Review: Dickinson Park to Smith, Cloverleaf, Cook, Mendarrin, Middle, & Cathedral Lakes
This hike visits numerous lakes in a short number of miles. It’s quite beautiful and has some huge fish!
- Date of Visit: 11-13 July
- Notable Features: Dickinson Park, Dishpan Butte, Smith Lake, Cloverleaf Lake, Mendarrin Lake, Cook Lake, Middle Lake, Cathedral Lake, Cathedral Peak, Smith Lake Creek, Twin Parks Creek
- Total Miles: ~18 miles
- Elevation Gain/Loss: +/-3175′
- Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 9294, 9747, 10,613′
- General Route: ON TRAIL: Dickinson Park Trailhead/Smith Lake Trailhead ►Smith Lake Trail 715 ► Cook Lake Trail 903 ► Off-trail to Mendarrin Lake ► Cook Lake Trail 903 ► Off-Trail around Middle and Cathedral Lakes ► Return via Trail 715.
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Bula dear…person! I’m going to try and keep this hike narrative pretty short. Mom and I wanted to hike some of the reservation trails and didn’t have too long to do it, so we picked Cathedral Lake. This requires using Dickinson Park out of Lander, which itself requires crossing reservation land. If you cross the land, you have to pay money. We were fine with that, pun intended, and felt that the low-lying nature of Cathedral Lake would be good for hiking so early in the season when so much snow is still present.
Anyway, the Wind River Tribal Reservation requires anyone traveling on or within the boundaries of their land to possess a Wind River Tribal Fishing/Trespass Permit regardless of whether one is fishing or just hiking; this typically includes the following:
- Dickinson Park TH
- Ink Wells TH
- St. Lawrence Basin TH
- Washakie Basin TH
Failure to have a permit will result in severe fines so don’t push your luck. Below are the license costs, though you are obliged to add a special, annual recreation “stamp” ($10) to each of the below prices, with no exceptions:
- Resident Annual $85
- Resident Daily $25
- Resident 7 day $55
- Resident Senior (Age 60+) $35
- Resident Youth (15 thru 17 years old) $10
- Resident Handicap $20
- Non-Resident Annual $125
- Non-Resident 1 day $30
- Non-Resident 7 day $80
- Non-Resident Senior Annual $60
- Non-Resident Youth $25
- Non-Resident Handicap $20
We got ours at the Wild Iris. You can buy yours online from them at this page so that you don’t have to waste time when you get into town—show up and pick up.
Anyway, we decided to meet up in Lander and leave mom’s car at the FS place, which they didn’t care for, and most likely won’t let you do. We gave them big ol’ deer eyes and it worked.
⤑Day 1, 11 July: Dickinson Park to Cloverleaf Lake
The drive up to Dickinson Park is long but very pretty, with bald, scalloped hills giving way to high forests. The road isn’t terrible, but the initial section isn’t made for speed. We’d left Lander around 2PM (my house was very far away) and got to the trailhead at 4PM. Only one section of road was sketchy, and even that wasn’t too bad—just some severe ruts from mud. Do make sure that you take the left in the forest just past Bald Mountain, though, or you’ll end up at Moccasin Lake.
The trailhead itself has only very primitive parking (picture at end) and no other features. Immediately by it is Twin Lakes Creek in a pretty meadow, though it was putting off tons of mosquitoes. Thankfully there was an awesome bridge over the marsh. On the other side I found my favorite flower! Do you know what it is? A valley in Montana is named after it.
Ok, so let me describe the trail! We started off in a bald section and went uphill into a very arid, dusty forest; the uphill climb lasted for a mile and only went up 372 feet, but the day was hot, so we both felt it. We then went along a mostly-flat section that meanders through boulders and trees and was, in my words, “so ugly I could stab my eyes out.” The view from the top is off, as you’ll see Sanford Park, and it looks like you should be going there. You won’t! That’s a river of deception and leads up toward Wind River Peak. (I saw it during my trip up Wind River Peak, in fact, and had a chuckle.) Anyway, don’t let the beautiful valley ahead trick you. You’ll be heading off to the “right” basically 90 degrees and up a different drainage, which you will not have views of from above.
