).

It’s a two-way road, but it’s fairly narrow, so take your time and be cautious.  There is room to pass a vehicle coming the other way but both drivers need to be aware as the lane gets tight.

Related posts:  Lake Helen, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming; 4 Don’t Miss Sites in the Bighorn Mountains of WyomingWest Tensleep Trail, Bighorn Mountains, WyomingBighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming

This route provides better views down the length of the canyon into the dry expanse of Bighorn Basin, that opens up between the western slopes of the Bighorns and the eastern slopes of the Absarokas (near Yellowstone National Park).  While the Bighorns provide cooler conditions, even on the hottest days of the summer, the Basin sits on a high prairie that lies in the rain shadow of the larger mountains, to the west, and bakes under the heat waves of the summer sun.

On your return trip up the canyon, take the paved, US 16 for incredible views of the dun-colored rock and sparse, short, green trees and bushes that comprise the canyon walls.  They stand out in contrast to the deep blue of the sky above.  These views are SO beautiful!

You aren’t very likely to see moose in this area, it’s too dry and hot for the vittles they enjoy dining on.  The northern side of the Bighorns, near routes like US 14 and 14A, are prime spots for spotting these ungulates.

For the best light, it’s best to drive up the canyon, west to east, in the afternoon when the sun is at your back!  Here is a link to a video I made of our drive up the canyon.

We were glad to enjoy another successful, Labor Day, camping trip to the Bighorns.  We really enjoy returning to this area year after year.  There are so many things to see here, it can’t all be done in one weekend!

Have you hiked to Sherd or Maybelle Lakes?  What did you think of the trails?  Tell me about your experiences in the comments!

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Small lake with rocky, tree-covered mountain peaks in the background. Pin reads, "Camping in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming!"


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Canoeing at Deerfield Lake

In this post I review one of our favorite canoeing sites, Deerfield Lake, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

canoe on a lake's shoreDeerfield Lake is one of the Trekkers’ favorite spots for canoeing in the Black Hills (another is Jenney Gulch, on Pactola Lake.)  This site is the terminus for the lengthy Deerfield Trail, that I’ve mentioned in another post.  There are many things to enjoy about this part of the Black Hills.  It’s a little more remote, so it does take a little longer to reach, but it’s also higher in elevation so it tends to be cooler.  In the winter, this may not be as pleasant, but in the summer, when you are roasting in Rapid City, you can head to the Deerfield area for a less oppressively warm, far more enjoyable day.

Where in the Black Hills is Deerfield Reservoir?

This body of water is easy to reach, just take Deerfield Road west, from Hill City, for about 15 miles.  You drive right past it so you can’t miss it! 🙃

What fun things can you do at Deerfield Lake?

a lake view

a lake with mountain backdropThere is a hiking trail, that circumvents the lake, which is also good for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the colder months.  There are several campgrounds available around the lake, as well.  You should be aware these are National Forest campgrounds, which we always love, but they usually have very sparse accommodations.  Potable water and vault toilets are about all you can expect at these campsites (though they are usually quiet and some spots have WONDERFUL views).  This is also one of our favorite areas for acquiring Christmas trees in the Black Hills if you know where to look…

What makes Deerfield Reservoir so great?

One of the best things about this lake is that it is fairly large in size (comparable to Sheridan Lake farther to the east) but it has a no-wake rule.  So, while people can bring motorized boats if they wish (and some do, to fish) they aren’t allowed to go very fast.  This regulation makes Deerfield Reservoir an opportune site for the slower, water sports such as canoeing, kayaking, and paddle-boarding.

We are especially thankful for the peacefulness of this place as there was a measure put forth to the State Legislature to drop the no-wake rule.  This would have allowed boats to travel at wake-speed which would likely have increased the frequency and amount of larger boats using the lake.  Fortunately, after a STRONG public outcry from locals, it was defeated.  We were SO glad!  This is truly one of the best places to canoe or kayak in the Black Hills (in my opinion).  There are other nice lakes around Custer State Park, but they aren’t nearly as large.  They don’t offer as nice of views of the surrounding mountains either. (With all that being said, this is a horrible place to visit and everyone should stay away! 😮😉)

More pictures of our canoe day are below, courtesy of Mr. Trekker!

a woman canoeing on a lake


two canoe paddles against a lake shoreline backdrop
Just two canoe paddles, in love! 😉

With all this talk of canoeing, I would be remiss not to mention the rack system that we use to safely transport our mighty vessel. 😉   We really like the Yakima KeelOver Rooftop Canoe Rack.  It installs INCREDIBLY easily–and quickly–on the luggage rack on top of your vehicle.  It also both protects the canoe from damage and holds it in place very well.  Basically, the way it is designed, there are four separate, cushioned feet that attach to the already-installed luggage rack.  If the canoe starts to slide to the left or the right, it is held in place by the feet on the opposite side.  The kit also comes with tie-down straps that are used side-to-side and front-to-back to strap the canoe to the vehicle.  It should be noted that this system is specifically intended for canoes only. 

