Alpine Glory in Wyoming's Wind River Mountains
- Hike on trails that offer endless mountain vistas
- Explore areas with abundant glaciers, lakes, and streams
- Enjoy a myriad of beautiful wildflowers
- All meals, snacks and cooking gear
- Permits and backcountry guidance
- Camaraderie and adventure
|Dates||Aug 2–9, 2014|
|Difficulty||4 (out of 5)|
Wyoming’s Wind River Range offers an unparalleled wilderness experience. Our adventure passes through glacier-carved valleys with dozens of crystal-clear lakes and countless snowmelt cascades and streams. Alpine forests, rolling green meadows accented with vibrant wildflowers, and extraordinary mountain views are the backdrop for this spectacular hike. Highlights of the trip will be hiking to the top of Squaretop Mountain, Knapsack Col, and Stroud and Glover peaks.
The "Winds" are in western Wyoming, comprising a range running roughly northwest to southeast for approximately 100 miles. The Continental Divide follows the crest of the range and includes Gannett Peak, which, at 13,804 feet, is the highest peak in Wyoming. There are more than 40 other named peaks in excess of 13,000 feet. Two national forests, Bridger-Teton and Shoshone, along with Bridger and Fitzpatrick wilderness areas, encompass most of the mountain range.
The Winds were occupied as early as 9,000 years ago as evidenced by Yuma points, knives, and scrapers. Later the Crow tribe lived around the Winds. Trappers seeking beaver were probably in the vicinity in the early 1800s. By the mid-1800s Captain Bonneville, John Fremont, Kit Carson, and Jim Bridger were some of the first frontier men to explore the Wind River Mountains. Fur trappers, traders from St. Louis and Native Americans from the region met in the late summer at the famous Rendezvous, which was located in a nearby valley, principally to trade beaver pelts.
The Winds are composed primarily of a granitic batholith, which is granite rock formed deep under the surface of the earth more than one billion years ago. Over hundreds of millions of years, rocks that were once covering this batholith eroded away. As the land continued to rise during the Laramide orogeny, further erosion occurred until all that remained were the granitic rocks. The ice ages, beginning 500,000 years ago, began carving the rocks into their present shapes. Within the Winds, numerous lakes and cirques, or circular valleys, were carved out of the rocks by glacial activity. As a result, the Bridger Wilderness contains more than 1,300 lakes, ranging in size from less than three acres to more than 200 acres, with an average size of about 10 acres. The streams and lakes are home to cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, brown trout, Mackinaw trout (lake trout), and golden trout -- about 2.5 million of which were stocked by a local explorer Finis Mitchell and his wife during the Great Depression. The forests surrounding the lakes are dominated by lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, subalpine fir, and Engelmann spruce.
Several major rivers have headwaters in the range. The Green and Big Sandy rivers drain southward from the west side, while the Wind River drains eastward through the Shoshone Basin. The Green is the largest fork of the Colorado River while the Wind River, after changing its name to the Bighorn River, is the largest fork of the Yellowstone River. The Snake River drains the northwest portion of the Winds from Triple Divide Peak and eventually pours into the Columbia River.
The Winds are known to have a small Grizzly Bear population, primarily in the northernmost areas but they are expanding their range, and some have been found near Pinedale, Wyoming. Other mammals include the black bear, elk, moose, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and wolverine. Bald eagles, falcons, and hawks are just a few of the 300 species of birds known to inhabit the region.
Plan to meet at the Rivera Lodge in Pinedale, Wyoming at 4 p.m. on August 1 for introductions and distribution of commissary and equipment. It’s a great time to review trip plans and the packing list, and answer any last-minute questions.
Day 1: On Saturday, August 2, we will meet at 7 a.m. in the Rivera Lodge parking lot before we caravan to Green Lakes Campground, where our trip begins and ends. The road to Green Lakes is in good shape and is a combination of paved and gravel roads that are passable by an ordinary sedan. We begin at Green River Lakes, 7,961 feet, and hike along the Porcupine Trail, ascending to 9,400 feet. At day’s end, we will have climbed 1,400 feet and hiked about eight to nine miles on good trail. Our first night’s camp is along Porcupine Creek below Porcupine Pass.
