Located in a high-use area with special restrictions, this is still a great, easy overnighter if you can manage to go when others won’t—such as in bad weather!
➤ Quick Facts
This is a very quick hike that is allegedly quite popular, and that makes sense given that it’s beautiful and easy. I was blessed to be up there when it was totally quiet and had the place to myself. I ended up there instead of Cancun as none of my friends would go with me (to either place), and I decided that I didn’t want to do Cancun by myself. Of course, going to Cancun was literally something I solicited a week in advance, so…
Special, restrictive regulations apply to Lost Twin Lakes, which are more burdensome than those found in the Wind River Range. My National Geographic Trails Illustrated topo map laid out the areas which were most burdensome, as well as how regulations vary in different parts of this range. Be aware of them; at least one post I’ve seen was from a ranger who said that he spent 3 hours looking for a violation that he smelled. 😉 (But be respectful, regardless of whether or not there are rangers.)
I had a very long drive to the trailhead, and didn’t get in until 5:30PM. The day was incredibly cold and rainy, and I really wasn’t looking forward to trekking out into the mountains late in the day in a pounding downpour, and then getting socked with snow as it got colder. I saddled myself up and got hiking, but the rains sucked. Instead of heading up to Lost Twin Lakes, I checked out West Tensleep Lake and didn’t go too far, as it just started raining harder. I decided that I’d just take a drive down to Tensleep to see if I could find myself some dinner, but the bar was closed. Shucks. Oh well.
On the way back up the canyon, I explored side roads looking for a Jeep camping spot, but they were entirely taken. Shoot. I ended up driving back up toward the trailhead and finding a nice spot to pull off that was hidden in the trees. My dinner for the night was an MRE, “black beans in seasoned sauce,” which I personally will kill for. It snowed a little, but I stayed nice and warm in my Jeep!
⤑Day 1: West Tensleep Trailhead to Lost Twin Lakes
It was cold and rainy in the morning, so I kept to my sleeping bag. The weather I’d gotten in Shell had said that today would end up with intermittent thunderstorms, so I decided to wait for the “intermittent” to begin, rather than start in the “persistent” phase.
Around 11, the constant rain stopped, so I drove the couple of miles up to the trailhead and got ready to go. It was still drizzling, so I put on my rainpants and jacket and headed to the trailhead, grabbing the mandatory paper (you have to have it with you at all times) from the box. The Lost Twin Lakes trail immediately diverges to the right from the trail up toward Bomber Mountain, which I’ve also done. The first mile or so was gradual uphill along a ridge, and, lucky me, it stopped raining and I quickly overheated, so I ended up taking off all of my raingear. Then I plunged down to a little park by a creek, though the trail mostly avoids the meadow. At the end of the meadow there’s a great waterfall, and I stopped to get pictures of it, plus caught a few, nice-sized trout, which I returned to the water.
To my chagrin, it was then time to tromp uphill, and there weren’t too many switchbacks. At least there was a consistent forest to keep me cool. It wasn’t exactly hot, but the humidity was pretty stifling, given that I’m not used to it. After gaining almost 500 feet in 3/4 of a mile, the trail overlooks the river that it just left, which spills off into a canyon (and thus taking the high road, so to speak) from a park where it’s very slow. Again the trail avoids the meadows, but they’re very beautiful. There are many places to camp along the entire hike, which is nice if you’re getting in late. I hadn’t known that, and given that it had snowed before, I wouldn’t have done it anyway, but it’s good to know for future use.
- A convenient rock.
After the little park, I went through a section of trees and came to a creek crossing right below Mirror Lake; I stopped on the far side of the stream to have a lemon poppyseed poundcake MRE. They’re heavy but yummy, and since my dinner the previous night had been short on calories, I was a bit hungry. It was good, and the stop gave my feet a chance to dry before I put my shoes back on.
