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Wyoming National Forests Travel Itinerary

From Jackson Hole to Laramie, follow our Wyoming trip itinerary

This Wyoming National Forests Travel Itinerary takes you from popular Jackson Hole with the Bridger-Teton National Forest down through the towns of Saratoga and Pinedale, to a century old dude ranch at the base of the Snowy Range and over to Laramie and Vedauwoo. While you don’t have to follow it all, this trip itinerary will give you plenty of ideas for outdoor adventures, craft beer and tasty eats and Wyoming’s best “Big Cone” ice cream stop!

We did this itinerary during prime travel time in June, so this is geared to warmer weather or summer adventures. You’ll want to rent a car for this trip. If you like hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, scenic drives or authentic Western flavors, read on!

My view riding in the Bridger-Teton National Forest with Gros Ventre River Ranch.

My view riding in the Bridger-Teton National Forest with Gros Ventre River Ranch.

Day 1 Jackson Hole

Fly into the Jackson Hole Airport this day or the day before. The flight into this small airport ends with Jackson Hole’s stellar scenery. To get the best views of the Grand Tetons, it’s normally good to sit on the right side of the plane.

Definitely sit on the right side of the plane when landing in Jackson Hole. Stunning.

View from the right side of the plane when landing in Jackson Hole. Stunning.

Get oriented with Jackson Hole by heading downtown to see the main square with its antler arch and Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Grab an ice cream cone at Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream. Have lunch before or after at one of the many restaurants, like Wort Hotel Silver Dollar Bar & Grill. If you want just a sandwich, duck into Pearl Street Market, a small, gourmet food market.

Now, when I arrived, I actually did my own little dude ranch tour, visiting Gros Ventre River Ranch, which I recommend. This ranch has great riding in the Bridger-Teton National Forest with awesome views of the Tetons. In fact, you can see the Tetons from the cozy lodge. This family-run ranch is part of the Dude Ranchers Association, Wyoming Dude Ranchers Association and our Equitrekking Vacation Guide and Top20Ranches. There’s a three-night minimum here during most of June and it’s seven nights during the summer, making it a good base for your Jackson Hole adventures or a vacation in its own right.

Book your Jackson Hole accommodations early, as this area is popular year-round and will sell out.

Another option for a place to stay is Signal Mountain Lodge, located right inside Grand Teton National Park on a stunning lake. Wake up early to get really nice sunrise photos. Note that the drive time from Signal Mountain Lodge to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is a little less than one hour, depending on if you run into any wildlife traffic jams.

The lake at Signal Mountain Lodge.

The lake at Signal Mountain Lodge.

Day 2: Jackson Hole Adventures

Grab a bagel at Pearl Street Bagels and get ready to start your day. Travel to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to enjoy the great outdoors and more than 4,000-vertical feet of diverse terrain. This resort has a variety of family friendly activities. Kids can enjoy a ropes course, mountain biking lessons and even participate in kids camps. Adults can enjoy hiking, biking, the ropes course, climbing wall and beyond.

We took a hike on the accessible Wildflower Trail, which takes you into the Bridger-Teton National Forest and up into various elevations. Depending on the season, you’ll spot some pretty wildflowers!

Enjoy lunch in the Swiss-style Teton Village and then ride the Tram up to over 10,450 feet among the high peaks of the Southern Tetons. From here, you can enjoy more hiking trails, snow-capped mountain views and if it’s open, waffles at Corbet’s Cabin on the Top of the World.

Eat tonight on your own. If you’ve worked up an appetite and like Italian, check out Glorietta Trattoria.

Day 3 Jackson Hole to Pinedale

If you like hiking, walking or mountain biking, take a drive over to the Cache Creek Trail in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The Cache Creek Trail starts out along a dirt road and narrows down to singletrack as you ride further into the valley. This trail offers nice wildlflower viewing opportunities, as well as iconic mountain views. You can rent a bike from Hoback Sports in Jackson.

Mountain biking the Cache Creek Trail.

Consider bringing a picnic on any of these adventures (pick up food at Pearl Market or an area grocery store). For a truly cool lunch spot, head to the “Lunch Counter” to watch surfers at the headwaters of the Snake River, a designated Wild & Scenic River. You could also take a day to enjoy whitewater rafting here. This class III whitewater spot is said to have been named in the late 60s by rafting guide Dave Hansen and is now well known to the surf community, who practice river surfing here. I’d never seen anything like it. You can park just up from this spot at the Lunch Counter/Kahuna overlook area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was enacted in 1968 by President Johnson. It’s protects designated US rivers with outstanding scenery, recreation opportunities, fish and wildlife and other distinct values, like those along the Snake River, whose 387 miles and its headwaters were added to the bill in 2009.

