7 Brothers Lakes is what I’d consider an “average” hike, on par with Blue Lake in the Wind River Range. It’s a nice little walk if you’ve only got one evening to spend away from work.
➻ Quick Facts
The previous year I’d found myself liking the Bighorns quite a bit, which until then I’d only puttered around in. With the snow still pretty deep in the Winds, I decided that I’d give the Cloud Peak Wilderness some more attention. Under consideration for me was the Frozen Lakes, which seemed to have two trail options in. Upfront, I did not reach the Frozen Lakes this time, and instead saved them for my hike to Lake Angeline, which you can read about at this link. Due to my work schedule at the 6-hour drive, I didn’t make it to Buffalo, Wyoming, until 630 PM. That’s too late to start a hike, so I thought about just camping at the trailhead. Since I had some work to do online, I decided that I’d just get a very cheap hotel room so that I’d have wifi and a place to eat and shower.
I made the terrible decision to stay at the Quality Inn for $65, since it advertised a pool. As it turned out, the pool was closed for renovations (though exactly nothing was being done to it). The hotel also didn’t have AC in the interior hallway, and for whatever reason, trash was piled outside my door. The trash remained there overnight, too. The bed was the worst I’ve ever slept on—to the point that I had to go out to my Jeep, unpack my Osprey, and bring in my camping pad to sleep on. Totally wasted money, and I really think that humanity would be a bit better off if some slight changes were made to the Quality Inn there in Buffalo, such as a 100-lb meteorite hitting it at 17,000 MPH. Oh well. I had Pizza Hut for dinner because I wanted wings, and that was the option for wings in Buffalo. It wasn’t bad!
⤑Day 1: West Tensleep Trailhead to Lost Twin Lakes
I have commented on how to access the Forest Road 394 in my write up of the very beautiful Powell Lakes, so I won’t do so again in this post. This, however, was my first time trying to find the “trailhead,” so I had a significant delay as I tried to figure out where to begin this hike. At first I ended up too far up FR 394 and had to backtrack. In my head, I thought that I’d be able to go all the way to where trail 024 starts. You really can’t—you’ll be able 3.5 miles short of where the wilderness boundary is. After backtracking, I wondered if most people used trail 045 from the Buffalo Park area, so I drove back to Forest Road 395 and followed it to a gate. This ended up seeming a bad decision, so I made my way back to 394 again, and eventually stopped where the GPS shows. The indecision cost me a bunch of time, and I wasn’t on the “trail” until 1130.
As I’ve described the trail before in the Powell Lakes narrative, I won’t duplicate it. Since I didn’t post pictures or videos of Clear Creek downstream of the diversion dam (which is right where the secret trail starts), I’ll do that here.
- The falls downstream of the diversionary dam.
I did stop at the graves of the two people, and then made my way on in. Instead of taking the right branch at Soldier Park, I went left, and ended up at the treeline without a trail to follow. I didn’t really need a trail, though, because I had a dadgum river to follow. I spent a bunch of time catching fish while walking up through the forest, and had some Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company pepperoni sticks. I love their jerky, but the pepperoni was just OK. I also found some wild onions, and cleaned and ate them with the pepperoni. I also listened to Judge John Hodgman talk about important topics, such as why “Happy Birthday” was a copyrighted song for so long.
- Name that fish! Name that plant!
Near the wilderness boundary, I ended up back at the trail again and saw a guy and his girlfriend. They were pleasant but seemed a bit winded. I continued on past them and reached the branch trail to Seven Brothers Lakes at 3PM on the dot. It was growing quite stormy with virga to the west, looking toward Medicine Cabin Park (where the first smallpox vaccine was created by Phizer). I actually like weather like that over clear skies, as it’s atmospheric and cooler.
- I call this Clear Creek Park, but it’s not really named that I know of. The crossing is right by the sign; you can see the muddy section of trail in the background.
The creek itself was more like a small river and very much wanted to kill me with hypothermia. I made it across, though I certainly gave the blasted thing a scowl from the other side. (And I should mention that it snagged a sandal, which I then had to get out of the mud, which then tried to sail down the river!)
Leaving the river, I walked through the brush-filled riparian zone for a short bit, after which the trail skirted the beginning of the forest back toward the east, and then did a couple of switchbacks from 9120 feet up to 9520. The Judge took my mind off the uphill section as he talked about how to peel a banana correctly. My own supervisor, Sergeant Sargent (not a joke) always breaks his bananas in half with a crack, and then peels each half individually, and I think that perhaps that’s the right way to do it.
