Okay, show of hands… How many people have driven past Elk Mountain on I-80? And how many have been mesmerized by the beauty? One online review from several years ago said it well: “There are many taller mountains and finer peaks. Even so, Elk Mountain casts a spell on the observer. As I drove by, my eyes kept shifting from the road to the mountain. Elk is beautiful in a graceful way. There is true quiet elegance here.” That speaks volumes! And another review sums it up with, “You’re drawn to keep looking…”
The Carbon County Visitors Council invites you to do more than gaze from afar, so consider this your personal invitation to experience this hidden gem, literally hidden in plain sight! And if you enter the Photo Contest you may be lucky enough to lay claim to a cash prize.
Upload your photos of Carbon County, Wyoming for your chance to win up to $150! Photos will be used to promote the beauty & uniqueness of Carbon County.
While the mountain itself gets a lot of attention, with more than one traveler on I-80 so moved by the grandeur to stop and takes video to post on social media, if you pay attention to the sign on I-80 you will notice it reads, “Town of Elk Mountain” and granted the ‘Town of’ is in smaller letters, but yes, there’s a town with a 2020 census population of 181, making Elk Mountain is the 84th largest city/town in Wyoming.
Lying in the shadow of its 11,156-foot namesake, the Town of Elk Mountain was incorporated in 1909 and today is a quiet community of cottonwood-lined streets, picturesque buildings and boasts world class trout fishing. But there’s so much more!
Volumes of historical significance of the Elk Mountain area lies in the development of a transportation network linking the east and west coasts. The Medicine Bow River crossing, now the site of the bridge to the hotel and on the National Register of Historical Places, was used by the John C. Fremont expedition of 1843. On August 2nd of that year, Fremont’s party camped in the proximity of the “Medicine Butte” which was an early name for Elk Mountain. The river would become a major crossing for immigrants as well as stage travelers.
In 1850, the Stansbury expedition, led by famed mountain man Jim Bridger, crossed the Medicine Bow farther north seeking a route for wagon travel. Later, in 1856, Lt. F.T. Bryan discovered regular use of Stansbury’s route and suggested it be used for the Overland Stage that was started by Ben Hollady.
Ben Hollady Overland Stage Company
By 1862, the operation was imperiled by constant Indian attacks. Holladay chose to move the line southward, back to the Medicine Bow River Crossing, where he built a stage stop. In 1862, Fort Halleck was built on the Overland Stage route a few miles west of Elk Mountain to protect travelers passing through this region. The fort was named after Major-General Henry G. Halleck, a key military aide to President Lincoln. The government maintained the fort from 1862 to 1866 when it was decommissioned because the Indian threat was diminishing. The owner of the stage stop found a sufficient volume of trail traffic to maintain a toll bridge, although eventually stage traffic waned.
The stage stop and its boarding house fell into disuse after the Union Pacific Railroad was built across what’s now southern Wyoming in 1868. The wooden boarding house, known as The Crossing, was destroyed by fire.
Elk Mountain’s first mercantile store was constructed in 1902 using lumber from the Carbon Timber Company.
In 1905 the Elk Mountain Hotel, also known as the John S. Evans Hotel, Mountain View Hotel and Grandview Hotel, was built by John S. Evans along the bank of the Medicine Bow River on property previously used by the Overland Stage Station. When Evans built his three-story hotel, the structure was the first place to have electricity in the area. The coal-fired electrical plant served others nearby as well. The hotel offered 16 bedrooms upstairs and a bar in what is now the dining room. The building’s architecture is Folk Victorian style, reminiscent of what was found on the frontier during that time.
Next to the Hotel stood the Garden Spot Pavilion. Evans created the open-air pavilion in 1920, naming it the Garden Spot Pavilion, but later enclosed it with pine. The pavilion included a stage and a very popular dance floor built on springs. The structure could hold 350 people. The enthusiastic crowds traveled long distances to hear the music and for the chance to dance on a floor built on springs. Six deputies were stationed at various points in the bar, the dance hall and outside to help keep order. It’s reported that on at least one night there were license plates from 36 different states on cars in the parking lot, and it’s been recounted that 56 different bands had performed at the pavilion.
