Backpacking the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range of Wyoming should be on every backpackers “to do” list. The rugged terrain offers massive mountains with spire towers, clear glacial lakes, high alpine grassland & wildflowers, and world class hiking, backpacking, and climbing. The Cirque of the Towers is truly a pristine and special place.
The Wind River Range has two main areas popular with backpackers – the Northern & Southern range. The Northern range is home to Titcomb Basin and the Southern range is home to Cirque of the Towers. Both are fantastic areas, and deciding on an area really depends on what you want to see first. Visiting each area would require separate trips (unless you have an unlimited amount of time off from work). We decided to visit the Cirque of the Towers as our first trip to the Winds, and turned it into a 5 day backpacking adventure. We had plans to hike roughly 50-60 miles total (as a loop), but we definitely over estimated how much we could do each day with a 40 lb pack and under estimated the terrain.
The Wind Rivers can be challenging – there are several passes to cross, the weather can change at any time, and hiking at a high elevation with a big pack on can also slow people down. We didn’t do the entire route we had envisioned, but our trip still turned out to be quite the adventure and we saw and camped in some amazing spots. The Wind Rivers have two large National Forests including three wilderness areas. The Shoshone NF is on the eastern side of the Continental Divide and the Bridger-Teton NF is on the West. Both the NFS and entire mountain range are part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem – portions of the range also include the Wind River Indian Reservation.
You won’t regret visiting the Wind Rivers – it’s definitely a special place that I hope to return to again.
Driving from SLC to the Big Sandy Trailhead is about 5 hours. Head east on I-80 all the way to Rock Springs, WY, then head north on HWY 191. Once you reach the small town of Farson, WY, turn right onto HWY 28. Drive 4.6 miles, then turn left onto the dirt road called Farson 4th East Rd. Drive another 33 miles until you reach the Lander Cutoff Road, and a sign pointing right for the Big Sandy TH and Campground and drive for 7 miles. Turn left at the next sign for the Big Sandy TH and drive 10 miles to the end of the road where the TH and campground is. Drive time from Farson, WY to the TH is about 1.5 hours in a truck, slower time for a small car. Expect to see 100 cars or more at the TH during summer months. There is one restroom at the TH.
Distance and elevation gain will vary depending on your route and how many days you spend there. Expect to hike over high elevation passes, rocky terrain, forested sections, and exposed areas. Be prepared for all kinds of trail and unexpected weather. A minimum of 2 nights is recommended to backpack here. We backpacked 36 miles over a 5 day period, taking it easy for the entire trip.
It depends on your route and how many miles per day you backpack. The low point is at the Big Sandy TH, which is at 9,100 ft, and our high point was roughly at 11,500 ft. Elevation sickness is a real possibility, so know and understand the symptoms.
How bad are the mosquitoes?
Mosquitoes will be the worst until Mid-August; after that, they tend to die out, but it all depends on water level each year. Be prepared to carry 100% deet. I also recommend using Permethrin by Sawyer on your clothing as an extra precaution from getting bites. Permethrin should not be applied while wearing the clothing – apply outside, while clothes are hanging. I applied two coats – let each coat dry before the next application.
Here are some of the highlights from our trip.
Mt. Pingora – my favorite spot in the Wind Rivers, and also one of the 50 Classic Climbs in North America.