Throughout our years of traveling with our horses, we have explored a lot of Wyoming—from Yellowstone to the Outlaw Trail country near Kaycee. Now, we wanted to take Kent’s Tennessee Walking Horse, and Charlene’s Spotted Saddle Horse, Jake, on an adventure to check out the trails and dude ranches near Brooks Lake, along the Continental Divide, east of Grand Teton National Park.
Right against the Continental Divide is Brooks Lake, the sparkling crown of the forest, which is where we set up camp during our excursions. To find Brooks Lake, travel west from Dubois on U.S. Highway 26 for 22 miles. Look for a brown sign on the left side that reads National Forest—Brooks Lake. Just as you pass that sign, you’ll see Brooks Lake Road on the right side. This is Forest Road 515 and is a good gravel road. You’ll then travel five miles to Brooks Lake but be cautious during your drive as there are many curves and some narrow areas.
Just before the lake is a small, unmarked road that veers to the right. This takes you to the only public corrals in the area. But do not take this road if you have a long trailer. To reach the campgrounds, continue a short distance to the lake. You’ll see a campground to the right but that one doesn’t allow horses. You’ll want to continue left, or straight, to the other camps and Brooks Lake Lodge.
The next campground adjacent to the lake doesn’t allow horses, so turn left to the overflow campground. It’s important to note that while this camp allows horses, it’s undeveloped. It has pullouts and camping spots alongside a loop road, which is where we hooked up our living-quarters trailer. We had no problems with our trailer however, longer trailers may have difficulty. There’s no water here, but there is water across the road at the regular campground, and, of course, at the lake. (We carry a 65-gallon tank for our horses in the back of our pickup so that when it’s empty, we can disconnect from our trailer and drive to the campground to refill it.)
After selecting one of the first spots in the loop, we proceeded to set up our collapsible corral, which consists of ten 5-foot sections that expand to 10 feet, making a 100-foot round pen or figure-eight arrangement.
Bear Cub Pass
Because Brooks Lake is around 9,200 feet in elevation, it may be a good idea to acclimate yourselves and your horses to the higher elevation before taking off on a strenuous ride.
For our first ride, we took Trail 823 north to Bear Cub Pass at the Continental Divide and rode down into Cub Creek. The trailhead for this ride is across the road and through the gate located on the left side of the boat ramp. Open this gate, and your wilderness getaway begins!
We rode on a soft dirt trail along the south and west side of Brooks Lake with terrific views back at the lake and the mountains beyond. At the end of the lake, look to the left and you’ll see a small, intact cabin. It’s worth the side ride to explore.
After this point, there are several trails to choose from, but stay on the main trail to the right side of the open valley, and head north. You’ll soon come to Upper Brooks Lake. We rode along the right side of the lake. Shortly, without much climbing, you arrive at Bear Cub Pass.
The Continental Divide crosses the trail at Bear Cub Pass. You also enter the Teton Wilderness, which will continue all the way to Yellowstone and Great Teton National Parks. This wilderness has two unique features. One is the Parting of the Waters at Two Ocean Pass, where water from a single site divides and flows west to the Pacific Ocean and east to the Atlantic Ocean.
Another remarkable feature in this wilderness near Bridger Lake is “the most remote place,” which is the farthest distance from any road in any direction in the Continental U.S. We’ve done two pack trips with our horses to the most remote place from the north side. The first trip, we came down Yellowstone Lake, out over Eagle Pass, and down Eagle Creek. The second time, we came up Eagle Creek and went out along the Thorofare River and over Ishawooa Pass. Both were highlights of our pack-trip adventures.
We continued beyond Bear Cub Pass, following switchbacks down about 600 feet in elevation to Cub Creek where we found a restful spot for lunch. On the return trip, consider a side trip to Rainbow Lake, which is just after Bear Cub Pass and before Upper Brooks Lake. You’ll notice the trail off to the right. Follow this a short distance to Rainbow Lake.
