About this Itinerary
To many people, the idea of a visit to Wyoming brings up images of sagebrush, windblown plateaus, and desolate trails that lead to the horizon and beyond. That image couldn’t be more on point in regards to the Medicine Bow Rail Trail.
The Cowboy State has a certain mystique that appeals to a loyal but lonely group. It’s a land of wide open spaces where free spirits thrive, the wind dominates the landscape, and the rugged beauty of the West is ever present.
Where some see a harsh, barren landscape, others see a stage on which the rugged individualist can thrive—prioritizing self-sufficiency and hard work. This is the Cowboy Code, and whether you’re a true cowboy, or just want a taste of the rugged side of things, a trip on the Medicine Bow Rail Trail is just the thing to quench your thirst for life out West.
The Medicine Bow Rail Trail is a 21-mile long former rail corridor in southeastern Wyoming . Tucked in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, just north of the border with Colorado, the trail offers the best of the west: scenic views, vast landscapes, and the solitude that makes Wyoming so special.
The gravel trail, 30 miles from Laramie, Wyoming, is open to non-motorized use only. The corridor along which it follows used to belong to the Laramie, Hahns Peak and Pacific Railroad, which was built at the turn of the 20th century and has direct ties to the second gold rush. The rails also carried coal, timber, and livestock and eventually became part of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1951. The corridor is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. What may appear as barren to some is quite the opposite. The diversity of the High Plains is astounding, and the Medicine Bow Rail Trail puts that diversity on display, if you know what to look for. Lodgepole pines, as well as spruce, fir and aspen trees line much of the trail. Other segments loop throughmeadows of grass and sagebrush. The trail also crosses numerous streams and skirts dozens of swamps, bogs, ponds, and lakes. While it’s impossible to predict when the wildflowers will be in full bloom, you have a good chance of seeing lupine, penstemon, and the Wyoming state flower, Indian paintbrush.
Unfortunately, you'll also encounter large swaths of dead pine, killed by a severe epidemic of mountain pine beetle sweeping across the Western states.
Wildlife abound on the trail. You’re likely to see mule deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope. If you’re lucky, you might spot a moose or black bear. In the wetlands, keep your eyes open for beaver, and stay on the lookout for porcupine and foxes.
Day 1 (19 miles): Pelton Creek to Lake Owen
If you begin your day in Laramie, don’t leave town without stopping in for a cup of coffee at Coal Creek Coffee Company. Start at the trail’s southern terminus, the Pelton Creek trailhead. To reach the trailhead from Laramie, drive west on U.S. Highway 230 for 39 miles. Just after crossing the Wyoming-Colorado state line, take a right onto gravel Forest Road 898 for one mile. The Pelton Creek trailhead has a restroom, picnic table, and a gravel parking area. Note: a parking fee is required here. You’ll see milepost 67 at the Pelton Creek Trailhead, and the mile markers will count down as you continue to Dry Creek.
Shortly before you reach the Woods Creek trailhead, the trail passes through a small segment of the forest burned during the 2003 Gramm forest fire. After crossing Highway 230, the trail continues north to Fox Park. Caution: the trail gets a bit rough in parts. There is a minor deviation from the railbed, and onto Forest Road 512, then onto Forest Road 517. Follow the trail signage.
The final 5 miles of the day’s journey are a dream: scenic, compact, and with a picturesque destination waiting at the end. Lake Owen is a 55-acre lake that offers fishing and boating access. You’ll find the rustic Lake Owen campground near Douglas Creek.
Pick from the 30+ sites in the campground on the southeast end of the lake, then switch your bike shoes for walking shoes and stroll on the mile-long handicap-accessible hiking path that circumnavigates Lake Owen. A caboose and interpretive information about the region’s railroad history are other attractions to check out around Lake Owen.
Day 2 (23 miles): Lake Owen to Dry Park Trailhead, then back to Pelton Creek
Lake Owen sits 2 miles shy of the trail’s northern terminus in Dry Park. In the morning, take an optional trip up to the Dry Park trailhead. You won’t find much to note at this trailhead, except a dirt parking area. There aren’t any more amenities and you don’t have to pay a fee to park here.
Once you’ve reached the northern terminus at Dry Creek, turn around and repeat yesterday’s ride in reverse. Keep an eye out for tie-hack camps along the corridor that you may have missed on the first pass. End your trip with a walk around the University of Wyoming campus, or a cold one at Front Street Tavern in Laramie.