How to backpack to the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range 

Wyoming’s Wind River Range is one of the most gorgeous places we have visited in the United States. And in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know to backpack to the Cirque of the Towers, including where to start, what to expect, what to bring, and more! 

This past July (2021), we checked a huge hike off of our hiking bucket list: the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. We learned about this hike about a year before and all it took was a quick Google Photo search, where we saw the insane mountain peaks and gorgeous lakes, to convince us that we needed to prioritize this hike.

And after spending 3 magical days backpacking to the Cirque of the Towers, we can honestly say it 100% lived up to the gorgeous photos that inspired us to attempt this hike and is now towards the very top of the list of the BEST hikes we have done in the United States.

Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range in Wyoming

Watch our experience backpacking the Cirque of the Towers!

But from the moment that we decided we wanted to attempt this backpacking trip to actually completing it, we spent a ton of time researching routes, planning, and easing some anxieties (“will we get eaten by a grizzly bear?” being a big one!).

While we had backpacked before, including to Alice Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and part of The Enchantments in Washington, this was going to be our longest backpacking trip yet, as well as our first in grizzly bear country, so we wanted to feel as prepared as possible before attempting it.

And in this guide, we’re going to share our entire experience and everything we learned while backpacking to the Cirque of the Towers, including what to bring, our exact route and campsites for 3 days (plus how to extend the hike), and more!

We hope that this guide helps you feel ready to tackle this difficult, but absolutely gorgeous hike. While we tried to capture its beauty in photos and videos, trust us, it’s even better in person!

Looking for more things to do in Wyoming? Check out our other Wyoming guides:

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About the Wind River Range

The Wind River Range is a mountain range in the Rocky Mountains, encompassing over 2.25 million acres in Western Wyoming.

Nicknamed “the Winds,” this range is full of jagged, granite peaks and is home to 12 of the 13 highest peaks in the state of Wyoming, including Gannett Peak (the highest) at 13,802 feet. Combine these peaks with rivers, alpine meadows, clear lakes, and 7 of the 10 largest glaciers in the lower 48 and you have one EPIC region that is full of adventure.

And compared to its northwestern neighbors, Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park (which we also love), this part of Wyoming is far less visited, giving it a much more remote, wild feel, away from hordes of tourists.  

Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range Wyoming

For this guide we’re focusing on a specific area of the Wind River Range called the Cirque of the Towers, which is a semi-circle of 15 insane mountain peaks, all of which are over 12,000 feet, that forms a portion of the Continental Divide. It is one of the most picturesque mountain scenes you could ever imagine, reminding us a ton of the Italian Dolomites, our favorite place we have ever been to.

Getting to the Cirque of the Towers requires a long hike, which can be done as an overnight trip, or in our case, a 3 day loop, which we will share more about below!

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors. 

How to get to the Wind River Range

Pinedale, Wyoming

The best basecamp to explore the Wind River Range, especially to hike to the Cirque of the Towers, is Pinedale, Wyoming, which is located about 1.5 hours southeast of Jackson, Wyoming.

If flying into Wyoming to do this backpacking trip, you can fly into the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), which is a smaller airport, but does offer flights on Alaska, American, Delta, and United Airlines year round, as well as Allegiant and Sun Country Airlines seasonally.

But for more flight options, the closest major airport is Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), which is located about 3 hours and 45 minutes southwest of Pinedale. 

Since Pinedale is pretty remote, a car will be needed to get around. If you are flying in and need to rent a car, any type of car should be able to get to the trailhead. While the road is rough and long, it’s not overly rutted and we saw sedans at the trailhead.

However, there is one other option besides renting a car and that is to use GOTCo Shuttles, which can take you from Jackson to Pinedale, as well as to the trailhead. It’s not cheap, but it is a good option if you for some reason do not want to have a car with you.

Looking for things to do before or after your hike? Check out our Pinedale, Wyoming guide, where we share our favorite things we did in the area!

