Western US

Among the Rocks – Vedauwoo Recreation Area, Wyoming

Vedauwoo [vee-dah-voo]: anglicized version of the Arapaho word bi-ito’o’wu, meaning ‘earth born’

Vedauwoo Recreation Area encompasses a large collection of 1.4 billion-year-old granite outcrops in the foothills of the Laramie Mountains in southern Wyoming. Evidence of human habitation of the area dates back at least 8000 years; it is the native land of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Lakota, Shoshone, and Ute. With the arrival of white settlers in the 1700-1800s, the native people were pushed from the land as it was homesteaded, logged, and bisected by the transcontinental railroad. Apparently the area was also once used by Wyoming outlaws as a hiding spot. Given the maze of rocks, I can see why.

Nowadays, Vedauwoo is managed by the Forest Service and is predominately a rock-climbing destination. We weren’t actually there to rock climb, but rather to camp and hike. Camping at Vedauwoo is something I’ve wanted to do for a couple years now, but because it’s a small campground that doesn’t take reservations, I wasn’t confident in our ability to find a campsite on a Saturday. Luckily, Pat’s current work schedule includes alternating long weekends, so we took advantage of the opportunity to drive up to Wyoming first thing on a Friday morning this past June.

It was about 7:30am when we pulled into Vedauwoo Campground, and a quick glance revealed many occupied sites. We parked in the first available site we found and then set out exploring the rest of the small campground on foot. As it turned out, there were still about five sites open… including a walk in site that is, in my opinion, the best one in the entire campground! I assume it was still available because most people prefer a site that doesn’t involve lugging your stuff down a short trail and around behind a rock outcropping. Well, a little walking wasn’t going to deter us, and the extra trips back to the car when we forgot something were more than worth it in exchange for the partial seclusion, excellent views, and, most importantly, protection from the unrelenting Wyoming wind.

Vedauwoo site #16
Campsite views

Regardless of which site you end up in, though, it’s a pretty great location for a campground. The sites are scattered around dozens of rock outcrops, most of which you can easily scramble up. There are a variety of trees and wildflowers. Both the Laramie Mountains and Medicine Bow Mountains are visible in the distance. And, on this particular night, the sunset was absolutely spectacular!

Annoyingly, our peaceful evening was abruptly ruined when we were awakened by a group of inconsiderate idiots who showed up to the adjacent day use area around 11pm – which, mind you, is not day time – for some obnoxiously loud drunken rock climbing (seriously, who rock climbs in the dark while intoxicated?). They proceeded to climb and yell and laugh loudly for hours, during which time Pat and I drifted in and out of sleep while dreaming about the many choice words we would use if we were to confront these asshats. Needless to say, it was not a great night. In the morning, we commiserated with the people from the neighboring campsites who were similarly annoyed and exhausted (and had also dreamed about various scenarios for retribution). This is sadly not our only recent experience with this kind of thing, and it’s making me reconsider when and where we camp.

After finally getting some uninterrupted sleep in the early morning hours, we dragged ourselves out of the tent and packed up our campsite. This was just an overnight trip for us; unless you’re rock climbing, one night here is probably sufficient. But before we headed home, we still had to explore the rest of the Vedauwoo Rec Area. The road continues beyond the campground to multiple day use picnic areas, some overflow camping, and a couple trailheads.

We followed signs to East Turtle Rock Trailhead, which was our starting point for the Turtle Rock Loop Trail. And off we went into a beautiful grove of aspens. We emerged next to a pond and then continued around the loop. This relatively easy 3 mile (4.8 km) trail gently undulates through a variety of landscapes, meandering next to a creek, crossing a few rock outcrops, and weaving through pine forests. From time to time, the trees would open to a pond or meadow.

Inside the loop is a collection of giant rock outcroppings, including Turtle Rock. We didn’t know exactly which one was Turtle Rock, so we spent the hike glancing up at the formations in search of it, squinting at various shapes and debating if maybe each one kind of looked like a turtle. Finally, at about the 2/3 point of the loop (heading counterclockwise), we spotted the turtle.