Mirror Lake has innumerable places to camp and was quite charming, and also happened to be where I saw my first gaggle of people. By gaggle, I mean that I saw a couple of people in the trees along the shoreline who appeared to be dayfishers. Good for them! Mirror Lake itself is really part of a different drainage (the two connect in the previous park) than Lost Twin Lakes, so after looking at it for a bit, I made my way slightly downhill to the next park, which is from the Lost Twin drainage. I explored a tiny bit before deciding to go on uphill; the trail again ascended to avoid a narrowing of the creek, but the walking was incredibly easy, and reminded me of Afghanistan. As you kind of “top out” at this area, it’s easy to see to your left (northwest) that you can hop over some hills. If you did, at the top you’d find some nice ponds to camp by, and on the other side is Mirror Lake’s drainage.
I didn’t have time for that, because I had decided to move on to the park immediately ahead, where I fished for some time, battling mosquitoes and other bugs for the attention of the brookies. Being brookies, they hit like mad. I finally packed up as it started to rumble and drizzle. It was only about 4:30, so I wasn’t too worried about time.
1/2 a mile later, I was at another park, and here I got myself a little confused about where to cross. I don’t know why, but I just let myself get very “into” finding a spot to cross that I could just jump, and wandered away from the trail. I wasn’t lost, but I did have to wonder why I’d wandered! Ha. Anyway, the creek here actually leads up a “dead” drainage (that is, it has no lake, and just dries out amidst rocks), and if you followed it, you’d end up at a hill overlooking Lake Angeline, which I’ve hiked, and which has great fishing. It might be worth it to tack on if you have two cars and can shuttle yourself. Frozen Lakes nearby, however, really suck, and I’ve done them and 7 Brothers Lakes, too. 7 Brothers is pretty and has fish, but Frozen Lakes…well, whoooo-boy, watch yourself there.
Regardless, I crossed, made my way back the trail, and then began the uphill climb. Eventually the trail comes out overlooking another park (they’re everywhere) and chooses to descend but yet again avoid actually going to the meadow. However, the granite batholiths over Lost Twin Lakes are what suddenly steal the show, and I stood transfixed for some time. Of some note, you could go down and cross the creek near this park, walking up the granite slabs, and save yourself a little bit of distance and elevation. The trail, however, cuts off to one’s left, then climbs a hill. At the top of the hill I had my first view of the lower of Lost Twin Lakes, though the upper lake was mostly obscured by a large, granite knoll. I dillydallied for a second, but saw no one by the lower lake, and decided that I’d rather camp there, where I could see nice, flat, grassy lawns, knowing that I’d be alone, than go up to the unknown.
I clambered down through the brush thickets and there wasn’t a great trail to be found, so I just kind of picked my way down as best I could. The weather was worsening on the horizon, so I got water and then quickly set up my tent. After setting it up, I realized that it was in a depression, so I moved it a little closer to the lake on a higher spot. As I was getting it staked in, the rain began to pelt down, and it was no warm, “Jaw-ja” rain, let me tell you. I got inside the tent and used the steam from my Jetboil Minimo stove to warm up my frozen hands, as they were wet and cold enough by this time that I was having a hard time moving them.
As I ate a delicious brownie, I read some lit on my phone, which helped the time pass. I started listening to a podcast, but the storm chose to produce a ton of sleet and small hail! Gah! At least no water was getting in my tent, or even above its splashguard. I was trapped for 40 minutes, but just after 7 the storm broke. I waited a bit and most of the ice melted, and then I exited the tent. It was quite dang cold out, but also beautiful as the sun sank through the clouds, far in the distance. Due to the elevation and the “ramp” that the Bighorns form over the plains beneath them, the sun can seem to set at a very “low” spot on the horizon.
- Above, the various stages of coming darkness, plus an illicit fire ring. I did not make a fire, as it is against the regs for the area. 🙂
I grabbed a number of pictures and fished, though the latter was to no avail. Fine! I’m a quitter. Having tried to fish, I left that and got my Jetboil going again to towel myself off, plus I made TRIPLE DINNER!
It was FRIGID, but I was the only one at the lakes, so I was able to get naked and really clean up good—I didn’t get to the prior evening. After it got dark, I got some night shots, too, as the clouds were vanishing to the east. By 1000 I was tucked happily in bed. It rained intermittently.
