Dispersed Camping in Medicine Bow National Forest

Our camp on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.

Our camp in the Medicine Bow National Forest. Obviously there had been a forest fire here recently.

After our eventful two days of fighting traffic, storms and mud in the Black Hills it was time to do the final leg of our Wyoming adventure. There was one last Scenic Byway I needed to travel and that was the Snowy Range Scenic Byway that’s on the far southern edge of Wyoming very near the Colorado border. It crosses the Medicine Bow National Forest directly west of Laramie Wyoming. So my next goal was to head south across the state and get to Laramie.

Normally 350 miles would be a pleasant days drive, but because I was starting so late after getting stuck I didn't want to do it one day. So I looked for a place to camp along the way. The medicine Bow NF was just where I needed it and at high enough elevation for it to be cooler than the surrounding plains in August.

Normally 350 miles would be a pleasant days drive, but because I was starting so late after getting stuck I didn’t want to do it all in one day. So I looked for a place to camp along the way. The Medicine Bow NF was just where I needed it and at high enough elevation for it to be cooler than the surrounding plains in August.

The problem was that I had gotten a late start in the day because of getting stuck, plus, it was hot so I knew I couldn’t make it all the way down to Laramie in the remaining daylight. Because of the heat I wanted to get up out of the high plains and into a National Forest somewhere along the way to camp in. The only National Forest between Spearfish and Laramie was the northern section of the Medicine Bow NF just north and west of Wheatland, Wyoming on Interstate 25. That was my goal for the day.

When I need to find a camp along my travel route, the first thing I do is get out my most important tools, my Benchmark Recreation Atlas and Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer. They are large books of maps with each state broken down by page with a fairly large scale map of each section. It always shows the National Forests along my route and generally shows BLM land. They have enough detail to show me the larger Forest or BLM Roads and almost without exception I can find a dispersed campsite along one of them. Get the Benchmark from Amazon Here: Benchmark Atlas From Amazon.com  and the Delorme from Amazon Her: Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer . I’ll show you how to use them in another post soon.

This is a photo from the Delorme  Atlas and you can see it shows much detail. But, I find it shows too much and the map is confusing. The two together is ideal. The Benchmark Atlas shows me the bigger picture clearly, the DeLorme Atlas gives me details if I need them. It also shows BLM land.

This is a photo I took of the Delorme Atlas and you can see it shows much more detail than most maps. But, I find it shows too much and the map is confusing. The two together is ideal. The Benchmark Atlas shows me the bigger picture clearly, the DeLorme Atlas gives me details if I need them.As you can see, it also shows BLM land.

I left Spearfish headed due west on Interstate 90 and drove straight through to Gillett, Wyoming where I stopped for lunch and then turned south on State Route 59. It wasn’t a pretty drive. Most of the way it’s high plains with sagebrush, and part of the way you drive through Thunder Basin National Grasslands which is just what it says, a grassland. It’s probably what the plains looked like before Europeans got here and did everything they could to destroy it. It’s just flat and boring, but you can make some serious time and distance. I took it all the way to Douglas, Wyoming where I got on Interstate 25 and continued south.

The problem with finding National Forests along the Interstates is finding an Exit close to them that also gives access to them. By carrying a Benchmark or DeLorme Atlas, they both show the major Forest Roads and the Exits so you can know where to gt off the freeway and into them. They both give enough details that I had no problem finding my way into the Forest and a great campsite. On the way out I did it as a loop and got gas in Wheatland, WY.

You can see that this Google map shows very little detail in the National Fores. No more how far I zoom in, it is of little use.  By carrying a Benchmark or DeLorme Atlas, they both show the major Forest Roads and the Exits so you can know where to get off the freeway and into them.They give enough details that I had no problem finding my way into the Forest and a great campsite. On the way out I did it as a loop and got gas in Wheatland, WY.

At Exit 94 I got off and turned due west and followed a small, paved country road until it became an even smaller unpaved county road which eventually turned into a dirt Forest Road in the National Forest.  It was a fairly steep, winding road and as soon as we climbed up into the trees it became very obvious that there had been a forest fire here recently and there weren’t many trees left, it was almost entirely charred remains and stumps of trees. The openness of the forest gave a great view down and across the plains so it was actually pretty in a way

I had a nice view looking out across the mountains at the distant plains.

I had a nice view looking out across the mountains at the distant plains.

It was late and almost dark so as soon I was sure I was in the National Forest and found a decent campsite I set up camp there. I was closer to the road than I liked but it was steep and winding so there wasn’t much traffic and what little there was moved slowly enough I wasn’t worried about Cody getting run over. On our daily walks Cody and I would walk up above the fire and into green trees and it was a very pretty forest. If we hadn’t been so late in the day and I hadn’t been so tired when we got here, we could have gone on and found a green campsite–but then we would have missed the great views and the owls.

Cody and I walked up the road twice a day and just a little further up you got out of the burn and into lots of wildflowers. This would be a great area to spend a couple weeks in the summer.

Cody and I walked up the road twice a day and just a little further up you got out of the burn and into lots of wildflowers. This would be a great area to spend a couple weeks in the summer.

