September 27, 2019
Wind River Country’s Johnny Behind the Rocks (JBR) is a trail system unlike any other with stunning views of the Wind River Range. Winding through junipers and pinion pine trees, the red rock trails are hard packed for smooth travel. While the area is frequented by people on horseback and mountain bikes, you can enjoy the scenery and beautiful, flowing trails with only the shoes on your feet.
JBR is located a short 15 mile drive southeast of Lander. To get there from town, drive south on Highway 287 for eight miles. Turn left to stay on highway 287, which is the junction to Rawlins. After about seven miles, you’ll pass a red cliff band on the left and cross Twin Creek. You have arrived! Turn left into the parking lot, where you’ll cross a cattle guard on the public Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Note that there are no restrooms in the parking lot.
A favorite stunning yet accessible hike is “Johnny’s Draw to Red Ridge.” It’s a 4.3 mile loop with 660 feet of elevation gain. But don’t be intimidated! The grade is gradual, and there’s plenty of room to step off of the trail for some snacks and water when you need a break.
Before heading out on your adventure, review the signage for recommendations and advisories. From the parking lot, walk across the footbridge at the fence and take the single track to the right at the immediate split. The trail will bend around to the left after a few hundred meters and start going slightly uphill in a stunning, wide draw. To your right you’ll see the “Johnny On Top” ridge, which is worth checking out on your next visit! As you enjoy the dirt single track surrounded by sagebrush, look for wildlife and look out for cattle. This part of the trail is called “Johnny’s Draw.” Over 2.3 miles, it gains 360 feet and then drops about 280 feet.
When you arrive at a four-way intersection (called the four corners) of three trails and a doubletrack, you’re halfway there! Turn left at this intersection, following signs to “red ridge,” and travel downhill on a beautiful, sandy trail for less than half a mile, at which point you’ll hit another intersection. Once here, turn left again and ascend a steep trail for only 250 yards where you’ll come to the final intersection of the day, “twin pipes.” Turn right (towards “red ridge” and climb for a few hundred yards up to the Red Ridge, the last leg of the hike.
You’ve saved the best for last! Red Ridge is striking—to your right (the north) you can see the snow capped Wind River Range and to your left the expansive high desert of Wind River Country. And once you wind your way up the half mile to the ridge, the rest is downhill. Continue on the red single track with junipers lining the trail for another 1.5 miles, enjoying the scenery and exposure of ridge travel. Before too long, you’ll be able to see the parking lot, which means you get to cruise down the switchback and steeper part of the trail until you’re back in the sagebrush. Hopefully you left a cooler and some beverages on ice to savor in the parking lot!
There are a few hazards which hikers should be aware of. In the hot months and times of day, rattlesnakes can enjoy basking in the sun. Consider going earlier in the day or in the fall and spring months when there are fewer snakes out. Additionally, this trail offers little shade, so be sure to bring a lot of sunscreen, a sun hat, and plenty of water. Mountain bikers can come fast around the single track corners, particularly going downhill. Step to the side until every member of the bike party has passed (and enjoy the mini break!). Lastly, always give livestock the right of way. If a horse packer approaches, be sure to say hello to let them know you’re there (since you don’t want to startle the horse), stand somewhere that they can see you, and allow the whole party to pass.
Johnny’s Draw to Red Ridge is a fantastic introduction to high desert hiking in Wind River Country. And it’s just the beginning! JBR has 12 miles of trails through all different types of terrain. Be sure to check them all out, especially the hike to Johnny Falls, an oasis of water in the middle of the desert. And don’t forget your sunscreen!