I adopted this page after the original owner became inactive. A decent portion of the text was written my member "Jimmyjay" and I would like to credit and thank him for all the work he put into this page. If anyone has any comments or suggestions about this page feel free to contact me and I will add updates.
The Winds can be geologically divided into two sections. The first is the gneissic/glacial, alpine northern half with the second being the granitic, drier southern half. Most visitors, however will approach the range as three sections due to trailhead arrangement and length of the range.
North: The northern third of the range is often regarded as the wildest and least visited overall. Large glaciers and high peaks with long and rugged approaches dominate here. However cross country travel above treeline is relatively simple and one can spend days hiking from one massive alpine lake to the next camping anywhere you want as water and soft grasses can be found everywhere. The only crowded spot is the area around Titcomb Basin, Island Lake and Gannett Peak. Two-day approaches are common to all the alpine, ice, rock and scrambling routes.
Middle: This area is somewhat lesser traveled. Mountaineers you meet here tend to already have a couple Winds trips under their belts. 2-3 day approaches to Alpine Lakes, Mount Bonnevillle, Roberts Mountain (highest of the central range) or more obscure rock walls and pinnacles near sometimes unnamed lakes and valleys with no trace of a trail. East of the divide the areas is owned by the Wind River Indian Reservation which makes for the only access issues in the entire range.
South: Crowned by Wind River Peak and famous for its many cirques including the well-visited Cirque of Towers and dozens of equal quality but less visited peaks and walls. One day approaches and clean, sweeping granite are the attractions. Though less alpine than the northern section, ice axes can still be crucial.
Because there are more than 10 major access points for this vast range and several others as well, it is beyond the scope of this page to give detailed information for them all. You can find detailed information about the various trailheads by visiting individual mountain pages. Here is a listing of the ones most used though and which areas they provide access to. Also see this page for more information about access points into the Wind Rivers.
|Trailhead||Aspect/Nearest Town||Areas Accessed||Notes|
|Trail Lake||NE side - Dubois||Glacier Trail|
|Start of the Glacier Trail approach for Gannett Peak|
|Dickinson Park||E side - Fort Washakie||Cathedral Lakes|
Bears Ears Trail
|This approach goes through the Indian Reservation and there have been issues with closures and fees. Currently, the road is open to the public, but you must buy a tribal fishing permit, which is not cheap.|
|Worthen Meadow||SE side - Lander||Coon Lakes Trail|
Deep Creek Lakes
Wind River Peak
|Approach for the east side of Wind River Peak|
|Big Sandy||SW side - Farson||Cirque of the Towers|
Wind River Peak
|This trailhead utilizes a long, 40 mile dirt road starting a couple miles east of Farson off Highway 28 and can be very rough on passenger cars. Despite this, it's popular as it's the primary approach for The Cirque.|
|Elkhart Park||W side - Pinedale||Pole Creek Trail|
Gannett Peak group
|This is the most popular trailhead in the range and located about 15 miles from Pinedale along a paved road. Most people climbing Gannett Peak start here as well as backpackers headed to Titcomb Basin which is a long 12 mile hike away!|
|Green River Lakes||NW side - Pinedale||Roaring Fork Trail|
Tourist Creek Route
|This trailhead is also about 40 miles from Pinedale along a very washboarded dirt road that ends at Lower Green River Lake. Popular with backpackers using the Highline Trail but very remote and secluded areas can be reached from here.|
Air/Water Quality Issues Air in the Wind Rivers is not what it was decades ago, even with the establishment of the Clean Air Act. Older mountaineers recall summit days when distant views of ranges such as the Tetons and Uintas were clearer. Those days are less now and a general haze is often discernible (particularly with the increase in fires). Though this coincides with coal-burning power plants and natural gas extraction in southwestern Wyoming as well as a sharp increase in population in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah (further up the prevailing jet stream) a chief factor is the exportation of pollution from California and globally. The quality change has been measured in alpine lakes of the range in the form of acid rain. Aside from the issue globally, it would seem inherently plausible that Wyoming, as the least populated state, should correspondingly have the clearest air. USGS deposition monitoring data. State Air Quality/Visibility Site.
