Nature at its Peak on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway

Without a doubt, the scenery between the Wyoming towns of Laramie and Saratoga is one of Mother Nature’s most impressive displays. Whoever coined the phrase “getting there is half the fun” must have been driving on Wyoming’s Snowy Range Scenic Byway.

As you drive west out of Laramie heading towards the small community of Centennial, nestled at the foot of the Snowy Range, you will likely  see more antelope than automobiles. Is this because there are lots of antelope or very few cars?  Actually, the answer is a resounding “yes” to both questions!

A stop at the Centennial Visitor Center, located on Highway 130 one mile west of Centennial, will provide maps and other information about the many highlights awaiting visitors traveling the Byway. The route is well-marked with signs that point to the area’s many picnic spots, camp grounds, hiking trails and scenic overlooks.

While traveling into the Snowy Mountains and up to the summit of Snowy Range Pass (elevation 10,847 feet), it is often difficult to decide just where to look, for the unequaled beauty of this place encompasses a complete 360 degree vista.  Even in the middle of summer it is easy to see how the Snowy Range got its name, for fields of snow still crown the tops of the 12,000 high peaks.

Landscapes of pine and aspen forests, jagged granite mountain faces, shimmering blue lakes and fields of sub-alpine flowers are to be slowly savored and never hurried. There are many places to get out of the car and enjoy the crisp mountain air, so take your time and delight in the panorama.

On a sunny day from the Libby Flats Observation Point, the mountains in Colorado are clearly visible to the south. A short walk through Libby Flats allows the visitor many opportunities to view wildlife, foliage, high alpine lakes and a variety of ecosystems. It is easy to determine the way the wind blows at this high elevation . . . . . Just look at the pine trees!

Numerous nature trails lead into regions of sub-alpine vegetation where a striking palette of wildflowers can be seen from early June through July.

An easily hiked path is the short (0.7 miles) loop called the “Miner’s Cabin Trail.” From the Medicine Bow Peak Overlook, take a quiet stroll through fields of wildflowers into stands of Engelmann spruce trees, across small streams, to a cabin and mine shaft once used by prospectors in the area.

For the more energetic hiker, a very steep four-mile trail leads to the 12,000-foot summit of Medicine Bow Peak, the highest point in the Medicine Bow National Forest. Maps listing all of the trails—including trailhead location, length of hike, and elevation gain—are available at the visitor center.

Traffic along this high-altitude highway is sparse, allowing visitors to drive slowly and pull off the road whenever the mood strikes. The one-way journey over the mountains from Laramie to Saratoga is about 80 miles but can therefore potentially take several hours to traverse!

You can also choose to drive only to the summit, then turn around and return to Laramie.  There are no service stations or food stores along the Byway, so plan ahead and stock up before you leave Laramie or Centennial.

The Byway closes for the season in mid-November.  It can be accessed by snowmobile in the winter and traditionally reopens with the help of snowplows before Memorial Day weekend.

Please be aware of wildlife on and near the road, especially in the early morning hours and during the evenings when the sun is low.  Deer, elk and moose call this place home and we must visit respectfully.

The stunning landscape and uncrowded highway along Wyoming’s Snowy Range Scenic Byway should place this drive at the top of every Rocky Mountain traveler’s itinerary as a scenic attraction not to be missed.

IF YOU GO

Deb Erickson is the retired office manager of an elementary school, traveler and writer – an expert on “travel and cultural awareness.” Visit her website at For the Love of Travel and Writing.

Read more of her writing at Wyoming in Motion: The Traveling Writer: Deb Erickson

 

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