The distance, remoteness, time required, and terrain all contribute to making this loop a pretty burly backpacking trip.
Time To Complete
Spring, Summer, and Fall
On Leash Only
The Wind River Range (the "Winds") is contained within a 100 mile by 30 mile wilderness (roadless) area. Because of this roadless designation many areas take a full day to access. This is a 5-8 day, 42 mile loop, depending upon whether or not you choose to have lay-over days in the Baptiste Lake and Cirque of the Towers areas.
What Makes It Great
This is a loop hike, beginning and ending at the Big Sandy Trailhead, on the south-west side of the Winds. Getting to Big Sandy takes about 2 hours from our shop in Lander, without a lead foot. Take your time on the dirt road from the highway to the trailhead, as there are many wash-boarded areas, and the turns are deceivingly sharp. From Big Sandy Trailhead, begin your hike on the Big Sandy Trail, and after a mile hike on gradual terrain turn North onto the Fremont Trail, to a camp at Dad's Lake, or if you have more energy, push the first day to Marm's Lake.
Camping on the south end of Dad's Lake has a better view, in my opinion. Small trout can be caught here, if one is so inclined. Your next day's mission is to achieve camp at Grave Lake or Baptiste Lake, directly under the North Face of Mount Hooker. You must ascend Hailey Pass, but dropping your packs at Mae's Lake, before the pass, and hiking over to the East Fork Valley for an exceptional view is a great idea. While some of this view can be enjoyed from Hailey Pass, it is very worth while to enter the valley itself.
Excitement will absolutely take hold while descending Hailey Pass into the Grave Creek drainage as the wall to your left (North) grows larger, every step of the way. I highly recommend camping at Baptiste Lake. You will not regret the extra mileage, or the trout you catch! Stay an extra day in this area. Day hike, fish, relax and day dream. All of these options are worthy. Your next day's goal is to make camp at Valentine Lake, located to the south and east of Grave Lake, or make the full hike onto, and across, the Lizard Head Plateau.
Should you choose the later option, you will experience a big day, with unmatched scenery and true rocky mountain alpine exposure. Do not get caught here in a storm, as there is nowhere to hide. Judge your time accordingly.
The Lizard Head Trail ends, on the south side of the plateau, at the North Fork Trail, near to the Bear Lakes. Camp at Bear Lakes for solitude, or make your way to the renowned Cirque of the Towers and Lonesome Lake. Special camping and fire regulations exist here.
Who is Going to Love It
This is likely not a very family friendly route due to difficult creek crossings, long days, steep terrain, snow fields, and alpine exposure. This route is best for the experienced backpacker.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
In my experience, the extra days are more than worth their weight in food! Spring and early summer could present potentially dangerous conditions. The many creek crossings, during this time, will be dangerous most years (depending on the year's snow-pack), and large snowfields may be encountered on several of the passes, and thus, require an ice axe and crampons.
Please contact Shoshone National Forest for details before you go, and abide by these rules while in the Cirque. You would greatly benefit from an extra day in the Cirque to enjoy to amazing view, day hike closer to the towers and watch climbers, and fish in Lonesome Lake.
Bears have been spotted in the area, primarily Black Bears. However, in recent years, Grizzlies have been spotted farther south in the Winds, so I would always recommend bear spray, and bear bagging your food far from camp is the only way to protect yourselves from a long hike with empty tummies. General bear ethics are important here.