Weekends were often tightly scheduled at the Garden Spot Pavilion, with a Saturday evening dance that began around 8 p.m. and continued until 3 a.m., followed by a Sunday afternoon rodeo and then another dance after that. The Garden Spot was host to such notable entertainers as Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and Lawrence Welk. These entertainers inspired hundreds to “jump on and ride” the Garden Spot’s magical dance floor.
Under new ownership the hotel was completely restored, an intensive two-year project, during the early 2000s. It now offers 12 rooms, each with a private bath, and a third-floor conference room where the attic was once located. The Garden Spot Pavilion was demolished for safety reasons.
The Elk Mountain Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hotel property served as an important component in the economic and social life of the Elk Mountain community, as the lodging, mining and livestock industries boomed. The property enjoyed a steady clientele and became a way-station for entrepreneurs and laborers who traveled here for the timber, mineral and ranching industries.
The luxurious inn still stands where it was first constructed almost 100 years ago and welcomes guests year-around. The Historic Elk Mountain Hotel is an elegantly restored Folk Victorian hotel built in 1905. The hotel offers a hot complimentary American breakfast with any of our beautifully decorated guest rooms appointed with period antiques. Features the elegant “1905” Dining Room. Visit Website
The Elk Mountain Museum is a museum dedicated to preserving the rich local history of Elk Mountain, Wyoming and the Medicine Bow Valley. See collections and remember the Famous Garden Spot Pavilion, the Historic Elk Mountain Hotel, Old Carbon, Percy, Ft. Halleck, legendary tie-hacks, The Elk Mountain School(s), Pioneer Ranches, Kleen Dairy and more plus the characters that made it all happen. Learn of obscure events such as the airliner crash one snowy night on Elk Mountain in 1946 that claimed the lives of all passengers and crew aboard a United Airlines flight or maybe the bar that had the town bathtub and other quirky stories from the past. Visit Website
Hungry? Stroll into the Elk Mountain Trading Company at 205 Bridge Street! From a Five-Star Google Review in November review by Travis Lambourne: “This place is absolutely incredible! The Duke Burger is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had! We got some awesome hunting stories here too. You have to try this place!”
Sitting as it does along the banks of the Medicine Bow River, Elk Mountain is a coveted destination for trout fisherman from across the country. For beautiful scenery throughout the year visitors are encouraged to take the round-the-mountain drive on Pass Creek Road as it is an area of stunning vistas teeming with wildlife.
The biggest secret may be that Elk Mountain is a haven for snowmobile enthusiasts. Surrounded by two of the best snowmobiling areas in the state, The Snowy Range and Shirley Basin, Elk Mountain has some of the best powder you will find anywhere. Carbon County invites you to explore over 500 miles of groomed and ungroomed trails with terrain suited for users with skill levels ranging from the novice to the expert.
Snowy Range – Snowy Range is the largest and most developed, extending across the width of the Snowy Range and encompassing a good deal of its length. The area is accessed from Saratoga, Riverside, Encampment and Elk Mountain, Wyoming. Plan now to spend your winter vacation!
Total Miles: 306 Groomed: 170 Ungroomed: 136 Elevations: 7,000 feet to 11,000 feet Season: November through May Season Temperature: +30 F to -30 F Snow Depth: Up to 12 feet
For more information Visit Website
Shirley Mountains Shirley Mountains is a remote area north of Hanna and Medicine Bow composed of BLM administered public land. Public access to the area is available along the Shirley Mountain Loop Road on the East and North side of the mountain.
Ungroomed: 90 No services available. Please respect private land.
Visit the snowmobiling page for more information including snowmobile rentals, guides, trails and more. For Snowmobile Tours call 307-348-7720.
Detailed maps of snowmobile trails available at the Wyoming State Snowmobile Program director in Cheyenne, at 307-777-7550, or by clicking this link WyoTrails and requesting area trail maps to be sent to you.
Carbon County is a great place to rejuvenate your spirit! As you plan your visit, view these helpful resources to help you plan a safe visit. Please stop the spread of coronavirus & travel responsibly.