Ski Resort The range supports one ski resort called White Pine, located near Pinedale, on the snowier, upslope side of the range. Actually, the area surrounding the range (Fremont and Sublette Counties) is very sparsely populated and Sublette County on the west side is one of the least populated counties in the United States. The only place to purchase amenities at the western foot of the range is Pinedale, a tiny mountain community that is fond of climbers/hikers and caters to outdoor tourism. Locals in Pinedale often have loads of untouched mountain terrain to ski all winter long.
The Wind Rivers are one of the best places for long distance trekking in the entire country primarily because the crest of the range is over 15 miles from any road. No matter which side you approach from, there are long trails that can take you deep into a beautiful wilderness and offer complete solitude in certain places. If you are willing to head off trail a little bit you can see even more remote places without even doing much scrambling. Described below is the most popular and most classic trekking route for each side of the Wind Rivers.
Highline Trail - This is the main trail that stretches much of the Winds starting at the Green River Lakes and heading south along the west side of the crest. There are many ways to make the trek but most people will make some type of through hike from Green River Lakes to Elkhart Park with a car shuttle. The Highline Trail will connect these two popular west side trailheads however a better way to make the trek that will provide more beauty is to leave the Highline Trail where it junctions with the Shannon Pass trail and once at Peak Lake, continue over Knapsack col and drop into Titcomb Basin. Once here, you can make a side trip to Indian Basin and end the hike along Seneca Lakes and past Photographers Point to Elkhart Park. The only off trail section on this variation is from Peak Lake to Titcomb Basin but well worth the little extra effort. If you'd rather stay on trails the whole time simply continue over Shannon Pass to the Jean Lakes which will take you back to the Highline Trail near Upper Seneca Lake.
Another variation of this thru-hike which has a considerably large amount of off trail hiking and more route-finding is to completely forgo the Highline trail and start hiking up the Roaring Fork Trail from the Green River Lakes trailhead. The trail will end shortly below Native Lake and from here you'll cross the Roaring Fork and hike a short steep hill to Native Lake, pass by Crescent Lake, and hike along the high plateau to the east of the Highline Trail which will be in the Green River valley well below you. Depending on the weather you can then easily gain the crest and summit Downs Mountain (Class 2) and walk the crest over Point 13,062, Yukon Peak, Klondike Peak and then descend into Tourist Creek. You could also stay off the crest a little longer and hike past Daphne Lake and above Bear Lake into Bear Basin. Many variations here but this part of the Winds are probably the least visited and there are less bugs! See the links below for excellent trip reports of various thru-hikes along the west side of the crest.
Glacier Trail - This route is exclusively on trail with a little less off trail options but the route is so beautiful it is worth the trip. Many climbers seeking the summit of Gannett Peak use this as their approach. I have not yet done this route so I will direct you to the excellent description Redwic wrote linked to the left.
A majority of Wind River peaks are technical ascents and the range offers some of the best alpine rock climbing and mountaineering in the country. Most standard routes tend to be Class 3-4 on solid, enjoyable rock punctuated by short sections of trad climbing on ridges and arêtes, of an unsustained nature. This is perfect for remote wilderness mountaineering and climbing. For rock climbers, there is valley after valley of large walls and a lifetime of new route potential. For mountaineers, throughout the range there are glaciers, snowfields, and couloirs offering fantastic snow climbs and requiring the use of axes and crampons.
