—Date of Visit: Jul 10-12, 2018
—Notable Features: Grace Lake, Solitude Lake, Cloud Peak Cascade, Cloud Peak Lakes
—Total Miles: 20.1 miles (sans excursions)
—Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-4837 feet
—Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 9096, 9596, 10,440
—General Route: Battle Park Trailhead—>Tr 164—>Tr 038—>Off-trail—>Tr 038—>Tr 164—>Battle Park Trailhead
It was going to be my 30th birthday, so what was I going to do? Obviously, I was going to go hiking. I’d been thinking about it since Fiji, and I decided that I’d go to Middle Cloud Peak Lake in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. I’d hoped that perhaps someone would accompany me, but my family and friends were, as usual, busy. Plus I really don’t have any friends that like backpacking for days at a time…, but even if I did, low seniority means mid-weeks off. The positive aspect is that there are always fewer people clogging the outdoors. I always do have my buddy, the esteemed justice John Hodgman with me.
The route in general.
A little more detail. Follow the arrows in.
The route up to the lakes and my camp there, as well as back out.
My route up into the upper lakes from my base camp.
I worked the night before the big trip, and I wasn’t home until 10:30PM. The distance without stops to the Battle Park Trailhead is 351 miles from my door, so about 5 hours and 55 minutes at maximum speed. Sadly, this good timing wasn’t to be.
The long drive up.
Not only did I get something of a late start, but I got multiple calls from my next employer requesting documents, so I had to stop in Casper and spend a lot of time working on my phone, and then verifying that everything was copacetic. This killed hours of my trip and set me far behind, though I did do Crazy Woman Canyon at least, which is a beautiful little drive. The valley floor was 99F.
Crazy Woman Canyon
Following driving up CZI Canyon came the paved road, and then the very long dirt segment to Battle Park Trailhead.
I arrived at the trailhead around 5PM, and was on the trail, swatting mosquitoes, by 5:30, in a pleasant temperature of about 72F. But crap, no way I was going to make Solitude Lake this night (around 7 miles in), so I revised my plan and decided that I’d head for Grace Lake. Finding the actual trailhead was remarkably difficult, as multiple, well-worn paths head off into the woods. I elected for one that looked right, but wasn’t, and I wandered past a cabin that I think was used for backcountry stuff by the USFS, as it had water and a little corral. Coming back, I’d also take a wrong turn, follow a great path that petered out into nothing, and end up going by the same cabin, re-orienting myself. Weird place.
In case you forgot where I was going to camp the first night.
The path soon becomes easier, as all the little trails merge and begin the uphill climb to the first, big park area (aptly named “Long Park”), which, IIRC, is around mile 1. There is no actual lake here, though my map showed one—perhaps there’s a meltpond during the spring? The park goes on forever, undulating, and there’s supposed to be the Lily Lake Cutoff trail once you’re past the creeks, which is a trail that heads off the the east-northeast on my map toward the Bomber Peak/Mistymoon area. I wanted to do a loop and come back on this trail, but par for the course, that trail never became apparent. I think that I may have spotted it on what I thought was an outfitter’s trail about a mile off of where the maps said it should be, but it was also heading the wrong direction…hard to know. Anyway, the temps were pleasant with some broken, cumulus-filled skies, and a gentle breeze, but the mosquitoes loved the temps as much as I did.
Thunderstorms moving in…
It’s the park that never ends. It goes on and on my friends.
We can’t all be beautiful.
Looking west toward the Bighorn Basin during the march through Long Park.
Parallel trails go through the park. Outfitters can beat the place to crap at times.
Going through the park, you descend and cross a creek—my phone beeped! Oops, it wasn’t on airplane mode. I turned it off and kept going. At the edge of the park as one approaches the forest, some tarn-like lakes are below the trail. I stopped here for a snack as rains occasionally fell on me, eating some Krispie treats, sour gummy worms, and Woody’s Smokehouse beef jerky, which is the best jerky in the world. Quick aside about that: I was once flying British Airways and United back to America, and connecting through Trinidad and Tobago. The terminal at Piarco is quite modern and there was a shopette open until 2AM, so I got something to drink prior to my late-night boarding. While having a beverage around midnight, I overheard a couple people talking about one of them having to fly to Houston for business. The other, having visited the area, but only being a transit passenger, immediately started talking about Woody’s Smokehouse and how it’s worth the drive to get their jerky. (IT IS.) I certainly include it in every trip.
