Wyoming's Cloud Peak Wilderness-
Part 2 of 2
by Al Marlowe
This is part 2 of an article by Al Marlowe on the Cloud Peak Wilderness. To read part 1, click here.
There are other trails beside Solitude that will make for shorter hikes. All will take the backpacker into some of the finest scenery in the Bighorn Mountains. A mile or so past the wilderness boundary, along the Solitude Trail, a trail leads south to the Seven Brothers Lakes. Return by way of Buffalo Park, back to the corrals. A campground at the lakes makes this 12-mile ride ideal for an overnighter.
Circle Park Campground, about three miles south of Hunter Corrals and three miles west of U. S. 16, could be the starting place for a multi-day trip into the South Fork Ponds area. The glacially carved cirques of Big Horn Peak, about five miles to the west, can be seen from the ponds.
Several outfitters serve the Cloud Peak area. Most offer pack trips and guided hunts in the fall. A couple have guest facilities. Whether you use an outfitter or plan a do-it-yourself trip, the Cloud Peak Wilderness will be a memorable experience.
Fishing is one of the best reasons I can think of to visit the wilderness. The entire wilderness has alpine lakes hidden below the peaks. Best of all the majority have fish. When Karl and I made our backpack trip our destination was Highland Park Lake, a nine-mile hike from the trailhead at Bighorn Reservoir on the north side of the Cloud Peak WA.
We made camp a few hundred yards from the lake's shore. Although we had plenty of food in our packs we wanted to supplement it with a couple of meals of fresh-caught trout. Fortunately Highland Park was loaded with brookies that seemed to feed 24 hours each day. The surface was constantly dotted with the rise forms of trout gorging on tiny insects that could be matched only with something like a No. 24 Midge, or even smaller.
Karl tried his luck with tiny flies one evening but all he got for his efforts were brookies not exceeding four or five inches. They ignored larger offerings. While they were picky about the size of flies taken, the larger fish (brookies and rainbows of eight to 11 inches) hit every lure we put in front of them.
Other nearby lakes are Myrtle and Peggy. Myrtle has golden trout that are temperamental – they feed whenever in the mood and they decide when they are in the mood, which is seldom when anglers are there. Peggy has larger brookies and rainbows than Highland Park but they are more reluctant to hit a fly or lure.
Having decided that we were going to eat fish for dinner one evening Karl and I worked the shoreline of Highland Park all day. For hours we cast spinners and spoons at the fish. While they were eager to hit whatever we presented to them it still took all of our experience and skill for both of us to catch and release about 250 fish. And yes, we did keep a few for the skillet.
Access – The Cloud Peak Wilderness is located in Bighorn, Johnson and Sheridan Counties in Northern Wyoming, within the Bighorn National Forest. It lies a few miles west of I-90 between the cities of Buffalo and Sheridan. It is bounded on the west by US 20, US 14 on the north, and US 16 on the south.
There are Forest Service roads giving access to wilderness trails. Not all are open to the public because landowners lock the gates. Consult a NF map concerning road closures or contact the Forest Supervisor, Bighorn National Forest, 1969 S. Sheridan Ave., Sheridan WY 82801, phone (307) 672-0751. Be sure to request a free map covering the Cloud Peak Wilderness.
About 20 NF campgrounds surround the wilderness. Be aware that horses are prohibited within the campgrounds if that's how you plan to tour the wilderness. Check with the Forest Supervisor for information on parking horse trailers and tow vehicles.
Climate – Wind is the one condition that is a constant. One Wyoming resident said, "It doesn't always blow this way, sometimes it comes from the opposite direction." Even though the wilderness is usually breezy, it's not unpleasant.
Because of the northwest to southeast orientation of the mountain range, storms can sneak in with little warning. Be prepared for anything, even in mid-summer. Usually, though, the weather will be pleasant.
One thing that will be noticed is the extreme clarity of the air. The sky appears to be a darker blue, the clouds whiter. With little heavy industry in Wyoming, there are few sources belching unpleasant particles into the atmosphere.
July and August are the recommended times to visit Cloud Peak Wilderness. What snow remains then will rarely block access except on some of the higher trails. Daytime temperatures can range from the 40s to the 60s. The higher you go, the cooler the temperatures you will encounter.
Wilderness Camping– Campsites in the wilderness must be kept at least 100 feet from any water source. Bury all human wastes. Pack out any trash that can't be burned. When breaking camp, try to hide any traces of your visit.
Wildlife – The wilderness is home to many species of song birds and small animals like chipmunks, ground squirrels, and marmots. Deer, elk, and moose are common. Black bears inhabit the area. Your sleeping and cooking areas should be separated to discourage Bruin from prowling through your camp.
Other Services– Gas, groceries, and meals are available at most of the towns serving the area. Fishing licenses are readily available in some surprisingly out of the way places. Emergency medical services are in Sheridan, Buffalo, Worland, Lovell, and Greybull.
All content and photos © Al Marlowe
Al Marlowe has authored numerous books and articles about fishing in Colorado and Wyoming. For more info on Al see www.hiddenlakespress.com
Buy a topo map for Cloud Peak Wilderness