Circle Park Hike and Crazy Woman Canyon Drive – Buffalo

Buffalo, WY

With temperatures in Buffalo predicted to be in the high nineties, we headed out Tuesday morning to the high (and cooler) country in the nearby Bighorn Mountains.  We drove about 15 miles west on US-16 before turning right on to Forest Service Road 20, also known as Circle Park Road.

Looking west on Circle Park Road

A little over two miles up the dirt road we arrived at the end of the road, Circle Park Trailhead.  From here hikers can join a series of trails that wind past numerous small lakes in the Circle Park Wilderness.  Our plan was to hike from the trailhead (ele. 8250′) up a bit over three miles to Rainy Lake (ele. 9400′) and possibly another mile to Willow Lake.

As we headed up the trail we found the path to be very rocky, slowing down our pace as we steadily gained in elevation.

As we said, this area is filled with small ponds and lakes.  We soon passed one of these ponds covered with reeds and lily pads.  A closer look revealed the home of the pond construction company.

Home of the pond construction company

At 1.8 miles from the trailhead we passed by Sherd Lake.  We spotted a few people fishing as we hiked along the shoreline.

Sherd Lake

It was then another 1.3 miles up the rocky trail to our destination, beautiful Rainy Lake.

Lunch with a view

There was a strong wind blowing as we sat next to the lake enjoying lunch (which helped keep the flies away).  But unfortunately Rainy Lake lived up to its name.  The weather prediction for Buffalo included a zero chance of rain.  But things can be a bit different at higher elevations.  In the photo above you can just see some dark clouds over the mountains.  With the dark clouds approaching we finished lunch and decided to head back down the trail.  Soon the sky darkened and thunder rumbled in the distance.  As we headed back down the trail the thunder was right over our heads and it began to rain.  At one point it came down heavily, forcing us to take shelter under a group of pine trees for a few minutes.  But for the most part we hiked under a light drizzle.  Returning to the trailhead we found little evidence of rain and, of course, the skies were clear all day back in town.

The next day was much cooler so we decided to enjoy a scenic drive through Crazy Woman Canyon.  To get to the canyon we retraced our drive the previous day up US-16, drove five miles past the turn to Circle Park, and turned left on to Forest Road 33.

Heading east on FR 33

Soon the narrow road headed down into the canyon.  We stopped and removed the tops on the Jeep so we could enjoy the great views overhead.

The road follows Crazy Woman Creek as it flows down through the canyon.

Now we see where the canyon’s name comes from!

Beautiful rock formations loomed over us as the canyon narrowed.

Someone built a cairn in the middle of the creek

Somewhere near the middle of the drive through the canyon we stopped for about an hour to enjoy lunch and some quiet time along the creek.

Lunch with a view

Continuing down the road we came to a spot where the sound of the flowing creek suddenly stopped and the water disappeared.

A dry creek bed

The water disappears underground for about a quarter mile before returning to the surface.

The water returns to the surface

Red rocks remind us of southern Utah

After a drive of about four miles through the canyon the road goes up a hill and on to a wide, flat prairie.

Turning around to look back at the mountains we were treated to a view of beautiful patterns in the rocks on the hillside behind us.

OK, how did the canyon get its name?  In an photo earlier in this blog we showed you a photo that provides one possible explanation.  But there are other possible answers to this question.  There seem to be two popular theories for Crazy Woman Canyon. One says it was named for an Indian woman, left to live alone in her teepee here, who went insane. The other tells a tragic and violent tale of a settler who witnessed the capture and scalping of her husband by Indians, which drove her to insanity.  Believe what you want, we’re (or at least one of us) sticking to the woman in the earlier photo!

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38 Responses to Circle Park Hike and Crazy Woman Canyon Drive – Buffalo

  1. Hah! I’d forgotten how rocky that trail could be! Sure is purty up there though!

    Pam, you make a good namesake 😉

    • placestheygo says:

      The trail was rocky but it was fine and made us hike a pace I like:) However, it made for a slower return in the rain when we were trying to make time. I’m just sorry we couldn’t get all the way to Willow Lake.

      I’m sure our children agree with their father…Haha!

  2. 8machines says:

    Hope we get there next year!! Love the pictures!! I think river and streams are so pretty. We saw some streams on 395 running fast. Thanks for the update!!

  3. Sue says:

    We love that Crazy Woman!

  4. Jim and Barb says:

    What an appropriately named hike! We love hiking the high country, the wind, the lakes, the cooler temps…… Looks like a great one!

  5. You always find the best places for lunch with a view! I like the story of the woman settler. I’ll have to back through your posts to find the picture.

