50 Hikes 50 States Project–Wyoming
For this particular state, we decided to do a road trip and combine Montana and Wyoming for our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. We had left from Denver in our new Tesla, driving through Wyoming to get to Montana where we hiked the Four Dances Trail near Billings. From there, we headed south, skirting the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park (read my tips on how to avoid Yellowstone crowds), and arrived at South Pass City, WY, for what might be my favorite hike so far in this American hiking project.
Hello South Pass City
South Pass City, WY, a tiny spot in the middle of the middle of no where, bursts with fun, intrigue, beauty, and history. It’s so gosh-darn interesting, Patagonia will hold its annual Run the Red marathon there. We weren’t there to run, but we were there to complete our next state’s hike.
We drove down the 3-mile dirt road and arrived early. We greeted a fellow getting ready to pack out on the Continental Divide Trail, which runs through the center of town. Wishing him Happy Trails, we took a look at the trail map nicely recreated on the billboard in the parking lot. Three trails combine through sage and pine to create a giant loop of about 5 miles. I couldn’t wait to head out.
A Network of Mining Trails
The State of Wyoming turned this old ghost town into a state park. Various trails lead to old claims, retired mining equipment, and historic buildings. Along the way, interpretive signs add richness and history to the hike through sage, juniper, aspen, and pine.
Of course, being a story about mining, there must be water to help process the ore to gold. The trail also dips across and runs parallel to Hermit Creek, which provided nice shade and respite from the warmer uplands of the hike.
A Bit of Spanish
We picked the Flood & Hindle Trail to start our loop. Surprise! At the trailhead, the Friends of South Pass City provided a sunscreen dispenser. We greased up and continued along the dirt path, taking us first across the Hermit Creek, and then to several buildings that were once the Smith homestead. The kitchen building, an 8 x 8 wood shingle shack, still had some of its rusting cooking gear. From there, the trail continued along the creek, taking us to the Flood & Hindle arrastra.
A Spanish class was in order. The interpretive signs taught us the origin of “arrastra,” and then we rounded the corner to see an arrastra. A flume from the creek attached to a rotating wheel that crushed and moved ore. The miners would add mercury to the ore to extract the gold. I can’t imagine the mess, but wow, how cool to see an authentic piece of mining equipment.
We journeyed on. The trail rose out of the creek bed and on to the mountainside, connecting with the Mohamet Group Trail. The trail became more rocky and no shade protected us. We meandered on trail through the sage, where the park service provided wonderful stories of the various miners and their attempts to homestead and claim mines.
The trail lead to us along a gulch, past an incline shaft and to the Cuba Mine. Stories highlighted the way. We got a kick out of the strategy the miners used to intimate other claimers and miners by locating their operations within vision of the other miners. Veiled and not-so-veiled attempts were used to threaten competition. Life was not easy; it became easier if someone bought you out.
The English Tunnel
Down the side of the hill we went on a rocky trail to the Hermit Creek Trail. It was surprising to go from a dry sage brush ecosystem into cool, willow and aspen forest. We were hiking at around 8000 feet. The trail took us to the most interesting feature of the 5-mile loop, the English Tunnel.
The English Tunnel, with tracks, ore carts, shafts, and a cave-style entry, told the story of how simple gold-panning mining could become a complete operation with heavy tools, heavy lifting, and heavy finds. It would be fun to come back and attend a guided tour of the mine.
The last part of the Hermit Trail took us to the actual ghost town of South Pass City. Dotted along a main street, we found an assortment of restored buildings. Homes, taverns, hotels, and general stores captured our imagination. Again, the State of Wyoming had painstakingly restored and interpreted the buildings, of which most of them we could enter and explore. We meandered for a good 45 minutes through the buildings after paying the well-worth-it $5 entry.
The Home of Women’s Suffrage
But the creme de la creme of the tour popped up at the end of the row of buildings, the courthouse of the first U.S., female, justice of the peace! In the courthouse, we learned the history of woman’s suffrage in Wyoming and how South Pass City owns the rights to the first female vote in the U.S. My daughter and I took a picture in front of it in honor of my great Grandma Virgie, who fought for suffrage in West Virginia in 1910. It was a tearful moment.
To end our fabulous day hiking in South Pass City, we found the general store and treated ourselves to some handmade chocolate bark. Our 5-mile hike in the sun caused us to want something sweet to give us a burst. But we quickly learned we weren’t the intended audience for the chocolate. The thru-hikers of the Continental Divide Trail often bought out all the chocolate in the store!
Perhaps My Favorite Hike So Far
Hiking Wyoming, we have now completed 7 states in our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. I loved this hike. It was a good length, it was moderately difficult in some places, it was loaded with great history that was personal to me, and all members of my family completed the hike. If you’re thinking about hiking South Pass City on your way to/fro Yellowstone National Park, you can certainly shorten the hike by cutting off the big loop, and other members of your family could easily enjoy themselves in the ghost town while you enjoy longer hiking. Although there were a few snacks, trinkets, and water in the general store, plan ahead and bring sufficient water with you.