Bighorns (WY) Trip report


New Member
Dec 27, 2021
Wanted to post our trip report to the Bighorns from July 17-23, 2022.
This is a great place to explore - accessible but little traveled past a couple popular trailheads, so it feels remote. Plenty of off-trail scrambling opportunities on various scenic peaks and beautiful high alpine lakes with pristine campsites. Very few bears/cats, but plenty of moose/elk.
The Solitude Trail is the quintessential Bighorn loop, but we did a much less traveled "loop" that takes in many of the highlights. You'll see in the trip report that I call it a "loop" because we were tentatively planning on a 6 mile off-trail section that would have completed the loop, but after scouting the area, I decided that our group of nine wouldn't be able to make the final 3 mile scramble, so we turned around and headed back to the closest trailhead for a hitch. This is definitely a doable loop, but we made the right decision and still accomplished quite a lot in a short week.
As I was planning this trip, I found very few resources and trip reports on this area (Lost Twin Lakes/Bighorn Peak), so I wanted to post this trip report - not to make this a popular route, but to be a resource for anyone else who may attempt a loop in this area. As you'll see from the trip report, it's beautiful and scenic, but sadly even the on-trail segments can be dangerous and deadly (see Thursday's entry). Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about the route or area.
-Peter Hubbard



Sunday: Circle Park Trailhead to Sherd Lake
After leaving at 2am and driving 16 hours to Buffalo, Wyoming, we arrived at the Circle Park Trailhead in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area for 5 nights of backpacking. We had an aggressive itinerary for a group of 9 with many not having prior backpacking experience. To acclimate, we had a short, 1.8mi hike in to our campsite at Sherd Lake. Jude and Ben showed how to pitch the tents; I forgot our blocks of cheese for lunches so Jude and I ran back to the van and got them. Jude, Seth and I jumped in and enjoyed a cold swim in Sherd Lake. This is our only night below 9,200’ where fires are allowed, so we enjoyed a fire while Ben boiled water for dinner. Meals were better than many expected and there began a theme of bartering for beef stroganoff.


(Leaving our first campsite at Sherd Lake, Bighorn Peak is visible in the background.)

Monday: Sherd Lake to Seven Brothers Lakes
Jude and I hit the trail at 3:50am, did the Sherd Lake Loop and scouted up to Lame Deer. Saw two moose. Back at 7am and everyone was rousing. Several creek crossings, some open parks with route finding needed. Shoes off on one crossing, rocks and logs for the others. Lunch at a small stream, Ben announced a moose and we watched it run down the hill to the creek downstream. After a long hot climb up to Seven Brothers Lakes, we finally arrived. Saw our only hikers all day, a dad and three sons who had spent the day fishing and were headed back to their 4-wheeler and tent. Filled up water and pitched tents just in time to get out of the rain. Most napped, then the boys swam. Robbie pointed out a bald Eagle over the lake. Our campsite was on a ridge above the lake on one side and looking 1,000 feet down over Clear Creek and Florence Canyon. No campfire but fun talking over dinner and fried salami. The boys walked down the trail to visit the other lakes, the dads filled up water bottles. Four trout were caught. A little chillier tonight and windy up on the ridge.

(Leaving Seven Brothers Lakes campsite, voted the best campsite due to the lack of mosquitoes, proximity to water and incredible scenic overlook of Florence Canyon behind us.)

Tuesday: Seven Brothers to Paint Rock Creek valley
Everyone woke up a bit later, I was out in the pre-dawn light, ran up to the 7th lake and then up a boulder field almost to lower Frozen Lake before turning around. Still got on the trail by 9:15am. We dropped down to Clear Creek, had our first of several wet crossings and joined the Solitude Trail. Met five hikers in 3 groups and a couple on horseback. A couple more wet crossings and some boulder hopping streams to Powell Creek for lunch. The climb up through Florence Canyon was magnificent, if brutal: rock hopping across many streams, we saw a moose at one point about 40 feet away. We split into 3 groups based on hiking speeds and made our way up to Florence Lake with several waterfalls cascading down the steep slopes and some snow fields to throw snowballs at each other. Coming down from Florence Pass (11,000’) was equally magnificent, hiking by Gunboat, Fortress and Mistymoon Lakes. The trail was getting long and without a cloud in the sky the weather was perfect, but we were almost out of water. Spirits were flagging as we climbed over a ridge but the views of the Paint Rock Creek valley were incredible. We found a campsite tucked behind a rock next to a waterfall and spirits were revived as everyone either took a shower in the frigid waterfall or soaked their feet in the stream. We had a group meeting over dinner to discuss the next day’s optional rest day or Cloud Peak Summit (13,179’).


(In Florence Canyon on the way up to Florence Pass, we encountered several waterfalls and snowfields on the way up to Florence Lake, this was voted the best trail due to its ruggedness and incredible views from the Pass.)

Wednesday: Cloud Peak summit/rest day
5:30am wake-up call for Mark, Seth, Robbie, Caleb, Ben, Jude and me. We were greeted to a bright half moon and chilly temps which kept the mosquitoes from last night at bay. Bars and granola for breakfast and we were scrambling up the waterfall by 6:15am. The sun had risen but we wouldn’t see it until we climbed over a ridge another hour or so into the climb. We followed Paint Rock Creek via social trails and cairns. Without any official trail, there were many paths to choose from. Jude led us up the right ridge which involved a lot more rock scrambling but incredible views at points. We stopped often and stayed together. We carried three day packs and shared water and snacks. The vertical feet kept ticking away and we made the summit by 9:15am. We enjoyed photos and selfies from the summit with a spectacular drop and scenery off the back side to glaciers and frozen lakes. Half an hour later we started heading down. The weather was still perfect without a cloud in the sky though most opted to wear jackets and hats. There was a family of 5 at the summit and we passed 5 more people in 3 groups attempting the peak today. We took a more direct route down and found some decent paths with less rock scrambling. Mike and Luke caught us with a half mile to go and we made it back in less than 7 hours round trip. Feet soaks and waterfall showers were on order followed by lunch and naps. We are continually reminded of God’s beauty in His creation, His love for us, that we get to enjoy Him through it, and for His protection for us as He has kept us safe from injury on our journey thus far. The afternoon was spent lounging and trying to stay out of the sun. Water filter contraptions were built by Mike and Luke, dams were built in the river, lively games of hotbox were played and we welcomed back two pairs of hikers who successfully summited Cloud Peak. We also met Mike from Ohio, a Marine veteran of three combat tours in Iraq who is now a personal trainer and on a summer road trip. We invited him for dinner and enjoyed further conversations about his life and travels. More games of hotbox followed as the sun set.

(Cloud Peak summit, Glacier Lakes in the background)

Thursday: Paint Rock Creek to Lost Twin Lakes
I woke to a short rain shower at 5:30am. Marine Mike had already left and I followed a pair of moose downstream Paint Rock Creek and a pair of deer upstream for some photos. A couple more small groups of hikers came through to summit Cloud Peak and we directed them as to the best way up. We packed up camp efficiently before 9am and read Psalm 95 before heading out (“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!”). We passed Mistymoon Lake and saw a few bucks running up the slope. We hiked past Lake Marion and Lake Helen with Cloud Peak disappearing at our backs and our first glimpses of Bighorn Peak ahead of us. We made good time and after a wet ford of West Tensleep Creek, we arrived at West Tensleep Lake at 1pm for lunch, a real toilet (outhouse) and fresh water from a pump (“Ah, the luxuries!”). West Tensleep trailhead was bustling and we had passed several backpackers, day hikers and even llamas on the way down. Our exit strategy had changed as we decided not to hike out over Bighorn Peak the next day and instead exit at West Tensleep. We still needed to retrieve the vehicle, however, so I hitched a ride back to Circle Park with Mike and Mike, a father and son who we had spoken with a few times on the trail. They were traveling via mules and were headed back to Hunter trailhead. Father Mike was from Homer Glen and a retired teacher in Plainfield. Son Mike lived in California and they were on their annual father-son mule trip with dog Stella. They dropped me at the Circle Park turnoff and I ran 2.5 miles to the van then drove the 1 hour back to West Tensleep where Mark was waiting at the trailhead with my pack. We made good time though the trail was long. Mike and the boys had a 2 hour head start on us. In between the trailhead and our final night’s campsite at Lost Twin Lakes, there had been an accident with a horse and rider. Search and Rescue had gone through and Mark and I were wondering if the boys were involved or saw it happen. As we spoke with hikers and SAR coming out, we found out that an older couple and their two young grandsons were on horseback when the grandfather’s horse fell on him. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful and his body was airlifted out. The boys had arrived shortly after the airlift but while SAR was still heading in. The widow and two grandsons passed Mark and I on horseback in obvious shock, and we told them we were praying for them. With a somber mood we arrived at Lost Twin Lakes and prayed for the family over dinner. What a sad tragedy for that family.
With heavy hearts we ate dinner and marveled at the beauty of a sunset over twin lakes at the end of a valley encircled by thousand foot cliffs on three sides. A bull moose grazed by a waterfall a few hundred feet above us and we went to bed pondering God’s beauty in the midst of tragedy and wondered at His mysterious and inscrutable ways.

