Star Valley Lodge
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Wild in Wyoming’s Star Valley

A local guide reveals the best of what Wyoming has to offer

By Danny Lee

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Bride and Groom at Star Valley Lodge in Wyoming

We are standing on a rugged shoreline high in the west Wyoming mountains, fly-fishing the deep waters of a little lake somewhere between six and 10,000 feet above sea level. Using flies carefully chosen to fit the current hatch, we loop long, graceful arcs of fishing line across the mirror-smooth water, trying to drop the lure ever so gently on the surface. We’re after trout, brookies and cut throat—the kind of fish that thrive in deep, cold, pure mountain lakes like this one glistening in the sunshine high above Wyoming’s Star Valley.

“It’s a high mountain lake, so it doesn’t get visited all that much. It’s kind of the real deal,” says my guide, Brandon Robinson, born and raised in Star Valley. At 45, he’s tanned and sturdy from a life spent hiking, riding, hunting and guiding these mountains. “I don’t know how deep it is,” he laughs when I ask. “And it’s too cold to get in and find out.” The lake is glacier fed, making it perfect for trout, and for trout fishermen. “They’re pretty easy to catch, because nobody fishes much here,” he says.

Campfire cookout at Star Valley Lodge in Wyoming

The setting is typical of the outdoor adventure Brandon has specialized in during a 27-year career as a guide, outfitter and now adventure concierge at the new Star Valley Lodge, which offers wilderness retreats aimed primarily at the business community.

Seeing through the forest

Hiking in Star Valley, Wyoming

We hiked up to the lake, ascending quickly but not too strenuously from the Star Valley below, which is a stretch of farm and ranching country roughly five miles wide and 30 miles long. The valley itself is at about 6,000 feet in elevation, so it doesn’t take much climbing—either by foot, horseback or side-by-side ATV—to get to a view of the Wyoming and Wind River mountains in Wyoming, and off into Idaho’s Caribou Range.

“At 10,000 feet, you’ll actually break the treeline,” Brandon says. “You can see as far as you can ever imagine seeing. It’s just endless. It’s almost infinite, is what most people say. I guess I’m used to it, but people just stand back and say, ‘Wow!’

Along the way to our fishing spot, we climbed from the valley’s broad grasslands through juniper scrub up into stands of lodgepole pines upright and unbending as old-time religion. And then, Engelmann spruce and high alpine tundra washed by crisp, clean air that seems to sluice your lungs with cold clarity at every breath.

Horseback riding in Star Valley, Wyoming

The trail also bustles with life. A sharp-nosed Uinta chipmunk scurries away to a fallen limb to look you over. A shy red squirrel drops a pinecone and high-tails it out of sight. From high in a spruce comes the sharp and shrill tee-da-leet, tee-da-leet of a ruby-crowned kinglet, surprisingly loud for a bird that might lose a weigh-in with a sparrow. In the distance the underbrush moves with the departure of something almost seen—a bobcat? Put in enough time and it starts to feel like an episode of Wild Kingdom.

“You’ll see tons of deer, elk, moose,” says Brandon, who has been hunting these mountains since the age of six. “It’s like being in Yellowstone,” he says, which is located a mere 70 miles or so to the north.

Elk are so numerous the locals have collected enough antlers—the animals shed them in the spring—to build an arch over the roadway in the little town of Afton. Some 3,000 sets are interlaced in a structure crossing four lanes of traffic.

Guided adventures

Star Valley Lodge in Wyoming

Along with leading campouts, trail hikes, fishing expeditions and all-terrain vehicle outings as Star Valley Lodge’s adventure concierge, Brandon also escorts guests on other excursions. There is target shooting with rifles and handguns, and skeet shooting for those who prefer their targets on the fly. Outside the lodge, the area offers a wealth of mountain biking trails appropriate to every skill and fitness level, and links fans can always get in a round or two of golf. In the valley’s snowy winters, guests enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and tubing before retreating to the warming stone fireplace back at the lodge.

Star Valley Lodge in Wyoming

Brandon’s family goes back five or six generations in Star Valley, and he’s surrounded by cousins and the like, giving him a wealth of guaranteed authentic campfire stories to share with guests of the lodge. For instance, the valley was once the hideout of the Butch Cassidy gang, who according to Brandon worked out a deal with the governor by which they’d be left alone in Wyoming as long as they did their shootin’ and stealin’ over the border in Idaho, just a few miles west.

Brandon’s grandfather told him stories of Native Americans who once lived in the valley, who believed that a variable spring ran with magical healing waters. Visitors can still visit the feature, called Intermittent Spring for its flow that turns on and off like clockwork. But these waters are cold, so taking a healing dip might mean trading lumbago for frostbite.

There’s no place like it

Preparing meals for campfire cookout at Wyoming's Star Valley Lodge

After 45 years spent exploring the wild world in and around Wyoming’s Star Valley, including almost 30 as a guide and outfitter, you might think Brandon Robinson might have had enough. As we packed our poles, I asked him if he’d ever considered leaving the valley.

He scratched on his jaw and thought about it. “I haven’t,” he said finally. “I have had chances to leave. I love to go other places to visit. Lots of them are beautiful, but they’re just not here.

Preparing meals for campfire cookout at Wyoming's Star Valley Lodge

He gestured around at the lake we were fishing as the sun dropped into the west, seeming to set the lake surface aflame. “I’ll bring people here to fish and they’ll look around and ask, ‘Has anybody been here before us?’ There are a lot of places up here where I’m sure nobody’s ever set a foot—think Yellowstone in 1890” he said. “There’s just no place other than this for me. This is just the kind of place I always want to be. That’s all.”

Plan your group getaway to Star Valley.