We began descending and at mile 2 reached some switchbacks. Outfitters on their horses were headed up, so we stepped to the side. The lead rider stopped to talk with us, and as we were chatting, her rear mule lost its mind, snapping off from the train and pulling the rope off of itself. It then bolted uptrail. The gal we were talking to, though, seemed mostly unfazed.
- The lowest point!
2.4 miles in we reached what would sadly be the lowest point of the hike (I hate having to do a bunch of uphill on the return of any hike, but even more when it’s ugly), but at least there was a little creek running at this time of year. We got water from it because it was still so dang hot, and then continued on, which was sadly another bump in elevation that we then lost right afterward.
- Not a gorgeous trail by most standards.
The trail is immensely ugly with only a couple of redeeming features, and those features are very large rocks. It avoids the creek whose drainage it shares in favor of sticking to the ugly pines. At mile 4-ish we reached the trail intersection to Sanford Park, though we couldn’t really discern it. This trail is also known as “High Meadow Trail 712” and takes one to another trail that goes to High Meadow and Cliff Lakes. From what I could discern, going all the way to Cook Lake (as we did) and doing a small section of orienteering is probably the most scenic way to access those lakes.
Anyway, at the intersection there’s a park and a creek, so we again got water. It was growing into the evening and we still had quite a ways left to go! The trail continued to be ugly, with only large boulders providing any scenery. Shy of 5 miles we came to the weirdest little…creek? Pond? Water feature? It was ugly and filled with dead trees. We crossed it and got our first view of Smith Lake at 5.4 miles. The far end of the lake had one heck of an amazing waterfall—actually, it has 3 inlets! This time of year they were impressive, and we considered camping towards the waterfalls, but there seemed to be nothing but steep hillsides there. The trail itself continues by the lakeside for about 1000 feet and is also a bit steep, though you can find plenty of spots to put up a camp. We only saw one group of campers down by the lake. They were bravely close to the water given the ranger vehicles at the trailhead! ($80 fine I think.)
- Smith Lake. That waterfall is from Cook Lake! However, it has 3 inlet falls.
After walking through forests for a few minutes, we climbed to the intersection of trails about 160 feet above the lake. Here you can go straight and around the north side of Middle Lake (Smith…Middle…Cathedral…someone wasn’t creative), or take the branch trail toward Cook Lake. We took the branch and came to the Middle Lake outlet almost immediately, and boy was it roaring. After about 10 minutes, we made it across, but it was sketchy.
- Intersection and then views of Smith Lake and the mountain behind Cloverleaf Lake from a high point.
Unfortunately, we’d wandered far from the trail and ended up on the hill overlooking Cloverleaf Lake. We heard some people and saw a couple of folks fishing at the west side, far from us. Dang it! As we descended, we smelled cooking food, too, so I think that these folks had been resupplied by the outfitters. It made me hungry!
- Cloverleaf outlet area.
Navigating Cloverleaf’s outlet was very simple, and we crossed on rocks, ending up on a huge iceberg of snow, which we climbed up. No one was along this eastern area, and we couldn’t see or hear anyone. At 8:30, we found ourselves camping closer to the water than I’d like, but snowpack in the trees left us no choice. As we set up camp and got firewood, the sunset was awesome, though I didn’t manage to get many very nice photos. (My phone was pretty bad at the time!) I also did some fishing, but released the critters as mom said she didn’t feel like cleaning and cooking them.
- Stages of sunset at our camp.
The mosquitoes weren’t bad yet, so I got naked outside and cleaned off while mom cleaned inside the tent. The night was quite cool and very quiet, with no wind.
Day 1 totals: 6.4 miles, +1392/-783′, 9296′ min/9600 avg/9995 max.
⤑Day 2: Mendarrin Lake and Camp at Cathedral Lake (My day of birth!)
This was our hardest day, though also the shortest. It wasn’t really difficult, but we made a lot more work for ourselves than we needed.
Mom got up with the sun, and I got up slightly after. We decided to leave our tent and only use my pack, and to head up for Mendarrin Lake to the west, not knowing what we’d find. The trail continues to Cook Lake, but we weren’t on it and didn’t try to find it, instead heading toward a small granite knob that we could see. We soon found that we were indeed on the trail…which had been hidden by snow. Ha! Oops. What a place to camp, huh?
We climbed the granite knob easily and got a nice view of the drainage, but if you’re not in the view, you should just stick to the trail. Past this we messed up! I thought that the drainage proper would be hideous riparian zone, or akin to Clear Lake out of Green River Lakes, so I told mom that we should stay on our contour line.
