A Top Level Guide to Late Summer Backpacking in the Wind River Range
Do's and don'ts, essential gear, and a trip report from the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming's second most famous mountain range
Camera Pentax K1000
When encountering the grandeur and vastness of the Winds, I found myself floored in disbelief with each step and every turn. Home to some of the tallest mountains in Wyoming, the Wind River Range is a stunning, rugged, and secluded area split in half by the Continental Divide. Containing two national forests and three wilderness areas, the mountain range—located some 71 miles southeast of the Tetons—has a lifetime of trips to offer, especially in the early fall season when the mosquitos die down. As someone who had never backpacked before, this trip felt like a healthy combination of work and reward.
Meeting some friends from Instagram, I was invited to Lander, WY for an impromptu backpacking trip. With no experience, I gladly agreed to spend four days in the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range.
Read on a for a detailed trip report, dos & don'ts, and an essential packlist. Please be smart and heed all local and international COVID-related travel restrictions now and into the future.
Early in the August morning, seven of us departed on a journey which had us all giddy from the start. Fair weather and bluebird skies blessed the trail as we began; scenes of woodlands, meadows, rivers, and distant peaks beckoned us to keep moving forward.
When initially planning our route, I had thought it was six miles of flats leading to a mile of inclined packing. To my dismay, the one-way trip was roughly eleven miles, and I was supremely unprepared for the 1,500’ elevation gain leading into Cirque itself. The grueling ascension gave us gifts of shade and lakes occasionally, but above all else it introduced us to the guardians of the Cirque. Though beautiful, I quickly learned Wyoming is not for the faint of heart.
The massive granite titans stood over us, almost as if they were trying to prepare us for the splendor of the Cirque. Occasionally, we could see climbers trying to conquer these towers, giving us a glimpse at the impressive scale of the terrain. At the height of the incline, we traversed across Jackass Pass, yearning for a panoramic view of the Cirque.
In my head the theme from Jurassic Park played as we descended into a wild haven trapped in time. Rivers flowed from glaciers, forming pools and lakes. Pine trees and rocky meadows painted the interior of the Cirque, offering many ideal places to set up camp.
Late evenings and early mornings presented blissful scenery with star spangled skies and fiery mountain tops. Fauna and flora could be found around every corner. Emerald blue lakes cooled us off and provided fantastic fishing opportunities.
Though we had no open campfires (since they are not permitted in this area of the Winds until October 13) we still found comfort around portable camp stoves that heated most of our meals. Among newfound friends on a relatively whimsical trip, I could not help but be in awe where we were.
An escape from the midsummer pandemic and wildfire stress of the Coastal West, the Cirque was a place to dissolve the burdens of the outside world and ignite the imagination of what life may have once been like. What I would give to spend more time there...
5 Essential Items to Pack When Backpacking in the Wind River Range
Backcountry Trowel: Small, ultralight, and perfect for digging cat holes—can even be used as a tent stake in dire situations.
Digital Watch: Time escapes you when you’re having fun.
Tenkara Flyfishing Rod: A lightweight tool for heavyweight fun.
Effective Burner: MSR or Jetboil camp stoves are where its at. My 10 year old Coleman betrayed me with how long it took to boil water.
Large Ziploc Bags: Pack it in, pack it out. Bring a couple to seal shut food scraps, bag dinner detritus, and all other trash you shouldn’t leave behind. Bonus points for buying biodegradable.
11 Do’s and Don’ts for Backpacking in Wyoming
DO go during late summer or early fall when bugs and people are at a minimum.
DON’T underestimate the length and strenuousness of the last segment of the trail on Jackass Pass. Every switchback seems to lead to a false ridge. You've been warned!
DO be courteous to other backpackers on the trail. Bring a face mask, move out of the way when needed, and be willing to help others outside your own party.
DON'T get sand in your tenkara rod and snap it in half. Trust me on this one.
DO bring a camera, because it is impossible to describe this place in words.
DON'T forget to bring a goon sack (aka a bag-o-wine). Once empty, do as the Aussies do and blow it up to make a pillow.
DO bring seasoning (salt, pepper, lemon juice, maybe even butter) for use when cooking fresh caught trout over the fire. These can also be used for other dishes you might want to make out there.
DON'T forget to wear sunscreen at high elevation.
DO be bear aware and bring bear spray. Though Grizzly's are rare, Black Bears are rather common in the Winds and can definitely travel into the Cirque.
DON'T park in the furthest lot at the trailhead—it will add a half mile of extra hiking at least.
DO check with the local forest service office before hitting the trail. According to Bridger Teton National Forest, a massive blow down occured in the area in September 2020, causing hundreds of trees to block many trails.