Summer Backpacking Trip Ideas: Wind River Range, Wyoming
Thinking about a backpacking trip this summer? Are these must-haves on your checklist:
Great hiking and fishing
Camping with majestic scenery
Will not include sitting in hours of tourist traffic (sorry Yosemite, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone)
Well then the peaceful and scenic Wind River Range in Wyoming might be just the spot!
The Wind River Range is a 100-mile long chain of towering granite peaks, pristine alpine lakes and glacier-carved meadows. It remains a special place for those seeking adventure off the beaten path.
Whether you are fishing, camping or rock climbing, we've included everything to help you prep for your summer backpacking adventure in the Winds, as they're commonly called.
Highlights of the Winds
- Cirque of the Towers– a stunning semi-circle of 12,000 foot peaks
- Gannett Peak– the tallest mountain in Wyoming at 13,804 feet
- Titcomb Basin– a picturesque valley surrounded by lakes and mountains
- Skyline Scenic Drive- If you are not up for carrying a backpack and hiking some good miles into the wilderness, you can still get a taste of what the Wind River Range has to offer. The Skyline Scenic Drive takes you 17 miles outside of Pinedale, ending at the Elkhart Park Trailhead.
- Alpine Rock Climbing- Are you looking to scramble up some of the tallest peaks outside of Colorado? The Winds provide access to incredible trad and alpine climbing in both Titcomb Basin and Cirque of the Towers. You'll also find both single-pitch and multi-pitch climbing with a wide range of grades from 5.6 to 5.13c.
Wildlife sightings may include bighorn sheep, owls, deer, elk and eagles. In addition, the headwaters of the Green River, along with hundreds of lakes and streams, are teeming with rainbow and cutthroat trout.
Both black bears and grizzly bears can be found in the Wind River Range, and although sightings are rare, be prepared. Keep your campsite clean and store food properly (see our Tips below).
The most common starting points are either the Big Sandy trailhead or the Elkhart Park trailhead. The Big Sandy is the southernmost trail that leads into the Wind River Range and provides access to the Cirque of the Towers and Pyramid Lake. Located 54 miles south of Pinedale, you will need to drive on a mix of paved and dirt roads to reach the trailhead. This approach may not be suitable for RVs.
The Elkhart Park Trailhead is at the end of Skyline Scenic Drive, a paved 17-mile road that starts near Pinedale. This trail provides access to Gannett Peak and the Titcomb Basin.
As you may have guessed, Pinedale is the closest town, and the best place to stock up on food, bug spray and anything you may have left behind. This scenic mountain town is filled with shops, restaurants and plenty of accommodations should you choose not to camp.
If you are flying into the area, the closest major airports to the Wind River Range are either Jackson Hole, Wyoming or Salt Lake City, Utah.
Hiring an Adventure Guide
Thinking about hiring a guide or booking your trip through an outfitter? This will ensure you are well-prepared for your summer backpacking adventure.
In addition, they can take care of most of the heavy-lifting and even load your packs on horseback for the hike in. This means you can do most of your hiking with a light daypack, which in our book is well worth the added expense!
Many guiding services provide everything from tents and meals, to round trip transportation from Jackson Hole. Highly recommended outfitters include:
More Tips For Your Adventure
- Map reading: Know how to use a compass and read a topographic map, especially if you will not be hiring a guide. Trails are not well-marked and most see very light traffic throughout the summer.
- Camping Locations and Fees: There are no entrance fees at the Winds, however there are campgrounds fees. You may camp at either trailhead and do day hikes into the Winds. You may also camp once in the Wind River Range. Camps should be set up 200 feet from lakes or streams, and 100 feet from the road or trail.
- Weather: The best time to visit the Wind Rivers is July through mid-September, however keep in mind chilly nights can be common at 9,000 feet. Snowfall can also occur year-round. Always be prepared and bring gear for cold and rainy weather and check the latest conditions before your departure.
- Hiking preparedness: For the best experience in the Winds, make sure you are comfortable carrying a mid-sized pack and hiking several miles a day. Don't forget to break in your hiking shoes well before your trip. Remember, this is a remote area and access to shops that sell camping equipment, as well as medical services, are located back in Pinedale.
- Packing: Learn how to pack a backpack and determine what essentials you’ll need based on your type of trip. REI has a great checklist of the 10 Essentials for camping and hiking.
- Water: There is easy access to water from lakes and streams, however you will need to purify the water by boiling, filtering or using chemical tablets. Outdoor Gear Lab recently reviewed some of the best water filters on the market.
- Altitude: The low end of the Wind River Range is still above 9,000 feet, so make sure to spend a day or two acclimating to higher altitudes in Pinedale or at the trailhead campgrounds.
- Approach by car: A 4-wheel drive vehicle, or at least one you’re comfortable taking on bumpy dirt roads, may be necessary to reach the Big Sandy Trailhead. The Elkhart Trailhead is at the end of a paved road.
- Bear Safety and Food Storage: Learn how to tie up your food and bring secure food canisters to keep the critters out. There are no bearproof food storage boxes located in the Winds. Packing bear spray is not a bad idea. Read more about the U.S. Forest Service food storage basics.
- Bugs: Mosquitos and other bugs are plentiful in the summer months so make sure to pack bug spray.
- Fishing and Hunting: A valid license from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is required for fishing or hunting in the Wind River Range.
- Campfires: There are campfires permitted in certain areas of the Winds. Check the latest fire regulations before departing.
- Leave No Trace: Be respectful of wild places and ensure that whatever your pack in you must carry out.
There’s definitely a lot to think about, and we hope this gets you excited for summer travel! We also invite you to share your stories with us of where you'll be backpacking and camping this summer.
Until next time, happy adventuring!
- Meredith McConvill
All photos taken by Barbara McConvill. Parts of this post were originally written for Outdoor Outreach's Latest Happenings blog.