Penrose Peak is located in the northern Cloud Peak Wilderness of the Big Horn Mountains, an area that receives little traffic compared to the Cloud Peak trails to the south. It is not on the main summit ridge of the range and is not one of the highest peaks, but it is more accessible than the higher peaks and affords a nice view of the northern part of the range. There is no trail on the peak so it requires some cross country travel and route finding, and the summit is a large boulderfield that must be negotiated. The summit affords a spectacular view of Cloud Peak and Black Tooth Mountain, the two 13,000 foot peaks of the Big Horns, plus other more technical peaks and cliffs. The peak also provides a birdseye view of Penrose Circue and the Sawtooth Lakes since it sits at the edge of this steep glacial valley.
The Solitude Trail circles the higher peaks of the Big Horn Mountains and comes within 3 miles of Penrose Peak. Climbing the peak requires accessing and crossing the Solitude Trail. The three closest access points to the Solitude Trail are from Willow Park Reservoir to the east, Little Goose Creek to the north, and Bighorn Reservoir to the northwest. None of these trailheads are easy to get to with a passenger car.
Seen from Black Tooth Mtn
The closest access by passenger car is to park at Park Reservoir and walk the steep dirt road to Bighorn Reservoir and take the Solitude Trail from there. The closest access by 4WD is to drive six miles south from the Little Goose Campground and take a trail 3 miles south to where it meets the Solitude Trail near Highland Park. Both of these trailheads are accessible from the Red Grade Road out of Sheridan. According to a ranger an ATV is required to reach Willow Park Reservoir (or Penrose Park to the north) from the town of Story.
Route from north
The best route from the north, and the most spectacular, is to leave the Solitude Trail at Highland Park and take an unmaintained (and intermittent) trail down to Highland Lake and south to Princess Falls (from the Sawtooth Lakes, where the stream meets Kearney Creek). This is also a route to Black Tooth Mountain and several other peaks along the main summit ridge of the Big Horn Range. A trail/route ascends the west side of Princess Falls and continues up the canyon along the Sawtooth Lakes in Penrose Cirque. This route affords a good view of the steep (western) side of Penrose Peak. The easiest route is to go around the south side of the first Sawtooth Lake and climb east out of the cirque onto a broad ramp that leads southward to the summit. There are a few cliffs in the cirque wall that can be avoided by careful route finding. On top is a broad valley covered half by rocks and half by grass. The route becomes more and more rocky toward the summit and eventually turns into a long boulder hop. Simply head for the highest-looking spot on the boulderfield and you will find the summit cairn.
Many routes up Penrose Peak are possible from the north and east, such as from Kearney Reservoir, Willow Park Reservoir, and Cloud Peak Reservoir. Any cliffs would be easy to circumvent by these routes because the clope is gentle, but each route would require a much longer boulder hop than the route described above.
Camping and Red Tape
A permit outlining the regulations is required to camp in the Big Horn Mountains. Permits are free and unlimited and are available at ranger stations and at popular trailheads in the southern part of the range. They are not currently available at the trailheads discussed above. The chance of meeting a ranger in the northern Big Horns is low. Camping is unrestricted, but campfires are not allowed.
"Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules."