6 Best Wind River Range Backpacking Trails – Bearfoot Theory

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Wyoming’s Wind River Range is a spot of legend, a granite wonderland the place the state’s highest summit presides over a whole lot of jagged peaks and numerous alpine lake basins that straddle each side of the Continental Divide.

Located 2 hours southeast of Grand Teton National Park and three hours southeast of Yellowstone National Park, this is likely one of the most pristine wilderness areas within the U.S., dwelling to wholesome populations of grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and moose.

Getting into the center of the Winds includes driving lengthy rutted dust roads and mountain climbing for a number of days; which implies to expertise the wild coronary heart of the Winds you’ll need to go backpacking. Below we’ve outlined 6 of the perfect Wind River Range backpacking routes on your subsequent journey.

Important Reminder: As it goes in the entire locations we share, please apply good path etiquette and keep in mind to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all your rubbish (together with bathroom paper), being respectful to others, and following the established guidelines.

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1. The Cirque of the Towers

  • Trailhead begin: Big Sandy Trailhead
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Distance: 24 miles 
  • Suggested Time: 3-4 days 
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Lay eyes on essentially the most iconic skyline within the Wind River Range on this 24-mile loop to the Cirque of the Towers. The Cirque is a glacially-carved basin surrounded by 12,000 foot-high granite spires that boast essentially the most well-known technical climbing routes within the vary. You don’t need to convey a rack and a rope to benefit from the Cirque, however you must plan to spend a layover day there to discover the excessive alpine setting.

This is likely one of the hottest Wind River Range backpacking routes so don’t count on solitude. But when you’re fortunate it’s possible you’ll be handled to some prime climbing leisure as tiny decided people monkey their method up traditional routes on the Wolf’s Head, the Shark’s Nose, Warbonnet, Warrior, and Pingora Peaks.

The hike begins from the Big Sandy trailhead, after 27 miles of dust roads; the final 10 miles are typically tough however are often satisfactory in a 2WD automotive. Fit hikers can plan to spend their first evening at Shadow Lake, 12 miles from the beginning, or you possibly can ease your method in by stopping sooner at Mirror Lake, Dad’s Lake, or Marm’s Lake.

From Shadow Lake, you’ll hint across the north facet of the lake after which join a collection of unnamed lakes as you make your method up towards Texas Pass. From the highest, you’ll be rewarded along with your first view of the Cirque. From right here you’ll make your method across the west facet of Lonesome Lake (no tenting allowed right here) into the Cirque, which has plentiful tent websites. 

Hopefully, you’ve budgeted at the very least a day to discover the Cirque and take facet scrambles to the bottom of a number of the towers (all the time preserve an eye fixed out for climbers above you) and Lizard Head Meadows.

To end the 24-mile loop, you’ll go away the Cirque over Jackass Pass, and hike previous Big Sandy Lake again to the Big Sandy trailhead. This loop might be performed in both course however the elevation beneficial properties are extra gradual when you hike clockwise, as written right here.

Three backpackers on the trail of Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, Wyoming
Cirque of the Towers is likely one of the hottest Wind River Range backpacking trails – for good motive

2. Titcomb Basin

  • Trailhead begin: Elkhart Park Trailhead
  • Trail Type: Out and again
  • Distance: 30 miles 
  • Suggested Time: 4-5 days 
  • Difficulty: Hard

Titcomb Basin will all the time maintain a particular place in my coronary heart, because it’s the place I witnessed the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017. From our vantage level perched on an uncovered granite knoll at 11,000 toes, bookended by two large alpine lakes, the heart-stopping drama of totality was amplified by a sudden drop in temperature because the Sun disappeared behind the Moon, in addition to the distant location, 20 miles from the closest highway.

Even with out a once-in-a-lifetime celestial occasion, Titcomb Basin is a bucket record trek and some of the in style Wind River Range backpacking routes.

You’ll begin from the Elkhart Park trailhead, one of many solely entry factors into the Winds through a paved highway. From there you’ll head up the Pole Creek Trail for 4.6 miles to Photographer’s Point (a very good day mountain climbing choice when you’re not up for backpacking). 

You’ll have many choices for camps in your method to Titcomb; most individuals break up the 20-mile strategy into two days. You’ll wish to price range further time within the basin itself, as there are various facet journey choices, together with summiting Gannett or Fremont Peaks (the very best and third highest factors in Wyoming) or straddling the Continental Divide at Indian Pass. 

Keep in thoughts that every one of Titcomb Basin sits above the treeline so there aren’t any bushes for hanging bear baggage so that you’ll must pack all of your meals and scented gadgets into bear canisters.

Dogs are allowed within the Winds however understand that Titcomb Basin can be a well-liked spot for pack journeys so it’s possible you’ll encounter horses, llamas, and even pack goats on path, together with wildlife together with bears, elk, moose, and marmots.

Backpackers set up a tent near Titcomb Basin the Wind River Range Wyoming
one in all our camps in the course of the Titcomb Basin loop | Photo: Mary Caperton Morton

3. The Glacier Trail to Gannett Peak

  • Trailhead begin: Trail Lake Trailhead 
  • Trail Type: Out and again 
  • Distance: 50 miles 
  • Suggested Time: 5-6 days 
  • Difficulty: Very arduous, mountaineering abilities required

You would possibly assume that Wyoming’s most well-known mountain, 13,775-foot Grand Teton, is the very best level within the state, however the Wind’s Gannett Peak reaches barely greater to 13,804 toes. Very few folks ever lay eyes on Gannett, not to mention climb it; Gannett is taken into account some of the difficult of the 50 state excessive factors, on par with Alaska’s Denali, because it requires a 25-mile strategy and actual mountaineering abilities to tag the summit.

You can strategy Gannett from the south through Titcomb Basin or from the north through the Glacier Trail. This route begins on the Trail Lake Trailhead, close to Dubois, Wyoming. From there you’ll make your method 22 miles into the Winds to arrange your basecamp at Tarn’s Lake, on the base of Dinwoody Glacier.

From right here it’s about 3 miles and three,000 toes of elevation acquire up the Dinwoody Glacier/Gooseneck Glacier path to the summit. Don’t take this climb frivolously; you’ll want crampons and an ice ax and many individuals choose to rope up for components of the route, on account of crevasses and the dangers of glacier journey. 

On the summit, you’ll have the ability to look down all of the peaks and lakes of the Wind River Range, together with Titcomb Basin, with its twin big lakes to the south. You’ll be sitting atop one of many highest factors on the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains, the place all of the rivers to the east drain to the Gulf of Mexico and people to the west drain to the Pacific Ocean.

4. Bomber Basin

  • Trailhead begin: Trail Lake Trailhead
  • Trail Type: Out and again 
  • Distance: 8 miles 
  • Suggested Time: 2 days 
  • Difficulty: Easy

If you want a little bit of historical past in your hikes, head out on the 8-mile out-and-back Bomber Basin trek within the northeast nook of the Winds. This trek might be performed as a day hike or an in a single day or might be prolonged into an extended loop hike to Ross Lake.

Starting in Dubois, you’ll head to the Trail Lake trailhead, which sits on the fringe of the Fitzpatrick Wilderness boundary. From there you’ll head south on the East Torrey Creek path to Bomber Falls.

The falls are beautiful, however many individuals come right here searching for wreckage: on August 14, 1943 a B24 bomber with a crew of 11 crashed simply above the falls, killing all aboard. Today, just a few massive items of the aircraft might be seen above and under the falls, though most of the items are hidden beneath lush vegetation. 

You can plan to camp close to the falls or close to Bomber Lake however for an extended journey, contemplate tackling the 22-mile Bomber Basin to Ross Lake Loop. This partially off-trail journey requires navigational and creek-crossing abilities as you leapfrog from one lake basin to the subsequent, culminating at Ross Lake, one of many largest lakes on this a part of the Winds. You’ll then loop again to the Trail Lakes trailhead on the Whiskey Mountain path. 

Bomber Lake landscape in the Wind River Range Wyoming
Bomber Lake

5. Stough Creek Basin

  • Trailhead begins: Roaring Fork Trailhead 
  • Trail Type: Out and again
  • Distance: 14.8 miles 
  • Suggested Time: 2-3 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate

For a brief, candy introduction to the Wind River Range, head to the japanese facet of the Continental Divide to Stough Creek Basin. Starting in Lander, you’ll drive by way of the scenic Sinks Canyon State Park to the Roaring Fork trailhead, subsequent to Worthen Meadow campground. This highway is paved to Frye Lake after which turns into tough dust, which is often satisfactory in a 2WD drive automotive. From the trailhead, you’ll head due west on the Stough Creek Lakes Trail. 

This path could also be shorter than most different Winds journeys however that doesn’t imply it’s a stroll within the park. The trailhead sits at 8,850 toes and also you’ll acquire 1,600 toes within the first 5 miles– a substantial effort when you’re coming from low elevation. But the rewards are nice. 

After 6.8 miles you’ll drop into the Stough Creek Basin, a glacially-carved basin with over a dozen interconnected lakes surrounded by the semicircular Roaring Fork Mountain Range.

There are loads of campsites right here and the basin is choose-your-own-adventure the place you possibly can wander between and round lakes till you discover your excellent campsite. This trek might be performed as an in a single day, nevertheless it’s higher to plan to spend two nights within the basin to essentially soak within the views from sundown to starlight to dawn.

3 backpackers on the Wind River Range

6. Wind River Range Traverse (on the Continental Divide Trail)

  • Trailhead begin: Big Sandy (South) or Green River Lakes (North)
  • Trail Type: Point to level 
  • Distance: 79 miles 
  • Suggested Time: 7-10 days 
  • Difficulty: Very Hard

Can’t get sufficient of the Winds? Head out on a grand tour of the vary on the Continental Divide Trail. The CDT runs from Mexico to Canada following the crest of the Rocky Mountains by way of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. The Winds are famously one of many wildest and most scenic sections of this 3,100 mile thru-hike.

You can begin the Wind River Range Traverse part from both the Big Sandy trailhead within the south or the Green River Lakes trailhead within the north, making use of the shuttle providers out there within the hiker-friendly city of Pinedale.

The path runs on the west facet of the Divide, passing a whole lot of lakes. Many CDT hikers additionally go for a facet tour to go to the Cirque of the Towers. There aren’t any simple resupply factors so that you’ll must both carry all of your meals for the trek or plan a 20-mile spherical journey facet journey to Elkhart Park trailhead, the place you possibly can hitch a journey into Pinedale partway by way of your hike. The logistics are daunting however they’re a paltry value of admission to this world-class trek!

Green River Lake landscape from the CDT and Wind River Range Traverse
Green River Lake alongside the Wind River Range Traverse


Best Time of Year To Visit the Wind River Range

The Wind River Range is a distant, high-elevation mountain vary that receives unbelievable quantities of snow every winter. Most years, the snow-choked basins and passes aren’t melted out till July, making August and September the prime months for Wind River Range backpacking journeys. With a lot water in hundreds of lakes, mosquitoes might be legion. Bugs often peak in June and July and begin really fizzling out in August.

Winter can return rapidly to the Winds, with the primary snowfalls typically coming in September or October. Elk looking is critical enterprise within the Winds so when you do enterprise into the vary within the fall, make sure to put on vibrant colours

Ski mountaineers and ice climbers generally deal with winter aims within the Winds however because of the unforgiving terrain, excessive avalanche hazard, excessive climate, and distant location, winter journeys are greatest left to skilled mountaineers.

Titcomb Basin

How To Get To the Wind River Range

The Wind River Range is positioned in west central Wyoming. The closest cities are Pinedale on the west facet of the vary, Lander to the east, and Dubois to the north.

All of those cities have grocery shops, eating places, and resort rooms however none of them have main airports; if that you must fly you possibly can search for flights into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a 1.5-hour drive to Pinedale, or Salt Lake City, a 4-hour drive to Pinedale. If you’re mountain climbing on the east facet of the Winds, it’s a 6-hour drive from Denver to Lander.

