Hiking, Medicine Bow National Forest, National Forests, United States, Wyoming

Wyoming Hiked: Gap & Shelf Lakes

I can’t say I’ve really explored this late in the year in the Snowy Range! Wanting to kick off my 39th birthday with some sort of hike, though being a day late, I headed up early to Lewis Lake Trailhead. Today I would explore a new-to-me trail to Shelf Lakes. This trail spurs off of the trail at North Gap Lake. Back in 2020 I hiked Gap Lakes as part of a big loop around Browns Peak, so I’d be repeating a bit of the terrain – however, with this being my favorite place on earth, I really can’t complain about some repeat scenery!

The Lewis Lake Trailhead was still shaded in my early morning arrival, and I kicked myself for completely forgetting hunting season was in full swing until I saw the Snowies crawling with hunters. Thankfully my 66North hardshell jacket is orange, saving the day! My birthday is the first day of a bull elk rifle season in many areas of Wyoming, so you’d think I’d connect the dots… but then again, I am not use to hiking in this area this late in the year! (I have a blaze orange bike helmet I wear in the fall while mountain biking, but I’m slow to figure out how to handle hiking…)

The start of the trail from the parking lot at the edge of Lewis Lake

I headed north on the trail that heads to Gaps Lakes and Lost Lake. Frost covered plants in rocks in shaded areas, but I soon found myself stripping off layers. The masses had not arrived yet, so I enjoyed the solitude (in fact, I wouldn’t see anybody else until I was on my return leg at North Gap Lake).

Gorgeous sights on this calm morning! Sugarloaf Mountain (11,398 feet) to the left and Medicine Bow Peak (my favorite mountain, coming in at 12,013 feet).
A half mile into the hike is the first trail junction marked by this weathered sign. Stay to the left to continue onto the Gap Lakes and beyond.
At the right of the junction is Lost Lakes Trail, which visits several other beautiful alpine lakes and eventually ends at Brooklyn Lake Campground. This trail is used as part of the Browns Peak loop.
No explanation needed on why this is my favorite place on the entire planet! I feel so fortunate that I grew up just a few miles away!
There was a great cloud inversion that you can barely see in this photo. I’m sure it looked spectacular from the summit of Medicine Bow Peak!

I was making quick work of this high altitude hike (the trailhead is over 10,700 feet), and soon arrived at South Gap Lake. I skirted the rocky shore, and began climbing the short, but steep, “Gap” that gives the two lakes the namesake. The Gap is really more of a baby saddle connecting the massive ridge of Medicine Bow Peak and Browns Peak. This is the high point of the hiking, topping 11,000 feet before dropping down steeply to North Gap Lake.

Arriving at South Gap Lake
South Gap Lake

Still in the shade, I picked my way carefully along the boulders of the shoreline. I’m not sure if there is really a better trail, as I just always boulder hop right next to the water. Once you finally hit solid ground, the trail to Shelf Lake spurs off to the right, and I began ascending it.

I don’t really know where the trail goes on the edge of North Gap lake, so I just boulder hop on the shore.
The second trail junction. To the right is trail #108 to Shelf Lakes and the option I would explore today. To the left is Sheep Lake Trail, which was part of the Browns Peak loop I did a few years ago, and a great trail for accessing more backcountry lakes. Someday I really need to come do a nice overnight out here!
Chilly shade and thin ice on the lake

Shelf Lakes are a series of alpine lakes that sit on the northern edge of Browns Peak, a broad peak smooshed down by the weight of glaciers that tops out at 11,722 feet in elevation. I’ve been saying for a few years I wanted to climb it, but alas, that would have to wait for another day. (I must admit, the weather was GORGEOUS and there was little wind, making me look at Medicine Bow Peak and wondering if I should’ve opted for a summit climb on this day.)

Out of the shadow of Browns Peak
Looking north towards Elk Mountain (11,156 feet)
Most of the Shelf Lakes had great blue/green coloring
Descending towards another small lake
The trail goes down a bit here, which always discourages me on an out and back hike. Honestly, it wasn’t bad. I just hate walking uphill sometimes!

I kept following the trail as the sun rose higher, until it started to fade and then just petered out at the easternmost lake. I took this as an opportunity to have a quick snack, and then began my return trip.

Heading towards my turn around point
At the end of the trail and snack time! Looking back at where I came from, you can see how faint the trail is.
The views did not disappoint on my return leg!
I might just have to camp here one day!

North Gap Lake had a couple of groups preparing to fish as I arrived back, signaling the end to my solitude (though compared to summer, it was nothing in crowd terms!). I made quick work of the jaunt over the Gap to South Gap Lake, and the descent back to the car.

Arriving back at North Gap Lake, which had a bit more sunshine. This photo also helps show the Gap that separates the lakes.
Wider angle look at North Gap Lake
Descending towards South Gap Lake
No editing done, Wyoming skies are just that blue sometimes!
A nice look at Browns Peak after leaving South Gap Lake

Less than three hours later, I was back at the car, and fulfilled for a great late-fall morning in the alpine! I enjoyed this hike, as it was not too rigorous. To boot, it gave me a lot of ideas for quickie overnight backpacking trips! Even better, the mileage on AllTrails was nearly identical to what my Garmin gave me… since when does AllTrails actually have accurate mileage?!

Date Hiked: October 16, 2022
Trailhead: Lewis Lake
Total Mileage: 6.22 miles (Garmin Vivoactive 4s/Strava)
Elevation Gain: 833 feet
Time: 2 hours 42 minutes
Weather: Sunny, calm winds, but a bit chilly
Trail Conditions: Dry or occasional mud
Special Considerations: A $5 day use fee is required at the Lewis Lake Trailhead. America the Beautiful and other federal passes are accepted. The road to access trailhead is not plowed and must naturally melt out, meaning it is inaccessible from mid-fall to early-to-mid-July on average. The trailhead, picnic area, and nearby campground are heavily used, and expect parking to be full in the summer months.


1 thought on “Wyoming Hiked: Gap & Shelf Lakes”

  1. I love the Snowy Range! I hiked Medicine Bow peak a few years ago and I remember seeing dozens of lakes off in the distance, so now I’m wondering if these were some of them. Looks like a great hike!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s