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Backpacker Magazine – March 2011

America's Best-Kept Secrets: Wind River Range, WY

by: Michael Lanza

Sprawling meadows below Timico Lake. (Jonathan Dorn)
Sprawling meadows below Timico Lake. (Jonathan Dorn)

In “The Winds,” just as tall as their much-photographed neighbors, but with bigger glaciers and no camping quotas
Out Grand Teton National Park’s rows of packed campsites in every major canyon

In a range renowned for its incredible peaks-to-people ratio, we’ve scouted the loneliest route of all, in a swath of wild country where lakes sparkle in deep, granite-walled valleys hard up against the rock and ice of the Continental Divide. Begin a loop of 50 miles from Meadow Lake trailhead, south of Pinedale on the west side of the Winds. It’s a hard 12 miles and 2,500 feet to Timico Lake, but the camping is “epic 360-blue-sky-and-toothy-peaks stuff,” says our well-traveled Editor-in-Chief. It’s also a grand introduction because “there are easily a half-dozen views that rank among my lifetime top 50.” From Timico on day two, follow an unofficial use trail two miles to the Divide at 11,280-foot Fall Creek Pass and continue four miles cross-country to Camp Lake—despite the name, don’t camp there. Continue a bit more than a mile to a more ideal site in the 11,000-foot-high, glacially carved valley of the Alpine Lakes, flanked by soaring peaks. From here, dayhike six miles to Alpine Lakes Pass overlooking the Knifepoint Glacier. Return to the trailhead via 10,960-foot Hay Pass and the CDT. Local knowledge Hike in early fall to avoid mosquitoes, but don’t dally. Elk season opens the third week of September, and hunters’ pack trains arrive as much as a week in advance to set up backcountry camps. Just prior to that, you’ll find peak autumn color and ideal weather before the trails become horse-crap-clodded.

Do it
From WY 191, 10.1 miles south of Pinedale, turn left on Burnt Lake Rd. (dirt/gravel, navigable by 2WD). Follow it 7.1 miles, turn left at a fork. At 10.2 miles, turn left at a T onto Meadow Lake Rd., and left at the next fork. Continue to mile 13; look for the trailhead kiosk in a meadow at the edge of woods on the right.

Maps Wind River Range North and Wind River Range South ($10 each, omnimap.com)

Contact (307) 367-5750; fs.fed.us/r4/btnf

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READERS COMMENTS

Mike
Nov 15, 2012

I did a school project in the Winds, and ended up camping there for almost a month in total. This is an amazing area which I would love to visit again soon. I was not a very experienced hiker going into the Winds (and I still wouldn't call myself experienced by any means) but it ignited a love for camping and backpacking that I never had before. It'll always hold a special place in my heart for that, but more than that it really is beautiful.

Double Cabin
Jun 21, 2012

Not one foot of trail or high route has been a secret in the Wind Rivers since I was a boy 40 years ago if not since Finnis Mitchell popularized the Range. With all due respect the fact you pick the Winds over the FAR less trtavelled but arguably eqqually spectacular Absaroka Range with the true headwaters of the Wind River within it demonstrates you folks have no idea what you're talking about on this one. With all due respect you folks really need to get beyond entirely unfounded stereotypes and commercial assumptions. Pinedale has become a hole IMO. Get on over to the Dubois side at least.

Double Cabin
Jun 21, 2012

Not one foot of trail or high route has been a secret in the Wind Rivers since I was a boy 40 years ago if not since Finnis Mitchell popularized the Range. With all due respect the fact you pick the Winds over the FAR less trtavelled but arguably eqqually spectacular Absaroka Range with the true headwaters of the Wind River within it demonstrates you folks have no idea what you're talking about on this one. With all due respect you folks really need to get beyond entirely unfounded stereotypes and commercial assumptions. Pinedale has become a hole IMO. Get on over to the Dubois side at least.

Seth
Feb 02, 2012

The Wind Rivers - America's best-kept secret? Not any more. Thanks Backpacker. And Tammy.

Tammy Vanden Heuvel
Aug 09, 2011

As a follow up after having completed the majority of this route. (1) acclimate first if you're not from that elevation. That first day is actually 13 miles (you have to park 1 mile from the gate) and of the 2500 ft elevation gain (starting at 7800 ft) you'll do about 1/3 in the first 3 miles. (2) If you go early August - bring a headnet for mosquitoes and Deet. (3) If you like to fly fish - bring your pole. Upper Golden has some nice golden trout in it. Fresh fish for dinner. (4) If you like camping below the treeline - stop before you get to Timico Lake. Timico Lake is above treeline and fairly open if it's stormy. (5) Most of all - ENJOY. The views are magnificent. We made it to the other end of Camp Lake, but not up to the Alpine Lakes. And we returned via the same route (almost - we found the trails on the way out) and did a base camp at Upper Golden - which is beautiful. Only saw 6 people the entire trip and only 1 took the same route in from Meadow Lake. Very quiet.

Tammy Vanden Heuvel
Jul 22, 2011

Sounds awesome, going to try it early August 2011.

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