July 9, 2018

By Shelli Johnson/YourEpicLife.com

I was raised here in Lander, Wyoming. I am an avid hiker and adventurer, and as a result, I know the area’s trails quite well. In this article, I am going to share about one of Wind River Country’s greatest wonders. This is one of the most amazing experiences for locals and tourists alike, and for good reason.

Hiking to Popo Agie Fall is an experience that people of all ages will enjoy. We often hike with our children, and my parents, to Popo Agie Falls. The trail is beautiful. For the first mile, the trail parallels the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River. In early season, there are abundant arrowleaf balsamroot and other wildflowers dotting the sagebrush landscape. During the peak of summer, Indian paintbrush is a showstopper hikers will especially enjoy. Granite buttresses tower to your right for the beginning of the hike.

The good news is this is not a killer hike. There is some uphill, but it’s reasonable. The trail starts at an elevation of 7,800’, and in the course of 1.5 miles to the waterfall, you gain just 650 feet in elevation.

No question, the hike itself is amazing. But the grand prize is granted when you arrive at the swimming hole and a series of waterfalls, including Popo Agie Falls.

Here is a great place for a picnic, to take a plunge to cool off from the summer heat, and/or to wash the sweat off from the hike. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the highlight for many who hike this trail – an opportunity to slide down a waterfall!

This is an epic adventure for anyone who is willing and a little daring.  Locals will slide down the Falls several times a summer, and tourists who are in the know will too.

The writer’s middle son, Hayden, enjoys a slide off the waterfall. (Photo by Shelli Johnson, YourEpicLife.com)
The writer’s middle son, Hayden, enjoys a slide off the waterfall. (Photo by Shelli Johnson, YourEpicLife.com)

Ask anyone who has slid down the waterfall, and they’ll all agree that the first time, in particular, is unforgettable. Sliding down the waterfall has become a sort of rite of passage for locals. You earn certain bragging rights once you’ve done it. Our three sons, ages 9, 14 and 16, all did it for the first time around age 8.

When relatives and/or friends from out of town visit, the Popo Agie Falls is always at the top of our list for things we’ll show them. Part of the experience is daring them to slide down the waterfall. Most of them do, and it’s an exhilarating and unforgettable experience. My 17-year-old niece, Daylia, from the Dallas, TX, area, has been sliding down the waterfall during her annual trips to Lander since she was first dared at age 7. I asked her to describe the experience.

“The Falls is an experience like no other – fast, freeing and freezing!”

Her brother, Braley, 14, adds, “You get a rush like no other while going down the Falls. And, the best part about the hike to the Falls is being with family, and enjoying the mountains, especially since we don’t have them in Texas.”

As a child and young adult, I used to slide down Popo Agie Falls frequently. Until last summer, the last time I remembered sliding down the waterfall was on “Senior Skip Day” in high school, when I was 17 years old. But on a late August hike last year, my boys dared me to do it. Did I mention I’m 47 years old now? But not one to turn down a dare, I climbed to the top and waited my turn. Even though the water wasn’t roaring, and certainly it was not voluminous, I was terrified. You know that feeling when you’re committed, and people are watching. Yeah, that one. I had it. There was only way out of this, and it was through it. I took a deep breath, and away I went. Even though the water was low, and it was a hot day, I flew down the smooth rock slide and was shocked by the cold water landing. I was invigorated, and for a few minutes, felt like I was a kid again.

A friend of mine, Jared, who also was raised in Lander, and who also chose to move back here for all of its wonders, shared his memories of the Falls:

“There is nothing like the anticipation of sliding as you splash water onto the smooth rock, waiting for your turn. Then, as you sit on top, your heart beats with anticipation. This isn’t a water park, this is nature – which makes it simultaneously scarier and more fun. When you push off, your stomach drops into your throat, and the next thing you know is the rush of cold, glacier-fed water as you splash down. Amid the laughs of your fellow sliders, you race to the edge to escape the freezing water… only to climb back up and to do it all over again!”

I could not say it better.

I highly recommend this hike, and the waterfall slide to young and old alike. It will be a highlight of your vacation, and something you’ll never forget. Plus, as a bonus, if you’re a parent, your kids will think you’re pretty cool.

There are swimming holes like this one below the cascading waterfalls. (Photo by Shelli Johnson, YourEpicLife.com)
There are swimming holes like this one below the cascading waterfalls. (Photo by Shelli Johnson, YourEpicLife.com)


Trailhead: Bruce’s Bridge, the Middle Fork Trailhead. (Start in Lander and drive SW on WY Highway 131. In 6 miles you enter beautiful Sinks Canyon State Park. Drive another 3 miles through Sinks Canyon, to Bruce’s Bridge parking lot. Walk over the bridge of the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River, and the trailhead is on your left.)

Specs: 1.5 miles to Popo Agie Falls, 3 miles roundtrip. Hints: Wear sturdy shoes for the hike in, bring water to drink and snacks to stay energized. Once you get to the waterfall, you won’t want to leave.

Shelli Johnson, owner of Epic Life,  is an entrepreneur, life and leadership coach, leadership development facilitator, keynote presenter, writer, adventurer and guide. She is married to Jerry, and is the mother of three sons, Wolf, 16, Hayden, 14, and Fin, 9. They live in Lander, WY, where they frequently hike in the foothills and mountains of the Wind River Range. #WindRiverCountry

Posted in Notes From the Field