Day 2: On our second day we will continue up Porcupine Creek, over Porcupine Pass (10,720 feet), and down along Dodge Creek to the New Fork Trail turnoff (9,480 feet) and then ascend to Lozier Lakes at 10,590 feet. Today, we’ll move from the forests and meadows to alpine country above tree line with some accompanying dramatic views. We will have hiked about six miles, ascending 2,400 feet and descending 1,200 feet on good trails.
Day 3: Our third day will be a layover day at Lozier Lake. Passing by several beautiful lakes, we will day hike off-trail about three to four miles to the top of Squaretop Mountain at 11,652 feet. There we will take in spectacular views of the surrounding valleys and peaks, including the Green River Lakes from where we started.
Day 4: On day four we will continue along the New Forks Trail toward Clark Lake, veering off-trail toward Glover Peak, where we drop our packs at about 11,400 feet and hike to the top of Glover Peak (12,068 feet). Returning to our packs we will continue our off-trail journey, intersecting with the Doubletop Mountain Trail and No Name Lakes (10,590 feet), where we’ll camp. We will have hiked about three miles cross-country and three miles on good trail for a total of six miles today with packs. We will have ascended and descended 1,000 feet. Add another mile and 600 feet up and 600 feet back down to day hike to Glover Peak.
Day 5: Today, we’ll follow the Doubletop Mountain Trail to Summit Lake and pick up the Highline Trail, which follows beautiful Pine Creek. By the end of the morning we will reach Elbow Lake at 10,777 feet and continue on to our camp at Shannon Pass. The morning's journey is about five miles with 400 feet of descent and another 600 feet of ascent. In the afternoon we will hike to the top of Stroud Peak (12,198 feet), enjoying magnificent views all the way to the Tetons if the sky is clear and have a bird’s-eye view of aquamarine Peak Lake. It is a three-mile, round-trip day hike with elevation gain of 1,300 feet to reach the top.
Day 6: This morning we continue hiking about .75 miles along the Highline Trail down to Peak Lake (10,515 feet), where we will drop our packs and day hike up to Knapsack Col, stopping at a beautiful waterfall along the way for lunch. From Knapsack Col we have spectacular vistas of the Continental Divide and the upper reaches of Titcomb Basin. After returning to our packs, we will hike to Cube Rock Pass and camp near lovely Dale Lake. Our day hike to Knapsack Col is six miles round-trip from our packs with a 1,700-foot elevation gain and loss, and our hike with packs today is about four miles with about 400 feet of elevation gain and 1,000 feet of loss.
Day 7: Today we continue our hike mostly downhill into Trail Creek Park, where we join the Highline Trail and continue through Three Forks Park to Beaver Park (8,080 feet) and our camp, arriving by early afternoon. From Beaver Park we will day hike up the steep, but beautifully scenic, trail to Granite Lake at 9,247 feet for glorious views. We will have hiked about seven miles with packs, descending 2,500 feet and ascending 400 feet on good trails. The hike to Granite Lake will add about 1,500 feet of elevation over about three or four miles.
Day 8: On our last morning we will start early, watching the sunrise over the verdant Green River Valley and Squaretop Mountain as we hike back to our cars at 7,961 feet elevation. It is about nine miles along good trails to our starting point. We should arrive at our cars by late morning and then caravan back to Pinedale for a well-deserved celebratory lunch at a local cafe.
Please note that the itinerary may have to be changed depending on weather, the strength of the group, campsite availability, and trail conditions.
Consider flying in and out of Salt Lake City, the closest major airport. It’s easier, more predictable, and carpool friendly, with good lodging. From Salt Lake City it’s about a five-hour drive to Pinedale. There are regional flights available to the airport in Jackson, Wyoming, which is closer to Pinedale, but they are often more expensive. Shuttles between Jackson and Pinedale are also available. The leader will provide information to help coordinate ride-sharing to the trailhead. Our preference is for everyone to stay at the Rivera Lodge (307-367-2424), where the owner will prepare an excellent early breakfast for us before our drive to the trailhead. Rivera Lodge is also close to restaurants and the Great Outdoor Shop, in case anyone needs last-minute gear or advice.