Many of the roads into the Winds are lengthy, tough dust roads however most main trailheads might be reached by a rigorously pushed two-wheel drive car. Most trailheads have nationwide forest campgrounds or enable dispersed tenting close to the trailhead.


Winds Backpacking Tips

The Wind River Range is likely one of the most distant and pristine mountain ranges within the decrease 48 states. Visiting the Winds requires planning and expertise; this wilderness shouldn’t be really helpful for first-time backpackers.

Many trails usually are not properly marked and a few routes require off-trail navigating, typically round lakes and over passes into the subsequent lake basin.

Trails are rocky, rugged, and sometimes relentlessly steep. Trailheads begin over 8,000 toes of elevation and plenty of lake basins sit over 11,000 toes so altitude illness is an actual concern.

If you’re not up for helming your individual journey, there are a number of outfitters who service the Winds and may pack you or your gear right into a basecamp on horse, mules, or llamas. But for individuals who come ready for a self-supported journey, the Winds supply the expertise of a lifetime.

Permits

There aren’t any permits required for backcountry journeys within the Winds. Only organized teams (corresponding to Scouts) and in a single day pack and saddle inventory customers are required to hold permits.

Bear Safety

The Winds are dwelling to many grizzly bears and much more black bears. Be positive to make noise when you hike, carry bear spray on the prepared in your hip, and be diligent about retaining a clear camp.

Proper meals storage is remitted within the Winds. Food and scented gadgets have to be stored in IGBC-approved bear canisters or hung at the very least 10 toes off of the bottom and 4 toes out from the tree.

Canisters might be rented for a small donation from the district ranger places of work in Pinedale, Jackson, and Blackrock. These are particularly necessary above treeline, corresponding to in Titcomb Basin and the Cirque, the place there aren’t any bushes for hanging meals.

Leave No Trace

As with all wild locations, it’s crucial that you simply go away them untouched by your go to. This means mountain climbing and tenting on sturdy surfaces, correctly burying human waste, packing out all trash and meals waste (together with TP), leaving all artifacts and objects in place, minimizing campfire impacts (and honoring burn bans, when relevant), and respecting wildlife in addition to different hikers. Catholes might be notably tough to dig within the rocky Winds so contemplate bringing wag baggage on your go to and packing out your waste.

Cell Service

There is not any cell service within the Winds. Be positive to obtain all maps and path beta utilizing your favourite mountain climbing app earlier than leaving Pinedale, Dubois, or Lander.

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Weather

All types of climate can strike anytime within the Winds. Snowstorms in July usually are not unusual. Be ready for all sorts of climate with correct layers and shelter. A tarp is price its weight in gold in inclement climate, as is a rain jacket and artificial down jacket.

Afternoon thunderstorms are widespread in July and August. Plan to deal with summits and passes early within the day and keep off excessive factors within the afternoons to cut back the chance of being hit by lightning.

Bugs

The solely creature extra feared than bears within the Winds are mosquitoes. Biting bugs might be horrendous on this watery wonderland. Bring a mesh backpacking tent, head web, and bug spray! Treating your clothes with a bug-repellent spray can even assist preserve bugs at bay.

A woman wearing a bug head net while backpacking the Mineral King Loop in Sequoia National Park
I like to recommend packing a head web for the Winds – the mosquitos might be brutal

Dogs

Dogs are allowed in every single place within the Winds. There aren’t any leash rules however canines can’t be allowed to harass wildlife, different hikers or pack inventory. Be conscious {that a} bear or a llama may very well be across the subsequent bend of the path and be sensible about letting your canine wander. Brush up on ideas for tips on how to backpack with a canine right here.

Discover the ultimate guide to the best Wind River Range backpacking routes in Wyoming. Explore this hidden gem of the Rockies with our detailed itineraries, including expert advice on camping spots, high-altitude lakes, and panoramic vistas. Perfect for adventurers seeking Wyoming wilderness, mountain peaks, pristine forests, and abundant wildlife. Pack your backpack and embark on a journey through Wyoming's Wind River Range today!



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