Back in May we had tried to venture up to Saratoga, WY to enjoy a few days hiking and relaxing in the hot springs. Unfortunately, our plans were thwarted by a spring blizzard and we were not able to make it (despite our best efforts to outsmart the storm). That made October’s Resolution Destination that much sweeter, as it was time for our re-do. We packed our bags Thursday morning, dropped the dogs off at Corrie’s parents farm (their favorite place to vacation when we do) and hit the road with our fingers crossed that nothing was going to stop us this time.
If you ask us, Wyoming is an underrated state. Sure, it has its sections that can be painful to travel through because of high winds and less than exciting landscape. But if you start venturing off the beaten path it’s full of quirky, but charming, small towns and stunning landscapes.
We decided before we left that we wanted to stay off I-25 and I-80 as much as possible. Because, let’s face it, those are the routes that take you through the painful parts of Wyoming. After a tiny bit of Google Maps research, we found an alternate route that would take us along a smaller highway, was only 20 min longer in total drive time and it cut directly through the Medicine Bow National Forrest. We were super excited for our little road trip, so it was pedal to the metal as we sped North towards the Wyoming state line (bet you can guess who was driving).
After an hour and half of driving through Northern Colorado, and a minor road construction delay, we made it to Laramie, WY where we stopped for a quick bite of lunch. This was the largest of all the towns we drove through on this trip, but we were both taken in by its quaintness and small-town America, Main Street, feel. But, it wasn’t our final destination, so we were off again, car now pointed west. A few miles up the road we made another quick pit stop at a roadside porta-potty (cause Corrie has a baby bladder and couldn’t make it more than 10 min) and then we finally entered the Medicine Bow National Forrest.
Now this is going to be a surprise to anyone that lives in Colorado, because we’re supposed to be the exclusive mountain destination that the world revolves around… but holy crap, Wyoming has amazing mountains too! You would think that two people that grew up at the foot of the Rocky Mountains would be hard to impress and could easily view the Medicine Bow as just another pile of rocks and trees. But around every bend in the road, our jaws dropped further and Cameron heard Corrie shriek, “How pretty!!!” Between the fall colors, the snow-capped mountain-tops and the deep blue mountain lakes, we were more than satisfied with our chosen route.
After a couple of stops for pictures along the way, we descended off of the range and the mountains slowly started to unfold into rolling ranch hills. And before we knew it we had reached our final destination. Saratoga, WY… population 1,600. Zero stoplights. The coveted North Platte River running through town. Trout leaping in Main Street…? And natural mineral hot springs bubbling up through the ground.
We knew through pictures on the website that the Saratoga Hot Springs Resort was going to be a little kitschy. After all, they have teepees coverings their hot springs pools. And, other than the new beer garden that was being built, from the front it looked like a 1960’s roadside motel…complete with white walls and green trim. But it had a certain charm to it. We checked in and were handed “fresh baked” cookies and the classic motel key. As we walked to our room we passed animal heads and furs mounted to the walls, oversized log furniture and a large stone fireplace. It all had a cozy feel to it. When we entered our room, that’s where the coziness and charm ended… for Cameron, at least. The room was a bit… we’ll say tight. The oversized furniture extended from the lobby into our room. In a room that would be small with regular sized furniture, this made it almost uncomfortable for two people with luggage to navigate around. But, everything was very clean and that’s what was most important to Corrie. No heebie-jeebies here!
We arrived at the hotel late afternoon, so there wasn’t enough time to go for a hike or go fishing; and were at a hotel that offered their own, private hot springs. So we decided to go for a quick dip before dinner. We changed into our swimsuits, grabbed our $5 robes (yes, there is a rental fee) and made our way to the hot springs courtyard. We were extremely pleased to see that the hot springs were not crowded at all. They have 4 individual pools, covered with the teepees, one small group pool and one large group pool. We were able to snag one of the individual pools. When we checked-in, we were told that the small pools were the hottest. They were not lying! Corrie was only able to stand a few minutes of sitting chest deep in the water before she had to sit on the ledge with just her feet dipped in. But there were no complaints! The weather was in the 40’s, so the hot water felt splendid. After it finally became too hot for Cameron to stand, we quickly darted through the cold air over to the largest of the pools. There we wallowed for a bit in water that was cooler, but still warm enough that when we were done Corrie was scared to get out and freeze.
Relaxing soak completed, it was time for dinner. When you enter a town like Saratoga, it’s best not get your hopes too high for finding really good food. When your hopes are low, it can lead to amazing surprises. And that’s just what we found when we sat down at the Firewater Public House. Tucked away in an old house-turned restaurant right along the river, we were treated to an amazing dinner. And the people watching was even better!
