The hike into the Temple Peaks area is pretty short — 9 miles gets you into the heart of the valley — and it's well worth it. You'll be surrounded by craggy peaks, alpine lakes and drop-dead gorgeous scenery.
The clean granite faces of Haystack Mountain make the Temple Peaks area a favorite for rock climbers, but it’s also an accessible and beautiful area for backpackers to explore and one of my favorite parts of the southern Wind Rivers because of the sparkling lakes, abundant wildflowers, granite slabs, easy peak climbs, fun fishing and, of course, the climbing routes.
What Makes It Great
This backpacking loop is relatively short. It’s about 7 miles to Clear Lake, and 9 or so to Deep Lake. The trails are well-established and never overly strenuous. Deep Lake is only about 1,000 feet above the Big Sandy parking area, and you gain that elevation gradually.
The best thing about the area is that there is so much to do. You can set up top ropes on boulders near Miller Lake, or on the slabs at the base of Haystack. You can fish. You can hike up East Temple or Mount Mitchell. You can play in the creek as it cascades over the granite slabs. Or you can hang out in camp and read a book.
From the parking area, hike approximately 6 miles to Big Sandy Lake. It’s often crowded here, but you can find good camping spots to the south and west end of the lake, or if the outlet is crossable(sometimes there’s a log crossing here), you can find spots east of the trail. This is often a good first night stop for backpackers.
To continue, follow the trail around the northern end of the lake past the junction with the trail to Jack Ass Pass and the Cirque of the Towers. Continue east until you come to a second trail junction. The left branch goes to Black Joe Lake. You’ll take the right fork to Clear Lake. Clear Lake is another possible camping area. There are lots of sites up the slope on the northern side of the lake.
From here your options are many. I often base camp near Clear Lake and day hike from here. You can also move farther up the valley and make a loop moving camps each night. It’s really up to you.
The trail continues for a couple of miles up past a creek cascading down over granite slabs to Deep Lake. Here you are encircled by the sheer walls of Haystack, Steeple East Temple and Temple peaks. The main trail continues up and over Temple Pass, dropping you into the Little Sandy drainage. For a great day hike, climb to the top of the pass and then venture off-trail to the east up the bouldery slopes of East Temple. It’s a scrambling second-class climb to a dramatic summit with amazing views of the Wind Rivers. Well worth the effort and probably a highlight of a backpacking trip to this area.
Or turn north at the saddle a few hundred feet above and a quarter of a mile west of Deep Lake moving away from Temple Pass. You’ll be above Temple Lakes. This branch of the trail is not marked on all maps, but it’s easy to follow for the first couple of miles past Miller Lake down to Rapid Lake. At Rapid Lake, an old trail takes you down rather steeply to Big Sandy Lake. If you want to return to Clear Lake, you can head off trail and contour around the base of Peak 10755 back to the southwestern end of Clear Lake.
To return to your car, retrace your path to Big Sandy Lake and out to the parking area.
Like all of the Winds, the bugs get ferocious in here at mid-summer. So if you are bug-phobic, this area is best in August. But the flowers are great earlier in the summer, so… it's your call.
Who is Going to Love It
I have enjoyed hiking in here for a long day as much as I’ve liked coming in here for a four-night backpacking trip with family and friends. This is an ideal loop with kids because the area is accessible and the approach is relatively short.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To access the Temple Peaks area, drive to Big Sandy Opening. It’s a little under two hours from Lander: 50 mile or so on Highway 28 over South Pass and then another 30 or so on a gravel road that varies from fast and smooth to slow and bumpy.