Tom Ross: Snowy Range for Alpine terrain
July 8, 2013
Driving from Steamboat to the Snowy Range
To reach the Snowy Range, drive over Rabbit Ears Pass and head north on Colorado Highway 14 through Walden and another 10 miles to a T-intersection with Colo. 127/Wyoming Highway 230. Continue north over a moderate mountain pass until you descend into the historic crossroads of Woods Landing. If you have no taste for dirt roads, continue all of the way to Laramie and then head west on U.S. Highway 130.
If you’re adventurous, take a left turn marked as the route to Albany just beyond Woods Landing and continue 9 miles to another T-intersection and turn right on the turn marked “Centennial.” There is another shortcut, via a left-turn on Dinwoodie Road, that is difficult to pick up. But for your first trip, continue on to the intersection with Colo. 130 and double back to Woods Landing. Find the Dinwoodie Road shortcut more easily on your return trip via a right turn just this side of Centennial.
Steamboat Springs — On a clear day without the atmospheric haze produced by wildfires, it's possible to look north from the Rabbit Ears rock formation and glimpse Wyoming's Medicine Bow Peak in the distance. It's a wonder to me that more Steamboat-based hikers don't visit the Snow Range hiking area that is home to the 12,013-foot peak.
I know this statement will be controversial, but I don't think there is a hike in either the Flat Tops or Mount Zirkel wilderness areas that can match the North Gap and Lost Lake trails in Wyoming's Snowy Range in the Medicine Bow National Forest for sheer Alpine beauty. And although it's just more than 120 miles and two hours from Steamboat Springs (if you know the shortcuts), the Snowy Range is more accessible than the Zirkel Wilderness in many ways. If there is a drawback to the Snowy Range right now, it’s the gazillions of mosquitoes that come out to play every late afternoon. Fortunately, a brisk morning breeze sends them into hiding.
If the members of your party can handle a 5-mile roundtrip day hike above 10,000 feet, you can take in the beautiful views of the twin Glacier Lakes, Lost Lake and a couple of no-name lakes framing views of Medicine Bow Peak. Add another mile of walking and you also can climb into the rocky pass between South Gap and North Gap lakes with a view of the Shelf Lakes where rare golden trout thumb their noses at anglers.
The truth is, you can admire much of the region's beauty by pulling off of Wyoming Scenic Highway 130, about 35 miles west of Laramie, and parking in either the Lewis Lake or Libby Lake picnic grounds. And South Gap Lake is less than 2 miles from from the Lewis Lake Trailhead as a simple out-and-back hike, though that route gets more foot traffic.
The Snowy Range area represents the northernmost end of the Medicine Bow Range that begins on the eastern edge of North Park in Colorado. It begins on the northern end of the Never Summer Wilderness, just south of Cameron Pass, which provides the most direct route between Steamboat and Fort Collins.
The Medicine Bow Range is thought to have formed along with most of the northern Colorado Rockies during the compression and uplifting of the Laramide Orogeny about 70 million years ago. Among the most notable rock formations in the Snowy Range is a rare green quartzite that was mined and used as a building material under the roof gables of the historic Lamplighter Motel in Fort Collins. We knew to look for the quarry during the weekend because longtime Steamboat local, Lisa Marno, who recently returned to her Centennial, Wyo., home, was manning the new U.S. Forest Service visitors center on the way up to the peaks on Colorado Highway 130. Marno showed us where to look for the green quartzite from the trail.
There are 100 lakes in the Snowy Range, and it seems that one passes a new one with every bend in the trail. Of the 100, 70 hold trout and 60 of those are the exclusive home of brook trout. I enjoyed great sport late Saturday and Sunday afternoons catching chunky 11-inch brookies out of Lost Lake, The dry fly pattern didn't seem to matter too much as long as it was in a size 16. Of course, you will need a Wyoming fishing license that you can pick up in Centennial, population 270. On our way home, we had the pick of three lively restaurants in Centennial for our dinner and were pleased with the Beartree Tavern and Cafe, where a local band was churning out classic rock from an outdoor stage.
We especially recommend the fresh salsa at the Beartree, and the pizzas are freshly baked.
Scenic Wyoming Highway 130 is closed in winters not far beyond the Snowy Range Ski Area. But it's a must-visit later this summer and early fall.
And Lisa Marno says "Hi."
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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