Updated: 3 days ago
The past couple of weeks we've been on the road, making our way to the Midwest to visit family. We had our route mapped out with notable stops in Yellowstone National Park, a drive on the famous Beartooth Highway, and a stay in Red Lodge, Montana.
Four days prior to our departure, however, heavy rain and rapid snowmelt resulted in damaging flooding to these areas. In fact, the motel we'd be staying at in Red Lodge had 13 of 15 rooms damaged by flood waters from Rock Creek bursting its banks. So, at the last minute, we re-routed our original plan, canceled hotel reservations, and made new ones. It was disappointing, but spending some time in northwestern Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park made the change of plans worth it.
We woke up early Friday morning in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and headed north on the amazingly beautiful Highway 191 to the Wind River Range in the Bridger Wilderness area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Some rain was in the forecast after noon that day, so we wanted to get the hike done before any weather moved in.
The trailhead parking lot had just a few cars in it when we arrived. It was overcast and a little chilly with an off-and-on breeze, and I was actually concerned that I didn't pack enough warm layers for this weather. I grabbed what I had and loaded up. It felt strange hiking without wearing my hat, too, but I figured there wasn't much chance of sun this morning, so I left it behind. I was just hoping the rain would hold off.
Though starting at over 9,000 feet, this hike would only be around 3.5 miles total with less than 600 ft. of elevation gain, which should take less than 2 hours to complete, depending on how long I spend taking photos. But this short route leads to an incredible view of a canyon through which Fremont Creek flows and pools into Upper and Lower Long Lake before emptying into Fremont Lake.
At the trail's main information board was a registration book to keep track of people – I think mostly in the event they go missing for one reason or another. So, we added our names and details to the book and headed up the trail.
While walking along, my head was on a swivel as I found myself hyper-aware of my surroundings the entire time. This was our first hike in grizzly bear country and we prepared ourselves with cans of bear spray, but I was just waiting for one to appear along the trail. How aggressive would it be? How fast would I be able to grab the can and disengage it? It was definitely a different psychological experience.
The trees here were a little different than what we are used to seeing in the Sierra, too – we noticed a higher percentage of deciduous trees mixed in with the conifers, and all of the trees were "normal" sized – but it was a predominantly dirt trail with some swampy spots and leftover patches of snow along with a few water crossings that we'd become quite accustomed to this spring.
This section of the trail was basically a steep washout that you practically slid down to the first water crossing.
The creek water was clear with more of a golden yellow tint than we usually see, but the biggest difference was seeing reedy grasses along the banks.
We saw a few wildflowers along the trail, too, and this cute, little, yellow 5-petal bloom was one of them. As I stopped and knelt down to capture this, I realized that this trail also had a few more bugs than we are used to.
The next water crossing was a little more swampy and muddy as the snowmelt creek flowed its way through the tall grasses and yet-to-bud bushes. All of the bare trees and brown grasses made it look more like fall or winter than spring or summer.
In a short time, we reached the amazing canyon overlook where we came across another couple from Georgia who were now full-time RVers and novice hikers. We chatted about hiking shoes and heights as I climbed to the top of a rock pile to get a better view of the canyon below. It was pretty windy from up here.
The photos truly do not do this view justice. The expanse and magnitude is best experienced in person.
And then I talked my husband into going up onto the rock crag for his photo op. He's not too fond of heights, either, but he toughed it out.
From the other side of the overlook you can start to see Fremont Lake.
While we were busy taking in the incredible views, a brazen, determined ground squirrel was busy looking for food in my pack.
After spending quite a bit of time at the overlook, chasing away squirrels, and feeling random raindrops, we decided it was best to head back. The wind started to charge into stronger gusts and I picked up my pace. I wasn't dressed warmly enough to get caught in a chilly rainstorm. We felt a few more raindrops and thought surely at any moment the clouds would burst above us.
Oddly enough, we ran into around a dozen more hikers coming up the trail as this inclement weather brewed. A group of 4 who had stopped to catch their breath were all 75-years-plus. I hope I still get out hiking at their age.
We signed ourselves out in the registration book and walked back to the parking lot, which now had several more vehicles in it. From here we headed back down the winding road and stopped to get another viewpoint of Fremont Lake and the surrounding peaks of the Wind River Range.
Fremont Lake, the second-largest natural lake in Wyoming, is 12 miles long and up to 1 mile wide and the 7th deepest lake in the country (610 feet).
An easy hike with an impressive payoff, for sure. And, we beat the rain!