Ask Me: What Backpacking Trip Do You Suggest in the Wind River Range?

Hello Michael!

I read your dayhike story on the Wind River Range, and wow! Thank you for sharing it. I’ve been doing research on the range for several months now for a trip a few friends and I are taking there this summer. We will have 6 to 7 days of backpacking available on our trip. But I am having the hardest time trying to decide where in the Winds to hike. None of us have ever been to the Winds before and I want to hit as many beautiful and peaceful areas as I can, but still get some highlights from the Winds we see in many photos.

In your story, you hinted about climbing in the Winds in the past, so I’m assuming you have some familiarity with them. Could you please recommend one or two weeklong routes that will not have as many people but also give us a great view of the Winds that we will never forget and can tell our friends and family about?

I have hiked at these at these elevations for extended periods of time before and I’m familiar with the Tetons and Rocky Mountain National Park. Daily, I would say I’d like to hike seven to 12 miles a day (depending on the area and what we want to see). We want to soak in the scenery and take a little time to drop our packs do some scrambling on the side when we can. Unfortunately, for this trip we are limited to a loop as we will not have a second vehicle, and after looking at shuttle prices, I’d like to avoid that for this trip at least.

Thank you again Michael for any recommendations you have. I want to learn from someone who knows the area!

Fargo, ND

Hiking below Lizard Head Peak, Wind River Range.
Hiking below Lizard Head Peak, Wind River Range.

Hi Shawna,

Thanks for writing and following The Big Outside.

The trip I’d suggest to you is one I recommended to two friends who backpacked in the Wind River Range for the first time this summer and wanted to hike a loop of about five moderate days. When I saw one of them after their trip, he told me, “I think I’ve just found a new favorite mountain range.” He said it was tough at times, but quite spectacular.

From Big Sandy Campground on the southwest side of the mountains (you could stay there the night before you start, which would help you begin acclimating to these high elevations), this loop takes you along the west side of the range, across the Continental Divide, past some alpine lakes, and then south over the Lizard Head Plateau and west through the Cirque of the Towers (see lead photo above story), one of the highlights of the Winds, before returning to Big Sandy Trailhead. While the Cirque draws more backpackers and climbers than other areas of the Winds, I think this loop will also show you some beautiful terrain that sees less foot traffic. You saw photos of the Bears Ears Trail, Lizard Head Plateau, and Cirque of the Towers in my story about dayhiking across the Southern Wind River Range.

From Big Sandy, hike north past Meeks Lake, Dads Lake, and Maes Lake to Hailey Pass. Descend the Bears Ears Trail past Grave Lake and Valentine Lake. The loop swings south at a trail junction; for a fun side hike, hike north from that junction to Mount Chauvenet, where you can drop your packs and hike 15 minutes off-trail to Chauvenet’s summit, as we did on the hike described in my article.

Then backtrack and hike south on the Lizard Head Trail to Lizard Head Meadows. You probably won’t find any water sources on the Lizard Head Plateau, and it’s very exposed to weather, so plan on crossing it before camping. We didn’t camp on our dayhike, but Bear Lake, below Lizard Head Peak, looked like a great spot to spend a night. Swing west, following the North Fork Popo Agie upstream to Lonesome Lake, and turn south through the Cirque of the Towers to Jackass Pass. It’s a steep descent to Big Sandy Lake, then an easy walk out to Big Sandy Trailhead.


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Indian Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.
Indian Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

I’ve also backpacked into Indian Basin (which is on my list of 25 all-time favorite backcountry campsites) on the west side of the Continental Divide, to climb Fremont Peak and a couple other peaks nearby. That’s a majestic spot, as is Titcomb Basin on the west side of the mountains, the valley that’s a standard approach route for climbing Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s high point. You could probably visit both in the time you have if you don’t mind an out-and-back hike that involves backtracking many miles of trail you hiked on the way in.

Shuttles in the Winds are long and paying for it is fairly expensive.

I hope that’s helpful. I love the Winds and would like to get back in there soon for a longer backpacking trip or to climb more peaks.

Good luck, let me know what you end up doing.



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Thank you for your response, I’m just happy you were able to give me a few pointers and weeklong hike help! I appreciate it so much!



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6 thoughts on “Ask Me: What Backpacking Trip Do You Suggest in the Wind River Range?”

  1. Hello, heading to Cirque of the towers, coming from Big Sandy Trailhead on Friday. I plan on getting to Big Sandy Lake, dropping my tent, then continue to the Towers for pics and explore, then coming back down to camp at Big Sandy Lake, head home again on Sunday. Think it’s doable????

    Thank you,

    • Hi Stefanie,

      It sounds to me like you’re planning to spend two nights, Friday and Saturday, at Big Sandy Lake, and dayhike from your camp on Saturday into the Cirque of the Towers. Yes, that’s a reasonable plan. It’s a nearly flat few hours of hiking to Big Sandy Lake. The hike up to Jackass Pass is a burly one, but you’ll have time to see and explore around the cirque with a full day to get there and return to camp. Enjoy.


    • Hi Mar, established trails throughout the Winds, like the trails on this loop, can vary a bit in quality but are generally obvious on the ground and marked where necessary, such as signs at junctions. National forest lands like this are not adequately funded by Congress for trail maintenance (the USFS has an enormous trail maintenance backlog), so when damage occurs like trees fallen across a trail or a washout, repairs don’t always happen the same year. I don’t have any current reports on trail conditions on this loop from 2018, but you could check with the Forest Service office in Pinedale this summer.

      Good luck.

  2. Hi Michael,
    Like all of your stories I enjoyed reading your advice on the Wind Rivers especially as I returned from my second visit there last week. One thing it might be good for you to clarify is your comment about great camping at Lonesome Lake. There is a restriction in place that you aren’t allowed to camp within 1/4 mile of this lake. We found some of the nicest sites much further up on the hill looking down on it and up to the peaks.