- Cook Lake, mom, and Cloverleaf+Smith Lake
We did, and it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was way too slopy and filled with intermittent boulder piles, Right before Mendarrin, we ended up going way up a dumb cliff (my map made it look like it wouldn’t be bad) and came out 200 feet above the lake. Thankfully we found a water source up there, because we were both thirsty from being in the hot sun with no breeze. The walk down did provide a ton of places you could camp…well, not at the time of year we were there, because they were covered in about 4-5 feet of compacted snow. Getting over all that was a total blast. Not really.
- Looking back at Cook Lake and mom. Snow near Mendarrin Lake.
We reached Mendarrin 2 hours after leaving camp, which was far too long for the distance. The lake itself was spectacular. To the south were waterfalls and we saw granite ramps that we could walk up if we wanted to ascend the mountain (maybe a good path to do Big Sandy-Washakie-Cathedral-Dickinson), which I stored in my mind for future use. The solid granite outcroppings always put me into something of a trance, so I stared at them for a while, and then got to fishing. Mom lazed on a rock, snacking on jerky, while I caught a number of trout with ease! I would love to return to this lake at a later time, because it’s truly quite gorgeous, though Cloverleaf was nothing to sneeze at, either! In fact, really, all of the lakes here were decent, with Cook and Middle being the least pretty, I’d say.
- Mendarrin Lake and some waterfalls. Also, if you look at the picture of me, you’ll see that I’m insanely physically attractive.
We made our way back down the outlet looking for a use trail, but there was just far too much snow on the ground, so we did a bunch of slipping and sliding. For the most part we followed the river, deviating from it when it was easier to do that. At 10,250′ we came to a small pond, and just beyond that the snow was suddenly gone (how does that work, from many feet to nothing), with a pleasant, flat area of granite over which the creek flowed. It was at this area that we crossed over since it seemed easier, and we’d still found no trail on our side. A couple of hundred feet beyond we came to some cascades, and decided to cross back again, since there was an easy area of rocks to hop.
- The intermediate area between Mendarrin and Cook.
We followed the trail past Cook Lake, but it wasn’t pretty and I didn’t get pictures of the lake itself. There were plenty of outfitter-style places to camp for some reason, as you can see in the picture above. I’m not sure why, since it really didn’t have much going for it.
Back at camp we packed up and headed toward Cathedral Lake. My mom has hiked along the mountain itself with our engineering friends, Hank and Peggy, but I’ve never had the chance. She describes it as miserable. Speaking of miserable, how about that creek crossing? We both decided that we’d rather stick to the southern edge of Middle and Cathedral Lakes as we made our way up, rather than having to cross that crapshow again. (It was really, really not fun, if I haven’t made that clear!)
I don’t know that this was the right choice, because the woods were thick and loaded with snow, which slowed us to a crawl. The trees were the sort that have annoying branches that stab and rib at you, and post-holing crotch deep did little to improve either of our moods. We eventually got a reprieve and broke out into an area of dry shoreline, which was glorious to walk on. That lasted for about 400 feet, and we were then forced back into the woods nearing the area between the lakes. We spied a bunch of old folks across the lake lounging in hammocks which made us both very happy!
- The creatively-named “Middle Lake.” To the left of the somewhat central mountain mass is a high point, which is Cathedral Peak. Also shown are the old folks and the Bears Ears area, which I find geologically fascinating, as I’ve mentioned in other narratives. A physician from Lander told my mom that the Bears Ears trail, however, is designed by sadists.
Cathedral Lake, when we finally arrived, was enough to floor anyone. Although the “Cathedral” above the lake isn’t actually Cathedral Peak (which is farther back and almost 1000-feet higher), it was a stunning bit of geology. I can’t describe how much I loved it. The lake itself was quite deep and flat-out flooded with the biggest trout that I’d seen in Wyoming…really too big for my line!
After my excitement wore down, we had to find a place to camp. There was a lush, green lawn leading up to the lake, but we’re law-abiders when possible, so we looked around the trees. The issue was the amount of snowpack. We really wanted to flaunt the regulations, but we decided to be good and camp by a huge snow mound. It was slowly melting, which meant that the floor of the tent would be wet and thus colder, though the inside would be fine. Look at us, taking one for the USFS!
