Like many Americans, two of my brothers are currently off work and have found themselves with more free time.
Instead of sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs, my brothers decided to take a road trip from Chicago to Montana. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment ideas that quickly gained traction. As they bounced around plans and ideas, I was trying to figure out how I could get out of work and join them on what sounded like an incredible adventure.
I built up a little courage and asked the bossman for a few days off last minute around the 4th of July. I shared my plans of fishing, camping, and exploring the West with my two brothers. His response was quick, and the type that I hoped to hear. My vacation days were accepted, and the trip was on.
It was Thursday, July 2nd, and I was fishing up work for the day. As my work day was winding down, my brother Kevin was loading the car, this way we could leave the second I clocked out. Within 5 minutes of shutting down my computer, we were on the road heading west.
Leaving Chicago around 4:30 pm we drove and drove until we rolled into the Walmart parking lot in North Platte, Nebraska twelve hours later.
Kevin hopped in the back and sprawled across the laid out back seats of our Hyundai Tucson. I slept in shotgun snuggled up against a hooded sweatshirt that I pinned between the seat and door.
It was about 4:30 am when I heard my brother crawl out of his sleeping bag and request that I open up the trunk so that he could get out and take a pee. After that, we grabbed a gas station coffee; and hit the road. Our goal was to get to Laramie, Wyoming, around breakfast. My best friend Sam was driving up from Colorado to meet us at a trailhead in the Medicine Bow National Forest, and I didn’t want to be late.
We made our mark and met Sam in the parking lot. This area is one of Sam’s favorite places to hike, and he was excited to show us the backcountry of Wyoming.
We parked in a recreational area called the Sugar Loaf Mountain which was sitting roughly 9,000 feet above sea level. Being two flatlanders from Illinois, it’s safe to say Kevin and I were out of our element.
We packed our backpacks, loaded up on water, and then double-checked our fishing gear before heading out. We needed to reach North Gap Lake, which was about 5 miles into the mountains through rough terrain.
The Medicine Bow National Forest is littered with crystal clear high alpine lakes that offer tremendous trout fishing opportunities to anyone willing to make the trek. The further you hike, the fewer people you see and generally, the fishing gets better.
We had our eyes set on the flat peak that sits between North and South Gap Lake. Sam had been before and kept raving about the view.
After two hours of trekking through snow, slush, and mud, we made it to camp. I’ve been sleeping in tents for as long as I can remember, and this was undoubtedly the prettiest place I’d ever camped.
We made a quick snack, set-up our tents, and then headed to a smaller lake about 1.5 miles deeper into the mountains. At this point, my legs were tired, but the fishing would end up being worth every single step.
We were catching small brook trout ranging from 6-12 inches almost every other cast. The water was crystal clear, you could just see the fish cruising around following your bait. They weren’t big fish, but damn were they aggressive. After about 30 trout landed, we took six back up the mountain and prepared them for dinner.
It was 75 degrees that day, but we were sitting at such a high elevation, there was still a giant snowdrift sitting right next to our campsite. We used the snow to keep trout, beer, and water cool.
After gutting the fish, we wrapped them in foil, added spices, and tossed them on a bed of hot embers we made from burning mountain pine. We paired the fish with some camp potatoes that Sam prepped the morning before. After a delicious meal, we put out the fire and went to bed.
We were so tired from the long day that we fell asleep that night before the sun made its way down.
It was around 6:15 AM when I woke up from the noise of Sam’s tent unzipping. This was enough to spring me out of bed and get my day started. We all wanted to get up and out of camp as quickly as possible. After 20 minutes of packing and a final sweep through the camp, making sure nothing was left behind, we headed back on the trail, eventually getting to our vehicles around 8:30 AM.
From there, Sam headed back home to Colorado and we headed North to the Teton National Park, about 5 hours away.
Like I mentioned before, I have two brothers on this trip. Kevin was riding with me, and my other brother, Matt, was traveling with his Finance, Anna.
Those two lovebirds were already in the Tetons with a campsite in mind. So, Kevin and I departed, hoping to reach them by afternoon. After a few gas station stops, we made it to the Teton National Park.
The Teton National Park sits just below Yellowstone National Park. Both parks are known for incredible mountain peaks and diverse wildlife.
We made it to camp, set up tents, and then took a quick hike around the busiest trail in the entire Grad Teton National Park. We just wanted to stretch our feet and get a lay of the land before calling it a night.
And what did we see? A gosh-dang bear! Ten minutes into our hike, we saw a female bear walking with her three newly born cubs. Probably one of the coolest wildlife encounters of my life happened right off the bat.
The rest of the day we spent winding down at the Lizard Creek campsite on the northside of the Teton National Park.
To me, there are two types of camping; car camping and backpack camping. While I have nothing against sleeping within 25 feet of a Toyota Camry, being further away from the roads, cars and people is simply better. With that being said, Kevin and I decided to load up our backpacks and head into the mountains.
We were given a hot tip of a secluded lake loaded with cutthroat trout about 5 miles into the woods. After a couple of hours of tramping through the wilderness, we made it to our campsite.
The woods are littered with bears so the park encourages tourists to make loud noises when walking in the woods. Most bears will take off when they hear a human, so the loud noises help prevent any unwanted encounters.
Kevin and I whistled loudly as we walked to spook any potential predators. And then we made up this game where one of us would whistle the melody of a song and the other would try to guess it. It’s a fun game and much harder than you think when you suck at whistling like we do.
After setting up camp, we walked another 1-2 miles to the back country lake we had our eyes on. The “lake” was nothing but a small pond, but either way, it was one of the prettiest and most pristine bodies of water I’d ever seen. The lake had depth and current from the inflow and outflow on each end. These are both excellent signs.
We started fishing with small jerkbaits and crankbaits, but when things got tough, I tied on the old faithful—an inline spinner. After a couple of hours, we each had landed some nice trout ranging in sizes from 8-15 inches.
While we would typically take a few fish back to eat, we were in bear country, and had no desire to leave a scent trail right back to camp. So that day, the fish swam off.
On our way back to camp, Kevin stopped, sat down, and then pulled out his binoculars. After a few minutes of glassing (a term used for spotting wildlife using binoculars), Kevin noticed a big group of Elk sitting on the top of a mountainside. He handed me the set bino’s, and I had a look for myself. It was incredible to see such a large animal so high up on a mountainside. I have the utmost respect for any animal or human that can get up to a place like that.
We walked back to camp around sundown and then started a fire for a late dinner. We each ate a can of Spaghettio’s and finished it off by splitting a chocolate chip Cliff Bar.
After inhaling our food, we retreated to the tent and called it a night. Another successful day spent adventuring with my brother.
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