Keep in mind that a Grade III, 5.8 can seem pretty stiff when you're two days away from the nearest trailhead. Many climbers have been spanked by convincing themselves in advance that Wind River routes are gimmes. Though not sandbags (these exist too, of course), they are committing. Another notable feature about the Winds is that mountaineers travelling the west side of the range can pick out the distant high peaks and though the east side is generally more dramatic up close, the highest peaks are only road-visible from great distances because there are two/three additional crests that parallel the divide to its east that are only a few hundred feet lower in altitude. This makes the crest peaks "disappear" as one nears this wide mountain range. The table below describes some of the classic alpine climbs found in the Wind River Range ordered from north to south. All the climbs listed below have either 3 or 4 stars and will take you to the summit of a peak. Note that there are numerous rock climbing routes that lead to many smaller peaks around Big Sandy and the Cirque of the Towers so this list is by no means exhausting. Go out and explore the climbing potential for yourself!
|Tower Ridge||Mount Helen||Class 5.7||As you're looking at the West Face of Mt. Helen from Titcomb Basin, the Tower Ridge starts by ascending the gentler ridge on the right side of the steep West Face. This involves about 1,000' of climbing, with lots of 5.7 sections in the middle and some 4th class to easy 5th in the beginning and near the top of Tower 1. A couple more towers are passed over before reaching the narrow summit ridge, which holds the crux.|
|West Face Right||Sacajawea Peak||Class 5.9||From Titcomb Basin, begin scrambling directly up the lower west face of Sacajawea. Aim for the ridge side of the face and reach a large left-facing dihedral. Climb 4 pitches of 5.5 to 5.8 climbing with good pro. There is a short 5.9 crux. Above the dihedral, step onto the face and climb another 4 pitches and scramble to the summit. Sacajawea Peak also has other various low 5th class routes but it is one of the more difficult peaks to reach in the entire range.|
|West Ridge||Turret Peak||Class 5.7||See the linked SP page written by Sarah Thompson. This route is fantastic and one I recommend to all climbers seeking adventure in the Wind Rivers.|
|North Face||Gannett Peak||Class 5.4||This route has more glacier and steep snow/alpine ice climbing than rock climbing. Whatever rock that's on the route is low 5th class and the steepest snow found is 45-50 degrees. This is however an excellent alternative to the standard route on Wyoming's highest peak. See the linked SP page for more information.|
|North Ridge||Ellingwood Peak||Class 5.6||The North Ridge of Ellingwood is one of those Rocky Mountain alpine adventures that is familiar-sounding to many, but few actually put in the miles required to climb it. You'll find significant sections of 5.5 - 5.6 climbing on almost all of the 10 pitches on this route. The crux will vary a bit depending on the exact path chosen, but expect all manner of 5.6 climbing, including face, cracks, and overhangs. This long route finds people descending in the dark quite commonly!|
|Hole in the Wall||Ambush Peak||Class 5.10||This route begins above the Big Sandy opening. The route follows up and right, below an arching flake system for two pitches to a large ledge. Continue up and right on a 5.9 face to ledges and up for 3-4 pitches to a huge, protected ledge behind a series of flakes (cairn). Continue up the face (5.9 or 10), heading for a 200 foot long dihedral which can be seen from ground. At the top, trend right onto the North Face and follow face and cracks for another 5-6 pitches to the summit. This route is an ultra classic Grade 5 climb.|
|West Buttress||Musembeah Peak||Class 5.10a||This is the best line in the central Winds located above Baptise Lake. It's character is that of a mountaineering rock climb, with route finding issues, sometimes unpredictably wet patches, but still, generally enjoyable climbing on good rock. The final pitches provide withering exposure and wonderful movement up sustained cracks and chimneys. Ledges are timely and comfortable. Start up the chimney/couloir at the base of the face and trend left after a pitch, continuing up the lower half of the buttress (occasional 5.8) following cracks to the laid back central section. Scramble to the base of the left buttress, then continue upwards, on or a little right of the crest to the the summit. 5.9-5.10, 4 or 5 pitches.|
|Minor Dihedral||Haystack Mountain||Class 5.9||This fantastic route is a real adventure, with a difficult approach above Deep Lake, 10 pitches of excellent but sustained granite climbing and a tricky descent. Real classic though!|
