Spring in the Snowy Range
Springtime in the Snowy Range mountains of Wyoming is special. Truly, every season in the mountains is unique and wondrous in its own way, but there is something about spring. Perhaps it is the way this season is so often overlooked without the more obvious attractions of skiing, fishing, mountain biking, and hunting. Maybe it is because it sneaks up on you, bits of green and life bursting out of long-dormant forests shrouded in white. Or, possibly, it is the fact that it is so elusive, tucked clandestinely into the brief space between winter and summer.
Whatever the reason, there is no denying that springtime in the Snowy Range possesses an understated beauty and particular opportunities for those who dare to venture onto its wild slopes. Just as springtime blossoms slowly unfurl their petals in the warmth of the sun, the mountains are slowly coming to life.
The pass, Highway 130, is not fully open until Memorial Day, typically, and the weather can be unpredictable. However, spring in the Snowy Mountains draws an exclusive set of adventurers, explorers, and outdoorsmen and women.
The Mountain View Hotel and Cafe
As always, The Mountain View Hotel and Cafe in Centennial, Wyoming is an ideal place to stay (or stop in a for breakfast or lunch) when visiting the mountains in the Spring. The busy season has yet to reach full swing and the peaceful mountain community is just starting to awaken to the spring weather.
With the remnants of the winter chill still clinging to the air, a cup of house-roasted coffee is the perfect way to start (or end) a day of adventuring in the mountains. What could be better than sipping a tasty brew in front of the cafe’s wood stove and soaking in the snow-capped mountains in the distance? The views of the mountain peaks are particularly stunning in the spring, as the stark white snow against slate gray rocks and green pines create a beautiful contrast.
Spring Hiking in the Snowy Range
Spring hiking is a memorable experience. The snowshoe season is starting to pass, although there are still plenty of trails that afford snowshoeing into May. The newly melted trails are often muddy and deadfalls have yet to be cleared, making for additional adventure.
It was into this uncertain terrain that my husband and I–our kids in tow–ventured one warm spring Saturday. We chose a short hike for our first hiking foray of the season and parked at the Corner Mountain Trailhead. As we began to trek into the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, I was thankful for wool socks and waterproof hiking boots. The trails were still mostly blanketed under a layer of snow, particularly further into the shade of the forest. (Click here for an interactive U.S. Forest Service map).
Notwithstanding the snow, the temperature was comparatively balmy. The sheer joy of being outdoors after the long winter is yet another reason to visit the mountains in spring, and not wait until summer. I find spring hiking to be an exhilarating antidote to winter’s inevitable cabin fever!
Springtime hiking trails are decidedly less populated than in the summer and fall. For those who appreciate more serenity and solitude when wandering the woods, a spring hike is a great opportunity to experience the peace of nature without having to roam too far into the wilderness.
Spring Greenery in the Mountains
What surprised me, as we made our ½ mile loop through the mountains, was the unexpected amount of green. In many ways, there was more green to behold on the mountain slopes than there was in town (at several thousand feet lower elevation). The deep green of lodgepole and ponderosa pines stood out against the sparkling blue sky. Besides the evergreens, aspen, mountain ash, and other small trees and shrubs were budding and beginning to hint at the coming of summer.
By mid-May, a few hardy wildflowers are beginning to make their spring debut. The brown and green landscape is punctuated by bright bursts of color from Indian paintbrush, dwarf mountain fleabane, ball cactus, American pasqueflower (aka prairie crocus), and others. The mountain meadows will be overflowing with rainbows of wildflowers by summer, but the first spring blooms possess peculiar magic and allure.
In addition to the plant life renaissance taking place, the mountain birds are highly active in the spring. Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and the Snowy Range Scenic Byway are ideal places to observe Wyoming birds, according to the Audubon Society. The forest is alive with the calls of red-winged blackbirds, robins, and tree swallows–which all arrive by the end of April–as they search for mates and choose ideal nesting places.
Many bird species–of special interest to bird-watchers, naturalists, ornithologists, and wildlife photographers–call the Snowy Range home. Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is the only place in Wyoming where the Brown-capped Rosy-finch is found, for instance. Mountain bluebirds, mountain chickadees, Stellar’s jays, Townsend’s solitaires, American pipits, western tanagers, and ruby-crowned kinglets, among others, can be seen here as well.
Even hummingbirds can be found hovering around the new blossoms in the early spring. The hummingbirds often return to the mountains earlier than other areas. Visitors to The Mountain View Hotel Cafe often comment on how the tiny jewel-like birds have yet to return to the lower elevations of Laramie and Cheyenne, as they watch the birds flitter outside the cafe windows.
Wyoming’s position along the Central Flyway makes for wonderful viewing of migratory birds. Swainson’s hawks can be seen this time of year in the grasslands around the Snowy Range. Swainson’s hawks have one of the longest migrations of any raptor, as long as 7,100 miles, from southern Alaska to Brazil and Argentina. Wyoming is on their migration route and is home to many nesting hawks as well.
For the avid birder, Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge is just under an hour away. In spring, mallards, ruddy ducks, eared grebes, American coots, red-winged blackbirds, marsh wrens, Swainson’s hawk, red-tailed hawks, and golden eagles are abundant–with many species known to nest at the refuge. On rare occasions, snow geese, American white pelicans, snowy egrets, green and black-crowned night herons, mountain bluebirds, western tanagers, and even bald eagles have been spotted in this prairie haven.
Spring Wildlife Viewing Opportunities
Besides the birds, the refuge is also a wonderful place to view the absolutely prolific pronghorn herds (aka antelope). Pronghorn, of course, are not limited to the refuge. They can be found all over the grasslands surrounding the Snowy Range. In late May, some pronghorn are giving birth to their fawns. Trust me, there are few things cuter than a baby pronghorn.
Spring is also an important time for elk, white-tailed deer, and mule deer who are busy with their seasonal migrations from winter ranges to summer ranges. Every spring these beautiful animals leave grazing areas at lower elevations and make their way to their summer homes high in the mountains.
Elk, deer, and moose typically have their young in late May and early June. No matter how many times I have seen these beautiful animals, it is always an extraordinary privilege–especially when they are with their calves and fawns.
While there are no grizzly bears in the Snowy Range, black bears are very active in the spring. They are just emerging from winter hibernation and are extremely hungry. These impressive animals are wonderful to see, but it is important to remember that they can be dangerous. Never approach a bear–particularly a mother with cubs–or feed the bears. To learn more about staying safe around bears, be sure to read this National Parks Service Article on bear safety.
Don’t Wait Until Summer!
Whatever your reason for visiting the Snowy’s in spring, whether it be a cup of coffee with a view, a peaceful hike, or witnessing the miraculous awakening of nature, don’t let the opportunity pass. Spring is fleeting, and all-too-soon a new season will be upon us. Come now, spring is here!