July 22-26, 2013
Scab Creek Trailhead
Lowline Trail (#095)
Scab Creek Trail (#110)
Dream Lake Trail (#167)
Highline Trail (#094)
Silver Lake / Twin Butte Trail (#161)
Cottonwood Trail (#108)
Lowline Trail (#095)
+/- 31.9 miles
Beartooth Publishing South Wind River Range
Earthwalk Press South Wind River Range
USGS 7.5 minute Topographical Maps: Scab Creek, Raid Lake, Mount Bonneville
Because I enjoy taking my time to relax in the mornings and evenings, I took 5 days/4 nights to hike this loop. However, it can easily be done in 3 days.
The drive to Scab Creek trailhead is pretty simple and easy for a car with little clearance, so I got to the trailhead in the morning before the temperatures were too hot. My reason for that is, it’s about a 1,000-ft climb in the first couple miles hiking out of the Scab Creek Trailhead, and even though there is shade, I don’t enjoy that hike in the heat.
I took my time the first day and hiked to Divide Lake for the night. It is a large, beautiful lake with an old burn on the southern side, and Fireweeds cover the forest floor in between the tall, blackened trees. I walked off-trail up a valley to the right (SW) and found a nice open campsite on top of a hill. At the time, the mosquitoes and flies were a bit bothersome, so I wanted to pitch camp in the wind instead of down in the trees, and the wind did help keep them off me as I ate dinner.
There was a sandy-bottomed shore near the valley where I wandered to find my camp, and it made for a perfect swimming and sun-bathing spot the next morning. The water was clean and clear, and I enjoyed a relaxing morning on the banks of this calm lake. I watched fish bite, squirrels wrestle, and helped a dragonfly out of the water – it dried its wings while catching its breath on my finger, then flew away. Quite a nice lake to enjoy some much-appreciated alone time.
The second day, I hiked back to Little Divide Lake at the trail intersection and headed toward Lightning Lakes, where butterflies followed me all along the trail. I saw a group of people at Dream Lake (fishermen) and decided to press on to Raid Lake for the night so that I could have the view to myself. You are on a high plateau from Dream Lake to Raid Lake, and the trail is difficult to find and follow. A random post that looks out of place (probably the old trail sign) and random cairns on boulders help you stay on course, and they are welcome signs, despite the fact that you can easily tell the general direction you should head to get off the plateau.
At Raid Lake, I found an amazing campsite with a wonderful view of Mount Bonneville by taking a right up a valley just before the inlet of the smaller lake (SW of Raid). The campsite was perfect, but the water was a bit muddy-bottomed for my taste. I still enjoyed a bath despite stirring up the water with mud. I would have also rather collected water from the larger Raid Lake because it tasted a bit like it looked at the smaller lake.
After some yoga at camp the next morning, I headed toward Silver Lake. This turned out to be more difficult than anticipated, as the trail is often difficult to find and follow. I lost the trail on my way to Cross Lake, though it was easy enough to see the lake. I saw a small cabin as I walked along the lake, and from the cabin, spotted the trail sign up the hill. The cabin looked in good shape, so I checked it out. The door was locked, with a window broken, so I’m sure backpackers have climbed in the window to enjoy civilized shelter for the night. It looked creepy to me, though, with a chair placed oddly in the center of the room. Reminded me of some scary movie.. The image was softened by some Tibetan prayer flags that someone had hung on the back wall of the cabin, so I rested my mind at least that the place wasn’t haunted.
I spotted the second group of people on my trip near Cross Lake Cabin, headed SE on the Highline Trail. At the sign, I headed up a saddle toward Silver Lake – the trail is only marked by random cairns, but the pass between two hills is pretty obvious. There are a lot of cows in this area, and they leave pretty well-worn trails, which often confused me into thinking the cow trail I was on was the main trail. After realizing I’d wandered off on cow trails, I had to use my map and compass to find my way to Silver Lake. Somehow, I ended up following cairns and trees with axe marks to a no-name lake west of Silver Lake (must have been marked by a hunter or fisherman) and just followed the drainage to Silver Lake.
