In between my campsite at Hugh Otte Camping Area and Lander, Wyoming is the Sinks Canyon State Park. Generally speaking, I tend stop in a park Visitor Center only about half the time. With limited cell service at best, I decided to stop in for some brochures and hiking information about the area. I was hopeful they could provide some guidance on hikes in the nearby Shoshone National Forest, but most of what they offered was on Sinks Canyon State Park.
That being said, I learned so much about Sinks Canyon in my very brief visit, that I thought to myself, I should stop into visitor centers more often! I visited when they opened at 9am. It was me, the park ranger, and an invasion of grasshoppers. I didn’t notice the clicking sound at first, but then I stopped to record it for a few seconds because it was so remarkable. It was a rhythmic snap, crackle, pop Rice Krispies kind of sound!
The Visitor Center is located at the “sinks” of the Middle Fork of Popo Agie River. The river turns into a cavern and sinks into the fissures of the rocks, thus the name. The river travels underground for a ¼ mile to the “rise” on the other side of the highway which is filled with huge trout!
For years, it was unknown if the water from the sinks was the same as the water in the rise. But dye tests have proven so, though it takes nearly two hours to travel through all the narrow limestone fissures to the deep pool of enormous trout.
I was so intrigued by the sinks, I had to see the rise, so I popped in VANgo and drove the ¼ mile down the road. You can also walk, but I had already taken a hike to Popo Agie Falls, so I took the easy way.
The rise area was previously owned by Pacific Power and Light who operated a power plant to provide electricity to Lander. In 1963, the company donated the land to the city for a park. Now a viewing platform provides visitors a chance to feed the GIANT trout for $0.25.
While the power plant is empty and the dam upriver is slowly eroding away, the brown and rainbow trout have made the rise their permanent home. It is deep enough that the water doesn’t freeze in the winter, and the protected area provides an extensive, natural food source coupled with human fish food feeding!
I was shocked to see how big these trout were. My photos can’t do them justice as the viewing platform is very high above the water, but I tried taking a few second video of the fish which are estimated to weigh 8-10 pounds.
Hiking in Sinks Canyon State Park
I was so pleasantly surprised by my brief visit to Sinks Canyon State Park, that I decided to take a hike there the following day.
I selected the North Slope Trail, and almost as soon as I began I regretted my choice. By the end, however, I enjoyed it, so keep reading!
The North Slope Trail is accessed at the Visitors Center or from the Popo Agie Campground via the Nature Trail. I began at the Visitors Center and connected to the Nature Trail to make a 3.3 mile lollipop loop. If you are up for a workout with some incline, this is the way to go.
For an easier and shorter hike, begin at the Popo Agie Campground and turn around at the viewpoint completely avoiding the steep ascent. Or shuttle a car to the Visitor Center to make it a point to point hike, ending with a steep descent. Since I like walking near water, I would recommend hiking from the campground to the view of the valley behind you and turn around before you get into the forest.
North Slope Trail
But since I hiked from the Visitor Center, I will provide my experience. The path begins following the paved sidewalk which parallels the highway and leads to the rise. Before crossing the highway, turn right onto the dirt path, marked North Slope Trail, and descend across a wash.
The wash is always dry except for a few weeks in the spring only if the runoff from snowmelt is so high that the water can’t make it through the rock fissures at the sink.
After crossing the wash, the trail climbs at a steep grade, sometimes over 30%, to about midway up the North Slope of Sinks Canyon, thus the name. The trail ascends at a reasonable incline through the forest to a view of the river and road in the valley with snow capped mountains in the distance. While the view is lovely, it was a lot of work coming from the Visitor Center as the grade is much softer coming from the Popo Agie Campground.
Upon reaching the view, the trail descends through a meadow to the Nature Trail loop. I took a right on the Nature Trail and followed it counter-clockwise. While I am not a huge fan of interpretive trails, I learned a few interesting facts from the limited signage.
Sinks Canyon is a Riparian Zone which means it has a higher water table that allows plants easy access to water. In turn, lusher plant life supports a wider range of animal and bird species. An interesting statistic: Only 1% of the habitat in Wyoming is riparian, yet almost 100% of wildlife is dependent on it. Ok, with that statistic, I’m ready to spot some moose and bear and hoping to bypass the rattlesnakes!
Apparently, the moose and bear like feeding on the horsetail which was mixed in with scouring rush and wild licorice beneath the shade of aspen lining the river. I thought this lush, green area was beautiful, especially with the wild rose.
We followed the Popo Agie River to the suspension bridge which must be crossed if starting the hike from the campground. I crossed it just to get a view of the river and then turned back to complete the other half of the Nature Trail Loop.
The loop ascended through some meadows with beautiful views and then reconnected with the North Slope Trail. For anyone who wishes for a longer hike, another trail at the suspension bridge travels along the Popo Agie River all the way to Bruce’s Camp. If I feel like an easy stroll, I may check it out.
But I have since done a little scenic driving along Louis Lake Road (Hwy 300) and changed my camp to a more remote spot off 302. As a result, I plan to stick around this area and try a longer hike to Silas Lake in the morning. ETB