Elk Mountain with ponds.
As thunder began to rumble, I packed up and pushed on, entering intermittent forests and climbing a bit more. Soon enough I could tell I was at the highest point before going down, and I began the trudge—the path down this section seemed much longer than coming back up for some reason.
Heading down. Vividly verdant.
Regardless, I reached Grace Lake with about 90 minutes of light left, but struggled to find a good camping area…at least a good one that was responsibly far from the water, because many good places existed on the trailhead-side of the lake. I went down exploring all of them and saw what appeared to be a lot of outfitter use, and then to my horror realized that I’d lost my sunglasses! OH NO! I can’t tell you how bad I hate the bright sun in my eyes. Luckily I backtracked and found them only 200-feet back, when I’d left the trail to head down to the edge of the lake. Whoo!
Shucks I’d like to be naughty and camp here.
I then made the mature choice to continue on, cross the outlet (saw a leech), and then head up and to the left, putting my camp on a hill between two rock features.
This location was also very nice and hidden from view, plus it had some easy places to sit and a very old fire ring. I fished for a while, but had no luck. It looked like it would be mostly brookies, so no big loss. Then I returned and made some dinner, ate it, strung up the bear bag, and washed myself in the dark, when the mosquitoes were less terrible.
Hate getting water near pads.
Sunset at Grace Lake. Special angling restrictions apply. (There are signs about this in case you forget.)
I had brought some reading material on my phone, as well as some movies, which I watched until I was ready for sleep, which was around 11:30PM. It sprinkled briefly overnight, which I noticed when I woke up to pee, and really noticed all the more as I hadn’t put on my rainfly. I elected not to bother, though, as it was very light. Speaking of waking up, I didn’t wake up with dawn, but rather woke up with the sound of a bear attacking my tent. Ever wonder if you’re fight or flight? I’m fight, and was reaching for my bear spray as I was waking up. Turns out that the loud banging against my tent was an angry squirrel literally throwing itself against the walls. Why? Dumb animal.
I quickly got ready for the day, had a brief munch, and took off into the increasing heat. Down, down, down the trail went, until I approached a park with a river at the opposing end, where another trail went down to the left and off into the lower lands. What is the name of this river, you don’t ask? Well I’ll tell you! It’s Paint Rock Creek, and you run into it about 5 1/2 miles into the trip. I fished in this area and caught several brook trout, then began the slog uphill, now on trail 038.
This section is far too long to make anyone happy, at least around noon on a hot day, and it seemed to go on and on. I stopped to fish at a few promising pools, and the catch was fine. Then it was up and up and up, and finally I saw Solitude! What a pretty lake.
The right side of the lake looks impassable, but the Forest Service has done incredible work in making this trail. It’s a real feat of engineering. Right before leaving the forest, there’s a stream, so I filled up with some water and then continued on my way for a few minutes.
I ended up stopping because the fishing looked tempting, and I ate a snack as well…at one point, my hook caught my graze-bag and tossed it into the water! GAH!!! I managed to recover everything and all my vacuum sealing was a godsend, as nothing got wet. Talk about freaking me out! BTW, the lake is VERY deep right along the very edge. No way to see the bottom.
Hiking along the trail.
Leaving from my fishing endeavors, I reached the far end and angled to the left, crossing the creek (you have to cross no matter where you are going), which was very cold and swift. I used a magic stick that I found to keep me from falling. By the north corner of the lake were a couple of tents and hammocks. I chose to make my ascent near this area, climbing through the rock piles, and found indications that others had done the same. I had a developing headache, and stopped about every 300 feet. I also ate a Reese’s and a gummy worm about as often…
Ugh. Finally I had climbed about 700 feet and decided to angle to the right, aiming for the low-lying depression that seemed to intercept the river. I ended up having to descend a little bit, and walked through beautiful, flower-laden meadows, with small coniferous trees all around. Gorgeous. I reached the lake/river hybrid and tried my hand at fishing. No joy. Saw some tents in prime camping space on the eastern edge of the lake. From what I can tell, if people are ever in the area before you, you’ll find them inhabiting this area. I wasn’t so blessed, so I headed off on the Western edge. By this time it was about 6 or so, and I just wanted to take my pack off. I found an angled spot that wasn’t great, but it kept me out of view of the other campers, and it was also as far from the water as it was supposed to be. Would have been much nicer closer to the lake.
