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That Perfect Route in the Rockys
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Michael Moomaw
That Perfect Route in the Rockys on 03/06/2010 07:55:53 MST Print View

(Not sure if this is the right forum...)

My father and I normally hike in the Eastern US but have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to escape family and jobs and fly out West.

I am looking for suggestions for great UL Backpacking routes. We have time for up to a 8 days of hiking. I would really like to get away from people for at least part of the time. We can fly pretty much anywhere but I have started looking in Montana.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Thanks for your help.


Misfit Mystic

Locale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
Wind Rivers on 03/06/2010 09:14:06 MST Print View

If I were planning my first trip to the Rockies, the Wind River Range in Wyoming would be my first choice. Lots of open alpine country, big peaks, 1000s of lakes, big glaciers, etc. With 8 days, you could take in Titcomb Basin and all it's surrounding peaks, then cruise down to Cirque of the Towers. Lots of trails, but with the opportunities for off-trail above timberline walking, I just use the trails to get in.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
That Perfect Route in the Rockies on 03/06/2010 09:55:59 MST Print View

An enthusiastic second here for the Wind Rivers! One of the most beautiful places on earth, IMHO!

The Highline/Fremont Trail is approximately 80 miles end-to-end from Green River Lakes to Big Sandy Opening, with no sidetrips. There is a shuttle service in Pinedale, WY, through the Great Outdoors Shop. Start at the north (GR Lakes) end for easier altitude acclimatization. If you want to do sidetrips (and, as mentioned, Titcomb Basin and Cirque of the Towers are almost mandatory, even though pretty crowded), you can start at Elkhart Park or do two loops, one at the north end from Elkhart Park and one at the south from Big Sandy. However, plan to take it really easy the first few days until you get used to the altitude. 2 years ago, I could do only about 4-5 mile days the first 3 days out of Big Sandy. Your mileage, of course, may vary! From Green River Lakes, you start at 8,000 ft. and take a couple of days to get to 10,000 feet. However, it also takes that long to get to the good scenery. From Elkhart Park or Big Sandy, you start at over 9,000 feet and are above 10,000 feet the first night.
There are several other trailheads, not as popular and not quite as high as Elkhart or Big Sandy.

Edited by hikinggranny on 03/06/2010 13:03:54 MST.

Richard Scruggs
(JRScruggs) - MLife

Locale: Oregon
Re: That Perfect Route in the Rockys on 03/06/2010 12:40:27 MST Print View

Ditto the Wind River Range.

For extra $$$, Outdoor Shop in Pinedale can also provide transport to/from the airport in Jackson Hole -- so you get off the plane in Jackson, get driven to a trailhead in the Winds, exit at another trailhead where you are picked up and taken back to the Jackson airport. Probably no more, and likely less, than renting a car at the airport, leaving it at the trailhead, and (if not a loop hike) still having to pay for the rental car to be shuttled from the starting trailhead to the exit trailhead.

Likely need to allow some time on arrival in Jackson or Pinedale to stock up on whatever you couldn't carry on the flight (fuel?), and might want enough time to take shower somewhere before heading to the airport at hike's end.

One shower option would be exiting at Big Sandy trailhead in the southern Winds and go to Big Sandy Lodge located very, very close to that trail head. Reserving a cabin there in advance would provide a shower, bed, and family-style meal waiting on the day you finish the traverse, with a pickup at Big Sandy Lodge pre-arranged with Outdoor Shop to return to the Jackson airport.

And of course hope you finish the traverse with no delay so you'll arrive at Big Sandy Lodge on the date reserved, and will be there for pre-arranged pickup the next day.

Our trip to the Winds a few years ago: Drive from Oregon to Pinedale and spend the night there; then drive to Big Sandy Lodge and leave truck parked there while backpacking five days or so (to/from the Cirque); return to Lodge for stay in a cabin for few days while doing day hikes; then drive to Yellowstone for fishing before driving back to Oregon.

Edited by JRScruggs on 03/06/2010 12:42:31 MST.

Michael Moomaw
Thanks! on 03/07/2010 08:23:58 MST Print View

Thanks for the recommendation and logistics. Sounds great.

Any suggestions for books, topos or other resources on the Wind River Range area? I'm sure between BPL, Google and Amazon I will find what I need but I thought I would ask.