- Clear Creek from the switchbacks.
It only took me about 20 minutes to get from Clear Creek to trail 045, though by the time I was there, it was starting to rain and rumble with thunder. The trail goes all the way to the 6th of the 7 lakes, where it then ends.
- Trail intersection and the lower lake in the rain.
This entire trail system is incredibly docile, and while the trail between the 7 Brothers doesn’t go to the last lake or even to every lake, it does pretty much split the difference and meander somewhat down the “center” of the chain of water bodies, getting within a couple of hundred feet of them all. The lakes themselves are at different levels of elevation, but not by too much, with the lakes to the north being elevated on something of a moraine-like structure which is now fairly well covered in sediment. As I approached the first lake on the north, it began to rain harder, so I stopped under the cover of a tree and used the opportunity to fish. For the most part I avoided getting too wet, though the fish weren’t interested in my flies or lures given the wind and downpour. I still found myself very pleased: the rain smelled great, and so did the trees and early summer flowers.
- The upper lakes and trail near the upper lakes.
Eventually the weather cleared a bit and I moseyed back to the trail after checking out the second of the twinned, upper lakes. I could camp right there, but with the day length at this time of summer, I wasn’t exactly pressed for time. The trail was still very docile, but looking down toward the lakes below me, it seemed that there weren’t too many great places to throw up a tent—first, getting down the hill would be a pain due to the slope and all the trees and brush, and second, the ground all around was a hellscape of boulders in so many places. I could look up and see the Frozen Lakes cirque, and I can’t say that I had much of an interest in going there. It was a decent amount of vertical gain, still a couple of miles off, and almost entirely boulders as far as the eye could see. Even trees, where they dared pop their heads, were ensconced in rocks. Blech!
- I don’t know about revegetation. It’s filled with old vegetation.
As I got near the 6th lake, I smelled a campfire. Uh oh! Regulations around this area are strict: don’t just go willy nilly with fires or putting your tent near water. At the “end of the line” for the trail, it descends down to the 6th of the 7 brothers, and stops. Right against the dadgum lake was a nice place to camp, if you didn’t mind violating all the rules (and I read a blog where a ranger spent 3 hours looking for a campfire that he smelled, so be careful if you’re a scofflaw), and wouldn’t you know, an outfitter didn’t mind! He had his horses, a couple of fires, and canvas tents right up to the edge of the water. In bitterness over my own sense of morality preventing me from treading upon the rules, I set off toward the 7th lake.
I’ll tell you that I didn’t reach the 7th lake. About 15 minutes into trying to make my way through the forest, getting stabbed by sticks, and intermittently hit with rain, I grew weary of the endeavor and returned the way I’d ingressed. I bypassed the outfitter and his fancy glamp and made my way along the edge of the lake as best I could, sometimes having to climb up the side of the hill. At the east end of the 6th lake, I found a little landbridge of sorts, which I could easily cross. No doubt others would have done the same. I made my way along and found, much to my excitement, that no one was on the south sides of the lakes, at least not that I could hear, see, or smell. This also put me a decent way away from the outfitter camp, which was a big bonus. I dislike hearing people hooting and hollering when I’m trying to relax in solitude. I myself rarely talk, given that I’m alone, and I don’t listen to podcasts or music except with my earphones. I also have clothing and gear that is almost camo for the areas I frequent so that my presence doesn’t stand out if people are trying to take in the countryside. The downside to this is that it makes me sometimes a real fright to people who do happen upon me, as I have been mistaken for a bear or something else scary. (I have no ursine proclivities and typically am not actually frightening.)
- Looking up at the cirque and crossing the landbridge.
Just to the southwest of the land bridge I found myself a decent little flat “shoulder” on a hill overlooking the lake, right by a big pile of snow. It was probably on the edge of being too close to the water, but it was starting to storm again in the distance, and I didn’t want to get soaked—this also put all notions of going to Frozen Lakes out of my mind. I set down my pack and made some efforts to find a more suitable spot to park it for the evening, but in the end I returned and just set it up where I’d dropped off my Osprey. You can’t win every battle. It was around 6PM, so I still had plenty of light left, at least.
By the time I had finished fishing and gotten myself “showered” off (yes, I went full nudist to get clean, since no one was around), it was about 7:05. I could have gone and fished, but it began to sprinkle and then rain pretty heavily. Oh well! Climb in the tent. The downpour was over by 7:30, so I opened my tent door…and it started again. Go figure. I hung out in the tent for some time, but right before 8 I was able to get out and start dinner. There was also some blue sky!
