Wyoming backpacking: wind river range or medicine bow,..

Planning a trip Wyoming for a 4-5 night hike/backpacking venture. I’m looking through the wind river area and note many trails…and it seems heavily trafficked. So I’m considering the medicine bow area to the south east. Which would you opine is better for my criteria…which are (generally in order of importance):

  1. Solitude
  2. Beauty
  3. Easy to moderate effort
  4. 20-40 mile trail distances

It seems that the wind river range appears more heavily used than I expected, but medicine bow is 4 hours from Denver.

Generally, I’m looking for advice on hiking choices…I’m also interested in Wyoming areas I haven’t considered…to the northeast maybe?

I’ve done the Wind River range, beautiful and not that difficult on the trails I was on. I think the time of year that you go will determine how busy it is.

It has been about 20 years since I was there so …

I’ve also been backpacking in the Winds. Can’t say enough good things about them.

Planning? How soon?

You ARE prepared for winter, correct?

The trail along the Bechler River in SW Yellowstone is the most spectacular backpacking I’ve ever done. Reservations are required. The Cirque of Towers in the Wind River range is something I’ve always wanted to do.

I want to consider that area as well. One thing about the Winds, is that the literature shows many of the trails as “heavily used”. I’d rather not cross paths with 20 hikers a day, nor would I want to be in a camp area with other tents.

I’ll poke around the web on the Bighorn area, but any experience and advice would be appreciated.

This was 10 years ago, in September, but we backpacked for 6 days in the Winds (Sandy Pond, Cirque of the Towers, Titcomb Basin) in September and only saw a handful of people. We certainly passed some tents along the way but for the most part we weren’t around other people. The trailheads were fairly full, so people were back there somewhere, but not all in the same place.

The Cirque and the trail to Island Lake & Titcomb are the busy areas. If you go elsewhere, and especially if you are comfortable off trail, you can find plenty of solitude. There’s a book by Nancy Pallister that describes a lot of routes in great detail. But you need to know your own abilities to figure out what you can do safely. The weather can turn on a dime in the Winds, and there’s a pretty short window between being overrun with bugs and risk of early storms.

Encountering 20 hikers a day, for a relatively long day, to me would be more like medium traffic. 20 hikers a day for a short, couple-mile long trail might not even be heavy in my mind depending on the length.

Things might be different in Wyoming.

The Bighorns are beautiful – but I’ve only driven on Hwy 16 so can’t give any hiking advice.
Will be following this thread.


Be aware that if you approach the Wind River Range from the Wind River Indian Reservation (which lies to the northeast of the range), you need to buy a tribal permit. They call it a “fishing” permit, but you need one even if you’re just hiking and not fishing. I think it’s $80 for a week.

I backpacked the Bighorn range 3x in the early-mid 90s. They are very large so bit distances are not required. We would usually hike up to set up a base camp and then summit Cloud Peak and Bomber Mountain and other treks up in the core.

Highly recommend, but haven’t done the Wind River area so can’t compare and it has been quite a while so I can’t begin to guess about crowds.

One of my favorite outdoor stories involved running into a NOLS group (15?16? year olds) in the Bighorns who caught up to us (five 19-yo incredibly fit former Eagle Scouts). They were two days away from finishing their 5 week course and were a hiking and camping machine! We had a great time having dinner and camping near them and swapping “war” stories of our trekking experiences.

I have never been in the Wind River or Medicine Bow areas, but I would give a shout-out to the Gros Ventre Wilderness, where I went on a six-day expedition this past summer. Shorter trails are possible as well. It certainly has solitude and beauty, in fact the landscapes are gorgeous throughout, and for the first three days of our hike we did not see a single other person.

On the other hand, it may not meet your definition of easy to moderate. Almost any trail in the area will begin in a valley and will start with of 3-to-4 thousand foot climb to a pass.

Another advantage of this area is that it’s right next to the city of Jackson (which is at the south end of Jackson Hole). One trailhead is literally in the city.

That National Outdoor Leadership School course was probably on their Single Group Expeditions - sort of a final exam, when each cook group (3-4 people) leaves the instructors and makes their own way back to the trail head. It’s really really fun.

Many many years ago, when I was younger and hairer, I did the NOLS Wind River Wilderness course. We spent the four weeks in the Bridger National Forest, around Mount Lester, Wall Lake, and Seneca Lake. I don’t know how popular that area was, but the only time we ever encountered other hikers was on the last day, as we were descending to the trailhead. Well, and we did run into a cookgroup from another NOLS WRW class. But in 30-odd days, those were the only people we saw.

Me and a couple of friends hiked in the Snowy Range/Medicine Bow for a weekend and it was nice, but there’s definitely not a week’s worth of hiking from what I can remember. It’s a small range and I remember not really getting that lost in it sense of adventure. That was back in the ‘80s though so perhaps the years have clouded my perception :o