Cirque of the Towers to Fremont Loop Stats

Miles: 28.9 (we clocked in at just under 28 though)
Elevation gain: 4,084 feet (we climbed over 4,200 feet though)
Reviews & Current Conditions

While there are multiple ways to get to the Cirque of the Towers, the route we took and will focus on in this guide is called the Cirque of the Towers to Fremont Loop Trail, which we did as a 3 day, 2 night backpacking trip.

This hike begins and ends at the Big Sandy Trailhead, which is a 57 mile drive from Pinedale, with the first part being a paved road and the last part being unpaved. The unpaved section is in pretty good condition though and we saw many types of vehicles at the Big Sandy Trailhead including vans (like ours), trucks, and sedans.

Since this hike is a loop, it can be completed clockwise or counter-clockwise. The Cirque of the Towers is located about 17 miles from the trailhead if going clockwise and about 11 miles from the trailhead if going counter-clockwise. We highly recommend going clockwise for a couple reasons. 

Backpacking the Wind River Range in Wyoming

First, we wanted to get the downed trees section out of the way (more on that below) and not have to go through that when we were almost done with the trip, that would have been a pain mentally and physically after 3 days of hiking. Secondly, Texas Pass is very steep and rocky and we thought going up it would be easier and safer than going down. And once we experienced it, we were happy we did it that way.

However, if you do not plan to do the entire loop and just hike out and back to the Cirque of the Towers, which we will share more about how to do later on, counter-clockwise would be the way to go.

Regardless of which way you go, you will have incredible views along the majority of the hike, as much of it is outside of the forest and has wide open views. And while the elevation gain is definitely difficult at times and we wouldn’t necessarily say this is a good first ever backpacking trip, the trail is never too challenging or scary and most somewhat experienced backpackers could handle it just fine.

When to Backpack the Cirque of the Towers

Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range Wyoming

The best time to backpack the Cirque of the Towers is July through September, when the snow has mostly melted and the trail is accessible to hikers. We did this hike July 20-22, 2021 and it was pretty perfect! But there are a few important things to know about hiking during this timeframe.

Weather & conditions can vary

Snowpack varies year to year, so we suggest checking AllTrails beforehand and calling the Pinedale Ranger District to see the current conditions.

Traditionally during this time the average highs will be in the 60s and 70s and the lows will be above freezing. July and August tend to be the least rainiest months, although be prepared for afternoon rain storms and know that weather in the mountains can change rapidly.

Mosquitoes are a pain

Mosquitoes can be a big nuisance in the Wind River Range in the summer, especially in July, but also during the other months depending on conditions. We had prepared ourselves for the worst and thankfully only really had one awful night of them, so it wasn’t as bad as we feared, but still annoying.

Wildfires

The American West unfortunately has wildfires every year and even if the area you are visiting does not have an active fire, winds can spread smoke across states. When wildfires start varies year to year, but in 2021, it felt like they started early and we encountered smoky skies in Pinedale just days before our backpacking trip. 

We were pretty worried that the views on this hike would be limited, but thankfully we had a few clear days! One tool we use to check fires and see where smoke is the thickest is AirNow.

Go on a weekday

This is definitely the most popular spot in the Wind River Range and since the best time to do this hike is in the summer, crowds are already heightened a bit due to summer vacations. 

We had heard to not expect solitude on this hike, but when we hiked Tuesday-Thursday we didn’t find the crowds to be too bad at all and we had many stretches where we didn’t see anyone else. The busiest area we encountered was Big Sandy Lake, which we went by on our hike out on the last day, but overall the crowds were less than we anticipated. 

However, we bet that the weekends are pretty busy, so if you can, plan for a weekday!

Things to know before backpacking the Cirque of the Towers

Big Sandy Trailhead Wind River Range in Wyoming

Parking

The Big Sandy Trailhead has a good sized circular parking lot, which can fit probably at least 75 cars, as well as some parking a little further down the road, which is where we parked. While there were spots when we arrived on a Monday evening in the main lot, our van was a bit too long for them, but fit perfectly on the side of the road, along with some other Sprinter vans.