- The sun came out after the storm!
The mosquitoes were just as excited as me, so I got back in the tent. I was already showered for the evening and not willing to ruin that with bug spray. The night ended up being clear and cold! Good for sleeping. I’d been able to download some Netflix shows (not sure if you can still do that with their app), so I stayed up too late watching them, which I never do at my own home. I also spent time reading some OneMileAtaTime trip reports and various SCPs, which are akin to Twilight Zone short stories. 🙂
⤑Day 2: Hike Out
- What an awesome day!
There wasn’t much of a reason for me to get up when it was cold, so I slept until the sun warmed me up at about 0900! I fished until 330 in the afternoon, since I didn’t have anywhere to be, and given that I’d decided that I didn’t need to see the Frozen Lakes this time. By 4PM I was back on the trail, and at 4:20 I was jogging down trail 045, taking the Buffalo Park way back to my Jeep just so that I could see something new. I sure felt good! This trail is much more arid and mostly cuts through old burn for 1000 vertical feet. On the way down, I saw the Powell Lakes area and added it to my “to hike” list.
- The lakes and leaving them. Notice the area going up to Powell Lakes.
About 15 minutes past the intersection of trails, I came across three middle-age, somewhat pudgy men who looked like they were about to die. They were relieved to find out that they were so close to the lakes, and to water! Given that it was a hot, sunny day, and that this route has little in the way of water, I felt a bit bad for them. Since it’s so dadgum ugly, it also doesn’t take your mind off the trip. It’s half a mile shorter than the other route, but I don’t think it’s worth it if you’re going uphill.
- Descending on the Buffalo trail. Can you spot my car?
I tried to occupy my mind by learning about the Beatles (I don’t really listen to music, so this was boring history to me, though Yoko Ono seemed like quite the…person.) as I made my way downhill. I did get a view of my Jeep, and also cell service, so I called my girlfriend, who wasn’t a hiker, though she claimed for years that she was so excited to hike with me. Mysteriously, it never happened. Snark aside, she was and is an incredible woman and I’m pretty bummed that she didn’t get to see these lakes!
- The trail down. You can see how much I liked the rocks!
Eventually the trail makes its way into some Aspens, and there’s a small creek just past that, from which I got water. I also came across some old gate…I wonder what it was to?
By the time I reached what I’ll call “Buffalo Park,” based on the feature that I believe to be represented on my map, it was almost 6:15. The light was becoming less harsh on the green grasses, and it played beautifully on the natural flowers in the area. As a rock nerd, I really loved some of the outcroppings in the forest!
While I didn’t know it, my reading of the land told me that I could crest a hill off to my left (a ridge, really), go down the other side, cross a creek, and be at my Jeep. I made my way up the ridge, side-hilling for the most part, and saw a use trail through the forest! Yes! Even better than having to make my way through 700 feet of old burn! The trail was rocky but serviceable and clearly well used. The creek was also pretty and easy enough to cross, though I wasn’t a fan of the little hill climb on the other side.
- Buffalo Park and the use trail.
- Looking back at whence I came…and at my Jeep!
I crested over the hill directly beside my Jeep at a smidge before 7PM. The drive back home was pretty, and I even saw fireworks, given that it was the 4th of July!
- The road out! Don’t worry, you don’t have to cross that creek.
➤Conclusion and Rating
Hiking to 7 Brothers Lakes is easy, though you need a high-clearance vehicle if you don’t want to add miles. There is a trail from the improved parking area, but it adds miles, and I haven’t done it. The lakes themselves are pretty, though not stunning. If you only have one night, Lost Twin Lakes or Powell Lakes will be prettier, but the former is heavily visited, and the latter is much longer and harder. I’d still visit again, though, if I were in the area and wanted something short and sweet for people who don’t hike often.
- My scientific rating system. This hike made me happy!
- Beauty. There are some pretty views of distant features, but the lakes themselves aren’t really spectacular.
- Camping spots. You might not get the spot you desire most, as the area is fairly bouldery. It is also a special use area.
- Crowds. These lakes are listed as being high use.
- Difficulty. If you hike regularly, this will be a very easy excursion for ya!
- Fishing. The lakes and Clear Creek both have fish.
- History. Not really any significant history.
Let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to help you do more with that time of yours, and I’m here to serve you!