Well, I left Wyoming with a bang! I couldn’t be happier with my final hike of the summer. Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is a hidden gem! I can’t believe I overlooked this place when I lived only 3 hours away in Denver. The Lakes Trail is fantastic.
Towns Near Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest
The biggest city closest to Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is Laramie, Wyoming, approximately 45 miles east. Fort Collins, Colorado is about 1.5 hours southeast and Denver 3 hours. As a result, day trips are good options, though camping along with mountain cabins dot WY-130.
Additionally, two very small towns flank both side of the forest, Saratoga to the west and Centennial to the east. Centennial is equipped with a small general store and a restaurant. Saratoga is much bigger. It has a gas station, some restaurants, hot springs, a museum, a grocery store, and a nice dog park.
Coming down from Jackson Hole, I spent the afternoon in Saratoga before camping at Bear Trail, just down the road from the Lakes Trailhead. For a mountain forest that popped in the middle of empty plains, I was surprised to find so many developed areas.
The beginning of Lakes Trail felt like being at a National Park with two paved parking lots and a paved path wrapping around both Lake Marie and Mirror Lake. At first, I wondered what I had done. I can hike as many paved trails as I want in Texas. I like dirt!
Though, I have to admit, it is rare for such beautiful mountain lakes to be so accessible, so it is probably nice to have for nature lovers who cannot walk far. Both Lake Marie and Mirror Lake were right off the highway!
I began at Lake Marie which is named for Mary (Marie) Bellamy, the wife of government surveyor Charles Bellamy. More importantly, she was the first woman to be elected to the Wyoming Legislature in 1910 and led the suffrage drive for women’s right to vote which resulted in the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Coincidentally, Wyoming was the first state or territory that allowed women voting in 1869.
Anyway, the paved path follows the highway from the parking area as it loops around the shore of Lake Marie. It drops out onto a road that passes Mirror Lake and takes drivers to a picnic area and additional parking.
Anyone who wishes to skip the paved trail and road, may start their hike on the Lakes Trail here. If I were to do it again, I would start above Mirror Lake, but I am very glad I saw Lake Marie, with its magnificent granite cliffs. Skipping the paved area would reduce the 5-mile roundtrip hike on Lakes Trail to the Medicine Bow Peak junction, 3.5 miles.
From Mirror Lake the Lakes Trail climbs through intermittent forest, past large boulders home to marmots, and along mountainsides of blue columbine as it overlooks Lookout Lake.
Lookout Lake is ¾ of a mile long and is lined by granite peaks the whole way. It feels like the view never ends and only improves with the gentle 400-foot ascent from the Mirror Lake parking lot located at 10.500 feet.
The Lakes Trail
Soon the Lakes Trail leaves the forest altogether and travels through alpine meadows dotted with ponds. It seemed like prime moose territory, but they eluded me on this ridiculous windy morning. I definitely had to hold onto my hat and almost broke out my gloves because it was so cold.
Eventually, wood posts mark the Lakes Trail as it weaves through boulders before connecting with Medicine Bow Peak Trail. Rockhounds should keep a lookout. I stumbled across a big out of place rose colored rock. The Rock Identifier app I downloaded suggests it is either Eudialyte or Lepidolite. Eudialyte is rare to find, so it is probably the latter.
From the trail junction, you may continue up to Medicine Bow Peak Trail, gaining 1,000 feet in a mile, descend to Lewis Lake and Libby Lake which are at the base of Medicine Bow Peak Trail, or turn around.
I turned around because I had only planned to hike to the junction before driving back to Denver, and I was not prepared to make the ascent, especially with the wind. While I could have descended to Lewis and Libby Lake, I decided to save it for next year.
Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest
I am definitely returning to Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, as Lost Lakes Trail may have been my second most favorite hike of the summer behind Mirror Lake and Lost Twin Lakes near Buffalo, Wyoming. What an undiscovered paradise! While I ran into more people than I expected, it still wasn’t many, and I suspect I was on the most popular trail in the forest.
My only caution is that most trails in this area begin at 10,000 feet. Be prepared for high altitude hiking, carry your 10 essentials, and descend should you suffer from altitude sickness. Additionally, seeing as how this range is called the Snowy Mountains, plan on hiking in mid-August when trails are accessible. Otherwise get out and enjoy Lakes Trail and many others in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. ETB