Wyoming has some truly bizarre landscapes, from sand dunes that sing (really) to freakish volcanic monoliths that tower over the surrounding desert or grassland flats. It also has some of the most epic backcountry views where rows of jagged peaks bite into the sky and prairie disappears over the distant horizon. While you can drive to a few of the state’s dramatic overlooks, the best way to experience Wyoming’s landscapes is to slip on your hiking boots and hit the trail. Here are nine hikes with epic views in Wyoming for every level of fitness.
1. Devils Tower
Most famous for being an alien landing zone in the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Devils Tower, also called Bear Lodge Butte, is a sheer-sided volcanic spire that rises 1,200 feet over the eastern Wyoming prairie. There’s some debate as to whether Devils Tower was formed by an igneous intrusion below layers of rock or a volcano that exploded on the surface. Either way, it’s hard not to be awed by the near-perfect hexagonal columns of rock.
Both the unimaginatively named Tower Trail (1.3-mile paved loop) and the Red Beds Trail (2.8-mile loop) leave from the visitors’ center of Devils Tower National Monument. They both circumnavigate the tower, but Red Beds doesn’t have the crowds, and the views of the tower are better because you’re not constantly hugging the base looking up. With a little distance, you can really get a sense of Bear Lodge Butte’s place within the prairie and rolling ponderosa pine-covered hills. (Bear Lodge Butte is one of the names given to the rock formation by the local Indigenous peoples.)
Wildflowers are abundant, especially in the spring and summer. Even with the crowds, chances are you’ll see deer, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, hawks, and the occasional blue heron. Also watch for rattlesnakes. Around the halfway point, you’ll hit the vibrant red badlands that the trail is named for. These heavily eroded siltstone hills and cliffs hug the Belle Fourche River and look nothing like the rest of the park. There are a few steep, rocky sections on the trail, which may challenge some trail-users and might be almost impassable during one of the area’s frequent afternoon rainstorms.
Bear Lodge Butte has been a sacred place to the Northern Plains’ Indigenous peoples for centuries. You will see small bundles or cloths tied to tree branches along the trails. These offerings show the enduring spiritual connection Native people have to the Butte. Please respect the spiritual nature of the cloths by not touching or moving them, and consider avoiding them in your photos, as it’s a sign of disrespect to many.
Pets aren’t allowed on any of the park trails. The area can be brutally hot in summer, so think twice before bringing your favorite hiking companion to Devils Tower only to leave them in the car.
2. Mount Washburn
Mount Washburn stands sentinel in the heart of Yellowstone National Park. At 10,223 feet it has a commanding view of almost every inch of the landscape from the Tetons to the south, the Madison Range in the northwest, and the Absarokas to the northeast. At the top is one of Yellowstone’s three fire lookouts, as well as a small visitor center, restrooms, and one of the best observation decks in the national park system. The lookout provides a 360-degree view of one of the biggest volcanic craters in the world: the Yellowstone Caldera.
The best and most scenic trail to reach the lookout starts from near the crest of Dunraven Pass five miles north of Canyon Junction. Where Chittenden Road grinds to the top in a near straight line, the trail from the Dunraven side wanders a little more than three miles up through lodgepole pine forests and open, grassy slopes. The trail also passes through areas burned by the 1988 wildfires. While the areas have long since regrown, the burns still seem to be carpeted in more wildflowers per square inch than other parts of the park. Toward the top, the trail follows a ridgeline with great views of the east and west.
From the top, along with views of Yellowstone Lake and the deep gash that is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you can see the faint edge of the giant caldera. Almost 40 miles across, the caldera spans almost the whole center of the park, bisecting Yellowstone Lake. It’s hard to imagine the cataclysmic eruption that lay waste to much of the continental US 640,000 years ago, but being in the center of a crater almost the size of Rhode Island gives you some idea.
3. Cirque of the Towers
While the Tetons get most of the front-page glory in the magazine section, the Wind River Range’s Cirque of the Towers is the answer most Wyomingites will give you when you ask for the most picturesque location in the state. Also, the range’s sheer remoteness keeps the crowds at bay.
The first six miles climb an easy grade along the Big Sandy River valley through forest to Big Sandy Lake. From there, you begin to see some of the high country you’re about to enter. It’s just a taste. The trail gets steeper and rockier, and the trees start to dwindle. Peaks close in around the trail, and you could stop at any point from here on and feel perfectly content. The trail crosses Jackass Pass, and then Texas Pass, each bringing a whole new set of craggy peaks that are more beautiful than the last. Nothing really prepares you for the view when you make that last push into the Cirque. It’s like standing in the lower jaw of a gigantic dinosaur, with jagged teeth jutting upward hundreds of feet on three sides.
In good weather, you’ll see teams of climbers dotting the granite faces. But, no matter how many cars you saw in the parking lot, you’ll feel like you have the whole cirque to yourself. You can camp in the Cirque as long as you’re more than a quarter-mile from Lonesome Lake, and if you’re overnighting, this is one of the most spectacular places in the country for night photography.