|Northeast Face - MP||Pingora||Class 5.8+||Perhaps the best moderate climb in Wyoming...period! Start early and go on a weekday. This Cirque of the Towers route is probably the most popular one and for a good reason. The linked pages both have great descriptions.|
|East Ridge - MP||Wolfs Head||Class 5.6||Another Ultra classic in the Cirque! This route goes up the knife blade east ridge of Wolfs Head. To get on the ridge there are 2 different options. The easiest way to gain the ridge is to scramble 4th and 5th class up the gully in between Pingora and Tiger Tower, summit Tiger Tower then do 2 40 foot raps onto the east ridge of Wolfs Head. The other way is to scramble 3rd and 4th class up the south face then up to the ridge. Once on the Ridge the climb goes at about 10 pitches to the summit but many of these can be combined or simul-climbed.|
The Wind River Range is a major barrier between western and central Wyoming and it separates the Wind River Basin to the northeast from the Greater Green River Basin to the south and southwest. The northeast flank of the Wind River Range consists of a 96-mile-long band of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks exposed in a series of hogbacks and dip slopes that dip eastward into the Wind River Basin. The core of the range exposes an extensive area of some of the oldest Precambrian rocks in the state. The southwest flank of the range is characterized by an extensive thrust fault system, with Precambrian rocks thrust south and southwest onto relatively flat-lying Tertiary rocks in the Green River Basin. The fault system extends eastward where Precambrian rocks in the South Pass area were thrust over Tertiary rocks of the northern Great Divide Basin. This ancient thrust fault has been measured to have a dip angle of about 30 degrees to the east.
The rocks exposed in the high Wind River peaks are a combination of Precambrian Gneiss belts and Granite plutons that have been shoved upwards during the Laramide orogenic event that uplifted the Wind River block 50-70 million years ago. Large scale tectonic activity occurred as the now disappeared Farallon Plate subducted under the North American plate at a very shallow angle and slid against its base. This input huge compression and upward forces on the North American plate above and created a series of huge thrust belts (like the one described above) forcing rock deep beneath the paleo-surface upwards over 10,000 feet in places. Overlaying sedimentary rocks began eroding away as the older, Archeon aged granite plumes and orthogneiss rocks reached the surface. Remnants of these sedimentary rocks can be found as steep hogbacks along the eastern flank of the range where you can see where they were forced up and eroded away. Today, the highly resistant granitic rocks stand proudly high above the surrounding sedimentary basins and countless glacial events have carved out the U shaped valleys and steep cliffs we now see in the Winds.
The South Pass area at the south end of the Wind River Range hosts a sequence of Archean (more than 2.5 billion years old) supracrustal metamorphic rocks called a greenstone belt that contains the state’s principal gold deposits as well as iron ore deposits. Besides being an important point along the Oregon Trail, South Pass was also the site of extensive lode and placer gold mining in the 19th century and of a surface iron ore mine and mill in the 20th century. The area remains attractive for gold prospectors and has a rich and well-preserved history.
See the images below for a simplistic visual representation of the geology in the Wind River Mountains. Although the processes that formed both the rocks in the Winds and the mountains themselves are significantly more complex than what I described here, this gives a general idea about the formation and structure of the Winds as well as what type of rocks are found here. It's also worthy to note the northern half of the range is mostly Gneiss and orthogneiss (metamorphosed Granite) while the southern half is more pure granite which gives the Cirque of the Towers its great climbing.
In much of NW Wyoming, the Wind River Range in particular, peaks have two names. This is because there are the traditional names, long-used by locals and preferred by mountaineers, and names the USGS later printed on maps for (usually) undocumented reasons. Generally, these USGS names have never had common usage and, given most mountaineer's reluctance to name mountains after politicians or non-climbers, it's not surprising for them not to have caught on. So if you see a reference to a peak but can't find it on a government map, this could be the reason. There are dozens of examples in the section of the Rockies.