    • placestheygo says:

      This relaxing by the stream and not hiking was a first for us. Beth, the photo John was referring to was the one of me standing by stream that he captioned in reference to the Crazy Woman:)

  6. pmbweaver says:

    Those are two beautiful hikes. Even though it makes for a more difficult hike, I think the large rocks and boulders along the path make for a beautiful hike.

    We really enjoyed hiking next to a stream. Makes me feel like I’m back in the pioneer days when they followed the water. Lol.

    What the heck. You’re sitting in a chair for lunch. And what’s with the sandals with lunch with a view? What a hoot.

  7. Lenore says:

    Thanks for another great hike. Have you made it over to Devil’s Kitchen yet? It’s off of Rt. 14, between Shell and Greybull, just north of Reeves Corner if I remember correctly. Worth a visit.

    • placestheygo says:

      Lenore, I’m afraid Devil’s Kitchen is a little too far away. It is 117 miles one way from here. We might have considered it, though, if we hadn’t spent so much time in Utah with such spectacular rock formations and colors. But thanks for making the suggestion:)

  8. montanaclarks says:

    The Crazy Mountains near Big Timber are the same way–lots of different legends one of which is a woman watched her whole family murdered by Indians–who knows! 90 degrees here yesterday–UGH!

  9. That is one rocky trail! Funny about Rainy Lake and the rain.
    Just wondering if the high temps you’ve had in Buffalo are normal for this time of year?

    • placestheygo says:

      The trail wasn’t too bad since the rocks were larger and easy to get around. They just slowed the hiking down which was fine with me. Yes, arriving at Rainy Lake to see dark rain clouds was an interesting coincidence:) The temps are not usually this high this time of year. They should be in the high 70’s for June. But we haven’t seen that yet!

  10. Mary says:

    How pretty. And I would have to go to crazy woman canyon, just because.

  11. Debbie L says:

    What a fun post! Bit it’s a bit scary to be caught in a thunderstorm. That’s happened to us a few times….glad you made it out safely!

  12. LuAnn says:

    Looks like another great hike! We did a long hike the other day then spent a day exploring some sights, which I will blog about in the next couple of days when we get to our friends in Bozeman. Connectivity in the Tetons isn’t great where we are.

  13. Laurel says:

    Cool! You found a beautiful lunch spot with comfy chairs! Those look like two great outings. Nice that you were able to cool off, not so fun to be caught in a thunderstorm. I like your version of Crazy Woman Canyon the best (and just remember, she’s crazy in a GOOD way). :-))

    • placestheygo says:

      John was quite proud of his post with me as the Crazy Woman, Laurel:) Yes, crazy in a good way:) It was fun to make the drive through the canyon, sit by stream, and relax. Something very different for us.

  14. Sherry says:

    Better be careful what you say about that crazy woman. She hangs around your house remember? Pretty fantastic to take that great drive with your top down. I’m envious. Temps in the high 90’s Really? In Wyoming? That can’t be normal. We’ve been there twice later in the summer and the temperatures were wonderful. But I guess we were higher up than Buffalo. Boy that was a rocky trail. Love the pond construction company and your view but the difference between the clouds in those two really lovely lake view pictures is pretty dramatic. I actually don’t mind hiking in the rain if it isn’t a downpour and there isn’t lightning.

    • placestheygo says:

      The temps are higher than normal in this area. Even at 8300 ft it was 80 degrees which is very warm. Buffalo at 4500 ft should be closer to the high 70’s, but we haven’t seen that yet.

  15. Jodee Gravel says:

    Love that you’re sharing all these pretty, high elevation, locales that we’re not likely to see. Although so far, so good in Estes Park 🙂 Love that drive along the creek – so cool! Maybe crazy, but that is a great pic :-))) I don’t think there are any places called Crazy Man…..I don’t get it

    • placestheygo says:

      You won’t have any trouble here, Jodee. Estes Park is at 8,000 ft isn’t it? This area is nothing but scenic drives and backroads. Lots of places for you to explore:) Yes, funny how there never is a Crazy Man Canyon or Mountain!

  16. Gay says:

    I love this post…I was wishing we were there with you! Absolutely gorgeous…

  17. geogypsy2u says:

    More great hiking, and cooler temps must feel nice. Except not so fun to get caught in a thunder storm. I’m happy to know this Crazy Woman who can get a canyon named after her.

  18. Nancy says:

    Stopping and enjoying the creek is exactly what retired life is all about! Rocky trail but oh how worth it. And once again… Two Lunches with a view!

  19. Debbie says:

    You find the bet hikes and lunch spots. We re so lucky to be living this life. Thanks for the story.

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