Backpack the Cirque of the Towers Loop

Rate this Adventure 30 miles 4000 ft gain  - Loop Trail

Added by Dan Petersen

Cirque of the Towers is a Bucket List item for any serious mountain loving backpacker


Drove up to the Big Sandy Trailhead from Salt Lake City. Hike the 5 to 6 miles to Big Sandy Lake. This is a relatively flat and easy hike. There is not much of a vista, but it is a nice hike along the Big Sandy River. You can camp just off of Lost Creek. I got there late as it was a long drive up to the trailhead and it was raining, so I took several stops to duck under my poncho and hide from the rain. Hiking the extra bit up to Lost Creek was not necessary, but it did keep me away from the crowds. And yes, this is a very popular hike.

Day 2:

It was a beautiful day to attack Jackass Pass. This is a difficult hike. The most difficult bit is route finding through a section of house size boulders. The hike is only about 3 miles from Big Sandy to the top of Jackass Pass, but holy cow if that is not a brutal bit of 3 miles especially caring a pack. You gain a lot of elevation, and it is not an easy trail. You can see people finding all kinds of alternative routes...but trust me those alternatives would be worse. By the end of North Lake, you can easily pick out the trail again and continue in normal fashion. From the top of Jackass Pass you can look down into the cirque and see Lonesome Lake. It is quite boggy down by the lake and the mosquitoes were outrageous. It did not help that it was the warmest night I can ever remember camping up in the mountains. Mosquitoes were up all night long, there was no rest from them despite camping only 50 ft away from a pile of snow sitting on the ground. All of my extra exploring and trying to avoid the bogs I totaled just about 4.5 miles for the day.

Day 3:

Death March. The 1 mile hike from Lonesome Lake to the top of Texas Pass is absolutely brutal. Don't be sucked into taking the basin up to the pass. Stay as high on the hill as possible. Once you get around the corner, do some switch backs to stay up on the ridge. There was some snow crossing to get to the pass. But as I went in August, there wasn't too much snow and if you stay up on the ridge you don't have to deal with hiking straight up in the snow. You will simply cross it diagonally.  Once you are on top of Texas Pass you will realize how glad you are that you did not come up the other way. ITS STEEP! It's so steep in fact that there is no snow on that side until you reach the bottom. It's really beautiful around Texas Lake, Barren Lake and Billy's Lake. I could see myself coming back and camping around this area. Once you leave Billy's Lake there is a not-so-fun route down into Shadow Lake. The issue is with cliffs, large boulders and trees you don't get any vistas until near the bottom of Shadow lake. Even then you have to veer off the trail to come over to the lake in which I highly recommend because the views of the Cirque on this side are seriously beautiful. About a mile or so down the trail from Shadow Lake it opens up to a BEAUTIFUL valley. Hiking this way will keep you turning around often to take a look back at the Cirque. I was only forced to do one river crossing and that was to cross Washakie Creek at the end of the valley. That crossing signals the end of that beautiful valley and turning the corner to see even more beauty. A couple more miles down the trail you get a nice vista of Marms Lake, which you can hike around and then drop down to Dads Lake. A couple minutes later you hit Mirror Lake and Fish Creek Park, not much to note here other than I would recommend not to hike this section in the heat of the day, it's hot. From here is just packing on the miles and miles of trail until you hit Meeks Lake which is the signal that you are almost home free and back to the trailhead. I would not recommend doing this whole section in one day like I did. Seriously the pain of backpacking 17 miles makes it worth it to get out of the non-stop buzzing of those damn things.

If you wish to see more about my trip take a look at my Youtube 

No permits are required to backpack, camp, or climb in this section of the Winds.

For an out-and-back 16-mile trip, check out "Hike the Cirque of the Towers." 

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