Considering how many Cottonwood and Ute Passes there are,
the name Bridger Pass has been used sparingly, considering
that Jim Bridger is one of the pioneer west's prime trail
finders. There are only two Bridger Passes that I am aware
of. One is in Montana, and this one is south west of
Rawlins, Wyoming. But Jim Bridger's name is applied to
other items too, among them one National Forest, a nearby
peak in the Sierra Madre Range, and an entire range in
EAST: south side of Teton Reservoir
2.(mile02.3,7130ft)START-END EAST ALT: start of
Bridger Pass Rd, jct with Sage Creek Rd
3.(mile12.7,7620ft)TOP: hightest point on Bridger
Pass Rd, short distance past official pass.
4.(mile19.6,7120ft)START-END WEST: Bridger Pass Rd
crosses Muddy Creek and turns into Muddy Creek Rd
From East. These days the turnoff from
Wy71/FR401 to Bridger Pass road is marked with an attractive
BLM sign. It is just slightly north of the Teton Reservoir
turnoff, which makes a good basecamp for riding over this
This first part of the road is the most stunning, I think.
Looking up the stark valley the road can be seen it bits and
pieces, stacked up on top of one another. But this is not a
steep mountain road, winding back and forth. Instead these are
all just slight changes of direction. But in the crisp morning
air the distance is so forshortened, that the scene looks very
steep. The lower part of the road passes a few small lakes,
which must have made the trail incredibly attractive in the
1800s, surrounded by such a dry landscape. The wild horses I
encountered a short distance up the road from here seemed to
like the area too.
Marshall Sprague describes in his book "The Great
Gates" his difficulties trying to locate the pass. Today
it is much easier. There is a pass marker at the summit.
Without that sign the exact location of the pass really is
very hard to pin down. It is all very confusing. The pass is
on top of a slight ridge, but the road runs along the ridge.
Looking at the two gentle valleys on each side, you can
discern a slight saddle in the sage cover to the south. The
floor of the small valley on the north side seems to keep
rising towards the west. But then - behind it the Continental
Divide is about to split into two on top of the ridge at the
appropriately named Separation Ridge. This is the start of the
Great Divide Basin (also called Sweetwater Basin).
The elevation given for the summit varies a lot. The sign
says 7532, the de Lorme map labels it with 8366. So I am going
with what my gps says, which is 7620.
From West. Past the pass, the road clings to the
north side of the stark U shaped valley, going over several
dips and climbs, that could just as well be a pass top. But
the highest point is actually at the pass by a very small
margin. The road descends in bits and pieces to a bridge
across Muddy Creek. Again that amazing sight: plenty of water
in this apparent dessert. The drop from the top is just barely
500ft, the minimum I need to include it as a summit in these
At this point the historic route turns right down Muddy
Creek. Today this goes over private land that is gated off.
The road there is completely overgrown. Marhall Sprague in his
comprehensive book "the Great Gates" describes how
to locate Bridger Pass by coming up this way from downstream
Muddy Creek, passing along the site of the old Sulphur Springs
stage coach station. If you want to do this today you have to
break the law. So today it is easier to find the top, but it
is impossible to follow the entire route.
To continue riding from this point today, the only option
is to cross Muddy Creek and then climb towards one of the BLM3328
Miller Creek Road summits
The Fur Trapper period: This is not a pass that is
difficult to cross. But that only adds to its historical
significance in carrying streams of pioneers and immigrants.
William Henry Ashley founded one of the earliest Fur
Trading Companies in the American west: the Rocky Mountain Fur
Company. By the time he finally took to the mountains, in
order to see just how many furs the trappers in his employment
had been racking up, Jim Bridger and others trappers knew this
route well. It was on their route west, onwards to South Pass.
The Overland Trail: ( < Wasatch Divide |
Rattlesnake Pass ) But later the 1840s, Mormon emigrants and
supply good trains traversed this area to the north over the
Oregon Trail, even though it was a detour. After that they had
to head south again from South Pass and the Mormon
Trail. Then in 1850 Howard Stansbury
"explored" a new supply route with his guide Jim
Bridger between the east and Salt Lake City, and rediscovered
the attractions of the pass that now carries his name.
Comparing these two routes, it seems surprising today, that
the dry dessert was used, instead of the comparative oasis
character of the Bridger Pass crossing.
And it also took Stansbury's active will to make this route
common. His orders were to use the Oregon Trail as far as
South Pass. But after having explored the area for about a
year, he became convinced that a more southerly route was more
advantageous. They left the "civilized" Oregon Trail
behind after having left Utah over the Wasatch Divide. The
first part of the route, passing Pilot Butte behind today's
Rock Springs and following Bitter Creek and its brackish water
was very demoralizing to the party. But then - so much bigger
was their joy and adulation when Jim Bridger led them up Mud
Creek and over Bridger Pass. Their writing contain phrases
like: "visions of home and all its joys danced before us
in vivid brightness" and "none but those who have
experienced it know how much companionship there is in the
gentle murmur of a flowing stream." ... With light hearts
and buoyant spirits they galloped down the grassy slopes.
From there they continued downstream along Little Sage
Creek, which is the view from my camper, parked at one of the
campsites at Teton Reservoir, and onwards to the next
important pass on the Overland Trail, with the appealing name
Rattlesnake Pass. This part of the old Bridger Road today also
goes over private ranch land and is gated. It also looks like
it would make a great ride.
As time passed, this little wet crossing in the dessert
became more important than even South Pass. In 1861, when
Indian attacks presented problems for Oregon Trail travel to
the north, the Overland Trail and with that Bridger Pass
practically replaced the Oregon Trail. In the same year the
COC company ran a stage route over the pass. All of this
lasted only till the Union Pacific laid rail, only one ridge
distant to the north of here.
Fremont: (< Rattlesnake Pass | Carson
Pass >) Fremont's second expedition started out over a
well established route. This was very different from his
stated objective of exploring passes for emigration and
military use, situated between Cochetopa
Pass and South Pass. Instead, his path from Rattlesnake Pass
continued on the west side of the North Platte over Bridger
Pass, onwards to the Oregon Trail. His major discoveries and
objects of exploration were much further west than stated,
among them Carson Pass in California and the Wind River Range.
Montana Gold Rush ( < Cache La Poudre Pass | Bannock
Pass > ): When Gold was found in Bannack Montana, many
Denver area miners migrated to the new gold rush area. Their
route was over Cache La Poudre Pass (today's US285 between
Fort Collins and Laramie) and Bridger Pass to Fort Bridger.
From there the direct road would lead over the old Medicine
Pass road (comprised of today's Bannock
Pass and Sheep Creek Divide) directly to Bannack.
A Dayride with this point as intermediate summit is on
Miller Creek Road(sh)