Low cost, high reliability and easy maintenance are key criteria in the design of routing protocols for wireless sensor networks (WSNs). This paper investigates the existing ant colony optimization (ACO)-based WSN routing algorithms and the minimum hop count WSN routing algorithms by reviewing their strengths and weaknesses. We also consider the critical factors of WSNs, such as energy constraint of sensor nodes, network load balancing and dynamic network topology. Then we propose a hybrid routing algorithm that integrates ACO and a minimum hop count scheme. The proposed algorithm is able to find the optimal routing path with minimal total energy consumption and balanced energy consumption on each node. The algorithm has unique superiority in terms of searching for the optimal path, balancing the network load and the network topology maintenance. The WSN model and the proposed algorithm have been implemented using C++. Extensive simulation experimental results have shown that our algorithm outperforms several other WSN routing algorithms on such aspects that include the rate of convergence,the success rate in searching for global optimal solution, and the network lifetime.