It was restless night of sleep for Corrie, who generally doesn’t sleep well the first night a hotel, but also was suffering from a bout with insomnia. Regardless, we were excited to get up and go explore the area. We had a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant, packed the car with our hiking and fishing gear, stopped to pick up some snacks at the local supermarket (that smelled of rotting beef and ramen) and pointed our car towards the Green Mountain Falls trailhead.
Being neurotic like we are, we did plenty of research ahead of time to try and find the perfect hiking trail for us. Green Mountain Falls looked like it was going to be just what we were looking for… and it was. About 7 miles round trip and followed a small river the whole way up. The trail starts out a small four-wheeling road before it turns into a single-track walking path. We drove a short way up the road, but then Cameron decided it was best not to drive any further. It was windy (duh, we were in Wyoming) and he worried that a tree might blow down across the road and we’d be stuck. So we pulled to the side and started our trek on foot.
About 15 minutes into our hike Cameron spotted the perfect fishing hole. The river widened and deep pools bubbled by the banks. That’s when he realized that although he had grabbed his rod, reel and other gear, he had neglected to pack the most important item of all… the fly box (he’s not a smart man, but he knows what love is). With a sad look of longing in his eyes, he decided it was best that we move forward and not go back to the car to retrieve the lonely flies. So, we forged ahead, leaving behind all hopes of fishing.
The hike was absolutely stunning. It was late fall, so past the peak for fall colors, but there were still enough golden aspens lining the road to form a canopy above us and path of gold under our feet. The air smelled fresh and clean, with just a little bit of dampness to it. And it was quiet. Soooo quiet. In fact, we didn’t see another person the entire hike. Which, again, being from Colorado is something we are not used to. A trail leading up to a waterfall, 7 miles round trip, and easy to moderate the whole way – in Colorado it would have been mobbed with people.
It’s interesting how walking through the woods in total silence with nothing but the sound of your feet crunching in the dirt can make you hyper-aware of your surroundings and really gets you thinking. What was it we thought about, you ask? Thought #1… “it’s fall, animals such as moose and elk are foraging, bears are preparing to hibernate.” Thought #2… “We’re in the middle of nowhere, with no people around, and we have no form of protection. Shit.” Know what else is interesting? How creepy the woods can suddenly become when you start looking at them from that lens. You start to wonder what’s unexpectedly waiting for you around every bend. Lucky for Cameron, Corrie is loud. Lucky for Corrie, Cameron has large clapping hands. So we tromped merrily up the trail shouting and clapping the whole way, with the hope that if anything was lurking our noise would give them enough advanced warning to not startle and attack. It wasn’t until about halfway up Corrie realized she had a whistle attached to her backpack (she’s not a smart woman, but she knows what love is) …. saved us from hoarse voices and sore throats and hands for sure.
Other than our own ruckus, it was a peaceful hike. When the road ended and the single-track began, it started to snow. Not a heavy snow, but enough that as the elevation climbed and we were soon looking down on the river from above, it made for a magical scene. After about two miles on the single-track, a slight delay of game when the trail faded out over a rock out cropping and we didn’t know which way to go, we finally reached our destination… Green Mountain Falls. It wasn’t one large fall like you would typically think of when someone says “waterfall.” But instead it was made up of several cascading falls.
There was a bridge that crossed over the falls as you entered another national forest. But we had reached our destination, and a beer was sounding good, so we turned around and headed back to the car. Clapping and whistling and yelling all the way.
The hike down was thankfully as un-eventful as the hike up. But as we were nearing the car on the four-wheeling road we both instantly became thankful for Cameron’s intuition to not drive in any further than we had. Stretched end to end across the road, about a half mile from where we parked, was a large pine tree that had been uprooted by the wind at some point during our hike (literally, roots and all).
A stare and chuckle of disbelief, we skirted the obstacle and made it back to the car safe and sound and craving some heat (maybe that was just Corrie, cause we all know Cameron’s hot enough as it is).
After the hike, based on a blogger’s recommendation, we decided to stop in Riverside for lunch at the Bear Trap. If Saratoga feels like it’s a small town with a population of 1,600, then Riverside feels almost non-existent with a population of 59. Don’t blink, cause you’ll miss it! The Bear Trap was a small, hole-in-the-wall joint – but isn’t everything in a town of that size? We walked through the front door and were met with curious “who are you?” eyes from the few locals who were “enjoying” their lunch (their faces didn’t really scream enjoyment, so we can only assume). Because Corrie was still chilled, we picked our table in front of the wood burning stove. There in the glow of the fire we enjoyed a lunch of Fat Tire and mediocre bar food. Certainly nothing to write home about. But it’s probably a good thing it wasn’t spectacular, since we knew we were going out for an Italian dinner that night we didn’t want to over indulge at a late lunch.
