Snowy Range Scenic Byway
The Snowy Range Scenic Byway (Hwy. 130) is located in southeastern Wyoming and is a spectacular “cut-across” for travelers. This scenic alternative to I-80 takes you through the majestic Snowy Range Mountains, past deep glacial lakes, pastoral meadows, rushing mountain streams, and awe-inspiring mountain peaks.
The Snowy Range Scenic Byway self-driving tour was originally a wagon road built in the 1870s and in the 1920s was widened and smoothed using horse-drawn equipment. The road was paved in the 1930s and designated as the nation’s second Scenic Byway in 1988. After six years of working on the road, it was completed and known as the “Great Skyroad.” The Scenic Byway over the Snowy Range is one of the shortest of Wyoming’s scenic byways, both in length and in the number of months it can be driven. The Byway is the second highest mountain pass in Wyoming. Snow usually closes the highest section of the road about early to mid-November and snowplows traditionally open the road in May right around Memorial Day weekend.
The land known as the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests has a long history dating back to 8,000 years ago when ancestors of the Plains Indians inhabited the area. The Northern Arapaho, Oglala Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, Eastern Shoshone, and the White River Utes all frequented the area. The region was used by these tribes who took advantage of its wildlife bounty. They frequented the forest to gather the prime “lodge pole pine” wood they liked to use for teepee poles and firewood. The soothing mineral hot springs along the banks of the North Platte River provided a welcome place to “make medicine” to cure their ills and to hold ceremonial pow-wows.
Truly a “land of many uses,” the Snowy Range today supports an active timber harvesting industry in addition to providing traditional livestock forage, watershed, and outdoor recreation benefits. The Scenic Byway has numerous places to stop or pull off and take in the serenity of the Snowy Range. During your drive remember to be cautious of wildlife on or near the road, especially during early morning and late evening hours.
Start Your Tour
Leaving Laramie and traveling west on the Scenic Byway, you will drive through the open plains of the traditional Old West where the deer and antelope still play. Just 27 miles west of Laramie, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, lies the historic mining town of Centennial.
The region near Medicine Bow Peak is home to the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, yellow-bellied marmots, pikas and blue grouse. The many mountain lakes and streams in the area are home to rainbow trout, brook trout and Wyoming’s only native trout, the cutthroat. The Scenic Byway takes travelers from sagebrush prairies to a high-altitude alpine environment including all of the major life zones in the Rocky Mountains. Near the summit is an old growth spruce-fir forest containing the unique krummholz (flagging) trees shaped by the blustering winds high atop the mountain. Here, the abundance of large trees and understory of young trees, as well as the abundance of krummholz and decaying logs, furnish a home to the kinds of wildlife not found in younger forests. The pine marten, red-backed vole, ruby-crowned kinglet, northern three-toed woodpecker and the boreal owl are but a few of the species that inhabit Wyoming’s oldest forest.
1. Centennial, Wyoming
Centennial, founded in 1876, is a quaint little town which offers a surprising assortment of services and points of interest to the visitor. These include a museum, unique restaurants, lodging, rustic cabins, gifts, and several Old West buildings. The Centennial Valley, along the Little Laramie River, is dotted with working cattle and guest ranch facilities. Stop by the Nici Self Museum, which houses the historic railroad depot, or pick up a walking tour brochure of Centennial.
2. Visitor Center (east end)
The Scenic Byway climbs into the Snowy Range Mountains and enters the Medicine Bow National Forest. Just out of Centennial is a Visitor Center that is open seven days a week during the summer and fall and on a limited basis during the spring and winter. Visitors can obtain maps of nearby hiking trails and the entire forest, plus information about mountain wildflowers, wildlife, recreation and other things to see and do along the Scenic Byway. After the Visitor Center, the drive follows Libby Creek and winds past the Snowy Range Ski Area just five miles above Centennial.
3. Barber Lake and Libby Creek
Barber Lake Road, off the main Scenic Byway, leads to several small campgrounds that can accommodate tent and RV campers, although there are no electrical hookups. This side road takes the visitor alongside a rowdy Libby Creek before it rejoins the Scenic Byway. Fall viewing is spectacular along this road and in the winter it doubles as a cross-country ski trail. Taking the Barber Lake Road bypasses the entrance to the Snowy Range Ski Area, a popular winter destination for skiers and snowboarders, and the turnoff for Sand Lake Road, a gravel forest road accessing trails on the north end of the Snowy Range.
4. Greenrock Picnic Area
Greenrock Picnic Area is just west of where Barber Lake Road intersects the Scenic Byway. Heading west, Highway 130 now follows the Little Laramie River where you might spot a yellow-bellied marmot sun bathing on the granite rocks. Wildflowers are abundant here, especially the Indian Paintbrush, Wyoming’s Official State Flower. This is also the point where the road closes in the winter and becomes a mecca for snowmobilers.
