Do you sometimes dream of the true outdoor paradise, a surreal place created by your own imagination? Picture the perfect valley with crystal clear lakes surrounded by spectacular granite giants in the most diverse shapes. Add some meadows with countless wildflowers in various colors – and if possible some snow – for the perfect contrast. Yes, think of that picture. Let’s make it even more pretty: there is no permit, fee or reservation required for a (multi-day) trip in this enchanting natural beauty.

Well, we have good news for you: that place does exist! In the Wind River Range, you really travel between experience and imagination. This isn’t a trip you try to fit into your itinerary. No, it’s more than that: you build your itinerary around this destination!

Cirque of the Towers

The Wind River Range is a mountain range in western Wyoming, southeast of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. It is an eastern spur of the Rocky Mountains and includes the highest peak of Wyoming: Gannett Peak (13,804 ft). You can easily spend weeks in this 2,800 sq mi nature reserve, but you may not have that time. We know the problem… You also want to visit other places and therefore have to make choices, hard choices. Let’s make it easier for you: Choose a hike to the Cirque of the Towers. You’re guaranteed to experience an extraordinary hike, with sublime views that will last forever!

The Cirque of the Towers is located in the Bridger Wilderness of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The starting point for this unforgettable adventure is the Big Sandy trailhead, where parking spaces are available. A 27 mile dirt road takes you there, of which only the last 10 mile are rather rough. A high clearance vehicle is definitely an asset, but with the necessary caution (and time) any car should be able to make it.

Trailhead GPS Info:

Latitude: 42° 41′ 18.1″ N (42.688351)
Longitude: 109° 16′ 10.6″ W (-109.269613)

At the trailhead there is also a small campground, the Big Sandy Campground, where you can pitch your tent for $7 a night. As the trailhead is the ideal starting point for many activities in the Wind River Range, chances are the campsite will be full. In that case, you can start your trip and just pick a spot in the wilderness after a few miles – because no permit is required – or spend your first night in the car. Especially if you come from a lower area, it is advisable to take it easy on the first day. This way you can get used to the altitude.

Don’t forget you are in bear country. Proper food storage is necessary to protect bears (and yourself). Hang your food properly or use a bear canister. Those bear-resistant food containers can be rented at the Pinedale Ranger District office. Be sure to check the opening hours before you go. Yes, we found the door locked on Sunday.

Bear Canister rental:

Address: 29 Fremont Lake Rd, Pinedale, WY 82941
Latitude: 42° 52′ 01.6″ N (42.867107)
Longitude: 109° 51′ 17.5″ W (-109.854867)
When to go?

The best travel time for this area is relatively short, i.e. July and August. Due to this short span of time you may not find the ultimate solitude in high season. In addition, Cirque of the Towers is a popular destination for technical climbers. Still, it’s far from busy, especially if you can go in the beginning or end of the season. On our trip at the beginning of July, we could count our co-hikers on our two hands! Two things that you should keep in mind when traveling in early season are snow and mosquitoes.

Snowfall differs from year to year. It is therefore important to take this into account when planning your trip and inform yourself before heading out into the wilderness. For example, we changed our plans for a 3-day loop hike via Jackass and Texas Pass into an out-and-back trip through Jackass Pass. The higher Texas Pass (11,500 ft) was still discouraged without ice axe, snowshoes and experience. Fortunately, the highlight of the trip, the Cirque, was still on the schedule! Actually, the snow adds phenomenal contrast and drama to the granite peaks. The breathtaking hike through the thick snow is rewarded with an extraordinary enchanting panorama. So snow can definitely be seen as an advantage!

Mosquitoes on the other hand are just disadvantageous. This is the only part that doesn’t fit into this picture perfect paradise. If you are not prepared, it can turn your magical getaway into a nightmare. The best investment for this trip surely is an insect repellent with 100% DEET! Given the aggressive creatures even pierce your clothing, a bottle of permethrin for your clothes is also very welcome. If you want more guarantees for a bite-free adventure, then the end of the season (end of August – early September) may be a better option.

The facts
Min. elevation: 9,100 ft (Big Sandy trailhead)
Max. elevation: 10,800 ft (Jackass Pass)
Distance: 16 mile (out-and-back)
Elevation change: 1,700 ft
The trip

The total distance of 16 mile makes a trip to the Cirque of the Towers an ideal two-day adventure. There is enough water along the entire route, so you don’t have to carry a large amount of water if you have a water filter system.

The first part of the journey, about 6 mile along the Big Sandy River, is relatively flat and takes you through forest, meadows and some river crossings to the picturesque Big Sandy Lake.

This is immediately the perfect place to pitch your tent. The advantage of setting up your camp here is that you don’t have to carry your fully loaded backpack on the hardest part of the hike. Indeed, from here the real climbing starts. Especially if there is still snow, there are some tough stretches. But hey, from Big Sandy Lake, landscapes and views are steadily building up too.

A last strenuous climb, just before reaching Jackass Pass, will be rewarded with an indescribable scene. An unparalleled view of the entire Cirque of the Towers. You feel yourself shrinking instantaneously beside the majestic peaks along the impressive cliffs, but at the same time growing through the new experience you will always carry with you.

What’s your ultimate outdoor Paradise? Please let us know!