There are numerous small towns that surround the flanks of the Wind River Range all of which offer various services and culture. I have ordered the towns in a clockwise direction around the range and describe what amenities are found in each below.
Dubois is located on the extreme northeastern corner of the Winds and is nestled in the valley between the Absaroka and Wind River mountain ranges. The Wind River meanders peacefully through town on its way to join the Yellowstone River system. Named after Fred Dubois, a former Idaho senator, the town has roughly 1,000 people and offers all the necessary amenities. In fact, Welty's General Store used to be a common stop for Butch Cassidy who resided near Dubois in the late 1800's. Fewer people venture into the Winds from this side which is guaranteed to make for a more secluded and slower paced outing.
Located on the Indian Reservation, Fort Washakie is home to about 1,800 people and is named after a US army post stationed at the location in 1869. It is said the the grave of Sacajawea is located a few miles north of town. If anyone can recommend places to eat or stay in Fort Washakie, it would be much appreciated as I have never been here.
Lander is the largest town along the Wind Rivers with about 7,800 people and is the county seat of Fremont County. All amenities are found here including a nearby Wal Mart in Riverton just a short drive away, numerous restaurants and hotels, and a handful of dude ranches. Lander is also the home of NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School founded by mountaineer Paul Petzoldt. They are world-renowned for their college-credit mountaineering courses, guiding, and progressive low-impact studies and promotions. Some of the very first NOLS courses were in the backcountry of the Wind River Mountains! Lander has extensive cultural history ranging from various types of art to advances in climbing and mountaineering.
Lander is also a well known sport climbing center with hundreds of routes that have been established on the Dolomite and Limestone cliffs of Sinks Canyon. The huecos and monodoights of Wild Iris near Atlantic City, are legendary. There are two guide books for the sport climbing areas. Lander Rock (White and Collins) and Lander Sport Climbs (Bechtel). This up-and-coming climbers town also hosts the International Climbers Festival and all mountaineering shops and manufacturers in the region are located here, with the key exception being the Great Outdoors Shop in Pinedale.
Farson is a tiny settlement located at the intersection of US Highway 191 and State Highway 28 home to just 300 people. There isn't much more than a single gas station and a small convenience store here.
Home to about 2,000 people, Pinedale is the main kickoff point for all trips on the west side of the range. It's the county seat of Sublette County and also has all necessary amenities including a new recreation center with a large pool, weight room, basketball court and an indoor track. This small town is a beautiful place to live, despite the recent surge of drilling activity as the area is proven to have excellent oil and gas deposits. A paved road leads 15 miles northeast out of Pinedale, passing above Fremont Lake (second largest natural lake in Wyoming) and ends at Elkhart Park which is likely the most popular trailhead in the Winds. The only ski area in the Wind Rivers (White Pine) is only a short drive out of town. Pinedale is also home to The Great Outdoors Shop. This is the only outdoor shop on the west flank (unless you go to Jackson) and they are very nice. They will gladly help you in planning your trip, give you suggestions and current conditions, and even shuttle your car if needed. I believe as of 2011, they charged $75 to shuttle your vehicle from the Green River Lakes trailhead to Elkhart Park or vice versa.
Other wild animals include Bighorn Sheep found mostly in the northern half of the range, Moose in many marshy areas, Elk found throughout the range, Wolverine having large populations but hard to find, Wolves and Coyotes. In fact, the northeastern end of the range, in the Dubois rain shadow, the area is particularly dry most winters. This dryness allows the Bighorn Sheep Refuge to flourish and is the home of the world's largest winter herd.
The northern Wind River Range is home to the vast majority of the 13ers in the state of Wyoming. In fact, of the 35 ranked 13ers in Wyoming, all but three of them are found in the Winds. Of the 32 thirteeners in the Winds, 31 of them are in the northern half of the range. Wind River Peak is the lone 13er to the south. This is arguably the largest concentration of high peaks in the entire lower 48 outside Colorado. See the table below for the complete list of 13ers in the Winds as well as their YDS difficulty. Note that only ranked peaks are listed which are peaks that have at least 300 feet of clean prominence.
