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This massive alpine sanctuary is so remote, you’d have to go to Alaska to find a finer people-to-peak ratio. That’s why our mountain connoisseurs have returned often over the last four decades. Beginners should get a taste of the Winds by camping in the Cirque of the Towers, eight miles from Big Sandy, but experienced off-trail backpackers can tackle this west-to-east traverse linking Green River Lakes and Big Sandy trailheads. “It’s a big journey,” says route pioneer Steve Howe, “but with 20-mile approach trails, at least 100 miles of granite ridgeline crest, and more than a million acres of designated and de facto wilderness, that’s exactly what the Winds are for.” His tour de force (most of it at 10,000 feet and higher) comes within casting distance of many of the range’s 1,300 alpine lakes, crosses several of its 27 glaciers, and passes below some of its 47 summits topping 13,000 feet.
Do it From Green River Lake, on the north end of the range, you’ll gain elevation gradually over the first eight miles, which follow the Continental Divide Trail. Then the route spikes 4,000 feet in 10 miles to reach 12,000 feet, where you’ll remain for most of the trek, linking the Highline, Titcomb Basin, Fremont, Middle Fork, and Jackass Pass Trails, with cross-country gaps in between. Lightning is a real threat in these above-treeline zones. Hike and scramble across open ridgelines, past lakes and wildflower fields, to Texas Pass Summit, where you glimpse the Cirque of the Towers before descending to Big Sandy and hike’s end.
Driving Start: Drive north from Pinedale on US 191 for six miles. Turn right on WY 352 and continue 46 miles. End: From Boulder, take WY 353 18 miles (continue past end of pavement); cross the Big Sandy River, turn left, and drive seven miles to a junction; turn left to the trailhead. Or hire a shuttle (price varies, greatoutdoorshop.com)
Maps Earthwalk Press Northern Wind River Range Hiking Map and Southern Wind River Range Hiking Map ($10 each, boredfeet.com)
Contact (307) 367-4326; fs.fed.us/r4/btnf