This afternoon, depart Jackson Hole (or stay another day) and drive about an hour and a half to the small town of Pinedale.

Get into town in time to get your fishing license for tomorrow. Stay tonight at the Lakeside Resort at Fremont Lake, which has nice, modern cabins right on the lake. Go into town for dinner and consider dining at Wind River Brewing Company, which has great food and local craft beer. Brewed from the areas glacial water, you can sample a variety of ales, ranging from Wyoming Pale Ale to Mango Wheat to Blonde Ale, all brewed onsite. Locals also recommend Patio Grill if you have a hankering for Mexican food — their street tacos are a huge hit among Pinedale locals!

Pinedale is located in Sublette County and is a gateway to the Bridger-Teton National Forest, nature attractions and a destination for travelers to stay and enjoy comfort and nature, an appealing combination. It’s been a destination for outdoor lovers since the late 1800’s, when so called “dudes” came to enjoy adventure vacations- hiking, riding horses and fishing in the Wind River Mountains. Ranchers and cowboys settled the area, too, and in 1912, Pinedale was touted as the furthest incorporated town from a railroad in the United States. Pinedale is still an isolated, small town, but on a trip down Main Street, you can easily see that the town’s roots in nature and adventure still exist.

Day 4 Pinedale: Small Town Life & Fishing Fremont Lake

Rise early and get fishing for Trout! We went out with Bryan Lane of Two Rivers Emporium, who met us right at Lakeside Resort’s marina, so all we had to do was take a short walk from our cabin in the morning. Fremont Lake is home to rainbow, brown, and lake trout as well as Kokanee salmon.

Fishing Fremont Lake with Bryan Lane.

Fishing Fremont Lake with Bryan Lane.

Fremont Lake is the second largest natural lake in Wyoming. Fed by glacial runoff from the Wind River Mountains and at over 600 feet deep, Fremont Lake is the 7th-deepest lake in the continental United States. Fremont Lake was carved out by glaciers during one of the last of the major ice ages in the Rocky Mountains and the rocks and debris lining the steep hillsides are leftover from this massive geological event. Just setting up our lines for trolling, I could see that the crisp water is surprisingly clear. In addition to catching fish, you may also spot a variety of wildlife here, like Osprey.

This afternoon, you may want to take a nap after your early morning, but also consider walking through town if you need anything else before you drive onwards or just want to soak in the Western feel. There are a few shops of note, including the Great Outdoor Shop, which has been supplying outdoor enthusiasts since 1979. In town, you can also visit the Cowboy Shop, touted as the first Western store in Wyoming, dating back to 1937. The same family owns and operates it and makes custom hats. Isabel’s Jewelry, located behind The Cowboy Shop, is your place if you’re looking for unique, custom jewelry.

There’s also an interesting museum in town, the Museum of the Mountain Man, where you can learn about Rocky Mountain fur trade and historic figures like Jim Bridger. It’s actually on the drive between Lakeside Resort at Fremont Lake and downtown Pinedale.

Stay another night or drive four hours and fifteen minutes from Pinedale to Saratoga. Whenever you do this drive, make sure to plan for at Farson Mercantile for a huge ice cream cone. It’s about an hour down from Pinedale and it’s iconic!

Must do roadside stop between Jackson Hole and Saratoga... Home of the Big Cone, Farson Mercantile!

Must do roadside stop between Jackson Hole and Saratoga… Home of the Big Cone, Farson Mercantile!

If you do drive today, there are a few hotels in Saratoga or you can stay at nearby Medicine Bow Lodge, where we bunked in or super-upscale The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch.

Saratoga is a small town at the gateway to the Medicine Bow National Forest and Snowy Range Scenic Byway. The town is known for its natural hot springs, the Hobo Hot Springs, which have been a draw through the centuries and are thought to have healing properties. Iif you’re stopping in this town, be sure to check out some of the locally owned shops and eateries. We had dinner outside at lovely Bella’s Bistro, which had a nice wine list and good food.

Day 5 Saratoga, Encampment & Medicine Bow Lodge

Enjoy breakfast or a cupcake at Sweet Marie. The owner, Marie Christian, was on the TV show Cupcake Wars and is a top cake decorator.

Drive 30 minutes from Saratoga to Grand Encampment Museum in Encampment. Once a mining boom town and prior to that a hunting ground for Native Americans, Encampment today is home to just around 450 people. Copper was found in the area in 1897, which brought an influx of people and new mining innovations.

At the Grand Encampment Museum, you can get a sense of area’s interesting history, checking out the inventive tram used to carry copper from miles away in the mountains, the over 60 foot tall fire tower and the much talked about two story outhouse. The top was used during winter months, when the snow piled so high, you needed a second floor to be able to reach the facilities.