If these spots are full, there is an overflow parking lot, which has tons of space and adds about 0.7 miles each way to the hike. No one was parked here during our hike, so if this overflow area has a good amount of cars, be prepared that this means the trail will be more crowded.

Restrooms

There are vault toilets at the trailhead, but none along the trail. Since this is a multi-day trip, there is a good chance you’ll need to use the restroom on the trail, so when you do, please ensure you go at least 100 feet from any water source.

Also, PLEASE pack out any toilet paper and make sure to use a trowel to dig a hole for human waste. You can also bring a wag bag to carry out your waste, although not required.

Bears

Both black and grizzly bears are present in the Wind River Range, so please learn more about how to stay safe around bears, make sure you always cook away from your tent, carry bear spray, and properly store your food and toiletries. 

While encounters are pretty uncommon due to how highly trafficked this area is, I was pretty scared about bears on this hike, especially grizzlies since we had never backpacked in grizzly territory, but thankfully we did not see any bears. 

Permits

There are no permits required to hike to the Cirque of the Towers. You only are required to sign the log book when you enter the wilderness areas and then sign back out when you exit.

Downed Trees Wind River Range in Wyoming

Downed trees

There is a section of downed trees that covers the trail for about half a mile before you make it to Dad’s Lake. You’ll have to make a few detours off the trail to get around some of the thickest parts, as well as climb over them. It can be really hard to find the trail at times, so we suggest having the AllTrails map downloaded offline to help you not get lost.

No Drones

Much of this hike, including the Cirque of the Towers, will be in the Wilderness and drones are NOT allowed in Wilderness areas.

Dogs are allowed

Dogs are allowed on this trail, but keep in mind that it is bear country, so please keep them on a leash (not required technically) or make sure they have impeccable recall to ensure that they don’t chase wildlife or bother other hikers or dogs on trail (like our pup Kona, who doesn’t like strange off leash dogs running at her).

Some may not feel comfortable having their dog with them on this hike and some dogs may not be able to handle the mileage or terrain, but we are glad we brought Kona…she had a blast!

PS: don’t forget to carry your dog’s waste as well! I think we ended up with 9-10 bags of dog poop on the side of our packs, which was the least glamorous aspect of this trip.

Altitude

This hike starts at about 9,000 feet above sea level and goes up to 11,400+ feet, so make sure you’re acclimated to higher elevations before attempting this hike to avoid getting altitude sickness.

Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, nausea, lack of hunger or thirst, difficulty breathing, confusion, and vomiting. If you start to notice these symptoms, it is best to stop where you’re at and begin descending to lower elevation. The only way to treat altitude sickness is to get to lower elevation, drink lots of water, eat something, and get rest. Ignoring altitude sickness can lead to more dangerous side effects.

Before you attempt to hike the Cirque of the Towers, we suggest getting to the Pinedale area (7,182 feet above sea level) a couple days before your hike to help your body adjust to the higher altitude. And during these days, focus on less strenuous activities, eat a few more calories, drink lots of water, and get lots of sleep. There is a lot to do in Pinedale to help you get acclimated!

Camping rules

There are many camping areas along the trail, although none are marked sites, so figuring out where to go can be tricky. We will share our exact campsites further down in this guide, as well as where to find others.

The general rule for backcountry camping is to camp at existing sites, which will look like a matted down area where a tent has been before, instead of harming more terrain and making a new spot.

It is also prohibited to camp within 200 feet of the lakes and the trail, as well as within 100 feet from creeks. At Lonesome Lake, you are required to camp ¼ mile away from the lake and there is signage to remind you.

As for campfires, they are allowed below the timberline, but be sure to check for fire regulations, which can change due to wildfire dangers.

What to Bring to the Cirque of the Towers

Shadow Lake Wind River Range Wyoming

To see everything we recommend packing on your trip, check out our backpacking packing list, where we share everything we bring with us on most backpacking trips, including the 10 essentials. But for this specific hike, we have a few items we really want to stress bringing with you.

PS: if you are looking to rent any gear, the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale rents a variety of backpacking gear, plus is a great spot to pick up any items you may have forgotten!

