This summer, NOLS and Outward Bound are providing scholarships to five Leadership Program students. They’ll be heading to destinations in Utah, Wyoming, California and Alaska. Sean, one of the Leadership Program students selected, is setting out for the Wind River Range.
If you are thinking about a backpacking trip outside of California this summer, look no further. The Wind River Range in western Wyoming 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. To help you get started, we’ve gathered some great travel tips for the ‘Winds’, as they are commonly called. Whether you are fishing, hiking, rock climbing, or all of the above, we have included lots of information to help you prepare for your adventure!
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.
Wildlife sightings may include bighorn sheep, deer, elk and eagles. 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. Although sightings are rare, be prepared. Keep your campsite clean and store food properly (see 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 departs from Pinedale. This trail provides access to Gannett Peak and the Titcomb Basin.
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. If you are flying into the area, the closest major airports to the Wind River Range are either Jackson Hole or Salt Lake City.
Hiring an Adventure Guide
Hiring a guide or booking your trip through an outfitter ensures you are well-prepared for your adventure. In addition, they can take care of most of the heavy-lifting and load your packs on horseback for the hike in. This means you can do most of your hiking with a light daypack. 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.
- Camping Locations and Fees: There are no entrance fees at the Winds, however there are campgrounds fees if you choose to camp at either trailhead and do day hikes into the Winds. Once in the Winds, 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 snowfall can occur year-round. Always be prepared and bring gear for cold and rainy conditions 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. Make sure to break in your hiking shoes well before your trip. Remember, this is a remote area and access to camping and hiking equipment, as well as medical services, are not readily available.
- 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 definitely 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: Know how to tie up your food and bring secure food canisters to keep the critters out. Pack bear spray. Read more about the U.S. Forest Service food storage basics.
- Bugs: Mosquitos and other bugs are plentiful in the summer months. Bring 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’ll be sure to let you know how Sean’s adventure in the Wind River Range is going, as well the rest of our Leadership Program students. We also invite you to share your stories with us.
If you are interested in learning more about our programs and how to get involved in making a difference in the lives of young adults in San Diego County, please leave us a comment below. Happy adventuring!
– Meredith McConvill
Meredith McConvill is a volunteer with Outdoor Outreach, and the Co-Founder of Top Rope Media. She enjoys rock climbing, snowboarding and cycling in Southern California, or wherever her work projects take her.