Get to Medicine Bow Lodge in time for lunch. Owner Debbie Bishop cooks up some mean BBQ and homemade cinnamon rolls.

Saddle up this afternoon on a horseback ride in the Medicine Bow National Forest. With over a million acres in southeastern Wyoming, the Medicine Bow was designated as a national forest in 1902. Its diverse terrain, including the dramatic peaks of the Snowy Range, attract those looking to take in scenery and get off the grid. The ranch rests in the National Forest and recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Travelers can simply ride at the ranch or also stay there for a dude ranch experience.

Riding with Tim Bishop in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Riding with Tim Bishop in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Choose to relax for a few days here or keep on moving.

Day 5 Snowy Range Scenic Byway

Depart the ranch at your leisure and drive over Snowy Range Scenic Byway, Hwy 130. You’ll be starting the 29 mile route along Hwy 130 on the Western boundary of the forest by the Medicine Bow Lodge and Brush Creek Information Center.

A must-stop is not too far into your drive, glacier-fed Lake Marie. The scenery here is particularly dramatic and got my vote for the prettiest spot on this byway.

My favorite stop along the Byway.

Another popular stopping point is a Libby Flats, the highest point on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway at over 10,000 feet above sea level. Enjoy the mountain views, including of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness in Colorado, Medicine Bow Peak and on a clear day, Laramie.

Wildflowers along the Snowy Range Scenic Byway.

Driving straight through on the Byway during the summer will take about an hour.  From Medicine Bow Lodge to Centennial straight through is 45 minutes, but we know you are going to stop on this drive, so plan more time to enjoy it. Either bring a lunch with you and stop for a picnic on this drive or stop for lunch in the historic mining town of Centennial. We didn’t have time to do this, but hear that the Mountain View Hotel & Café has a good lunch. Keep in mind that this is definitely a summer drive. If you visit in the winter, you’ll need a snowmobile to enjoy this area. Snow usually closes the highest section of the road from early to mid-November and snowplows normally open the road in May right around Memorial Day weekend.

If you’ve booked way in advance, you can stay tonight in the Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower. From Centennial to Spruce is about a 35 minute drive. Manned until 1988, this is one of the unique accommodations travelers can enjoy in the national forest. The tower is located seven miles west of Albany, Wyoming on Forest Road #500, a well-graveled road accessible by two-wheel-drive vehicles. Hiking and scenic driving opportunities abound nearby.

Sweet views from Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout in the Medicine Bow National Forest. The current nightly rental rate is just $40 for these cool diggs.

Sweet views from Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout in the Medicine Bow National Forest. The current nightly rental rate is just $40 for these cool diggs.

The other options for tonight are staying in Centennial or Laramie. We did visit Spruce Mountain, but stayed in Laramie for the night at a regular Holiday Inn and had a steak dinner at J’s Steakhouse.

Day 6 Vedauwoo

Take the time to hike at Vedauwoo, about 20 miles east of Laramie (30 minute drive) along I-80. This area of interesting rock formations is located in the Medicine Bow National Forest and is a popular site for rock climbers. Though Vedauwoo is part of the Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest, it’s starkly different than the Snowy Range’s snow capped mountains. Rebecca Walsh, a hiking enthusiast and the creator of Just Trails, guided me through Vedauwoo, a favorite hiking spot for her and her family.

If there was ever a spot to contemplate the world and life, it would be on the rocks at Vedauwoo.

If there was ever a spot to contemplate the world and life, it would be on the rocks at Vedauwoo.

The Turtle Rock Trail is a nice two mile loop, while Box Canyon is less than a half mile. Popular with climbers, Vedauwoo has long been the subject of legends, including that it was a hiding place for western outlaws. Hiking here, it’s not hard to see why.

Depart Wyoming by flying out of Laramie or Denver.

Learn more about our adventures in Wyoming by watching “Travels with Darley: Wyoming’s National Forests” on your local PBS TV station and on Create TV on Tuesday, May 23 at 11pm ET/ 8pm PT. The Wyoming Office of Tourism has further travel resources to help you plan your trip and you can learn more about Wyoming National Forests on the National Forest Foundation website.

1 Comment

  1. Merridee Matson

    April 19, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    While you were able to view numerous breathtaking sites, you missed Star Valley in Lincoln County. Lunch Counter/Kahuna is actually in Lincoln County and is a part of the Star Valley Scenic Byway that runs from the Teton County border to Salt River Pass south of Afton, Wyoming. This Byway is the newest in Wyoming, and it is of cultural, historical and scenic significance. We invite you to visit this area in your future travels.

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