Bear spray

We always carry this bear spray when we’re in bear country and luckily we can’t speak to its effectiveness, but hear that it’s a great deterrent for bears (make sure you know how to use it).

If you already have bear spray, make sure to double check the expiration date! And if you’re flying in and need to get bear spray once in Wyoming, as it’s not allowed on airplanes, the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale has bear spray rentals for $6/day.

Bear canister

Food storage is KEY to ensuring both bears and humans stay safe. As the saying goes, “a fed bear is a dead bear” and by not properly storing food and other scented items, you run the risk of bears getting into your belongings, which can put you in danger, as well as the bear, as they then become too accustomed to humans and therefore a threat.

While you can use a bear bag, we prefer a canister and carry the Backpacker’s Cache Bear Proof Container. You can also rent this item at the Great Outdoor Shop!

Backpacking the Wind River Range in Wyoming

Offline map

We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before you go, as there is no cell service on the trail. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it to keep an eye on the trail map and track your progress.

If you record your route, you can pause the recording when you get to camp each night and start it again in the morning. 

Hiking GPS

While not a must have item, we love and highly recommend the Garmin inReach Mini. It is not cheap (and it also requires a monthly subscription), but this satellite device allows you to send messages and your location to your loved ones when out hiking, lets you request weather forecasts, and has an SOS in case of emergencies. Our moms loved getting trail updates from us while on this hike!

Hiking poles

We don’t typically use hiking poles because we just do not have enough hands with filming and walking Kona, but we can definitely see how these could be helpful on this trail. If we were to buy some we’d most likely have these, as they are super light.

Bug Spray and Bug Net

As we mentioned earlier, bug spray is KEY for this hike! But one other item we brought that helped us big time were mosquito nets to wear on our heads. They may not be fashionable, but they made cooking away from the tent more bearable.

Our Cirque of the Towers backpacking itinerary & experience

In this next section, we’re outlining our route day by day, including coordinates to our campsites, and also sharing details of each leg of the hike. Below you can also see our AllTrails recording, which has the campsites marked.

The night before: Drive to the Big Sandy trailhead (optional)

Road to the Big Sandy Trailhead Wind River Range in Wyoming

Since we wanted to get an early start the next morning, we left Pinedale on Monday afternoon to drive out to the Big Sandy Trailhead. As we mentioned above, part of the drive is paved, but a good portion is unpaved, but it was way less rough than we anticipated. However, it still took us 2 hours to get to the trailhead from Pinedale, but that’s because we go very slow on rough roads in the van (it is our home afterall!)

We slept in the van at the trailhead, which a few others were doing as well, but if you want a more traditional camping experience, there is the Big Sandy Campground (first-come, first-served and $7/night) right by the trailhead, as well as the Big Sandy Lodge for something a bit more comfortable.  

Day 1: Big Sandy trailhead to Shadow Lake 

Total Mileage: 12.5 | Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet | Campsite Location

We got up bright and early to hit the trail to Shadow Lake, which according to AllTrails, was 14 miles away, but we ended up clocking 12.5 miles. We filled out the register at the trailhead and hit the trail, which starts out in the forest, with a creek rushing by.

About 0.5 miles in, we reached a junction which is where the trail turns into the loop. If going clockwise like us, you will go to the left here. The trail continues to be a bit forested, but has a couple areas where it opens up and you get to see some of the mountains that you’ll soon be climbing up into.

About 2.5 miles in, we started to reach a section of the hike that was full of downed trees from a crazy windstorm over Labor Day in 2020. We had heard about this in advance and even spoke to rangers about it on the phone, who didn’t seem to have a timeline to remove the trees.

Downed Trees Wind River Range in Wyoming

For about half a mile, we had to climb up and under many trees for about 0.5 miles, which was pretty tricky with heavy, bulky packs on. It was also very hard to find the trail at times and we were thankful for the AllTrails map we had downloaded so we didn’t get lost. We were also super glad we got this over with at the beginning of the hike when we had the most energy. 

