My first 24 hours in Wyoming were a little rough. I drove through two hailstorms. While looking for a camp spot, I got stuck in the mud and had to get a tow from some nice cowboys. And finally, Annie cut her paw and lost her brand-new bear bell on our first hike to Grouse Mountain and Ice Caves. But, after waking up to a magnificent sunrise, breathing in the fresh mountain air, and spotting deer, pronghorn, and grouse during the first two hours of my hike, I’m quickly reminded why I venture into the wilderness. #thatsWY
- Trail: Grouse Mountain from Mosier Gulch
- Distance: 7+ miles (when including Ice Caves)
- Facilities: pit toilets, picnic area, limited parking
- Difficulty: Moderate, gaining approximately 1,300 feet
- Elevation: Begins at 5,500 feet
- AllTrails Link
- Dogs Allowed
- May also be accessed from FSR 402 at the top
How to Get to Grouse Mountain Trail
Grouse Mountain Trail and Ice Caves is accessed from Mosier Gulch and is part of the Clear Creek Trail System, a network of intersecting trails which travel from Buffalo, Wyoming to the Bighorn National Forest.
Mosier Gulch is located six miles west of Buffalo off Highway 16, also known as the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway. The dirt road turnoff passes a picnic area with pit toilets before it ends near a two-track road blocked by a closed gate.
Hiking Grouse Mountain Trail
The two-track road provides access to the Grouse Mountain Trail. Hikers may follow this road a little over a mile to the Grouse Mountain Trailhead or take Joe’s Trail which is accessed shortly after passing through the gate.
Joe’s Trail edges the banks of Clear Creek beneath the shade of evergreens and aspen while the two track road passes through the sunny valley providing lovely views of the surrounding landscape.
Most hikers would likely choose Joe’s Trail both directions, especially when starting later in the day. However, I started the hike by 7am, so I enjoyed the early morning sun and views from the road. It is also easier to keep track of my dog, Annie. Despite donning her bright orange Ruffwear Pack and bear bell, she can disappear in a flash.
Aside from the fence and the power lines which run through the trail in several areas, the road portion is pleasant, especially when spotting two deer on hillside! Fortunately, Annie obeyed and did not give chase.
Joe’s Trail, which I took upon the return, reconnects with the road near a small dam after about a mile. A trail sign for Grouse Mountain and the Clear Creek Trail System at the end of the road marks the trailhead. To the right, the Grouse Mountain Trail climbs through the forest while the path that continues straight ahead, paralleling the creek, leads hikers to Ice Caves.
Ice Caves is large, jumble of boulders with a few small crevices to squeeze through. Other hiking reviews claim it expels cold air. At 7:30 am in 50-degree weather, I didn’t feel any difference in the air temperature. Perhaps I should have saved my visit to Ice Caves after I climbed to Grouse Mountain. I imagine after breaking a sweat, the escaping cool air would feel quite refreshing.
The Ascent to Grouse Mountain
The climb to Grouse Mountain begins immediately from the trailhead as the path follows ten switchbacks through the evergreen forest, gaining approximately 400 feet in a little over half a mile. In the beginning, the forest is sparse, providing views of the dam and granite dikes protruding into the sky on the opposite side of Clear Creek. With the ascent, the forest grows more dense.
Lupine, wild rose, dandelions, and mushrooms dot the trail that soon leaves the shade and ascends the Grouse Mountain drainage blanketed in tall grass and wildflowers. Then the path enters a stand of aspen surrounded by bright pink wild geraniums before it switches back up through the high alpine meadows. In all, the Grouse Mountain Trail gains a moderate 1,300 feet in approximately 3.5 miles.
At the top of the ridge, the Grouse Mountain Trail intersects with FSR 403 that leads to Brush Creek Trail. At this junction, while not part of the trail, veer right to the nearest high point and enjoy the 360 degree view; snow capped mountains in the distance, cow meadows, and town. Also, keep an eye out for deer and pronghorn. Annie and I saw both! We also admired butterflies flitting from flower to flower, listened to birds chirping in the warming air, and even flushed a few grouse from the grass upon our descent.
Annie loved every minute of this 7+ mile hike, especially when she caught scent of the deer on the above ridge. They had already trotted to greener pastures, when Annie got her afternoon zoomies early. She bounded in circles through the colorful hillside. I suspect this is where she lost her bear bell. Bummer!!
Speaking of bear bells, we saw a giant clump of bear fur by the side of the trail. Or at least I presume that is what it was. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Between bear fur, pronghorns, deer, birds, butterflies, wildflowers, ice caves, a raging creek, and a variety of terrain, the aptly named Grouse Mountain provides something for everyone. This is a great hike near Buffalo, Wyoming. ETB