The next time you’re looking to escape the heat of a summer day in Rapid City, check out Deerfield Lake.  It makes for a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the busier, tourist towns, and offers scenic views as well.  Go out and enjoy it!

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Looking for one of the best canoeing sites in the Black Hills? Read on for my review of Deerfield Lake, in Western South Dakota.


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9 “Don’t Miss” Places for Your Vermont and New Hampshire Road Trip

In this post I review the New England road trip we took through Vermont and New Hampshire during the summer of 2019.

3 weeks, 13 states, 5,138 miles, and 2 quarts of oil (FYI, Subarus inhale oil) gives you a grand New England Road Trip!  Because, when you live in Western South Dakota, why wouldn’t you drive all the way to the coast of Maine for summer vacation? 😮😛

In 2019 the Trekkers spent three weeks on a whirlwind tour of the Northeast. We spent the first week visiting with Mr. Trekkers’ family in Connecticut, enjoying some of the old haunts from his childhood.  Then we spent a weekend toodling around Vermont and New Hampshire, and then enjoyed several days at Acadia National Park, in Maine.  We finished with a quick visit with my family in Indiana on the way back. Read on for “Don’t Miss” places for your Vermont and New Hampshire road trip! 

Northern New England Countryside

I love northern New England!  After traveling the crazy highways that snake all around its southern section, you hit the Vermont state line and life seems to slow down a little, again.  You find yourself quickly returning to the small-town charm of country towns; earthy, damp smells radiate from the walls of green trees and ferns in the woods that surround you.  It feels different here… most of the trees are deciduous hardwoods, whereas we’re used to the evergreens more commonly found in the Black Hills (and areas of Colorado that we frequent).  It feels almost like a rainforest compared to the more arid land we’re used to.  It reminded us a bit of the Redwood forests in California (except without the Redwood trees 😛).

“Don’t Miss” sites in Vermont and New Hampshire

Below are some highlights from our whirlwind tour…

Route 100, Vermont:

We traversed much of this scenic byway that spans the majority of the state, from north to south.  Several of the locations listed below were found on or near that road.  Throughout these travels, we enjoyed one of Vermont’s prime attractions, covered bridges, as well.  

Small waterfall trickles down rocks into a rocky pool of water, surrounded by forest and boulders
Moss Glen Falls

A waterfall over rocks landing in a pool at the bottom in the middle of the woods


For more pictures of some great waterfalls around New England, check out my friend, Kathy’s blog here.


A waterfall over rocks landing in a pool at the bottom in the middle of the woods. Large rocks sit in a pile near the pool of water

Large, covered bridge spans a river
Covered bridge over the Quechee River

Large, covered bridge spans a river

Ben and Jerry’s Flagship Store, Waterbury Vermont: 

We decided we didn’t have time to actually do the factory tour where you can watch how the ice cream is made (though that would have been REALLY cool).  However, we did get ice cream from the official store, and I’ve got a tie-dyed t-shirt to prove it!  We did take the time to check out a portion of the grounds called the “flavor graveyard”.  It was a little weird 🙃 but it was interesting seeing the various flavor options that have come and gone throughout the years.  Check out the website for the factory here

Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Waterbury, VT: 

Just up the road from Ben and Jerry’s is a cool cider mill.  It specializes in fresh-baked, cider donuts.  I thought they tasted more like spice cake, but either way, they were good! Click here to check out the website for the mill! 

The Vermont Country Store, Weston, VT: 

This place was nice.  It kind of reminded me of Wall Drug, in Wall, SD, but was far less immense.  It was definitely a cute place to pick up some local delicacies and check out some cool, retro toys and games from the ’80s, that brought back memories of our childhoods. 😁

Quechee Gorge, Hartford, VT: 

This place was really cool!  The Ottauquechee River cuts through over 100 feet of rock in this area, the result is a GORGEOUS, scenic view.  A hiking trail nearby takes you on an easy hike of less than one mile, to the head of the gorge, where the river is dammed.  This provides a unique view down the length of the canyon. 

