Not everybody can take a week off from work to delve deep into Wyoming’s mountains. Others don’t quite have the experience for a multi-day trip. So this list is for you: Those weekend warriors who want to explore but are deeply aware of their limited vacation days. Those people who have finally amassed all the gear to get into the backcountry, but aren’t ready to disappear for a week straight. Those parents who want to take their kids outside, but the idea of hauling toddler supplies across mountain passes for four days seems a little overwhelming.
An ambitious and speedy hiker could do many of these hikes in one day. But pitching a tent for the night offers ample opportunity for off-trail exploring or a lazy morning reading a book in camp.
Of course, do your research before you drive out to any trailhead. Know the regulations for the area you’ll be in. If you’re staying in bear country, bring bear spray and a bear can or supplies to hang your food. Tell someone your itinerary and when they should expect to hear from you. Keep an eye on the weather and be prepared for rain, sleet and snow — even in July.
And then, after you’ve made your preparations and packed your bags, take the most important step.
Get out there.
Squaretop Mountain in Bridger-Teton National Forest
Distance: 20-mile roundtrip out and back
Start: Green River Lakes Trailhead, about an hour and a half north of Pinedale
Elevation change: Less than 500 feet on the main trail, then a 1,200-foot climb to Granite Lake
The edifice of aptly-named Squaretop Mountain looming over the Green River is one of the many iconic images of Wyoming. This hike, recommended by the staff at The Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale, will get you to the hidden lake at its base or — if you have enough time — to its peak.
There is a lovely 39-unit campground at the trailhead with some of the nicest public lands restrooms around. You can camp here the night before you hit the trail if you want to get an early start.
You have some options at the beginning of your hike. Either follow the Lakeside Trail along the shady west shore of the first lake or the Highline Trail along the east, which offers almost no cover. After about 2.7 miles, the trails join between the first and second lake, where you’ll take the Highline Trail south along the east shore of the second lake toward the unmistakable Squaretop Mountain. The trail is relatively flat as it follows the valley along the Green River. If you don’t feel like scrambling up to Granite Lake, there are plenty of places to camp along the river valley.
Now comes the hard part. There is no trail to Granite Lake marked on many maps, but hike past Granite Peak into Beaver Park and look toward the western treeline and it should be visible, according to the folks with the Outdoor Shop. The half-mile hike to the lake is steep, but it’s a great place to stake a tent for the night.
In the morning you can opt to summit 11,695-foot Squaretop Mountain — about a three-hour hike up along a hard-to-follow trail — or meander back toward the trailhead and fish the river and lakes as you go.
Seven Brothers Lakes in Bighorn National Forest
Distance: 12-mile loop
Start: Hunter Trailhead, 30 minutes west of Buffalo
Elevation change: About 1,700 feet
Remember this as you trudge up this trail toward the string of seven lakes on the west side of the Cloud Peak Wilderness: It will be worth it.
Park your car at the trailhead and fill out the required registration forms at one of the wilderness area booths near the parking lot. From the lot, follow dirt road 395 down to the beginning of Buffalo Park (Trail 45) and cross North Clear Creek.
From there, you’ll climb steadily through an open field of tall grasses, host to many bugs. The trail then becomes steeper as you walk through the remnants of a 1988 fire before turning into a series of switchbacks. After a small eternity, you’ll emerge onto a relatively flat section of trail as you approach the first of the lakes surrounded by green forests beneath peaks sprinkled with snow, even in July. Camp among the trees, though regulations forbid camping past the end of the marked trail or within 100 feet of any lake or stream. Don’t forget to venture to the final lake, which is bordered by impressive cliffs and has a small sand beach. If you get up before sunrise, watching those cliffs glow early morning orange is a special treat.
The next day, hike back past the lakes and then take a left turn at Trail 44. This trail will take you down a series of steep switchbacks before depositing you on a valley floor next to North Clear Creek. Cross the freezing cold creek and continue east along Trail 24, which follows the water before ending where dirt road 394 begins. Follow the road back to your car at Hunter Trailhead.
Snowy Range loop in Medicine Bow National Forest
Distance: 13-mile loop
Start: Lewis Lake Trailhead, about an hour west of Laramie
Elevation change: Less than 500 feet
This loop will take you past fishable streams and several scenic high alpine lakes. While the trek begins at Lewis Lake trailhead, one of the most popular spots in the forest, you will quickly find yourself away from the crowds trudging up Medicine Bow Peak, according to Blane Ziegenfuss, who works for the Forest Service there.
Due to the high altitude — the trailhead is at 10,800 feet — this trip should wait until late summer if you want to avoid snow. The hike takes you through scenic Wyoming high country with lakes bordered by wildflowers and the towering grey peaks of the Snowy Range. But with high country beauty comes difficulties. There is little cover along much of this trail. Bring sunscreen and bug repellent. Expect uphill climbs (you’re in the mountains after all) though nothing is extremely strenuous.
Park near the Lewis Lake Trailhead (there is a fee). Head north from the trailhead toward the Gap Lakes along Trail 108. Turn east at Black Spotted Lake, where the trail intersects with Deep Lake Trail (Number 110). After about a half mile, the trail will become Sheep Lake Trail (Number 389) as it continues east. The trail turns south at North Twin Lakes before hitting the Brooklyn Lake campground. From there, take the Glacier Lakes Trail back to the Lewis Lake Trailhead.
Consider camping at North Twin Lakes, approximately 7 miles into the hike. There is good ground cover around this lake so you won’t have to try to stake your tent into high mountain rocks. If you’re a beginner and don’t quite feel comfortable camping outside of a designated site, the Brooklyn Lake campground is only 1.5 more miles down the trail.