- Progression of the evening at Cathedral Lake. What. A. Blessing! Thank you, Lord!
Before 8PM we had a huge fire going, and sadly the mosquitoes here were fairly aggressive. I waited until after dark to get naked and bathe, since they’d have eaten my bare butt alive prior to nightfall. After we were both bathed, we soaked up the campfire heat and I got pictures of the night sky.
- What a night! As you can see, we were sandwiched between trees and snow. Some of the trees we had to move.
Sadly, my Thermarest Trail Scout had developed a hole, so my sleep wasn’t as luxurious as the previous night! Thankfully, I’m a true pack-mule and had brought my Klymit Static V Insulated Ultralight (which I later gave away, as I don’t care for the Klymits), which is much smaller than my mom’s Klymit Static V Insulated. Attempts to repair my Trail Scout weren’t fruitful, but it still provided some extra loft, and it wasn’t a really bad experience, as I’ve had when an inflatable pad has had a catastrophic failure in other scenarios. Anyway, it was a pretty nice night.
Day 2 totals: 4.2 miles, +969/-979′, 9933′ min/10161 avg/10613 max.
⤑Day 3: Egress
Yay, a day where everything was pretty much uneventful, meaning that I don’t have too much to type. We packed up and headed out despite the geology attempting to put me into a drooling daze–see picture below, and I’m typing this on a split Kinesis keyboard with no numpad, so I can’t do em dashes at the moment.
The crossing between lakes was filled with trout and was best accomplished closer to Cathedral Lake, which I gladly did. Our feet were really dang numbed by the experience, though. Just beyond the crossing we found a very old sign announcing our location, as well as the trail proper.
At the western tip of Middle Lake, near the inlet, we stopped to fish. I’ve got to return, because the size of the trout was just flooring. They liked my Red Devil spoon the best, but sadly one grabbed it, snapped the line, and spat out the lure! I couldn’t believe it! Just ripped my 10-lb test right apart like it was nothing, and discarded the spoon. The lake was much too cold for me to try and swim out and dive for it, so that was our sign to pack up and return at another time.
The trail along the edge of the lake was a bit vague, with people trying different paths around large boulders and other obstacles, but we had no extreme difficulty. The northwestern section of the lake had a small creek coming into it, as well as a large open clearing that people were utilizing for camping, though we didn’t see any actual people (the entire day). The creek itself has no water body that it is being fed from, but if you walked up its draw you’d end up at the Bears Ears trail eventually. I might one day orienteer it over it Dutch Over Lake, if I’m so blessed.
- The intersection that I told you NOT to take when writing about day 1, along with the lack of trail. It does take you to High Meadow Lake…well…I mean, there’s no trail, so I don’t know what “it” is. Last two pictures are Dickinson Park, named after Sarah Lefore.
We took the same trail out that we took in, and spent only 7 hours from packing up to getting to the trailhead. Given that we fished some…well, yeah, we still basically moseyed and puttered. The climb at the end was of course horrible and hot, and I’m going to admit that we cut off some distance by going cross country for a bit. We also stopped for some pictures on the drive out! I got home past midnight and worked the next day.
Day 3 totals: 7 miles, +817/-1427′, 9294′ min/9636 avg/9985 max.
➤Conclusion and Rating
The trail in is so ugly that I’m knocking a star off of the rating, but I otherwise truly appreciated what this short hike had to offer. The lakes were very pretty and it had the best fishing in the Winds! I’m going to go back with something better than 10-lb test, which just wasn’t enough for the trout in Cathedral or Middle Lakes.
- My scientific rating system. I liked really this hike, and wished that I’d had more time to spend on it.
- Beauty. The hike in is dusty and ugly, but the payoffs are worth it.
- Camping spots. There were enough that we didn’t have to worry.
- Crowds. This is not a popular area given the trail in and the fees, so it’s not crowded.
- Difficulty. Moderate, mainly due to ennui. Trails that are ugly are harder.
- Fishing. God bless America.
- History. No.
If you have any questions, comments, or anything else, feel free to post below. I’m here to serve you, so let me know if this wasn’t helpful, or if there’s anything I can do to make this better.
