Thursday, July 19, 2018

Mountain Peaks to Valleys, Western History and Bullwinkle all in one day!

With the Western US being so vast, there are very few one-day road trips you can make from Northern Colorado that take in the variety that this 350-mile loop has to offer. You will have a chance to see Antelope, Deer, Marmots and Moose, stunning mountain scenery, and plenty of western history. My preference is to drive the route counter-clockwise, just to avoid the crowds in the Snowy Range, but you could drive either way around.

350-mile CO-WY loop drive

Beginning in the Northern Front Range (Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins) start by taking Highway 287 north and cross the Colorado border south of Laramie, WY, here the foothill landscape changes to drabber brown grassland, only made interesting by trying to spot Antelopes. Laramie has all the usual amenities (gas stations, fast food chains), and is the last sizeable town you will come across until returning to Colorado.

The Snowy Range Scenic Byway, Wyoming

From Laramie take Highway 130 due West towards the Medicine Bow National Forest, and the Snowy Range Scenic Byway - the first major destination on this road trip. The grasslands soon turn into more rolling terrain, and the Snowy Range looms ahead, after 30-miles you reach the small town of Centennial, there are limited amenities here, a museum (open during the week only), and maybe some accommodation options.

Old Centennial Railroad Depot-now the museum

After leaving the town of Centennial you start to climb pretty quickly on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway, passing the Medicine Bow National Forest visitor centre a few miles out of town. After the visitor centre the first major recreation area you reach is Sugarloaf, here you will find a campground, and Trailheads at Libby Lake and Lewis Lake, this area does require a daily fee ($5 as of 2018), and the parking lots can fill up early. Stepping out of the car here, you will notice that the temperatures are cool and comfortable compared to the plains below.

Libby Lake

Columbine surround the lakes

Continuing west on Highway 130 a few miles past the Sugarloaf Recreation Area brings you to Libby Flats Observation Point, then almost immediately after that the Miners Cabin Trailhead parking lot. The Miners loop trail is only 0.7 of a mile, and has great views, wildflowers, wildlife, and plenty of history. The mine and cabin along the loop date to the early 1900's, the mine was short lived since it did not yield much gold, silver or copper.

Old miners cabin

Wildflowers galore surround Bellamy lake

Continuing west on Highway 130 for a few more miles brings you to the most popular spot along the Snowy Range Scenic Byway, Mirror Lake and Lake Marie. This area is popular with picnickers and hikers alike, and the small parking area fills early in the day on weekends. There are numerous trails for all abilities, you can take in the views from many of the pristine lakes, view wildflowers, cascades, marmots or even climb the high peaks.

A Marmot taking in the view

The view above Lookout Lake

Lake Marie outlet

Encampment, Wyoming

Continuing west on Highway 130 from the highpoint of the Snowy Range you quickly drop down in elevation to the North Platte River valley and a T-intersection, heading north takes you to Saratoga, heading south on Highway 230 takes you to the towns of Riverside and Encampment.

Encampment is a very small sleepy town these days (pop. 450), but in the early 1900's it was a booming copper mining town. This small town is home to a surprising gem of a museum, the Grand Encampment Museum, which houses a collection of cabins, stores, houses, towers - all collected from the town and surrounding area. For a modest donation, you can stroll around each building at your leisure, or you can take a guided tour that includes the interiors of each building.

Grand Encampment Museum

The buildings are filled with original artefacts from the area (forestry service items, general store pieces, furniture etc), you can easily spend half a day here browsing.

Old cabin and mining tower

Great views from the watchtower

The town of Encampment itself may be more a Ghost town today, but during the early 1900's it was a booming mining camp, it even boasted having the longest steam-powered tramway that ran for 16 miles from the Copper mines to the town smelting plant.

Re-production and 1 original tramway tower

State Forest State Park & the Poudre Canyon, Colorado

From Encampment this road trip continues on Highway 230 southeasterly until you reach the Colorado border, where it turns into Highway 125 that takes you south to the town of Walden. Walden is another small town that lies in a large valley called North Park surrounded by the Mount Zirkel Wilderness to the West, and the peaks of Cameron Pass to the East. The town of Walden has basic amenities (gas stations, restaurants etc), and plenty of recreation opportunities close by.

Crossing the WY-CO border

Leaving Walden on Highway 14 you head southeast towards State Forest State Park, this State Park is a well-known spot for sighting Moose and other wildlife, for hiking, winter sports, and camping. It is well worth stopping at the State Park Visitor centre to pick up information and to watch the hummingbirds on the feeders, you can also purchase park passes here.
We were VERY lucky during a July trip, and saw 4 Moose Note: NEVER approach a moose, these are large dangerous animals - I use a extremely long lens to capture wildlife images.

Moose wandering along the Poudre Canyon

Moose along Highway 14

Continuing Easterly on Highway 14 you reach the summit of Cameron Pass (10,276'), it is quite easy to miss the pass since it is more of a saddle, but here you will find trailhead parking and plenty of hiking opportunities. From the pass, you start to descend the mountains following the Poudre river all the way back to Highway 287 and Fort Collins.

This is a fun and varied road trip, and quite doable over a long day.

Essential info

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