5. Brooklyn Lake Road
Just west of the Greenrock Picnic Area is the turnoff for Brooklyn Lake Road. This side trip leads to several lakes accessible by automobiles. Other lakes can be reached via a network of hiking trails from this point. St. Alban's Chapel, a small outdoor Episcopal chapel near Little Brooklyn Lake, is the site of frequent weddings and other ceremonies in the summer months.
6. Sugarloaf Recreational Area
Due to the altitude, a definite ecological shift in the vegetation marks the turnoff for the Sugarloaf Recreation Area and nearby Libby and Lewis Lakes and picnic grounds. The gravel road ends at a trailhead which leads to numerous glacial lakes (80 plus mountain lakes) and the summits of Sugarloaf Mountain (11,398 ft.) and Medicine Bow Peak (12,013 ft.), both popular destinations for hardy and adventurous hikers.
7. Libby Flats
The highest point on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway is 10,000 feet above sea level at Libby Flats. From the scenic overlook at the summit, a breathtaking view of several mountain ranges unfolds to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness in Colorado, while the 12,013 foot Medicine Bow Peak towers overhead.
8. Snowy Range Observation Point
Just .3 miles west of Libby Flats on the west side of the road is the trail to the Miner’s Cabin. It is a short loop trail from the observation point that leads to the Red Mask Mine. Out of operation since the 1920s, the trail passes old mining equipment and a nearby miner’s cabin. Interpretive signs describe these sites and identify the sparse trees and ground-hugging flowers that are present. At this place of high altitude, strong winds are the norm and precipitation comes mostly in the form of snowfall. If the view hasn’t taken your breath away, use some caution as it may take some time to get used to the altitude. Some people need a few days to adjust to the thin mountain air.
Also at this parking lot sits a plaque in memorial of the victims of the October 6th, 1955 United Flight 409 plane crash. Sixty-three passengers and three crew members on their way from New York City, New York to San Francisco, California made a stopover in Denver, Colorado. They were scheduled to arrive in Salt Lake City, Utah, but wrecked near the top of the Snowy Range mountains en route. At the time, this was the worst air disaster in United States history.
9. Mirror Lake and Lake Marie
There’s a bit more oxygen to be found down from the summit at Mirror Lake, or its sister, Lake Marie. Both lakes are glacier-fed and reflect the majesty of Medicine Bow Peak, and are often visited by artists and photographers. During the early summer months, note the pink “watermelon” snow, caused by bacteria that thrives on the year-round glacial snow. The quartzite peaks are estimated to be two billion years old, with even older rocks existing beneath them. Across from the Lake Marie parking area is a short walk to Lake Marie Falls. A second parking area nearby is the trailhead parking for French Creek Canyon Trail, Tipple Trail and Miner’s Cabin Trail on the south side of the Scenic Byway.
10. Silver Lake Overlook
After passing a few more highway turnoffs on the way down the mountain, Silver Lake is on the left. A pullout on the south side of the road offers a spectacular view of Silver Lake and the surrounding area. Trails lead to the lake and to the Meadow Falls. Some campgrounds and picnic areas are presently closed due to hazardous trees in the area. West of Silver Lake, the Scenic Byway begins to descend in earnest, passing through a spruce, fir, and pine forest of lower and moister elevation, past mountain lakes and streams and the Headquarters Park parking area. A rough four-wheel drive road provides access to the north and west sides of the Snowy Range and Medicine Bow Peak.
11. Ralph Heston Viewing Platform
The Ralph Heston Viewing Platform features an accessible fishing pier over French Creek. Here the creek meanders slowly through willows and provides beavers with plenty of food and shelter. A nearby interpretive information site illustrates the beaver’s world in human terms. Keep an eye out for mule deer, common inhabitants of the area. Occasional moose, elk, bears, bald eagles, and wild turkeys may also show themselves along the waterways in the area and in the lower lands outside the Scenic Byway.
12. Ryan Park Campground
Ryan Park Campground is one of the largest in the forest and was named after a historic internment camp, Ryan Park. The camp was built to house German prisoners of war during World War II and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The western side of the Scenic Byway closes in the winter months just east of Ryan Park.
13. Riverside and Encampment
As the Scenic Byway drops out of the mountains, the road splits. To the south lies the towns of Riverside and Encampment, home of the Grand Encampment Museum. Rooms, meals, gas, gifts and western saloons are available here. Laramie is accessible from Riverside and Encampment via Hwy 230 North.
To the north just a few miles is Saratoga, situated on the North Platte River. This pleasant community is home to an historic Old West hotel, other lodging and restaurants, gift shops, art galleries, a golf course and a bustling airport. While there, relax in the natural hot springs free to the public and open 24 hours a day, year-round. This side of the mountain presents numerous travel options depending on one’s timetable and desired destination. Snowy Range Scenic Byway, Highway 130, through the beautiful Snowy Range Mountains meets back up with I-80 just north of Saratoga. Laramie is accessible from Saratoga via I-80 East or Hwy 287 South.