Medicine Bow Rail Trail


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Medicine Bow Rail Trail Facts

States: Wyoming
Counties: Albany
Length: 21 miles
Trail end points: Pelton Creek Rd./FS 898 (nr. WY-CO border) and Dry Park Rd./FS 517 (Routt National Forest)
Trail surfaces: Gravel
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6017741
Trail activities: Fishing, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Medicine Bow Rail Trail Description

The Medicine Bow Rail Trail snakes through the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest from the Wyoming-Colorado border in the south to near the forest boundary at SR 11. The trail is open to non-motorized use only, but occasionally dirt bike riders break the rules.

Along the 21-mile gravel trail you'll get a glimpse of the Old West—and a portal into the New West—while winding through rugged national forest land of southeastern Wyoming. But come prepared; even though parts of the West are no longer so wild, the trail corridor is far from tame. The nearest city, Laramie, is 30 miles away, and moose on the trail may outnumber the people using it on any given day.

Among other attributes, the pathway has a rich history. Although the Medicine Bow Rail Trail was opened in 2007, the story of the Medicine Bow goes back more than 100 years. "Medicine Bow" is derived from local Native American lore, when Arapahoe, Cheyenne and other First Nations came to this area regularly to conduct ceremonies to ward off disease, and to cut varieties of trees that made strong bows for hunting. Over time, early European settlers melded these historical uses into the moniker "Medicine Bow."

The trail occupies a segment of an abandoned right-of-way along the old Laramie, Hahns Peak and Pacific Railroad, which was built at the turn of the 20th century to accommodate a second gold rush (the first one began in the 1870s). The rails also carried coal, timber and livestock and eventually became part of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1951.

Among some of the treasures you'll find along the trail today are remains of former tie-hacker camps and mining communities and an old caboose parked along the trail near its northern end. Interpretive signs help elucidate this history. (The Nici Self museum, housed in a restored LHP&P depot in Centennial, a few miles north of the northern trailhead, includes much more local lore.)

The Medicine Bow Rail Trail passes through large stands of lodgepole, spruce, fir and aspen; traverses meadows of grass and sagebrush; crosses numerous streams; and skirts dozens of swamps, bogs, ponds and lakes. Among the creatures you can glimpse along or on the trail are moose, beaver, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, porcupine and black bear. In the warm months, throngs of butterflies flutter through the air, lured by the lupine, penstemon, potentilla and other flowers growing along the trail. Unfortunately, you'll also encounter large swaths of dead pine, killed by a severe epidemic of mountain pine beetle sweeping across the Western states.

The gravel surface is not recommended for road tires, but mountain bikes and cylocross bikes will have no problem.

Parking and Trail Access

You can access the Medicine Bow Rail Trail from six different trailheads:

Dry Park (at the northern end)
Pelton Creek (at the southern end)
Woods Creek
Lincoln Gulch
Lake Owen

For directions and more information, visit the local website (under "Related Links" to the right).

Medicine Bow Rail Trail Reviews

Starting from Owen Lake we rode south to the end and back. Each trail head had a vault outhouse that was in clean condition. Didn't see another biker (yay), though saw cows and some ATVers on the parallel road. Trail surface was a mixture of packed crushed gravel, somewhat overgrown gravel with grasses and wildflowers, and coarse gravel. Some soft spots, some thicker gravel as you rode around Fox park. I rode on 700x32c tires and would recommend larger than 35c tires. There is ZERO WATER, so bring enough, and only some shade if you ride early. I had a quality filter but accessing the swampy areas is tough at best, add to that the bovine factor. The area is very exposed and dry. Recent burn area appeared open so we rode through the sad destroyed area. Owen Lake has many overgrown and exposed campsites plus a few nicer ones with some shade. The lake is super pretty. Water was off there too.

I did the lower half of the trail in a 20 mile out and back from Pelton Creek on a hybrid on a beautiful fall day.

The first 4 or 5 miles suffered from animal traffic, mostly cattle, which have left their embedded tracks and other calling cards (some of the trail here is on private land). The trail surface was much improved after that.

There were some pretty stretches, but this part of Wyoming is really beautiful, and it didn't feel like the trail (at least this part of it) captured that beauty, which is no fault of the volunteers and others who manage the trail.

The trailheads were well-marked and the signage explaining the history of the area was well-done and interesting.

I didn't see another soul.

