Wyoming Hikes: Cliff Hanger Loop and Highline Loop

This weekend we headed back to Curt Gowdy State Park for a bigger hike around Crystal Reservoir. By stitching together Cliff Hanger, Canyons, and Crystal Ridge trails, we created a giant loop around the lake. Just for fun, we also added in the Highline loop, which was absolutely worth it!

Our final hike clocked in at 7.52 miles, 688 feet of gain, and took us just under four hours to complete with 12 minutes of breaks throughout.

AllTrails had some mixed reviews about the amount of sun and cacti on the trail and described one section being a bit boring compared to the rest. We started from the Volin trailhead parking lot and did the ‘boring’ section first by heading counterclockwise around the loop.

I don’t think it’s fair to classify the first section as boring. We wound our way past Twin Lakes Creek Campground and up into the hills where we had great views of the reservoir and dam. It was a really nice way to get our blood pumping before we headed into the rocky terrain around the gorge that leads up to the dam.

This section is also where we saw wildlife – three mule deer that were slowly maneuvering down one of the hills and then a single mule deer sprinting across a hill in the distance.

We wound down from the hills toward the water and spotted a guy fishing. We later ran into another guy heading out to fish and he said this lake is good for brown trout and river trout. We want to come back and camp during the offseason and will definitely bring along our fishing gear to try our luck!

After walking across a small stretch of road we caught the Canyons trail again and headed toward the Highline loop extension. There was an odd area near the spillway with warnings about unstable structures, but it appeared we had to briefly cross the bridge to catch the trail on the other side. We saw a slight path where it looked like others might have wandered out and around the structure, but for better or worse we crossed the bridge and jumped back on the marked trail.

The Highline loop took us out and around one of the hills that runs along the old river gorge leading up to the dam. We had amazing views south and west, and as we circled around to the north the left side of the trail dropped off into the gorge and became rocky and snow-covered in small shady sections. I couldn’t believe all of the cacti at this elevation (~7,000 feet) – Brian described it well as ‘ground cover’ in many areas. Cacti were everywhere!

The final section of trail was very rocky and had us winding up and down much closer to the water. There was a decent layer of ice coating this section of the lake, and the shady areas had several inches of snow.

We passed a trail runner and a guy on a mountain bike – no thank you! I was concentrating on my footing just walking along and have no idea how they were managing the rocks at a faster clip and on wheels!

It was after noon when we wrapped up our hike and we rewarded our efforts by checking out the Bunkhouse Bar and Grill, which is just down the road from the state park. We’ve heard good things about the live music and steak dinners on the weekends, but we were a bit early in the day for either of those affairs.

Instead, we pulled in behind a legitimate cowboy riding his horse to the watering hole. He tied up his horse out front (in the actual designated area to do so!) and then headed in, boots and spurs clanking along the way. We grabbed a seat just inside the door where we had an excellent view of the interior, which is filled with local taxidermy, a permanent set up for the dance floor and band, and a very interesting bar.

Brian ordered us their other highly recommended dish – the ‘Swingin’ Sirloins’ appetizer. You may be more familiar with their alternative menu name of ‘Rocky Mountain Oysters.’ I can see why they are called ‘oysters’ – the look, feel, and cocktail sauce for dipping made them quite reminiscent of a fried oyster, and they were pretty tasty! As far as we know this was our first time trying them, and we’d definitely order them again, especially when we have family and friends along.

It was another great morning in the park. I’m thrilled we have such a beautiful area to explore so nearby and look forward to expanding our hiking adventures into other areas soon. If you have recommendations, please let me know!

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