Best Hikes in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests (WY/CO)

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests Overview

The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests extend from north central Colorado to central Wyoming. They encompass portions of many mountain ranges, including Gore Range, Flat Tops, Parks Range, Elkhead, Medicine Bow Mountains, Sierra Madre, and Laramie Range. Administratively combined in 1995, the forests also manage the Thunder Basin National Grassland, located in northeastern Wyoming in the Powder River Basin between the Big Horn Mountains and the Black Hills. Bordered by Rocky Mountain National Park to the south and east, the forest provides visitors with a more secluded experience away from the crowds for visiting recreation enthusiasts. Finally, details of the best hikes in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests are located below.

StateWyoming; Colorado
Nearest Metro AreaLaramie, WY
Area Size2,769,949 acres
EstablishedMay 22, 1902
Hiking Trails1,500 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests

(*** = Best hikes in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests)

Devils Causeway Loop*** – 10.5 mile loop
Devils Causeway, Photo by Lvaughn7

This is certainly one of the most popular hikes in Northwest Colorado. Many choose this as an overnight backpacking hike by doing the 10 mile loop, crossing over the Devil’s Causeway and continuing on to see the Chinese Wall and looping back around to Stillwater Trailhead. However, some make the Devil’s Causeway a day hike, an out and back (3 miles there, 6 miles roundtrip). If you wish to make a loop with trails #1803 and #1120 the total distance is about 10 miles.

Fish Creek Falls*** – 4.4 miles out and back
Fish Creek Falls Morning
Fish Creek Falls Morning, Photo by Heath Cajandig

Fish Creek Falls Trailhead #1102 provides a great view of the waterfalls from a wheelchair accessible overlook trail and a dirt trail leading to the base of the falls. A historical bridge, which crosses Fish Creek, continues the trail 5 miles to Long Lake. Most hikers return to the trailhead after reaching the upper falls a little over 2 miles from the start of the trail. Area open year round, providing snow shoeing and ice climbing in the winter months. Try to arrive early as this is a heavily trafficked trail during the summer.

Gap Lakes + Lost Lake Loop*** – 12.0 mile loop
Medicine Bow Mountains
South Gap Lake, Photo by Reed Summers

Hikers can begin this loop at either the Brooklyn Lake Campground or the Lewis Lake Picnic Site. Similarly to the Medicine Bow Loop (below), this route has beautiful alpine lakes and peaks in the Snowy Range at nearly every turn. Most choose to backpack the trail, camping at one of the many lakes along the way. It is also recommended to take the loop counter-clockwise and if you are going before July, be prepared for ice or snow.

Gilpin Lake + Gold Creek Lake Loop (‘Zirkel Circle’)*** – 11.1 mile loop
Gilpin Lake
Gilpin Lake, Photo by J Brew

Start from the Slavonia Trailhead and head east on either the Gilpin Lake Trail or Gold Creek Lake Trail. Although the loop can be completed in either direction, hiking to Gold Creek Lake first will give you more of a ‘wow’ factor as you come into view overlooking Gilpin Lake. Views of the alpine lakes and surrounding rugged peaks are outstanding and something everyone will enjoy if anywhere close to this area.

Grizzly Creek Trail to Rabbit Ears Peak – 5.0 miles out and back
The Rabbit Ears
The Rabbit Ears, Photo by Adam Meek

Climb to the top of Rabbit Ears Peak. The rock formation, which resembles rabbit ears, is accessible from an old jeep road. The old dirt road winds through breathtaking meadows of wildflowers. Further, upon entering the forested part of the trail, you encounter the first real incline of the hike. The last uphill grade is very steep and will bring you to the base of the Ears.

Hahn’s Peak Trail – 2.8 miles out and back
Colorado-Hahn's Peak (2)
Hahns Peak, Photo by Cyndi and Dave

Views of Hahns Peak’s 10,839 foot summit make a drive to the Steamboat Lake area rewarding. The summit is an easier hike than it would first appear. You’ll be treated to spectacular 360 degree views of the Routt National Forest and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, as well as north all the way into Wyoming. You can also explore boulder fields and discover a great variety of wildflowers/berries.

Laramie Peak Trail – 8.4 miles out and back
View from Laramie Peak, Photo by Wusel007

The trail is relatively flat for about the first mile, as it follows along Friend Creek. Further on as the climb increases, the trail affords views of the nearby rock hills. Friend Park Falls is a small waterfall about two miles up the trail and provides a convenient rest or turnaround point. As the hiker climbs further up the trail rises 2,500’ in elevation over approximately three miles. The summit of Laramie Peak provides panoramic views; one can see several states, mountain ranges and cities. Note: there is a $5.00 charge to park at the trailhead.

Medicine Bow Peak + Lakes Trail Loop*** – 6.9 mile loop
Medicine Bow Peak
Medicine Bow Peak, Photo by Carol Jacobs-Carre

This is a loop (clockwise recommended) beginning at the Lakes Trailhead climbing the Snowy Range with access to multiple peaks and lakes. Panoramic views from the top of Medicine Bow Peak are phenomenal. It is not recommended to hike this trail after 3:00 pm due to rapid weather changes. Storms blow in unexpectedly, be prepared!  The Lakes trail winds through meadows, sparse Engleman spruce and Limber pine. Hikers will pass beside Mirror Lake and Lookout Lake. 

Rainbow Lake Trail – 8.5 miles out and back

This is a pretty easy gradually inclining trail heading west to Rainbow Lake. The isolated lake is peaceful with beautiful views of the surrounding peaks.

Featured Image: Short but vibrant summer, Photo by Yoshiko Egan

Don’t forget to stock up on the essentials before you plan your next hiking or camping trip! We have recommendations on: