A Guide to the Iconic and Less Explored Wonders of Wyoming's Wind River Range
All the natural splendor and solitude one could ever want is waiting in the Shoshone National Forest
Nikon L35 AF
Words and photography by Andrew Northrup, a 20-something photographer with a love for film and all things outdoors. Follow him on Instagram here
The trip began at the Forest Service office in Pinedale, Wyoming, where a seasoned Forest Ranger indulged our bright eyed and bushy tailed interest in hiking the Cirque of the Towers (one of the most popular hikes in the Wind River Range, a 100-mile long range SE of Yellowstone containing 19 of Wyoming's 20 highest peaks). As we quickly learned, the Winds have so much to offer—peaks, lakes, wildlife, and most of all solitude. It was the last one, solitude, that led us to change course and head out for a lesser known section of the Winds, where the approach to the ridge would be longer, but with far fewer people.
We loaded up our packs with the necessary items—plus a few Snickers bars for good measure—and hit the road to camp closer to the trailhead. As we rambled along the dirt Forest Service road, we slowed behind an RV to let a mama and baby moose casually cross the road. We looked at each other and knew instantly this was going to be a good trip.
We pounded our feet through dense forest winding up and down and over a summit of almost 11,000 feet, all the while waiting, anticipating the tiny glimpse of the zone’s famed jagged ridgeline.
Quickly those small glimpses turned into a wide-open range, with a curving creek winding along the base. Granite, lots and lots of granite. We set up camp along one of the upper lakes and sat to marvel at how the range seemed to tower over us with such prominence. As the day faded temperatures began to drop and we crawled into our home for the night. The sky had already filled with stars and the coyotes began to make their presence known. We were in their country.
When morning came we shook the ice from our tent, and reluctantly packed up our belongings for the trek back out. We knew we had to extend our time in this range. With over 80 miles and more than 40 peaks over 13,000 feet, our small little out-and-back couldn’t do the range justice.
We thought back to the Ranger’s advice, and decided: “We’ve seen some solitude, now let’s experience the hype!,” as we set out to hike the Cirque. However you cut it, the Winds will not disappoint.
- Hammock Gear Burrow Econ Quilt - A handmade down quilt lighter than my conventional mummy bag and warmer for the same price? Yes please!
- Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 - A lightweight 2-person tent that can actually house two people! Plus it can truly weather three seasons. Not bad.
- Orivis Fly Rod - To quote Sandra Day O’Connor: “A walk without a rod is a walk wasted.” This four-piece, six weight Orvis rod is an old-school classic that stands the test of time.
- Crocs – Why compromise fashion over functionality in the backcountry? Crocs provide a stylish way to relax your feet after a long day of heel striking on the trail. And, they are light enough for you ultralighters out there.
- Gaia GPS - An awesome topo map app that allows you to create custom routes, wayfind various terrain, and track your position in the backcountry. This in conjunction with paper maps and a personal beacon or GPS is the gold standard for route finding.
Do’s and Don’ts For Backpacking in the Wind River Range
Do stop in the Ranger Station to get advice on trail conditions and recommended routes. They provided us with exceptional service and ample amount of information not available online. Plus, more touch points with nature-loving stewards of the land can only be good for the soul.
Do remember to check the weather (and on multiple sources). Weather patterns at this elevation can change faster than ever expected. Be prepared.
Do remember to stop in Pinedale at Ridley’s Family Market for a post-hike pint of (insert favorite flavor) ice cream to complete your backcountry adventure. We’ve found this to be the best way to savor the flavor of a good romp in the woods.
Don’t be that guy. Follow all Leave No Trace principles in addition to local regulations on where to camp. This area is experiencing an increase in use so show extra respect to the land management’s strategies on how to decrease the human footprint.
Don’t forget to ogle at the night sky. The vastness of the area provides ample stargazing opportunity. So, sit back (camp chair optional) and appreciate the neatness of this nature.
Don’t let your time outside pass you by. Savor the small moments. Meals take an extra few minutes to cook at 10,000 feet? Consider it extra time to twiddle your thumbs in a truly remarkable piece of wilderness.