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Wyoming’s Wind River Range Is America’s Most Underrated Wilderness Area

Just a few hours southeast of Yellowstone, inside western Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest, is the Wind River Range. We hear people talking about the Sierra Nevada, the Cascades, the Presidential Range, and everything in between. I wonder sometimes, why don’t I hear people talking about the Wind River Range? In terms of beauty, it’s on par with any of the others. In terms of hiking, it’s actually better, at least a little less strenuous, than the Sierra Nevada in my opinion. These spires and sharp peaks conjure as much, if not more, wonder and awe as any other mountain range I’ve walked through. Here’s why the Wind River Range is underrated, and why you should go hike through it.

Wind River Range Lake
Photo by Dillon Groves

Wind River Range Background and Logistics

Nearby is the Wind River Reservation, home to the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapahoe. The Wind River Range itself was and is home to other native groups like the Cheyenne, Crow, and Shoshone-Bannock. Hiking along the Wind Rivers, you can follow the Continental Divide Trail, which leads from the Great Divide Basin just south up toward Yellowstone. Your best entry point from the southern end is Atlantic City (Wyoming), the nearest actual city being Lander. To the north, Dubois will be your resource for entry or exit.

There will be plenty of great day hikes up into the Winds, but it is the perfect site for backpacking. To get the most out of this range, you need to get up to elevation and stay for a little while. Climbers also love the Wind River Range, especially the Cirque of the Towers. The Cirque is probably the most famous part of this range, and well worth your time. Start from the Big Sandy lot and head up toward Jackass Pass.

Wind River
Photo Courtesy of Patrick Hendy

Highlights of the Wind River Range

Cirque of the Towers

As mentioned above, Cirque of the Towers is probably the highlight of this range. The towers are sharp and well-defined mountain spires, incredible to look at and exhilarating to climb. The Cirque’s trail goes right underneath Wind River Peak, along Big Sandy Lake and Lonesome Lake, two alpine paradises, then takes you up Texas Pass and back down. Seriously, the views are almost impossible to beat. They stand up to any other environment in the Rockies and across America.

Knapsack Col

Following Titcomb Basin up toward Knapsack Col is another unforgettable opportunity here. This route is as incredible as it is remote. Expect some scrambling and some wayfinding challenges. A good guide is available here, and another one, here, based off the Continental Divide Trail. You’ll be afforded incredible views of the entire Wind River Range on this route. It’s not one to sleep on.

The High Route

To be clear, you’re not going to go wrong hiking in the Wind River Range, but, if you’re an accomplished hiker or mountaineer feeling up for a challenge, there’s one great way to see it all. This is an incredibly challenging route, and for safety, should not be attempted unless you’re well-prepared and exceedingly competent. The most popular version was outlined by Andrew Skurka. Glacier travel, lots of scrambling, and some type 2 fun guaranteed.

Wind River View
Photo by Emmy Sobieski

How’s the Hiking?

This is the great secret of the Wind River Range for me, personally. Hiking through on the Continental Divide Trail, I was impressed by the Winds for a few reasons. The first was obviously how incredible the landscape was, but the second was how relatively easy the hiking was. Compared to the Sierra Nevada, in which you’ll range from 8,000-12,000 feet and more regularly, the Winds are much cruisier. You’ll hike up to a huge alpine basin at elevation and just walk for miles. It allows for great quality time with the scenery and great access to the Wind River Range’s alpine lakes. The lack of PUDs, (Pointless Up and Downs,) felt so natural and so right.

Wind River Range
Photo by Dillon Groves

The Wind River Range Deserves Just Enough Love

As with every such beautiful, alpine environment like this, we must also consider its fragility. High elevation lakes and rocky terrain like this can be easily disturbed by human activity. Practice your Leave No Trace principles with extra care here, especially as it gains more and more popularity. Don’t forget to store food properly and be bear-smart, since you will be in Grizzly country.

So Where’s the Love?

I know Wyoming has an incredibly low population density, second only to Alaska. Maybe that’s why we don’t hear as much about the Wind Rivers. Those of us who are well aware know exactly how much of a resource it is. Big Sky country is full of natural beauty. There’s plenty to talk about, from Glacier to Yellowstone to the Tetons. The Wind River Range deserves a place in every such conversation. It’s much too beautiful a place to have an inferiority complex.

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  1. We have packed the Winds through most of the areas that were described. Multiple trips. Cirque of the Towers! Spectacular.

  2. Scott Bierman

    How about we leave the Winds to only the souls that truly appreciate them. Lets not overun them like all the other ranges.

  3. Thanks for writing about the winds. Now the rest of the range can be as crapped up as the most popular areas, like the cirque and island lake. I love it when inexperienced and irresponsible people read your articles and then go leave surface dumps and garbage everywhere while their dogs harass wildlife.

  4. Jack Volsey

    Please!!!! Quit advertising the range!!! It’s fast becoming America’s most overrun range!! You’re turning it into the reason so many leave their localities to hike elsewhere.🙁

  5. Thank you for the informative article . I shared throughout my network outdoor adventure enthusiasts in greater Philadelphia .

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