Medicine Bow Peak is a popular destination for hikers and there are several different ways to get there. The least busy trail is from the west side via Dipper Lake and Heart Lake.
The trail starts at Dipper Lake, but depending on your vehicle you may have to start somewhere on Forest Road 103 and hike a little extra (directions below). Dipper Lake is a large lake with a very small trailhead. There are two roads to Dipper Lake. The first turnoff appeared to be a road to a camping area in the meadow between the road and the lake. The second turnoff, more of a veer off, went to the trailhead. The trailhead is in the trees and has a couple signs, so you’ll know you’re there.
Find a parking spot in the turn around and start hiking the trail through the meadow. This faint trail is single-person wide at times, other times there are two tracks side-by-side which tells you this was a road at some point. There are signs now that say “no motorized vehicles.” The trail winds through the meadow, passing at least one lake about a half mile from the trailhead. When the trail gets faint, just look in the distance and you should be able to see it again.
About 0.85 miles from the trailhead, there’s a sign telling hikers they can continue to Medicine Bow Peak, 1.9 miles away, or turn off to Heart Lake, 1 mile away. I suggest hiking to the peak first, just in case storms move in. Plus, you want to do the climb while you have a little more energy. You’ve got a 1,200 foot climb in the next 1.9 miles.
Now the hike gets really challenging – not just because you’re climbing a peak, but also because the trail is gone! Look in the direction the sign is pointing for a pile of rocks with a stick – that’s your trail. For the next half mile or so, look for piles of rocks (called cairns) and piles of rocks with sticks – that’s your trail. There are times you’ll suddenly see a path in the tundra, that’s a nice treat. But most of the first section of the peak trail is just cairns and sticks.
The trail turns south for awhile, then east. Once it turns east, you’ll start gaining more elevation. As you climb, the trail is intermittent, but it gets better the higher up you go.
About a mile from the Heart Lake split (and 1.8 from the trailhead), you’ll come to a large sign. It’s a bit of a surprise after following sticks and rocks. The large sign marks the Medicine Bow Peak Trail 295. The sign says Dipper Lake is 1.7 miles, Heart Lake is 1.9 miles, Medicine Bow Peak is 0.9 miles, the Lewis Lake Trailhead (on the east side) is 2.8 miles and the Mirror Lake P.G. is 3.5 miles. That sign is good news, because it’s less than a mile to the top! (And about 500 feet of elevation.)
From here, enjoy the view behind you and the view ahead of you. You can’t see the peak yet, but it’s up there. Keep hiking up on the trail. Near the top, there is a long flat, rocky section as you head for the final push to the top. Just before you climb the final section, you’ll get your first look at the valley on the east side of the mountain, this is a great place for a photo stop. Then it’s time to climb the pile of rocks that make up the Medicine Bow summit. There’s actually a trail of sorts to follow as you head for the top.
At the top, marvel at that view. Directly below you, but slightly north is Lewis Lake (it has a parking lot) and several unnamed lakes and ponds. Past the parking lot, further east, is a series of lakes including Telephone Lakes. To the east, and south, along the ridge, is Lookout Lake and several more unnamed lakes and ponds.
Take a break, enjoy the scenery and return the way you came.
On the way back, don’t forget the side trail to Heart Lake. Heart Lake is about a mile each way and if you have the energy, it’s worth the side trip. The trail passes through scenic meadows and passes several lakes. You may only get a glimpse of some of the lakes though, because they are a bit of a distance from the trail and through the trees. However, you’ll get a good look at Upper Long Lake.
The trail to Heart Lake is like the first section of trail – it’s intermittent. If you lose the trail, just look a few steps ahead of you or across the meadow and you should find it again.
Details: The hike to Medicine Bow Peak from Dipper Lake is 7.4 miles roundtrip with about 1,300 feet of elevation gain. Add an extra two miles if you take the side trip to Heart Lake.
Directions: From Highway 130, turn on Forest Road 103. While our pickup trucks were able to drive the first 1.8 miles of the road, we ended up parking where Forest Road 103 and Forest Road 103 1H split. From here, Forest Road 103 got very rocky in places. I would suggest checking with the Forest Service before driving this road. From the split where we parked, it was about 1.6 miles to the Dipper Lake trailhead. (We also got to see one other lake along the road.)