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Wyoming Wanderers; Snowy Range Scenic Byway

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sarah PostT
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs

I was finally able to scratch the Snowy Range Scenic Byway and Medicine Bow Peak Trail off my Wyoming bucket list after I recently took my second trip westward.

The Snowy Range Scenic Byway was originally built in the 1870’s for wagons and was later paved in the 1930’s, and then named as the nation’s second scenic byway in 1988, behind the Columbia River Highway in Oregon and Washington. The Snowy Range byway is also known as Wyoming Highway 130 and takes travelers through Medicine Bow National Forest and below Medicine Bow Peak, the highest mountain in southern Wyoming. The byway is only open for a short time for cars, but when the road closes for the winter months, snowmobiles and skiers take over.

Back in June, I attempted to check the seven-mile mountainous hike off my list, but a few feet of snow still covered the trail, so I couldn’t go more than a half mile. However, the snow-covered mountains and icy lakes made for some beautiful scenery and photos. But when I tried my luck again in mid-August, I was greeted by green grass and a warm sun.

Since the area is around 11,000 feet in elevation and colder than here in Cheyenne, I left around 9 a.m. so when I got to the byway around 11 a.m. it would be nice and warm out.

The drive to the byway is simple I took interstate 80 to exit 311 in Laramie, made two turns and then it was a straight shot the rest of the way to Centennial, Wyoming, and the entrance to the national forest. I did stop in Centennial both times through at a cute shop called the Friendly Store, where I got my souvenir sticker and post card. Centennial is a small town with a population of less than 300 people, but it has two restaurants, a mercantile, a museum and an ice cream shop for wanderers to stop at.

A few miles past the town center the national forest and the scenic byway begins, and there is also a ranger station here for maps and informational brochures. Here I learned I could see elk, pronghorn, yellow-bellied marmot and shiras moose, but I was not lucky enough to see any animals on either of my trips, except one marmot in June and some chipmunks in August.

A little less than 15 miles from the visitor center and a few stops on the map later, I came to the parking lot for Lake Marie, as well as the lot for one end of Medicine Bow Peak Trail and Lakes Trail.

The hike is rated as difficult, which is apparent from the very beginning, as about half the elevation gain comes in the first mile. The remainder of the 1,600 feet of elevation gain is spread out over the next two or more miles. The trail also goes up and across rock and boulder fields and mounds, on top of the mountain ridge and to the tip-top point of Medicine Bow Peak, before descending back down.

The entire hike had beautiful views of Lake Marie, Mirror Lake, Bellamy Lake, Lookout Lake and smaller unnamed lakes and ponds, as well as amazing views of the surrounding mountains and hills. The best part of the hike was reaching the 12,018-ft peak, because there was plenty of rocks to sit on and admire the views from. But there was not a boring section on the whole trail.

Four hours later, I finished hiking and headed back toward Cheyenne. I once again stopped in Centennial, this time to visit the Nici Self Museum. The museum is free to visit and it depicts the way of life in the old west in towns much like Centennial. There is a railroad depot and a Union Pacific caboose, a one-room schoolhouse, a beehive burner and many other structures that are open to walk around in. There are also old vehicles like a 1917 fire engine and many pieces of farming equipment like a John Deere two row corn planter from around 1914. My favorite part of the museum was learning that in 1916, Wyoming made porcelain license plates and 7,158 were sold. 1916 was the only year they were made, and if I had to guess that’s because they broke too easily and never should have been made in the first place.

If you aren’t up for a seven-mile hike, there are smaller and easier hikes to do in the area, or you can paddle board, kayak or fish in one of the many lakes. Along with other hikes, the scenic byway also has a multitude of observation points and look outs to stop at. No matter what you decide to do there, get travelling because this is a can’t-miss stop on our Wyoming Wanderer series!