Camping in the Bighorns

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

The Trekkers have begun 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 rooftop tent like a champ (though she needs a little assistance getting in and out).

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! 🤔😉😎

Our setup for the weekend

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 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).  Their stony summits, some still sporting spots of white leftovers from last winter’s snowpack, jut above the treeline far below.

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 that’s 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’s 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

Our campsite was at about 7500 feet on this visit.  We noticed something odd there that we have also experienced in Colorado’s High Country.  There is a distinct lack of “night sounds” at those higher altitudes.  You don’t hear the chirping of crickets or croaking of frogs, even on warmer nights, in that thinner air, and I don’t know why.  Nights tend to be pretty cool in those places, so it may be due to this, or just a short season where the night air would even be warm enough for the creatures to survive.  But whatever the reason, I do miss the “chirping” sounds of a summer night.

Dispersed camping in the Bighorn National Forest

We decided to be brave on this trip, and again try dispersed camping.  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!

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 forest 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:
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):

This 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 it on this adventure, there is some paint hanging from the skid plates in a few spots (we sure were glad they were there!) 😋

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).  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:  Hiking in the BighornsWest 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 in 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 mountains, 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 already have plans to explore other parts of this region the next several trips we take to that area.  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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Looking to get away from the crowds, in a scenic place with plenty of wildlife? Look no further than Bighorn National Forest in northeastern Wyoming!

 

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Guide to Colorado Backroads and 4WD Trails: A Book Review

I review a collection of guidebooks the Trekkers have found helpful regarding 4×4 roads and trails in Colorado.

The Guide to Colorado Backroads and 4-Wheel-Drive Trails may have a long name, but these are some of the best guidebooks I’ve used, in general. (To be fair, I don’t have much experience with books that, specifically, discuss 4WD trails).  In this post, I mentioned that we used these books quite a bit during our Colorado road trip this summer. 

What makes the books so great?

The book series is composed of two volumes that encompass the central and southern regions, and the northern region of the state and divide the roads and trails into classifications of “easy”, “moderate” and “difficult”.  They give incredibly detailed descriptions of the routes (down to the tenth of a mile), and also discuss rules regarding permits needed, unlicensed off-road vehicles, etc.  

It should be noted that the books make the assumption that a 4WD vehicle will be used when attempting these roads/trails,  So, classifications of “easy” should be understood within that context.  We found some (though not all) of the “easy” roads should be approached with care in a passenger vehicle (even higher-clearance vehicles such as my Subaru Outback).  It should also be noted that even the easiest trail can quickly become difficult if weather conditions deteriorate.   

The books tell you what you will encounter on the route

The books’ excerpts describe the types of vehicles that each route can accommodate–a full-sized truck or jeep versus an ATV with a shorter wheelbase, whether or not modifications (such as skid plates, rock sliders, winches, etc.) are advisable.  These excerpts also do a good job of differentiating between paved and gravel roads (information we found to be lacking in the Gazetteer), the usual condition of the routes, as well as how surface conditions can vary based on changing weather conditions. 

The books give directions on how to reach a route, bug-out options if needed (and if they’re available at all), hazards to watch out for, the best time of the year to experience the trail (as well as when they may be closed, entirely, due to weather conditions), and contact numbers to verify the most updated road conditions.  The route’s length, the highest altitude it reaches, activities available on or near the trail (availability of camping, hiking, rock crawling, ghost towns to explore, etc.) are also discussed.  Color-coded maps are provided in spiral-bound, durable pages that make for easy use in a vehicle (I can vouch for this as the navigator).  😉  

Related Posts:  7 “Must-See” Colorado Ghost TownsThe Best Hidden Gems of Northern ColoradoThe Backroads of ColoradoThe Drive to Crystal Mill in Colorado

According to Amazon, similar books by the same authors are available for other locales as well, including, Moab, Utah, and portions of Arizona and California.  I can’t speak for the quality of these volumes, though, if they’re anything like the ones described above (and I have no reason to believe they aren’t), they would be beneficial additions to any gear list if you’re visiting these areas.  

So, if you’re itching to get away from the crowds and explore some Colorado backroads, consider these books for your adventure!

Have you ever used either of these books?  What did you think of them?  Tell me about your experience in the comments! 

 

†As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Have you been looking to try your hand at some Colorado backroads? Check out this series of books I found helpful.