The trail also traverses about a mile downhill, the length of the gorge, to where the river emerges from the rock again.  This is a popular swimming area.  Be aware though, as it’s downhill from the main parking lot all the way to the swimming site, you know what that means for the return trip! 😛

Looking through a hole in the trees, a dam in the background narrows into a large waterfall over some rocks
The dam at the head of the Quechee Gorge
Looking down the length of a tree-lined gorge from above. Rocky walls lead to the river far below
This pic gives you an idea of how deep the gorge is
Looking down the length of a tree-lined gorge from above with tree-covered mountains in the background
A view of the gorge from the bridge

Looking down the length of a tree-lined gorge from eye level

Simon Pearce Glass Mill and Store, Quechee, VT: 

Ran using hydroelectric power from the same river that formed the Quechee Gorge, this place was AWESOME!  We were able to watch the artisans blow and shape the glass in the mill, in the basement, while the final product is sold in the store upstairs.  The shop also features a nice restaurant that overlooks the river. 

We decided the creations (even the seconds) were a little too rich for our blood, especially with the risk of breaking them as it was the middle of a lengthy road trip!

A glass blower crafts red-hot, liquid glass in a workshop
A glassblower craftsman at Simon Pearce

Camping at State Parks in Vermont and Maine

Because we enjoy camping, and it helps to keep costs down when on road trips, we spent a few nights at state parks in both Vermont and Maine. The mosquitoes were bad throughout the trip, but that’s to be expected in the middle of the damp woods. 😉

I’m a nature girl, I like critters, even the slithery, skittering, venomous–if we must–kind, as long as we can leave each other alone.  What I can’t abide are mosquitoes.  Seriously, why, just why?  That will be one of the many questions I have for the “Big Guy” someday. 

What purpose do they serve?  Food for other critters?  That’s fine, but why do they have to suck OUR blood, causing welts that itch to high heaven (and are bigger than the critter that left them) that last for days on end, and can even end up infected due to excessive scratching brought on by the extreme itching (I know from experience).  A bug that DOESN’T carry potentially deadly disease couldn’t fill that spot?  I’m just saying. 😛  They say God doesn’t make mistakes but the presence of mosquitoes makes me wonder a bit. 🤔  

The campsites throughout the campgrounds were largely gravel and flat.  They have large stone hearths to use for fires, we aren’t used to that in the Black Hills.  It made me think of the Flintstones. 😂  Most of the sites were large enough they could fit a small trailer/pop-up camper (we just brought the old, trusty, ground tent for this trip).  There were also flush toilets, electricity, and showers (oh my! 😱)  I can’t remember the last time we had those types of “fancy” amenities when camping! 😉 

This may be because it’s been a while since we stayed at a state park.  We’ve gotten used to national forest sites, with their vault toilets (and that’s it). 😋  Other than their more rustic accommodations though, national forests are still my favorite places to camp.

Below are some of the parks we visited:

Coolidge State Park, Plymouth, VT: 

This is a newer park, and it includes buildings from the historical homestead of the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge.  This was the first place we camped, and the quietest.  Sites were shaded and well-separated from each other.

A tent sits on a wooded campsite
Our campsite at Coolidge State Park
New Discovery State Park, Marshfield, VT: 

This place was cute.  It rained that night, but not till we were nearing the end of our fire logs, so it was a nice sound to lull us to sleep.  There was a weird bird that kept attacking its reflection in the side mirror of my car, and a garter snake got my heart racing when it crawled out of a hole in our fire hearth! 😱  Other than these visitors, though, it was a decent little campground.

Sebago Lake State Park, Naples, ME: 

Funnily enough, I actually completed a writeup about this park, just a few weeks before we visited, for an online job I had at the time!  This was the busiest park we stayed at, with sites that were placed the closest together.  They were nice, and shaded, and allowed you close contact with all your New Yorker neighbors 😋 (we definitely don’t hear the Brooklyn accent much out in Western South Dakota! 😂)  One unique aspect of this area was all the sycamore trees, with their LARGE, scalloped leaves. 