Backpacking the Wind River Range in Wyoming

After exiting this rough patch of trees, the trail really opens up and you walk through a meadow, with wildflowers and some AMAZING mountain views off in the distance!

We hiked for a bit in this open area before reaching Mirror Lake on our right, which is a smaller lake, and just up the trail, Dad’s Lake, about 6.5 miles in.

Backpacking the Wind River Range in Wyoming

Since we were about halfway through that day’s hike, we took a nice break at Dad’s Lake, which had a large, flat, rocky area to sit on overlooking the lake. We enjoyed some snacks and gave our bodies a rest from the packs and then continued on. 

Dads Lake Wind River Range in Wyoming

We hit the trail again and at this point, and honestly for the whole day, the elevation gain was pretty minimal and while we were going uphill, it wasn’t too steep and felt pretty steady. We believe we climbed about 1,700 feet total over the entire day.

About 1.5 miles from Dad’s Lake is Marms Lake, which is another beautiful lake with a mountain backdrop. Just after walking along the entire left side of the lake there is a junction and you’ll want to go to the right, which will take you along the top of the lake. 

Marms Lake Wind River Range in Wyoming

At about 9 miles in, we were starting to get pretty tired, but thankfully the next 3.5 miles to Shadow Lake was extremely open, with the best views of the day so far. We had views of the Wind River Range in almost all directions.

We hiked through this open area, going along the top part of the loop on the map and at about 11 miles in, we crossed a stream and got our first glimpse of the mountains in the area we were heading to. From here, it was a pretty easy walk to Shadow Lake, where we finally started to see more people (we hadn’t seen many the whole day). 

Backpacking the Wind River Range in Wyoming

But we didn’t mind because holy cow, the VIEWS at Shadow Lake were unreal! The lake itself is so clear and pristine, but throw in the sharp granite peaks that surround it and we were blown away. And this wasn’t even the “best” part of the hike yet (which many say is the Cirque)!

Once taking a side trail and getting to the edge of the lake we had some options of where we could camp. There were some spots along the side trail, as well as on the northeastern side of the lake, but it also seemed to be the more popular area, so we figured we wouldn’t have much solitude.

So instead, we crossed some water runoff from the lake, trying our hardest to not get wet, and found a spot right around here. We were tucked into some trees, but also had views of some of the peaks that surround the lake and were a short walk down to the lake if we needed water for food.

Shadow Lake Wind River Range Wyoming

After setting up camp, we laid down to relax for a bit and it started to downpour. Knowing that we’d likely have a wet tent to pack up the next day was not a fun idea, but thankfully the rain eventually stopped and we were treated to one of the most gorgeous rainbows we had ever seen before. As well as TONS of mosquitoes! Out of all of the places on this hike, this area had the worst mosquitoes.

We headed down to the lake to fill up some water to cook with, tried to avoid being eaten alive by mosquitoes  and enjoyed a nice meal of Chicken Pad Thai and Santa Fe style beans, chicken, and rice, as well as some Reeses Pieces, before heading to bed and resting up for a BIG day tomorrow.

Shadow Lake Wind River Range Wyoming

Day 2: Shadow Lake to Cirque of the Towers 

Total Mileage: 5.5 | Elevation Gain: 1,581 feet | Campsite Location

Camping Wind River Range Wyoming

We let ourselves sleep in a bit on day 2 and enjoyed a nice, slow morning at the campsite making coffee and breakfast, before hitting the trail around 10 AM. Day 2 was going to be a much shorter day, but a MUCH harder day overall.

Shadow Lake Wind River Range Wyoming

Our first challenge of the day was to figure out how to get back on the main trail. We were looking at AllTrails and backtracked from how we came in the day before, but couldn’t find where the trail continued. So we turned around and went back towards the lake and found a trail that seemed to be going the right direction. This definitely added onto our mileage for the day.

Billys Lake Wind River Range Wyoming

Shortly after getting on the trail, we reached Billy’s Lake, which was yet another beautiful alpine lake and was in a very exposed area, so the views were endless. We continued along the trail, which had the best views of the hike so far (the views kept getting better and better!), before making it to Barren Lake and Texas Lake, which is where the next challenge began.