 

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Driving the Medano Creek Road at Great Sand Dunes National Park

I review a 4×4 driving class the Trekkers took and our adventure at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in south-central Colorado, near the small town of Saguache.  The park is nestled among the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  If you recall, in a previous post regarding one of our epic, summer road trips, I mentioned we canceled plans at this locale due to me falling ill.  I had originally intended this adventure as a present for Mr. Trekker for achieving Tenure, but, since our plans got changed, it ended up being an anniversary trip instead.  We were able to reschedule for the fall (which consequently is a much prettier time to visit that area due to leaf colors.  It’s also less busy and much cooler, all pluses in the Trekker book! Ya’ll know how I LOVE the heat! 😓

Unbeknownst to us, when we had originally planned to visit, in early June, is one of the busiest times at the park.  This is when the creek runs high due to snowmelt in the mountains.

The Great Sand Dunes are situated in a GORGEOUS location!

We woke up the first morning surrounded by a 360-degree view of the rounded peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  Gorgeous pictures painted the walls of the rental house, reflecting the spectacular scenery found in the surrounding area.  I’ve waxed lyrical about our love for Air B&B’s before.  This choice was a simple, rustic old farmhouse that had been renovated.  The kitchen was well-stocked with the cooking equipment/utensils you might need and beautiful cabinetry adorned the walls.  The home offered plenty of room for a family to sleep and is centrally located in the San Luis Valley, making an ideal base camp for day treks to the Great Sand Dunes or any hiking, 4×4-ing, or winter sports you want to engage in within the surrounding area.

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The adorable kitchen in the rental house
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Sunrise over the Sangre de Cristo range

4×4 trails at Great Sand Dunes National Park

We rented a jeep for the weekend and spent Saturday in a hands-on 4×4 driving class.  We learned proper tire placement, how to navigate various routes (picking the correct line, sticking to the high ground), as well as acquiring safety tips and how to get ourselves out of sticky situations (such as fashioning a winch using a hi-lift jack to get a vehicle out of a bind).  We then spent Sunday trekking around Great Sand Dunes National Park, driving the Medano Pass Primitive Road and getting sandblasted on the dunes (it was windy that day!) 

Medano Creek, which you cross numerous times when driving the Primitive Road,  runs fairly low in the fall which made for easier crossings for us novices.  If you want the challenge of higher water crossings early June through summer would be a better time to visit (though there are times in spring when the road is closed due to extremely high water from snowmelt and spring rains.)  Also, as the road is 2-way but is only one lane wide, there were times we found it complicated to navigate while leaving room for others to pass.  I can’t imagine how this challenge may be exacerbated in the crowded, summer months.

Pathfinders 4×4

We rented the jeep through Pathfinders 4×4 and it’s proprietor, Cam Benton, taught the class.  The company offers jeeps for rent as well as jeep tours and 4×4 driving classes.  You can find out more at Pathfinders 4×4.  I cannot say enough about Cam, he was incredible!  He was friendly, personable, and a wonderful teacher.  Not only did he allow us to cancel our original reservations inside the 5-day “no cancellations” window, but he also gave us an almost total refund (with the exception of our initial deposit which he then credited back to us when we rescheduled).  Cam also owns several Air B&B properties.  We had originally reserved a room in his home for that weekend but the week prior to our arrival he suggested we could use the nearby rental house, he also owned, if we preferred.  It provided more privacy, more space for us, and was actually more centrally located to our planned activities for that weekend.  The cost of the home was close to double the cost of the room we actually paid for but he offered it to us for no extra charge.

**To be clear, Cam has not reimbursed me in any way for giving him this glowing review, I just firmly believe in giving credit where credit is due. 😁  

As is often true for mountain weather, we were able to experience multiple seasons in just a few days.  The weekend was full of clear blue skies and warm temperatures in southern Colorado, and we had intended to stay through Sunday night.  However, with impending Winter Storm warnings for the Denver area on Monday (Denver was between us and home) we opted to leave Sunday afternoon instead.  Not all was lost though.  This change in travel plans allowed us to enjoy a leisurely, beautiful fall drive on scenic US 285 through the South Park area and Trout Creek Pass back to Denver, and Monday we were able to enjoy our first snow of the season!

Below are some more pictures from our weekend of fun.  Thanks, as usual, to Mr. Trekker for several of these!

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Sunset over the Great Sand Dunes and Medano Creek
Fall at Great Sand Dunes National Park!
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Snow in Denver!

This is a great park to visit no matter the time of year.  Definitely put it on your “to-do” list!  Have you ever visited the park or driven the Medano Creek Road?  Tell me about it in the comments! 

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Did you know there were sand dunes in Colorado? Check out my review of the Medano Creek 4x4 Road that you can enjoy at this national park!

 

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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