Accommodations and Food
The last meal will be breakfast on the final day. High-carbohydrate cereals, pasta, and dried fruit will make up the bulk of our meals, with cheese, nuts, and meat adding a small amount of protein and fat. All dinners will include hot soup and a dessert. Vegetarians can be accommodated. We try to bring enough food so everyone is satisfied, but we also want to keep our packs as light as possible. Meals will be appetizing, filling, and fairly simple to make. Everyone shares in meal preparation, cooking chores, and clean up, making our meals more enjoyable and easily manageable.
Although our route has strenuous sections, this is mostly on-trail backpacking, and rated moderately strenuous (M/S) because of elevation ascents and descents. Our route travels about 40 miles on well-maintained, yet occasionally rugged trails. We have one section of three miles with packs off-trail. We do a considerable amount of day hiking off trail up a variety of peaks, but these hikes are optional.
Summer weather is often sunny and pleasant but we may contend with rain, hail, sleet, thunderstorms, and even the possibility of snow at the higher elevations. Days are usually mild, about 70 degrees at this time of year. Evening temperatures can drop into the lower 30s occasionally. Mosquitoes can be challenging, depending on the seasonal snowpack and runoff. Backpacking is by nature a strenuous activity with unexpected challenges. To tolerate the high altitude and fully enjoy this experience, you should engage in a regular aerobic training program for several months prior to our trip.
Equipment and Clothing
We bring all the pots, stoves, and food. We will distribute about 12-14 lbs. of group food and gear for each participant to carry at the beginning of the trip. Group water will be purified with Micropur chlorine tablets or boiling. We will distribute Micropur tablets to participants for purification of personal drinking water. Bring enough water containers to carry six quarts of water. We will work with everyone to pack light. The trip will be safer and easier if everyone keeps his/her pack weight to the minimum.
A specific equipment list will be sent later after you have signed up for the trip.
- USGS 7.5-minute maps: Green River Lakes, Gannett Peak, and Square Top Mountain
- Northern Wind River Range, WY Hiking Map & Guide, Earthwalk Press
- Kelsey, Joe, Wyoming’s Wind River Range. An excellent introduction to the area, available used from Amazon.
- Dolin, Eric Jay, Fur, Fortune & Empire. A comprehensive and fascinating history of the fur trade from its beginning.
- George Laycock, George, The Mountain Men. A brief introduction to the beaver and colorful frontier men such as Jim Bridger and Kit Carson that hunted them almost to extinction.
- Gowan, Fred and Brenda Francis, The Fur Trade & Rendezvous of the Green River Valley. A short history of the large summer trading parties that took place for several years near the Winds.
- Kelsey, Joe, Climbing and Hiking the Wind River Mountains. Comprehensive guide to trails, routes and climbs in the Wind River Range.
- McPhee, John, Rising from the Plains. Pioneer history deftly woven with a lucid description of the geology of Wyoming.
- Heyer Meldahl, Keith, Hard Road West. Both the history of the pioneers moving west and the geology of the lands they encountered.
- Kershaw, Linda, Plants of the Rocky Mountains. Detailed field guide to the flowers and trees of the Winds and all of the Rocky Mountains.
- DeLella Benedict, Audrey, The Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Rockies. A good introduction to the ecology of the Rocky Mountains.
We will discuss the devastation that the Pine Bark Beetle and Blister Rust are causing to Lodgepole Pines and Whitebark Pines in the western mountains, and how climate change may be part of the cause. The Bridger Wilderness area is permanently protected by Congress, but most of Wyoming’s roadless areas have no such legal protection and logging, drilling, and off-road vehicles continue to threaten them. We will discuss what wilderness protection means, reasons for protecting more land as wilderness, and the Wilderness Act itself, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. We’ll also discuss returning wolves to some of the areas where they were eliminated in the last century such as Yellowstone and New Mexico.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Pinedale Ranger District.