This park sits on the northern shores of the VERY large, Sebago Lake.  It was cold, but refreshing to swim in.  We enjoyed our almost-lakeside campsite.  It was cool watching the full moon rise over the flat, mirrored waters of the lake after dark.

A full moon in the dark, night sky. It is reflected in the dark water of the lake, below
The full moon over Sebago Lake
A small fire in a rocky hearth in a campground
The cool, rock, fire hearth

Camping in Vermont

I love camping!  I love the random, natural experiences you have that you don’t notice cooped up in a house…the sun that dapples through the treetops as water droplets dribble and drip from the still-wet leaves after the rainstorm from the night before…you can see blue sky and stars peeking through the crowns of the trees…the sunbeams filter through the crown of tree leaves and slice through the morning mists that rise from the damp ground…you wake up in the morning to the granddaddy-long-leg who waves at you from his perch on the outside of your tent…

Blue sky through a crown of green trees

Vermont state parks are pretty nice.  They have lean-to’s that can be rented out, which we’ve never seen at developed campgrounds before.  They don’t seem like they would provide the most privacy or protection from the weather–or any critters–as it appeared people just set their hammocks/sleeping gear up in the shelter that has a roof, but only three walls.  We did see several people putting up tarps as a fourth wall.

They’re big on their “ponds” in New England, except many of them are bigger than the “lakes”.  Many are as big as some of the largest reservoirs in the Black Hills.  They may need to work on their wording a bit. 😋

Scenic Drives in New Hampshire

As we’ve already driven several of the main scenic routes through the White Mountains in New Hampshire, this time we chose to try out the northern route (US 2 to Route 16).  As it turns out, this isn’t nearly as pretty as the scenic byways that are comprised of Route 112 and US 302, that traverse areas such as Franconia Notch.  Those areas are GORGEOUS!

We then ventured into North Conway for lunch.  This was our second time visiting this little town.  We realized we had been there almost exactly 10 years ago, shortly before we got married! 

We had attempted to hike the infamous Mount Washington on that trip, but we didn’t make it to the summit thanks to several factors (including a certain blogger leaving breakfast on the side of the mountain 🤮).  I want to come back and try it again though, Tuckerman Ravine looks SO beautiful!  Now that we hike more regularly and are FAR more used to higher altitudes, I’m hoping we’ll be able to handle it a bit better.

Green, tree-covered mountains cloaked in clouds
Mount Washington, lost in the clouds (it’s the peak you can’t see)

Both of the Trekkers visited New Hampshire several times throughout our childhoods and we always really enjoyed it.   We were surprised to note that, on this trip, we both found the woods of southern Vermont to be more welcoming than the rugged forests of northern Vermont and New Hampshire/Maine. (The northern mountains reminded us of the Black Hills so they didn’t seem as much like a vacation. 😋)  They also reminded us of other northern forests that we’ve been to, such as those in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, those in Glacier National Park/northwestern Montana, those in the Big Horns, and those in northern Colorado (such as in State Forest State Park).

Looking for more amazing pictures of the New England mountains? Check out the Rusch to the Outdoors blog!

It got us to thinking about how much has happened in 10 years:  we got married; we moved to South Dakota; there were new jobs for both of us; we bought a house…what will the next 10 years bring?  Good things hopefully!

Next up,  Part 2 of our trip, Acadia National Park

Have you ever been to these parts of New Hampshire or Vermont? Tell me about your experiences in the comments! 

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Three pictures: 1) A waterfall over rocks landing in a pool at the bottom in the middle of the woods; 2) Large, covered bridge spans a river; 3) Looking down the length of a tree-lined gorge from above with tree-covered mountains in the background. Pin reads, "9 'Don't Miss' places for your next Vermont and New Hampshire Road Trip"


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Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming

In this post, I discuss an ancient medicine wheel in the Bighorns!


There is a prehistoric Medicine Wheel hidden in the northern, Bighorn mountains.  It was built by the ancient ancestors of today’s American Indian tribes.  More than 80 tribes claim the wheel in their oral traditions so it can’t be attributed to any one group or culture, though it’s, obviously, a very sacred site.  

What does the Bighorn Medicine Wheel look like?

This is one of the largest, stone medicine wheels in North America (there are at least 150 spread throughout the continent).  It’s constructed with a center cairn with spokes emanating from it to an outer circle that connects six, smaller cairns that appear to be strategically placed.  

Archeologists aren’t sure of the wheel’s exact age, most estimates date it back at least 800 years, but it could be far older.  Archaeological evidence shows human habitation as far back as 12,000 years in this area!  

