During our recent Wyoming trip, my husband and I hiked around Phelps Lake on a Friday, white-water rafted down the Snake River the following day, and then went horseback riding the day after that. Our double date with two horses named Rex and Whiskey was set for 2 PM that Sunday afternoon, so John and I fit in the easy, 1.4-mile hike at Sawmill Ponds late that same morning.
The Sawmill Ponds trailhead sits at an overlook off the Moose-Wilson Road. We stopped at that same overlook the morning of our Phelps Lake hike and had seen a cow moose and her baby wading in the water. Hoping for additional moose sightings, we decided to return and walk the short, out-and-back trail.
When the trail began, the walkway was wide and easily navigable, thanks to the crowds that pause at the overlook to spy on moose in the wetlands below. Few people (and no moose) were present when we set out on our hike, however, and we would not encounter anyone else (of the human variety, at least) until we returned to the parking area.
Shortly after beginning our walk, John noticed movement in the distance. Using our cheap binoculars, he found two brown spots far away in the trees. I found the same spots using our camera. Our best guess leaned towards elk, which would prove to be the case as we hiked nearer to them.
The trail followed the edge of the cliff that overlooked Sawmill Ponds, a series of small water bodies created by beaver dams.
Most of the trail was in full sun, so we paused for a minute by this tree to cool off in the shade.
There were actually two trail options for hiking above Sawmill Ponds. We stuck to the cliff edge path to better spot wildlife, but another trail (the remains of an unpaved road to and from an old landing strip) existed away from the edge. That trail was wider with less brush to scratch your shins, but it also cut off much of the wetlands from view.
Back by the drop-off, we came around a slight bend in the trail and immediately saw this dark figure in the grass below. What you see is pretty much the only view that we had of this hungry cow moose. Not once, on either the out or the back portion of our hike, did she fully lift her head away from her lunch.
Slightly disappointed in our wildlife sightings on the trail so far, John kept the binoculars poised and ready as we hoped for more.
We paused often on this hike to scan the landscape beneath us. When I tired of fruitless gazing, I turned to the mountains behind me for entertainment.
Just as we neared the end of the trail, a group of brown blurs came into view. With a little zooming courtesy of the binoculars and camera, we found ourselves in a staring contest with a small herd of elk. We felt confident that two of these elk were the two brown spots we had seen at the start of our hike.
Even though we were quite far away, the elk remained wary of us for as long as we were in view.
When we had our fill of elk stalking, John and I turned around and made our way back to the trailhead. We were still hoping to catch sight of a bull moose, but our grass-happy cow moose was the only one willing to cooperate.
We completed the Sawmill Ponds hike in under an hour, and we were glad to have done it–even with the lack of wildlife activity. Had we ventured out earlier in the morning, we might have had better luck. I would recommend this hike to anyone interested in a short, easy hike with wildlife-viewing potential. Just remember to bring your bug spray! Those mosquitoes love the wetlands.