Medicine Bow Rail Trail Adventure & Review

Riding through a portion of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail that was burned in a fire last summer

Sorry for the never ending lack of updating… I’ve had a lot of blog ideas in mind, half written during my bike rides in my mind, only to never be written on the computer.  Which is sad, because I’ve gone on some pretty cool adventures, like Matt and I biking up Highway 130 to the Snowies!  And of course, I completely (purposely) did not do a race report (gasp!) on my LMBS Race #2, because it was spectacularly crappy from the start thanks to handlebar locking with two girls at the get go which caused me to never be part of the lead pack, and me blowing up chasing said lead pack after I unlocked myself from the gals at the start (I finished 7th out of like 22, ok ok, I know, it wasn’t that bad).

So here’s to make up for all my laziness!  Matt and I have been talking about riding this trail since last summer, and the idea popped into my head as we were debating riding up Mt. Evans yesterday for our day off together.  We both decided we didn’t feel like the long drive to Colorado, so I suggested the Medicine Bow Rail Trail instead, which is roughly 30-40 miles west of Laramie.

One of our first ever huge bike rides (for me at least) was on another rails-to-trail in South Dakota – the Mickelson Trail.  So we were excited to explore a similar trail in our own backyards!  What’s even neater is that as a kid I rode on the Excursion Train from Laramie to Fox Park, so who would’ve thought that many many years later I’d be biking it, right?  Always neat when your past crosses paths with your present 🙂

We arrived at the Dry Park Trailhead about 11am.  This trailhead is the only one on the trail system that doesn’t require a parking fee, but it is also the only one that is not marked, has no bathrooms, and honestly does not look like a trailhead.  It’s more of a large dirt parking lot off the side of the road.  I briefly drove past it, only to see the start of the trail to my left, so I put it in reverse!  This is the northernmost trailhead, and is 21 miles (though not exactly, it’s more like 22.5 miles due to the detour around Fox Park) from the southern end at Pelton Creek.  We changed into our cycling clothes and hit the trail.

Initially, we were not impressed or amused.  Sand greeted us.  Lovely lovely lovely sand.  We pedaled along at 7 miles per hour, and Matt and I agreed that if it stayed like this there was no way we would ride the whole trail.  Spoiled we were by Mickelson and it’s glorious hardpack gravel.  We chugged on through the sand and two miles later arrived at Lake Owen, where thankfully the trail turned to fast-rolling packed gravel.  YAY!!  At Lake Owen there were signs about the trail and also a caboose.  It’s clear that this is the more established northern trailhead, almost like Dry Park was an afterthought.

Crossing Highway 230 (Photo by Matt Galantuomini)

Without stopping we pedaled on.  There really was a complete lack of stopping and photo taking on this.  This was very much a “keep pedaling towards your goal” kind of trip.  Not to say the scenery is not gorgeous as you wind through the Medicine Bow National Forest!  The trail itself ranged from smooth packed gravel to softer areas nearly obscured completely by grass and wildflowers.  There are numerous ATV trail crosses with yield signs, and also the trail crosses Highway 230 one time.  Several gates are along the way as well to open and close.  Cows are here and there, and their poop is even more present.

The trail takes a detour when you reach Fox Park due to property rights disagreements.  I managed to get Matt and I lost during this time.  The map they provide is upside down from how you’d really want to read it (to me), and there’s a lack of signs when heading in the southern direction.  I took us in the completely opposite direction on FSR 512.  Luckily my little detour from the detour only added about 3 miles total, haha.  Soon we were back on the trail and cruising along.

For it being a Sunday/weekend, there was a refreshing lack of humans on the trail.  South of the Woods Creek Trailhead we encountered two equestrians, who we politely yielded to so they could pass.  And… well, that was all on the southern trip.  At Pelton Creek we gobbled down a McDonald’s apple pie each, and some Honey Stinger chews as the clouds spat rain drops on us.  Our nutrition on long rides is fantastically terrible, clearly.  I groaned when I had to get back on the bike, as my right knee ached (for the first time in months sadly) and I was tired.  Considering we were in BFE with no cell service, clearly the only choice was to get back on the bike and pedal for another 22.5 miles.  And that we did.

The return trip seemed to go by a lot faster, though it involved a lot of climbing from Pelton Creek.  That is one thing about rails to trails is the fact the climbs and descents are so gradual they’re really tricky in distinguishing sometimes!  (Unless you’re doing Mickelson… oh, I can tell the climbs beween Mystic and Hill City just fineeeee.)  We encountered our second group of humans just south of Fox Park, on ATVs no less… which are not allowed on the trail.  Ugh.  I made sure to hold my line, and they politely gave a wave and wide passing berth.  But still.  Ugh.

Matt and I got into a rhythm of just turning the pedals as the clouds turned darker.  Luckily we were never heavily rained on, considering the storm that pounded Laramie later rolled right over us.  The last two miles of sandy nastiness was made slightly better by the fact we were rolling down hill this time, but it still made us keep a tight grip on the handlebars as we wrangled our bikes through it.  All said and done it was a 47 mile round trip, and took 4 hours 31 minutes (including stop/rest time).  My Strava/Garmin showed I averaged 11.6 mph, which isn’t too shabby!

We enjoyed our little outing, and getting time in the saddle in a lame sense for Laramie Enduro training.  It was nice to mark something off the bucket list of places to ride, as well!  But mostly it just made Matt and I really eager to return to South Dakota for another go at the Mickelson Trail, which still remains our favorite.  Medicine Bow Rail Trail is good for that “OMG we’re in the wildness” feeling and feeling like you’re “roughing” it a bit more.

My Medicine Bow Rail Trail tips:

  • Bring all the water you’ll need as there’s no place to refill along the trail except at Lake Owen, which may or may not have the water turned on.
  • No road bikes.  This should be a given, but just in case someone wonders… cyclocross bike is doable I’d say, though there are some rough spots here in there, forging through grass, fallen trees which lead to either off roading it a bit or bunny hopping, and the roads in Fox Park in the detour are washboard.  I rode my full suspension Specialized Epic mountain bike.  I liked the squish, and don’t foresee a cyclocross bike excursion on this particular trail in my future.
  • Bug spray and sunscreen.  Neither of which Matt nor I thought of using.
  • Along the lines of the water, bring all the food you’ll need.  Plan ahead.  You’re really in BFE unless you jump on the highway to WyColo or bang on a cabin door.
  • Start early to avoid the summer storms.  We lucked out and didn’t really run into much, however we did have jackets packed just in case.

Oh, and wildlife seen?  A single fox.  At least there were no scary moose encounters!  Or angry cows… these cows were totally terrified of me, for once.

I took today as a rest day as I was completely wiped out from the ride.  We ate at Texas Roadhouse for dinner and I completely annihilated Tater Skins, 4 or 5 of their rolls, 8 ounce steak, green beans, and mashed potatoes.  First time I’ve left without leftovers in a long time!  I was in bed asleep by 8pm… Today my legs were still a bit tired, sit bones still a bit sensitive so no bike.  I rode 100.3 miles last week, which was my second highest mileage week ever, and my body is telling me so!

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