Trip Report    

Backpacking the Wind River Range

Seven Mountaineers complete a 13-day, 158 mile thru-hike of Wyoming's Wind River Range.

  • Fri, Aug 25, 2023 — Sat, Sep 9, 2023
  • Wind River Range
  • Backpacking & Global Adventures
  • Successful
  • Road rough but passable
  • We started at the Green River Lakes trailhead and hiked southbound to the Big Sandy Lodge.

    Most of our journey was on the CDT, which offered generally excellent trail conditions and easy navigation.  There were a few stretches of mud and swampy areas, but they didn't present any problems except for making our boots dirty or wet.  The vast majority of creek / river crossings were easy rock skips; a handful of crossings were shin-deep (but not swift).

    We did trek in areas that required low-consequence off-trail travel on rock.  For example, the rockslide between Vista Pass and Cube Rock Pass, as well as the east aspect of Washakie Pass.

We began our Global Adventure with 2 nights at Big Sandy Lodge, which, at an elevation just above 9000', gave us time to begin acclimating to the region's altitude.  During this initial stay, we ate lots of delicious food, watched moose saunter through the area, and enjoyed an easy 10-mile day hike along the CDT.

After 2 relaxing nights, it was time for us to get started with the real work.  We left our cars parked at Big Sandy Lodge, and a shuttle service picked us up and drove us north to the Green River Lakes trailhead, where we started our thru-hike in the rain:


The rain eventually disappeared, and we were treated to lovely views of Squaretop Mountain and "the bottle":


Day 1 summary: 10 miles, 500' gain, overnight at Beaver Park.

Day 2 was supposed to be our biggest day: 11 miles, over 4000' gain, and a 2600' change in sleeping altitude.  And instead of staying on the CDT, we were going to do a scenic, partially off-trail bypass over 3 passes: Vista, Cube Rock, and Shannon.

A participant started feeling ill partway through the day, so we stopped early and made camp between Visa and Cube Rock passes, instead of camping at Elbow Lake as planned:


And then most of the group went on a day hike to explore Cube Rock Pass and Peak Lake:


Day 2 summary: 7+ miles, 2200' gain, overnight below Visa Pass.
Side trip to Cube Rock Pass and Peak Lake: 3.5 miles, 900' gain.

With our early stop on day 2, day 3 now became a bigger day, as we had to go over Cube Rock Pass, Shannon Pass, and make our way to our originally-planned day 3 destination: Island Lake.

Cube Rock Pass and Shannon Pass were spectacular:



And we made it to our camp overlooking Island Lake:


Day 3 summary: 12 miles, 2500' gain, overnight above Island Lake, on a plateau near Wall-Island Pass.

Day 4 was a day of exploration.  A few of us got an early start to the day with a short hike up to Wall-Island Pass:


And then after breakfast the larger group explored Titcomb Basin:


And a few of us were determined to see Knapsack Col (from a distance), so we continued past the north shore of Upper Titcomb Lake and made our way close to the Twins Glacier, for views of Knapsack Col:


Day 4 summary: 15+ miles, 2000' gain.  No change to campsite (still above Island Lake).

On day 5, we broke camp and made our way over Lester Pass to the beautiful Bald Mountain Basin:



Day 5 summary: 11 miles, 2100' gain.  Overnight at Bald Mountain Basin.

Day 6 called for afternoon thunderstorms, so we got an early start, remained focused on trail, and camped at North Fork Lake instead of the planned Lake Victor:



Day 6 summary: 9+ miles, 1600' gain, overnight at North Fork Lake.

Day 7 was another big day for us: our resupply was arriving via horse!  Many of us started the day excited about the Pop-Tarts, candy bars, cookies, and other treats that we had strategically included in our resupply Ursacks.

Our original plan was to meet the packer at Sandpoint Lake and overnight at Sandpoint Lake.  But the packer was running a little late, so we had time to continue on to Dream Lake:


This change made our day slightly longer and our packer's trip slightly shorter, allowing us all to arrive at Dream Lake at nearly the same time:


Our original plan was to have 2 nights (nights 7 and 8) in this area, so that we could either rest or explore the Rainbow Lake / Rainbow Pass area on day 8 and then trek to our next destination on day 9.  But with 0.5" rain and thunderstorms in the forecast starting the afternoon of day 8 and throughout day 9, we decided to adjust our plans so that we spent only 1 night (night 7) at Dream Lake and 2 nights (nights 8 and 9) at our next destination.  That would enable us to spend the stormy day 9 hunkered down in our tents.

This change meant that if we wanted to explore Rainbow Lake and Rainbow pass, which I really, really wanted to do, we'd need to do it on the afternoon of day 7.