You have to cross to get to the one spot with really good campsites.
But there were people already there, so…This is where I ended up:
North there were spots with views like this, but too close to the water.
So I had a view more akin to this.
After setting up camp, I explored around the lake, fished, and then climbed up and around the western edge of the adjoining river and lakes, up to the Middle Cloud Peak Lake. The route I went on was obviously not preferable, and there was no way to cross the river, either, without one heck of a swim. This meant that I had to walk a lot farther, and through more brush, than if I’d crossed immediately and gone through the camp of the hooligans I’d seen earlier. Still, it has a spectacular waterfall exiting it, and I climbed the smooth granite dome down which the water flowed, until I got to the lake—I will be back, and with more time to spend in the area. When I do go, I’ll also make a break for Summit Lake, which is close by.
From a little hill, looking toward the MCPL outlet falls.
Had to skirt around this entire little lake to climb the granite slope in the center…with thunder rumbling in the distance. Very pleasant evening, though!
Pretty, little cascade.
Now this would be the ultimate campsite.
The falls before the falls.
Can you see my tent?
Sun sets at my camp.
I fished Middle Cloud Peak, caught the sunset and 10,000,000,000 mosquitoes, and headed back as it grew dark with distant thunder grumbling, getting to my camp at the edge of usable daylight. I filled my water up enough so that I wouldn’t have to get any overnight and then ate dinner. I watched A Quiet Place with Emily Blunt and her husband, which I found more quizzical than scary, but enjoyable nonetheless. Emily’s too pretty. It ruins any fear that the movie tries to instill.
I woke up a year old, a ripe-old 30. A birthday by myself with no one around…a strange feeling, but certainly blessed. I don’t even know when I conked out, but I was up early enough, packed in great time, and fishing on my way down. I decided to descend the main waterfall, which is more treacherous, but dang if I didn’t catch some great goldens before the falls. Shh, don’t tell anyone…
This is the main trail, anyway, though at times hard to find, and slippery. Use caution, especially if you’re alone. I was soon to the main trail, and I thought about climbing up to Mistymoon and back that way, but elected not to, just because I had work the next day, and I’d been behind this whole trip, plus the extra miles didn’t encourage me—I’d do Mistymoon and the rest later on this summer, anyway.
The hike out was pretty dang quick, and the climb back up the mountain was great. And of course I got “lost” and had to re-orient myself with this:
I arrived at my vehicle earlier than I’d left and met a man in his 70s, who was doing a 77-miler rather imminently, and as I changed, he asked me for some route-finding tips for the area, which I gave him; I also told him of the mosquito flocks, which he decided to prepare a bit better for, as well as told him some nice locations to cache food near the trailhead. In return, he told me about the Powell Lakes and the excellent fishing that they have. WHAT A TIP! I was concerned about these lakes as I could find no reviews, and they’re off-trail in a hanging valley, so whether or not they were worth it was an unknown. For information on that trip, see my report!
Easy, gorgeous hike with a killer payoff in the form of peaks and cascades!
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)
With love, always,
—Beauty. From dense forests to verdant parks to soaring spires and cold cascades, this hike has it all, and in a very short distance.
—Camping spots. There are no difficulties finding campsites, but during busier times (weekends), I think that you might have a harder time getting the choice places to park it.
—Crowds. This is a moderately high-use trail system. Expect to see multiple backpacking groups on the main trail. I went mid-week and saw 2 large groups.
—Difficulty. I believe that this is an moderately-strenuous hike. The climb up to the MCPL area is abrupt and very steep. If you’re under the weather or have a headache, it won’t be fun. This section is entirely off-trail. That said, the return out of the wilderness seemed stupidly easy to me, so I believe that my cephalgia was partially responsible for my ranking.
—Fishing. Heh heh.
—History. I saw one interesting, old fence…not much here!