The ranger we spoke with stated the six rock cairns that dot the outer portion of the circle are believed to have a celestial purpose, but the exact function remains a mystery–it is thought that they may have been used during vision quests.  The last time the six cairns matched up with celestial markers was at least as far back as the 1700s!

Medicine Wheels are Sacred Sites

Religious ceremonies are still held at the wheel on a regular basis as many tribal members make religious pilgrimages to the site.  Some of the ceremonies involve large groups, while others include only a few individuals–two, small, private ceremonies occurred while we were there.  Anyone with American Indian heritage can participate in a ceremony.  

It’s always enthralling for me to observe religious practices that I’m not familiar with.  I’m fascinated by the emotions you see play out on the faces of the participants, and how descriptive their movements can be.  I find their actions evoke emotions within me as well.  You can actually feel the peace and tranquility emanating from them as they dance, pray, or worship in their own way.  

A tour of the wheel may be delayed if a ceremony is occurring, though they usually don’t last longer than 30 minutes, so please be patient and respectful during this time of worship.  Numerous religious offerings are tied to the fence that rings the site (or are placed within the wheel itself).  Please do not touch or photograph these items directly as they are sacred.  It is also requested that people not take photos or videos of the ceremonies, as they are occurring, to respect the privacy of the participants.  

Where is the Bighorn Medicine Wheel?

The wheel is located on Forest Road 12, off of US 14A, in the northern part of the Bighorns.  It’s about 20 miles from Burgess Junction (where 14A branches off from US 14 to the east) and about 30 miles from Lovell, Wyoming, to the west.

Related posts: Lake Helen, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming; 4 Don’t Miss Sites in the Bighorn Mountains of WyomingWest Tensleep Trail, Bighorn Mountains, WyomingCamping in the Bighorns

The parking lot is a mile-and-a-half walk from the wheel on a graded, dirt road.  The hike isn’t bad, though it is uphill both ways (seriously 😝) and the altitude is over 9,000 feet, so take your time.  The site is also above tree line so bring a hat, water, and sunscreen, and be prepared for the ever-present, Wyoming wind.  It usually takes an hour or so to complete the entire route.  The site is free to visit, though donations are appreciated.  Because this is a sacred site, pets are not permitted and must be left in the parking area.

The only thing that marred the experience was the large, FAA radar placed on the adjoining peak (because none of the numerous, other peaks in the surrounding area, that were a little farther away, wouldn’t have worked?  REALLY?!)  Federal Government, do better! 😤      

Panoramic view of a rocky mountainside. Tree-covered mountains spread in the distance under a crystal clear, blue sky
The incredible view of the Bighorns from the Medicine Wheel site (to the right is the road you hike to reach the wheel)
Small stones on the ground form the center and outer portions of a wheel with stone spokes connecting them
The Medicine Wheel (you can see one of the rock cairns in the foreground to the left)

The Backroads of Wyoming

I’ve suggested before, to always take the scenic route, when time permits.  We enjoyed a good bit of that on this trip!  We started by taking Route 24, west, from where it branches off near the Island Park campground.  We then took Forest Road 408, to BLM Road 1117, on to Hyattville.  

This route is listed in the gazetteer as being Hyattville Road, but we saw NO signs reflecting this.  Similar to what we’ve found in Colorado, even though a road may be listed as a “major connector”, especially in the gazetteer, this could easily mean the road is actually dirt (sometimes wide and graded, other times little more than a narrow, two-track, high-clearance road that I wouldn’t be comfortable taking an Outback on). 😝 

We used three separate maps–the gazetteer, a Bighorns map we picked up at a local, outdoor store, and a road atlas–to gather a–somewhat accurate–estimate of the roads’ actual conditions.  Part of the difficulty was the roads traversed National Forest and BLM land in this area, and each department names and maintains their roads differently.  

Overlooking a rocky cliff with pine trees growing up from below
A view from our backroad trip

The drive was very manageable with Mr. Trekker’s Tacoma (any high-clearance, 4WD vehicle could handle it in good conditions).  There were no steep drop-offs and no, real, technical obstacles like what we’ve encountered on some of the roads in Colorado.  It was also beautiful, ranging from alpine, spruce forests and aspen groves, to dun-colored high prairies dotted with tan and red clay mounds, adorned with the varying greens of the diverse foliage.  Rock-rimmed canyons with their gaping mouths open onto prairie grasses far below, while rocky cliffs of various colors traverse throughout, all with the imposing Bighorns as a backdrop.  

