Wyoming’s Snowy Range: Lake Marie, French Creek Canyon


The drive through Wyoming’s Snowy Range is certainly one of the country’s most beautiful mountain drives.  At its most dramatic point, the road reveals views like this one: granite cliffs rise above alpine lakes, while outcrops of colorful rocks provide places to hike and climb.

When planning my trip through Wyoming, I had first planned to cut through the center of the state.  But then I realized, on that route, I would miss the Snowy Range, so I changed my entire vacation plan.  That’s why it was especially frustrating, when I awoke in Saratoga, Wyoming, to find this:

The tiny town of Saratoga, on the western side of the Snowy Range, was socked in with clouds and rain.  It was miserable — cold, damp, grey.  Add to it, I was feeling lousy from the elevation, which made the prospect of climbing several thousand feet higher seem like a very bad idea.  Before I left Saratoga, I considered another option: driving north to Interstate 80, then down to Laramie.  It would, no doubt, be flatter, but it was terribly out of the way.  Not to mention, I had rearranged my entire trip to allow a drive across the Snowy Range.  I really didn’t have a choice.  I had to go across the mountains.

From Saratoga, Wyoming, head south on Wyoming Route 130, then continue to follow Route 130 as it turns east. 

It takes about 20 miles from Saratoga, before the drive begins to get interesting.  For most of those first 20 miles, the road is lined with trees.  You’re gaining elevation, but the view isn’t very exciting.  Then, suddenly, mountains begin to appear ahead of you…

… and as you round one magnificent curve, everything changes.  You have no choice but to stop and stare at the incredible mountains that just appeared out of nowhere.  They reminded me of the Tetons — tall, sharp, and right there in front of you, with nothing blocking the view of the entire range.  Unfortunately, the sun still wasn’t shining, but at least the rain had stopped.

Lake Marie is located at the side of the road, wedged in between the mountains and the highway.  Behind it, Schoolhouse Rock and The Diamond rise to 11,440 and 11,720 feet, respectively.  One trail allows you to hike to the top of both mountains, while another (much easier, and paved trail) circles around the front of Lake Marie.

Before you get to Lake Marie, you will pass another lake.  Silver Lake is on the right (south) side of the road, and I don’t remember seeing it, however, there is a trail available, and you can hike down to it. 

If you have a few hours to spend hiking, consider this loop route: from Lake Marie, take the trail to Schoolhouse Rock, then continue on the backside of the mountains, past The Diamond, Old Main, and Medicine Bow Peak.  The trail then drops down to Lookout Lake, before returning to Lake Marie.  Total distance is probably about 8 miles — I don’t know for sure — but it would be worth it.

I can only imagine how beautiful this scene would be, with a little blue sky and sunshine.

Lake Marie drains over a small cascade on the lake’s southwest corner (next to the parking lot).  That creek then runs underneath the highway, and continues on through French Creek Canyon.  Cross the road…

… and follow the creek into the canyon.

There’s another small lake here…

… and a foot bridge that crosses the creek.  From here, you can make a quick loop back to the road…

… or you can continue on into the canyon.  There’s a very rough trail to follow, and much of the time you’ll be scrambling over rocks (no difficult climbing required — you probably won’t even need to use your hands).  As I hiked down the valley, I noticed one of the surrounding hills seemed steep, but climbable, so I headed up the hillside for a look around.

About halfway up the hill, there’s a great view of the mountains.  But I wasn’t satisfied.  I kept climbing to the top of the hill…

… where the view got even better.

This is the view straight down into the valley.  Look closely and you can see the road and the foot bridge.

As I kicked back on the edge of the cliff, the clouds started to break up, just a little.  The weather still wasn’t perfect, but it was getting better.  I thought about how I had considered skipping this road entirely, in favor of I-80.  What a mistake that would have been!

After hanging out on top of the world for a few minutes, I descended back into the valley…

… then finished the loop trip around the small lake, and returned to the car.  But, I had only driven a few hundred feet, before stopping again, at Mirror and Lookout Lakes.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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