(Panorama of Lost Twin Lakes from the saddle below Bighorn Peak. Our campsite was on the far right shoreline, a beautiful place to contemplate God’s sovereignty over our lives.)

Friday: Bighorn Peak and West Tensleep Trailhead
While I had retrieved the van yesterday so we didn’t have to hike up and over Bighorn Peak to the van, we still wanted to accomplish our final objective which was to summit Bighorn Peak. The long emotional day yesterday had taken its toll both physically and emotionally on all of us. I woke the boys at 5am and most of them wisely decided to stay back. Ben, Jude and I headed up the drainage directly above our campsite just before 5:30am, walking past two bull moose grazing in the willows about forty feet away. In between heavy breaths from the steep scramble, we prayed for the family who lost their loved one yesterday and processed some more about the fragility of life and God’s purposes. We made quick work of the scramble, walked through high alpine bogs, scrambled up steep talus slopes, across two saddles and two false summits and finally arrived atop Bighorn Peak (12,324’) just before 7:45am. While the views weren’t as spectacular as Cloud Peak, we saw many familiar lakes we had camped at, the town of Buffalo 20 miles in the distance and visibility around 100 miles. The wind was calm and I had cell reception so I called Elizabeth and the four of us talked for almost 10 minutes for the first time in 6 days. A quick snack and water and we headed down a slightly more direct route, arriving back at camp by 9:45am to freshly fried fish for breakfast courtesy of Luke and Caleb. After packing up camp we took a final group picture and headed out by 11am. The boys moved quickly down the trail while the dads moved at our own pace talking about life and faith. We passed the spot in the trail where the accident occurred the day prior, silently praying for the family and recalling the events of the prior day from each of our perspectives. We took only a few short breaks but the boys still arrived at the trailhead several minutes before us. They were already at the lake rinsing off, putting on fresh clothes and eating lunch. We joined them and then packed up and headed for home. We made a dinner stop in Sturgis at Knuckles Saloon and shared highs and lows of the trip (as well as banter over whether or not Seth would finish his entire pizza and if he would share). We continued heading east with a plan to share driving over the night and arrive home sometime Saturday morning.

(Our final campsite at the edge of Lost Twin Lakes.)


(Climbing a snowfield near the base of Cloud Peak. This was a welcome respite from boulder hopping and a fun glissade on the way down.)

(Looking out at the Chill Lakes just below the summit of Bighorn Peak. Sherd Lake, our first campsite, is the farthest lake seen in the distance.)
Nice looking area, one I havent been to
Looks like a great trip. Thanks for sharing
Thanks for sharing. Cloud Peak Wilderness has a special place for me since it's where I had my introdcution to backpacking so I really enjoy seeing stuff like this.
Seemed like a fantastic time! Thanks for sharing!
Nicely done - kudos. Reminds me to get up there some day. looks like you guys covered a lot of miles.
Looks like a great area and fine route. Thanks for the TR! Yet another area to explore.