Given that kids haven’t physically been in schools since March, it was hard to know when the school year was officially done – the school calendar said June 2, but my kids had to turn in their school things late last week. So after returning their school things, we decided that was as good a time as any to kick off summer with a hike.
When we set off from Buffalo on Thursday morning, it was dreary, foggy and cool. As we drove west out of Buffalo, I questioned the wisdom of forging ahead with our plans when the weather was not cooperating. But, as is often the case, once we got over Powder River Pass, the conditions were totally different – the sun was out and it was verging on warm. The western side of the mountain is also a little ahead of us in terms of wildflowers blooming – we saw many more flowers once we got west of the pass.
Ten Sleep Canyon was positively resplendent. The creek was rushing and churning with spring melt off, and the sides of the canyon were blanketed in gorgeous yellow arrowleaf balsamroot. We rolled down the car windows to listen to the creek and smell the forest. Even if hiking isn’t your thing, it’d be worth the drive over to Ten Sleep in the next couple of days to take in the beauty of the canyon as Mother Nature awakens from her winter slumber.
The trailhead is well marked on the north side of the road, and offers a pit toilet and information kiosk. The sign-in book indicated the trail had been used by about 10 people in the past week.
Immediately after leaving the trailhead, it became pretty clear that this hike would be a steep one. So steep that before we even reached a quarter mile (according to my GPS route keeper), our youngest was ready to turn back. Thankfully, the thrill of finding a hidden geocache motivated her to keep moving uphill.
At about one-third mile, the trail splits – go left. The trail is narrow with some uneven footing and loose gravel, but well maintained and well marked, making it easy to navigate. You’ll work your way upward around the back of the cliff face and eventually reach the top of the cliff, where you will be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the Tensleep Canyon. Hundreds of feet below you, Tensleep Creek is rushing by. We marveled at the change in scenery – we’d been walking along the rocky side of the cliff only to end up in a meadow of wildflowers and juniper. Our only regret was that we’d left our picnic lunch in the car – the top of the cliff would have been a great picnicking spot.
At 1.2 miles, you will come to another junction, go right to close the loop and return to the parking lot. (If you desire a longer hike, turn left for an out-and-back hike to Brokenback Road; it’ll turn your 2-mile hike into a 7-miler. For a complete description of that route, check out “Hiking Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains: A Guide to the Area’s Greatest Hiking Adventures,” by Ken Keffer.)
The eastern third of the loop is a steep decline with makeshift steps in places. Watch your footing as you descend; it is tricky in spots and two of the three kids took spills on this portion of the trail. It’s also almost 100% exposed, so water, sunscreen and a hat are a must.
The trail is accessible for families with kids – our kids are 7, 11 and 13. The hike took about 90 minutes, with lots of pauses to pick up pine cones, smell wildflowers, inspect rocks and identify animal scat. If you have a little collector in your family, they will be sure to find lots of treasures along the path.