Last week a friend posted this question on the facebook page of our local kid-friendly hiking group.
Any tips for a family hike up Medicine Bow Peak? Best trailhead?
It just happened to coincide with some other questions we’ve been asked lately regarding taking kids to the top of the peak. So, I thought it’d be a good time to talk a little bit about climbing Medicine Bow Peak with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Medicine Bow Peak is the highest peak in the Snowy Range at 12,013 feet. It is part of a rugged ridge line that towers over several alpine lakes and forest below. There are several different trailheads that will take you to the summit.
The Lewis Lake Trailhead is very scenic at 1.6 miles offers the shortest route to the summit.
The Lake Marie Trailhead offers a generally more gradual, but longer climb (3.6 miles) which is just as scenic. It will also take you past an old lookout cabin.
No matter your route you will hike through some very steep sections and very rocky sections but there is hardly a spot on the trail that doesn’t offer a stunning view.
Here’s a video of the hike to the peak. I think it does a good job of showing the terrain that you’ll see on the climb.
I think the beauty of Medicine Bow Peak is that it is a peak that the entire family can bag together. But it’s not an easy hike and I would say that when it comes to outdoor family adventures it’s one that needs to be approached with caution.
This might not be the hike for your family if you aren’t comfortable with heights, altitude, and unstable rocky terrain. Or, if you aren’t comfortable carrying a baby or toddler on your back on a steep climb. Or if thinking about your children standing on a rocky summit without good footing makes you nervous. Instead of a summit attempt I’d recommend a waterfall hike or a scenic trek to Gap Lakes instead.
Usually, I’m comfortable taking risks in the outdoors with kids, in fact probably a little bit too comfortable. But I did try to summit earlier this summer alone with both kids and turned around just a few hundred feet from the summit when the terrain got a little bit too difficult to manage by myself with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. If you do hike with kids know that it’s okay not to summit. Part of being savvy in the outdoors is knowing when to call it a day.
With that being said, we frequently see families on this peak and there’s no better family holiday photo than one that’s taken at 12,013 feet.
Here are a few tips for the hike.
- Food and fluids are essential for both you and kids of all ages at altitude. Pack more than you think you’ll need and don’t forget to stop often to replenish your bodies. The good news is that no matter where you stop you’ll be able to find a nice rock to sit on and you’ll be able to enjoy a spectacular view.
- Get an early start. The parking lots at both Lewis Lake and Lake Marie fill up quickly and you’ll want to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and lightning. Try to be moving no later than 7:30 or 8 am.
- Save this trail for August and September after the snow melts and before the snow flies.
- Some parents find hiking with a child in a framed backpack carrier is challenging on this trail since there will be some bending over to scramble across the rocks. If you do hike with a framed carrier make sure that your kiddo is securely fastened so they won’t fall out of the carrier or choose a soft carrier–like an Ergo instead. A soft carrier will keep the child tucked snug against your body and help with your center of balance. If you want to use a backpack carrier take your kid up to Vedauwoo and practice a few scrambles while wearing the carrier before tackling the peak.
- Choose your trailhead carefully. I always recommend the Lewis Lake trailhead for families because it’s shorter. I know that after 3 or 4 hours on the trail my kids are done so the least amount of mileage is usually better for my family. But if your kids are bigger and can handle a longer day you might want to go the Lake Marie Route, the trail is easier until you reach the gap. No matter how you look at it, the final summit push is going to be tough and there’s no way to avoid it.
- Be prepared for crazy weather. We consider a raincoat and a winter hat essential items on this hike no matter what the season. The summit will be windy and cold even if the weather in Laramie is downright tropical. Also don’t forget sun protection, even on a cloudy day.
- Break out those trekking poles, the extra support is awesome if you’re carrying a child.
- It’s okay to reward yourself on this hike…this is a hard hike for adults. It’s even harder for kids. But I’ve heard of 5 and 6-year-olds summiting without any help–and I can’t wait for that day. Maybe you keep a stash of jellybeans in a pocket or promise ice cream in Centennial on the way home.
- Tell a few stories to keeps little hikers motivated. There is some fascinating history around the peak. You can talk to your kids about the time an airplane crashed into the mountain. Or the women who kept watch for fires from the peak.
If I haven’t talked you into attempting to climb the peak by now here are just a few more reasons and of course, you can check out our trail page and download a free trail map right here.
Here’s the view as you descend the peak.
Have you climbed the peak with kids? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of this hike? What would you add to the list?