Teddy Roosevelt famously said the Tetons were, “what mountains are supposed to look like.” He obviously never visited the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range. Whereas at the base of the Tetons, it's possible to turn your back and have a (fairly) wide open valley in front of you, in the Cirque, no matter which direction you turn, there are mountains ready to smack you silly with their granitic spires, buttresses, arêtes, ridges, faces, summits, and, well towers.
What Makes It Great
Standing in the middle of the Cirque, with Pingora rising in front of you, Shark’s Nose to the left, the Warrior hulking at your back, and Jackass Pass, with Haystack Mountain hiding behind it, rising to your starboard... well, it’s about as close as you can ever get to being embraced by mountains.
Outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds recognize the Cirque's specialness. Climbers travel the world over to come here. It's home to about 200 climbing routes with some of them- the northeast face of Pingora (5.8) and the east ridge of Wolf's Head (5.6)- included in "Fifty Classic Climbs in North America."
The Cirque is also a well-known hiking area. The Cirque is a nine-mile hike from the Big Sandy Trailhead southeast of Pinedale, and, unlike many places in the Winds, it's not that difficult to get to. Fit hikers can make it in and out in under a day. Yes, it's about 20 miles round-trip with about 2,200 feet of ascending, but it's not that strenuous of a hike. You have to ascend the 10,760-foot Jackass Pass … but the Big Sandy Trailhead, where you start, is already at 9,150 feet, so it's all relative.
If you've got the time though, you should definitely consider spending a night or two. Sunrises and sunsets here can be spectacular. And considering the drive from Jackson is about three hours, it's probably worth your time to make a weekend of it.
Who is Going to Love It
You don't have to be a climber to appreciate the beauty of this place. Hikers are treated to some of the best hiking in the country.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get to Big Sandy, head to and through Pinedale on U.S. 191. At Boulder, which is about 10 minutes south of Pinedale, take a left on WY 353. You’ll enjoy beautiful new blacktop for 20 miles or so.
Shortly after the road becomes dirt – a very wide and well-graded dirt road – signs begin to appear. Keep following the ones for Big Sandy Lodge and/or Big Sandy. For the last five miles, the condition of the road deteriorates a bit: you’ll want to slow down from 60mph to 25 or so. Any car can make it. There are no stretches requiring high clearance.
The trail to the Cirque is the same one that takes you past Big Sandy Lake. When the trail forks six miles in at Big Sandy Lake, take the left fork up Jackass Pass.