We had heard about Texas Pass and how difficult it was, but as we approached Texas Lake, we couldn’t really tell where it was. We saw a super steep, rocky area ahead, but thought to ourselves “surely that isn’t it.” Spoiler alert: it was.

Texas Pass Wind River Range Wyoming

As we approached the bottom of Texas Pass, I think we let out a few curse words as we stared up the extremely steep, rocky, and scree filled incline. It honestly just looked like a rock slide we had to hike up. We mustered up some mental strength and began the climb to the top.

The hike up the pass is TOUGH. It gains about 650+ feet of elevation in around 0.3 miles. We took it nice and slow, trying to watch our footing and use our hands at times, since it was a bit slick with loose rock and dirt. Having our packs on only made things harder, but make sure to turn around every once in a while to look back at Barren and Texas Lakes and truly appreciate how far you have come.

Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range Wyoming

We finally made it to the top, where things got super windy, and after a short walk at the top, we got our first glimpse of the main reason we did this hike…the Cirque of the Towers. And WOW is all we have to say.

After staring at the Cirque from higher up, we still had to head down the backside of Texas Pass to get to near Lonesome Lake, our home for the night. While steep, it wasn’t as intense as going up Texas Pass and having views of the Cirque the entire time definitely made it bearable. There was one small snow patch, but it was safe and doable without spikes.

Wind River Range Wyoming

Once getting to Lonesome Lake, we had our third challenge of the day…where to camp. We knew that we could not camp within ¼ mile of the lake, so we started to head further down the trail, more to where the Cirque is. Unlike Shadow Lake, campsites seemed less obvious and we wandered through tons of wooded areas trying to find a spot. They were either kind of small or had no view and similar to Goldilocks, we kept searching to find one that was just right.

Lonesome Lake Wind River Range Wyoming

You may notice on our trail recording us going in circles and all around and it felt like we spent an hour just trying to find a campsite. Between trying to find the trail in the morning from Shadow Lake to finding a campsite, we probably added on an extra 1.5 miles…oops.

We made it to this really beautiful, iconic waterfall in the heart of the Cirque of the Towers and found two guys who seemed to know more of what they were doing and asked about campsites and they walked us to an area near theirs (super nice of them!), a little bit back from the waterfall and tucked away in some trees. It was an incredible spot, with a nice open area just a few steps from the tent that allowed us to cook and eat with a view. It was a small spot, but had great seclusion and we made it work.

We spent the rest of the day mostly just relaxing, with Adam going for a quick, frigid dip under the waterfall, before enjoying food and hitting the hay for what would be an early and long final day on the trail.

Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range Wyoming

Day 3: Cirque of the Towers to Big Sand Trailhead 

Total Mileage: 10 | Elevation Gain: 944 feet  

Since our final day was going to be a longer one (especially with how beat our bodies were), we woke up right before sunrise to make some coffee, eat breakfast (mac and cheese for the win!), and see the sunrise over the Cirque of the Towers.

Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range Wyoming

After packing up our gear, we made our way from our campsite to the main trail, which was a tad confusing, but with the help of AllTrails (a HUGE lifesaver), we figured it out.

To leave the Cirque of the Towers you have to climb Jackass Pass, which while more of a daunting name than Texas Pass, is the easier of the two. But it is still pretty steep! As we made it up the pass, we kept turning around to see our final views of the Cirque of the Towers and to be honest, the views from on the pass are quite possibly the BEST of the hike! So make sure to turn around 🙂

Once getting to the top, the trail goes downhill for a bit before reaching the base of Arrowhead Lake (the views here are great too!). Here, you have two options. You can either go to the right of the lake or to the left.

We had read that the left was easier because the terrain was more navigable, especially with packs, whereas the right side was filled with large boulders and rocks to traverse, but it did look less steep.