Two friends and I rode from the Woods Creek Trailhead to Pelton Creek and back the last weekend of October 2016. The weather was crisp and the trail was deserted - we saw one woman walking her dogs over our 24 miles on the trail. I had not been on the Medicine Bow Rail Trail for many years and was worried that the beetle infestation of a few years back might have caused deforestation around the trail making it an ugly or boring ride. To the contrary, while many trees were killed and some still stand, many have been removed. This has opened up the forest around the trail to regrowth. When I rode a section many years ago near Owen Lake, it was a corridor through thick lodgepole pine - rather bland and uninteresting after a few miles. Now, at least in the section we rode, stands of aspen are growing in and there are views opened up both by fire as well as beetle kill. Nature knows how to rejuvenate. Since the leaves had already fallen this year, I can't wait to return to the trail next fall during the height of aspen leaf season, it should be even more beautiful. We rode a combination of mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes (fitted with non-knobby tires) and the trail surface was well-packed. Even a hybrid or commute bike tire would do well. We stopped for a hot drink and some appetizers at the WyoColo lodge just off the trail, and it was cozy and friendly. This would be a great trail for beginners, families and anyone who is looking for peace and solitude and a great workout.


This trail is a gravel trail. It's 21 miles offer various forest views, loads of wildflowers and if you're lucky you may see some wildlife. We have seen a variety of riders this summer. Volunteers are helping improve the trail from conditions brought by wildfire near Lake Owen and beetle kill a couple of years ago. The forest is regenerating. Aspen will soon be showing their beautiful fall colors. A fun, enjoyable ride for bikers of all ages.

This trail is a gravel trail. It's 21 miles offer various forest views, loads of wildflowers and if you're lucky you may see some wildlife. We have seen a variety of riders this summer. Volunteers are helping improve the trail from conditions brought by wildfire near Lake Owen and beetle kill a couple of years ago. The forest is regenerating. Aspen will soon be showing their beautiful fall colors. A fun, enjoyable ride for bikers of all ages.

We biked from Woods Creek TH to Pelton Creek and back. There are lots of cattle making for a rough, small-potholey ride on hybrids. The crushed gravel is soft in places. The scenery is mostly pine trees and the pine beetle devastation in this area is very bad. We saw one deer. We biked from Fox Park to Lake Owens and back. Saw a black squirrel. Found the trail closed from Lake Owens to Dry Park due to falling dead trees. On this section there was much ATV use although they have their own trail paralleling the RT. At least they keep the weeds mashed down. This section was smoother with no cattle and the ATVs had flung off all larger gravel. Parking lots, restrooms and signage are nice, but the forest service is not maintaining or promoting this trail. Lots of grass and weeds in trail and very few trail users other than cattle. Some locals said there is some sort of controversy about the trail...not sure if they meant the litigation RE: Fox Park area or the whole trail in general. They said the soft gravel was originally put down at the request of equestrians and there is no equestrian use; only occasional bicycles. We did see two hikers on the trail.

We parked at the Woods Creek trailhead on Highway 230, rode the trail north to the parking area on Dry Park Road, then south to other end at Pelton Creek, and back to Woods Creek in the middle. I was on a cross bike. The thin tires were very comfortable for most of the ride. The crushed limestone is a little deep north of Lake Owen but I got through it without too much difficulty. The entire trail is very pretty. We saw two moose, an adult and a calf. The pine beetles have damaged many of the trees but the aspens are untouched and plentiful in several sections. There are warning signs to watch for falling trees. A gentle breeze was blowing the day I was out and I didn’t feel threatened or experience any dead falls. We stayed at Woods Landing in Jelm. It’s a few minutes east of the Woods Creek trailhead. Great place, friendly people, and reasonably priced.

Sept 10, 2012 Did a few miles on the south end of the trail Pelton Creek to Woods Creek Trailheads. Trail has a few hazzards that moove.

We rode the trail from Dry Park Rd trail to Lake Owens on Sat, Aug.4 2012 and found the trail closed at Lake Owens southbound for fire rehabilitation. Surface is loose and a bit soft. Small crushed limestone gravel as described in another review, but still a nice ride. Wildflowers were beautiful

We stayed in Laramie and drove to the Northern most trail head Dry Park. From there we rode to the trail's end the Pelton Creek trail head near the Colorado border and back for a total of 46 miles. The trail has a variety of gravel type surfaces. I rode it on my hybrid which was difficult in a few spots due to soft gravel. The trail has one short detour at the community of Fox Park where the route takes a road to bypass a segment of the former railroad that's still under litigation. This was a nice trail with a lot of beautiful scenery and wildlife. Much better than we were expecting. We spotted deer, a moose and a fox. The only other riders we seen on the trail the entire day were a group of 3 near the lake.
Bring mosquito repellent.
More on our rail-to-trail rides here

I've ridden the southern half of the trail (Woods Creek almost to Pelton Creek) a couple of times, and it's a beautiful, quiet ride. Saw a coyote trotting down the trail on one trip. Definitely would recommend against road-bike tires for this trail--gravel is generally too loose for a smooth ride. The Wycolo Lodge is on HW 230 near the southern end of the trail, and we had a pretty good lunch there.

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