Outbound Collective logo

3 Lessons I Learned Hiking The Cirque Of The Towers In One Day

It won't be easy, but it will be incredible.

By: Madelyn Wigle + Save to a List

Finding an excuse not to go somewhere is often easier than finding the justifications for doing something quickly and with little planning. But when the latter leads to clean mountain air in your lungs and the ability to think differently about what people can accomplish with a limited amount of time - you have to get on board. I did, and here’s what I learned.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Photo: Greg Owens

1. Don’t Let The ‘Difficult’ Rating Throw You

When it was over, my legs were jelly, my feet ached and I couldn’t have been happier. Rule number one, find companions who hold that exact perspective and ask them to hike the Cirque of the Towers with you in a day. When a hike is rated “difficult,” it’s usually based on a perception of the “average” person. Consider yourself above average and forge ahead.

The Cirque of the Towers is a cathedral of sheer granite cliffs that serve as a geologic welcome sign to those entering the Wind River wilderness or “winds” as they are affectionately known. You just have to hike 9.5 miles one way to get there. Big Sandy trailhead, the most common place to access the Cirque, is a 2.5 hour drive from Lander, Wyoming. This is where we would start our trip. Every second of this particular trek is beautiful but the Cirque itself makes the juice worth the squeeze. Similar to the surging power of the ocean, this area makes a person feel small and the winds have the ability to ignite otherwise dormant parts of the human spirit. That initial feeling of being small gives way to the unrelenting desire to achieve something, a summit, a multi-pitch, or an extended expedition. Climbers have been cutting their teeth in this valley for years.

Photo: Greg Owens

2. The Crew Matters: Choose Wisely

Microadventures require limited provisions and minimal preparation. This trip into the cirque was an unintentional Microadventure. What I mean by this is I decided to go last minute, only had a day to make it happen and managed to get three other people on board.

We camped at the Big Sandy opening and started hiking around 7:30 a.m. We were at the Cirque by 12:30 p.m.

I’ve learned, as shallow as it can sound, that if you want to push yourself- bring people along that are more fit than you. Cole and Nicole, a couple who reside in the nearest town to the trailhead, Pinedale, Wyoming were those people. They didn’t complain about the mid-summer mosquitos or the steep elevation gain. They just smiled, packed in their own elk jerky for the trail and generally kept us going. They were also equally as stoked to be out there. If you don’t like the people you’re with, you might find yourself rushing through an already short trip. Cherishing the time spent is made possible with a crew that’s willing to work their asses off in order to stop and smell the flowers. This is just as much a suggestion for this trip, as it is a recommendation for life. Surround yourself with people who make a habit of both looking up from their boots on the trail, and out the window on the way home.

Cover photo: Greg Owens

3. Give Yourself A Time Crunch

For us, we had to get back to a 4th of July holiday in Lander- practically a holy celebration in the state of Wyoming. It’s not to be missed. But the 3rd of July was spent sun up to sun down, chasing the cirque then pausing to appreciate, and turning our heels to go back. Our friends in the front-country were waiting on us, which meant the last 6 mile push back to the car was injected with purpose.

Before you know it, you’re home. Or in our case, at a local rodeo covered in beer, wearing red white and blue, justifying every calorie. There are not enough seconds in a trip of this kind to spend any of them complaining. They should be spent laughing and soaking it up.

Cover photo: Greg Owens

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


10 Things you need to do in Baja

wyld honeys

Journey to Wyoming’s premier snowmobiling destination: Togwotee Mountain Lodge

Samuel Brockway

Hiking in comfort: a review of Danner Mountain 600 Evo boots

Meghan White

A peek through God's window

Heather Arnold