We thought.

Then, while writing this post I did a google image search to confirm our findings, which revealed many photos of various outcroppings, all of which are labeled “turtle rock.” So now I have absolutely no idea which one is Turtle Rock. A collection of photos of the various outcrops is below… I’m interested to know which ones – if any – look most like a turtle to you.

For the most park, the Turtle Rock Trail was adequately marked and easy to follow, but we got a little confused when we reached the west trailhead parking area. Here, the trail crosses the parking lot and heads back into the trees, but it’s not well-marked and we initially missed it. Thanks to AllTrails (thank goodness for phone service… don’t be like me, download the map in advance), we located the path and continued around the final part of the loop.

After completing this loop, we drove to the end of the road and then walked the 0.6 mile (1 km) Vedauwoo Glen Loop, which departs from the picnic area and leads a little ways up into the rocks.

We wrapped up our day with lunch at the picnic area, and then waved goodbye to the haphazard piles of granite that had been our home away from home for the last 24 hours. Obnoxious midnight rock climbers aside (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say…), we really enjoyed Vedauwoo.

If you squint, you might be able to see the teeny tiny rock climber on the very top of the rocks in the center of the photo

As you’re driving to and from Vedauwoo, there are a few roadside attractions that warrant brief stops. Just east of Vedauwoo, signs point to a pullout on the left, between the lanes of I-80. Exit here to see Tree-in-the-Rock, a resilient limber pine growing out of a giant boulder. In the 1800s, the railroad tracks were purposely laid to pass right by the tree. When the railroad was relocated, the path became a wagon road and, ultimately, the interstate.

Tree in the Rock

Back on I-80, continue west to the Vedauwoo Road exit, cross under the interstate, and follow signs to Ames Monument. This monument was built by the Union Pacific Railroad to mark the highest point (8247 feet/2514 m) on the Transcontinental Railroad. It is named for the Ames brothers – Oakes and Oliver – who were instrumental in the construction of the Union Pacific portion of the railroad. The railroad has since been relocated a few miles away, but the monument remains.

Ames Monument

As the automobile overtook the railroad as the preferred means of transportation, the Lincoln Highway Association formed to facilitate the development of a complete span of highways from New York to San Francisco. The highest point on the route is just west of Vedauwoo on Sherman Mountain. This transcontinental highway was named for President Lincoln and various monuments to him were built along the route. One such monument can be found here, at the high point of I-80 as it crosses the shoulder of Sherman Mountain.

Lincoln Monument
I-80 at Sherman Mountain

From here, we continued west to the town of Laramie, Wyoming. More to come on that next week. For now, I’ll end with a photo of the sunrise over our campsite at Vedauwoo.

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: from I-80 between Laramie and Cheyenne, exit at Vedauwoo Road and follow signs north; it’s visible from the highway and not difficult to locate
  • Fees and passes: entrance to Vedauwoo is $5/car for day use, or hang your interagency pass from your rearview mirror. Campsites are $10/night
  • Hiking: Turtle Rock Loop (3 miles/300 feet of elevation gain), which can be accessed from the east or west trailhead; and the Vedauwoo Glen Loop (0.6 miles/270 feet elevation gain) which departs from Vedauwoo Picnic Area
  • Where to stay: the Forest Service website is fairly incomplete, so let me clear up a few things. There are 28 sites at Vedauwoo Campground, but there are also about 20 overflow campsites further back near the day-use areas. These sites are all $10/night. They have pit toilets (but bring your own toilet paper because they only restock it twice per week). According to the website, there is potable water; we brought our own, so I can’t confirm this. If this area is full, there is also free dispersed camping just east of the entrance on FS Road 700 (Pole Mountain Area). This area has one pit toilet and no water or other amenities. Additional camping can be found 6 miles (9.6 km) west of Vedauwoo on I-80
  • Other: there are fire rings at each established campsite and gathering of firewood is allowed; please be responsible with fire! This area is dry and windy. Never leave your fire unattended, have plenty of water nearby, and be sure your fire is all the way out before you leave (if you can’t stick your bare hand into the coals, it’s not all the way out)