4. Heart Mountain
Heart Mountain sits like an island in a sea of sagebrush several miles off the eastern edge of the Beartooth-Absaroka ranges. While Heart Mountain is often overlooked by tourists, it’s a local favorite. The 360-degree views from the top are extraordinary, taking in the whole of the Bighorn Basin including the Beartooth, Bighorn, and Pryor mountain ranges, as well as the dry folds of the McCullough Peaks to the south.
Heart Mountain is one of the few places in the world where the limestone slab that sits at the top is hundreds of millions of years older than the sediments that support it. The limestone itself is much like the limestones found in Yellowstone National Park some 60 miles to the east, rather than the granite of the nearby Absarokas. How the limestone got there still generates arguments among geologists.
The trail begins in the arid sagebrush foothills nearly equidistant from both Powell and Cody. Most of the mountain is owned by the Nature Conservancy, and you need to sign in at the Heart Mountain Ranch building near the trailhead, but there’s no fee to hike the trail. Dogs aren’t allowed on the trail. From there, the trail climbs 2,400 feet above the basin floor in just over seven miles. The trail is rated at moderate, but there are steep sections especially the further up you go. Make sure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen because there isn’t much shade along the route. Also bring along a native plant guide — the area is home to many rare plant species. In spring and early summer, the wildflower blooms can be almost as impressive as the views from the top. Thunderstorms are a common occurrence throughout the summer, so check the forecast before you head out and start your hike early. You don’t want to be caught on the exposed summit with lightning coming down all around you.
5. Static Divide Peak
The Tetons are, by far, Wyoming’s most famous mountain range. The Cascade Canyon Trail is nearly as famous as the Tetons themselves, and rightly so. While Cascade earns its reputation with blankets of wildflowers and great views of Teewinot Mountain, it’s also one of the most crowded backcountry trails. The Static Peak Trail offers arguably more spectacular views with far fewer people to share them with.
Make no mistake, this trail is hard. It’s a 16-mile round-trip that climbs over a mile of vertical over grassy meadows, through steep-sided canyons, along alpine lakes, and on a neverending series of switchbacks. Static Peak is one of the few mountains in the Tetons that can be summited without mountaineering skills and equipment. While the hike may take all day, you get all of the beauty of a Teton vista without having to hire a guide.
The views from the top are nothing short of magnificent with glaciated peaks to the north and west and the endless expanse of Wyoming’s deserts to the south and east. The bragging rights for bagging a peak in the Tetons will last almost as long as the memories.
The best time to hit this trail is mid-July through September, with July and August having the longest days and best wildflowers. Those are also the months when the Teton’s legendary late afternoon thunderstorms often roll through. Static Peak gets its name from how often lightning strikes the summit, so get an early start. Storms quiet down through September making it the ideal time to go if you’re a late riser or aren’t the type to charge up the trail at top speed. While you can turn this into a backpacking trip, the logistics of overnighting within Teton National Park’s boundaries add further challenge to an already rugged hike. The added benefit of making this a day trip is carrying a much lighter day pack. Don’t skip bringing lots of water, a water filter, and bear spray. Dogs aren’t allowed on any trails in Tetons National Park.
6. Killpecker Dunes and Boars Tusk
Killpecker Dunes doesn’t have any trails, exactly. What it does have is miles of towering sand dunes that you can explore where and how you like as long, as it isn’t motorized. Because in order to enjoy one of the most mystifying parts of this area, you’re going to want to get away from the buzz of ATV engines and listen. Killpecker Dunes is one of seven locations in the world with “singing” sand dunes.
Killpecker Dunes is part of Wyoming’s Red Desert, a 9,000-square-mile high altitude desert and sage-dotted grassland. The Dunes cover about 109,000 acres, making them the United States’ largest living dune system. “Living” dunes are ones constantly being shaped and reshaped by the wind, often blowing from one direction during part of the year, then reversing to keep the sand largely in one place. The Dunes seem to stretch into infinity, only broken by bizarre rock formations like the 400-foot Boars Tusk. The Red Desert is home to the largest migrating pronghorn herd in the lower 48, as well as the endangered sage grouse and the rare desert elk. There’s also a surprising amount of plant life for a place made out of shifting sand.
Because the sand particles that make up the dunes are more spherical than most, the Killpecker Dunes create a drone when the sand moves that’s equal parts spooky and relaxing. Imagine a long, low cello note floating over the otherwise silent desert. The “singing” or “booming” is most often caused by wind shifting the sand across the face of the dunes but can also be caused by people or animals displacing the sand by walking or sliding down the dunes. Once you hear the haunting sound, it’s hard to forget.
The Boars Tusk, a 400-foot monolith, towers over the dunes to the southwest and makes a great destination on its own. The Boars Tusk is the core of a volcano that’s been exposed by the erosion of the surrounding layers of rock. There aren’t set hiking trails around the Boars Tusk either, but hiking the three miles to the spire is a good idea. The road is seldom traveled and makes a nice walk as it also circumnavigates the Tusk. If you’ve got a high-clearance vehicle, and the road isn’t wet, you can drive the three miles to the Tusk. Pets are welcome at the Dunes.
