Hiking the Wind River Range in Wyoming

Posted on March 16, 2012 by

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Map from Google Maps: Wind River Range, WY

One of my all time favorite week-long hike was in the Wind River Range for a few different reasons. The range, located on the continental divide in Central Wyoming, is a long drive from any major city which results in significantly less hikers than other well-known places in the Rockies. Additionally, the Wind River Range is not classified as a National Park, but rather consists of two National Forest. This means that hikers have the freedom to camp anywhere more than a few hundred feet from water sources and trails. That freedom makes organizing a long hiking trip without pre determining or reserving camping spots really convenient and allows for hikers to have the flexibility of finding and choosing isolated spots of their choice deep in the wilderness free from other campers.

The crew

A group of 5 of us including Brendan and Sarah who live in Denver, Joe who travelled from Illinois, and Vicki and I from Texas organized a trip to the range over a week around Labor Day in 2009. A few weeks before the trip, Sarah called us to let us know that we were going to have another hiker on the trip, their newly adopted dog named Whisky. Needless to say, I had some apprehensions about taking a dog that none of us really knew on a 90 mile hike, but it ended up working out amazingly. Whisky was a ball of energy, and was for the most part obedient as long as no squirrels were in sight. If squirrels came in the picture as they often did during the 6 day hike, none of us stood a chance at getting his attention. Whisky even got his own pack during the hike, which was initially full of dog food, but ended up full of some of our gear as his food depleted. That did not slow him down in any way!

Flowing River

Fly fishing

The scenery in the range was really nice, and the best part about it was that we hardly saw anyone else during the trip. We camped near crystal clear lakes and streams that provided abundant amount of brown trout from our fly rods. On the first evening, we had found an amazing place to camp at near a gorgeous small lake. As the sun was setting we had taken out the fly rods to try to catch some fish. After about fifteen minutes with only one bite, we were about to give up and go make dinner, when I suddenly got a big bite. I fought with the monster for a while and was able to bring it back to shore. I had just caught our first trout, and this one was massive. As it was flopping around on the ground and I was about to grab it, Whisky came up out of nowhere and opened his mouth about to bite the fish. In a split second I pulled on the rod pulling the fish up in the air as Whisky almost bit the fish in half. The fish got loose off of the fly in the process and landed back in the water. It was gone…

Smoking the brown trout

One of the streams high up in the mountains that was no more than a foot deep that we fished at had an incredible number of trout of all sizes. The trick was to slowly sneak up on them by hiding behind a rock or bush, toss in a line in a strategic spot, and they were quick to bite. On a couple of different evenings, we smoked some of those trouts on the fires that we had started around our campsites, and it was some of the best fish that I have ever tasted. Even though it seems that any food tastes better while camping, eating what you catch and living off of the land is a truly gratifying feeling. Throughout the trip, our goal was to catch a golden trout, which is somewhat of a rare catch but present in many of the streams that were stocked by a local explorer during The Great Depression. Unfortunately we came up short on that goal.

Rocky peaks

We were hoping to see some grizzlies from a distance which live in large numbers there, but did not encounter any. We were however very careful to store the food in bear cans and hung up in trees far away from the campsites. One evening, as we were hanging up the food in the obscurity of the night away from our campsite, we did hear some wolves howling not too far away, which was somewhat creepy, but they left us alone. During the trip, we did run into a few moose, from which we kept some distance as they can sometimes get aggressive.

Crossing the Continental divide

As always, we cooked up a storm, especially for dinners. Our dehydrated vegetables, fruits, and meat was easily rehydrated with the abundance of water sources around us. Water sources were everywhere, quite a contrast from hiking in the Grand Canyon. This made our packs much lighter for the hike since we could filter water every day if not literally at every stop.

The Cirque at sunset

Perhaps one of the most memorable moments of the trip was watching the sun set over the Cirque of the Towers on a completely cloud free night, and let the stars slowly start piercing the sky with their brightness. The Cirque of the Towers forms a curved wall of peaks that seem to tower over the surroundings – quite an amazing sight that is probably the highlight of the range. This natural feature is also supposed to be an excellent place for rock climbing, and we did see a few climbers up on the vertical walls on our way up divide. Maybe our next trip to this location will be for rock climbing. On this trip, we went over the Continental divide twice. During our first pass over the divide, we got to the highest point from which there were stunning views of both side of the divide, including various peaks covered in patches of snow and ice, many bright blue lakes, and lush pine forests at lower altitude. We hiked down the mountain on the other side through snow and we had to slide down on our butts to get down part of the way. Our initial plan was to do a loop, but we had to adjust our goal as we realized that our initial plan was a bit to ambitious. We hiked most of the loop that we had planned on but had to come out of the wilderness at a different trailhead. This posed no problem as we were able to find a ride back to our original trailhead.

The Cirque

Moon sneaking out from behind the mountain

Overall, the Wind River Range is definitely worth experiencing. The freedom and flexibility that you cannot get as easily in a National Park, its excellent trails and pristine sceneries, combined with the fact that the range does not get a huge number of visitors, makes this place unique.