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Circle Park / Willow Lake Professional Review and Guide
"Located 17 miles south of Buffalo, in the very southeastern corner of the Cloud Peak Wilderness. An overnighter into the open subalpine country beneath the bare, granite faces of the southern Bighorns."
--Bill Hunger, Hiking Wyoming (Falcon Guides).
Great hike. Beautiful lakes and fall colors. Not too strenuous for most hikers. Highly recommended.
This is a really nice hike, although not the most dramatic I've seen in the Bighorns. I only did Willow Lake as an out-and-back, but next time I would do the loop. The directions given here aren't the best - it's definitely a good idea to have a good trail map that has the trail numbers on it, because there are a lot of junctions where it's possible to get turned around.
Willow lake is pretty scenic, and it is tempting to venture further up the canyon toward the huge cliffs... however, there is no trail that goes that way and it's a lot of rock hopping and bushwacking that gets pretty tiring. Fun though!
Due to the amount of snow that the bighorns recieved this winter, the possibility of having to trek through waist deep snow was a concern. to our surprise though, hiking on the south fork trail, we ran into very little snow for the first couple of miles. we hiked the trail for about three miles and decided to make camp and dayhike from there. The trail will take you up to a ridge that you can view Bighorn peak and Darton peak. If you hike to the leading up to Darton peak you can look down on Lame Dear lake. Our goal was to summit Darton peak, but due to the snow conditions the majority of our group came up short between five hundred and one thousand vertical feet from the top. The Circle Park trails offer impressive views for anyone that is looking for a mild to strenuous hike. these trails are fairly populated so don't be surprised if you see a considerable amount of other people on the trail.
The Circle Park Trail offers a good sampling of the terrain experienced in the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming. The first leg of the trail leading to Sherd Lake is a typically cobbled trail through forested glades, adjacent marshes (excellent mouse habitat), with a steady increase in elevation along side-hills. Sherd Lake is a popular junction during the summer. Expect a fair amount of foot travelers and back country horsemen.
The Circle Park trailhead is a short distance before the Circle Park campground. The trail basically encloses the South Fork ponds and has a short sidehike to Willow lake (4 miles from the trailhead). I was relatively unprepared for how strenous this 4 mile hike would be and I would have enjoyed the hike more if I had opted to spend the night at Willow Lake. Before reaching Willow lake the trail takes you on top a burned ridge that offers great views of the surrounding mountains and plains. number of peaks and lakes (Firehole, Lame Deer and many others) or a reasonable day hike from Willow Lake. I think this Summer I will spend a long weekend there to further explore the surrounding area.
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