Thanks again.


Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
That Perfect Route in the Rockies on 03/07/2010 09:56:52 MST Print View

Two of the three major guidebooks to the Wind Rivers are both well over 15 years old and the third dates mostly from the 1970's.

Ray Adkison's Hiking Wyoming's Wind River Range describes most (but not all) of the trails. He omits several in the Popo Agie (pronounced poh-POH-zhuh) Wilderness that I know about. Each description includes a mileage log and elevation chart.

Joe Kelsey's Climbing and Hiking the Wind River Mountains has brief descriptions of trails but better diagrams of the trails than does Adkison. He also describes very briefly some off-trail routes. His main focus is on climbing, but you will find some Class 2 (scramble) routes if that's where your interest lies. It has more about the area's history and geology than the Adkison book.

Finis Mitchell is a Wind Rivers pioneer who came to the area as a child in the early 1900's and spend most of his life there. His book, Wind River Trails, is far more of a fun read than a guidebook. Info is mostly from the 1970's although there are a few updates in the 1999 edition. It's now out of print and used paperbacks are going for a rather high price, per Amazon.

My friend Nancy Palliser is about to publish an off-trail guide to the Winds. Please note that her guide is designed primarily for advanced hikers with some climbing and glacier travel skills, although it will also include easier routes. I'll try to post about it when it's ready.

Douglas Lorain has written a guide, Backpacking Wyoming, due to be released June 1. I have no details, but it will undoubtedly include a number of trips in the Winds. I have several his books on Washington and Oregon which are excellent.

One thing you should know is that the lodgepole pine bark beetle has wiped out most of the low elevation forests in the region. The big scenery is up around and above timberline, and it's still there in its full glory, miles and miles of it! But the lodgepole forests at the lower elevations (which you transit on the way to the good stuff) are a bit bleak. That's the problem with the Green River Lakes approach, otherwise a great way to acclimatize.

The Earthwalk Press maps are good for planning but quite useless for anything off-trail or even identifying peaks and other features. I found them quite frustrating when I was actually out there. You should get them for planning purposes, though, especially since the USFS is no longer issuing their wilderness maps (which are better, IMHO). For when you're out there, download and print out the appropriate portions of the USGS maps.

Some googling will get you some excellent on-line trip reports.

Edited by hikinggranny on 03/07/2010 09:58:04 MST.

Michael Moomaw
Wow! Thanks! on 03/10/2010 12:43:26 MST Print View

Mary, et al,

Thanks for the great information.

Now we can plan through the remaining wet eastern winter/spring for our hiking trip this summer.


Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
That Perfect Route in the Rockies on 03/10/2010 14:58:46 MST Print View

One thing I didn't mention is that in those high altitudes, you should expect freezing temps at night and even snow any month of the year. Last summer in the Wind Rivers there was nearly a foot of snow reported in Titcomb Basin on Aug. 8 and again on Aug. 15. While this was a bit unusual, it can happen, so be prepared. The range is called the Wind Rivers for good reason (and not for the rivers, lol). Daily afternoon thunderstorms are a frequent feature, and, of course, hiking out in the open above timberline is not a great idea when the lightning bolts are striking all around. It's a good idea to get out on the trail early in the morning so you can get off the trail (hopefully not in too exposed an area) by mid-afternoon.

Edited by hikinggranny on 03/10/2010 15:04:29 MST.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
That Perfect Route in the Rockies on 03/10/2010 15:26:07 MST Print View

Too bad you weren't coming north to the Rockies (Canada). I have some routes that would be toward the top of anyone's life list.

Michael Moomaw
Canadian Rockies on 03/11/2010 06:52:52 MST Print View


I don't think we will make it up North this trip but I am always thinking about future trips... where were you thinking?


Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Canadian Rockies on 03/11/2010 07:11:47 MST Print View

David, tell us, tell us! I am hoping to drive the Banff-Jasper highway this summer and find some stuff to do. I have no experience in that area, so any ideas would be of great help.

Michael Moomaw
Planned Wind River Range Hike - Make Sense? on 03/14/2010 13:48:54 MDT Print View

We have worked up a proposed route from Green River Lakes to Elkhart Park that is very mileage conservative. It is designed to allow us to acclimatize slowly and stay on relatively well documented trails.

