The Wind River Range

As much as we in Fremont County would love to entirely claim the Wind River Mountains, we share the west side with Sublette County. The recommended adventures might start in Sublette County, but Fremont County is still a perfect jumping off point for your adventure – we are Wind River Country after all. For more information check in with local outdoor shops. They will have all the information on trail conditions and additional trip suggestions.

Many people mistakenly think the Grand Teton is Wyoming’s highest peak. It’s not. The Wind River’s Gannett Peak at 13,804 feet takes the title. In fact, 19 of Wyoming’s 20 highest peaks are in the Wind River Range

Here you can find some basic information on places to visit in the Winds. This is not a substitute for maps, guidebooks and information from the Forest Service or outdoor shops.

Remember, it is the isolation that in part makes these mountains so magical. There are plenty of places in these mountains where cell phones don’t work and you won’t necessarily run across other people. Be prepared.

The Wind River Mountains are part of the Circle the Continental Divide Driving Tour and its peaks define the Continental Divide in places.

Top 5 Locations

The Bear's Ear Trail

“Talk about feeling on top of the world and a little exposed.” — Emily Tilden, Lander resident

The trail, which starts at the Dickinson Park trailhead provides the ultimate way to experience the vastness of the range. Getting to the trailhead involves driving on the Wind River Reservation and requires a permit.

This trail not only provides stunning views, but also options for a long day hike, depending on your fitness levels, or a great backpacking option. There aer several places to set up camp with shelter and water.

For those who are really ambitious and want a long day hike, Valentine Lake is 12 miles from the trailhead (with plenty of elevation gain). This, I want to emphasize, will be a tough day for even the fit. Remember if you aren’t from Wyoming you might be hiking at elevations higher than you are used to. Really watch the weather, too. Much of the trail is high and completely exposed- not a place you’d want to be if a storm blows in.

Silas Canyon: a hike for all ages

This is a perfect hike for the family following a well-marked trail starting near Fiddler’s Lake at the Christina Lake Trailhead, which you reach by following the paved switch-backed road at the end of sinks Canyon. It’s about three miles to Upper Silas Lake and if that’s too far, rest and snack at Lower Silas Lake, which you pass on your way.

wildflowers and snow near high mountain lake
A beautiful cirque and lake at the head of Upper Silas Canyon. Photo: Shelli Johnson, YourEpicLife.com

Wind River Peak: Explore 13,000 Ft.

Wind River Peak is an easier non-technical peak that still gets you above 13,000-feet.

I love a good peak. There’s something so satisfying about standing on the summit and taking in the view. Wind River Peak provides a peak-bagging experience with no technical climbing experience required, although you will need to do a little boulder hopping. This trail starts at the Worthen Meadows Trail Head. Take the Sheep Bridge Trail across the bridge and up the Middle Fork. Follow along to the Pinto Lake Trail and take the Deep Creek Cutoff trail and then the Ice Lakes trail for the last half mile. There is good camping near the Deep Creek Lakes. From the lakes you’ll go up a featured called “the ramp,” obviously named. It’s a large grassy ramp sweeping uphill. The summit is about 15 miles from the trailhead, Tilden said.

The trail to the peak is comfortable and relatively easy terrain with good shade. As for the view from the summit: “It’s like ‘wow, there’s a lot of rock out there,’” Tilden said.

The Cirque of the Towers

The Cirque of the Towers is a climber’s dream and perhaps the range’s most famous hike.

waterfall with peaks in the background
Waterfall in the Cirque of the Towers. Photo: Scott Copeland

There is a reason the Cirque of the Towers is so popular: It’s incredible. The area draws climbers for the multitude of routes on the granite towers that make up the cirque. Even if you aren’t a climber, this is worth the trek. From Lander, plan about two hours to get to the trailhead. Drive to the Sweetwater Rest area on Highway 28 and turn at the Big Sandy sign. Stay to the right on the well maintained dirt road to a well -established parking lot. Big Sandy Lake is a fairly mellow six mile hike from the trailhead. There are designated campsites at the lake if you want to settle in for the evening. If you have a little more oomph, start up Jackass Pass. The next approximately four miles are a grunt, but well worth the views when you see the cirque. There’s camping in the Cirque of the Towers, amazing climbing and inspiring scenery.

My Wind River Range Experience

I was so busy watching my feet and trying to steady my ragged breathing and racing heart, it took me a second to look up when I reached the top of Jackass Pass.

I suddenly felt like I’d dropped into a science fiction movie. The green of the grass seemed saturated and popped against the rising peaks of granite.  I’m not sure if it was the light, or my brain after reaching the top of the pass, but those pillars of rock jutting ferociously into the skyline sparkled. I had just reached the Cirque of the Towers, one of the most famous areas in the Wind River Mountains.

Cirque of the Towers. Photo: Luke Tousain

Don’t get me wrong, the Tetons are incredible. And what’s awesome about those mountains is you don’t have to work very hard for stunning views. You can get them from the roadside, or a few miles in from a trailhead off a main road.

It’s their accessibility that has overshadowed the Wind River Mountains, but that’s OK. It’s left the mountains rugged and in many places quiet. There is a sense of adventure and exploration. Hiking deep into the Wind River Mountains is a bit like backcountry skiing where you have to earn your turns. To get deep into the Winds is hard work, but the payoff is incredible.

Many people mistakenly think the Grand Teton is Wyoming’s highest peak. It’s not. The Wind River’s Gannett Peak at 13,804 feet takes the title. The range is home to many of the state’s highest mountains including Fremont Peak at 13,745 and Wind River Peak at 13,192 feet. In fact, 19 of Wyoming’s 20 highest peaks are in the Wind River Range and there are more than 40-named peaks rising above 13,000 feet. The range is also home to some of North America’s largest glaciers.

A major contributor to the stunning views is the range’s geology. It is the granite that entices so many climbers to the area, and also gives the range its rugged feel.

I once interviewed Douglas Lorain, author of “Backpacking Wyoming” and several guide books to backpacking in other states. He’s backpacked all over the world, but if pressed to name his top three favorite spots, the Wind River Mountains makes the list, he told me.

Aside from the astounding beauty, the size of the range- 2.25 million acres stretching 110 miles- allows for a true wilderness experience. There are hundreds of lakes, meadows and peaks to explore and in certain areas you can go days without seeing other travelers. (This is not the case for the Cirque of the Towers described above. As one of the most popular spots in the range, you can expect to share the trail and views with lots of other people).

It is these mountains that bring adventure seekers to Wind River Country, whether they are hikers, backpackers, climbers or campers.  There’s a reason NOLS has been running courses in the mountains for decades. Students can learn a variety of outdoor skills in a truly isolated mountain setting.

Once you’ve gotten a taste of the Winds, nothing else compares. They are a mountain range that burrows into your soul and lures you back with promises of endless exploration and adventure. I usually come home slightly battered, legs aching, feet blistered and recover on the couch with a map and guide book planning my next trip. They are one of the rare places where you can still truly and fully experience the wildness of mountains.  It would take a lifetime to fully explore the Winds, but that’s a challenge I wouldn’t mind taking on.