Silver Lake looks impressive on the map, and I imagined it would be beautiful, but I was a little surprised to discover that it is a man-made reservoir and looks quite unnatural in its surroundings. It is unique for sure, but not so appealing to swim in or camp by. There are no trees nor much grass around the lake, so no shelter from the wind and rain which were beginning to pick up as I searched for a camp. So, I opted to stay in the trees and rocks near the kidney bean-shaped lake to the west. I hid in my tent for the afternoon/evening thunderstorm and waited for it to clear up to eat dinner. As usual, the clouds cleared up completely after an hour or so, and I was able to enjoy the last rays of sunlight on my face as I ate.
The whole next day, I had to use my map and compass to navigate from Silver Lake to Star Lake. I followed a cow trail that seemed to line up with where the trail should be from Silver Lake to Jessie Lake, and from there I just followed any cow trail along the South Fork Silver Creek to the trail intersection of Cottonwood Trail and the Lowline Trail. That intersection seemed obvious, even without a sign, so I followed the “trail” headed NW. However, the well-worn cow trail led me astray yet again, and I ended up at a small, no-name pond which was close to the trail headed north to Upper and Lower Sylvan Lakes. From the grassy meadow, I saw the trail headed north and followed Silver Creak SW to meet back up with the Lowline Trail.
Eventually, I found the trail where it crossed Silver Creek, took my shoes off for the water crossing, and put on my rain gear for the afternoon thunderstorm.
The trail was clear and maintained all the way to Star Lake, which was a beautiful little lake with yellow pond lilies on the southern end by the trail. I enjoyed an apple there and told myself I would love to explore this area and camp at this beautiful little lake next time. On the northern side of Star Lake, I came across two firefighters who were dropped by a helicopter to put out a small forest fire. We chatted in the rain, and they pointed out the filleted skeletons of three huge fish on a rock, and it seemed like the lucky fisherman may have been the people who did not put out their fire properly.
From Star Lake, the trail to Monroe Lake was blocked by a large tree that had fallen, and a cow trail seemed to be the detour route but instead took me up Star Creek toward Moose Lake. I made a couple cairns to mark the trail over the tree and up the hill, where the real trail is easy to find and follow to Monroe Lake.
Monroe Lake is another cute lake with yellow pond lilies and butterflies all around. There is an illegal campsite (too close to the lake and trail) which looks like it’s been abused by horses and irresponsible backpackers. The trees are torn up by people tying their horses to them, trees have been chopped into camp chairs, and there was trash on the ground. It hurts me to see that, so I picked up as much of the trash as I could and left the rest in the fire ring for the Forest Service rangers to pack out. It would be nice if no one else camped there so that the ground could heal and start growing grass again. I like it when wilderness looks like wilderness.
I stayed the last night at Divide Lake again. I looked around for a different campsite from the first night, but the whole southern side of the lake is a hill of burnt trees and Fireweed, with little room (or flat ground) to camp. So, I returned to my previous campsite just as the sun was setting. Amazing how much time getting lost and unlost can take.
I enjoyed my last morning in the mountains and sat in silence as I watched the sun rise on Divide Lake. I took one last swim in the calm, clear water and watched the dragonflies, butterflies, birds, and rodents disregard my presence in their enjoyment of another beautiful day, said my thank you to the lake, and headed out.
The hike out was easy (especially going downhill this time), and I passed a large group of NOLS hikers sweating up the hill in the heat of the midday sun (that’s why I leave in the morning). I was happy to have had all of the lakes I camped at to myself. I thanked the mountains for my pleasure of morning swims, sunbathing, sunset dinners, and yoga (despite the mosquitoes and horse flies/deer flies/black flies).
Oh, and after I got home and looked at the Earthwalk Press map, I realized there were trails marked on there that weren’t on my Beartooth Publishing map, so a hiker out of Scab Creek might feel more comfortable with the Earthwalk Press map.
My favorite parts of this trail were Divide Lake and Star Lake. If I did the trip again, I would have skipped the hike from Raid to Silver and back up. I’d just spend more time at Divide Lake and Star Lake, or head north above Dream Lake. Backpacking alone, I didn’t enjoy the stress and anxiety of getting lost and having to navigate my way back to the trail, so I would rather stick with beautiful places and relaxation in the wilderness.