Please take a look. Any advice would be appreciated.

16 miles - 3 days - Green River Lakes to Summit Lake
11 miles - 2 days - Highline Trail - Little Seneca to Summit Lake
10 miles - 2 days - Pole Creek and Seneca Lake Trails - Elkhard Park to Little Seneca Lake

This is the base plan. We will probably map out some options in case we travel faster than expected. In the East we often travel 12+ miles per day but we want to leave a large margin for altitude effects and also so we can relax and enjoy ourselves.

Thanks again for all your help.


Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
That Perfect Route in the Rockies on 03/14/2010 19:52:05 MDT Print View

Looks conservative enough for this old lady who normally does ~ 5-7 miles per day! I suspect you'll do a lot better! Note that you will be doing the latter two sections in the reverse of what you show (and from Adkison's book).

Not noted in the guidebooks is the scarcity of water between just above upper Green River Lake and Elbow Creek below Beaver Park. The Green River is pretty full of glacial silt above the upper lake. That's the only section that doesn't have abundant water (well, decent water) sources along the trail.

Also note that you'll be hiking through mostly dead forest from Green River Lakes until about Trail Creek Park. Because of this, and your being confined in a river valley, finding a legal (100 ft. from river, 200 ft. from trail or lake) campsite that isn't within reach of a dead tree can be difficult. I frankly settled for a legal distance from water and, as long as I was pretty much out of sight, didn't worry too much about distance from the trail. I hope the USFS isn't reading this!

Be sure to include the 1-2 day side trip to Island Lake, Titcomb Basin and Indian Basin. Weather and physical condition permitting, a class 3 scramble up Fremont Peak from Indian Basin is possible. Missing Titcomb Basin is on the order of visiting Washington DC and going nowhere near the Mall, or driving right past Yellowstone Park without going in to take a look around! A second possible side trip is over Shannon Pass to Peak Lake north of Elbow Lake. Not a sidetrip but an alternate route, if you're ahead of schedule after the Titcomb Basin sidetrip, is to continue on the Highline Trail over Lester Pass to Pole Creek and out to Elkhart Park that way.

Nicholas Miller
(nmiller08) - F

Locale: Montana
Wind Rivers on 03/24/2010 15:51:49 MDT Print View

In addition to all the helpful info already posted, Beartooth Publishing has great maps and just released one in the last year for the Winds:

it is 1:100,000, so not as detailed as a couple of their other maps, but very helpful for planning or to keep your map stock down to 1 if you are comfortable navigating off that scale and willing to adapt plans as the "details" become visible! Their maps have great features and readability.

And not to hijack the thread, but David, I would love to hear some advice on places to go in Canada too!! It's a relatively short trip up from Missoula, not much farther than I drive to hike in the Beartooths!

Michael Moomaw
Wind River Maps on 03/25/2010 10:06:50 MDT Print View

Thanks. I ordered this map.

We have mostly been using Adkison's Book and the USPS maps. I also found several relevant routes on I have created my own map there (link below). It is still a work in progress - we want to add to it a bit. It is cool how we can see elevation profile and we can export to a mapping GPS (if we decide to buy one).


Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: That Perfect Route in the Rockies (for a noob?) on 04/01/2010 09:05:08 MDT Print View

How would the Wind Rivers Range be for a solo newbie (late June-early July)? My only other real trip to date is 11 days (100 miles) solo in the Smokies. I hope to get a training trip in beforehand though. I have no interest in climbing or glacial travel, especially solo.

I'm trying to find some partners for a Rockies trip, but I may just drive it and go solo.

Michael Moomaw
Re: That Perfect Route in the Rockies (for a noob?) on 04/02/2010 06:06:22 MDT Print View


I am not qualified to answer your question - I have never been to the Wind River area. I will say that in my research I have found that shuttle service is readily available, there is plenty of map and guidebook material available and many be of the trails are marked as frequently used.

Probably the safest way to go solo is to hire a guide. I have used Jackson Mountain Guides several times before in the Tetons (with my family and other groups). I can strongly recommend JHMG but this is an expensive option. They quoted me the following a few months ago: $375/day private; $250pp/day/group