- Nighttime time-lapse at Lost Twin Lakes.
⤑Day 2: Hike Out
The morning dawned cloudy and frigid, so I stayed in my tent and ate until it warmed up a bit. I was curious about hiking to the tops of the mountains, which would plague me all day at the lakes, but after getting out my fishing gear…well, hey, can’t beat a man for sticking with the fish, right? I was catching fish one after the other!
Having let my tent air out, I packed things up and moved the gear over by a rock ledge past the outlet of the lake, so that anyone who came along wouldn’t think that I was staying there, and thus feel the need to camp elsewhere. Then I headed up along the creek that comes down from the trail, and then wandered along the granite knob, trying to avoid going up more than I had to, as I always hate needless elevation gain. In this case, it just made my life worse. Oh well.
- Tent to traverse.
Upper Lost Twin Lake was STUNNING! The sheer cliffs were also incredible. Floored, that’s what I was. The fishing there was even better, with flat rock that plunged immediately into depths that were deeper than oblivion…and still I had the place all to myself. Talked about blessed by God! Wow! As I fished, I learned about a man who keeps a “frop bog,” by which he meant a frog bog, and also someone called Richard the Birdman of Florida. The conversations on the podcasts were actually about video games, but I found the anecdotes of their personal lives to be highly entertaining. I wandered along the edge of the lake until I reached a little stream that comes in, and then followed that up toward the higher ground.
- Upper Lost Twin Lake.
It was getting close to 4PM, so I needed to hike out. It was really too late for me climb up the mountain and then hike the 5.3 miles out and THEN also drive all the way back to my home (so many hours), so I decided to just grab my gear and go. As I walked along the higher, flat area, I came to a little pond and was attacked by birds. What the heck?
I couldn’t bat them away as they were quite fast, so I just left the area. The waterfall near the “trail” down to the lower lake provided water, and I was somewhat concerned about the lack of clouds, as I didn’t have sunblock, but I felt ok thanks to my hat. When I got back to my gear, lo and behold, no one was there. Given how popular everyone says that this trailhead is, and how many cars I’ve routinely seen at the trailhead, I’m still floored that I was alone.
The walk out was pretty easy. Above the park near Mirror Lake, I saw two guys who were resting. They both stared at me as I passed in a somewhat odd fashion…I felt like I had a bird on my head or something! (People typically stare at me given that birds try to rest on my head.) [Note: the person I paid to proofread this messaged me: “I feel like you were hungry when you wrote this one.” That’s correct.] Back at the Mirror Lake crossing, I sat down on the handy rock that I’d used before and ate a poundcake. As I was eating, a very pretty girl stopped and said hello, and then crossed. We left around the same time, with her in front, and I would intermittently see her in the distance. She had no pack on and appeared to be day-hiking. Since I needed to hurry, I tried to somewhat match her pace, though I don’t know if I did. She was doing at least 3.2 MPH, though, and I felt a bit sore from it afterward. I don’t like going quite that fast.
I arrived at my Jeep at around 6:45PM. The drive back home was awesome, with incredible thunderstorms as dusk came.
➤Conclusion and Rating
This hike was really nice as an overnighter, though I hear that usually it has crowds. I really don’t think that it’s worth more than an overnight unless you do one of the nights at Mirror Lake, or you pop over to Lake Angeline. Still, for my experience, it was a total blast, so I rate it 5 stars!
- My scientific rating system. I absolutely loved this hike.
- Beauty. Although something of a one-trick pony, it’s indisputably gawjus!
- Camping spots. There are numerous places to camp, though I feel that the lake itself probably gets crowded.
- Crowds. 0 people at the lake when I was there, but these lakes allegedly get so many people that you have to abide by special, restrictive regulations.
- Difficulty. Easy for anyone who routinely hikes.
- Fishing. Ja! Ja! Fisch!
- History. Not any of which I’m aware.
I’d love to help you do more with that time of yours, and I’m here to serve you! Let me know if this wasn’t useful, or if I can improve in any way.