Upper and Lower Jade Lakes
Our second ride was to Upper and Lower Jade Lakes. We rode down to the same gate and started out on the same trail, but instead of turning to the right and west side of Brooks Lake, we went straight across the meadow to a well-used trail going straight up a grassy hill into the timber. Jake and Cody were not enthralled with this decision, as this portion was very steep with no switchbacks and climbs about 500 feet in elevation to where a new Continental Divide Trail section is being constructed. Ask the campground host if the trail has been completed and where the new trail access is—your horses will thank you!
Continue riding straight west and within a mile you’ll come to Upper Jade Lake. We rode through multicolored clouds of flowers that drifted between stands of trees lining the trail. About halfway down the lake there’s a spot where you can stop and tie your horse. We continued along the east side of the lake to Lower Jade Lake where we stopped to fish, but to no avail.
Riding past the lake we came to the newly constructed Continental Divide Trail and followed good switchbacks down into the valley below and returned to camp the same way we left. We could see a storm gathering in the distance, so the horses “high-tailed” it back to camp. It was a fast, exhilarating ride, and we felt an indescribable sense of being part of nature.
The destination of our last ride was to go up Bonneville Creek on Trail 808. To start, we went the same route as before—through the gate by the boat ramp—and took the same trail from our first ride along Brooks Lake. Once you get there, look for an unmarked trail to the right just after the cabin from the first ride. The trail to the right turns just before a small, forested hill; you’ll follow the trail around the hill to the valley on the right. At the first intersection, go right. At the base of the mountain across the valley, go left. This trail goes uphill to a road, which you follow for about a quarter mile to the Bonneville trailhead and corrals. It’s 3.5 miles to this point. These are the same corrals that can be accessed by the small road just before the first Brooks Lake campground.
From here, the trail follows a forested valley on Trail 808, another 3 miles to Bonneville Pass. This is a good turn-around point if you’re not looking to be in the saddle all day, or you can continue a bit farther to Dundee Meadows.
For further horseback riding, wilderness pack trips, and Western adventures there are two world class guest ranches located at and near Brooks Lake: Brooks Lake Lodge and Triangle C Ranch.
Snuggled at the south end of Brooks Lake is the historic Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa. Looking down at the lodge from horseback, we read the poetic words of Bryant B. Brooks, who became the seventh governor of Wyoming, “Among the fir and pine, there glistened a lake…what a sight! I stood closer that day to nature’s heart than ever before.”
Brooks uttered his famous phrase in 1889 and in 1922, and when the lodge was built here, it was named after him. Originally, the lodge was to serve weary travelers on their way to Yellowstone National Park, but later it became part of a ranching operation.
The exterior of the lodge is rustic and weathered, very much a Wyoming working ranch. However, the inside has an understated elegance of clean, light-colored pine walls and purposeful décor in warm colors.
The summer season at the lodge ends a littler later here, with the last day being in mid-September. But the fall season is just as exciting. The
minimum four-night stay is probably related to the more complicated logistics of operating a business in a remote setting.
The mountain resort is all-inclusive; guests can choose from the following activities: horseback riding, hiking, fishing, canoeing. Guests may then choose to end the perfect day with gourmet dining and stargazing.
Another fun activity that takes place at the lodge involves seeing Brooks Lake Lodge’s horses at 4:30 each day. As they get turned back out after a day of work, they go charging into the big meadow that we ride through. Facing a herd of 40 to 50 galloping horses can be quite exciting for some saddle horses.
For the more intrepid souls, there are opportunities for wilderness pack trips. The West Outfitters has a three-night minimum requirement and may be scheduled at the beginning or end of your stay at Brooks Lodge (brookslake.com).
About 8 miles from Brooks Lake on the main highway is the Triangle C Ranch. We have many happy memories from the time we spent here when it was owned by Cameron Garnick and his family, however it’s now owned by horse clinician, Chris Cox.
So, folks fortunate enough to vacation here will also get the opportunity to attend a beautiful, full-service guest ranch, and partake in different horsemanship programs that may be offered during their stay. You can even plan your trip around one of the many clinics Triangle C Ranch offers throughout the year.
The 8,000-square-foot lodge is surrounded by the Absaroka Mountain range and the Wind River wanders through the ranch.One of our favorite memories from our visit to Triangle C Ranch is enjoying a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, gazing through the dining room window, and watching daylight creeping across the mountains (trianglec.com).