7. Cloud Peak
The Bighorn Mountain Range is considered by some to be one of Wyoming’s best-kept secrets, which seems hard to believe, considering the mountains loom over I-25, one of the most traveled roads in the state. Even with all of its exposure to interstate drivers, it’s still surprising to find hardly anyone on one of the best hikes in Wyoming, even in the height of summer.
Cloud Peak, the highest in the Bighorns at 13,171 feet, has the epic views that Wyoming is famous for: chunky glacial peaks, wildflower-choked alpine meadows, and 60-mile views out over the wide-open prairie. It also has the highest topographic prominence in the state, towering 7,077 feet above the valley floor.
The hike starts at the West Tensleep Trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the Misty Moon Trail along West Tensleep Lake to the stream-crossing. From there, the gradual climb will take you through ponderosa and blackjack pine forests, narrow mountain streams, and several lakes. It doesn’t take long to start getting hints of the big views to come. At 10,200 feet, you come upon Misty Moon Lake, one of the most picturesque bodies of water in a state. No one would look down on you for stopping here, rather than picking your way to the summit of Cloud Peak.
You can hook up with the Solitude Loop Trail at Misty Moon Lake and follow it up to where the Cloud Peak Trail cuts north. From there, the climb becomes a 3,000-foot boulder scramble to the top, including a knife-edge ridge that drops away hundreds of feet on both sides. It can feel like a neverending slog at times, but the majestic view from the top makes the scramble worth it. Glacial-green alpine lakes and gleaming snowfields tucked between sharp ridges go on for miles in every direction. In the distance, beyond the craggy mountaintops, prairie disappears over the horizon. While most of Wyoming’s visitors are fighting traffic in Yellowstone and the Tetons, you’ll be alone at the top of the world. Pets are welcome on the trails.
8. Dubois Badlands
The Dubois Badlands Wilderness Study Area is small, just seven square miles of multi-colored desert. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in otherworldly landscapes.
Maybe it’s the fact that you’re almost guaranteed not to see another person out there that gives the place its alien feel. There are no signs to indicate it, and in fact, a lot of locals don’t even know it by the BLM’s name, calling it instead Mason Draw, Byrd Draw, or just “the hills east of town.”
The hiking here is as easy or as hard as you want to make it. If you keep to the seemingly endless draws, it’s relatively flat. You can also climb up the steep, eroded hillsides for views of the surrounding areas. As a Wilderness Study Area, there’s no mechanized use allowed. You can bring your dog, though, just make sure you bring plenty of water for both of you, as there are no water sources anywhere. Summers can be scorching, so checking the area out in the morning or evening will be ideal, especially as sunrise and sunset can make the red and orange hillsides appear like they’re on fire. If you’re lucky, you’ll see pronghorn, mule deer, or the occasional bighorn sheep that’s made its way down from the nearby mountains. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, especially if you’re hiking with your dog.
9. Gannett Peak via Titcomb Basin
No list of Wyoming hikes would be complete without Gannett Peak. Not only is Gannett a prestigious mountain for hardcore mountaineers, but what makes it prestigious isn’t the skill level needed to bag the peak but the multi-day approach just to get to the mountain.
Gannett Peak is hunkered deep in the Wind River Range. The Winds are considered the most remote place in the continental US, and Gannett Peak is in the most remote part of the range. There may be whole days where you see no one on the trail. It’s also the most beautiful part of the range, filled with grassy meadows tufted with colorful wildflowers, glacial cirques, towering mountains, and wildlife at the lower elevations, including moose, bear, fox, and elk.
Hiking Gannett is a 50-mile round trip with 9,000 feet of elevation gain before you hit the summit at 13,810 feet. It’s the longest round-trip approach of any state highpoint in the nation, including Denali in Alaska. To add to the challenge, there’s no camping on the mountain, and the glacier is considered dangerous, meaning that your base camp is 3,000 feet below the summit. Be prepared for a 20-hour push from basecamp to summit and back. There’s no route to the summit that doesn’t involve glacier travel and climbing on snow, so it’s even more important than other hikes not to hike alone. If you’re planning on summiting, add extra days to your trip in case of bad weather.
Even though the view from Gannett Peak is arguably one of the best in North America, with glaciated spires, turquoise lakes, and the largest glacier in the lower 48, the climb to get there isn’t for everyone. For a less intense outdoor adventure, only hike the 15 miles into Titcomb Basin. Even though Bonney Pass separates you from the massif of Granite Peak, you still get most of the beauty that you see from the top, but looking up instead of down.
Titcomb Lake lies at the bottom of a steep-sided cirque with jagged peaks vaulting into the sky on all sides. Glacial lakes and free-flowing streams wind down the valley. Even though Titcomb Basin is the most popular of the Gannett Peak approaches, it’s also the most scenic. Crowds in this area might mean seeing one or two other parties during the course of a day. Sometimes, you won’t see anyone.
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