Wind River Range Base Camp at Island Lake
Wyoming › Elkhart Park Trailhead
Added by Greg Owens
- Backpack the most rugged wilderness in the continental U.S.
- The first day's 11.7-mile trek is the toughest, so remember to pack light
- Set up base-camp at Island Lake to lighten your pack for more exploring
- Duration: A few days
Wyoming’s Wind River Range is home to some of the most rugged wilderness in the lower 48 states. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails promise adventure for all ability levels, and opportunities abound for late-season skiing, climbing, photography, and relaxing far from the beaten path.
Backpacking to a base-camp location is a great way to explore lots of terrain without having to carry a heavy pack every day. Island Lake, 11.7 miles from the Elkhart Park trailhead, is a terrific place to set up a base camp for exploring nearby Titcomb Basin, one of the premier climbing areas of the Winds, and Indian Basin. A word of caution, though: While 11.7 miles is generally in the moderate to high range for distance in a day, most of those miles on this trip are at an elevation of just over 10,000’. Good fitness and relatively light backpacking gear will make this first day, by far the toughest day of the trip, less grueling.
The Elkhart Park trailhead is only 15 miles from Pinedale, Wyoming, where there are a number of inexpensive hotels and restaurants for the prelude to your trip. The trail begins at 9350’ and climbs steadily past a number of small lakes (Miller, Eklund, Barbara, Hobbs) before descending and ascending sharply near Seneca Lake about 8.5 miles in. At about 10.4 miles, our route takes the Highline Trail past Little Seneca Lake to Island Lake at about 10,350’, where there are good camping spots, including some among trees. Fremont Peak (13,754’) and Jackson Peak (13,517’) tower over the lake to the northeast, while a waterfall where Kit Carson once camped drops directly into the lake in front of you. The mosquitoes in the Wind River Range can be horrendous especially in camp, so be prepared with long sleeves and pants, bug juice, and a headnet. (Or go with someone like me, a magnet for every mosquito within a 20-mile radius.)
After the hard work of getting to Island Lake is done, refuel in camp with a tasty backpacking meal (after all, marginally good food at home tastes like heaven in camp after many miles at elevation) and a sip or two of your favorite whiskey. For the next couple of days, there are at least two outstanding day-hike destinations: Titcomb Basin and Indian Basin. From Island Lake, the trail to the head of Upper Titcomb Lake is only 4 miles (one-way) with a climb of about 250’, and along the way, you can see Wyoming’s highest point, Gannett Peak (13,809’). The Titcomb lakes are surrounded by spectacular walls, peaks, and spires, providing opportunities for mountaineering or just an incredible backdrop for a laid-back lunch. To get there, head north on the trail from Island Lake to a signed junction after about 1 mile, and take the left fork. The right fork leads in about another mile to Indian Basin (11,000’), an alpine basin above tree line dotted with a number of small lakes and directly beneath Fremont and Jackson Peaks. For added adventure and more outstanding views, continue along the trail to Indian Pass (12,120’), or make the climb to the summit of Fremont or Jackson. After returning to your Island Lake base camp, spend an evening relaxing and watching the sun rake across Fremont Peak before retracing the path the next day to Elkhart Park.
Afterward, head back to Pinedale for a tasty brew and some non-backcountry fare at Wind River Brewing Company.
- Sleeping bag
- Backcountry essentials
- Mosquito repellent!
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Backpacking, Hiking, Photography
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ReviewsLeave a Review
This area is such an incredible location with a rich diversity of photographic opportunities. I wish I had spent a week there instead of a few days so I could really stretch my legs and capture all the scenes I wanted. Tarns, Lakes, Waterfalls, Alpine Basins, etc. I will say it got pretty busy towards the end on a 4th of July Weekend but if you search you can still find plenty of solitude.
Just did this hike and it was stunning. And the high elevations did make the uphill hike take a bit longer than usual. Our group climbed Fremont, there's not much of a trail and it is very steep and again, with the high elevation, our ascent was very slow, plan on at least 4-5 hours to reach the peak if you're starting from Island lake.
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