Table format below originally created by musicman82
|Rank||Image||Peak Name||Elevation||Prominence||YDS Class||County||Quad||Map Link|
|1||Gannett Peak||13,804||7,076||4||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|2||Fremont Peak||13,745||1,184||3||Fremont/Sublette||Fremont Peak South||Map|
|3||Mount Warren||13,722||982||5.3||Fremont||Gannett Peak||Map|
|4||Mount Helen||13,620||840||4||Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|5||Turret Peak||13,620||640||5+||Fremont||Fremont Peak North||Map|
|6||Mount Sacagawea||13,569||469||4||Fremont/Sublette||Fremont Peak North||Map|
|7||Jackson Peak||13,517||737||2+||Fremont/Sublette||Fremont Peak South||Map|
|8||Mount Woodrow Wilson||13,502||522||5.1||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|9||Bastion Peak||13,494||674||3||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|10||Mount Febbas||13,468||728||2||Fremont||Fremont Peak North||Map|
|11||Sunbeam Peak||13,460||600||2||Fremont||Fremont Peak North||Map|
|12||Flagstone Peak||13,450||830||3||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|13||Pinnacle Ridge||13,365||345||4||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|14||Downs Mountain||13,349||1,569||2||Fremont/Sublette||Downs Mountain||Map|
|15||Mount Koven||13,265||445||5.0||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|16||The Sphinx||13,258||318||5.1||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|17||Spearhead Pinnacle||13,220||320||5.3||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|18||American Legion Peak||13,205||945||3||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|19||Peak 13198 (Brown Cliffs North)||13,198||1,058||3||Fremont||Fremont Peak South||Map|
|20||Wind River Peak||13,192||2,572||2||Fremont/Sublette||Temple Peak||Map|
|21||East Twin Peak||13,185||405||3||Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|22||Peak 13180||13,180||320||3||Fremont/Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|23||Desolation Peak||13,155||935||3||Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|24||Split Mountain||13,155||575||3||Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|25||Henderson Peak||13,115||775||5.0||Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|26||Klondike Peak||13,114||664||4||Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|27||Peak 13062 (South Downs Mountain)||13,062||442||2||Fremont/Sublette||Downs Mountain||Map|
|28||Ellingwood Peak (Harrower Peak)||13,052||912||3+||Sublette||Fremont Peak South||Map|
|29||Bow Mountain||13,020||680||3||Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|30||Mount Whitecap||13,020||600||4||Sublette||Gannett Peak||Map|
|31||Black Tooth Mountain||13,005||665||4||Big Horn/Johnson||Cloud Peak||Map|
|32||Knife Point Mountain||13,001||661||3||Fremont/Sublette||Fremont Peak South||Map|
The southern section of the range houses only one of the 13ers shown in the table above and that's Wind River Peak. Despite the lower elevation, the southern part of the range is in some ways more spectacular than the north. Listed below are some of the higher peaks surrounding Wind River Peak and the Cirque of the Towers. Many of these peaks offer the best alpine rock climbing in the entire American Rocky Mountain chain. This table is by no means comprehensive as there are well over 100 peaks in the Wind River Range between 12,000 and 12,999 feet.
North and south of the Reservation the mountains east of the Continental Divide are managed by Shoshone National Forest.
Kelsey, Joe (1994). Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains, 2nd Edition; Falcon Press - Guilford, CT >>>>Joe Kelsey released the 3rd Edition of his book in the summer of 2013
Turiano, Thomas (2003). Select Peaks; Indomitus Books - Jackson, WY
Bechtel, Steve (2008). Cirque of the Towers & Deep Lake; First Ascent Press - Livingston, MT
Bonney, O.H. (1977). Guide to the Wyoming Mountains, 3rd Edition; Swallow Press - Chicago, IL
Another approach option is Llama packing