41 thoughts on “Among the Rocks – Vedauwoo Recreation Area, Wyoming”

  1. This camp site looks like the walk-in sites here in Texas at Enchanted Rock. The Ames Memorial? You know he was as crooked as a dog’s leg when it came to building the railroad. He was involved with Thomas Durant in the Credit Mobilier Scandal. But the honest thing he did with his brother Oliver…. Their father willed them the Ames Shovel Company. So next time you are looking for garden tools and see the Ames brand that is the same company still in business today. Oakes bet almost the entire thing on the UP…he sold the shovels etc needed to build the RR to Credit Mobiler or himself basically. A great watch on TV about this is a show called Hell on Wheels. It is a fictional account all about the building of the transcontinental railroad…. including the underhanded stuff done by Durant and Oakes Ames.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed this adventure in WY and the Vedauwoo Recreation Area, Diana. The rock formations are absolutely gorgeous, and I can see why they’d be attractive to rock climbers. Sorry about the asshats. I liked the story about looking for the turtle rock, as I have done this before too. Of the 4 turtle photos, the turtle most obvious to me was in the fourth photo on the far right. Cool Lincoln monument, too. And of course, I beamed with joy at the handstand. Thanks so much for sharing this grand adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks like you snagged a pretty awesome campsite. I love all the rock formations and rock outcrops. And what a beautiful sunset. That’s such a shame about the noisy group of drunk losers. We’ve had some pretty terrible camping experiences lately that’s made us question why we even bother camping anymore too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’m moving more and more towards preferring to dispersed camp or backpack rather than use established campgrounds. We have campground reservations in two weeks and I’m hoping it’s not another bad experience. If it is, it might be the last time we use a campground for the foreseeable future

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Famous last words -“I feel like rock climbing in the dark while intoxicated”. That is just asking for trouble. Aside from the idiot who thought that was a good idea- what a beautiful corner of Wyoming! I love the Lincoln memorial and the Ames Monument amid all those wonderful rock formations. Putting this on my list for next time I’m back in that area. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m with you – a little extra lugging is totally worth it for that great site. Too bad the seclusion didn’t protect you from the morons. How inconsiderate!
    I wonder if the Ames brothers have anything to do with Ames, Iowa…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My husband and I went there the evening before the total solar eclipse in 2016. We didn’t spend the night, we just took a drive out there for sunset as we were staying the night in Cheyenne. It’s a beautiful place and we witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets of all time! I felt very peaceful after leaving that place, as it has a really good vibe to it. I don’t know if it’s the rocks or what … since we’re retired now, we usually avoid weekends if possible and also avoid most of the crazies that way. People can be so rude, especially if they’re drinking! Sad to hear you had to endure that bad behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree, your campsite looks really nice and secluded. What a lovely sunset – that’s the kind of scenes I like when camping (a pity, once again, about those inconsiderate camping neighbours)! Hmm, your first photo of the series of possible ‘Turtle Rocks’ looks the most like a turtle … the top rock where it looks as if the turtle’s head is showing to the left … I think 🤭.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re the second person to choose the first photo, yet to me that one looks least like a turtle 😂. Maybe it’s supposed to be a choose your own adventure type of trail where you find the rock that looks most like a turtle to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Diana, and I’m glad to see the monument to Lincoln is still standing and proud. Some of the idiots in Portland, in 2020, toppled both the statues of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and they still have not been resurrected.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Idiot campers can really ruin an otherwise tranquil camping experience! Not only was it inconvenient for you and your sleep, but also potentially dangerous for their intoxicated and rock-climbing ways…all the same, it’s a beautiful hike around Vedauwoo, and the sites (Ames Monument, Tree in the Rock, Lincoln Monument…) are fun, road-side attractions, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I can’t believe none of them got injured. Maybe it makes me a terrible person, but I was kind of hoping someone would get hurt (mildly, of course) so they would leave. Some people make very questionable decisions.

      Liked by 1 person

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