Road Trip: Start Summer Off with Something Snowy

By: Bridget Clerkin July 6, 2018
Wyoming's Snowy Range Scenic Byway whisks drivers past towering peaks in the mountainous state.
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Ahh, road trip season. There’s nothing quite like it.

Who doesn’t love the sound of rubber kissing hot pavement, the rush of windblown hair, and the sweet freedom of a long, open road? The combination is as classically American as fireworks and the Fourth of July.

But unlike the holiday, road trips can be enjoyed all summer long.

School is out, the sun is high, and the earth is getting warmer, so why not celebrate the season with a refreshing trip around the Snowy Range Scenic Byway?

The mountainous Wyoming road makes the perfect summer drive, if only because it can only be traveled between May and November.

The heavy weather from which the road takes its name makes conditions too dangerous to traverse during the colder months. But those who get the timing right will be rewarded with phenomenal views and abundant recreation opportunities.

The official byway—also known as Wyoming Highway 130 or the Great Sky Road—is less than 100 miles long, but there’s no shortage of things to do and see along it. Customized journeys can conceivably last anywhere from an hour up to several days.

Bookending the byway are the towns of Laramie and Saratoga. They make perfect starting and ending points, and offer plenty of their own charms.

The highway’s most optimal views are achieved from driving east to west.

So if you’re ready for the coolest summertime drive, start in Laramie, and follow the sun—and the Snowy Byway—toward the horizon.

Laramie, Wyoming

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Start your trip on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway in historic Laramie, WY.

Start your journey in the frontier town of Laramie, which has roots dating back to the mid-19thcentury.

Albany County got its start as a stop along the Union Pacific Railroad. Today it delivers some of the state’s best educations as the home of the University of Wyoming.

The rich history and present-day academic pursuits mean the town is loaded with pieces of the past—and places to contemplate them. Visitors can check out exhibits at the American Heritage Center, the Wyoming Women’s History House, or the university’s Anthropology Museum, Geological Museum, or Art Museum.

The Laramie Plains Museum, located at the Historic Ivinson Mansion, packs 150 years of Wyoming history into three stories of house. And for those with slightly darker fascinations, the Wyoming Territorial Prison offers an interesting look at the history of incarceration at one of the state’s oldest buildings.

Still, there’s no time like the present, so once you’re done mulling over the past, begin your journey toward the Snowy Range Scenic Byway.

Medicine Bow National Forest

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Hiking trails abound in Medicine Bow National Forest.

Not long after you begin your westward trek along the byway, you’ll enter Medicine Bow National Forest, which houses a majority of the road.

Summertime is usually kind to this gorgeous stretch, painting the high-altitude highway in fleeting shades of dark green. White patches of snow can usually still be found on the nearby peaks, which are part of the Medicine Bow mountain range.

From the start, you’ll understand where the Great Sky Road earns its nickname: the byway is the second-highest mountain pass in the state. Accordingly, the forest offers an abundance of fantastical views, and the road provides plenty of turn-offs to take them in.

Travelers who can’t get enough can camp out, or at least take a hike, bike, or horseback ride around the ancient forest. (Medicine Bow gets its name from the healing mineral water found in its natural hot springs along the North Platte River, as well as the good wood from its trees, which was used by local Native American tribes to create their bows.)

But the true high point of the trip is a bit farther west.

Medicine Bow Peak

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Medicine Bow Peak

At 12,013 feet, Medicine Bow Peak is a commanding presence along the drive—and the highest summit in the entire Snowy Range.

Permanent snowfields dot its towering flanks, and several glacial lakes reside along its lower base. The pristine landscape also includes an interesting geological feature called periglacial polygons, or “stone nets.” The strange rock formation paints the earth in the pattern of dragon scales.

Day passes are easy to come by, and the peak offers eight trails for interested hikers of all skill and fitness levels. But beware: the trails are typically only open a few months a year. Check mountain conditions when planning your trip.

Saratoga, Wyoming

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The rugged landscape around the North Platte River near Saratoga, Wyoming.

You may be leaving the Medicine Bow range, but you’ll be entering a town with plenty of its own medicinal waters.

Just like the identically named town in New York, Wyoming’s Saratoga is known for its springs. And visitors drive from across the state and beyond to dip into them.

Lovingly referred to as the “Hobo Hot Pool,” the city’s springs is a public amenity. And unlike the Snowy Range Scenic Byway itself, the bath house is open all year long.

Winter months may actually be preferable, as the waters can naturally reach up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. But the facility also offers a “not so hot” pool for more temperature-sensitive guests.

Outside of the pool house, there are plenty of other natural sights to enjoy, including nearby Elk Mountain. If you didn’t get your fill of hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, and general nature appreciation in the Medicine Bow National Forest, Saratoga offers another chance to take in the area’s vast recreational opportunities.

If you instead need more time with people, Saratoga can also help, with a number of unique shops and restaurants in town to choose from.

Either way, the town offers a perfect feeling of snowed-in coziness, even on a hot summer’s day.

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