I didn’t know much about Buffalo when I accepted a six-week editing job here for February and part of March. I knew the Bighorn Mountains flanked the town, and the few times I’d visited they’d seemed magical.
I was sure there would be something to do outside. I called the U.S. Forest Service’s Buffalo office and chatted with Brian Boden, a natural resource specialist. He said almost every snow sport Wyoming offers is found on the forest.
I’d chatted with Boden before unseasonably warm temperatures swept the area, removing any traces of snow and winter in town. So I felt as though I was over-packed for snowcover. But when I checked in with Boden again he assured me there was still snow up in the mountains, it’s just more like spring instead of February. Besides, he said, a trip into the Bighorns is always worth it, even when the snow isn’t good.
“You can get back to see some gorgeous scenery,” he said. And the warm, dry weather shouldn’t last.
I hope he’s right because there’s a lot of things I want to do in the next six weeks.
You can rent two Forest Service cabins near Buffalo during the winter. The Pole Creek Cabin, new this season, requires about a three-quarter mile trek in on skis or snowshoes. It sits at the intersection of a snowmobile and ski trail so once you’ve settled in, you can head out for adventure. The cabin has a stove and basic furniture like beds, tables and chairs, but no electricity. The Muddy Guard Cabin is less than a half mile from the road, but you’ll still need snowshoes or skis for the short trek. The old Forest Service ranger cabin has furniture and also electricity.
“It’s the perfect place to take the kids and go sledding during the day and sit around the campfire at night,” Boden said. “It’s a great opportunity to get away.”
To reserve either of the cabins, sign up at recreation.gov.
Cross country skiing
There are two developed cross country ski areas near Buffalo: Pole Creek and Willow Park. Pole Creek offers 11 miles of regularly groomed, perfect for skate skiing as well as classic Nordic.
Willow Park is quieter. There are fewer people and its 13 miles of trail are groomed less often. It’s a great place to get away and find some solitude in the mountains. If you don’t have your own skis you can find gear to rent at the Sports Lure in Buffalo.
Powder River Pass is a non-motorized undeveloped area off Highway 16. A short ski in takes you to a big bowl perfect for making ski laps. The area is ripe with mellow slopes for beginners and intermediates, but more skilled skiers can also find harder lines farther back in the mountains.
“Some days I’ve hit it where you couldn’t dream of a better day of skiing,” Boden said.
You might not have heard of Meadowlark Ski area. It doesn’t make the list of the best and biggest ski areas in the West. There are only about 15 runs, but the top of the ski area sits at 9,500-feet in the Bighorn Mountains making it a great place to find fresh powder and teach little ones to ski.
You can go anywhere and everywhere, Boden said. Many Wyoming roads are closed in the winter from snow. People park along the highway and venture onto side roads where plows don’t go. The great thing about snowshoes is you can head anywhere — you don’t need a trail. But if you aren’t familiar with the area, to stick to the roads. It’ll still feel like a winter adventure, but help you keep your bearings so you don’t get lost.
Ice fishing isn’t for everyone, but the options near Buffalo make it easy to entertain even the less enthusiastic. Tie Hack Reservoir is bustling in the summer. But in the winter when skis, snowshoes, or a snowmobile are needed for the mile-and-a-half trip from Highway 16, it becomes an adventure. The reservoir sits at about 7,500-feet. It’s an easy and beautiful trip in.
“And there’s some serenity to that lake,” Boden said. “Especially in the winter.”
Stocked with trout it’s a great spot to go to keep ice fishing exciting. The trout are aggressive.
“I’ve been up there when people are just pulling them out of the water left and right,” Boden said. “Plus it’s just a cool place to be up in the mountains fishing.”
Still can’t convince your family to spend a day on the ice? Meadowlark Lake is at the base of Meadowlark Ski area at about 8,500-feet. You can drive up to the shoreline. Those uninterested in the fishing can hit the slopes. You can nab a variety of trout, while still having amenities like a nearby bathroom. Bring a sled as a bonus. There’s a nearby hill great for kids who need a break from the fishing.