Wind River Range Wyoming

To be honest, the last part of this hike is slightly blurry, as we were exhausted and also in “get back to the van” mode, so we didn’t stop a ton. After Arrowhead Lake we passed another lake called North Lake, before continuing to head downhill to Big Sandy Lake.

Wind River Range Wyoming

Big Sandy Lake was definitely the busiest area we encountered during our 3 days out in the Wind River Range. There were tons of people camping, as it definitely has the most campsites, but we did manage to find a quiet spot to pull over here to have a snack.

Big Sandy Lake

Once we fueled up, we headed back onto the trail for the final stretch of the hike. At this point, we were in exhausted hustle mode. We were trying to go as fast as we could, as this 5 mile stretch of trail back to the van was mostly wooded, so there weren’t as many views. But we did get to see a couple cool things along the way, including some horses and LLAMAS! 

Wind River Range in Wyoming

After about 27.6 total miles, we made it back to the van. We were completely wiped out, but also on cloud nine from what we were able to experience.

However, the experience wasn’t quite over just yet! We headed just a mile or so from the trailhead to Big Sandy Lodge. Big Sandy Lodge was established in 1930 and was the original fish camp for Finis Mitchell, a mountaineer in the area. It has been locally operated since 2012 and has 10 one room log cabins you can stay in, as well as the restaurant.

Beyond being a cool place to stay before or after your hike, they are also known for their burgers! The restaurant is only open Thursdays-Mondays and we actually started our hike a day later than planned just so we could eat one of these famous burgers.

And it was worth it! We got the Bear Mace Burger and Hungry Hiker (you can view their menu here) and these burgers were some of the best we have ever had! And we aren’t just saying that because we had hiked almost 30 miles and only eaten dehydrated food. They would have been just as good in any big city. So grabbing a burger after your hike (or before…or both) is a MUST!

Final Thoughts on the Hike

Wind River Range Wyoming

While we came for the Cirque of the Towers, which was gorgeous and lived up to every expectation, what surprised us the most is how much we enjoyed the other parts of the hike as well, such as the campsite at Shadow Lake, the scenery while hiking to Texas Lake, and the views from Jackass Pass, there was truly no bad section of this hike (well, minus the downed trees). 

From start to finish, this hike was an absolute TREAT for our eyes and 1000% lives up to the hype. Even with the challenges and exhaustion, it was one of the best 3 days we have ever had.

Alternate ways to backpack to the Cirque of the Towers

While we did this backpacking trip over 3 days and 2 nights, you can shorten or lengthen this trip to fit your needs! Here is how we’d adjust our itinerary:

2 Days, 1 Night

Day 1 (10 miles): Big Sandy Trailhead to Cirque of the Towers. Camp in the area we camped on Day 2

Day 2 (10 miles): Cirque of the Towers to the Big Sandy Trailhead (going the same way you came)

This option does cut out a lot of the hike, but if you’re just after Cirque of the Towers and have limited time it’s a good choice.

4 days, 3 nights (Option #1)

Day 1 (6.5-8.5 miles): Big Sandy Trailhead to Dad’s Lake or Marms Lake. There are campsites near both of these lakes

Day 2 (4-6 miles): Dad’s Lake or Marms Lake to Shadow Lake, camping in the area we did on Day 1

Day 3 (5.5 miles): Shadow Lake to Cirque of the Towers, camping in the area we did on Day 2

Day 4 (10 miles): Cirque of the Towers to the Big Sandy Trailhead

4 days, 3 nights (Option #2)

Day 1 (12.5 miles): Big Sandy Trailhead to Shadow Lake, camping in the area we did on Day 1

Day 2 (5.5 miles): Shadow Lake to Cirque of the Towers, camping in the area we did on Day 2

Day 3 (4 miles): Cirque of the Towers to Big Sandy Lake

Day 4 (6 miles): Big Sandy Lake to the Big Sandy Trailhead

5 days, 4 nights

Day 1 (6.5-8.5 miles): Big Sandy Trailhead to Dad’s Lake or Marms Lake. There are campsites near both of these lakes

Day 2 (4-6 miles): Dad’s Lake or Marms Lake to Shadow Lake, camping in the area we did on Day 1

Day 3 (5.5 miles): Shadow Lake to Cirque of the Towers, camping in the area we did on Day 2

Day 4 (4 miles): Cirque of the Towers to Big Sandy Lake

Day 5 (6 miles): Big Sandy Lake to the Big Sandy Trailhead

Where to stay before or after hiking the Cirque of the Towers

Pinedale, Wyoming

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay before or after hiking the Cirque of the Towers, here are some options!