I’d heard that fires were actually good for the land and apparently it must be true because this place had more rabbits than I had ever seen–they were everywhere! Unfortunately they were cottontails. The reason that’s bad is they are the slowest, dumbest rabbits I’ve ever seen. Cody has no problem out-running and out-maneuvering them so if I don’t control him, he’d catch and kill a whole bunch of them. When there is dense brush, they can stay safe and hide from him, but after the fire it was wide-open and they were easy targets. Most of the time I could keep him close on our walks with voice commands, but sometimes he just couldn’t resist chasing the rabbits and ran them down. That’s when he had to go for a walk on a leash.

Forest fores must be good for rabbit populations, because it had exploded where we were camped.

Forest fires must be good for rabbit populations, because it had exploded where we were camped.

Because of the huge rabbit population there were numerous birds of prey in the area, including two very large owls. Our first night there I was sitting looking out the side door of the van at dusk, watching rabbits run around (Cody was leashed inside the van). Super quickly the pair of owls swooped in and one caught a rabbit and took off and the other landed and watched for a while. We saw them briefly several times after that. It was a very cool experience I’ll always treasure!

The Forest up above the burn.

The Forest up above the burn.

I had good internet there so we stayed for two days to rest and relax and then continued our journey on to Laramie and over to the Snowy River Range Scenic Byway. I had never even herd of it before, but it turned out to be one of the best most beautiful parts of Wyoming; I came with many great photos. We’ll cover that in my next travel post.

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_W_E5SFCxwpSOaqMjOOBTg

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP AMAZON.COM
Benchmark Atlas From Amazon.com
Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

15 comments on “Dispersed Camping in Medicine Bow National Forest
  1. Calvin R says:

    Thank you for the discussion of maps. As always, the practicalities of vandwelling interest me. Thanks especially for the pictures. I have used a Delorme Atlas and I agree with your assessment. Patience is required, but the Delorme gives much information. I have not used a Benchmark Atlas, so a picture of one of their pages would be useful. I find Google maps very good at showing roads, useful for finding businesses, and not much for other uses. (They give bicycle routes, but those often add distance in order to use off-road routes.) The assorted States offer maps of varying quality that are almost always difficult to re-fold and keep organized.

    I wondered how you would handle wildfire territory in your photography. You found a good balance, I think. I find the past season’s wildfires scary because of their number and extent. Given my lung problem, I’ll keep an eye on that.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin, I have a post coming up just on finding dispersed campsites and it will include photos from the Benchmark as well. I’m a map Geek and I buy maps in the areas I go to, but no matter what the minimum is to have at least one or the other of a BenchMark or DeLorme Atlas. If I spend enough time in a state, I’ll have both.

      As the planet warms rainfall will change drastically everywhere. Warm air holds more moisture so more water will move into the atmosphere and away from the surface. Drought will drastically increase and areas that get rain will get more rain in bigger downpours leading to more severe flooding. Worse, more precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow. Billions of people will suffer because the rivers they depend on will run dry in the summer without snow. We’re seeing that everywhere now, and it will get much worse.

      Trees will be stressed because of drought and the heat, the heat will allow the spread of more beetles to attack the already weakened trees. There won’t be enough snowpack to get them through the summer.

      Bottom line is, we ain’t seen nothing yet when it comes to forest fires. Everywhere you go in the Sierras and Rockies you see millions of acres of dead or dying trees–they’re all going to burn eventually.

      Of course when they burn they pump all that carbon into the air they’ve been storing and they no longer remove any because they are dead. Then we are into a viscous feedback loop that just pushes us over the edge.
      Bob

  2. jim says:

    Thinks for another great post as always one other thing that’s killing all the timber is the pine beetles one more thing the government though was a good idea to get rid of the lady bugs, off subject what do you think the average age is of people living like you do before they have to come off the road and have a permanent place to live and how many do you think have a so call plan b if a person does not die at some point there will be no way to live the life style your body will just not let you even though the mine would like to I understand at some point a person may not even be able to stay in a home they have thinks for your thoughts

  3. tommy helms says:

    Poor Bugs…he was no match for Cody 🙁

  4. I used to think grasslands were boring, too. But the last time I was driving through the plains it was very soothing. It was like being a bug on a gently undulating putting green that stretched to the horizon in every direction.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Still in the desertMy Profile

  5. Ming says:

    It’s nice to get some of your summer travel posts right about now, as we’re dealing with Pacific winter storms and arctic air masses.

    How can you tell from your maps the elevations of your prospective campgrounds?

    Hey, if you were into cooking (and eating) rabbit stew, Cody could help you keep your food bill down!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ming, the Benchmark in particular is very good at giving elevation right in the map. The DeLorme has topo lines but finding the elevation on it is hard and once you find it you have to count the lines to find exactly what you’re after. It isn’t nearly as good for elevations.
      Bob

  6. shawn says:

    HI. love the site. Im a working musician, and IM about outr of patience with this check to check life, in a city. I want to get out, and see the nature hikes and locations, in my pathfinder..

    Do yopu still feel the workcamp.com site is valid, and I could find work through that?

    I do not have a mobile income, Im working to find something to do,maybe guitar lessons, through the internet, but I most likely will work on the road

    I have a website, about my forida hikes,and I intend on doing that full time, video and pics of every damn hiking trail I can find before I die
    Thank you for your site

  7. Ron Orbas says:

    Hi, Bob. What is the app that you use to find dispersed camping sites on public lands?

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