Wyoming: Best Of The Bighorns

Here's how to find the best of Wyoming's expansive Bighorn range.
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Here's how to find the best of Wyoming's expansive Bighorn range.

Cloud Peak Wilderness

WYOMING

Where was that humming sound coming from? When my hair began to rise and static electricity rattled my ice axe, I quickly figured out what was up. I barely had time to dive for cover below the 13,167-foot summit of Cloud Peak before the bomb dropped: Volleys of hail pelted my parka and thunder shook the mountain. I learned the hard way to keep one eye on the weather in this rugged, remote wilderness where storms brew quickly.

Cloud Peak Wilderness, at the glaciated core of the Bighorn Mountains, is filled with distractions: lakes brimming with gullible trout, long glacially carved valleys ideal for easy walking, and enough nontechnical routes up 12,000-foot peaks to satisfy any summit junkie. If it weren't for marquee destinations like the Wind Rivers and the Tetons, the Bighorns would be Wyoming's premiere hiking attraction. Thank you, plate tectonics.

A 42-mile loop from the east side of the wilderness showcases the Bighorns' sheer mountain walls and crystal-clear lakes. Set aside five days, and you'll have time for side trips to Cloud Peak or the sheer cirque surrounding the Lost Twin Lakes. Start this mostly alpine loop from Hunter trailhead, then climb an off-trail route over Angeline Pass to Mirror Lake. Catch the trail up the valley of West Tensleep Creek, past a string of gorgeous alpine lakes, and camp below Cloud Peak. Allow a full day of alpine excitement for the summit side trip. Resume the loop with a steep climb over Florence Pass before returning through the broad meadow of Soldier Park. And take some advice from me: Get off the high peaks before noon.

Where: 390 miles (61/2 hours) north of Denver. Hunter trailhead is 18 miles west of Buffalo on US 16, then 3 miles on Forest Road 19.

Maps: Combine Cloud Peak Wilderness, #720 ($8.99, Trails Illustrated, 800-962-1643) with The Cloud Peak Wilderness Trail Guide ($14.95, Adventurous Traveler Bookstore, 800-282-3963).

Trail Info: Buffalo Ranger District, Bighorn National Forest, (307) 684-1100.