Pinedale

Hotels: 

Airbnbs:

Newly Remodeled Alpine-Modern (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This Airbnb is gorgeous and right in town!
Riverbend Cabin (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This cabin is beautiful and in such a scenic location! You may even have a moose stop by!
Franklin Hideaway Cabin (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This Airbnb offers everything you need for a comfy stay right in town!

Camping

There are a handful of developed campgrounds in and near Pinedale, including the Fremont Lake Campground, which takes reservations, and the Warren Bridge Campground, which is first-come, first-served.

Boondocking

For the week leading up to our trip, we boondocked in a couple spots in the area. We stayed in this spot for a few nights, which had decent cell service (it’s spotty in the area, but we got a couple bars here).

We also stayed at the Warren Bridge Dispersed Camping area (right by the paid one above, but free!), which also had iffy service, but enough to do a few work items.

Big Sandy Lodge

As we mentioned earlier, this historic property has 10 one-room cabins and the best burgers!

Where to eat before or after hiking the Cirque of the Towers

Grabbing burgers at Big Sandy Lodge before or after your hike to the Cirque of the Towers is obviously a must! But for some options in Pinedale, we LOVED Pine Coffee Supply and the Pitchfork Fondue was such a fun and unique experience.

A few other spots in Pinedale are Heart & Soul Cafe and Wind River Brewing Company.

To learn about things to do in Pinedale, check out our Pinedale, Wyoming guide, where we share our favorite things we did in the area!

Ready to backpack the Cirque of the Towers?

Pin this guide to backpacking the Cirque of the Towers to prep for your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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2 Comments

  1. Marco

    Very nice and thorough guide. Your YouTube video was great as well.

    I just did this loop in late August 2022. My additional advice would be:
    1) For food protection against bears and other critters, consider an Ursack instead of a bear canister. Lighter weight, easier to pack, and just as effective.
    2) You describe Texas Pass as TOUGH. When I read that before going, it scared me a bit. But in reality it took me about an hour — about the same length and intensity as a good cardio workout. The path is very easy to follow — it’s not some crazy scree field.
    3) In your multi-day variations, you recommend Dad’s Lake or Marm’s Lake. IMHO it’s no contest — Marm’s is the way to go.
    4) Don’t miss taking a swim in Lonesome Lake. The North shore (just as you descend from Texas Pass) has a great beach with clear water. Some of the other shores have algae bloom.
    5) When looking for campsites — the easiest way is to ask another hiker. They usually have great advice. In the Cirque, we wound up heading East along the Popo Agie river, and shortly after the sign “you are now far enough from the lake to camp” (i.e. 0.25 miles), there were some great spots in what’s called the Lizard Head Meadows (between the path and the river).
    6) If at all possible, plan to go in the last two weeks of August. Mosquitoes are gone, snow hasn’t started.
    7) Consider doing 4 days. No need to show off how fast you can go. There are so many great spots where you really should just “hang” (e.g. Billy’s Lake and the meadows on the way down from Texas Pass). Make it Type 1 fun all the way!
    8) Enjoy on of the best trips ever!

    Reply
    • Kathryn Frazer

      Thanks for your insight, glad you enjoyed the hike! As for Texas Pass, we personally did find it to be very tough with our packs and to have lots of scree, so that was true to our experience. We’d rather someone think it wasn’t as bad as they anticipated than be unprepared and have it exceed their physical abilities. We personally prefer a bear can, as from our research it’s said to be safer against bears (and more foolproof) and it doubles as a chair 😃

      Reply

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