After lunch, as we were driving back to Saratoga, we decided to checkout a public access fishing spot. The scene was once again picturesque. The large, rambling North Platte river rolling beneath the autumn trees that lined the banks. There was just one problem… it was windy as hell! And let’s face it, while Cameron could fish in hurricane winds and be perfectly happy, Corrie is a big freaking wuss. She offered to stay in the car and read while Cameron fished – after all, he already missed one opportunity that day. But he refused, making up some lame excuse about how it wouldn’t be any fun without her. What a liar.
Once back at the hotel we decided it was time for another soak in the hot springs. This time though, we came prepared with a glass (okay a water bottle) of wine. We again enjoyed an individual pool (this one about 10 degrees cooler than the first) and the medium sized pool. It has to be said – one of the best ways to end a great day of hiking is with a nice long soak in mineral hot springs. It was absolutely perfect.
That night we decided to walk to dinner, because in a no-stoplight town, nothing is that far away. And we were about indulge in some heavy Italian food, so we figured walking off the carbs was the smart choice. We strolled through the quiet streets of town and listened to the cheers of Friday Night Lights coming for the high school football field.
Our restaurant of choice that night was Bella’s Bistro. Another cute little restaurant set in an old house. We had read that you should always make a reservation at Bella’s. If you didn’t, you probably weren’t going to get in. It seemed a little funny to us that in a town that small a reservation would be required. But, lucky for us, Cameron doesn’t know how to go out to eat without making a reservation first. So we were all set. Once we sat down and started looking around, we realized why reservations were required. The place was packed with what we could only assume were wealthy cattle ranchers from the surrounding areas. It also suddenly dawned on us why we saw so many private jets at the small Saratoga airport we drove by. Big time ranchers flying in to check on their stock. It made for some great people watching!
The food at Bella’s was spectacular. More than made up for a lack luster lunch. And we were once again surprised at the dining scene Saratoga had to offer. So much flavor and many fresh ingredients. We walked back to hotel happy and full.
It was short trip, but it was time to get back to the real world, so checkout day was upon us. We packed up, headed to the hotel restaurant for a quick breakfast once again and turned in our keys at the front desk. This is where the trip reached a moment of frustration and perhaps a bit of anger.
We had chosen Saratoga Hot Springs & Resort as a resolution destination because we had found a Groupon for it. When we were snowed out of the trip in May, we were forced by the hotel to reschedule or lose the money we had already paid. There was no mention that when we rescheduled they would no longer honor the Groupon because the reschedule date was past the expiration of the Groupon. So instead, they took what we had paid for the Groupon and applied it towards the regular room rate… which was, let’s just say WAY overpriced for what we got.
Generally, we like to think that we’re pretty reasonable and understanding. But this particular incident had us both fuming! The first reason is that we, as hard as we try, aren’t able to control “acts of God.” And you would think a resort in the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming would accommodate for incidents such as 25+ inches of snow that closes the highways. The second reason is that we weren’t told our Groupon would no longer be valid. In the end, it would have been cheaper for us to not reschedule and lose what we had already paid. Essentially the Groupon gave us two nights for the price of one, had we been able to use it in May. When we rescheduled for October, we still ended up paying double what we paid for the Groupon ON TOP OF THE “CREDIT” for the Groupon. But enough of the sour grapes, it was what is was. We begrudgingly paid our bill, packed the car and headed south.
The drive back was just as beautiful as the drive up. We even stopped along the way in the Medicine Bow range to leave a little hidden mark of our love (get your minds out of the gutter).
Overall, it was another successful trip. Would we go back to Saratoga Hot Springs & Resort? Probably not, unless their prices dropped drastically. Would we visit the area to hike and fish again, absolutely! It proved to us further that some of life’s most beautiful moments occur off the beaten path.
Destination rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
What We Learned
- DO: stay at Saratoga Hot Springs Resort, it really is nice and comfortable, BUT try to get a deal that’s cheaper than their advertised rates.
- DO: hike Green Mountain Falls Trail, it’s beautiful and secluded.
- DO: bring your own robe if you don’t want to rent one, they’re great for the chilly walks to and from the pools.
- DON’T: drive in past the trailhead at Green Mountain Falls without a good saw; Wyoming is always windy and there were lots of downed trees.
- DON’T: forget a water bottle to take wine or your preferred beverage to the pool with you.
- DON’T: forget to make reservations at Bella’s Bistro, you probably can’t dine there without one.