10 thoughts on “Review: Dickinson Park to Smith, Cloverleaf, Cook, Mendarrin, Middle, & Cathedral Lakes”
Thank you for your beautiful pictures. They bring back a lot of fond memories I’ve been doing this trip since I was 12 and I’m 76 now so have seen a lot of changes to trail. Started off MUCH worse got much better now is reverting to a seldom used trail. Do you mind if I use one of your picts as a basis for a attempt to paint a picture of cathedral lake. Thanks again. Dave
Your comment made my day! I would be honored if you used the picture as a reference, in fact. I’ve always wished that I were good at art, but alas, I’ve never had the talent, nor have I been able to pick it up when I’ve tried.
I am also delighted to hear that you are still going. I plan on taking my little kid with me for her first trips into the Winds this summer. I hope that we get to experience it for many years to come, and that she gets such great memories, as you have!
Thanks Luke. I will try and see if I can do justice to your pics. They are beautiful and bring back a lot of memories. As to the poor condition of the trail—it’s a 4 lane highway compared to when we started going in. The bridge across the swamp was not there—you had to hike all the way around the north side. At the top of the first hill you went off to the right and then down the golden stairs—about 1/2 mile straight down. About 1/4mile before the Smith lake/high meadows trail intersection the trail disappeared into another swamp. To cross you had to do the grass tuff to grass tuft hop. But it was worth it. Fishing was fantastic 1st time at smith 20 casts 19 brookies caught. Meridian lake was not named then ( just blank name on topo maps) so we named it glacier amongst ourselves. It had 2# to 5# brooks in it. (No lake trout or mackinaw in it). Over time it got fished out but now is slowly getting some fish back in it—I guess from “no name lake just before it. Very few people fished the cook—no name—meridian arm. They tended to Stay on the middle—cathedral arm. My family tend to go in over July 4th about every 3 to 4 yrs. Was planning on going in this yr but life got in the way so maybe next yr. To old to walk it with 100 lb packs so going to use horses if we do it in the future. It’s hard to believe Heaven is going to be better than the beauty of that area. Thanks again dave
That is incredible to hear about all the changes. I’m very glad that the marsh hopping is gone, though. Sometimes I think that the changes aren’t for the better (government getting rid of the high-trail along Green River Lakes, for example, when that trail was much more direct and easier to walk if you were going up toward Slide or Clear Lakes), but this one sounds great. When my mom is a little older, we will probably start taking horses, too. I have gotten her total pack weight down to about 18lbs for a 5-day trip, though, so it’s not as rough as it used to be. I remember growing up having to boil water or create little catchments from springs. In a lot of ways, we sure have it easy these days.
And as for the brookies, I swear that if you just have a tenkara rod and a fly, you’ll never go hungry in the Winds! I am probably going to start taking some hot sauce packets and tortillas so my Latina wife can eat fish tacos in the wilderness!
Love your critique of the Smith Lake and Cathedral Trail trailheads – appreciate the turn-offs for touri – helps weed a few out. Some of the easiest hiking trails in the Winds with some of the best scenery (even if they’re saying otherwise). The better the secret the longer it remains ours.
Ben, thank you for visiting this page. I need to spend more time on the Eastern side of the Winds, but won’t be able to for some time as my daughter is still too young for the mileage required in my limited time off, at least with the drive from my home. Instagram and TikTok (maybe, don’t use it) seem to drive the crowds, which I suppose, if anything, I prefer. From what I can tell, they all still want the cred that comes with staking out Titcomb and the Cirque, though my last visit to the Cirque found it abandoned, even.
Also, though I don’t get many visitors, I have been surprised by a few emails telling me that places I didn’t like were pleasant to them. Makes me happy!
Great review and photos. I’ve done this same hike on several occasions but it’s been over 20 years now. Did you have cell phone reception on the trail and around the lakes? Thanks.
Dusten, we both had Verizon but neither of us got any service there. I suspect we would have if we’d climbed higher somewhere, but the highest we got was in our poorly planned ingress to Mendarrin.
Great write up! How is the road into Dickinson Park. I hear it can be pretty rough.
Dan, thank you. I still haven’t had this one proofread (slowly getting around to them all). The road is decent until the last mile or so, and even then it can be just fine as long as rain hasn’t led to horrible bogging. It can also get tough after the mud hardens. We had to go “around” one section of road when we were there, as it was completely trashed out, but USFS vehicle we saw did the same, as well as all the others.