Hiking, United States, Wyoming

Hiking Medicine Bow Peak

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I’ve been up and down Medicine Bow Peak eight times since I was eight years old.  Needless to say, it is my favorite place in the whole world.

Medicine Bow Peak is the prominent peak of the Snowy Range mountains in southeastern Wyoming, and rises to an elevation of 12,018 feet (it was 12,013 for the longest time until a new height assessment).  Located only thirty-five miles west of Laramie, this is a super accessible peak to climb, with three trailheads.

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Baby Heidi on the summit in 1992 (my jean jacket was rocking!)

My elementary school climbed this mountain at the start of every school year… yes, all twenty of us (yay rural Wyoming!).  However, it is important to not underestimate it.  It is a lightening prone summit, and afternoon storms can build and roll in rapidly.  Also, there is a lot of exposure, cornices of snow, and rocky trails.  So like any hiking experience, you have to respect nature, even if it is a fairly “easy” mountain to climb.  Aim for early morning climbs in the summer months to avoid storms (“below treeline by noon!” mantra), and for heavens sake, don’t wander out on snow on the cliffside – there probably isn’t land under some of that snow!

Wyoming Highway 130 is closed in the late fall/winter/spring months.  The road is usually open by Memorial Day weekend, sometimes earlier, but easy access to Medicine Bow Peak will elude you for a little longer unless you have proper snow mountaineering equipment (ice axe, crampons, knowledge and skills) and/or are backcountry skiing.  I’ve hiked the summit snow free as early as the end of June, and with significant snow fields even well into July.  It merely depends on the snowpack every year.  Mid-to-end-of-July and August are you best months, with fall months also an option (but remembering snow and ice comes fast to that elevation in the fall).

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Snowfields during an early June hike

My trailhead of choice is the West Lake Marie Trailhead, leaving clockwise, and I use the Medicine Bow Peak Trail and Lakes Trail to make a roughly 7 mile long loop.  I like finishing the hike with the gentle rolling gentle along the glacial lakes at the base of the mountain.  This trailhead can be busy in the summer months, but there is another parking lot just a smidge up the road at the Tipple Creek Trailhead.  It is also possible to park at the Mirror Lake area.

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For a shorter hike, it is possible to do a shorter 3.5 mile out and back from the Lewis Lake Trailhead.  This is a shorter route, but I find it to be a lot steeper as you’re going both up and down the steepest part.  Lewis Lake Trailhead also serves as a trailhead for other hikes in the area, including Gap Lakes and Lost Lake.

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Beginning the hike from the West Lake Marie Trailhead. The trail starts out steep with switchbacks, but mellows out once you’re on top of the ridge
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Heading up to the ridge
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Sign pointing to the old cabin lookout
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This hike can often be rather rocky!
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One of the many view points as you ascend the trail. It’s a long way down, so use caution. It can also be incredibly windy, so don’t get blown off the mountain, either
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Views over to Elk Mountain and some of the alpine lakes on the west side of Medicine Bow Peak
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Junction with Tipper Lake Trail off of the Medicine Bow Peak Trail
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Up up up we go!
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Views from the rocky summit
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Summit view.  The summit consists of boulders, but it is easy to find a place to sit to enjoy a snack and the view.
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Worn summit marker
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Views over to Browns Peak and Sugarloaf Mountain from the summit of Medicine Bow Peark
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My most recent summit photo in 2020
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The junction with Lakes Trail
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This hike can be a wildflower lover’s dream!
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Heading back to the car on the Lakes Trail. I use trekking poles for the descent off the peak as I have knees that get grumpy.

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Lake Marie

Fun Fact:  A commercial airliner crashed into Medicine Bow Peark in the 50’s.  Read about it here  You can still see wreckage!

There is camping in the area, though it can be very busy on weekend both in established campgrounds and dispersed areas.

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