After enjoying a few resupply treats and then setting up our tents (priorities!), several of us ventured up to Rainbow Lake and Rainbow Pass.  What a treat - the area was absolutely gorgeous, and was for many a highlight of the entire trip:



Day 7 summary: 8.5 miles, 1000' gain.  Overnight at Dream Lake.
Side trip to Rainbow Pass: 9+ miles, 1100' gain.

Day 8 was very task oriented: we needed to get to East Fork Meadows, find a sheltered campsite (thunderstorms were in the forecast), and get hunkered down before the storms arrived that afternoon.

The terrain as we left the Dream Lake area was just gorgeous - open rangeland for miles in every direction:



Thankfully, we arrived at East Fork Meadows and were able to set up our tents just before the torrential rains started.

Day 8 summary: 10 miles, 1200' gain, overnight at East Fork Meadows.

Day 9 was filled with rain, snow, and thunderstorms.  Our plan was to stay dry, hunkered down in our tents all day.

But with the north aspect of the Cirque of the Towers so close, a few brave souls decided to venture out in the weather to explore along the Shadow Lake trail.  We were not disappointed!  We passed Shadow Lake, Billy Lake, Barren Lake, and Texas Lake to the base of Texas Pass.  With wind chill, temps were in the low 20's:



Texas Pass in the background:


This person (not in our party) was not having a good day on the shores of Shadow Lake:


Day 9 summary: 9.5 miles, 800' gain, no change to campsite (still at East Fork Meadows).

With the heavy rains behind us, day 10 was our chance to begin our final approach into the Cirque of the Towers area.  To be specific, we were going to go over Washakie Pass to our camp at Valentine Lake.

As luck would have it, the snowstorm that began on day 9 was still around on day 10, and one of our participants was still feeling ill.  Our journey over Washakie Pass was tough, and we had to redistribute gear so that everyone could ascend at roughly the same speed.  But we made it, and we were rewarded with a lovely camp at Valentine Lake.






Day 10 summary: 8.75 miles, 2000' gain, overnight at Valentine Lake.

Day 11 was another changed day for us: instead of spending a single night at Valentine Lake, and then continuing on to the Lonesome Lake area for 2 nights, we decided to spend 2 nights at Valentine Lake so that our ill participant could rest and some of us could go exploring.

Those of us who went exploring had a WONDERFUL trek on the Bears Ears trail, passing by the shores of Grave Lake on our way to Baptiste Lake.  This entire area was breathtaking.  And several of us decided to add on a short sprint up to the summit of Hailey Pass.








Day 11 summary: 18+ miles, 3000' gain, no change to campsite (still at Valentine Lake)

After a long, tiring day 11, it was time for us to spend day 12 trekking into the heart of the Cirque of the Towers area.  We left Valentine Lake, hiked along the Lizard Head plateau (reaching our trip-maximum elevation of 11,900'), and then descended into the meadows downstream of Lonesome Lake.  We made our way up the valley to Lonesome Lake, and then ascended above Lonesome Lake to a basin popular with climbers, where we made camp.

It was very windy on the Lizard Head plateau, and the clouds looked threatening, but we had zero precipitation and the views were incredible.  And we were all thrilled to reach camp and set up for our last night.

Leaving the Valentine Lake area:



Ascending to Lizard Head plateau:


Fun (and windy!) times on the plateau:




Our resident rock-o-phile appreciating a very unique cairn:


Before our descent from Lizard Head plateau, with views of the Cirque of the Towers in the background:


Finally, we arrive at Lonesome Lake:


We camped on the plateau above Lonesome Lake:


Day 12 summary: 11 miles, 2200' gain, overnight on plateau above Lonesome Lake.

Day 13 was bittersweet.  We'd had a wonderful 13 days on trail, but we were all ready for some civilization.  Or at least some showers, beds, and home cooked food!!!

A few of us stared the day with a quick morning trip up to Cirque Lake, and then we all headed down the Big Sandy trail to our final destination: a final night at Big Sandy Lodge (for the aforementioned showers, beds, and home cooked food).

Trip up to Cirque Lake:





Final descent past Jackass Pass and Arrowhead Lake to Big Sandy Lodge:




Day 13 summary: 11.5 miles, 1300' gain, overnight at Big Sandy Lodge.

After an overnight at Big Sandy Lodge, with showers, real beds, and a dinner of cheeseburgers, potato salad, and blueberry cobbler, we were treated to a morning of coffee by the fireplace and pancakes:




After 13 days on trail, bookended with stays at Big Sandy Lodge, it was time for us to go home or transition to other adventures in the Tetons or Yellowstone.  It was a fantastic trip!

View our trip's actual Gaia GPS tracks:

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