Here is a video I made that showcases the beauty that is eastern Wyoming.

After leaving the Medicine Wheel, we decided we were game to try a few more back roads.  We took another scenic trip, east, on US 14A to Burgess Junction, where we picked up US 14 and took it west.  We took that road to Route 17, another “major connector”, that we then took to Alkali Road/BLM Road 1111/Route 228, back to Hyattville (this is a back way to reach the Medicine Wheel from the south).  

Again, these road numbers and names were listed on the gazetteer and one of the maps–some of these roads didn’t even appear on the Atlas–but were NOT shown on the actual road.  We just trusted the signs that directed us back to Hyattville.  You always need to be flexible when taking back roads, as you never know what kind of obstacles or conditions may cross your path.  I should also note, there was NO cell coverage in this remote location (and GPS can often be inaccurate), so maps are often times your only option–time to go “old school” folks!  

Another road we could have driven was labeled in the Gazetteer as the “Red Gulch, Alkali National Back Country Byway”.  We didn’t actually drive it this time–though we returned at a later date to check out the fossilized dinosaur footprints it leads to! 😯  

The Back Country Byway is more of a two-track, high-clearance path, at least in spots.  I certainly wouldn’t call it a “main road”.  Funnily enough, the roads we took back to Hyattville ended up being in better shape than the back road we brought out from the campground.  They were graded, gravel roads that one could expect to travel 30 – 40 mph on (if the rancher in front of us hadn’t decided a slower speed was better.  Unfortunately, on those roads, that are only about 1.5 lanes wide, passing really isn’t an option unless the person in front of you is feeling charitable and pulls over.  This man didn’t. 😜)  So, we enjoyed a leisurely, scenic stroll through the beautiful Wyoming countryside.  😁  

After reaching Hyattville we took Route R54 (another graded, well-maintained, gravel road) to Ten Sleep and then got to enjoy the, INCREDIBLY beautiful, US 16 east through Ten Sleep Canyon, back to our campground. (Did I mention, almost all of these roads, despite their varying conditions–with the exception of the highways–had the EXACT SAME indicators on the map? 😜)

Peering through the trees across tree-covered mountains out to the dry, high prairie far in the distance

The topography of Wyoming is very unique.  It’s characterized by the towering Bighorns in the northeast, to the Grand Tetons that criss-cross Yellowstone and the Rockies, in the west.  A drier, large, bluff-filled basin sits between Yellowstone and the Bighorns.  

Some parts of the state are prettier than others–while the dry, scrubland that surrounds the mountains can be pretty and green in spring, it usually turns rather drab in the later months.  The basin area is dotted with oil fields and sketchy-looking, government sites with warning signs plastered on the fences, which can be rather intimidating. 😳

Below are some more pics of our scenic drive:

Dry, green meadow with trees and rocky mountains far in the background, under a clear, blue skyWhite, rocky cliffs rise high aboveA dry, scrubland canyon with a dry, high plain in the far distanceDry, grassy meadow with dry, high plains and bluffs in the distanceDry, grassy meadow with dry, high plains and red-rock bluffs in the distanceDry, grassy meadow with tree-covered, white cliffs and dry, high plains and mountains in the backgroundDry, grassy high plains with pine-covered mountains in the background

MOOSE in the Bighorn Mountains!

Earlier that summer, we spent ten days in the Colorado high country during peak season and we didn’t see one moose.  Later that fall, we spent ten seconds in the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming (literally), and TWO moose were waiting to greet us when we arrived at our campsite!  Bighorns for the win!   

Two moose in a field as seen through the trees
Our ungulate friends (this year it was Maggie and Megan)

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m always surprised at how much this part of Wyoming reminds me of the Colorado mountains.  The scenery and critters are very similar, with the added benefit of being half as long a distance from the Black Hills and FAR less crowded than Colorado. 😉  

If you’re looking for an amazing, historical site to visit in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, check out the Bighorn Medicine Wheel!

Have you ever visited the prehistoric Medicine Wheel in the Bighorns?  Tell me about it in the comments! 

Did you enjoy reading this post?  Pin it!

Small stones on the ground form the center and outer portions of a wheel with stone spokes connecting them. Pin reads, "A Prehistoric Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming"

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