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Wyoming without reservations: How to hike the Wind River Range

10Best logo 10Best 8/5/2021 Dave Stamboulis, Special to USA TODAY 10Best
a rocky mountain with trees in the background: Evening light on Shadow Lake and Cirque of the Towers © Dave Stamboulis Evening light on Shadow Lake and Cirque of the Towers

The magical Wind River Range

While neighboring Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons require permits, reservations and plenty of pre-trip planning, the stunning Wind River Range remains one of Wyoming's better-kept secrets, not only being a far less-traveled and easier-to-visit option, but perhaps even more jaw-dropping. The light on the magical peaks and majestic lakes make the effort to get here well worth it.

a man walking across a snow covered mountain: Trek with a view: Cirque of the Towers © Dave Stamboulis Trek with a view: Cirque of the Towers

Cirque of the Towers panorama

The most popular and most stunning spot in the range is the aptly named Cirque of the Towers, a natural amphitheater of granite. Climbers flock here for the appealing vertical walls, and the view of the cirque from Texas Pass has to be one of America's most stunning wilderness panoramas.

a person standing in front of a mountain: It's all about the journey in the Winds © Dave Stamboulis It's all about the journey in the Winds

Trekking into the Winds

There are endless routes to hike and trek in throughout the Winds. Best of all, you don't need a permit or reservation like you do further north in the Grand Tetons or Yellowstone. Routes here are rugged, with real grizzly-inhabited wilderness, and while plenty of outdoor lovers do come, you'll find nowhere near the crowds of the more famed northern neighbors.

a canyon with a mountain in the background: Sunrise at Lonesome Lake © Dave Stamboulis Sunrise at Lonesome Lake

Alpine sunrise over Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake sits at the base of the Cirque of the Towers. No visit to the Winds is complete without an overnight stop here (although note that you cannot camp within a quarter-mile of the lake), followed by an early rise to check out the peaks light up at sunrise. Outside of passing lightning storms, mostly in the afternoon, summers here see plenty of clear weather, perfect for photo enthusiasts.

a man standing on a rocky hill: Looking down from Texas Pass © Dave Stamboulis Looking down from Texas Pass

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The view from Texas Pass

Even when you get into the high country, up into the world of granite boulders and glacial cirques, you'll still find plenty of breathtaking icy cold alpine lakes, such as Texas Lake set just below one of the Wind's most dramatic passes. It feels wild and savage, yet you're only a day or two from a trailhead here.

a flock of birds sitting on top of a mountain: Marms Lake, Wind River Range © Dave Stamboulis Marms Lake, Wind River Range

Looking over Marms Lake

Lakes dominate much of the Wind River Range, meaning you don't have to carry too much water. Marms Lake (near Dads Lake), is on one of the more popular treks in, yet camping here doesn't bring more than 4-5 tents, even on the busiest of weekends.

a rocky mountain with trees in the background: Fishing for trout © Dave Stamboulis Fishing for trout

Trout fishing is as popular as climbing here

Anglers love the Winds just as much as climbers and hikers do. The abundant lakes are stocked with trout, attracting locals and even trekkers who don't carry much food, but instead a fishing rod, hoping to forage a fresh dinner in the great outdoors.

a man standing in front of a mountain: Alpine conditions on Texas Pass © Dave Stamboulis Alpine conditions on Texas Pass

Snow lingers on Texas Pass even in the summer

Snow blankets the Wind River Range for most of the year. Even in late July and August, the tops of most of the passes still have remaining snow, and winter returns just as early, with September and even late August sometimes bringing flurries. Don't underestimate this mighty range and come prepared.

a person standing in front of a mountain: Alpine sunrise, Lonesome Lake © Dave Stamboulis Alpine sunrise, Lonesome Lake

Neverending light show at Lonesome Lake

The light shows in the Winds are amongst the best you'll see. Changing sunlight on the granite walls produces different colors throughout the day, with superb scenes of alpenglow during sunrise and sunset. You also won't have to wake up another extra hour early just to snag a good vantage point, unlike Jenny Lake in the Tetons or in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. 

a group of people on a mountain lake: Breathtaking scenery, a trademark of the Wind River Range © Dave Stamboulis Breathtaking scenery, a trademark of the Wind River Range

Artist's palette, Wind River Range

Truly one of America's most stunning mountain locales, put the Wind River Range on your outdoor bucket list. It's one of the best backpacking and wilderness destinations around, and a great choice for escaping the national park hordes and accompanying bureaucracy.

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.

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